Author Archives: Dav

What is so important about privacy on the internet?

Do I need to worry about privacy?

I should probably care more about privacy. Yet I subscribe to many privacy invasive services without reading their terms or questioning the third parties that my information is being sold to. There are many informative videos like this one, that highlight the growing public’s concern about privacy and our reducing lack of control over our valued asset; our personal data.

Commerce and Internet privacy

To start with  my personal opinion is that Bitcoin in it’s current form will not replace cash. Bitcoin and the technology behind it is revolutionary. However BItcoin is not quite private and I would say this is probably one of the very few barriers to it’s complete annihilation of the banks. It is becoming obvious that cryptocurrency is filling the privacy gap with currency such as Anoncoin and the integrated private internet i2p. This private monetary and Internet service holds little practical adavantage to most people at this point in time but will become necessary and valuable later on.

Surely it’s only unsavory types that need privacy…right?

The ignorant or biased mainstream media and government officials will frequently refer to private currencies or private Internet use as being only useful to the unfavorable types. The truth is that the real value of privacy is not mainstream yet nor will it be in the foreseeable near future. The chances of privacy invasion will increase,  especially  if Donald Trump gets his way. Cryptocurrency is often referred to as being as disruptive as the Internet itself, and like with the Internet, cryptocurrencies potential is not completely appreciated or fathomed by most people during the technologies infancy. I’ve tried to explain Bitcoin to family and friends and I normally leave them staring at me with quizzical puzzlement. I guess this was similar to the early stages of the Internet. The other benefits of decentralised and private cryptocurrency is the possibility of us not having to be dependant on dodgy banks. Dodgy banks are illustrated by the recent banking scandals.

In the future  I can see privacy centric technologies being as sought after, and as  important as the the features and functions that the potential service provides.

The government should not own your privacy!

You may or may not support the Labour party, but regardless of what party you support it was very interesting watching how the government used peoples data against them. An example of government misuse of freely available “private” data is when this social media data helped support the Labour NEC’s decision to purge nearly 200,000 (most likely Jeremy Corbyn supporting members) for weak reasons, such as,  a member tweeted support for another party two years before and was purged for this. Another member said on Facebook  “I F*#$ing love” the Foo Fighters and thus was a reason to withdraw democracy from this individual. There were thousands of other poor reasons to purge members. This was a wakeup call for many, to the ramifications of having lax privacy. (http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/the-labour-party-purge.html)

Our privacy has been taken from our control by both government and corporations. An example of this is the sale of our NHS records in 2014, the gathering of our data by the NSA (Edward Snowden release 2013), the governments Snoopers charter that allows them to collect all of our data from telecoms and ISP’s (Bill passed in 2016).

Why are people not using more private services now?

Corporations such as Google and Facebook are monetising our efforts and private data, and, while we accept this fact by the acceptance of their terms and conditions we are put into a situation in this early digital media era of having to use monopolistic  corporation’s services as there are minimal practical private alternatives with the similar level of adoption.

Your content and private data is benefiting the corporations more than it is you

You may not have noticed but Google has been busy extracting content from sites such as blogs, news outlets and sports pages. When you carry out your search, such as for example for the latest sports information, you are presented with the efforts and articles from a hard working journalist or  blogger at the top of the search results ( a summary view) . The person who creates this content is not receiving the traffic, and any of the benefit, unless the search user clicks on the Google article link to the real source. While clicks from Google articles to the source may happen from the search engine user, on many occasions the click does not benefit the content producer as Google has already displayed your extracted content. The content generator has lost out on the recognition, the advertising revenue, membership subscription or whatever the objective of the journalist or site was.

The latter example given of the content provider losing out financially, both directly and in branding value, to large corporations is a typical  relationship imbalance happening now. Your ideas, content, private information and communications are examples of this unfairness of the unknown exchange between yourselves and the corporations.

Privileged personal data is something we have all given up in exchange of free services. But is giving away your personal data a fair exchange? Your personal data has immense value and it is being sold off on the cheap. If we owned our own data we could barter and control the price and amount of data we share and  with whom we share it.

What has privacy got to do with Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is pseudo anonymous, meaning your transactions are available for all to see on a public network ledger.While this ledger does not divulge your private identification it is easy enough to link the transaction with the enterprise selling the item unless you go out of your way to change your Bitcoin address.  This is not so important for people like you and me, it may be important to the takeup of the currency as businesses that benefit from intellectual property or competitive privacy may not want the item or ingredient source being linked to them. Regulations are in the pipeline to try and control Bitcoin’s use, and while this will all be in vain as Bitcoin is decentralised meaning it cannot be shut down easily, it will slow down the takeup in the shorter term.

The future private services filling the privacy gap.

As someone who is passionate about economics, politics and technology I can see Anoncoin being a practical solution to current and future privacy problems. As a speculator I  will be investing some money into Anoncoin as it seems to have great potential. It is incredibly undervalued considering it’s steady development. There were a few hiccups during it’s early development but those creases are being ironed out.  Although you can buy this coin, I would say this cryptocurrency is still in beta so will not get the interest it deserves till the Zerocoin element of the coin is finalised, but then the price will sky rocket. If you check out the progress of the coin it’s evident that these Zerocoin elements are being completed at a steady pace. This is one to keep an eye on especially if there is another crash or the government continues  using our private data in an immoral way.

Alternatives

Monero cryptocurrency is not based on the Bitcoin technology. This prevents it being a real contender as it is not gaining the development potential that Bitcoin based technologies have. As soon as Bitcoin releases an update, Anoncoin has access to this update and benefits from the massive monetary and labour investment in developments. Like Anoncoin, Monero uses I2P which essentially provides a private internet and monetary exchange.

Zcash is another privacy based coin. MIT and academics around the world stopped development on this crytocurrency as there was a massive security flaw that would allow those with the toxic keys the ability to print money. No matter what Zooko et al do to reduce the security hole, the inability to guarantee the security of the coin (even with the multi party key holders), makes this coin a no go. The whole reason Bitcoin has thrived is because it is a trustless network. Zcash requires that you trust the parameters (that the toxic waste has been destroyed). I am not willing to trust this and many of the leading professors that developed this technology and that Zcash includes on it’s site do not believe the Zcash technology is good enough.

There are mixing services that minimise tracability, but many of these cryptocurrencies have been researched by leading academics and the findings show that mixing services do not provide sufficient privacy.

I will eventually do a video on these privacy based technologies as this topic deserves it’s own blog. I tried to be as simplistic as possible.Thus I have not supported my statements about the alternatives with lot’s of evidence. This would include extracts from the white papers and many technical evaluations. Right now Anoncoin is the best contender for Internet and commerce privacy. As privacy becomes an even bigger mainstream issue there will be many more security based technologies coming to the surface providing tools that have a massive impact, such as the privacy effect PGP had for email security.

My assumption is that the privacy based technologies will become novice friendly and consumable, much like email became. Demand for these technologies will grow based on external factors beyond mainstream prediction. The credit card / banking technology has hardly changed since the 70’s. This monetary change will happen to you. One day you’ll notice everyone is using a form of private currency and all the complexities of the underlying cryptocurrency will be irrelevant. I mean do many people question the reason why the notes in your wallet are valuable, and if they did question it’s value, would the notes still be valuable?

Teacher assessment tools

The best type of assessment

As a department we were continually looking to improve assessment. Some assessment types benefited class analysis more than it did the student, such as the spreadsheets. Some benefited the students learning more than the class overviews such as the blog. What I found worked best was a combination of spreadsheet for my own personal class analysis and a blog for the students to showcase their work, receive feedback and make continual improvements. In other words the blog became the equivalent of a workbook or learning diary. Blogging superseded alternatives because it allowed for iterative progression and was intuitive for students to use.

I have labelled each method of assessment A-L. Please share your methods in the comments section.


 

a) Google for class assessment (example):
Google sheets

Pros: Great for KS4, one link required to access current grades. Link stays the same for the whole year
Cons: Not so good for ks3. Annotated work worked better


 

b) Google spreadsheet used as department assessment sheet.
Google sheets

Similar to the above except sheets are classes. Every time the sheet is updated HOD can see how the classes are performing. Every member of staff updates the same spreadsheet.

Pros: Great for ks4, one link required to access current grades. Link stays the same
Cons: Not so good for KS3 where they responded better to annotations


 

c) Video or podcast: Used an app such as coaches eye (IOS and Android). Used podcasting (https://audioboom.com/) and video (https://www.screenr.com/) recorders online
media based

Pros: Students engaged with it. Great for SEN students
Cons: Time consuming, students watched it once and remembered one comment from many. Effective with some but not effective with many


 

d) Moodle
media based

Pros: Everything under one area: work and feedback
Cons: Too complicated an interface. Annotating work and re-uploading was time consuming. Too easy to make mistakes, but no way of undoing to previous version easily. Plus many more minor user interface issues to do with reporting. Overall not impressive when compared to Google classroom


 

e) Google Classroom
media based

Pros: Easier than Moodle for students to share work. Setting up assignments and marking work is more intuitive. Pretty much Moodle but better
Cons: Not good at showing iterations of work. Peer assessment possible. Moderation lacking more controls


 
c
f) Various types of online student blog. There are lots out there including our system.
Based on WordPress, but with loads more moderation controls. Allowing you to keep the students safe and stop silly comments. Make posts hidden or make them public for the world to see.

media based
Pros: Safe & easy to moderate. Iteration of work is easy to see. Peer assessment is easily moderated. You can make blog posts and comments private, so that only the student author sees their work and feedback (more appropriate for KS4 coursework). Suitable for KS1 up to KS5
Cons: No top level reporting for grading, although a spreadsheet is quite easy to add this type of leveling and reporting to. Blogs are best for comment based assessment, which has shown to be better for the student anyway. Grades will have to be entered in a spreadsheet if you want to see an overview of classes progress over time (as levels).


 

g) Paper version annotated work
media based

Pros: Visual. Good for iterative outlook of work.
Cons: Soon out of date. Too messy, paperwork soon builds up, becomes more of a paper trail compared to the blogging timeline view of developing work.


 

h) Scanning paper based (g) annotated work using box.net where students can comment. The link was emailed to students.
media based

Pros: Better moderation tools than Google Drive. Students writing so called “humorous” comments is not an issue. Students cannot lose it like paper. Preview is better than alternatives such as Dropbox. Best used with KS4 for coursework feedback.
Cons: Soon becomes redundant and students cannot remember what they have and have not changed since you last graded their work, so half the recommended changes are not done for many students.


h.1) Sending link (method “h”) to student via email each time I updated the marking. Slightly different from method “h”. I was sending students a link to a seperate copy of the document. The reason for this was that SMT wanted to see the progress being made by the students, therefore various copies of the marked work were required.
media based

Pros: Students liked the process of finding mail in their inbox. Unopened mail indicated an update, so I didn’t need to keep telling students “look in your inbox”. After a while students just went to their email accounts automatically each lesson to check.
Cons: After frequent marking of various content, students started to get confused by the inbox. KS4 would ask “is this the most updated feedback?”. The fact that there were lots of units marked at various times, with various copies of the same work became too much of inbox management issue.

When I was asked for example marking by SMT, it became a process of paper sifting and going through registers to find out why I hadn’t marked that particular student’s work (Normally due to attendance issue). This was a more lengthily process than you would think as we had a really fragmented registration system. We hadn’t updated to SIMS yet.

I needed a better record of each marking period, so that I could pick up students of concern and send them to SMT earlier. The solution was the spreadsheet (see method “a”) with links to work. I could make notes that allowed me to quickly determine the reasons for unmarked work, and therefore speedily respond to SMT with reasons why a student’s work was not marked. The student just seen the most up-to-date feedback which removed confusion. The spreadsheet (a) also helped preempt questions regarding student’s of concern. With the help of the spreadsheet, I was able to send a monthly list of students that were not attending my lessons to SMT and therefore intervention was made much earlier.


i) Evernote to show iterations of work. Note shared with student. Timeline of changes visible.
media based

Pros: Free. Quick annotations possible, even on the mobile. So you can make the annotations infront of the student in class. You can include audio of the conversation with the student, add text, speech to text is okay and any future correspondence or notes are easy to add. You can add the student as an editor so they can add work to a single note. Searching for a topic or student is made easy with character recognition ( Character recognition even picks up students handwritten names – I know wow). Assessment was a breeze.
Cons: Student cannot make comments unless they have an Evernote account. Sharing to specific Evernote accounts on the mobile, when you have 100’s of students is a pain. Need a premium account to store notes offline (our internet was not consistent)


 

J) Google sites to show off work, receive comments etc
Google Sites

Pros: Works similar to a blog. Peer assessment possible
Cons: Not enough moderation tools. Silly comments were frequent and anonymous, students can change the security settings


 

K) Spreadsheet which is mail merged to a publisher document that was printed for students.
Get student assessment data through a mix of Google forms evaluation, What went well (WWW), even better if(EBI), and your own assessment of work(example). Save and export as spreadsheet. Finally mailmerge.

Pros: If students lost paper copy, you could print it off again
Cons: Student response area on printout did not show recursive development of the work. Took too long to complete. Dependent on working printers. Ours were frequently offline. The internet cut out now and again or the browser would refresh and all work would be lost on Google Forms. I didn’t like setting quizzes at the end of a topic as I preferred students to write up as they went along, otherwise it would prove to be a very boring lesson. I tried to vary the different types of work.


 

L) Google sheet shared with student. Each piece of work had a link to various forms of feedback. Such as Evernote (notes and annotated scans), Box.net – (pdf’s – example), google docs ( student submissions), links to podcasts and links to Google sites comments.
Google Sites

Pros: Varied approach. Good for various types of learners.
Cons: Confusing and fragmented feedback. Too many different areas to look for feedback


 

Conclusion.
The best assessment tool was a blog, I know it sounds biased, that’s because it is. I set up DoComputing because of the positive results from my teaching experience. There are loads of blogs out there. You don’t have to use mine. The moderation tools made feedback and peer assessment a breeze. Work did not stop in the classroom. Students would continue their work without me asking them to. The only downside is that the enthusiasm made planning difficult as some students would be really ahead, while students that did not do any self set homework felt they were behind. But overall I felt the pro’s outweighed the cons.

I would still advise every teacher to have an Evernote account.  Not useful at first, but as your notes grow it becomes more and more useful. You can share a bunch of notes with students as a notebook. For example every lesson I would take a picture of my notes on the whiteboard using a tablet.  I would post these pictures on the blog and set assignments on various topics based on the whiteboard image. I was a big illustrator and relied on the visual prompts especially with EAL and SEN children. The great thing was, at anytime students could search on Evernote for a topic and my handwritten whiteboard notes would appear. Every educator should have Evernote on their desktop, mobile or tablet as there are so many more uses for it than this example. Plus it’s free.

Pie Chart

Teachers should know where their time goes

It all started when I was asked by the head teacher how much time I had spent on a particular task.

The question was asked of everyone in the school, along with a breakdown of what eveyone had done. This took me hours. I did not want to be subjected to this request again without being prepared. I wanted to say within a few minutes “I’ve spent x amount of time on this task and these are the outcomes”, great if I had the time to create such a report on the fly. As all teachers know teaching is a balancing act between priorities, as well as satisfying those unexpected requests when you are already busy, which can cause undue stress.

I wanted to show off my performance. It seems as though unless you write the tasks down, detailing in folders and department notes what you have done, you have gaps where it looks like you have not done anything outside of teaching time when the truth is the exact opposite.

Pie Chart

Pie chart showing all work carried out outside of direct teaching

Video demonstration of using ‘Time recording’ on my phone

I decided to use Time Recording to log everything, this saved my bacon on a few occasions.  The question “why haven’t you completed such and such” led to my answer “because I was also given A, B and C to do which took me x hours last night, so I couldn’t do it”.

This may sound like shirking, but it’s not. By having a logging app I was able to support my own interpretation of my worth.

It gave me confidence and reduced my stress levels as I was able to assertively say what was and was not possible within a set amount of time.  It is unreasonable to expect more than what is feasible, but as we all know ‘the extra mile’ is part of the job. Work load management is an undeniable stress factor for teachers. I would definitely recommend this app to anyone wanting to work more efficiently, suffering stress at work due to overloading, or if time management is questioned. I was able to confidently say where my time was going.  With this app I was able to justify extending deadlines by using data explaining how long a typical task would take and therefore my reason for requesting an extension.

It became second nature to press a button on my phone to simply log tasks as I was doing them. The logging acted as a diary and became more and more useful. I was working evenings, weekends and many days in the holidays, yet like most teachers, I was still not finishing everything I had set out to. I was blaming myself. I heard “Time management” a few times, then after 6 months of logging I realised what was taking up my precious time. Time I could have spent on teaching and improving student progress. Time on making every lesson an outstanding one, time to do everything that benefits students rather than support paper trails.

38% of my time outside of teaching students in class was spent replying to emails and producing reports.

As an educator you appreciate how data indicates many things such as how students are performing. You understand that this data is important for yourself to intervene and support students that need the help. On the other hand, I did think to myself “wouldn’t students benefit more from great lessons, a not so tired teacher and more detailed assessment”.

This pie chart represents all non teaching time; 4 hours preparation time a week, time before and after school, evenings, weekends and holidays (In total 60 + hours a week including teaching time). This pie chart represents all my “free time”. Therefore what could be scrapped from this pie chart of extra teaching tasks. Like most teachers I found that email had become a paper trail for many members of staff so they could say “I’ve done my bit. Phew! Someone else’s problem now” and with so much work you can understand why this is necessary for many.

I propose a complete overhaul. Email whether you like it or not is taking you away from educating.

Paperwork / reporting data is taking you away from educating. We need a balance. I recommend we do away with email. There are alternatives such as talking to someone face to face, picking up the phone, instant messaging and others such as evernote’s chat client. Sharing information is great but a morning meeting where knowledge is shared would be better. If it is really urgent, a person (messenger) could come round and inform you or the students about something that is relevant to you and your class, rather than the alternative email that is sent to “whole school”. Something has to change. On regular occasions I was receiving 100+ emails in a day. Then you would have someone say to you in-between lessons “have you received my email, what do you think?”.

I’m not saying that data, reporting, answering queries by email and filling out pupil reports is not important. What I am saying is that the frequency and amount of these tasks has to be balanced by what teacher tasks provide the most effective learning and progress. Priorities need to be reassessed. There needs to be either more funding for admin staff to collate data and report, or teachers need to be asked for admin less often. Alternatively OFSTED, parents and governors should be told what is possible with current funding and teacher time.

Something has to change. As technology gets more advanced it is bringing it’s own problems, not allowing teachers to switch off.

Fragmented and duplicated data technology which hinders rather than supports. I know that all schools will not be streamlined any time soon as this would require funding for better technology and training for staff. But most importantly people need to be aware of their own time limitations. How do you think this time management could be addressed?

The future of free resources for schools?

Lots of free content to sift through can be overwhelming. Too many resources to filter, too piecemeal, too difficult to find links without reading through reams and reams of lesson content. In my experience the most expensive resources were the most boring and required a lot of sprucing up to keep students engaged. Free stuff could be amazing if it were curated to the same professional degree of paid for content.

Free resources

I’m a bit wary of free upload and share sites that turn from non profit to “hello, thanks for uploading all those years, payup or you will never see that wonderful lesson plan again”. After trying out many of these sites, we have now encountered the age of organised educators coming together to create Computing at School (CAS). CAS is a good template for other subjects, such as English or Maths. I trust CAS. There is however one failing CAS has and that is it’s ability to curate content, this is something ‘for profits’ do well. Filtering out noise and simplifying content.

CAS is the best of the bunch but it has it’s limitations. Like the net, it has lots of content. Just where do you start? After searching for hours I sometimes say “I wish I had just developed something myself, I’ve been searching for ages” It can take many hours to find and modify a resource. Then you have to create a scheme of work out of this jumble sale, of some excellent, some okay and some irrelevant material. Arrrggghhh! This is where some members of CAS have started to create schemes of work (SOW). Great people.

I’m not saying I want to be lazy, but I don’t want to re-invent the wheel. We have so little time, this issue needs to be sorted out. I recommend a separate area from CAS resources. A neat wiki style SOW area. Users can vote for which content stays and which goes. Github (a repository) is an example of what could be achieved to make content simpler to navigate. On this platform someone can make their own branch of a resource, re-engineer a basic lesson into a super lesson through a collaborative approach, this is a great example of what CAS could do. Incorporating lots of great minds on each lesson is the key to quality assurance. Even this solution is a bit complex to implement as the CAS content is so varied over many different platforms. For example media files and presentations would not be compatible with the Github platform. I don’t mind tweaking, I do mind creating lessons (too often). Creating content = less disposable personal time with friends and family.

I think the solution for many schools is more competition between free and paid for content. The government could do with investing in CAS infrastructure to help filter the resources. Better free content would incentivise publishers to develop better content and give teachers back their time, well at least a large chunk of it. Oh one more thing – scrap email… but that’s for another blog.

Do you have any suggestions for making community content more accessible, curated and less piecemeal? If so please comment and help improve collaborative teaching.

Teaching Computing to Gifted and talent children

How to teach G&T in computing

As my previous review has highlighted the problems associated with the G&T term and meaning it makes more sense to pursue the study using the term able student because able reflects an incremental type learner, rather than the label Giftedness as a state of being.

The subject that I teach is computing, therefore I will be considering the approach to giftedness in conjunction with the use of computers.

Technology offers more exciting and innovative ways for G&T to learn'(Berger−Sandra.)

Gifted children find motivation in class difficult, These motivational difficulties may stem from the fact that gifted students tend to be self-motivated, rather than teacher-motivated. They typically perform better with unstructured, flexible assignments and they prefer to select their own learning experiences, rather than being given a set task (Beth A. Hennessey).

Technology allows students to more easily make corrections and add creative touches to showcase their individuality ‘(Berger−Sandra.). Furthermore, student’s fast-paced attitude is supplemented by the use of the internet versus using print materials in a library. Technology has given students a whole new vehicle for learning. The technology provides opportunities for teachers to meet the needs of students with various learning styles through the use of multiple media.

Other studies go beyond making a point just about student motivation and find that technology greatly increases achievement. The use of laptops and programs such as Reading Counts has helped students to maximize their full potential. “The motivation level of the students rose astronomically. Interest level skyrocketed.” These programs, and similar ones, have helped teachers to organize, deliver, and test information. Students are learning more in less time and retaining more than ever. Specifically, as in Laptops + Challenging Curriculum = Student Success, (Berger−Sandra.)As a result, students are becoming more self-sufficient and willing to share knowledge. (Lawrence A. Tomei)

There are examples of Online virtual learning that are specifically geared specificaly towards G&T students, such as VLE’s, (1) Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (epgy.stanford.edu /courses/); (2) The Center for Talented Youth (cty.jhu.edu/cde /index.html). EPGY offers self directed study, perfect for able students (http://epgy.stanford.edu/courses/) (Lawrence A. Tomei).

G&T application

Lessons that provide student based learning rather than teacher based learning produces a more gifted calibre student who is able to think out of the box and best addresses the needs of all kinds of learners in the class (Lawrence A. Tomei). ‘A central focus of the educator is to maximize the capacity of each learner’. An example of the best types of questions used are open ended questions that allow for independant exploration can be seen in the model below (an extract from Dr. Roger Taylor’s workshop on Current, Best Instructional Strategies for Your Gifted and Highly Capable Students);

Brainstorming Model

(encourages fluent thinking)

List all of the ___

List as many ___ as you can think of

How many ways can you come up with ___

Viewpoint Model

(encourages seeing from a different point of view)

How would this look to a ___

What would a ___mean from the viewpoint of a ___?

How would ___view this?

Involvement Model

(encourages associative thinking)

How would you feel if you were __?

If you were a ___ what would you (see, taste, smell,

feel)?

Conscious Self-Deceit Model

(encourages students to imagine that something is true or not

true and consider the consequences)

Suppose you could have anything you wanted. What ideas

could you produce if this were true?

You have been given the power to___. How will you

use it?

Forced Association Model

(encourages making comparisons between different things)

How is a ___like a ___?

Get ideas from __to improve ___.

Reorganization Model

(encourages reorganization of information)

What would happen if ___ were true?

Suppose ___ happened, what would be the consequences?

What would happen if there were no ___?

(Lawrence A. Tomei)

the intention of these types of questions is to stimulate imaginative and creative thought, or investigate cause and effect relationships, or provoke deeper thought or extensive investigations.

  • Challenges thinking abilities
  • Encourages several answers, or possibilities and stimulates idea creation
  • Requires unusual or multiple answers
  • Extracts information which is already learned and stimulates productive and divergent thinking
  • Includes a large percentage of open questions
  • Provides an ideal opportunity to ask thought provoking and probing questions
  • Encourages students to ask divergent questions of their peers and of their teacher

These questions extend those who are able, they should be encouraged ‘to ask questions of the instructor and of their classmates. It takes students out of only the response mode and encourages them to set their own agenda for exploration.’

It is important that we model the kinds of questions that stimulate higher level thinking. “Higher level” questions produce deeper learning than “lower level” questions. Also “Waiting” briefly before accepting responses from students has the effect of increasing the depth of students’ answers. (Lawrence A. Tomei)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labelling our children can do more harm than good!

G&T

There are certain labels that offer no difference to the support a child receives and actually create barriers to their potential achievement.  Some aspects of labelling are important to diagnose which students require support, so it is important that labels exist. However, during my career as a teacher I felt schools used labels to the extent that the label itself became unproductive.

I have a label, I am Dyslexic.  I wasn’t given this label until my last few months at University.  I was however picked up as requiring support at college. I received the best advice from learning support which enabled me to do better than I could ever have achieved without it. I was shown how to structure thoughts and shown memory techniques. I was not aware of being dyslexic until I was diagnosed just prior to graduating University. For me, the support I received at college was much more effective than the label that was given at the end of University. In my mind, throughout my education, I was no different from my peers. Harnessing the support I was given nearly 20 years ago I still feel no different.

Throughout my career as a teacher there were certain aspects of labelling that I felt uncomfortable with, none more so than the label Gifted and talented (G&T). I found it ridiculous to have to choose out of a large classroom which students were more capable, creative or passionate about the subject .Labelling them as gifted and talented (G&T) for the duration of their time at school, for me, felt wrong.

Every student was capable of being gifted and there were certain areas of a subject that set off a spark in a child. It was my job as a teacher to encourage as many sparks as possible. But humans being humans, there were different passions and varying past experience, all catalysing into a surge of achievements that you can call both gifted and talented. If you look at the human being, you could say that with enough nurture we can all be capable and amazing in our own way. If you consider being “gifted” as being successful, then you can see how successful children are in so many ways as they progress through education. But is the label wrong in its application or is it just an exercise to satisfy OFSTED, and most importantly are students benefitting from it or suffering from it?

Why the G&T label?

In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition that the educational needs of able students were not being adequately met in British schools resulting in a series of governmental educational initiatives aiming at improving the education of able students (Hartas, Dimitra)

The establishment of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) at the University of Warwick was a development aimed at enhancing able students’ educational provision (Hartas, Dimitra – abstract). NAGTY contributed to securing G&T public policy within national education and worked with the education profession to improve G&T provision in the classroom (ACL Consulting.)

The failing of high ability children to excel in education is based on a target driven society where the likes of the newspapers and the government produce data on the passes 5 A-C’s. Therefore the emphasis is obviously going to be applied to those children who are under achieving, then providing those children with the enhancement and support via methods such as SEN to get them that most important C grade.  All this at the expense of the able child waiting while the rest of the class catches up, while the teachers efforts are spent trying to get the whole class on target and at the same level of understanding.

Subjectivity

Gifted and Talented (G&T) is a subjective label. The application is based on an individual’s interpretation (Mazzoli) of what is gifted. Therefore the whole ethos is subjective as there is no quantitative way to measure a person’s giftedness at a particular subject. A student labelled as G&T is only as gifted as his or her peers are perceived not to be. Therefore in one classroom a student may be a high achiever, yet if that student was put in another room with similar ability children, would that student be G&T? Possibly not (Mazzoli). Without a like for like approach to the labelling of a child as G&T the term has no value. The whole G&T idea is based on hearsay.  It is like saying that in relation to high achievement, some children can do and some children cannot do. (Lawrence A. Tomei).

Social discrimination from being labelled

Children who are identified as gifted per se are more likely to come from advantaged families. Teachers are less likely to identify high ability in students from more disadvantaged backgrounds.(Mazzoli). G&T Under represents SEN (Hartas, Dimitra) children and children who have behavioural difficulties (Mazzoli). Much research does not specify gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status (Mazzoli).

To refute the G&T term some academics suggest Gifted students have the same range of behaviours and adjustments as other children. Some G&T students can receive problems of social isolation and alienation, and increased sensitivity and anxiety in response to pressure, arising not from their intellectual abilities per se, but as a result of society’s response to them. (Mazzoli).

Is G&T a myth?

Much of the research suggests there is a ‘lack of clarity with regard to what giftedness entails and what counts as evidence of giftedness, and the diverse views of giftedness’ all making the selection and identification process problematic (Hartas, Dimitra). Some studies fail to define criteria for giftedness leading to failure of like for like comparisons (Mazzoli). There is a lack of common metric to judge giftedness ( Hartas, Dimitra). Teachers are required to nominate giftedness where inconsistent criteria is used. (Mazzoli).

The failure to provide a feasible way to measure giftedness adds to the subjectivity of the phrase G&T, what defines a child as G&T? An example of the confusion imparted on teachers by the lack of guidance is highlighted by a study of NAGTY’s summer school responsible for introducing G&T in mainstream schools. The teachers involved in the study differed in what criteria they related to being G&T. ‘One tutor stated that Summer School students were ‘‘certainly gifted …’’ qualified his definition of giftedness by stating that they were ‘‘enthusiastic,’’ ‘‘self-disciplining,’’ ‘‘good at talking to each other,’’ and consequently ‘‘really quite mature.’’ It seems that giftedness was linked to motivation and maturity rather than to a special aptitude for the subject.’ ‘Some selectors viewed certain non-cognitive characteristics, such as social cohesion of the group, group diversity, age, and maturity as being important factors for selecting students’ (Hartas, Dimitra).

Provision for the G&T student so far

A survey was initiated as a summative evaluation of NAGTYs performance at the end of its contract. 100 students attended the NAGTY summer school for gifted and talented (students chosen by their subject teachers). (Hartas, Dimitra).

The survey highlighted some key problems with the NAGTY, in that they failed to establish; improvements in G&T, methodologies or systems to assist the development of policy and there was no monitoring or tracking improvements. To summarise NAGTY’s Legacy was’ not as substantial as it might have been’. (ACL Consulting.).

‘Only some children have gifted potential’’ (Marie Huxtable)

It is not fair to target particular students for G&T, excluding substantial numbers of especially able but underachieving students—students who, if given the right classroom circumstances, could also demonstrate stellar achievements and signs of giftedness’

The argument they set forth is that giftedness in children is not an already developed capacity as many educators and psychologists would lead us to believe (Beth A. Hennessey).There is no single homogeneous group of gifted children and adults, and giftedness is developmental, not fixed at birth. Research in the past few decades have pointed to the ways in which gifts and talents vary, including in the general categories of developmental characteristics. Giftedness is not a state of being, it is not fixed, and it does not reside in a chosen few over their lifetimes as a fixed entity. It is, rather, developmental−−in some children and adults with high potential, at certain times, under certain circumstances, and with appropriate levels of support, time, effort, and personal investments and choices (Reis−Sally).

Rather than thinking that specific children have the ability to be G&T, it is more progressive to think that ‘Children don’t get gifts, or have them – they make them’ (Marie Huxtable). Researchers have advanced the argument that it makes more sense to shift the emphasis from being gifted to the question of how to develop gifted behaviours in children in the classroom. (Beth A. Hennessey)  This will lead to a methodology which will allow us to move from the debate as to who is gifted or talented, to exploring how gifts and talents can be developed educationally.’ ‘This invites us to shift our focus to the educational processes that support gift creation’. (Marie Huxtable)

What can schools do?

I believe that Gifted and Talented labelling needs to be reviewed. Alternatively schools could aim towards an incremental view of intelligence, promoting intelligence as achievement and effort based. Teachers will continue to do as we were taught during teacher training, which is to provide extension work and differentiation in all our lessons, providing opportunities for learning to all students.

The whole point in education is to inspire and prepare children for their life after school, it is the role of teachers to provide children with opportunities to fulfil their potential (Lawrence A. Tomei) and achieve their aspirations whether they have difficulties in a subject or excel in it. Every child has the potential to be G&T and to succeed in a subject if they are motivated and taught well. Let’s do away with the labelling ‘can do’, ‘can’t do’ – it does more harm than good.

The quote below is something that all teachers should embrace in their teaching, for all students and all classes, as every child is gifted and talented.

Quote;

“Personalised learning is not something that can be ‘done’ by teachers to students. Rather it arises when students themselves take charge of their own goals and progress, together with a heightened awareness of their own learning styles and preferences. When young people enjoy a range of opportunities to test themselves, to explore their talents and cultivate new interests, they come to a deeper appreciation of how learning works, what can inhibit it and in what ways it can nourish self-belief. When there are rich extended sites for learning, young people grasp that the purpose of school is not to provide an education but to stimulate a thirst for learning, and to give it life beyond the school gate.” (Marie Huxtable)

For more about G&T in computing see here

Parents will be required to support computing homework

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Recent changes in education mean parents will need lessons in coding, maths and literacy to help their children with their homework.
Impact of homework on children

The main problem I hear from parents when I mention education is the true stress that homework puts on their child. Either they have too much on a daily basis or the most common reason, that the amount of homework to complete within a very short period of time is overbearing. The discussion normally sways towards the conflicting consequence the stress has on their very young child.

The other day I read the article Michael Rosen: Why curiosity is the key to life, where his main point was that priority for life learning is to”explore ideas and to learn about everything. He says parents can be their children’s best teachers – through the stuff of daily living, not lists of dry facts”. It triggered two images in my mind of parents around a table discussing the day in one image and the conflicting image of parents watching T.V. with their child, without much in the way of conversation. With so little time in the evenings with our children, it is obvious spending all this time in front of T.V. is not best for our children, but is spending this precious time in front of textbooks the best use of this time either.

Last week I brought my 3 year old to the park and got chatting to a parent about our children. After a short while the topic of schools came up and the parent said, “my child does not go to school. We home-ed”. The main reason was that her child was getting too stressed at the age of 7 with elements of schooling such as the amount of homework, and the difficulty of it.

The latter conversation reminded me of an article I read about a year ago, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph signatories including academics, teachers and some writers and charities,said early schooling was causing “profound damage” to children and that they shouldn’t start homework till the age of 7. Well now that Michael Gove is out of the picture, this may be the time to debate the benefits of homework and include experts in the conversation.

The merits of homework are hotly contested worldwide. According to research in the US, homework beyond reading with your children has little significant effect and can even be harmful.

But in the UK, the findings of the these studies are challenged by Bill Lucas, professor of learning at the University of Winchester. “While there are a small number of parents that do more harm than good, the same could be said of teachers or politicians,” he said. “Across the world the research on the positive benefits of parental engagement is of high quality and widely accepted.”

Impact of homework on parents

Schools and organisations around the country are providing free literacy and maths support to adults, and thus going a long way in preventing the stresses that can coincide with children bringing back homework that parents are unable to help with.

Is computing homework going too far: Not since the start of this month it isn’t. Computing lessons are changing from the previous ICT subject to put more emphasis on programming. A survey of parents by O2 in May found that almost two-thirds did not know about the new computing curriculum and one-third were worried that they would not be able to support their children. With the NSPCC, O2 is launching family workshops in up to 100 stores. Are parents going to feel this is one more sting to an already very burdensome homework regime.

Boys achieving level 5+ increased by 60% (BBC news)

Boys do not statistically do as well as girls with regards to literacy. However there are ways to fill this gap, and blogging seems to be a tool that has been proven to engage boys and girls in literacy.

Blogging compliments literacy and it is very important to combine them in your school. Child safety and the learning curve are invariably the most obvious hurdles for teachers, but it doesn’t have to be too difficult to overcome with improved safety capabilities in many blogging platforms and simpler featured offerings.

Boys achieving level 5+ increased by 60%

Boys in this school have taken to blogging and the school has had an increase of 60% in boys achieving level 5+. Other schools have had similar results. (see news article www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/blog-early-blog-often-the-secret-to-making-boys-write-properly-2211232.html )

What is a blog?

How to implement blogging

What I found to be the most engaging element of blogging with my students was how excited students became when they received feedback from peers. The blog was a way for students to show off their work and I was surprised to find how constructive the comments were. The gains were not immediate and it took a few lessons for many students to acknowledge what a constructive comment was.

As a teacher I found blogging a perfect way to receive feedback after a lesson, especially a lesson that I had developed and taught for the first time. I found the feedback on many occasions was outstanding and refreshing. There is nothing like being told what could make your lessons better by a student.

“One of the mistakes that teachers make when introducing blogs to their students is forgetting that blogging is about more than simply writing!  Good bloggers work to become a part of communities of learners, regularly reading and responding to posts written by others.  By doing so, students have the opportunity to see reflective writing in action.  What’s more, they have the opportunity to begin to polish their own thinking on topics of interest by leaving comments for other bloggers.” Source: http://digitallyspeaking.pbworks.com/w/page/17791566/Blogging#BlogCommenting

Teacher – Do I have the time for this?

Yes. In the long term blogging will save you so much time. Students get individualised feedback by their peers, parents, and now and again from someone who is specialised in that area, this all saves you writing feedback as frequently, while still allowing you time to assess the students.

If you have a special project and you can push the boat a bit with time, I’d recommend making links with other schools, so that students have a much broader reading base. This makes it even more exciting when the student receives a comment from someone they don’t know. The whole human interaction part makes the learning more fun. Showing off work, getting comments, modifying their work based on this feedback and creating a learning portfolio becomes easier and less time consuming.

Special time saving ideas – The photo tip

I used to get the students to take pictures of all their work and I’d upload them onto the school network.

I’d have the student name on a card and give this card to each student. The students position the card at the top of their paper. For each photo, their name would be at the top, so when they try to find their work on the computer or ipad to upload it from the network, they can see their name at the top.

Every lesson the person taking the photographs would be someone different. With a good camera, it would take no longer than 10 minutes to take the photographs and 5 minutes to upload to the network. (Tip: Use the macro setting on the camera. Usually the icon with the flower)

Novelty

Before blogging, by the time I would have marked the students work, maybe a couple of lessons after the work was completed, the novelty of the lesson had worn off, but using the latter method of the blog, the feedback is all completed in the same window, which saves you time taking lots of books home (still required, but reduced). The whole assessment process is now a much more streamlined process.

New BBC resources

Video resources

The BBC has launched some great supplementary videos (New videos here). to add to your lessons, with more coming soon.  These are well themed and explain topics such as algorithms in a clean and simplistic way, but are in no way a full package. The resources are out just in time really, if recent articles are to be believed. Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent for the BBC (article) claims many in Primary and secondary schools have very little knowledge with regards to computing and that many will struggle this academic year. My personal opinion is that teachers should have been given more time to train in school. The government should have supported it’s massive push with a trickle down approach as noted by the BCS in it’s supportive documentation for the development of the new Computing Programmes of Study. Start introducing early computing lessons and both teachers and students will be more capable. Throw KS2 students straight in with KS2 content without having been through the basics at KS1 and you can expect some difficulties. The government purports that teachers have had a whole year to prepare. But having been a teacher myself I know too well what the workload is and a “whole year” comment by the governemnt is a bit of an exaggeration.

Poll – Are you ready for Computing?

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Are primary school teachers ready?

BBC report states that many teachers are not ready (BBC video expired)

The new academic year is about to start and there are bound to be a few challenges. One challenge many primary teachers are facing is the ability to teach Computing with limited CPD and very little in the way of direction to tangible lesson examples. I remember hearing that the likes of Google and Microsoft were going to be a solution to this preparation gap. The government’s point of view is that you “have had a whole year to prepare”. I don’t know if you feel that way considering most teachers have a workload akin to a CEO of a large corporation, but nonetheless it seems you have very little support from the government. So if teachers are not ready, the question is Why?

See report skip to 12mins 40 seconds
Video resources

Poll – Are you ready for Computing?

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