With a new education bill just published and a curriculum review announced, these appear to be exciting times of change in education. The omens do not look good for a technology-embedded curriculum, however. Where the Rose review put ICT in a position of some prominence as an 'Essential for Learning and Life', the current Education Secretary seems to view technology as a peripheral concern and even a distraction from serious learning about phonics, tables and the kings and queens of England! A 1950s view of the curriculum seems hardly suited to the digital natives of the 21st Century, but we seem to be harking back to a mythical golden age of factual learning where technology played no part because it did not exist. It is interesting that an article in the TES last week seemed to undermine some of the international comparisons that are being used to justify change to a more content-led curriculum. Apparently, in Hong Kong, teachers use 'an issue-based enquiry method to teach students how to think and analyse". Isn't that what we have been doing in the UK for the past 20 years?
Although children do not usually work with spreadsheets until the later years of key stage two, teachers can take advantage of the inbuilt feedback features of spreadsheets to create tasks for much younger children. The screen capture movie below shows how the IF function can be used in a formula to create a simple addition spreadsheet, which instantly tells children if they are right or wrong. The software here is Excel, but any spreadsheet can be used in this way. The software used for the screen capture was CamStudio, which is a free download for Windows - its easily as good as paid-for products and very easy to use.
I did a short session on LOGO and Control with PGCE (Primary) students last week and one group was really taken with the idea of getting Bee Bots to 'dance'. The result reminded me of country dancing, so I chose some appropriate music to accompany the video - its maybe not what the group expected!
Not being a great enthusiast for LOGO, I wasn't exactly looking forward to getting my head around the new versions of Microworlds. I must admit I have enjoyed working with Microworlds JR, however. Aimed at children in key stage 1 and early key stage 2, it takes a graphical, button-based approach to giving commands, creating animations and building procedures. There is spoken audio help, which means it can be used by children with limited reading skills. Added levels of challenge are available and standard LOGO commands can be used alongside the graphical interface. In many ways, it is similar to the object-oriented programming in Scratch. A save and print-disabled demo of Microworlds JR is available and, of course, Scratch is a free download.
Anyone researching games-based learning (and 21st Century curricula, in general) will find some useful and thought-provoking articles on James Paul Gee's web site. Professor Gee has the wonderful title of 'Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies' at Arizona State University and has written extensively on literacy, learning and games. Mark Prensky is another noted author in relation to 21st Century learning - try 'Simple Changes in Current Practices May Save Our Schools' as a starting point (note that the 'Charter Schools' that he mentions are the same as Free Schools' in England').
Tony Pickford is a tutor and writer on primary education.