Tag: curriculum

Announcing Maker Party Newcastle 2014

I’m delighted to announce that we’ve confirmed the date for this year’s Maker Party Newcastle! Building on the success of previous ones held at the Centre for Life, this year we’ll be at Campus North, home of the Ignite100 startup accelerator on Saturday 13th September. Many thanks to Lyndsey Britton and Lauren Summers for their help in making this happen.

Sign up here: http://bit.ly/makerpartyncl14

Maker Party Newcastle 2014

Maker Parties are for everyone, but given Ignite100’s links with Code Club, we’ve decided to make it relevant to the new English primary school computing curriculum. Children of all ages will be welcome, but if you’re a teacher – or aged between 7 and 11 – it will be particularly relevant!

We’re looking for mentors to help out with this event. The most important qualities are enthusiasm and a willingness to be a co-learner. Some rudimentary HTML and CSS skills would be a bonus. Extra points for JavaScript!

If you’re based in the North East of England, please do share this widely with your networks. 🙂

Questions? Please direct them to doug@nullmozillafoundation.org.

Schools and the Procrustean Bed: are we really ‘personalising’ learning?

‘There is something about the Procrustean bed about schools; some children are left disabled by being hacked about to fit the curriculum; some are stretched to take up the available space, others less malleable are labeled as having special educational needs.’ (C. Bowring-Carr and J. Burnham West)

Procrustean BedI mentioned the above quotation in a blog post way back in 2006. I was concerned then about the various ‘agendas’ in education, and that’s even more the case today. The ‘personalising learning’ agenda is supposed to be about tailoring educational experiences to each and every child yet, in 2009, we still have classes of 30 or more children with one teacher standing in front of them. The focus seems to have moved onto technology as some type of ‘saviour’. In that respect, it’s sad to see Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), compulsory in English schools since the beginning of this academic year, being used simply as file repositories.

Whilst some schools may talk about ‘appropriate’ or ‘accelerated’ entry, it’s difficult to see how this is in the best interests of students. In most cases it’s a strategy for schools to squeeze as many exam passes from their students as possible: whilst those studying the highest level of exams have extra lessons in those subjects, those at the other end of the spectrum are re-taking basic examinations until they pass them. It’s hard to see how this completely examination-focused approach is ‘personalisation’ in any important, meaningful sense.

What is needed is a complete rethink – of the curriculum (based on competencies?), of learning spaces (like any of these Futurelab suggestions?), of the structure of the school day, of staff/students ratios and relationships, of the nature of ‘schooling’ and education in the 21st century.

What do YOU think? Is ‘personalisation’ working in YOUR school?

(image taken from this university course page – assumed fair use)

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Open Source Schools curriculum meeting

I spent yesterday afternoon with a like-minded group of educators who are part of the Becta-funded Open Source Schools project. We spent four hours (!) discussing the ins-and-outs of what educators  want and need from us. We were joined virtually by a number of educators from the FlashMeeting  (see replay). In the spirit of being open and sharing, here’s an overview of what was discussed! 😀

  • We’re concerned with not replicating what is already available elsewhere in the Open Source community. Our focus should, and is, on pedagogical application of Open Source Software (OSS).
  • Starting with the half-term after Easter, we shall have a ‘push’ in a given subject area. This will not be at the expense of providing resources, links and discussion for other subject areas. We have a number of historians who are part of the project (including myself), and so will be kicking things off with either History or Design and Technology, where teachers have also expressed a strong interest.
  • The idea of ‘having a competition’ was raised at various points at the meeting. Usually it was in an attempt to get students engaged. I had misgivings about this, especially after Clarence Fisher’s excellent recent post.
  • As would be expected, there was much discussion of Moodle. I’m not against it, I’m just not a huge fan. The problem is with Moodle is that there’s a fair learning curve, and it’s best deployed as a whole-school learning platform. I’m more concerned with getting teachers, students and parents using OSS they can install easily and locally. :-p
  • I floated the idea of having posters that could be downloaded from the site and printed off by educators who want to promote OSS and the Open Source Schools website. We discussed getting professional designers to come up with these, but eventually decided that user-generated ones (after exemplars) would be  more in keeping with the community spirit.
  • I mentioned that a good way to get parents engaged might be to show ways in which they can control their children’s access to the Internet at home. We need to explore this more as existing OSS solutions we could think of are difficult to deploy on a single machine. I suggested OpenDNS, but it turns out that this is free, but not Open Source. 🙁
  • We discussed how to get teachers started with OSS. I pointed out the fact that our unique selling point is pedagogical use of OSS, not just being a one-stop shop for everything Open Source! To this end, we’re not going to be providing step-by-step guides on how to download and install programs (unless we’re specifically asked to, of course…)
  • It was agreed that video is a powerful medium, and that 5-minute TeachersTV-style examples of OSS being used in an educational context would be useful. This could take the form of screencasts (created using Wink, for example) or videos recorded and uploaded to Archive.org. These would be created by educators on a voluntary basis (after being seeded with some examples) instead of being of broadcast-quality by film crews parachuted into schools!

If you’d like to get involved in the Open Source Schools project, please head over to the website. We’re keen for as many people to get involved as possible and it’s far from an exclusive club.

See you over there! 😀

(Almost) everything you need to know about the 14-19 changes

Brevity is a virtue. It’s all very well having a way with words, but they need to be read, understood and inwardly-digested to make an impact. Our Head was sufficiently impressed with SecEd‘s guide to the changes in GCSEs and wider 14 to 19 reforms to have it photocopied and issued to staff. I’m going to pare it down to the absolute minimum in what follows… 😀

Key Facts:

  • New qualification – the diploma – starting to be taught this September.
  • Functional skills to be come an essential element of Maths, English & ICT (students not able to achieve above a ‘C’ grade without passing this element)
  • Number of units at ‘A’ Level being reduced from 6 to 4 – more open-ended questions and a new A* grade.
  • Coursework will effectively cease in its current form. Being replaced by ‘controlled assessment’ that can be taken at discretion of teachers.

Timeline of changes:

(click for larger version)

Diplomas:

The first five diplomas on offer will be:

  • Creative and Media
  • Construction and the Built Environment
  • Engineering
  • Information Technology
  • Society, Health & Development

These will be offered at Level 1 (Foundation), Level 2 (Higher) and Level 3 (Advanced). Expectation that diplomas will be available in 17 subjects by 2011 and to all students by 2013. Students will have 600 guided learning hours for Level 1 diplomas and 800 hours for Level 2. Intention is that they will be taken alongside the statutory National Curriculum.

  • Level 1 diploma = 5 GCSEs (D-G)
  • Level 2 diploma = 7 GCSEs (A*-C)

Level 3 diploma comparable to 3 ‘A’ Levels – 1,080 guided learning hours.

Functional Skills:

The first teaching of functional skills as part of English, Maths & ICT courses will take place in 2010. Pilots have been going on since 2007.

  • English: explaining information (speech & writing), understanding instructions, analysing presentation of information (& assessing its usefulness). May involve an oral presentation/contribution to discussions.
  • Maths: capability to solve problems, development of analytical and reasoning skills, and ability to identify errors and inconsistencies.
  • ICT: students expected to feel confident in finding, selecting and collecting information. Need to be able to apply it ‘safely’ to learning.

Controlled Assessment:

There are two different stages to the new controlled assessments:

  1. Research and data collection (can take place under limited levels of supervision “to encourage out-of-classroom learning”)
  2. Production of final piece of work (under formal supervision)

Flexible Assessment:

Move from ‘linear assessment’ (exams at end of two years) to ‘unitised qualifications’ (exams as you go along, with retakes). However, QCA rules state that 40% of assessment must happen at the end of the course and only one re-sit of each assessment is allowed.

More information:

(image credit: standing there riding arrows by zen @ flickr)

What is ‘digital literacy’? It’s certainly not this…

Microsoft have proudly announced their Digital Literacy Curriculum. They’ve no doubt about what they mean by the term ‘digital literacy’ – the strapline to the bold title on their site being, ‘Helping you develop a fundamental understanding of computers.’

Oh. So, they’ll be teaching you about Mac OSX and Linux, then?

Right, so it’s Microsoft-only operating systems, yes? Well actually, in theory, no. They do say:

What if I don’t use Microsoft products, or have older versions installed?

The only software required to run either version of Digital Literacy is a minimum of Internet Explorer 6…

Oh, right then. So in practice, it’s Windows only. And what else do I see?

Aha! So after 3 introductory lessons, they get to what they would term the ‘good stuff’ – Microsoft propaganda. Hmmm… I wonder what programs they’ll be using for their introduction to word processors, spreadsheets, email program and IM clients? 😉

It’s just an adult version of what’s going on in most UK schools, really. And I think it’s shameful. I’m still not entirely sure how I’d define ‘digital literacy’ (it’s the subject of my Ed.D. thesis after all…) but it’s definitely not a souped-up idiot’s guide to using Microsoft products.

And to think, this has the backing (and presumably the funding) of the following:

What would your ‘digital literacy curriculum’ look like? Mine, for one, would look at digital literacies, and involve using a variety of operating systems and programs. That would get at something underneath the processes involved for specific operating system and programs and get a bit more to the fundamentals. 🙂

Educational Technology Integration Matrix

I came across the Technology Integration Matrix today. It’s a resource created to ‘support the full integration of technology in Florida schools’, but is great for any department, faculty, or school that wants to analyse where it is with integrating educational technology.

It reminds me of the ‘Apple Schools of the Future’ programme in the 1990s, which observed teachers’ classrooms changing fundamentally due to the integration of computers.

Five levels of technology integration into the curriculum are defined:

  1. Entry – The teacher uses technology to deliver curriculum content to students.
  2. Adoption – The teacher directs students in the conventional use of tool-based software. If such software is available, this level is the recommended.
  3. Adaptation – The teacher encourages adaptation of tool-based software by allowing students to select a tool and modify its use to accomplish the task at hand.
  4. Infusion – The teacher creates a learning environment that infuses the power of technology tools throughout the day across subject areas.
  5. Transformation – The teacher creates a rich learning environment in which students regularly engage in activities that would have been impossible to achieve without technology.

It’s well worth a read – you can download the PDF to print out for your own use here.

Email to Gareth Mills (QCA)

I sent the following email to Gareth Mills (Head of Programme, Futures, Innovation, and E-Learning at QCA) today:
Gareth,Please excuse me contacting you directly in this manner (I obtained your email address from Terry Freedman), but I feel it is important that my school is clear on what is meant by the QCA ‘big picture’ and the Futures in Action initiative. I am a teacher of History and ICT at a successful school in Doncaster – as well as being an blogger about education – and feel that the sentiments behind what the QCA is proposing and what is going on in my school seem to be in tension. What seems to underpin the QCA big picture is a move to a more competency-based curriculum, personalised to the learners in each institution, with the somewhat artificial barriers between the different forms of human knowledge being broken down.

What’s happening in my school, on the other hand, is that departments are merely highlighting on their schemes of work where the elements from the big picture are or could be located. Whilst this could be a first step, it would seem that this is all initiative-weary teachers are likely to want to do, for fear of doing lots of work only for everything to change again. What I think is needed is some clearer guidance on what exactly should be taking place in schools. I agree that, to a great extent, each institution needs to figure out how the result of the Futures in Action initiative will look in practice, but at the moment what is likely to happen is mere tokenism.

I don’t know how much time you will have to read things like blog articles, but perhaps you may be interested in a couple which have been the result of my Ed.D. research (Durham University):

I’d certainly be interested in any comments you may have, guidance you’d be able to give, or suggestions you’re able to make! 🙂

Regards,

Doug Belshaw
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