Digital Leaders at iNet Wales National Conference

The Digital Leaders from Ysgol Bryn Elian presented their achievements to date at the iNet Wales National Conference on Thursday 6th October 2011. Not before a first class trip on the train to Cardiff where the event was held.

The three young leaders and I gave a presentation at the conference to teachers from across Wales on how the Digital Leaders programme was progressing including how it started and what has been involved. They discussed their work on E-safety, the VLE and an insight into Ysgol Bryn Elian’s new 3D technology.

A video of my youngest Digital Leader (my son Lincoln aged 2 confidently using an iPad) helped pose the question “When does Digital Literacy begin?”

After a few questions at the end, the leaders were interviewed by another school on what they had achieved, then it was back to the train station to rush back to school as they were also representing the Ysgol Bryn Elian at our annual open evening.

As a teacher of ICT it’s great to have such a dedicated group of youngsters who really want to make a difference in their school. The three representatives along with the rest of the YBE Digital Leaders worked tirelessly during our open evening to showcase the 3D technology and the new Augmented Reality resources available for 10 subjects. They were presenting to parents with such confidence they made me very proud.

I look forward to continue working with these dedicated pupils for a long time to come.

Well done guys, you ALL did a fantastic job!!!


Computer Science comes home!

Today was the day we were told what we knew was coming. ICT lessons had become boring, pupils were not as engaged as they might be and the move towards more computer science based lessons is on the horizon. Thankfully, I was in the crows nest with a telescope some time ago and saw this coming. For a while now I’ve been using Scratch and teaching a little HTML and JavaScript. 

In my opinion, qualifications such as the OCR national had become a qualification for the school rather than the individual. Trudging through MS office for years to get the equivalent of a million GCSE’s seems a little pointless and hardly preparing our children for what lies ahead. Who knows what the technological landscape will look like by the time the enter employment. The likes of the OCR National sit well with those comfortable in teaching “what they know” with little requirement to spread your wings further than a 4 bit binary number!

Here in Wales, we are fortunate to have time on our side in that we don’t have to run with this for some time, however my feeling is why delay it? Let’s do it now, embrace it, get brilliant at it and most of all enjoy it. It’s the curriculum I’ve been dreaming of anyway so for once I get to open my presents BEFORE Christmas.

Today took me back to 1987 where I was a 14 year old nagging my parents for the brand new Spectrum +3. Thankfully they heard my plea and I was furnished with one for Christmas. On that epic first computer of mine I learned to code in BASIC. I spent hours typing code to see an array of beautiful graphics displayed on the screen. I went on eventually to develop a Football simulation game and a fruit machine game, both of which I submitted to Future Publishing for them to include on the cassettes on the front of their Spectrum magazine.

Now, at 38 years of age, I’m learning to code in Python, a language I dabbled with when working for a software house in Bangor shortly after completing my Computer Science degree at University in 2005. I aim to be teaching this to a group of MAT pupils this year and then to Year 7’s starting September 2012.

I’ve often lamented about the work of Alan Turing, particularly when working on my own Artificial Intelligence project making a Tutorbot, looking at his famous Turing Test, today, he would be a very happy man indeed. The field he excelled in has been put centre stage for ICT teachers across the country to grab with both hands, never before have we had so much freedom to develop a curriculum suitable for the requirements of the future. So long as we make the right choices through careful decision making during curriculum redesign I feel excited about the future. I’m excited to be teaching a subject I have passion for. I am now a teacher of Computer Science and ict (small ict).

The only ones that should be scared are the ones who are too comfy to move with the times, my advice, we are moving without you. Our children deserve it, the success of our future requires it.

Let’s get out our coding manuals, Computer Science is coming home!

Had I known, I would have stuck reindeer on the front of my car!

The term was almost over, almost without any great discomfort. Mary had almost finished classes and we were looking forward to spending time together for Christmas. All we had to do was get through Friday and Saturday and we were home and dry. I set off promptly to school on Friday as I needed to stop for fuel, after filling up at the garage I text Mary to say it had snowed a little so go careful. Within 3 minutes of me sending that text, I’d spun around on black ice on the Rhuddlan flyover and crashed my car. What are the chances?

Thankfully, I wasn’t at fault. Just before my spin on the ice I noticed a crash on the side of the road, and two minutes AFTER my crash, another car entered a spin not dissimilar to mine and crashed into a BMW 10ft away from where I did.

As I made the call to my wife to now say go REALLY careful, I was passed by two fire engines, an ambulance and two police cars, a little further down the road a car had spun and landed on its roof. What had happened? Were we in a scene from casualty and didn’t realise it? Or we’re we all just being stupid on the same day? The answer to these questions is no.

The problem was that despite numerous warnings of bad weather, and a 25% increase in salt/grit, the council in its infinite money grabbing, tight-arsed wisdom decided to save the salt for a colder day. The result, the worst black ice I have ever encountered on a road that I’ve been driving on for over ten years! This could all have been avoided had the gritters put a shift in the night before. The good news is no one was hurt. My car has seen better days but it’s drivable with just an unsightly dent in the door. I dread to think what could have happened in different circumstances with a different mix of vehicles.

I got to school in time to see the end of morning registration, and a fun last day was had by all, especially the chocolate consuming pupils. A few hours later I made “the call” to the insurance company, with a bit of luck the weather and no grit combo as well as the fact that there were 4 other crashes within 15 minutes will ensure I don’t get tagged as the guilty party.

The rest of the weekend panned out pretty much as planned and we can now begin to enjoy the run up to Christmas with a very excited little boy. And if anyone wants to stick a new car under my tree I won’t complain 😉

Merry Christmas everyone, that’s probably all from me for 2011 so Happy New Year, stay safe and have fun!

Cloud Based Solutions at Ysgol Bryn Elian

I’ve had quite a few enquiries about what we are doing at YBE ‘cloud-wise’ so I thought i’d bung it all in a blog post for you to read.

I implemented Dropbox for a few reasons, firstly, to allow pupils to put work in a central location where they can access it whenever they want to. By sharing their folder with me, I have access to their work that I too can assess wherever I have an Internet connection, with Dropbox on iPad it makes it even easier. Another big factor in implementing Dropbox is the savings that can be made on toner/paper etc, we were wasting huge amounts of paper in constantly reprinting work that needed to be improved. In addition to this pupils were also stood at the printer for large periods of time waiting for work. Since its arrival, I am finding I am getting a much more regular submission of work from the majority of pupils. The admin side of things behind utilising Dropbox is taking a little longer but the results pupil wise are worth the increased efforts.

Taking Dropbox further, if some pupils haven’t set up an account eg Year 8, they can still send work to my dropbox by using a site called with this you give pupils a URL, mine is a password, and they can upload a file to my Dropbox account. Lastly, we are using the widely publicised live@edu for our email solution which also incorporates office online and sky drive storage for all pupils with the potential for use in all subjects as dropbox may be too much for the majority of faculties.

Last year we were using google email but found their relentless security a real bind in school and were having huge issues getting new users on the system. The system was easy to use but Googles constant need to enter captcha codes was a nightmare.

All in all the system is working very well now, as I said, it requires more admin effort on my part keeping their mark sheets in order class wide but as a bi-product I feel much more organised so it’s totally worth it.

Hope this sheds a little more light on it for you and I’d be glad to assist further should any of you need more advice on it.

This is also an interesting article re cloud computing.

What will I learn tomorrow?

It’s amazing how much the little things matter, especially when you’re only two.

This summer we didn’t go/aren’t going anywhere on holiday, mainly due to the fact we have quite a bit going on right now with the business and also because we are toilet training Lincoln! Despite this we have gone on lots of days out and had lots of fun. Last week we went to see Bob the Builder live show at the theatre, Lincoln enjoyed it, especially the songs. We’ve also done some spontaneous walking and grabbed the odd iced-cream. It’s little things like this that Lincoln recounts with pleasure. He held on to his iced-cream like it was gold! He looked so cute toddling along with it, although I did have to keep it under control when it started melting, Lincoln wasn’t keen on this bit!

In addition to our days out, we’ve spent a lot of time playing in Lincoln’s new play room and in the garden. One of the biggest tasks I had to complete this summer was sorting the garage out as it had become a dumping ground, this was another job that Lincoln loved helping Daddy with, we got everything out and put it on the garden, sorted the “stuff” from the rubbish and put it all back tidy. Lincoln was in his element. The job spanned more than the time I set aside on Sunday so i finished it today, during which I introduced Lincoln to some basic DIY. He spent ages with a little screwdriver putting screws in a piece of wood. Who would have thought something so simple would have kept him amused/engaged call it what you will, for so long? I suppose to him, it was new, and he’d seen Daddy fix things in the past, he loves getting involved and amongst what you’re doing (with the obvious H&S precautions, no getting up and walking around with a screwdriver for instance!!). All the time I am teaching/playing with Lincoln I realised I was potentially learning about how he was using the information I was giving him.

It got me thinking, It’s not what is taught that’s important it’s how you teach it, content is important no doubt, and how it can be applied to other scenarios is also key, but as I get closer to the new academic year that will bring new pupils, new challenges and new questions, it’s nice to be brought back to basics and reminded that HOW you teach a topic, skill, or piece of information is vital. Making it fun, engaging, interesting, valuable, or desirable is the way to produce deep learning. Not learning a fact or skill to be regurgitated but learn it in a memorable context adaptable to many situations.

I wonder what else my little superstar will teach me tomorrow?

New Look Blog!

Tonight see’s the change of look for my blog, I was very happy with the old look and it took a long time to get it how I wanted it but in reality, I never did some of the things intended so some of the features were left begging somewhat, particularly that of the photography element. Pictures didn’t scale well in it and to be honest I haven’t done as much photography as I’d like, mainly due the the crappy weather!

Anyway, as most of the time I just want to throw an idea out there or have a bit of a babble about something I’ve decided to have a bit of a re-jig. In all honesty, I’m not too worried how it looks from a laptop as I’m mainly aiming for mobile suitability. I figure more people probably read this on a mobile device so I am catering for those in the main. I no longer have to scratch around for a suitable image to use as the feature as before, I am happy just to bung them in the posts as and when appropriate. If you’re not viewing it on a mobile device then you will see the nice new iPad theme.

So there you have it, a new look for the new upcoming academic year. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

What went wrong in Britain?

Broken Britain.. You went soft on discipline!.. You went soft on immigration! You went soft on crime.. Parents were told.. ‘No you can’t smack the kids’….Teachers were prevented from chastising kids in schools.. The police couldn’t clip a troublemaker round the ear.. Kids had rights blah blah blah.. Well done Britain..You shall reap what you sow.. We have lost a whole generation!! Time to give the police the rights back to do what is needed to fight crime and give back teachers the right to discipline children without fear of being dragged through the mud! A lot has changed in 30 years, but doesnt all the fancy education reform show we had it right before and we’ve simply gone backwards by listening to a few buzz words and fashionabe ideas to look good and to please inspectors? Time for do-gooders to look at what their namby-pamby attitude has done to the country. Yes we need to engage with the youth of today, but how can you engage with someone far removed with no element of respect for anything or anyone? Discipline first and foremost, the rest will fall into place.

Summer so far

Well despite the weather, the summer holidays arrived, and the rain continued to pour into the first weekend of the summer break. A very much needed break however, following a manic finish to the end of term. Getting as much prepared for September was challenging itself, without having to battle with the WJEC about the exemplar material I produced for the Essential Skills Wales. Needless to say, I’m not backing down, they need to realise what does and what does not constitute evidence and understanding, I’ve met them in the middle on some points and thats that. Pack all that with a trip to Llandrindod Wells where I presented a talk on Innovation at Ysgol Bryn Elian and it was a very hectic run in.

Since then we’ve been very busy, we had a journey to Surrey for our friends christening which was lovely, Lincoln was very well behaved all the way there and back, made me very proud. My brother came to stay briefly, probably for the last time in a while as he starts his teacher training in September. We are awaiting a break in the weather so we can visit the zoo, Lincoln has been waiting patiently for over a week and if I hear the words elephants or chimpanzee again, I swear I’ll go crazy.

Anyway, that’s all for now, I’m about to have a rant about the Tottenham riots.

Digital Leaders get started!

A team of Digital Leaders at Ysgol Bryn Elian in Colwyn Bay are spearheading a drive to educate students, staff and parents about the possibilities that are available to them through the use of technology. The Year 7 Digital Leaders took part in an exciting application process during which they were asked to apply for one of a number of roles with one small catch: the application had to be in a digital format! Entries ranged from encoded binary messages to animations, and even included presentations encrypted with a password that could only be discovered through decoding a QR code!

The team of E-Safety advisors, Digital Journalists, VLE Champions and Teacher Trainers are offering assistance to pretty much anyone within the school that needs it.

The Digital Leaders already have their work cut out for them with many teachers lining up for assistance creating courses and uploading resources to the schools’ VLE and helping jazz up electronic teaching materials, making them more interesting and engaging for pupils to look at and learn from. Performing Arts events will be covered by Digital journalists who will be on hand to record and publish stories and interviews of performers. Similarly Sports Day will be covered live on Twitter with information on competitors’ progress in the individual events.

These young techies will also be working alongside members of the school council who have organised an upcoming event to raise awareness of e-safety aimed at pupils and parents. The event will allow parents to get hands-on experience of how to help their children tighten up their privacy settings on social networking sites.

The school embarked on their Digital Leaders journey after being inspired by pupils from Hamble Community Sports College at an event in Birmingham back in March. Since then, pupils have been working hard, training to gain all the expertise needed to help the ever growing list of teachers vying for their support.

Here’s what the team at Ysgol Bryn Elian had to say about the programme:

“I became a digital leader because I want to help teachers, parents, and students to use ICT to improve their skills.” – Lauryn Evans, VLE Champion.

“I have a passion for technology and often help my parents when they need help. I get a sense of satisfaction that I have helped someone when I have shown them something they didn’t know. This helps them get better at using technology and it also helps me find out things I didn’t know myself.” – Liam Herbert, Teacher Trainer.

“With this team of enthusiastic young people, I’m sure the Digital Literacy of staff and pupils in the school will be well placed for whatever technology has in store for us in the future.” – Allen Heard, ICT Teacher.

Ysgol Bryn Elian would like to thank Acer and Gaia Technologies who have teamed up to provide a netbook to assist the Welsh Digital Leaders in their quest for technological excellence.

OCR Nationals based in The Cloud at Ysgol Bryn Elian

Half way through the Summer term, focus starts turning towards preparing for the next academic year. I’ve started working on a idea that has been with me for some time and rather than over think it and mull over the potential downsides, I’m running with it.

At Ysgol Bryn Elian we currently deliver the OCR Nationals in ICT at KS4. Every year I am sickened by the disgraceful waste of resources used to print off hundreds of portfolios worth of work for just a handful to actually be needed for final moderation.

Personally I have been using Dropbox for some time, if you’re not familiar with it, Dropbox is a cloud based storage solution, not limited to storing your precious files, it actually synchronises files and folders of your choice that you place in your Dropbox folder. There are a few solutions that do the same thing and having done lots of research and testing of these over the past few weeks, I can save you some time if you are looking to do something similar.

The main players in this field are Dropbox, SugarSync, and MobileMe. To cut to the chase, MobileMe requires a subscription and whilst I am not averse to paying for a good service, I refuse to if I can find a cheaper or free alternative. That leaves Dropbox and SugarSync.

As I mentioned earlier I’ve used Dropbox for some time and am a big fan of it, but to make sure I wasn’t neglecting a potentially attractive feature of another solution, I gave SugarSync a test run.

SugarSync for the most part is a very attractive alternative to Dropbox, it comes with a 5GB capacity with the free option opposed to Dropbox’s 2GB (can be increased up to 8GB with free referral system), the front end also has a lot more going on with a fair few bells and whistles to play with such as choosing folders to back up and files/folders to sync in its “Magic Briefcase”. The unfortunate thing about SugarSync is that it can get a little confusing to know what’s going on with what where your files and folders are concerned. In addition to this, the Magic Briefcase sync function only works with files/folders residing on your native C: drive. This was a solid non starter for me as my files and folders are on my school network space which in this instance is H:. There is no way to change this so after much playing about with it, I was convinced that my previous affinity with Dropbox was fully justified.

So what’s this got to do with KS4 OCR Nationals in ICT?

In Dropbox you can share individual files and folders with other users, here is my plan. I am going to set up shared folders in my Dropbox area for each student in Years 9, 10 (11 are too far down the line for this to have impact). In September, pupils will open a Dropbox free account and will have access to their shared folder on my system. When a pupil completes a piece of work, for example AO1 in unit 1, they will upload the completed work in a pre defined format to their shared folder. In addition to this, they will print off the corresponding mark sheet from the school VLE and place this in their teachers marking tray. The teacher (at his/her convenience) can then go online or open their locally synced and saved copy and proceed to mark it. Pupils can benefit from the same feedback on the mark sheets as before, the teacher can keep a log of completed work, again as with the current system, and come moderation time, we can easily run off copies of the sample selected.

I can’t give a figure right now of what I anticipate we will save financially but as a rough guestimate I would say I’ve gone through about 10 boxes of paper and two toner cartridges this year. Multiply this by three teachers and your close to the actual figure, not to mention the added burden of recycling the usual waste.

So, if you’ve tried this and it failed, let me know what I can do to avoid the same pitfalls, otherwise, tell me your thoughts. Like I said, I’m running with it because it makes sense, plus it allows me to mark work the way I want to mark it, and avoids the horrible queue of pupils waiting at the printer. I’ve already cleared the obvious issue of QA as it’s as easily solved as with moderation, or even simpler by giving SLT access to the folders too!