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!

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!