Mathemateers and their Chromebooks

Something I’ve not mentioned too often in my posts about my remedial group: the Mathemateers, is that each of them have a Chromebook.

A Chromebook is a complete non-event as a device. All it does is provide seamless access to the online materials you need to use to educate your children.

So I’ve previously written about using Khan Academy and Google Classroom to give my children meaningful homework and challenging practice. Seamless. Khan Academy and Google Classroom just work.

And here’s the thing: my school owns the devices, yet I let the children take them home. How can that be? Where is the safety in that? The management console in Google Apps allows me to enforce safe search in both Google and Youtube. I’m pretty confident that the Chromebooks are the safest device the children have at home.

But it must be an effort managing that sort of thing? No. Not really. It’s less time than marking a set of books and moreover my technician in school spends no time managing Chromebooks. He spends some time distributing apps to iPads and considerable time managing our Windows network, but no time managing Chromebooks.

I’m going to be speaking in more detail about how ace I think Chromebooks are at the Google Education on Air conference at the start of May. Here’s the details of my session. Even better, the Mathemateers will be there in person, through the power of the Google Doc. Might see you then.

Trialling Google Classroom

Google Classroom: a streamlined easy experience
Google Classroom: a streamlined, easy experience

I mentioned early on in my Mathemateers posts that I would be using Google Classroom to help me ‘deliver content’. So a few words about Google Classroom.

It’s easy. Really easy.

As the teacher, I choose my students from the Google Apps for Education users (we have Years 2-6 set up as individual users). The children receive an email to ‘accept’ the invite, or they can enter a code to join the new class that has set up. From there I can do one of two things:

  1. Make an announcement.
  2. Set an assignment.

The only difference in functionality between the two is that the children don’t have to respond to announcements. With assignments I write a title, write a sentence or two of description, set a due date and then I can attach ‘content’ in various ways:

  • as an uploaded attachment,
  • as a Google Drive file (docs, slides, sheets or drawings),
  • as a Youtube video,
  • as a URL.
The assignment screen on Google Classroom
The assignment screen on Google Classroom

It’s over to the students then. Each of my students has a touchscreen Chromebook – this may seem extravagant, but at less than £170 per device I think it is well worth the investment.

I’ve added Google Classroom to the screen of their Chromebooks via the Google Apps admin console, so it’s right there whenever they log on to their device. They can open it and quickly see which assignments they have done, or are yet to do, or (occasionally) are late at handing in.

Like the teacher, they can attach work to their ‘turn in’ comment. So far this has range from Google Drawings to screenshots of other work they have done online. This takes a bit of training, but once they’ve been through the routine a couple of times they soon have the hang of what to do when they have finished their assignment.

So far I’ve mainly used it for homework – it’s so satisfying to know that students are doing meaningful work without sending them home with polypockets full of photocopied worksheets.

It’s early days so far – I’ve only been using it with children for four weeks, but I can’t wait to get it going with the whole school. It may just revolutionise the way we do homework…

Collecting Tweets

Occasionally I get interested in the science of social media. I think: wouldn’t it be interesting if I can analyse this in some grand way. Wouldn’t it be great if I could collect a load of tweets about something, crunch them and then make some world-changing conclusion.

Of course there’s Storify. I’ve not used it until today, but I’ve seen others produce interesting stories of events from them. I made my first one today. 2 minutes of signing up and clicking things created this (a story of posts about the recent London Google Teacher Academy).

What intrigued me is that during the same event, I noticed that ifttt.com broadcast a way of collecting tweets. There is now a recipe for collecting tweets with a certain hashtag and sending them all to a Google Spreadsheet. I’ve done this a few times with the #gtauk tweets and collected the tweets in three separate spreadsheets here:

Of course, the next challenge is to do something with all that information. This is where something like Storify comes in handy – it already has a way for publishing the posts in some interesting ways.

My first #gtauk word cloud
My first #gtauk word cloud

All I could thing of doing was making a Word Cloud of the tweets, which I did on my iPad (for the first spreadsheet) using an App called ‘Word Clouds‘.

For the second spreadsheet, I again took the tweets to word cloud, but this time used Wordle, which is slightly ironic because Wordle uses Java Applets and so doesn’t work on either of my chromebooks, nor my iPad. I increased the irony by posting the Wordle-generated images to the Google Teacher Academy Google+ Community.

I admit, that publishing this information is a word cloud is not the most interesting thing to do with these collected tweets – I’m still trying to think of a more useful or interesting way of crunching this data.

The 2nd #gtauk word cloud
The 2nd #gtauk word cloud

I have now finished this experiment by seeing how many #fail tweets are generated on Twitter in an hour. Here’s the Spreadsheet. I’m a bit disappointed really: there were only 74. I thought there would be more than that.

Teaching Computing to Year 5

So, as I said in my previous post, I’ve been teaching computing today. It was a year 5 class with no experience of computer science. Of course the expectations in the National Curriculum are that children know words like ‘algorithm’ and ‘debug’ from Year 1. My intention is to speed the children quickly through the expectations in my planning framework, so that they grasp the Key Stage 1 expectations quickly and make good progress into the Key Stage 2 expectations.

Here’s what I chose to do.

  1. Connect with a programmable toy. The children have been using these for years, but it’s great to give a bit of context. We have some Big Trax in school and I used these to remind the children how you can give instructions to a robot.
  2. Start with Logo. I used the handy browser-based Logo Interpreter by one of those friendly Github types, Joshua Bell. I showed the children how to make the first letter of my surname ‘P’ (the program was: fd 40; rt 90; fd 20; rt 90; fd 20; rt 90; fd 20)
    Kasra used logo to make his 'K'
    Kasra used Logo to make his ‘K’

    and then asked the children to make the first letter of their name. This is actually in the planning for a Key Stage 1 class, but the children have to start somewhere!

  3. Encourage the children to hack. Of course, I really should be moving the children on to drawing different polygons, but there are some amazing program on the Logo Interpreter page, and I wanted children to experiment with changing some of the variables and seeing what would happen. I showed them how to do this and then let them play for a few minutes. I was impressed with the screenshots that Evie took, where she not only demonstrated that she could make a letter ‘E’ but also that she had made the ‘tree’ in the logo interpreter into a much smaller version by changing the variable.
  4. Play with a programming game. Some great games already exist out there, but I chose to use Lightbot. It was interesting to see the children wrestling with the precision needed to use just a few commands to get the robot on the screen to do exactly the right thing.
  5. Program the Sandwich Bot. I told the children that I would become the ‘Jam Sandwich Robot‘ and they had to program me to make a Jam Sandwich. I shared Google Slides with them and, in small groups, they each took a slide to write their ‘algorithm’ (instructions) for the Jam Sandwich Bot. After five minutes, I ratcheted up the intensity by showing the video I had made when doing the same lesson with some Year 4 children. They worked with renewed fervour as they were desperate to be the first to successfully program the Sandwich Bot to make a jam sandwich. This is the video of what happened.
  6. Reinforce the vocab. I finished by spelling out ‘algorithm’ and ‘debug’ and talking about where you would see these occur in real life.

The ‘where next?’ includes an introduction to Scratch and using Logo to experiment with repeated sequences. I would be interested to know whether computer scientists out there are thinking ‘No don’t do that!’ to any I have written above, or if anyone has any better suggestions for how to start this kind of work with children who’ve never done it before.

Teaching computing to a blank page

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/Bunsen_Burner_(PSF).jpg

At my school, I’m on a journey of learning how to both lead and teach computing. I wrote about a planning framework previously. These next 2 posts are about lessons.

In some ways it’s easy teaching computing to children who have had no prior experience. Children at my school, whilst they are strong in IT and digital literacy, have had minimal experience of what used to be called the ‘control’ strand of the ICT curriculum, and is now called ‘computer science’. They are very much a blank page.

I am aware of the damage that can be done to blank pages. When teachers-who-know-a-little misteach, it makes teachers-who-know-a-lot despair. A criticism of much primary science by secondary science teachers is that children often do the fun stuff without really understanding it at primary, so that by the time they’re ready to do the fun stuff and really understand it at secondary, the students dismiss it because they’ve ‘done that lesson before’. Obviously without Bunsen burners. We don’t have Bunsen burners in primary schools.

Another example is algebra. @oldandrewuk was telling me recently how he would prefer it if no algebra teaching was done at primary, because it would make his job teaching algebra in secondary maths so much easier. Non-specialist maths teachers can’t help but teach misconceptions with a complex area such as algebra and thus it would be better to leave it to the specialists.

I’m aware that computing may be similar and I would be interested to know what secondary colleagues think about the computing teaching going in primary schools – do they expect to have to correct children’s misconceptions? Would it be easier to start from a secondary school blank page? Or is some knowledge a good thing?

Either way, I’ve taught three hours of computing today to a class in my school who were very much ‘a blank page’ and I’d be interested for people to pick apart my teaching and consider what is helpful and unhelpful to their long term progression as computer scientists. I’ll write about my lesson in my next post.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/Bunsen_Burner_(PSF).jpg

Computing isn’t just Computing

I know many of you will have got this sorted in your schools already, but for me, in my school, we’ve taken some time to get our heads around the Computing National Curriculum. Part of the reason for this is that English and maths are our top priority – everything else comes second to those two subjects. Children in my school enter the school way below national average and we have our work cut out accelerating progress so that they leave school with the correct standards for English and maths.

But excuses aside, despite being ‘the Computing Co-ordinator’, I am not a natural computer scientist. Yes, I have taught children how to make patterns using logo. Yes we children program roamers in my school. But aside from that, my expertise, and therefore the expertise of the children and teachers in my school is around digital literacy and creating content using different media and technology.

So I was delighted, when I acquired the ‘Switched on Computing‘ scheme (by Rising Stars, written by primary education technology legend and broccoli fanatic, Miles Berry) to see that they have allocated the statements in the 2014 Computing Curriculum into 3 broad sections: Computer Science, Information Technology and Digital Literacy. It meant my school was already quite good at two of the sections – we just had to learn how to do the first.

For me, one way I like to learn things is through re-categorising them. So I took the stuff I knew about and tried to match it up. I know there are lots of great bits of planning out there done by assorted Computing Subject Leaders across the country, with possibly the best being the Google Site produced by the 30 computing experts who first advised the UK government on what should be in the curriculum. However, I found myself going to three main sources:

  1. The Rising Stars ‘Switched on Computing’ scheme of work. This provides six topics per year with suggestions on how to teach them. In Year 6 it becomes quite complex, with a large degree of prior knowledge expected and the implication being that it will become increasingly cross-curricular to find time within the normal school day.
  2. The Computing at School website, which is constantly being updated with handy courses and advice, but also has some simple expectation statements that can be used to define what children should know by the end of each key stage.
  3. Phil Bagge’s website. If you haven’t seen his Jam Sandwich Robot lesson, you really should, especially as it inspired me to make my own version.

I then re-categorised them as follows to make a kind of curriculum planning tool. Paganel Computing Planning (click the link to see the PDF – or you go straight to the Google Drive folder and download it as a docx).

I think it was important to do this, because I have to be realistic about where the children are at – I can’t impose the Switched on Computing lessons immediately on Year 6 as they require a considerable amount of prior knowledge. But if we have those to aim for, with a document that helps teachers identify the prior knowledge required, it should help us get our children to a good standard as soon as we can. After that, what I am excited about is using computing to make our maths standards go through the roof, which is something Conrad Wolfram talks about here.

How to Apply for the Google Teacher Academy #gtauk

When I applied for the Google Teacher Academy back in 2010 I found Doug Belshaw’s post on the process really helpful. His 10 points helped me through my application and I would recommend following his advice (even if it is over four years old). The application form may have changed since then, but much of the advice remains the same.

There are some differences between 2010 and 2014. One of them is that three distinct roles are now described in the process:

  • outstanding educators
  • creative leaders
  • ambassadors for change.

If I were you, I would consider these three roles carefully. All teachers play these three roles – aspiring to educate their students to ever higher standards; to lead creatively in their classroom, subject area, department or school; to pioneer changes that will make an impact on society. The application is clear: you have to be explicit about how you play each of these roles and also be clear about which one you major in. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you do all three with equal ability and determination.

  1. Think distinctively about the best example of how you have acted in each of the roles described.
  2. Be specific about the impact you have had in each role upon students, peers and colleagues.
  3. Avoid being negative about the two roles that you are less strong in.

The next thing is the whole ‘moonshot thinking’ idea. Google are really into this. I’ve heard that their chief exec is said to have been wondering recently whether Google’s work could eventually eliminate unemployment. Whatever you think about the reality of this, you can’t argue that it is a complete ‘moonshot’.

So do that thinking for yourself  for your classroom, your school, the community where you teach… What would be the thing that would make it amazing? What would be the complete moonshot that most people would say “impossible” to? Imagine that no limits of finance, ability, technology, space are put on you – what could be achieved. And make it personal – what is the thing that really burns in your heart to benefit your students – if you can write that clearly in that section of the form, you’re onto a winner!

Finally, keep to the limits. Make sure you don’t go over any word limits on the form or the 1-minute time limit on the video. There are loads of ideas on the video on Youtube – because every GCT video ever made is publicly available on Youtube, including mine, which I’m still proud of because it is the top hit when you put in the three words “motivation”, “education” and “telekinesis”. Seriously, when I look back at it, I still can’t work out why they let me in…

If you didn’t see the link at the top, the application form can be found at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1OJyeT-WBtLJUnqol4CF5GhqwsieXMUOv13ma1D83viY/viewform?c=0&w=1 and the deadline is next Monday 22nd September

Why you should apply for the Google Teacher Academy #gtauk

The Google Teacher Academy is coming up in London this October. I was lucky enough to be part of the first one in 2010. If you’re a teacher this is why I think you should apply for it:

  1. It’s amazing. No. It really is. I learned more in the first half hour on the Google Teacher Academy that at any other full day CPD event I have ever been to. And that was just the first half an hour on Google Search. When you add that to Drive, Classroom, Apps for Education and all the other stuff, you will come away with a huge list of amazing things to do in your classroom or school.
  2. The presenters are fantastic. You can learn loads about how to use Google tools (that are usually free*). You’ll learn stuff that you can take back and put into your classroom practice immediately and you’l feel inspired to do so.
  3. You’ll meet brilliant teachers. The other teachers there are as FAB as you – and you get to meet them and continue networks with them that will continue to inspire your practice for years to come. Some of the best things that have happened in my school have happened because other Google Certified Teachers helped me make them happen.
  4. You’ll meet Googlers. That’s the name for people who work for Google. It’s no accident that Google are one of the most successful companies in existence – their recruiters are the top guys on the planet and it means the people they bring in have brains the size of small moons. I know not everyone gets inspired by meeting really clever people, but if you do, the GTA is for you!
  5. You get a badge. You can put the badge virtually on your website or wear it at conferences. I find that really useful because it stops salespeople talking to me.
  6. It’s awesome. Yes – there will be some Americans there, and ‘awesome’ is their word. Get used to it. It’s OK – in fact it’s better than OK – its awesome. But apart from that, you’ll get a taste of what Google is like to work for – even that can inspire you to make changes in your classroom and school. If things get really good, you might even hear someone say, “just raw awesome”.

If you to apply, the application is here. You have until the end of next Monday (22nd September).

(* by ‘free’ I mean cost no money)

Raising Standards with Technology

On Monday, when I wrote about Chromebooks being the ideal device for the UK classroom, I was hinting at wider issue about technology spending in education: wastage.

We waste a lot of money in UK schools on technology.

The EEF teacher toolkit is quite clear: spend your money on training teachers to give effective feedback. That is the best way to raise standards in your school.

You should purchase technology if it supports teachers giving effective feedback. If it doesn’t, don’t buy it. If you have any spare money left over, then maybe, you can spend some money on technology.

Raising Standards with technology is easy:

  • dont spend too much of your money on it;
  • don’t be distracted by it;
  • don’t waste time with it;

We have great resources in our schools – they are called teachers – if they are helped significantly by technology then buy it for them, but don’t make technology a barrier to their teaching.

Chromebooks: the ideal device for the UK classroom

On Thursday at BETT, I spoke on the Google stand with the slightly contentiously titled talk, Chromebooks: the ideal device for the UK classroom.

Now I have to be clear: I think there is no ideal device for a classroom. In fact, I think the ideal classroom has multiple different devices: a mixed economy, or a device-agnostic approach as some like to call it.

Having said that, I believe the UK classroom is in a peculiar situation at the moment, and it’s a situation which lends itself to Chromebooks. Let me explain below, but first here are my slides:

The situation is this:

1. We live in austerity times. Less money has been paid into the education sector in recent years and while this may not have affected school budgets directly, it has affected central services. Schools find it harder now than ever to find speech therapists, social support, education psychologists, behaviour support, specialist subject support, and so on. This means that schools have to make a choice: invest in external support, or maintain internal staffing levels.

2. Not many people know it, but we have a growing bank of great research for what really works. The EEF teacher toolkit has listed some great research for the interventions that really make a difference in schools. What surprises me is that so few teachers know about it or pay much attention to it – at #tmBETT14 recently, when Oliver Quinlan spoke about it, I saw several tweets from people who hadn’t heard of it before. A second surprise is that digital technology is so far down the list – the consequence of this is that you’re far better off investing your resources in training your teachers to give effective feedback than your are investing in technology.

3. We have lots of change, so let’s keep what we can the same. Curricula are changing. Assessment regimes are changing. Teacher standards and performance management have changed. Entire schooling structures are changing with free schools and academy chains. This means we should keep what we can the same – why invest in radically different technology, when our teachers have already had so much change to deal with?

So summing this up: we don’t have much money; spending what we have on technology is probably a waste; changing things puts additional stress on to our teachers.

This is where Chromebooks come in

  • they are cheap. At under £200 each, a class set costs £6000 and support costs are less than £600 a year. The money you save on such a cheap solution can go into funding the interventions that actually make a difference.

  • teachers don’t have to learn anything to use them. Since Chromebooks just do the web – and everyone knows how to use that – learning to use them is not a huge CPD piece.

I have a load of other reasons for why Chromebooks are an amazing device for school but right there were my main two: they are cheap and they are easy. That means all staff in school can spend their time getting on with their main business, which is educating our children.