Google+ Followers

Thursday, 25 October 2012

TechHeads, EdTech, & BSC Entrepreneurs

I attended my first ever meeting at the London branch of the BCS - Chartered Institute for IT. Just going to the London office made me very excited as you could imagine. I was there to attend the TechHead's meeting on the proposals for the new Ebacc (which is going to include IT... possibly... at this point who knows?) and a panel of speakers were explaining the opportunities to developer/IT start-ups that may be interested in developing products, resources etc to aid teachers.

I was invited along by Edward Baker, the organiser who, like many of us have been saying for a while, there needs to be a meeting of minds between the teaching community and the developer community. TechHeads is the name of the community he has created.

The panel of speakers at this event consisted of the fabulous Tony Parkin, Educational Technologist and self proclaimed disruptive nostalist @tonyparkin who talked about the problems that may arise from having ICT included in the new ebacc, Sue Street a Naace Fellow, national leader of ICT, and teacher, who rightfully said that she was concerned that including computer science so heavily in the new ebacc program of study could cause creativity to be pushed into a corner and forgotten about. Bill Mitchell, Director of the British Computer Society who explained a bit of the history of what had happened and why there is suddenly so much fuss over our subject. He talked about the new plans to stop all teacher training of ICT and the £20,000 incentive for CS graduates to take up teaching (Grrr.. where's *my* £20,000 for being an awesome teacher of ICT?) Bill also mentioned that the first draft of the ICT ebacc program of study had been delivered to Gove and that it takes up two sides of A4. Neil Mclean, Head of FutureLab Research Center, and Chris Johnson Principle moderator of ICT GCSE for OCR were also speakers and panelists.

I realize that the target audience of these talks were the developers, however I felt that many of the speakers played into the media and governments false perception that all ICT teachers are lazy idiots who know nothing about computer science and do not care about teaching it well. I got quite frustrated during the talks and was super happy when a fellow ICT teacher said during the Q&A everything that I was feeling. There is a danger here that meetings like this are going to alienate the very people who have worked hard, and are working hard to improve ICT teaching in the UK. I'm not saying that all teachers are great, but I know for a fact that there is some outstanding work going on in this country.

One issue that I think it being overlooked is that of time. I can teach anything, but until ICT is given more than 50 mins per week on the curriculum, it will not be taken seriously as an important subject. I am in a carousel with Music, DT and HE. History gets double the amount of time, and Core subjects like Maths, Eng and Science get four times the amount. The argument is not solely what we are teaching but how much time we have to teach.

The state of computer networks within schools is another major issue for improving the way ICT is perceived as a subject. The computers in my school are 8 years old, using software that is three versions out of date. Many programs we use (not Microsoft!) struggle to run. This is one of the reasons that the Raspberry Pi is so attractive as a low cost product that allows us teachers to bypass the network. Any new curriculum needs to take into consideration the condition of many school networks.

Anyway, That's my moan!

I'm really excited that the BCS are reaching out to the developer community, and I had a great chat with some people afterwards about helping them with anything they've got planned. I'm happy to test any ideas with classrooms full of students if it helps developers and teachers come together. I'm convinced, through my own work with the Python Community that working together can help teachers teach better, give developers a voice about what they think needs to be taught, and give students backup and inspiration to go forward.

If you are a teacher, a developer, someone who is interested in the opportunities that the new programs of study for ICT provide and want some input from grass roots teachers like me, please get in touch. We are all working towards the same goal.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Google Edu On Air: Student Eportfolios

Or.. How my carefully well planned on air inset session went wrong.

As part of Google Edu's second on air educational conference I offered to present a session on creating students eportfolios using a template within Google Apps for Edu. I had my presentation prepared, I knew exactly every technical part that I would need to explain and I had contacted other Google Certified Teachers who would really add to the session like @ZoeRoss19 who have expert knowledge of Google Sites and other apps.

How could it go so wrong?!

I know how... It was late on a Sunday, half the people I asked to take part were busy, y'know having real lives, and technical difficulties meant that Zoe could not join in. At 8.03pm after minutes of freaking out I decided to just do it all on my own. See video:

You can even pin point the moment when I start to just witter about nothing and James Sanders attempts to rescue me from myself. 

Eugh. Tragic. Oh well, I've taught worse lessons in my time as a teacher. Talking to myself is nothing new.

But seriously, I love sharing ways of doing things like this. If you have ideas on how I could do this better please get in touch. If you want any personal help setting up your eportfolios using GAFE, please get in touch. If you want to laugh at my ineptitude, please don't get in touch. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Google Edu Conference On Air

On Sunday I will be presenting a session as part of the Google Edu Conference On Air

I will be explaining how I went about creating a template for my students to use within our Google Apps for Edu domain for their ICT work at KS3. We have over 600 students using google sites within GAFE to display their work in ICT lessons. I will discuss the problems that I uncovered through the process and had to overcome. I will also discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using a system like this. I will also explain our use of class badges and introduce you to

Please watch the stream online via my Google+ page, and post questions if you have any in the feed.

Monday, 1 October 2012

PyConUK and PythonEDU

I attended my first Python conference over the weekend of the 29th September. This is primarily a conference for programmers using the programming language Python, but this year the organisers have worked to include the teaching community as programming becomes more and more likely to appear on any plans for a new ICT curriculum in the UK.

I was not sure what to expect over the weekend, and as I took my seat and the mornings introduction began I realised that the geek to teacher ratio was worse than expected. I was constantly asked over the weekend if I thought that teacher groups knew about professional developer communities like the Python community? I guess not.

My first session was an introduction to Python for newbies. This was my first ever programming lesson, and as a teacher I constantly questioned how I would teach this to my students? Would I teach concepts and basic coding steps and then ask students to implement them in made up circumstances or would I flip this model and give students code through a project so they can understand its application before working out what the code is doing to understand how to program. (I'm not sure if I'm closer to a solution to this conundrum.) Python seems extremely easy to learn as a programming language. I come from a more scripting background so it is still difficult for me to completely understand it but I feel empowered to at least have a go. The best part of this session was that the organisers had placed experienced developers around the room to help us students when we got stuck. This was genius. I was lucky enough to have been sat with someone who explained problems to me in such a way that helped me to understand. This triggered an idea - why not ask the coders to produce screencasts, voice threads or videos for simple concept explanations or activities to aid learning. they could be uploaded *somewhere* and we teachers could use them to create lessons.

Later that evening there was a discussion between the chairman of the Python Software Foundation, Van Lindberg, the staff of PyConUK, and for some strange reason I was there too. We discussed the future of Python in education globally. I enjoyed this discussion as I think we are all working towards the same goal. I really think the python community has an opportunity here to have Python as the language taught predominantly in schools in the UK. The raspberry pi is going to make this the number one language and if there is a way to teach something in scratch and then mirror it in python to show kids the advantages and disadvantages of both it will be an even better education tool. 

On the second day I worked with Nicholas Tollervey @ntoll to deliver an 'Education Sprint'. After talking with many of the teachers on the first day it became clear that both parties needed to be brought together to tackle the problems faced by educators. The simplest way to do this was to start with statements or questions. We had the following:

  • What do the developers need to know from the teachers?
  • What do developers think students should learn?
  • What do developers think teachers need to know to be able to teach programming?
  • What ideas for projects that can turned into schemes of work can you think of?
  • Willing to help teachers?

After giving the attendee's time to write answers for each we started a very interesting discussion on each topic. By the end of the discussion we chose 5 project ideas and split into groups. One teacher per group of developers to guide the discussion to create a scheme of work or series of lessons. I think this was a really great process, I think it showed that both groups could collaborate well to come up with something fantastic, and I personally think that's what education is all about. Good things happen when you bring experts and educators together. All the projects have been put onto GitHub which can be found on Nicholas' blog.

Somehow I ended up on a panel where I clearly didn't belong, but y'know need to represent! Luckily I was rescued before I really said what I think about the ongoing issues of education. lol.

I kept returning to the idea of having an online space where teachers, developers and students could access what they need from each other. I'm not really sure how to describe what I'm envisioning:

As the three target groups want different things it might be an idea to split the site into 3 categories: If you are a teacher click here, if you are a student click here, if you are a python guru genius developer wishing to help the first two groups because you are lovely click here.

  • Geeks can upload videos/screenshares/audio/voicethreads, or activities, or problems. They could locate schools via a search nearby asking for support, or advertise code dojos.
  • Teachers can use geek content to create lessons, we can share lesson plans, activities and schemes of work. Or search for geeks in the area willing to help out at different levels (1st, 2nd, 3rd line etc)
  • Students can find help to questions from geeks, or find other students to help them, find events to attend for them.
It's something I would like to work on, but I think I just have too much going on right now, especially if we are expecting an ofsted inspection at any moment. Perhaps some nice developer will help me out. *hint hint major hint*

At the end of the day I gave a lightening talk about trying to get the Python developer community to get involved by creating content that could be blended or flipped by teachers into lesson plans. It's difficult to get across what you are trying to under a time pressure. I tried to use my example of teaching to explain the need for a Python EDU portal but not sure I really did it very well. (you can judge by watching this video from 1.50.53 onwards) I'm trying to promote a way of doing things in teaching, not myself. The feedback from the community is that they wanted an inclusive community/group/mailing list/forum for teachers and geeks. Github is too geeky for teachers and CAS is too teachery for geeks (not my words).

The beauty of reaching out to this community of programmers is that they work on a open source principle that mirrors my own teaching. The python community listened to what I had to say and in many ways have responded. This has culminated in the creation of a google group called Python EDU for geeks and educators. I hope in some way teachers will see this as an opportunity to do something great. But currently, with this strange education climate this all could be a waste of time :/

P.S. Maybe the site should include a geek to teacher speak and vice versa translator for the lols.