I have been using Delicious to compile a set of links and resources to help in planning a more Computing-focused curriculum in primary schools. I am adding stuff regularly, so please re-visit - the link is https://delicious.com/tonypickford/programming
If the proposed new National Curriculum for England was designed to get a reaction, then it has been a very effective document. The fact that the ICT (sorry, Computing) proposals have proved to be one of the least contentious aspects, gives some indication of the reactions to much of the rest of the document. Without exploring the fine details of the controversy and debate (this gives a flavour for just one curriculum area), the responses have been sparked by a paradigm shift in curriculum requirements from the usual mix of processes, skills and factual knowledge to an approach entirely dominated by facts to be imparted. Though radical and informed by a deficit view of children's knowledge and capabilities, the approach is grounded in a fairly logical set of propositions. Whether it be simple reading comprehension or informed participation in a democratic society, all children (and adults) need to be culturally literate - imbued with a shared cultural knowledge across language, literature, humanities, arts and sciences. If all receive this body of incontestable factual information, then inequalities caused by different social and/or economic backgrounds will be addressed. The arguments supporting the approach are appealing, especially for politicians looking for simple solutions or academics out to make a name for themselves. Where the approach falls apart or, to be more kind, raises questions is in its implementation (and of course, the very idea of incontestable information) - delivery of a huge amount of knowledge across a relatively few years of schooling will mean that even young children will have to receive a diet of complex facts and very challenging concepts. Look at the key stage one requirements across the new National Curriculum to see what I mean - or better still, take a look at the Core Knowledge Sequence UK, developed by Civitas, which carries the approach to its logical conclusions.
It was when looking at the latter curriculum that I was struck by what is missing. Core Knowledge, or at least its UK form, appears to make only a few references to technology - Tim Berners-Lee gets a mention in Y6 science and data handling features in mathematics - but, there is little sense that cultural literacy in the 21st Century might include technological or digital literacy. Surely, an approach to curriculum making that values factual knowledge would expect informed 21st Century citizens to know something about the technology that surrounds them and underpins the functioning of society? If facts are all important, then a warning about the status of facts on Wikipedia might be useful? If Time-Berners Lee gets a mention, then what about Ted Nelson or Douglas Engelbart or Alan Turing? Shouldn't we know what happens across networks when we click the 'I'm Feeling Lucky' button on Google? Or is cultural literacy actually about the past rather than the present?
And the title of this post - of course the culturally literate will recognise it.
After a couple of days' reflection, our first TeachMeet seems to have been a positive experience for all concerned! Some really supportive comments were posted during the event and afterwards. There appears to be general agreement that the presenters and their ideas were inspiring. The turnout was OK with a good mix of teachers, students and others. So, what have I learned?
So we have a new draft framework for the National Curriculum In England and across the board subject-by-subject there appears to be a theme: it's content-heavy and it's challenging. Whether it's mathematical basics or the 'facts' of British history, there's a lot to cram in and some of it shows little awareness of age appropriateness or relevance. The Computing curriculum is a case in point - in primary, we now have algorthms and 'sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; ... variables and various forms of input and output' to contend with. Basically, if it's not hard work to learn and to teach, then its not worthwhile. But wait a minute, that isn't what technology is about, is it? Surely technology is about making it easier to do things? About enabling children to engage in creative processes and make products that would have been impossible in the past. Children can now make videos and animations with handheld devices that would have required a roomful of kit and a well-funded chequebook just a few years ago.
Computing (or dare I call it, ICT) is about tools for learning across the curriculum, but the document makes no mention of them in any other subject. Instead we have a dark recess of the curriculum (that the Expert Panel, remember them, didn't think worthy of a programme of study) that is dominated by programming. And let's be honest, programming is an acquired taste for learner (and teacher). If done well, programming can be engaging, but if done badly, it is dull, tedious and repetitive stuff - 'now let's go back for the tenth time and see if we can get the turtle to draw a Christmas tree'. So do I despair? No. There is enough in the Computing curriculum to ensure that links are made with ways that technology enhances learning and makes a difference in the real world.
On a day of quite stunning educational u-turns, 'The National Curriculum in England Framework document for consultation' appeared without much fanfare. Anyone searching within it for new ICT Programmes of Study was sadly disappointed - ICT is no more; instead we have 'Computing' - though the small print does concede that the change is subject to the outcome of consultation on changing the subject from ‘information and communication technology’ to ‘computing'. A change requiring legislation, I believe. Below are some initial random thoughts focusing on key stages one and two.
According to this BBC News report on the eve of this year's BETT, a Microsoft spokesman has declared that 'all children should learn computer science at primary school'. No surprise there I suppose, but the bit of the report that disturbed me just a little, was the section on reasons for doing it. According to Microsoft, we should be teaching programming because 'introducing children to the basics of the subject at primary school, will help inspire more pupils to take it to degree level and ultimately the world of work' (sorry, my italics). So, serving the job market in ten years time is the reason primary children should be getting their head around algorithms and loops and feedback? At least, that's what Microsoft thinks.
Thanks to Irritable Tech for pointing out the South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) Swiggle website, which has a Google-powered safe search tool on its home page. According to SWGfL, the tool 'is created using Google Custom Search with Safe Search functionality enabled. The Search promotes specific educational keywords in order to help provide results with an educational focus. In addition some sites have been blocked to help prevent inappropriate results being provided'. The site still suggests that filtering should be enabled when searching, but this looks to be a useful tool for primary children's research. It also links through to some of the best online e-safety resources, including some really useful child-friendly advice on effective searching.
Also, not a search tool, but yet another really good free online photo editor has come to my attention - Picadilo has all the usual filters and effects in a straightforward interace. Reminds me a little of the late, lamented Picnik; which is high praise!
Finally, an invitation to all primary teachers to a TeachMeet! Details in the poster below. If you would like to attend, please leave a message in the Comments box and I will pass it on.
Had a query the other day about safe, learner friendly sites for research in primary and teaching/learning about web searching. Everyone is so used to Google now as first choice for web search that other very useful sites tend to be ignored and (worryingly) Google is often used in schools and settings without an awareness of its potential dangers. First off, it is very easy to make Google relatively secure and child-friendly - on all computers that you are using, go to Google settings and set the SafeSearch filter to Strict (set a password, if learners are likely to interfere). Alternatively, set up a Google Custom Search for the topic that children will be researching - very easy to do (just make a list of sites that you want to be included), though it could be argued that it rather defeats the point of web searching by taking away the unexpected(?). On Bing, safe searching is set up in much the same way as in Google - trust Microsoft to be a copyist!
Always remember that image searching can never be 100% safe, so always proceed with caution - Google Safe Images purports to offer safe image searching, but should never be used without close supervision. The only site I would be entirely confident about is pics4learning.com.
Away from the corporate search tools, other specific tools for children include:
Just read Steve Wheeler's latest blog post about the future of classrooms and the impact of technology on the conventions of schooling. He raises some provocative questions (as ever) and, as usual, set me thinking. In his speech at BETT last year, Michael Gove made a point about the impact of technology (or lack of it) on schools by quoting the tale of the Victorian time travelling teachers who would notice little difference when visiting 21st Century classrooms. A well made (if plagiarised) point, but one that actually doesn't stand up too well. Primary classrooms have changed quite radically in the past 100 years or so - enquiry-led, collaborative learning was not a significant feature of the Victorian classroom, as far as I am aware. Of course, some aspects of the primary school day would be familiar to time travelling Victorians, but much would not.
Another point about change is our ability to see it when it happens as a step-by-step process over a long period. Only when confronted by an image of a classroom from the past can we really see the transformational changes that have taken place.
Its that time of year again when, among other things, we get top 10 lists and reviews of the year - guilty on the first count last year, but not yet on the second! Thought I 'd devote this post to sharing some new 'finds' plus a few favourites that I keep returning to.
First, a new find that I would have included in the last post about image editing if I'd been aware of it. Fotor is available in several formats for a range of platforms, but as an online tool it has a comprehensive selection of adjustments and filters in a Windows 8 style interface. It does nothing that can't be done with a number of other tools, but it does do it with a certain style. Picfull is at the other end of the image-editing spectrum, with an emphasis on simplicity. It has an interesting range of filters, however, and can quickly transform a dull photo into something more eye-catching. With so many free online tools now available, is there a future for desktop photo editing packages? Professionals will probably always need the sophistication of Photoshop and Snapseed, which is not yet available online, remains my favourite image editing app - it is still the quickest and easiest tool to create dramatic effects.
Thinglink is a tool for creating interactive images by embedding icons with links to text, video, sounds or other images. If you want to create an image from scratch using painting tools, Odosketch is an attractively designed online tool to rival some of the simpler desktop programs. Paper by FiftyThree for the iPad is an alternative - beautifully designed and a winner of this year's Apple Design Award. Draw Island is more child-friendly and mixes the conventions of painting and drawing programs by including lines and shapes alongside a free-hand pencil tool. Colour selection is rather non-intuitive, but the animation option is promising.
Mapwing is a virtual tour creator that locates images and comments on a map of a building or site - the map can be created using a basic drawing interface or by importing an image. Creating a tour is a straightforward step-by-step process and there is a gallery of tours to explore. Overall, the site does its job well, though the finished tours are a bit dull - this one being a prime example!
My Storymaker is a much more exciting proposition! Using ready-made characters and prompts, it helps young children to structure and write a simple story on-screen. The interface is well designed and appealing - reminiscent of Kerpoof, which is high praise!
Finally, if you are looking for good quality images that can be freely used in blogs, on websites and/or in documents, then try Photopin or Pixabay - two really well designed and useful sites.
Now for a couple of Top 10s - each in no particular order.
Tony Pickford is a tutor and writer on primary education.