Thursday 15th October 2015 – #EducationDay – A Day In The Life Of My Classroom

IB3 Classroom

This post is intended to show a day in the life of my classroom and share my lesson resources as part of Twitter’s international #educationday.  All of my resources are shared here using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license – you are free to us and adapt but do not sell them on.  If you want to ask me any questions before, during or after the day then please comment here or tweet me (I’ll be able to respond at break and lunch).  Thanks, and here we go……

Period 1 – 8:50 – 9:50 – Year 9 (age 13/14) Computing

Year 9 are taking their first steps into text based programming by learning Java.  In this unit of work we take a programming skill (such as selection) and split it into three exercises – a worked example in Scratch, recreate the same program in Java then try an independent challenge based on what they have learned.

Today the class are completing the Java worked example and starting the challenge for selection (activities 5 and 6 on the ‘contents’ page).

You can see my tutorial website for the students here

Download all the resources for the scheme of work here.

Matthew talks about his Java program:

Period 2 – 10:50 – 11:50 and Period 3 – 11:05 – 12:05 – Year 10 (age 14/15) GCSE Computer Science

I have two GCSE groups in Y10 this year, so this is two separate one hour lessons, not a double with the same class.  This week we are learning about data representation.  Tuesday’s lesson was about ASCII and Unicode text representation and (if it’s all gone to plan – I’m writing this bit in advance) today’s lesson is about representation of images. UPDATE – Y10 P3 have had one lesson on this topic. They will be creating pages on the class Wikispaces wiki to summarise their learning.  P4 have completed this work as they have had 2 lessons this week.  We will be starting representation of images with a very early Christmas themed lesson!

I’ve planned these lessons in collaboration with my ace colleague @Miss_Noonan88 and based them on the equally fab resources available on @clcSimon‘s great website.

Representation of text lesson resources are here.

Representation of images lesson resources are here.

Hamza and Steve talk about representation of images:

Heather talks about ASCII and her revision Wiki

Period 4 – 12:05 – 13:05 – Year 8 (age 13/14) Computing

Y8 are refining their Scratch programming skills by creating a ‘Virtual Pet’.  Here’s my example of the finished product.

This project consolidates their knowledge of input, output and variables.  We then use selection, loops, lists and procedures (blocks) to add extra features to their pet.  Learners will be adding extra characteristics (thirst/happiness etc) to their pet or using random selection from lists to make it speak.

The project tutorial website is here.

Download all resources for the scheme of work here.

Awesome female coders Katie and Maddy tell us about their Scratch virtual pet.

Lunchtime – phew!

Spent fixing case sensitive <img> links on my project websites that didn’t show up until I uploaded to the web server!

Period 5 – 13:50 – 14:50 – Year 11 (age 15/16) GCSE Computer Science

Y11 are currently doing their Controlled Assessment, so unfortunately I can’t share examples of work in progress.  They are using Java to code a memory game which generates a grid of nine or sixteen words read in from an external file.  After 30 seconds, the words are randomised, with one word replaced with a different one.  The user has to guess the words that have been removed and added – they have three tries.  Here is the AQA exam board specification for the project.

We have finished coding on the project, the class are either completing test plans, testing or annotating their code listings to explain the programming techniques used.

The end?

So that’s the teaching part of the day done.  Next it’s a departmental meeting for about an hour and then home to see the family.  Once the kids are in bed then there are about 50 pieces of Y9 work to be marked.  Hope you’ve enjoyed a day in my classroom, it has served to remind me what awesome students I’m lucky to work with.  Until next time…



Spicing Up Text Based Programming

It’s been a while since my last post.  I’ve had my head down working away at the demands of teaching KS3 computing and GCSE computer science for the first time.

Without a doubt the toughest learning curve has been teaching Java to my Y9s, where class sizes are that bit bigger and they have had no experience of text based programming.  When they get stuck, they get stuck.

We started off the year with the grand idea that we would convert my old spreadsheet quiz unit into a Java based quiz, so we produced a whizzy tutorial website.  However, in practice, it was a bit too high level, and my classes, whilst being keen to do well needed more careful scaffolding to enable them to take their first steps in text based coding.  I was spending lessons running from one problem to the next as I hadn’t helped students develop the resilience to solve issues on their own before calling for me.  Combine this with a new piece of software (Eclipse) with it’s own set of folder management issues with multiple students using the same machines lesson after lesson and I wasn’t able to step back and see the big picture in class.  I needed to tweak the lesson structure to provide more built in support and free me up a bit more to challenge and support where it was actually needed.  The way I did this was though a three step process.

Here’s an example of how I taught loops:

Step 1 – The Human Computer

Five *ahem* “volunteers” were chosen to be the human computer.  Then I brought out the chocolate digestives (lots more volunteers next lesson!).  I set the variable ‘biscuits’ to five and we munched our way through the code below.  Whilst doing so, we discussed how we could code without the loop to achieve the same result.


Step 2 – The Worked Example  

Students were given the code for a program using loops (loosely based on my adventures on the M6 with two small children in the car during the summer hols).


Step 3 – The take away menu.

This, I think, is the best thing we’ve done with this unit.  Nicking an idea from Ross Morrison-McGill (@teachertoolkit), I created a differentiated take away menu of independent tasks for students to apply the skills.  They are graded against the Nando’s spice rating menu, with the spiciest involving skills not taught in class.  Here’s the loops example:


This approach has worked much better, breaking down programming into discrete skills and  giving learners chances to apply and embed as well as a sense of ownership over their independent tasks.

To look at the whole unit, along with fully resourced tutorial website, please visit my Dropbox folder.  All work is licensed under Creative Commons non-commercial, share alike. And enjoy!

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.


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!

The Trousers of Teaching

With all credit (and apologies) to Terry Pratchett and his trousers of time.

When discussing my use of hinge point questions recently, I’ve started to refer to what happens next as ‘the trousers of the lesson’, to try and visualise how I make use of the information gleaned from the hinge activity.

So, from the beginning, when planning, I try to distil my thinking so that I am absolutely clear about the one key point of learning for the lesson, when that should occur, and from there, how learners will apply this new-found knowledge/understanding/competency.  This gives me my hinge point, the place in the lesson where pupils can either move on, or require further consolidation.  If you are particularly cunning, you can even differentiate the question itself for different groups of learners.  Here’s a differentiated example from the good & bad web design lesson of my web design unit:

Bronze – Name 3 features of a good website.

 Silver – Give your top 3 features of a good website and explain why you chose them.

 Gold – Give your top 3 features of a good website and explain what people would think of the site if it didn’t have them.

You can tailor your hinge question activity to suit the class, I particularly like Think Pair Share, but try to stick to the following:

  • 1 minute to ask the question.
  • 2 minutes for students to respond
  • 1 minute to analyse the results

Once you have established who ‘gets it’ and who doesn’t, then the trousers come in, those who can move down one leg to a task that requires more complex thinking and/or independence, whereas those who don’t go down the other leg for a consolidation exercise.  This could be a period of direct instruction, a more scaffolded task, an expert session with a G&T pupil and so on.  If you have a T.A. in your lesson, then they could take either the development or the consolidation session and you are showing that you can plan for effective deployment of other staff.

And there you have it, teaching with trousers, or a decision point in your lesson where you make effective use of AfL, differentiate on the fly, show how adaptable you are from your plan, and hopefully avoid that creeping feeling that we all get from time to time.  The one where you are holding at least half the class back by dwelling on questions from two or three students.

Yes, I could have called it the fork in the lesson, the decision point or many other things, but I’m a sucker for alliteration.  There are also no prizes for pointing out that a pair of trousers must also contain an a**e, but I’ve found it a simple technique that really improves the effectiveness of my AfL.

It’s all objective

By Mykl Roventine [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Mykl Roventine [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m trying to simplify my thought process when planning. I’m getting it down to a few key questions:

  • What do I want them to learn?
  • How do I know where they are?
  • How do I maximise the learning in lesson?
  • How do I know what they’ve actually learned?
  • How do the kids know what they’ve learned?
  • How does this affect the next lesson?

I reckon that as long as I can answer those questions, I’m doing OK. Increasingly, I’m becoming convinced that a lot can be covered by setting great objectives and success criteria, and then getting the kids to actually engage with them. For me, great objectives:

  • Are accessible
  • Are non judgmental
  • Are in pupil speak whilst not shying away from subject language
  • Give opportunities for multiple entry points to learning

This is where I’ve found techniques like SOLO invaluable. It has helped me to scale the difficulty in my lessons and provide a clear ladder for learners to see what they have to do to progress. I wasn’t getting that from level descriptors, and there isn’t really such a thing as a ‘C’ grade spreadsheet skill or even exam answer at GCSE. In the exam, if you bodge the ‘give’ or ‘state’ questions then you’re a bit stuffed as there aren’t a lot of opportunities to earn the marks back. I’ve adapted SOLO for both practical and theory lessons, but it’s gone best when I’ve given the kids input into the process and let them own the objectives. For example:

Y8 Scratch

Dead simple. Learners write their names on a post it and stick it to the board next to the relevant SOLO symbol. Actual descriptors were displayed on the interactive board, so I’ve included them here. Some stickies fell off so they wrote their names up instead. Used my shiny new ipad to photograph the board at the start and end of lesson and reviewed it with class to show progress.

This meant that they actually had to think about where they were on the framework and get up out of their seat to commit to action. Better than switching off whilst sir reads from a PowerPoint.

20130606-204144.jpg 20130606-204153.jpg

Whilst this was great, it didn’t really provide multiple entry points to the learning.

Y10 GCSE – Gaming Topic

I did the same thing with in class objectives and learners self assessed in class, but for homework I split some practise questions by SOLO level.  Learners had to attempt two ‘consolidation’ questions from the stage they were at and one ‘challenge’ question from the next stage up. This really helped to ‘call out’ those who just moved their post it to keep me off their back, and inspired others to push themselves and try more ‘challenge’ questions.

Objectives/success criteria

Homework questions

So, I suppose it’s not just about objectives. It’s about differentiation, accessibility, expectations, cunning planning, useful AfL relationships and all the other myriad things that make teaching such a varied and fascinating art.  What I do know, however, is that planning and sharing really clear criteria with my learners in meaningful ways has seriously improved the sharp focus of my lessons.

KS3 ICT/Computing Resources – A ShaREvolution

I’m a huge believer in sharing good practise and working with other teachers to develop quality lesson plans and resources.  This probably stems from my preference to wander the corridors searching for some poor lucky soul with whom to chat about and refine ideas.  The idea that I can share a questioning framework before school that can be used instantly by teachers around the world is not only exciting, but an incredibly powerful argument for the teaching of digital literacy & citizenship.

I’ve been sharing my resources with various ICT teachers around the world for a while using DropBox, but @MrLockyer has turned it into something bigger. He has become Lord of the Dropbox and organised several collaborative spaces for sharing resources.  I’m a member of the #KS34ICTDropbox and #SLTdropbox, but here is a full list on Stephen’s blog.  If you aren’t a Dropbox member, you can sign up here (I get a few extra mb of storage if you use this link, so if you don’t want to do it that way, use this one instead).

Anyway, to avoid instantly filling everyone’s storage limit on Dropbox, I’ve created a simple document that links to all of my schemes of work, projects and assessment materials for Years 7,8 and 9.  Please feel free to plunder, but with Creative Commons Non Commercial and Attribution restrictions.  Enjoy, sign up to share your own stuff, and let me know how you get on.

EDIT – With the advent of the new Computing curriculum, I have adapted and reworked lots of the content in my KS3 SOW.  Links to the latest resources can be found on the Computing Resources page of my site.


Are we going on the computers today? Explaining in ICT lessons.

“Are we going on the computers today sir?”

Here’s the problem.  Pupils often see ICT as a purely practical subject. They don’t transfer the need for understanding or explanation required in English, Science, History etc into the ICT classroom.  I’ve seen examples of learners’ written work from other subjects that have made my socks roll up and down, but this just wasn’t happening in my classroom.  Why not?

I kept noticing that my students’ marks for practical skills were a lot higher than their ‘theory’ (evaluation, annotation and generally written work).  They knew how to do, but had difficulty articulating process or giving reasons why.  Another area of concern was the quality of feedback given to one another. It was superficial at best and non existent in some cases. More along the lines of ‘I like the colours’ than anything helpful.

This year I’ve been making a real effort to focus on improving my students’ explaining skills. I want them to be able to confidently discuss and write about their learning using subject specific vocabulary. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

The Banned List and Deeper Questioning

OK, maybe not quite banned, but I have a list of words and phrases on my board that I won’t accept in student answers without further development.  They are (so far)

  • It
  • Things
  • Quicker
  • Easier
  • Better
  • Hassle
  • Stuff
  • Something
  • In many ways

This is less of a learning technique for for my students to use than a shift in my expectations. I won’t let them off the hook using these cop out phrases in their answers. I’m more confident in taking the time to probe with my questioning.  It’s fun watching learners stop halfway through a sentence, as they realise that the will have to rephrase their answer, or pausing to glance over my shoulder at the list to check if they can use a particular phrase.  You can see the thinking happening.

Also, adopting  techniques like think pair share and pose pause pounce bounce mean that I can spread the question to the whole class and get lots of brains working at once. Previously when whole class questioning I’d always get that itchy, uncomfortable feeling that I should be moving on. Now I can be a lot more agile when picking up on misconceptions and I have strategies to get everyone involved.


Let’s face it, one of the secrets of doing well at school is explaining yourself well in writing.  I have yet to come up with a practical solution to background noise when recording screencasts, and my experiments with entire classes using this method for evaluating/annotating their work have proved awkward to manage.  Even the best behaved students dissolve into fits of giggles when listening back to themselves and the noise levels soon become unsustainable.  As I mentioned above, the majority have difficulty transferring their writing skills to ICT, so I need to teach them techniques with which to improve the quality of their explanations.

Discovering the SOLO taxonomy has transformed the way I plan my objectives.  Now, using the framework, I find it much easier to share clear stages for progression with students. It also helps me to make sure that I’m increasing the difficulty in measured steps rather than jumping straight from shallow to deep learning.  Here’s an example of a SOLO leveled overview for our Y9 Future Technology unit that is based on a great SOW from Teach-ICT.

I’ve also made extensive use of the SOLO HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) maps to show learners how to write about ICT.  Using the describe and define maps in particular has dramatically improved the quality of written response from students. It also links in nicely with the Identify Amplify Exemplify (IAE) framework that I use when teaching exam technique.  I am looking forward to evaluating the impact that using HOTS frameworks at KS3 has on my pupils GCSE exam answers.

SOLO describe map

SOLO describe map


An example of a simple describe framework for features of interactive TV.


Feedback is useless unless there is time to act on it.  I’ve found it easy to forget this and move from topic to topic without giving proper time for pupils to reflect and improve.  I’ve made a real effort to plan Designated Improvement & Reflection Time (DIRT) into my SOWs this year.

Sticking with SOLO, I went through Ron Berger’s public critique rules with my Y9 class.  We were examining this future tech Prezi that I had chosen from the public gallery. I felt that it was important that they had an opportunity to practise on some work that was not made by someone in the class.

I gave them a sheet based on my SOLO overview of the topic with space for feed back and feed forward.  We clarified our expectations for how we would use each section:

Feed back was where pupils would spot places in the presentation where there were clear examples of it hitting the SOLO levels.  They would have to be very specific about where in the presentation this was.

Feed forward was where students would give helpful and specific advice about how the work could be improved. This would require them to really involve themselves with the success criteria.

I don’t think that I explained this bit as well as I could have, as I had to re-clarify this part with several students.  They also got a bit confused as to whether they should fill in all sections of the sheet.  I decided to let them choose whether to fill in every section, or to focus on the areas where they felt that the presentation needed feed back & feed forward.  Most chose to focus but some wanted to complete the whole sheet .

My initial feelings about this activity were that it would take about 10 -15 minutes and I may have some trouble getting pupils to stick to it.  However, 25 minutes in, the majority of the class were still focused and really engaging with the task.  Of those who had finished, most of them had moved on to their own presentations and were improving them based on some of the advice that they had given in feed forward.  I was then able to challenge those who had tried to take the minimum effort path.  We looked at their feedback in detail and referred back to the rules.  Taking it a step further, I asked them to critique the feedback. Others sat nearby joined in, giving helpful suggestions and being tough on content but soft on people.  I’d love to take the credit for this, but it was the way that the pupils responded to each other that really helped.

SOLO feedback2 SOLO feedback3

Of course, the quality of the feedback/forward given varied across the group, but I was happy that the level of thinking had been much deeper than previously.  It took more time, but the effects are starting to show in their work.  Next week, they will be using the same technique with their peers.

So, that’s where I’m at.  These techniques need some refinement, but they are starting to build good habits with my students, provide opportunities to take learning deeper and have an impact on results as well.