jump to navigation

A plague on all your houses! October 6, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Web 2.0.
Tags: , , ,

Plague IncEnjoyed a beautifully sunny autumn day out on the bike today accompanied by Tony and Darrel, the EdTechCrew … or rather their podcasts. That’s not unusual; I often enjoy and benefit from their informative and witty banter, but the podcast I caught today (Episode 211) was unusual. Introduced as an interview special with Plague Inc creator James Vaughan, I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed. Though I recognise, value and promote the potential of games to support and encourage learning, I’m not a gamer … there, I said it! But hey, here I was out in the countryside enjoying a blissful ride, so I resisted the temptation to skip to the next podcast. I’m so glad I didn’t!

In words the guys would understand, it was a corker! A ripper! Why? Well firstly James came across as an incredibly interesting guy who spoke with such passion and eloquence, telling the story of how Plague Inc came into being. And what a tale it was. But more than that, this was a story which referenced so many different areas of the curriculum, providing a touchstone for teachers coming from a wide range of backgrounds. The game itself clearly links with Science, Biology and PSHE, based as it is on infection, pathogens and disease. Then of course Geography is important, requiring the player to have some appreciation of countries and their interconnectedness. James’ story linked in with Maths and IT in the way that he developed and refined the algorithms which drive the game, even using Excel to manage the statistics and formulae which underlie the game mechanics. Naturally Design and Art played a large part in getting the game out of James’ head and into the hands of the gamer and there were clear illustrations how Business Studies and Economics help turn an idea into a product. But there were also lessons aplenty to be learned on the importance of the hidden curriculum and soft skills highlighted by James’ entrepreneurship, persistence, patience, determination, creativity, imagination, responsiveness and communication. The way he assembled the resources he needed was perhaps an ideal illustration of how projects can be developed and executed in the 21st century – finding then collaborating with a group of geographically disparate individuals to design, develop and produce a product, yet never meeting them face-to-face. Getting his product onto the market and achieving unexpected and dizzying heights of success … but with no marketing budget! Using social media as communication channels through which he can connect with players, listen and respond to their feedback and improve the game with each iteration. Could all of this been achieved 10 years ago? Possibly. But then there were no iPhones, no apps … no market! Do we have here an ideal example of one of those jobs often referred to in the somewhat hackneyed phrase ‘We’re preparing students for jobs which don’t even exist yet’? I think so.

A fascinating hour for which I thank Darrel and Tony and especially James. The power of podcasting to inspire and entertain!

Do you know what? Following this interview, I’m even tempted to buy the game … heck I might even play it!

Digital Explorers … new ground? April 28, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Teaching Idea.
Tags: , , ,

Eight students arrived for our first Digital Explorers Club on Thursday lunchtime earlier this week; a small, but helpfully manageable number to start.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Gastev: http://flickr.com/photos/gastev/3600242127/

The thinking behind the Explorers Club is to address a number of issues that have been giving me pause for thought. Following an audit of ICT across our curriculum and a review of students’ experiences of ICT, it became apparent that opportunities to move beyond the bounds of the familiar are rare. For whatever reasons (and that could be a whole post on its own) the majority of students for the most part, play safe and stick to the familiar territory of Word, PowerPoint & Google, with a brave few experimenting with MovieMaker and more recently Prezi. The interesting thing is that they haven’t encountered MovieMaker or Prezi as part of the formal curriculum. Neither is covered in ICT lessons. What seems to have happened is that a more adventurous student or member of staff has used Moviemaker or Prezi (or has suggested its use) and that’s been the catalyst to pique the interest of some brave or adventurous souls who then went away and learned how to use and apply those applications themselves. It’s not for the faint-hearted – we still occasionally get students drop by the office saying their Moviemaker file won’t work and it inevitable transpires they weren’t aware that their composition hadn’t been rendered into the final movie. But that’s part of the learning process and an accepted part of being an early adopter. The interesting thing is that, having now been around for a while, creating movies is becoming almost accepted practice; it’s not unusual for students to ask if they can produce a movie to satisfy a particular task they’ve been set. Prezi, at least in school, only surfaced more recently, but it’s clear that it too is beginning to percolate more widely. Growth and expansion of new and alternative applications seem to be occurring organically from within the student body, rather than being mandated as part of what they have to learn. I find that intriguing.

Digital Explorers then is intended as a ‘seeding’ process through which applications less familiar to students (and staff) can be introduced. Clearly some will fall on stony ground, but others may pass over into the mainstream and over a period of time, students’ experiences become broader and richer.

The choice to name the club Explorers wasn’t taken lightly. I’ve heard it expressed on several occasions that we ‘spoonfeed’ the students too much and that they in turn come to rely heavily on being provided with a sense of direction by their teachers. My intention then is that Explorers Club will challenge that notion by offering activities in a different way to those encountered in the classroom, where suggested routes are offered, but the Explorers themselves choose and forge their path, using their companions for support. Each week my intention is to suggest a region (it could be creating an avatar, making an animation or recording a podcast), offer possible routes, then allow the Explorers to plough their own furrow, taking things as far as they choose and in the direction they choose. OK in fairness I ought to mention that I also have a hidden agenda and want to sprinkle in elements of safety and ethical use of ICT, but I think that’s fair … and definitely prudent!

My intention also is to keep as hands off as possible, so the tasks will be introduced using our learning platform together with Edmodo. The former means that the activities we undertake can be shared more widely since students unable to physically attend Digital Explorers for the F2F sessions can still participate. The latter offers another fresh environment for the students to explore and having its own app, perhaps a more efficient and timely way to communicate. I have some idea of possible areas for exploration, but hope to be guided by the interests of the Explorers. As they become more familiar and comfortable with the concept, the hope is that they will relish the opportunity for greater autonomy. With luck in two or three years I’ll be redundant as they become an independent, self-sustaining, self-regulating group with its own sense of purpose. Well OK, I can dream can’t I? Small acorns and all that.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Iguanasan: http://flickr.com/photos/eulothg/4922211016/

Is IT really necessary? September 18, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Management, Resources.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A couple of years ago, a friend and Head of IT in another school asked my opinion of ICT as a discrete subject in KS3. He was under pressure to have it removed from the timetable and distributed within the rest of the curriculum. At the time I couldn’t provide a compelling argument either way, much to his chagrin. This topic has raised its head once more and I was wondering whether two years further on, the arguments have changed at all?

By IaninSheffield

Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at ICT in the primary phase. At our school (ages 4-18), ICT is taught across and is embedded the curriculum in KS1 & 2; there are no discrete ICT lessons. The philosophy is that ICT should be used when and where appropriate to support learning, thereby ensuring that it is used in authentic situations, rather than being studied in its own little box. At KS3 however, ICT gets its own ‘slot’ on the timetable and becomes a discrete entity. Here it is felt that it can be explored in greater depth, is as worthy of study as other KS3 subjects, that pupils need a solid grounding for study at GCSE and beyond (should they so choose) and that subject specialists are better placed to provide for those needs. I think I’d be right in saying that our ICT in the Juniors section is similar to that in the majority of primary schools (but am happy to be corrected) and similarly our KS3 provision to that in the majority of secondary schools.

In addition to the above points, there are other factors which come into play:

  • The expertise of the teachers in embedding ICT within the broader curriculum. Primary teachers are perhaps more adept and certainly more experienced at using thematic cross-curricular approaches. Colleagues in secondary are often keen to play to the strengths of their subject disciplines, leaving other elements to those who are more capable.
  • Literacy may be integral to English lessons, but it clearly cuts across all other subject areas too, demanding that all teachers address it when necessary. Similarly numeracy may arise predominantly from the study of Maths, but it too is a touchstone to which all subjects will refer at some time. How far then should skills associated with a particular subject need to surface elsewhere? How about ‘carteracy?’ Understanding the information that maps provide us with is crucial in Geography, but many other subjects refer to maps too; another cross-curricular skill, if not less explicit. So where does ICT sit? With the other ‘…eracies?’ Or at the same level as History, French etc?
  • Resourcing. ICT taught as a discrete subject demands greater resources, invariably in the form of ICT suites/labs. ICT covered across the curriculum may allow resources to be deployed in a more distributed way, perhaps meeting the needs of subject areas more effectively in their own environments. The former is more manageable, the latter more flexible.
  • Ownership. It is increasingly apparent that mobile devices of various flavours are becoming more commonplace in the pockets and bags of our students. Supported by more cloud-based applications, schools have the opportunity to consider a completely new model for surfacing ICT in lessons, one in which ownership of the devices (and the learning they support?) transfers to the hands of our students. How might/should this affect ICT within the curriculum? (The issue of equity of access is for another post perhaps?)
  • Apprenticeship. Some would argue that learning with and about ICT occurs daily and nightly as our students interact with one another to explore ways to ‘get things done.’ Purists (some ICT teachers?) might say that this only serves to get them into bad habits; formatting text rather than using styles, spaces instead of tabs, images ‘poached’ from the Internet rather than correctly referenced etc.
  • There is much concern at the moment about the decline in the numbers of students studying computing and the ramifications for the nation’s future economy. Do ICT and Computing actually require more emphasis on the curriculum?

So I’ve singularly failed to answer the question whether ICT should be entirely embedded or taught discretely. I’d be really interested therefore to hear your views, both ICT subject teachers and non-specialists, primary and secondary. What works for you? Which directions ought we perhaps to be moving? What issues have I missed? All musings much appreciated.