Digital storytelling or demonstrating learning

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on August 24, 2017

It takes a long time to integrate fully a new technology and see it become the norm. I suspect the dominant method for creating stories or reports is still paper based but there are opportunities to tell stories and demonstrate learning in transformational ways.

The downside is that achieving good levels of production makes this a longer job than traditional methods but the upside is that it delivers some of the computing National Curriculum.

A personal favourite is creating a map. If your story is location based or you are reporting on some historical event, for example, putting markers on a map that when clicked on reveal text, images and video is very exciting.

I first got the idea when Penguin released a book like this. Unfortunately, Google Maps has ‘improved’ making it harder but scribblemaps.com is also worth a look. Markers can be numbered to take you through in sequence. If maps can be saved as a .kml file they can be used to make a tour in Google Earth. I particularly like the idea of being able to visit some of the locations in classics like War and Peace.

My rather ordinary example has just two markers but having clicked on one it reveals some text, a photo and a video. I’m sure you can do much better!

What about making a film? The scriptwriting alone is a literacy task of some magnitude. A news report from history might be made using an app like Green Screen that now costs a massive £2.99 and will allow you to deliver a report against a background image or archive film. Don’t spend a fortune on a green screen though. A background of sheets of sugar paper works too.

With programming such a focus writing a program that demonstrates presentation of some other curriculum area gives it a real purpose. An animation in Scratch is a very good use of it.

And on the subject of animation, don’t tell anyone but you can use PowerPoint to make an animation that transitions automatically from slide to slide and then export it as a movie file. No one will ever know!

Instead of setting an exercise to demonstrate mastery why not make a ‘how to’ screencast or use an app like Explain Everything or Educreations?

You can make an online book with turning pages by writing your content in a word processor or something like PowerPoint. You’ll need a lot of content or you won’t have pages to turn though. Save as a .pdf and upload to issuu.com or youblisher.com. Be patient for the upload to complete and make sure the provider won’t put adverts on your work.

And then there’s an interactive information screen where users click on hyperlinks to go to the content they want.

And that’s leaving aside the plethora of apps created specifically for telling a story!


Online safety and digital literacy: how do they feature in schools?

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on May 22, 2017

Christina Preston of MirandaNet and I are writing a report for the UK DfE on the teaching of digital literacy and, more widely, how to stay safe online in our schools. We think these topics might be slipping through cracks in the curriculum even as it becomes ever more important.

In this blog post the views expressed are my own, based on experience more than researched evidence, but Christina and I would welcome MirandaNet members’ thoughts on these issues. We invite you  to respond to this short, anonymous survey.

Your ideas and suggestions, for which we are grateful, will inform the content of the report and can have some effect on ensuring an effective curriculum policy on these issues. Drawing on the wide experience of MirandaNet readers will be absolutely invaluable.

My work nowadays is almost exclusively e-safety work with teachers, parents and children. Interestingly my last three engagements, and for that matter the next one too, have all been in response to safety problems arising from children’s online use. In terms of their understanding of risk and a readiness to separate their behaviour online from that offline little seems to have changed since I did my masters dissertation more than 15 years ago.

This sort of ‘firefighting’ means the short term is devoted to specific environments rather than the generic behaviours that will still be present when the current apps or social networks are passé and the next big thing has arrived.

In school online safety seems to be divorced from safeguarding in general or perhaps it’s simply not registering. Parental engagement is lukewarm, even from parents who are very careful in the physical world, which I think throws up some interesting questions about how safe behaviours are passed on. This is the first generation of parents who cannot pass on what they were taught by their parents as the phenomenon did not exist when they were young. It would be unfair to single out parents as being the only group struggling to come to terms with online life. Teachers, too, are playing catch-up with limited time available and like parents have no cultural background to fall back on. The demands of the tested curriculum and schools’ published accountability might also be an issue.

I suspect that in schools there is still an emphasis on ‘events’ rather than curriculum integration with e-safety, when it is addressed, seen as the preserve of the computing teacher.

It is alarming that not only do few students or teachers know how to use a search engine effectively but that no one is learning how to be critical of the sites they visit. Just as with online ‘friends’ there are issues of trust here. There are no strategies taught to find out who or what is behind a site. Ask a group of teenagers if they know how to use Google. They’ll look at you as if you’re nuts but few have strategies for deciding on search terms or looking at results that are beyond the first page. Very few will be able to search to find alternative views because searches use the language of the culture the searcher lives in. Issues of copyright or using Creative Commons are rarely thought about. This sort of thing is the bottom line of digital literacy.

As an aside, the introduction of effective technology use including these subsets under discussion is akin to turning a large oil tanker. It takes a long time and is very slow. It is all very well government telling us how important any given thing is but it won’t happen unless time is given to teachers. The issues, such as digital literacy, will not happen easily; they need an investment of time and this is something schools do not have much of. Additionally, it is worth reminding ourselves of the pressures of being a ‘good’ school and noting that this places an emphasis on externally assessed English and mathematics, particularly in primary schools, and not being surprised if schools respond to this pressure.

Once again, to respond to the anonymous survey on these issues please click here.

Your input is much appreciated. Thank you.

BETT 2017

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on January 29, 2017

I had my annual day at BETT on Friday. I always enjoy going but detected a not altogether unexpected quietness relative to other years. Luckily I made some new friends!


I’m much more interested in what students learn than with massive systems that measure everything down to a learner’s pulse rate. Assessment is about being able to offer learning at the best possible level which is what good teachers do by osmosis.

Anyway back to my new friends (and their industrial counterparts) and their cousin Virtual Reality. Leaving aside the fact that some schools can barely afford staff never mind hardware of this quality I came away with a renewed belief that we need a curriculum for 2050 rather than one for 1950.


But I learnt a bit about dancing!

Let’s remember…

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on May 5, 2016

From the BBC:

“Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34174796

From OECD:

“Schools have yet to take advantage of the potential of technology in the classroom to tackle the digital divide and give every student the skills they need in today’s connected world, according to the first OECD PISA assessment of digital skills.” http://www.oecd.org/education/new-approach-needed-to-deliver-on-technologys-potential-in-schools.htm

In short, it’s not about plonking students in front of a machine, it’s about being able to use the machine effectively and appropriately. Obvious?

Long division? What could possibly go wrong?

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on March 1, 2016

To say that long division is difficult is an understatement. The teachers who have the onerous task of teaching it know how to do it but the problem then is recognising all those tiny facets that are so internalised as to be invisible. Of course a teacher needs to know how to do it but they also need to know how NOT to do it. This is where problems are identified and children learn faster. Too often children are just taught a routine and some learners just don’t ‘get it’. This is a big routine!

So what understanding is going on (or not) under the surface? Here’s one:

Screenshot 2016-02-23 10.07.01

After lots of short division we need to understand that it is unnecessary to ask how many 27s in 3. A two digit number is never going to go into a single digit. And what if it doesn’t go into the first two digits? Why do some children write a zero? No need for a place holder. (Concept: Place value)

Screenshot 2016-02-23 10.08.18

Why do we have to subtract? The concept that a remainder is the result of a subtraction is unspoken in short division. The difference is often seen rather than calculated. (Concept: Remainder)

Screenshot 2016-02-23 10.08.44

So there it is. What now? Bring down the 5? Why? We have to unlearn the putting the remainder in front of the 5 like we would in short division, possibly because when the remainder is double digit it would be crowded. However, too often there is an incantation of ‘bring down the 5’ because it’s the next step to be remembered rather than for a reason of maths. (Concept: Place value)

Screenshot 2016-02-23 10.09.18

And so the process repeats either by rote or by understanding.

Screenshot 2016-02-23 10.10.15

But look at the next part. How many 27s in 217? Has the learner practised situations like this as a one off? (Concept: Estimation)

Screenshot 2016-02-23 10.11.02

I thought 7 but there are issues about whether another 27 can be found, shades of chunking. Is it OK if it’s a bit more than 217 rather than way under? In the end it was 8. If I take my eye off the ball to work this out without an understanding of the process I might end up re-entering the algorithm at the wrong point. (Concept: Multiplication, Inverse, Division as whole shares)

Screenshot 2016-02-23 10.12.40

So there we are, 128 remainder 1. No good? 128 1/27? You want a decimal? (Concept: Equivalent fractions)

Screenshot 2016-03-01 17.28.04

Where did that .0 come from? We didn’t have unnecessary zeros at the start so why now? (Concept: Decimals)

Screenshot 2016-03-01 17.28.04

How many 27s in 10? Am I allowed a zero here or do I just stick another one on to make it 100?

And so it goes on. When to stop? Do we know anything about rounding to a certain number of decimal places? (Concept: Rounding)

The whole process is a minefield of potential misconception not to mention differences of process from the already learned short algorithm.

This will not be well learned by a rhythmic repetition of different stages but by understanding of concepts from earlier learning not all of which gets a mention in the National Curriculum in earlier years.


Whatever Will Become Of Computing?

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on February 5, 2015

Every morning, and I mean EVERY morning, I wake up to an email from Computing At School full of news about events, new resources and comment. There are clearly some lucky young people out there on the receiving end of all this. I mention it lest you think my mission is to be negative. It’s not. I simply want to remind folk to keep their eye on the ball and to describe what I think the ball looks like.

You see, despite areas of excellence and schools that are doing their best for now and hoping to develop year on year (so please folks don’t criticise until you can’t see progress) there are some who are still doing little or, in some classes, nothing.

I want to explore some possible reasons for inertia and the risk they pose to what should be a groundbreaking curriculum development that is Computing. Not surprisingly it’s a cocktail of interacting factors that no doubt vary from situation to situation.

Let’s start with Ofsted. Download a recent report for a primary school and find me a reference to Computing. You’ll find plenty of references to mathematics and literacy but Computing? If I had a small bet on every report since, say, October 2014 I think I might make some money. Perhaps this absence is a factor of the amount of time in school available to inspectors or maybe it has something to do with the availability of inspectors with the necessary expertise. In any event what messages does it send about the subject’s importance? Computing is statutory, right? Well so was ICT and look what happened to that!

Imagine you’re in a school that has annual SATS results that are always around the norm after months of effort and booster lessons etc. English and mathematics again. Where are your efforts focussed? I’m sure there will be a lot of schools that meet my description that have a really broad curriculum all the same but SATS are the things that end up in the local paper, and the in-tray of the local school improvement team. It probably looks as if I’m having a go at a perceived rather shallow approach to education in some schools. I’m really not. I was a teacher for 30 years and I appreciate the things that weigh heavily.

Teacher expertise is another important factor. Unsurprisingly our primary schools are not full of Computer Science graduates who have chosen teaching. Courses are offered and meetings arranged but why is take up sometimes so low? Believe it or not teachers really are busy. Don’t imagine that by simply creating another imperative time magically appears. It’s something that few people who haven’t worked in schools can understand. Teacher, surrogate parent, referee, advocate, therapist… Somehow time needs setting aside without taking teachers from where their head teacher needs them most; in the classroom with the children.

The volume of the training task is considerable too. It can’t be done on a single one-day course any more than you can run a course that supplies experience. Imagine trying to learn a foreign language on a one-day course. The idea is absurd. In the same way a completely new subject needs a lot of time and time is something many schools and teachers don’t have.

This has scarcely been a carefully managed piece of research, generalisable across all schools but I started to write it when the factors I have mentioned became too obvious for me to ignore. The content is based on observation and conversations with people who are at the sharp end. Let’s not allow an exciting curriculum development to become marginalised by default.

But let’s end on a positive. It can be done because it is being done in a lot of places and it’s a great subject. I’ve just had an email from someone in a primary school. It says, “I think I need to make my lessons more boring. They’re having way too much fun.”

Notes from a grumpy old man

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on February 1, 2015

I went to the BETT exhibition recently and noticed a change. It seemed to be far more about product than education. Each presentation seemed to be about how it could transform your class or school and solve all your problems and was aimed at all the things that are at the front of a teacher’s mind nowadays. It’s education but not as I know it. Still, I no longer have to do it so what’s my problem?

I have a granddaughter who has just started school and is full of enthusiasm for learning. Her little brother will be joining her soon so I want the best for them. That might include tools and systems but most of all it is about teachers who can use them innovatively. Instead we have lists of ‘stuff’ to be done. It’s called the National Curriculum. There seems to be no thought about how topics connect nor what prior learning is necessary. Children who can already read are unlearning the ability to use context to decipher words as they struggle to read nonsense words phonetically. Now I see on Andrew Marr’s programme this morning that the key indicator of success in maths is the ability to learn multiplication facts to 12 x 12.

Why this has surfaced again when it is already in the NC I can’t understand. Now, I like the idea of being proficient in basic multiplication. I’m not suggesting abandoning learning and getting out the crayons and the wendy house.It means you don’t have to take your eye off a problem while you grapple for a relevant fact but I get the strong impression that it is seen too often as an end in itself. And why 12? I could have sworn our system was decimal. I used to use multiplying by 12 as a way of learning how to multiply double digit numbers mentally as x 10 and x2 were already internalised. Perhaps we could continue to 16 x 16; it might have some benefit with things hexadecimal.

There seems nowadays no need to function mathematically, merely to compute. It is ‘the basics’ it is ‘traditional’. This despite the fact that inspector and government reports going back 150 years lament poor standards. Children will still get what they always got. Ask any adult who endured ‘traditional’ maths how they liked it. You won’t get many takers and few people become good at something they don’t like. Those of us at school in the 50s and 60s were the generation for whom it was OK to be no good at maths. And yet that is what we are told is the way forward.

What a shame that a subject so important and so exciting keeps being reduced to lists of facts while innovating with Computing. Bob Harrison tweeted “Surely now children are taught about algorithms and to code they could write a programme (sic) for 12 times table and a spelling/grammar check?” Yes, but they wouldn’t be allowed to use it in maths lessons!


2014 in review

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on December 29, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 20 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

A letter from Grandpa.

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on April 22, 2014

There seems to be something of a trend in open letters recently and when I realised that my granddaughter, who I’m sure was only born a few months ago, is starting school in September I felt I had to write one of my own. Nothing focuses the mind like personal circumstances.

Dear Amelie,

Soon you will be starting school so I thought I’d write down my hopes for you.

Despite Mummy and Daddy, like many parents, learning that there is no such thing as parental choice you are off to school with all your options open. My first wish is that in fourteen years you leave with them intact.

While the National Curriculum means you will not be cut adrift on the whims of individuals it does contain some weird things so I’m hoping you get a string of teachers who know how to skirt around the worst of them. I really don’t think you need to learn Roman numerals or to multiply up to 12 x 12. When we have time I’ll explain about decimalisation.

While we’re on the subject of maths I hope you come to love it and that you can say that you’re good at maths and not the maths test. I hope you have teachers who understand that arithmetic is a means and not an end and that understanding beats memorising hands down.

You’ll find that you are pretty much stuck before 1066 in history until you are 11. Where someone so young gets the experience on which to hang concepts like ‘1,500 years ago’ beats me but we can do the good stuff when you come to visit!

I wish you teachers who understand that assessment does not equate to a test and that no one ever says, “We can’t do that because your next school do it.” I also hope that they are familiar with Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and that creativity is at the very top of it.

You’ve always been uninhibited with technology, both your camera and Grandma’s iPad, and long may it continue. I hope you enjoy coding but are also taught that there are other vital facets to technology industries like design and graphics. Daddy will tell you that learning real maths is more important than programming and since he’s better qualified in Computer Science than I am I won’t argue with that. I hope for a school that recognises the importance of new literacies like critical use of the Internet and how this contributes just as much to your safety as online stranger danger and privacy.

Don’t worry about SATs either. The only people for whom there are consequences are your unfortunate teachers. Other subjects are just as important. If you have a super confident school that recognises that the National Curriculum is only a minimum you will be doing the National Curriculum + too.

A lot has to go right as you pick your way through the dogma fuelled education system but, between us, we’ll manage.



BETT 2014

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on January 28, 2014

I spent three days at BETT this year and, as usual, came away overflowing with ideas.


The breadth of things to see and do is staggering and it was only when I sat down on the train on my way home on Friday that it really hit me.


I spent some time looking at things as diverse as a combination learning platform, communication tool, school website and office staff and governors environment and a couple of startups. One was a series of cross platform maths apps and the other an innovative reading machine that, amongst other things tracked page turns so that it was always reading to you from the right page. It reads real books too!

The best way to meet people is to speak to them so I dida couple of ‘Ask The Expert’ slots for Naace and a Learn Live seminar.


However, everyone’s favourite attendee was…