This blog has moved

I’ve not been blogging much of late. While that is not even partly the fault of edublogs, I feel I need to revamp things a bit and so I’ve shuffled everything across to

There’s still a bit of work to do – not least tidying up the categories and tags as well removing blogs from my blogroll that have been defunct for 4 years – hopefully it’ll provide me with the enthusiasm to blog a little more frequently.

Apparently Scribd are evil…

There has been a bit of a ruckus in recent weeks over Scribd, a website for sharing and embedding PDF documents. Rather than just uploading and downloading the files you can read them online and embed them in a website or blog with incredible ease.

The furore is over their new policy of requiring users to be premium members to download archived documents (that is, documents that have been up there for a good while – although I’m not sure how long is too long). I can understand that this might be frustrating for those who have uploaded their documents to Scribd with the aim of sharing them (as I have) and a lot of the complaints centre on the lack of clear communication about this issue.

You can tick a checkbox to exclude your documents from the archive (although I’m not sure whether this means my documents will always be available for free or not…) and while it’s not ideal, a lot of documents have a limited shelf-life anyway and all of the resources I really like I post up at Mukoku anyway (eventually, at any rate). Embedding / reading the documents online is still free regardless of the age of the file.

I assume Scribd have bills to pay and can’t really begrudge them trying to make enough money to survive. They’re still offering a valuable service for free and a tweet looking for good alternatives came up with exactly no responses whatsoever. So I’m still using them and have just uploaded a Scratch tutorial for a sharks and fish game I ran with my Y10 Computing class this week.

Finding time for the little things

I daren’t even look at this blog’s front end, I don’t want to think about when the last update was.

It would be very easy to abandon blogging – it’s narcissistic, time consuming, read by perhaps a handful at best. But I do find it a useful reflective process, and that;s something I’ve been struggling to find time for lately.

As is always the case, lots of stuff is happening – some in school, some out, some very good and some particularly bad.

I seem to recall that a number of my posts just before the summer were relating to me work-life balance, and as part of that I’ve benefitted from spending more time with family but I also feel like I’m trying to tread water – not that I’m not making progress, but that I’m only just keeping my head up and every now and again I get a mouthful of water that goes right up my nose and feels uncomfortable for ages. I don’t think the solution is to spend less time with family but I do think I need to prioritise things more carefully.

Hmm… a very reflective post this one, and not nearly as well edited or audience conscious as usual. Anyway, expect business to resume here shortly with an aspirational target of a post a week. It’s not that I don’t have things to talk about – it’s just about whether I find the time to do so!

Why I don’t want to be a specialist


I remember making a blog post a year or so ago about the fact that I was being pulled in several different directions and I wasn’t sure if I liked it. We’ve all the heard the phrase “Jack of all trades and master of none”, and I was worried about exactly that.

When I was first starting out in teaching I came from a relatively technical background of computer programming with a bit of networking and web design thrown in for good measure. I expected teaching ICT to be similar, but quickly found I had to brush up some relatively specific tasks – vlookups in Excel, switchboards in Access. This was OK and while it was a little less technical than I would have liked I figured I knew where I stood.

Then along came iMedia, and suddenly I reading documents that referred to the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Means, Shot Angles and Match Cut Edits as though I knew what the heck was being talked about. I had the good fortune to work with some brilliant colleagues from Thespian Studies (or Drama, as they are more commonly known) who got me (and the students) through the basics. Suddenly the Rule of Thirds was being applied not just to images or videos, but to web design, leaflets, presentations and more. I became the media ‘expert’ in the department (for the time being, although I’ve since been superseded in that role).

I still hankered for my programming though, something I had enjoyed since I first realised you could do more than just play cassettes with a Spectrum. I tried a couple of after school clubs over the years, got involved with the AS Computing course and am single handedly manning the new GCSE Computing as of about 3 weeks ago when my first after-school classes started. My Head of Department is more of a coder than I ever was, but I’m up there.

After two and a half years at the school I was looking to move on, until the Head offered my a Second in Department role that was effectively Head of KS3 ICT on paper (although I still maintain that “Assistant to the Head of Department” is essentially what I was doing within the first 12 months) – and so I’ve had the responsibility for managing, preparing and overseeing the KS3 curriculum for some time.

A lot of people have made mention of my love of cross-curricular ICT. The use of Cloud Computing and Web 2.0 to improve access to software and the sharing of ideas. The use of free and open-source software to provide access for students without £3k to drop on a copy of the Adobe Master Suite. The Techy Tips newsletters that I wrote for a while (I’m so far past deadline on the last I’m declaring a hiatus) seemed reasonably popular with a few. My Mukoku resource sharing site is not the central hub for resources just yet but I’m getting a fair bit of traffic and feedback.

Did I also mention that I’m the lead teacher on the AS and A2 ICT courses? And in charge of the school website since a colleague and I redesigned it from scratch 3 years ago?

So I have lots of hats, and it worried me for a long time that I was a master of none of them. What a load of tosh.

OK, I’m no Stanley Kubrick, but not that many people actually know what a Match Cut Edit is. I’m not the best in the school, not even the best in the department, but I can get kids to understand and even apply the rule of thirds, to understand why a low angle shot is menacing and a high angle shot makes the subject look meek. Second best at programming still means I can hack the PHP on the school website well enough, write enough Python and Java to get me up to and including the AS Level Computing standard without having to stay up until 3am. I genuinely think that our KS3 Programme of Study and the resources we have made are pretty sound and while I’m not spending as much time as I have in the past trying to push out ICT ideas to the rest of the staff, I’m still dropping the odd URL in pigeon holes and mentioning particular tools and sites when I get the chance. So yes, I am a “Jack of all trades” – but I think I’m pretty good at most of them. And if I ploughed all my time into programming, or into media, then my life would be a lot less rich and my skills far less useful. So sod being a specialist in one field. Why not just aim to reach the level of “damned good” in all of them?

Balancing Act

Image courtesy of cobalt

Image courtesy of Cobalt

The more observant amongst you will have noticed that I’ve not been posting on my blog much of late – in fact my last post was over 2 months ago!

A large part of the reason for that is my newfound version of a work-life balance. It wasn’t a conscious decision to cut back on the number of hours I spend tippy tapping away at a keyboard, but I have spent an awful lot of time in the past doing just that.

Instead, Im spending at least one day out of every weekend unplugged from my laptop and the only reason I do come back to it is to upload the (usually hundreds of) pictures I’ve taken of the day.

So – I am still here, I am still teaching, I am still creating and updating resources at Mukoku and I will carry on blogging. I’m just not going to guarantee it’ll be every week.

An Introduction To Python

I’ve been offline for much of the last month, but I’ve not been doing nothing.

Next year (and quite possible for the latter stages of this year) I am likely to be running the new OCR pilot of the first GCSE Computing course in living memory.

The decision was taken to use Python as the language of choice and, not having any experience of Python, I’ve spent the last fortnight learning the language and writing a guide / workbook / printable resource for the students.

My 3rd draft is now available at scribd, and all things being well should also be shown below.

Feedback is, of course, more than welcome. And the document it itself can be printed for your own use should you wish.

Introduction to Python (3rd Draft)

Not quite a Masters

A couple of events have occurred recently that seem to have steered me to this point.

  1. The wife wants me to do a Masters degree.
  2. Several inspirational colleagues have done/are starting a Masters degree (including the awesome @daibarnes).
  3. I’ve been involved in some research with a colleague for LSIS (although he did the researching and writing up, I did some technical gubbins to do with a contextual UI for VLEs).
  4. A tweet a couple of weeks ago talked about the advantages of giving feedback via screencasts.
  5. Graeme Boxwell of City of Sunderland College presented some of his research on giving audio feedback (also undertaken for LSIS) at a recent event for North Eastern HE & FE learning technologists.

I’m thinking that I don’t really have the time/energy/money/urge to do a full on Masters right now (although I do like the idea of getting one done eventually), but this idea of giving formative feedback using multimedia seems an intriguing one.

The plan then, at this point, is to have a go and see if it’s a reasonable idea. Try to convince some colleagues to try it out, do some questionnaires with staff and students and see how things go next academic year. As a buy-in for my colleagues I’m hoping somebody like JISC will be prepared to fund the research, and that way I can offer some financial incentive for the time spent training, reviewing and filling in questionnaires.

And if I write it down publicly, I’ll be much more inclined to get it done!

    I’m still here!

    I’ve not blogged a great deal over the last month, but I’m still here!

    I’ve sent notes throughout school to give them a choice of receiving my Techy Tips newsletter through their school email address (some were surprised to find they had one), nominating a different email address or having a paper copy delivered. Only two went for the last option (and both apologised to me – which was completely unnecessary, but really nice) and the first digital copy went out last week.

    I have more resources to post, but this will do for now.

    Techy Tips 08

    Why should I be teaching this?


    Yesterday I posted about my new Digital Storytelling course at Mukoku. Students use audio editing software and Storybird to create both a short story and an audiobook of that story, with optional extra activities of using video editing software or presentation software to present the information in yet more forms.

    I’m actually quite excited about using the course with My Year 7s next week and I’ve also enjoyed seeing my son (11) start to use Storybird himself (having co-authored 1 book and written 1 all by himself in the last 2 days).

    What I don’t like is that an ICT teacher is the one doing it. English – yes. MFL (in a different context) – yes. This brings us back to the old discrete ICT vs embedded ICT argument. Should all ICT be taught through other subjects? Or none?

    The answer, of course, lies somewhere in-between. Spreadsheets are undoubtedly ICT tools, and while I would like to see Science and Maths lessons using these tools, I think there needs to be discrete teaching. Databases are also ICT tools, although heading in the direction of Computing/Computer Studies. Programming is definitely Computing/Computer studies.

    A lot of the ‘C’ topics in ICT could easily be taught elsewhere – creating presentations, flyers and posters, use of online tools such as email and forums. The problems here are two-fold:

    Teachers in non-ICT subjects often lack the skills necessary to teach ICT effectively*. How many teachers in your school book an ICT suite and tell their students to ‘make a PowerPoint’? How many would appreciate the reasons for resizing or reformatting images? How many would appreciate just how unfailingly awful Word Art is? How many would consider having students use Prezi, video editing software or other methods of presenting the information*? Without a significant amount of training, support and practice, it is unreasonable to expect non-ICT specialists to teach these skills to the required level.

    The other problem is access to equipment. PC costs have never been lower and there are an increasingly diverse range of technologies out there – notebooks, tablets, mobile devices and much more on the horizon. And yet in most schools there are just enough computers for the ICT lessons plus maybe one or two departments who have paid for their own suites (in our case MFL and DT). Teachers wanting to book an ICT suite have perhaps a 15% chance of finding one not scheduled for a timetabled lesson, falling to 1% if they leave it less than a week in advance. The chances of finding 2 or 3 lessons in a row in order to complete any significant computerised tasks is typically nil.

    So there is a lot that needs doing if things are to improve. I share my ideas with other colleagues – both within my own school and through the likes of Twitter, Techy Tips and Mukoku. I offer to give up free periods to support others. I offer to hang around in my teaching room (a Mac suite) when booked by others in case they need a hand, or just the safety of knowing I’m there just in case. Sometimes I feel like I’m peeing into the wind, sometimes I think I’m trying to move a rubber tree plant.

    * I am very aware that some non-ICT specialists are very knowledgeable in this area and do an awful lot of brilliant work. I am also aware that a number of ‘specialist’ ICT teachers are making pupils victims of the ‘anyone can teach IT’ policy, although they are in the minority in my experience.

    More Mukoku goodness – Digital Storytelling

    Will Lion

    Will Lion

    For those not in the UK, this is the end of a half term week – a week with no school.

    So what do I do? I spend several days building up resources for new units of work. It’s official – I have no life.

    But enough self-pity, I’m here to tell about the new course. For some years now I’ve been both reading to my children and listening to audiobooks. This unit takes that idea and asks students to a) write their own short story and b) record it as an audiobook and add audio editing elements using either Audacity or Garageband. I think it would work well as an ICT project, English, MFL or Primary – so everyone’s a winner!

    Unusually for the mukoku site, I’ve not field-tested this course prior to release and so I can’t guarantee it’ll work perfectly. If you’re interested though, check out the course and the resources therein.