Monday, February 26, 2007

Computing in A Curriculum for Excellence

Do we look convinced?
Do we look convinced?,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
Last Friday, I was at an event for teachers of Business Education and teachers of Computing. Members of the Curriculum for Excellence development team were giving some information about the current position. It wasn't an easy meeting either for the teachers, who wanted (not unreasonably) more information than they got, or for the developers, who (again, not unreasonably) were at a relatively early stage in the development and were therefore unable to give too much information.

There are, it seems to me, a number of problems for secondary teachers with the Curriculum for Excellence. Not least is the grouping of subjects into "curriculum organisers", which we are repeated told are not "modes"! {What's in a name?} This means that the developers have to express their work in a way that suits all the subjects in that grouping ...while satisfying none of them. For example, Technologies covers "craft and design, engineering, graphics, food, textile and information technologies." - subjects divided by an uncommon language. Do pupils produce an item, an artifact, a product, ...

Another issue is the objectives the group are busy producing. It seems to me that these suffer from the same problems as the 5-14 strands and levels - you end up with fairly arbitrary distinctions between levels that don't always make sense. {Before giving an example, here is a health warning - I copied the objectives off the presentation and may have got them wrong... and anyway, the team said they were changing on an almost daily basis.} For example, a Level 2 objective (achieved by most pupils by primary 7... I think):
  • I can discuss and justify the selection of appropriate tools, equipment, materials and processes.
Whereas at level 3 (achieved at the start of secondary school):
  • I can apply technological proficiency to gain a sense of achievement and competency in the use of tools, equipment, materials or software applications when producing an item to meet design criteria.
The main difference was highlighted as: at level 2 they "explore" but at level 3 they "produce". Is it just me, or does anyone else see a problem with this distinction?

I am also worried by the complexity of the objectives. For example {with the same health warning as above} we were shown how an objective developed. The team are aware of the danger of objective overload and so are attempting to keep the number down to a reasonable minimum. This was illustrated by showing how two objectives:
  1. I can demonstrate the various ways to pay for goods and services
  2. I can understand the use of budgets for personal and financial planning
became one:
  1. I can reflect on the different ways in which organisations can raise money, pay for goods and services and plan for their financial future.
Now, surely that's just smoke and mirrors? We now have one objective but it a number of parts contained within. Has this really helped?

I feel bad about this post because it is so negative. I therefore want to emphasize again that I have nothing against the development team. If I was working under the same constraints I don't think I could do better. It's the system that's the problem not the people.

Final gripe... we were told that there were many possibilities for Business and Computing teachers because of the place of information technology in the documentation. {In the passing, is it significant that it is "information technology" rather than "information and communication technology"?} This is possibly true, but Computing is more than IT and I would like to think that we have more to offer young people than the simple transmission of basic IT skills.

My conclusions? My conclusion is that I'm confused. I can see that A Curriculum for Excellence has the potential to create a radical change in the way children learn in schools. I can even concede that this may not be a bad thing. However, as a subject specialist, I can't see how it will work in Secondary schools without a change completely what I do as a subject specialist - and change is scary! Also, I don't see how this radical change will come about without a willingness to change the SQA assessment system...and I see no political will to bring about that change. Finally, I worry that we will get bogged down arguing about words and objectives and end up with a disgruntled teaching force and no real change in classroom practice - a lose/lose situation if ever there was one.

Grief! This is a grumpy post. I've sat on it since Friday and I still think I want to post it... Tell me I'm wrong. Show me what I'm missing. Challenge me. What do you think?

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Gonnae no dae that!

Translation of title for non-Scots... Please do not do that.

Neil Winton is doing really interesting stuff (as always) and I left a comment on one of his recent posts Higher English Revision that started me thinking. I made a comment that the blogging rules for his school were almost all negative. E.g.
I will not use any swearing or inappropriate language.
I will not threaten or provoke anyone.

Thumbs Up!
Thumbs Up!,
originally uploaded by Picture Perfect Pose
In my comment, I said, "It seems a shame that there are no balancing positive rules. For example, 'I will make positive and encouraging comments on other peoples blogs.' " There will probably have to be some negative rules but some of the existing rules could easily be given a more positive spin. For example, instead of the current first rule you could use: "I will always use positive and appropriate language."

However, my comment started me thinking. I'm sure I read someone else talking about making positive rules relatively recently. I thought it was David Warlick or Ewan McIntosh... but either I'm havering or looking in the wrong places on their blogs.

So, help me out here. Is there already a positive rule set out there? If not, does anyone want to start a wiki to make one?

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Renfrewshire ICT Showcase: Further reflection

I said already how much I enjoyed the recent ICT event in Renfrewshire. One of the things I enjoyed was doing the presentation with Ewan. I think this is the third time we've done a joint thing like this. In theory, I have done co-operative teaching before but often in practice, when I've done it before, one person was the teacher and the other person was along for the ride. However with Ewan, it felt like genuine co-operation. We worked out what we wanted to do together. We both knew each others strengths. We divided up the things we were going to talk about and we delivered it together.

Ewan creates a podcast
Ewan creates a podcast,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
On my own I tend to ramble and repeat myself. When I start talking I will often repeat myself and run off down sidetracks. I know that I repeat myself and ramble on and on but don't seem to be able to help myself. However, working together, Ewan kept me more or less on track. :-) I like Ewan's focus. I like the way he frames things and puts them in a context - like the comparison of the number of people that can see children's work he did at the start of the presentation. He's a clever bloke.

What did I learn from the event? I think I knew this already, but as I prepared for the night, and as we delivered it, the links between new web technologies and A Curriculum for Excellence (ACfE) became ever more clear. I said on the evening that the technologies we were showing were not additions that would take more of our precious time but they allowed us to do stuff we were doing already more effectively. I think I'd go further than that though - I don't think we can deliver on ACfE without using the kind of new technologies we were demonstrating.

What do you think?

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Stupidity and providence

Tonight, the car was almost out of fuel.It is still relatively new to us (this is only about the fifth time I've had to re-fuel). It is the first diesel car I have owned. (By now I expect some of you have guessed where this story is heading.)

There I was, filling her up, when I saw a private hire taxi draw alongside me. I noticed that the driver used the unleaded nozzle and I thought that it was unusual for a taxi not to use diesel. Then I looked down at what I was doing. Yes, you guessed it, I had just pumped 20 litres of unleaded petrol into my diesel powered car!

There was another taxi in the petrol station, a proper taxi cab, so I went over to ask the driver's advice. "Don't, under any circumstances, turn the engine on!" he said, "Phone the AA or the RAC and ask them what to do."

I'm not in the AA but my father is, so I phoned him, to ask him to phone them, to ask for advice. While I was on the phone, the taxi driver drove back in and told me that there was an AA van just outside and that he'd asked him to come in and see what he could do. Sure enough, seconds later the AA man turned up. He asked if the car was still under warranty? It is new to us, so I wasn't sure exactly how old it was but the handbook etc. was still in the glove compartment. Turns out that it was first registered on 24 February 2006 - within the year...just! :-) So, the AA man phoned Ford Assist and they told him to tow us to a garage. He should have taken us to the nearest Ford dealership but instead he took us to the Ford garage about ten minutes walk from our house. Brilliant!

When we got there, the garage was closed, so I have yet to find out the cost of my error. However at least I realised what I had done before turning on the engine and it was fantastic that such helpful taxi and AA men were so close by.

Stupidity and providence! It's hard to say which one was present in greatest measure.

The disasters didn't end there either. The garage is just round the corner from a Macdonald's. It was now quite late, so it was decided that a treat should be purchased and a taxi ordered so that it would still be hot when I I got home. About half an hour after I got home, I realised that I'd lost my wallet! Macdonald's and the taxi firm were both phoned... more in hope than in expectation. However, twenty minutes later, the taxi man turned up at the door with my wallet which he'd found under the seat. Despite my best efforts, he point blank refused to take a reward.

Oh... and Colin slipped his lead and ran off while on his walk tonight. He disappeared completely from sight but thankfully came back after what seemed like ages but was probably less than two minutes!

Hopefully I am now at the end of the day without further disaster.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Putting the C into Renfrewshire (Renfrewschire?)

Well that was fun. :-) Ewan and I were invited by Gordon to speak to teachers, councillors, authority people and some parents about educational uses of new web tools. We looked at photo sharing and podcasting as well as blogs and wikis.

John Rooney
John Rooney,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
We did it more or less Powerpoint free - concentrating on showing and talking about specific examples. It seemed to go well. Gordon has already made four posts on the evening (here, here, here and here) and Ewan beat me to it as well with a post from the train on his way home. I've posted some pictures, Gordon has posted some better pictures and I suspect Ewan's photos will soon follow. The event was recorded and filmed so more stuff from the event will probably find its way online soon. {Update: As predicted, Ewan has published some photos, Putting the 'C' in ICT (Set), and has made available the podcast we created on the night. Enjoy!} I might even manage a bit of reflection myself. :-)

On an ancient history note, we were introduced by John Rooney, Renfrewshire Council's Director of Education and Leisure Services. I know John because he was my boss in the TVEI project where I worked before I went to Jordanhill. It was good to see him again and I'm sorry we didn't get a better chance for a chat.

Update 2: Audio of the second half of the presentation is now available.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Photo A Day for Schools

I've not really been that busy but somehow haven't made the time to write a blog post. I've been trying to keep up with the photo a day thing though and I'm pleased to say that Barbara's Photo-A-Day for Schools group seems to be working. Go have a look and leave some encouraging comments for the pupils.

The group is public (which should mean you can see the pictures) but you have to be invited by Barbara to join. It's probably not too late to join in. Have a look at my earlier post, "EduFlickr: A photo a day...", for details on how to get involved.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Five things you may not know about me

This meme was doing the rounds during the Christmas holidays. I was tagged at least four times (by Chris, John, Steve and Theo - if I've missed anyone, please let me know) but I fell off the blog wagon during the holidays and I've been feeling guilty about not responding since I climbed back on in January.

I found this a difficult task to complete. I suspect that when you talk for a living, you end up telling people most things about yourself that you are willing to tell. :-) However, hopefully most of the things here are new to most of my readers.
  1. My first dog, DougalMy first memory is of going to get a dog when I was about three and a half. I distinctly remember the puppy licking my neck and my dad saying, "He knows his new owner!" However, when I recounted this story at a family do recently, nobody else remembered it. Maybe I just made it up. The dog's name was Dougal, a mongrel, and he was the stupidest dog I have ever known. I'm talking unbelievably, utterly dim.

  2. When I was a toddler (not sure about my age) I fell downstairs. The fall didn't hurt, but when I was being checked over because of the fall, they found something else that required an operation to sort. I therefore have a small scar that I was vaguely proud of while growing up even though I never showed it to anyone.

  3. My wife is the only person who can tickle me.

  4. In the words of Fran from Black Books, "I must be musical. I've got hundreds of CDs!" And yet, all the evidence appears to be the contrary. So far I have failed to learn to play the bugle, the trumpet (well I was allowed to sit with the second trumpets in the school brass band but I think that's because they were too embarrassed to put me outside the hall), the side drum (for the school pipe band), the guitar and the harmonica. I want to fail to learn the guitar again but wasn't able to convince my family to buy me a guitar and lessons for my Christmas and/or birthday.

  5. I like to sleep with my nose facing the open end of the pillowslip. {See? I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel now.}
Well, I was asked and (eventually) I delivered. I'm not sure that it really tells you anything new about me but it's all you're going to get.

It is so long since this meme was circulating that I am too embarrassed to tag anyone else. However, if you read this, and want to have a go, be my guest. Just leave a comment to let me that know you've responded. :-)

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