So a while ago Michael Gove said the current ICT Curriculum is being scrapped. To be honest, hooray. The current offering is dismal, almost unforgivably so. There already seem to be a bundle of energetic, committed characters looking to redraft a better one and in response to Chris and his call for ideas here are some first thoughts.
I’d never heard of ICT before I became a teacher. I worked in IT in various capacities for 15 years before becoming a teacher and have an MSc in Computer Science. People work in IT. Please let’s call it that. Or pink elephants. Or anything that isn’t ICT
A ‘these truths I hold dear’ of sorts. Any IT curriculum should:
In terms of pedagogy, let’s specify goals not routes. In terms of tech, let’s do operating systems not Macs, spreadsheets not Excel, and principles not implementations. In terms of society, let’s be accessible to as many as humanly possible.
It should be designed in such a way that the teacher can learn with the students. Tech moves very quickly and I see no shame in being the most experienced learner rather than the font of all knowledge.
There is a fear that children know more than adults. Fine. But don’t teach them what is difficult for you if it is easy for them. Don’t do Dreamweaver till you’ve done HTML. See previous point!
Not just computer science, not just playing around with media, not just anything.
to children and to industry.
Because to be relevant you have to be.
And by contrast, no IT curriculum should ever, ever be a slop-bucket for other subjects’ technical projects, “oh because, you know, it involves a computer and the internet”.
So what should the IT Curriculum contain? I’m jotting down notes here but I’d think the key strands could be something like:
This is an academic discipline in itself and has plenty of cross-curricular “oomph” especially with maths and sciences. In Google’s words, it “involves a set of problem-solving skills and techniques that software engineers use to write programs that underlie the computer applications you use”. In an IT Curriculum it could mean learning how to apply concepts such as abstraction, divide and rule etc. using software like Scratch, or building a basic app. It also provides a way to understand the hardware behind the software. Because it is an academic discipline, this can be as resource heavy or as resource light as one wants. If the budget allows, then Mindstorms , if not, then paper.
This is essentially a pared down version of what the curriculum is now, i.e. training for the workplace. Topics might be email, search, browsers, databases, word processors, spreadsheets, project management tools, photo editors, movie editors, sound editors etc. The important point with all of these, I think, is to show the grammar behind the tools. File menus, windows … Again, build-in comparison. If you do Microsoft Word, do Google Docs too as a comparison. Be agnostic.
This is essentially how 1 and 2 affect our lives. Topics might be: cybersafety, web design, information and truth, Open Source vs paid, connectivity vs influence, wisdom of crowds etc.
It’s probably a little OTT but I think these almost map onto Shannon and Weaver’s 3 modes of communication.
I had a look through Brian’s #ukedchat session and the following seemed to be the key concerns.
Many were understandably concerned about resources. I’m not sure industry would be “delighted” to help out and in a way I think focusing on large donations is a misuse of energies. Equally, there is a fount of free stuff “out there on the interweb”, from Operating Systems up. More interesting to me are projects like Computer Science in a Box and RaspberryPi
This seemed a secondary school concern but I think it’s relevant to every level. The Hackday assessments sound intriguing, though I’m not sure I understand how they would work. More prosaically, there are the QTS style IT literacy tests to show you know how to use a word processor or a spreadsheet. There are project-based outcomes, for e.g. media related parts. And for the computational thinking elements, that could easily be done as a paper-based test. That’s just for the summative. I see the need but I’m not sure I see the problem.
The concern here was how to get IT staff up to speed. It is astonishing how ossified people’s attitudes can be and I feel a bit stumped by this. Two points might mitigate it: first, by IT not simply being a glorified Microsoft Office training program they might take it more seriously; second, by making sure that an assessed part of the curriculum is ‘debugging’ in its broadest sense – how to know what to do when you don’t know how to do it (see e.g. this)
If you’re interested, some medium term plans are beginning, slowly, to take shape here:
I have nothing against private tutors – let me say that straight out. But I think without openness in the communications between tutor, child, parent and school everyone suffers significant problems for schools, parents and children. Equally
The Problem for the School
Heads of Department, in fact private schools in general, draw a huge amount of succour from their results. If they are getting children in to strong, academic schools then that is seen to be indicative of strong, academic teaching (with the knowing wink that some children were so gifted they didn’t need any help).
Certainly in London, this is no longer the case. Tutoring is rife but this is not necessarily a problem. There are plenty of valuable reasons for tutoring, such as
What is more concerning it that tutoring is rife but there is very little open discussion about it.
There seem to be two types: school-advised and outside world.
School-advised tutoring is a bizarre creature. Much, if not most of the time, it is well-advised. For instance, if a child has to catch up after moving from another country, tutoring can work well.
What is bizarre, though, is when schools are simply happy with the fact that everyone gets tutored. If parents are paying good money for education, shouldn’t the expectation be that their child’s needs will be met? At the moment, in less kind moments, it can feel like RyanAir. OK, yes you paid for the flight but the lifejacket costs you £50 …
The sad thing is, with the stress of securing the best (or more healthily the right) school for their children, it seems parents too rarely demand to know exactly why my child’s needs were not being met in class.
When tutoring is advised by the outside world (friends at coffee parties, peer pressure, nervous grandparents or whoever) there are different problems. As a teacher, I only hear in passing which children in my class are being tutored and which aren’t. Often parents have asked the child not to say anything. [Note to self: must be more proactive and ask parents to tell me direct!] I can guess four possible reasons for this, there may well be more.
This communication breakdown, intentional or not, has three effects, neither of which benefit the child.
The Problem for Parents and Children
Here I am vastly less experienced but here, as a slightly pathetic attempt at completeness, are some possible problems:
The problem for the tutor
A Simple Fix
Much of this comes down to schools, I think. There is nothing that anyone can do to stop someone getting their child tutored. Nor, arguably, should there be.
|Impetus for tutoring||Solid Reasons||Less solid reasons|
|School||Brief tutor or agency and communicate regularly, share results from school/tutor with parents, assume short term||Just say no & advise parents against, run e.g. maths club in school for free|
|Outside World||Gauge from parents why being tutored, assess internally if this highlights an area of weakness in the school offering, ask for tutor/agency contact details and if possible present parents and child with joint, results-based plan||Gauge from parents why being tutored, assess internally if this highlights an area of weakness in the school offering, ask for tutor/agency contact details and if possible present parents and child with joint, results-based plan. If communication and co-planning not given, then advise parents strongly against.|
All of this is predicate on a school audit of tutoring and one wants to get really OFSTED a policy in place for tutoring.
Basically, though, isn’t it all common sense?
Sorry …. turned into a monster …
Character building in the UK, I think, needs a little bit of an upgrade. Part of that means having a clearer idea of what we’re trying to build.
Character building 1.0 & The Welsh 3000s
Currently, character building is a euphemism for any experience that is uniformly dreadful and unrewarding. One example, from my childhood, was a challenge called the Welsh 3000s.
“It’s very rocky, and both uphill and downhill sections are demanding. Navigation can also be problematic without previous knowledge of this area of Snowdonia. For some, the walk involves camping/bivvying at the top of Snowdon the night before, adding to the weight of kit for the initial section. Additionally, one mountain, Crib Goch, is very exposed – several people have died on it.
This challenge is commonly underestimated – you need to be very fit to walk it in 24 hours.”
And no, it was not rewarding, nor enjoyable, nor could I see the point. Still, these challenges abound and are perhaps especially prevalent in the independent sector. Even the wide-eyed Wellington progressive Anthony Seldon says that “Hikes and gruelling expeditions should not be the domain just of the posh”.
Character Building 2.0
The difficulty with this is not that the hikes shouldn’t happen. Simply that they need to be given a context. Saying that they are simply good things for their own sake is not, I think, good enough. I like this from KIPP, Duckworth, Seligman et al.
SELF-CONTROL – SCHOOL WORK
Comes to class prepared
Pays attention and resists distractions
Remembers and follows directions
Gets to work right away rather than procrastinating
SELF-CONTROL – INTERPERSONAL
Remains calm even when criticized or otherwise provoked
Allows others to speak without interruption
Is polite to adults and peers
Keeps temper in check
Recognizes and shows appreciation for others
Recognizes and shows appreciation for his/her opportunities
Is eager to explore new things
Asks and answers questions to deepen understanding
Actively listens to others
Gets over frustrations and setbacks quickly
Believes that effort will improve his or her future
Finishes whatever he or she begins
Tries very hard even after experiencing failure
Works independently with focus
Able to find solutions during conflicts with others
Demonstrates respect for feelings of others
Knows when and how to include others
With it, you can begin to give children a) some meaningful targets and b) some meaningful reasons. At least, then, at the end of a nightmarish hike across the Welsh mountains, one might feel a sense of achievement, not pointlessness.
More from Mr Pink. Would be interesting to make a quick taxonomy of school behaviours that benefit from a carrot-and-stick approach.
Michael Ellsberg has a book out called The Education of Millionaires, which outlines the 7 key skills you need to know to become a millionaire like college drop-outs Zuckerberg or Gates. The argument, loosely, is:
What is also left out of the debate about higher education is that its purpose is not just to provide a pathway paved with gold for the nation’s elites. If we frame the discussion that way, we may unintentionally serve to disparage the people who are in charge of the daily management, maintenance and smooth operation of our civilization — the men and women who deliver our mail, comprise our police force, serve in our military, work in our libraries, teach our elementary school children, and devote themselves to a thousand other jobs that, if not performed with responsibility, commitment and creativity, would undermine the basic structures of our society. Though these individuals may not be reaching for the kind of stars that Michael Ellsberg and others would have them aspire to grasp, most are doing something even more important: they are engaging in the useful tasks of good citizens and contributing to the common welfare, including providing for their families. And perhaps they are even carrying out what Marcus Aurelius called “one of our assignments in life … to do what needs doing.”
Spot on, in my book. Any mass educational system will have a hard time dealing with those at either end of a bell-curve. But surely the failures of these systems to cope with exceptional cases does not invalidate them? Rather than eulogising these exceptional cases – Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg – as icons in the fight against an impractical education, they should be celebrated, I think, for having the self-awareness to decide that college was not for them. No less, no more.
I’ve just done a feedback survey at school to try to understand why teachers don’t use our intranet more. I’m keen to do some internal workshops on flipped classrooms, BYOT etc but wanted to see what general attitudes were beforehand.
There were two recurring themes:
Many of these same teachers will happily figure out how sites outside e.g. Facebook, holiday sites and ebay work. These sites are no more complicated than WordPress (on which our intranet runs).
So what’s happening?
Well, my current thinking is that there are two things we’re doing wrong. Both of which have to do with what Bruce Lee might call “emotional content”
There is no point, I think, doing any Education 2.0 workshop until people understand those two points. Anyway. Cluetrain thinking may all be a million miles away but we will get there.
So, the good news is that Twitter can help students boost their grades. The bad news is that many students are device-o-holics.
Or perhaps it’s all bad news. Perhaps it’s just that students without Twitter lose marks because the Delirium Tremens they are wrestling with after being told they can’t use their phones makes it harder for the poor lambs to focus on the test in front of them.
They’re wonderful things, out-of-context statistics.
I’ve just been watching Channel 4’s The Secret Life of Buildings. The presenter’s an acquired taste but there are some fascinating bits to it.
The main take-aways for me are :
Well worth a watch.
From a teacher/school point of view, it was the Kingsdale story that caught my eye. Poor attendance was tackled (and stopped) by a head who thought buildings matter and an interesting architectural practice.
Now, we may not all have the funding to hire architects or make a classroom like some of those in Cristina Milos’ beautiful Pinboard but given that the learnspace affects the brainspace, it made me wonder if there’s a list of heuristics to help us design better spaces for our children to learn in.
A key part is probably giving students a say in what their rooms look like, but I thought I’d try asking the crowd. If you have any suggestions for making a classroom or workspace a brain-friendly space, please can you add to this Google Doc? I’d love to hear what tips and ideas people have for making their schools better learning environments,
Isn’t this, in reverse order, what we should be showing children books can do? [via 3quarksdaily ]
Robinson Crusoe is notable for a lot of reasons. It was one of the first English novels. It brings up stuff like cultural relativism and morality and providence with a capital P. Marx favorably critiqued its depiction of pre-capitalist man. It can be read as a big old allegory of British colonialism. And, of course, it’s the locus classicus of desert island tropes. Yet when I finally got around to reading it this summer, it recalled to me nothing so much as the contentment I’d felt at age eight-ish, sheltering in a makeshift lean-to of blankets and card table chairs as I shined a flashlight over the pages of another, though not entirely different, book.
Students with purple ties are gifted and talented. All the children at Crown Woods college in Greenwich, south London, know that. They are taught in separate colour-coordinated buildings, play in fenced-off areas and eat lunch at separate times.
At 11 years old, all pupils at the college are streamed according to ability in what the headteacher argues is the only way to survive in the brave new world of market-driven education.
This is one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in a while. If the head insists on it, shouldn’t the teachers be made to wear ties like the students, colour coded by effectiveness and competence?