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.

Safeguarding

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.

Advertisements

Do teenagers have anything positive to say on social media?

Been thinking about this recently.

I’ve been working with the digital leaders to make presentations for an assembly on E-safety, online presence and trollish behaviour and this got me thinking, do teenagers actually have a positive voice online?

 

Now, before we get this started, i know that there are many students out there who do some fantastic work and have a fantastic online presence. But then, when i started to look at this assembly, i tried talking to my teenage students (year 8 – 10) about how teenagers are percieved, and to prove a point i typed in the school name into twitter…..Bad Move.

 

What followed was a line of what can only be described as foul-mouthed abuse (big shocker, glad i checked the screen before i unlocked the IWB). I guess we have known this for a while, but we know about the idea of the average 13 year old playing X-box live.

 

What I’d really be interested in is how you promote a positive online attitude in your class.

 

I know, my DL’s have a fantastic online presence and are erudite and really think about what they tweet/post and i see some great stuff. But how do you promote this in your class. Could i make a wall of positive blogging/you tubing in school? (although this could probably be met by derision by 90% of the school)

I guess we were all as bad at one point in our lives, but with the recent spell of online suicides due to cyber-bullying, how do we show students their actions have consequences? OR that positive medals really work (A-La League of legends?)

Is an online presence a bad thing for teachers?

I’m always aware of what I put online, I think it’s important to cultivate an online identity, with caution as to what I say and do online.  I’ve just started a new year in my school and I’m teaching E-safety to my students in all year groups.  In our school we teach E-safety in 3 main ways:

  • data online to year 7
  • online perceptions in year 8
  • and the risks of viruses etc. in year 9.

Because of this (and I’m planning on a Sunday morning!) I’ve started to think about the curse of online social media, how others perceive your online presence and that worry’s me sometimes, the curse of what others think of you! (and should I really care?)

I guess this is brought to light by the recent stories of students who have committed suicide from cyber bullying attacks (not that I’m that way inclined) or a number of cases where teachers have been up into harms way and lost their careers by things they have put online, I really try to be careful about what I say (anything you put online can be mis-interpreted or used against you in a court of law ;o)

Like most people (of course) I want to be liked for what i do. I want students to think i teach good lessons, I want teachers to think I make good resources and of course you can’t please everyone, but what happens when students or teachers critisise you online for something you teach or how their GCSE’s have gone or that someone doesn’t like something you have made or put online?

Interviews

In the future, I think about job interviews and applying for promotion. In industry, hiring people is increasingly dominated by going online to see what an online presence is like (working in an IT industry, you need to make sure staff have a good online presence to make sure your company is well represented).

In job interviews for schools there is this idea of a pupil panel, where students from the school council interview you for the job and feedback to the head. Our students are increasingly aware of how to use social media and commenting on teachers, schools etc online, but do not discriminate about the information they put openly online (try typing the name of your school into twitter sometime and see what people say!)

Is it a bad thing?

How long will it be before a job interview will be assessed not just by the job you do and the lesson you teach, but the perception of people on social media? and is this a bad thing?

As mentioned, in industry it would be common practice in industry to cultivate an online persona with a LinkedIn profile and a website and a blog,  which is largely (not wholly, I know most people who read this will have blogs etc.) ignored by the teaching community. Maybe students would benefit from teachers working online and seeing how to be online but in a safe, controlled and positive manner rather than avoiding the curse of online like some plague that threatens to wipe out your teaching career?

Disclaimer:  please let me know if you think any of this is inflammatory as i wouldn’t want my perception to be harmed by this post!

Image from sxc.hu (copyright free image site)

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.

Thoughts
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 legend grows (January Term)

So the digital leaders continues from strength to strength with their work. I hear reports circulating around the school about how they have helped teachers fix broken powerpoints and help with how to use activ-studio. This is the idea and this is their positive impact.

However there have been a number of other positive things that we have been doing with our own projects and it’s good to highlight them here.

E-Safety

So, another part of my remit this year is that of of E-safety. Through discussions with the school Child Protection officer, she felt that it would be beneficial to explain the issues that were faced online and that had actually happened so that the digital leaders could understand how children in school were effected. This had a real impact on the students and how they percive themselves online. We are now thinking of having a display that the students made from this discussion in order to highlight their feelings on e-safety.

Computing Videos

One of the tasks I set was for the students to adversise a computing through a video. I think this had partial success and think that it requires more guidance to make sure they follow the remit. The one that they produced had some issues with sound so i ended up using a non-sound version for options evening, which looked more like a powerpoint slideshow. I think in future i will have to give more guidance on this one. you can view the result here

Podcast
The podcast is one of the major successes of this year. I get students to come up with a topic, discuss issues surrounding it and put it on Itunes for them to download. The issue they did this term was “the gaming issue” where they talked about the new tech that is coming out in games this year and also enthusing students in the ways to make their own games.

The thing that i struggle with this is time. I’m getting the students to record which is great, but i am left with the job of putting it all together. I think that following on from this i’m going to start giving them a template for the podcast and get them to put it together when they have recorded it all. For the construction we are using audactity and Pod-O-Matic

For safer internet day, i also knocked out a very quick podcast on how students percieve e-safety and what they think about protecting themselves online. You can view their Itunes channel Here

Website

One of the digital leaders has set up a canon slade Digital Leaders website. This is pretty good, but i’ve tried to give him the task of organising it so that it is easier to use. I think following on from a term where he has been working on the graphics etc. I’m going to get each of the digital leaders to write a post a term to detail what they have done(maybe get some pictures etc.) and then display their work. you can view their website and what they have done so far Here.

Inter School Linkup

This is something that could really be good. I’ve started teaching my digital leaders how to use TextAdventures with the aim of getting them to go to a primary school and teaching the students in primary how to make an adventure game. Depending on the success of this, i can then look at doing a HAck to the Future – After Hours, like i did with Alan (@teknoteacher) about a year and a half ago to get other students enthused about ICT, Programming and computing.

If you are interested in working with me on this i’d love your input. The idea is to do it on an afternoon in a primary school.

Final Thoughts from Mr G

I think that the ideas laid out this term have been good. my lessons that i have learned is the amount of guidance that students need in order to gain them focus. I think this could be an area i need to look into where i get some 6th formers to work on projects with the digital leaders to offer guidance and give the 6th formers some confidence in their abilities too. I’d love to know how often other school digital leaders meet, as i’m finding that doing it one lunchtime a week only gives me 5 hours a term (if that).