The BBC micro:bit

I returned from the Easter break to find 4 huge parcels containing 280 BBC micro:bits (one for each Y7 in school.  This is tremendously exciting!  I’ve had my teacher bit for, erm, a bit and have loved playing around with it, as has my 6 year old daughter and her friends (a small plea – MORE of this sort of thing please BBC – lots of other year groups and especially primary teachers would LOVE these resources).

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Little Miss Colley and friends investigating the micro:bit.

The Y7 micro:bit pioneers club have been writing some excellent programs such as a compass, a real life snakes & ladders and a magic 8 ball too.

Now it’s time to start introducing all of Y7 to their new devices.  We’ve made the decision to keep the micro:bits in school whilst we work through the 4 lesson scheme of work and give them out at the end once pupils have become more familiar with the devices and (hopefully) some fires have been lit.

As usual, I’ve been busy creating resources, so here are:

My YouTube playlists:

My microbit website profile – basically all the scripts that I have written.

The scheme of work and lesson resources.

Safer Internet Day 2015

I’m happy to report that my school is taking part in Safer Internet Day once again this year with all forms having assemblies and performing activities in registration around the theme of ‘Building a Better Internet Together’.

In addition, I run my ‘E Safety for Parents’ evening, and here are some of the resources from the night.  Please share any original work using  a creative commons share alike license.

Amazing Mind Reader – a video that really makes you think about what to post.

Orange Digital Dirt – one of my favourite videos about digital footprints.

My Slide Deck – here are my slides from the night.  If you prefer, here is a link to the PowerPoint file – IS for Parents V3.

Websites

ThinkUKnow – Your (and my) one stop shop for advice for parents and pupils.

The Parent Zone – a great site with an especially good free magazine about digital parenting.

KS3 Computing Assessment Framework

Since the disapplication of the ICT programme of study a couple of years ago, ‘KS3 assessment criteria’ or a variation thereof has been one of the most frequent search terms that lands people on my blog.  Whilst I tweaked and remixed the ICT criteria in 2012, a new program of study (and for a lot of us a brand new subject) has resulted in the need for a new assessment framework.  Here’s how my department and I have been going about it.

Start Points

Our three main touchstones for the process were as follows:

1. The new KS3 programme of study (and also the KS1/2 POS to see what we were picking up from primaries).

2. This rather superb Guide to Computing in the Secondary Curriculum from Computing at School (CAS).  Again, there is a primary version that I urge you to read.

3. Miles Berry‘s (yes, him again!) assessment framework available on the CAS resources hub.

If you’re getting the feeling that CAS is a valuable and knowledgable community and resource centre, then you’d be right!

Rationale

My school will continue to use levels for 2014/15, so we used the traditional numbers, but any nomenclature would do just fine, white belt > yellow belt, stone age > bronze age (OK, maybe not that one) etc etc.

There were two key tenets for the process, they were:

There should be as much consistency across one level as possible – all the level 5 descriptors should involve a roughly similar complexity of thinking.

There should be a clear progression ladder in each topic – steps between levels should represent an increase in the complexity of thinking/comprehension but without enormous leaps in the complexity of what we are asking students to do/understand.

Process

Rather than take Miles’ framework and implement it unedited, we felt that it was important for the whole department to have a say in the scaling process.  To do this, we used an afternoon of departmental INSET time on a physical cut & paste exercise, where we literally cut all the statements up, clustered  them into rough topics and then sorted them into order.  The strands we used were Digital Literacy, Computer Science, and ICT.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 20.05.48

To help us, we used Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, the SOLO taxonomy framework and good old fashioned professional argument.

Whilst we tried to standardise key words across levels, sometimes we agreed that understanding one concept was more complex than understanding another and so one was (for example) a six whilst the other was a five.

This sorting and arguing really helped us to clarify our understanding of the descriptors. In some cases we adapted, combined or re-wrote them to fit the two main criteria of our rationale. As a result, we now feel that we have a robust tool to help us plan individual units, feed back to pupils and help them progress toward the (very ambitious) statements outlined in the programme of study.  All staff have more of a shared understanding of the criteria and ownership of the framework.

Cut & Paste

The result

If you’ve skipped the earlier paragraphs, or even if you haven’t, please bear in mind that this is not a finished product.  Just like with my resources, I would strongly recommend that you examine, question, adapt and tweak for your own school. The process of creation of this V 1.0 has been just as valuable as the outcome.

For planning purposes, I’ve mapped the descriptors to various topics in this Google Spreadsheet. The letters are so that we can keep track of which descriptors we are marking against and update each pupil’s KS3 assessment overview document (which hasn’t been produced yet, but will be in a simpler format.

To access the document in Google Drive (it displays much better there) here’s the link.

I’m absolutely sure that this framework will adapt as we get to grips with the new curriculum in the classroom, but your feedback on V1 would be more than welcome.  Please comment with your views.

Talk to the duck – debugging and resilience

Two of the key aspects of computational thinking are decomposition (breaking a problem or process down into sequential steps ) and debugging (finding & fixing errors in your code).  If you can’t do these things, then programming is going to be very difficult.

However, I can forsee students getting very stuck and very frustrated if I don’t teach them how to think sequentially and give them a toolkit of techniques to try when their program doesn’t work as they want it to.

To help, I’m going to draw on research from prominent educational theorists Bert & Ernie. Student are going to learn the ancient, noble art  of rubber ducking.

Yes, we are buying every member of the dept an actual rubber duck. Yes, we will make the students explain their program to the duck.  Will it work, I don’t know yet, but it will make them think in a computational way, which is half the battle.

So, from September, it looks like my 4Bs resilience list will now read BBBDB.

Go talk to the duck…………

rubber ducky 2

SSAT Computing Conference 2014

Thanks to everyone at #SSATComp14 for a warm welcome at my first conference presentation.  My workshop was about the Y7 binary converter scheme of work that I have been developing for teaching from Sep 2014.  I had an absolute blast, and here are my key learning points from the day:

1. Computing isn’t just programming, it’s a blend of ICT, digital citizenship and Computer Science.  This excellent document form Computing at School is a good reference point.

2. You won’t get it right first time – the new curriculum is there to be played with and tweaked. Think of it as a beta release.

3. What are your (up to) 10 key ideas about Computing – design your curriculum around those and you won’t go far wrong.

4. You are not alone, there are lots of other people in the same boat or a bit further down the line.  Some of these people are on twitter, where lots of valuable discussion take place.  If you are one of the people that I bullied persuaded to sign up on the day and you’re not too sure where to start, then just follow Miles Berry (@mberry).  He’s like the Kevin Bacon of the Computing curriculum – he’s connected to everyone. Look at who he interacts with, follow a few of them and you can’t go far wrong!  See my resources page for my stuff and a list of my recommendations for resources made by others.  Once you see what others are doing it will fire your creativity and get you thinking about where you could take it.

5. Own your curriculum. Yes, I share my resources, a lot of which have been adapted from other people’s. I wouldn’t recommend that you use my resources out of the box, tweak and adapt for your school and your pupils.  You know them best after all.

6. Don’t think that every lesson has to involve computers – it’s about solving human problems and sometimes simulations and abstractions can get in the way of that.

7. Big data is ace! Nuff said.

For those who were there (or not), here are my slides, and a link to all of the resources from the scheme of work.  Any WWW/EBI comments about the session or the resources would be more than welcome.

 

 

 

 

Differentiation and Programming

The most successful ICT lessons I’ve taught over the past 10 years have all shared a couple of attributes.  The first is the idea of ‘freedom within a framework’ – clear success criteria but pupils have a measure of control over the output (topic/theme is the first example that comes to mind) which helps to motivate them.

The second is the very tricky concept of ‘challenge and support’.  This is especially difficult in mixed ability groups where there are potentially no upper or lower ability cutoffs.  I’ve found that whilst I have become quite adept (I think) at supporting the lower end, it is sometimes more difficult for me to plan in the flexibility to allow those students who can to go deeper and further without limiting them or starving them of advice whilst I get others up to speed.  At one hour a week. Phew!

I make heavy use of video tutorials in lesson, (my favourite recording tool is Screencast-O-Matic) as they allow pupils to access my teaching at the relevant point in the lesson for them.  It also stops me from doing a demo at the start, then repeating the demo 30+ times during the lesson as pupils forget/didn’t listen.  They can also pause, rewind and even mute me if they want!

However, the problem with video is embedding the challenge. If you are showing them what to do, what are they thinking? Are they working problems out for themselves or just copying from the screen?  And yet the support has to be there if pupils need it.

So, to scaffold the challenge, here’s the method that I’m adopting when posing coding problems in Scratch:

Step 1 – Show them the pseudo-code

Firstly, learners get the pseudo-code and try to create their code blocks based on it.  If they can’t then they move to step 2.

Step 2 – Code blocks not joined together

Step 2 shows learners a screenshot of all the blocks needed for this piece of code.  However, they are not arranged, so the pupil has to work out how to combine them.

Step 3 – Blocks joined together.

Learners should be encouraged to move away from steps 3 & 4 as soon as they feel able (or a bit before) as it involves less thinking.  However, the support does need to be there, particularly for trickier bits of code.

Step 4 – The video

Usually used when learning how to use Scratch, this shows pupils where the blocks can be found in the program and gives them a voice over to explain the context of the problem.

Worked Example

In this example, we are trying to code a binary to denary converter.   The program needs to ask the user to input at binary number one digit at a time and record their answers to different variables.  This example covers the introduction to the program and the question covering the first digit of the binary number.

Pseudo-code

when the green flag is clicked

say “Hello! You are going to convert binary to denary.”

wait 2 seconds

say “Please type 1 or 0 for the next few questions.”

say “Is there a one in your binary number? Press 1 for yes or 0 for no” 

wait for answer

set variable ‘Ones‘ to answer

Deconstructed Blocks

Deconstructed Blocks

Constructed Blocks

Arranged Blocks

The video

Finally, the help video – made with Screencast-O-Matic

I’ve just started to adopt this approach with some classes, and I’m finding that they really enjoy the challenge and try to work with as little support as possible.  They are also preparing themselves for more text based coding by engaging with the pseudo-code.  It’s going to take a considerable effort to retro-fit this into my existing Scratch units, but I feel that it will be well worth the work.  How are you going about creating a learning scaffold for your pupils, please leave me a comment to let me know.

This post is directly inspired by the great work done by Phil Bagge (@baggiepr) and the Computing department at Bourne Grammar including Marc Scott (@Coding2Learn). Thanks for sharing gents!