Category: Teaching

A new Computing A-level, or time to re-think

So at the moment I’m looking at the new computing curriculum and currently I’m bricking it a little. All this change, how is it going to affect me? How is the course going to change? what will this mean for the students?

I’ve been teaching Computing for 4/5 years now and I have to say that I love it. I think the work is challenging and the flexibility in the curriculum allows me to change and develop how I teach every year. At the moment I have an A-Level that includes all the course materials and more. I also don’t just teach 1 programming language I teach 4 including: HTML, PHP and Greenfoot.

So looking at the OCR specification I started feeling trepidation, it has all the things I currently teach, but maybe I’m not covering it enough. This has taken about 4 hours of my day up today, what to do?

I’ve now resolved. I don’t want to teach to a specification (Although, obviously I will teach so the students can pass), but in a world of increasingly challenging numbers in sixth form and greater competition I resolve the following:

  1. To teach the course to the best of my ability
  2. To continue to look for greater opportunities beyond a standard computing course
  3. To work harder to make my course something special for the students I teach

I just hope I can find the time to fit all the new ideas I want for the course into a new and exciting curriculum. what are you going to do with a new curriculum and open evening in September? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments.


My first after-school Code-a-thon

The beautiful blogs poster, as made skillfully by Sian, one of my digital leaders.

The beautiful blogs poster, as made skillfully by Sian, one of my digital leaders.

So, I know I’ve been writing for a while, but this is something that I have had a passion for and looking for an outlet. The school I currently work at busses the students in, which makes extra curricular a real challenge. usually we have to run any kind of extra curricular club in lunchtime which does limit the way we work and also the need for giving students the chance for lunch.But I’ve finally cracked it and got 10 students to stay behind for an after school session, titled “Beautiful Blogging” and aiming to teach the skills of HTML and how blogs work. The aim to encourage students to program and learn a new outlet for the skills that we teach in the classroom.

Now, like most things, this isn’t an entirely original idea, I saw this at a Manchester Girl Geeks event with another teacher who ran it. I thought it was so brilliant I have kept it, revamped it and used it in my class. the results were good, I got girls and boys from 12 to 15 to learn some HTML skills using the Tumblr platform.


Estafety in schools is a massive issue and whenever there is talk of social networking sites (As tumblr generally is classed due to its links with facebook and twitter), you need to consider the information surrounding it.

When I approached the school they were reticent. You’re using a social media platform to teach? (fear and trepidation from the child protection officer). Writing a brief proposal of how I wanted to use the platform and also in the session think about E-safety issues (e.g. making sure the blog is not listed on google so you have to know the email to find them).

I also had to approach the technicians to allow the network to unblock Tumblr for a few hours so the students could get in. If you have access to Tumblr in school, great, if not you could also try Blogger, WordPress(duhh) or Edublogs.

I chose Tumblr for one simple reason, I wanted a platform that students were already keen on and using in order to gain the most appeal.  You can find the proposal that I submitted to the safeguarding officer, demonstrating the settings that I applied with the students here:

Beautiful Blogs SG Letter

The Session

Lasted for 1 hr 30 mins, with 11 students who signed up and seemed to go well (If I were doing this again, I could invite other schools, but I would need additional permissions and I’d need to be ‘dead-on’ with my delivery). The main issue I had involved getting the students signed up to the site. What I failed to take into account was that Tumblr makes sure you are 13 to sign up, so you have to make sure there is more than one option or try a different blog. You could, if you wanted, make dummy accounts for students below the age of 13 to try, but that would be illegal, so i wouldn’t endorse that at all.

When the students have signed up, the students alter the blog settings for e-safety (See above) and also that you alter the settings to allow for the students to write in RichText/HTML. (A word of warning, if they don’t activate the account using the email, HTML won’t work in the blog, weird!)

Introducing the session students were also introduced into the topic of blogging. Through the demonstration of blogs that I know students in the past have set up and discussion of what people write about, students had an idea about what to write. The initial discussion was to create an “about me” page (also thinking about e-safety) with things that the students are passionate about, in order for them to decide on their first post.

Using the following worksheet (BBSample), the students were able to think about the different tags they could use to make the page more effective.  The kids got a real kick out of the work, most had a smattering of HTML, so in an hour and a half I talked about what to write a blog about and also putting some funky HTML into a blog you couldn’t do without using code (E.g. marquee’s and funky CSS borders).

The students really saw the value in this as they could not of done this with a standard Tumblr blog, this meant that they could do things at home that other students couldn’t! (everyone loves showing off!)

Were to go next

I planned this session as one of 3. Which means that the second session would probably feature more CSS then the final session on how to change the site to alter the theme and make it more attractive.

Not sure what people’s thoughts are but I think that this could easily be applied to other schools and through the general excitement that the social network produced in order to teach HTML, I think this could be a new (different) way of applying HTML in the classroom. The larger scale of this (rolling it out in a standard classroom session) would probably be open to more abuse, but as a follow up to an existing classroom activity in HTML it can have a real benefit to ICT and computing as a subject.

*Mr Gristwood did not write any HTML in the making of this blog (unfortunately)

(Adendum) Pedagogical Approach

As students were entering the class at differing levels of expertise the resources had to be planned for differentiation. The worksheet allowed for the differentiation of the class with beginner(left hand side), intermediate (right hand side) and advanced (back of the sheet).

The idea of using different pedagogical styles:

  • Visual – here is a worksheet, this is what you can achieve (powerpoint)
  • Audio – here are some visual tutorial foudn online of how to code HTML
  • Kinesthetic –  lets do something fun and interactive

I have found recently with using tools like notepad, students enjoy the experience of programming, refreshing the page and seeing what they have learned. This does have it’s drawbacks, so when approaching this task i wanted to use an online tool that would show instantanious response (if they had done this correctly), so tumblr engages students with the effect of showing what they have learned instantly, in a piece of software that has real life application for them. This also meant if they made mistakes they can see the response qucikly.

Teaching HTML in previous classes has shown that studnets want to get working fast, so by getting students t produce something quickly that they can see, then refining that product to make it more interactive and fun has worked well in this example. Providing sutdents with additonal research allows us to plan for progression and challenge them beyond the taught task.

Students generally have to be taught a way of working with HTML in that they have to learn to develop a base product and then refine quickly checking each step along they way. This also aids them in a future career in computing where one of the more popular ways of working is Test Driven Design, which is widely adopted as being good working practice within industy, and also version control which allows them to work togheter online on the same blog, with version control showing the development of the product.

During the class I was also chatting with a numebr of students that had their own web projects outside of the classroom, this allowed me also to aid in their development beyond the curriculum.

What I have seen in the last 3 years due to the advent of courses like this and support in student’s learning beyond the classroom is the general shift for students to take more computing in the school. Through this level of nurture and support, Computing numbers are rising within the school and the keen-ness and enthusiasm for a subject which (in this school) is an option and competing with other subjects which are more established in the curriculum.

Are we falling into the ICT trap?

So I’ve just come back from a Brilliant Day (and night) at the CAS Conference. This is my third year and each year I approach the event with a new thought of what I want to learn. This year, it was my focus on not what i teach (languages etc.) but the way I teach.

The keynote speakers that we had were brilliant, a speaker from Google and Lee Stott from Microsoft about the projects they are currently running in order to get students involved in programming.

What struck me was 2 things:

  • there is a lot of fear out there about learning to program
  • there are so many tools out there we have to be careful what we choose to use.

I think these 2 things together could be a double edged sword that Computing/programming must be careful of when walking that line.  There are a number of ICT Teachers without the requisite skills to program and need to learn, however there are also A LOT of very simple programming tools that get you started, but if you use these beyond the starting point you end up with a culture shift.

I think at this point we need to be careful. Let’s be under no mistake PROGRAMMING IS HARD, and there are a number of ways to introduce the topic, but if you use the tools beyond the engagement point, you have to make sure you apply the rigor to it or make the end product a joke.

The ICT Failure
We all complain about the failure of ICT and it becoming too easy. I remember in 2006 when i was a tech a teacher abandoning HTML for Dreamweaver on the basis they had to make a website and Dreamweaver was “faster and easier”. We could quickly fall into this trap with programming, making tools to make coding easier then in 5 years complaining that programming has become too easy and we are in danger of being dropped from the curriculum.

I love the IDEA of tools like blockly, but I think there has to be a culture shift from the big companies and product developers. CAS has it right, let’s focus on the education of the teachers first and make sure we have qualified, trained teachers to make sure the subject is rigorous and challenging with the right teachers to teach it.

Addendum 25/6/13: How do I teach

Speaking to people tonight at a CPD for CAS in Preston, I was thinking how I wrote this. It’s true (guilty smile), I work in a good school and this is great because (most) students will (generally) try no matter what you throw at them. But I think with programming (and any subject for that matter) you have to find a way to engage every student in the class, take them on the journey with you.

I don’t want to make the programming language so simple that everyone in the class can do it first time, every time. I want to be able to teach so that the hard language is accessible to everyone.   Using tools such as CSInside and CSUnplugged, which helps break down topics into smaller ones can help with this. I guess my aim as a teacher is not to get every student to be good at every topic, but to introduce those topics, get them to engage, and allow them to learn for themselves outside of the classroom. Yes, this takes more time and planning for differentiation, but I find this to be one of the most fun parts of teaching, coming at a topic sideways to come up with an interesting idea that will engage and excite my students.

I also would love to talk about the CAS “Master Teacher” role, but think I’ll leave that for later.

Open Source Teaching

So, this is a thought i had a while ago about Teaching and Open Source.

Part of what i really love about teaching is coming up with new and exciting ideas, it’s why I go to geekups, to see something that someone does, modify it and really make it my own.  I know marking and stuff is part of the job, but ask most teachers and their true joy is getting up and “performing” in front of a class.

I recently went to a Barcamp in Manchester and attended a talk about Open Source software and this got me thinking, surely we should promote Open Source Teaching? 

I share my resources that I make for classes quite openly and freely (and hopefully they make a difference in someone else’s class) on the same principal of open source (or creative commons)

Why Should i Bother?

It’s a good point and a good question. Why should i share my stuff, as let’s face it anyone could rip it off and pass it off as their own. would this impact me on the job front if i went for a job and someone said they took my resources as their idea.

One of the first things i learned when i did my management course years ago was that it always benefits you to share your knowledge. The idea that the more you share, the more you get back (or the more it Free’s you up to do other things as people will then be more willing to help you in your job)

Taking it further
from listening to the talk on open source, i was thinking about taking the idea of open source teaching further. I see so many “educational consultants” who charge for their days teaching people how to teach and how to make “the perfect lesson”. I don’t believe to hold that answer, I do what i do, the kids enjoy it, so do I and they learn something in the middle.

But wouldn’t it be brilliant if you have a lesson that you know works well (maybe it’s the third time you have taught the starter that week) and instead of just putting a resource onto CAS or TES, you make a video of how you used it in class showing how it works for you.

If we could get teachers doing this, these sites could then build a repository of videos of lessons that you could watch and see how a teacher teaches and from that develop a resource further. I know there are people out there doing this, so when my year 11’s have left this is my pledge, to take a KS3 lesson, record part of it to show something working well and then upload it to my youtube.

Maybe some average teaching practice(by me) will rub off on someone to make it outstanding teaching in another school

Time to learn/ time to teach

After returning from one of my weekend jaunts to Manchester barcamp( a free un-conference tun by Manchester girl geeks) i was struck by something really interesting. I am a pretty self motivated learner, i don’t need people to teach me, just a big book and some times, but in teaching where does that time come from?

I’ve seen a lot of courses offering me to learn about programming, and I think for the beginning programmer that is great, however I also think that as someone who can program I just need the time to develop my skills and learn how to teach new languages, and here I find this time lacking.

In an ideal world, I’d love to experiment and develop lessons for my year 12 and 13 computing in:

  • PHP
  • Object Orientation (and Greenfoot)
  • Build your own PC Courses

My limitation is not my lack of understanding, its the preparation time on learning how to teach these topics. I have 4 machines ready to go to teach a “build your own PC” course, but i need to strip them down to bare bones to start, this could take me 1/2 hours at least, then write the prep materials.

The Online Argument
there are a million resources online and as much as a love the CAS group and their resources and even (sometimes) TES, i can usually spend more time trying to find a resource and edit it to suit my needs rather than making it myself.

At the moment there are a million courses teaching the basics but i either need more time to plan or more time to decide how to impart new concepts.

Teaching is a lot about time and pressure and the idea of micro management of tasks, get the coursework markedFatherhood-For-Geeks-610x524 for year 11, then do year 8 marking, then plan your lessons. Doing the extra jobs that need/like to be done sit in the background. As a new dad as well (she’s 6 months and V Cute) i am now struck by what people said before she was born “all this extra stuff you do will go out the window”. Well, shockingly, they were right and i was wrong. I try to keep up the best I can and attend the courses to meet my collegues/friends, but what i really need now is an extra 2 hours a week where i can sit and learn the extra stuff to bring my lessons on even further.

I was thinking of applying for Head of Departments this year, i think if i did that my life and passion for my subject would be sucked away and replaced by an even bigger mountain of paperwork. But as I wrote in a previous post “i’m looking for something, not sure what it is yet”

p.s. apologies for the picture, picked it up ages ago and can’t find the link. if someone can, i’ll credit the source.

Digital Leaders – The Christmas Edition!

So the Digital LEaders have been working for a full term now on their various different projects and I think things are developing well. There are been a couple of things that have really been a success:

Work around the school

What has been really great is having a number of members of staff using and utilising the digital leaders for work. We’ve had posters made by the students explaining online storage facilities and staff asking for questionnaires and feedback for different areas of school life. I think this is great to get students seeing themselves being used around school in a positive way. The leaders this term have helped with the school newsletter( allowing collaboration between students)

Digital Leaders Training

Students have been trained this term on ActivStudio. I thought this was a good idea as some of the teachers in the school are unconfident in it’s use and there was after school CPD on the topic so it can help to “firm up knowledge”. Each of the digital leaders for each piece of training they do gets a badge on their own profile on the moodle, highlighting that they have done training and can be approached by staff to help with that topic

The Tech Talk
Digital LeadersThis is think has been a major achievement this term. I pushed the idea out that the students should make a podcast of what they are interested in. I think this may lead to other things that we can use fof promoting ICT around the school. I floated the idea of having a “tech topic”, “social issue” and a “website of the term”. So, in their first issue, the students talk about:

  • “is the term geek offensive” which highlights social issues around the school and tackles bullying
  • “which tablet to buy” which seems to be a big question that I keep getting asked
  • “Website of the term” – this time it’s a google music making web 2.o app
  • and their “top tech toys for christmas”

The students really had a buzz doing this, and the fact that it is being put on the Itunes store gave them a big buzz, which i think is great (you can find it by typing “Canon Slade” into Itunes) or by going to Itunes, File, Subscribe to podcast and pasting this link I used PodOmatic to host the cast after they first created it.

The next issue will be “the gaming issue” which will discuss their favourite games as well as promoting some of the computing topics e.g. scratch, textadventures etc. this will hopefully highlight some areas we can develop in school.  Students woudl reallly appreciate feedback through a twittter mention to @canonsladeict

The website

One of the students has really taken on the job of keeping the website up to date. He has made his own Weebly site and is now working on making it effective. Next term i’m going to focus on giving guidance to make sure it stands out and getting the students to mail to him their own posts on what they have done and how they are working.

Twitter presentation
This was a bit of a disaster as no students wanted to learn how to use twitter, however a member of the school SLT showed up and sat listening as the students explained in brilliant detail how they use twitter. Which was really positive as they did get to present to someone and it also highlighted safe use of social networks to the school SLT.

She was so impressed the boys will now present to the headteacher next term.

So….whats Next?
The digital leaders have really had a tough job as i’ve been trying to work out what to do as well as them working alongside me. The success of the podcast and the website really great and i hope this continues. We are going to try to move the podcasts to once a half term and really get them cracking with that. We have a lot of displays to do and also a promotional video telling students why to take GCSE Computing.

We are also aiming to have an after hours night for lower school(e.g. y7 and y8) with an evening making their own text adventure game with parents.

If you have ideas of projects i’d really love to hear from you.

Digital Leaders – The first meeting back

So I’ve been back 2 weeeks and called my 9 digital leaders together to decide on our first terms work. The aim is that i woudl like students to determine independent thought and ideas for them to make their own digital leader projects.

Initially i came to the meeting with a few initial ideas, but i also wanted to find areas that students have their own interests in.  In our school, we have ICT rooms open at lunchtimes for students to complete homework etc. so Digital Leaders are now allocated to classrooms on those days to ether work on their own projects or help other students in their coursework.


From lasyt year we needed a digitial leaders logo. I know that the digital leader network has a logo competition that was succesful in generating a logo, however i feel it is important to give students a sense of ownership and by designing a product for their own school, it gives them a sense of pride in the work they are completing. I have provided the challenge of setting up a logo and a prize (box of cookies, Healthy school will kill me!).  This is due at the next meeting, after half term. (This is the ICT department logo, designed 2 years ago by one of my students Adam Brownlow)


At the same time, i wanted the studnets to have their own say and viewpoint, the hope being that they can integrate a blog and other tools in and they can comment on the work they are doing and what they have done. As Web Design is a love of one of the students i have put him and another student together to delegate and organise the work between them


A number of students have been looking for ways to integrate other communication methods into school communication. So they are looking at making a number of help videos to show students how to use smartphones effectively. I would also like students to investigate maybe making a help video on how to use twitter on your phone as we have a school twitter feed and i need more students to follow it.

Work at home

a number of studnets want to look at ways that they can send work home, I think this will directly tie into the smartphone element, but as an initial project to work together i think it is good and it allows them to do an analysis of googledocs vs dropbox vs icloud vs everything else

Social Networking

The last group is looking at use of social networking within school and the ways that students use social networking. The aim is that they will produce a display for the classroom on the effective use of social networks.