Smarter Than a Smartphone?

Screenshot 2015-09-16 21.31.42Is the OECD trying to wash its hands of new technology?

The OECD, and the Media, seem to be suffering a bit from OCD at present.

Just in case you are wondering – the OECD is The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. And OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which is a mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive activity.

According to the media, the OECD recently published a report of a global study in which it claimed that:

‘Investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance….Those students who use tablets and computers very often tend to do worse than those who use them moderately.’

The think-tank says frequent use of computers in schools is more likely to be associated with lower results in reading, maths and science.

“If you look at the best-performing education systems, such as those in East Asia, they’ve been very cautious about using technology in their classrooms,” said Mr Schleicher, who, according to Wikipedia, is no less than a German-born statistician and researcher in the field of education and the Division Head and coordinator of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment and the OECD Indicators of Education Systems programme. So there. It is thought that a long time ago he once attended school himself, so of course knows everything there is to know about teaching and learning.

But the real problem is that, like most of the world, the OECD is obsessively, compulsively, desperately clinging on to the idea that what we need is higher and higher standards of memory-based, essay re-called 19th Century Academic education for everyone because that’s the only way disadvantaged people will ever get a decent job – and seem to want to wash their hands of the whole messy business of real learning.

But wait – is this yet another example of media spin? Yes, of course it is. Because if you actually read the rest of the article, and maybe even the report itself, it continues:

“If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we are using to teach them. Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

Well that sounds fair enough, although of course what the OECD still doesn’t get is that teaching needs to change as a result of the technology – it’s not just about amplifying what’s already there. Mp3 files never made the music any louder…

Still ‘Smarter than a Smartphone‘ is a really catchy catch-phrase (despite the fact that children are already far smarter than any actual smartphone), and apparently what the report actually discovered was that Technology can be a useful tool in class, enabling teachers to ‘tap into specialised materials beyond the standard textbooks and to run innovative learning projects in class’. Well, after 30 years or more of the use of IT in schools, who would have guessed that?

Meanwhile, according to the BBC’s coverage of the report, Keysborough College principal John Baston said there was no point using technology in schools if teachers were not taught how to use the devices effectively in class.

“The computers are there to enable you to help improve teaching, but it can’t create by itself quality teaching,” he wisely said.

Then Mark Chambers, chief executive of Naace, the body supporting the use of computers in schools, said it was unrealistic to think schools should reduce their use of technology:

“It is endemic in society now, at home young people will be using technology, there’s no way that we should take technology out of schools, schools should be leading not following.”

While on the Surface Microsoft spokesman Hugh Milward said:

“The internet gives any student access to the sum of human knowledge, 3D printing brings advanced manufacturing capabilities to your desktop, and the next FTSE 100 business might just as well be built in a bedroom in Coventry as in the City.

Even Tom ‘I never said we should ban iPads‘ Bennett is reported to have said:

‘There might have been unrealistic expectations, but the adoption of technology in the classroom can’t be turned back.”

And apparently in a rare moment of common sense never witnessed before, England’s own schools minister Nick Glibbly said:

“We want all schools to consider the needs of their pupils to determine how technology can complement the foundations of good teaching and a rigorous curriculum, so that every pupil is able to achieve their potential.”

Though All Change Please! suspects he didn’t understand what he was really saying and probably had his fingers crossed behind his back.

But anyway, now that the blame can as usual be laid clearly and squarely with the teachers, let’s hope now that there’s a proper review of the way in which new and emerging information and communication technologies can be effectively used in the classroom to promote and enhance 21st Century learning in schools, along with a substantial investment in CPD to help teachers adapt to the new methods and how the curriculum will need to substantially change as a result.

All Change Please! is keeping its fingers crossed in plain sight, but doesn’t hold out a great deal of hope as it continues to obsessively and compulsively write more and more posts about the subject.

 

Image credit: Flickr/Tina M Steele

Schools should keep children away from the Daily Mail

8074294232_4e69b89084_k-1s“What do you mean, where’s the switch to turn your slates on?”

Up to its usual trick of simply re-drafting articles written by other newspapers, that devious, despicable, malicious Daily Mail recently produced some shouty headlines proclaiming:

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The subsequent article states that Bennett said that the cost to taxpayers when iPads are broken is ‘horrific’, and that he even believes there is ‘absolutely no need’ for children to have access to the Internet, adding: ‘Kids are kids – they will see things you don’t want them to see.’

Apparently Bennett also criticised teachers who told children to use the internet to complete homework, which he described as like ‘sending them to a library without a librarian‘. He also added that it was a teacher’s duty to point out mistakes on the web.

However, a few days later, the Great Behaviour Saviour ‘Please don’t call me a Tsar’ Tsar took to the TES to earnestly inform us that he didn’t actually say any of those things the Daily Mail said he did. Which makes it all a bit confusing – who is All Change Please! to believe? Anyway, based on the Tsar’s myth-busting TES article here’s All Change Please!’s surprising suggested set of alternative up-dated attention-grabbing headlines…

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But of course it’s all come too late to prevent the Df-ingE getting all excited and using it as an excuse to launch an investigation into the impact of allowing mobile phones in the classroom, which apparently includes ‘tablets’, even though they are somewhat different devices with far more educational benefits. Quite why an investigation is needed is a bit of a puzzle to All Change Please!, because it seems fairly obvious that if lessons and the curriculum are relevant to children’s needs, interests and abilities and are well planned and delivered then they won’t have any desire to become distracted in the first place? And if a teacher can’t manage to insist that mobile phones must be kept switched off during lesson times, then maybe they shouldn’t be in the classroom in the first place? Perhaps it’s the impact of allowing teachers in the classroom that needs to be investigated, and it’s the poor teachers who should be banned instead of the mobile phones?

Meanwhile there has also been the Mail’s stunning ‘right to know’ expose about the exact same Behaviour Tsar’s alleged misbehaviour in allowing the nightclub he managed to become too noisy, even when it wasn’t open.

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Interestingly though the headline writer somehow failed to add a final, and rather important, bullet point taken from the article, which should have read:

• However he denied all charges and accepted compensation for unfair dismissal.

Meanwhile in other news that proves that you don’t have to be mad to be a headteacher but it probably helps, it seems that these days what really matters is the size of one’s pencil case and ruler. And then there’s this suggestion that all children should be learning the same thing and the same time in the same way.

All Change Please! decided to undertake some virtually unreal digging, and somehow managed to convince itself it had found the following letter in the archives of the Times newspapers.

Dateline: September 1915. The London Times Letters page.

Sir. – It has come to my attention that schools are now in the habit of providing children with these new mass-produced pencils and notepad devices which seem to becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to the tried and tested slate. I have been so informed that they often use them as a distraction to play noughts and crosses on, and to write messages to each other which often contain offensive words and rude comments about their teachers. In some of the worst and most unruly schools they have also used them to draw rude depictions of famous women on. It is my opinion that they are used far too often as a pacifier by teachers who can’t control classes. Whilst I am convinced these new pencil and paper devices are no more than a passing fad, writing on them should only be allowed with the greatest caution and only when supervised and directed by an academically well-qualified and experienced teacher. Of course it will also be essential to regularly check that pencils and associated carrying devices are of the correct length and of uniform colour, adding significantly to the teacher’s workload.

There is no research evidence to support ideas that using pencils and paper aids a child’s education, and the cost to taxpayers of replacing these throw-away items on a regular basis is horrific. There are those who say children should be given pencils and paper because they enjoy learning with them, but the reality is that they just enjoy using pencils and paper. Parents who allow their children to stay up late writing and drawing with the result that they arrive at school tired should have scholarship money withdrawn.

The traditional slate is of the ideal size, proportion, weight and appearance to work with, and it is my sincere hope that one day schools will sensibly return to some sort of similar device that can be used with or without one of these new ‘pencils’.

Meanwhile I am also of the firm belief that there is absolutely no need for children to have access to encyclopedias from which they are likely to learn about things we do not necessarily want them to. Teachers must cease telling children to refer to them to complete their homework, which is like guiding them to a library without a librarian. Teachers also have a duty to point out the frequent mistakes that occur in them.

Finally I would like to support the appointment of the new schools’ behaviour tsar, despite the fact that he was apparently previously sacked from his position as a Soho ’Free and Easy’ Drinkshop manager after he allegedly failed to control the disorderly working classes who refused to sit still and in complete silence whilst enjoying the specified refreshments and entertainment made available at the correct time, and as defined by the National Consumption Curriculum. Apparently the complaints all came from a single teacher who routinely complained about noise coming from adjacent rooms, even when they were empty.

Yours, &c.,

No Change Please!

 

Image Credit: Flickr/Angus Kirk

 

Way To Go?

 

If you’ve not watched it – in which case you really should – WIA is a BBC comedy satire of and about the BBC, being made for the BBC, by the BBC and by an amazing coincidence being shown on the BBC. Here, All Change Please! is proud to present its own slightly more educational version…

Voice Over: As it’s the day after yesterday and the day before tomorrow, today’s the day Nicky Moregove, Nick Bowels and Nick Glibb and various other people who are probably not as important as they’d like to think they are, are all meeting in Michael Gove, the new office suite at the Df-ingE.

Nicky Morgove: So anyway I think you should know I’ve been watching that great W1A fly-on-the-wall reality tv show. I must say it has given me a revealing insight about what it’s actually like to work at the BBC. And I really like the idea of them appointing a Director of Better.

Nick: Err.. Can I just point out that actually…

NM: No, you can’t Nick. So I was thinking we should maybe do some similar PR work to help try and convince teachers that we’re really quite normal, friendly types who want to work with them, even if we’re not. I’m mean, we’re totally listening to what they are saying, it’s just they’re not saying the right things.

Nick: Yes, but…

NM: Please be quiet Nick. As I was saying, as a result I’ve invited Perfect Curve, the same PR company that works for the BBC, here to outline in broad strokes some suggestions we can all take away with us to digest, circle back round and bring up again later. So I’ll hand you straight over to Siobhan Sharpe from Perfect Curve.

SS: Hi everyone! Thanks Nicky. Go Academies! Go Free Schools! Yeah. Well, we’ve thought about this a lot in an agile, brainstorming sort of way and kicked a whole shed load of ideas round the duck pond before coming to the conclusion that the decisions I made beforehand were the best anyway. 

So building on this new BBC post for Director of Better, we came up with this concept that it would be really cool if every school was required to appoint a Head of Better to its Senior Management Team. But then we thought, hey, well if we’re going to do that, at the same time we could rebrand the Headteacher as the Head of Outstanding, and then to establish some sort of career progression by having middle managers called Head of Good and Head of Requires Improvement. Oh, and, you’re really going to like this guys, we’re going to rename Teachers as Learning Opportunity Engineers to make it all sound a bit more sciency and researchy.

Ensemble: Yes, very strong

Ens: I’m totally good with that

Ens: Sure yeah, way cool, OK. No worries. Say Again. That’s mental.

Nick: Err, I hate to be the one to problematise things, but I’m not going to beat around the Basil Brush, but we do have a recruitment crisis in the profession you know, so I don’t know exactly where all these Super Heads of Outstanding are going to come from?

Ens: Ah yes, no, good. Very good.

SS: OK, cool, yeah well, we’ve done some major conceptualisations about that too. So the thing is like that with the DfE, in branding terms it’s really boring. It’s like politics and funding and pedagogy. I mean, who’s interested in all that stuff? So what we’re talking here is like major brand refresh surgery.

To begin with we’ve been looking at the name DfE. By adding an exclamation mark at the end – DfE! – it gives more emphasis to the E, which of course stands for Education, which is what it’s all supposed to about, even though it isn’t. Then we need to change the name a bit to make it more engaging and compelling, so in future the acronym will stand for Damn Fine Education. And then of course it’s got sound as if it’s a synergetic, collaborative, character-building sort of organisation, so, as we learnt from the 2012 Olympics, finally it needs to become Team DfE!

Ens: I so love it!

Ens: Brilliant. No brainer…

Ens: This is all going terribly well.

SS: Then of course there are the SATS. So where we’re heading on this one is like to ask the question, ‘What’s the best day of the week?’ And our focus groups all told us ‘Saturday’. So we thought: SATurday? So in future children will all attend school every SATurday specifically to take new weekly SATs. Nicky told us that kids love doing tests and showing off how much they know, so they’ll be pleased. It’s a win-win thing of course because while the teachers are looking after their children for them, hard working parents will be happy as they will be able to take on extra work to help pay their mortgages.

Ens: Ah yes, that all sounds most SATisfactory!

Ens: No way. Cool.

Ens: Totally awesome.

SS: Meanwhile using our contacts at the BBC we’ve pitched some ideas for some new TV shows to increase the profile of Learning Opportunity Engineers in the community. They’re terribly excited about ‘Strictly Come Teaching’ in which B-list celebs are paired up with classroom teachers to see how really strict they can be in classrooms up and down the country. We love Strictly! And to cover inclusion, diversity, social mobility and equality, they’re bringing back Top Of The Form, but renamed ‘Top Of The Class‘ in which children from upper, middle and lower-class backgrounds will complete against each other to see who is actually the most entitled to get to a Russell Group University.

And of course in order to be completely transparent there will be a TV mockumentary that shows what it’s really like to work as a member of Team DfE! A bit like W1A is named after the BBC’s postcode, it’s going to be called ’Sanctuary’ after the name of this building. In fact they’ve already started work on it.

Nick: Ah I wondered what that camera crew were doing over in the corner.

SS: There’s just thing left to sort out though – the show will need a suitable voice over. With W1A of course we were able to get a previous Dr Who to do it. But we thought because it’s about schools, maybe we should like get The Master to do it, but he wasn’t available. So can anyone suggest someone who’s known to be highly devious, omnipresent and obsessed with total control and domination?

NM: Yes I can – in fact I think we’re probably sitting in him right now. Well thanks Siobhan. Of course we’ll to check it out with the DC, but I’m sure he’ll be on board with it. I mean it’s all about one-nation education isn’t it?

SS: Hey wait Nicky that sounds really good – One Nation Education – we  must use that somewhere. ‘All for ONE and ONE for all’. Wow this is just so cool. Way To Go! Yay!

NM: So that’s all good then…

Voice Over – now confirmed as Michael Gove: So as the meeting ends, Nicky, Nick and Nick put away their distractive mobile phones and go off to enjoy a well earned break where they can fully digest their take-aways before their next meeting, where they hope they will be a great deal more distracted than they were at the last one. Over the next few weeks they are going to need to consider how well they will adapt when they all become wealthy, famous and respected, well-loved TV personalities. Hmm. Seeing as the whole education reform thing was my idea in the first place, it seems to me like there’s no justice in the world. But now I’m the Lord High Executioner, just you wait, I’ll be doing something about that. I’ve got a little list…they’ll none of them be missed.

Mathematics for Smart Dummies

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At this particular moment, with the general election just moments away, All Change Please! feels it would be inappropriate to indulge in Partly Political Posts because of the influence it might have on the millions of followers it doesn’t have. On the one hand, almost anything would be better for education than another term of the hopelessly unqualified Messers Mickey Gove and Nicky Morgove teaching the class, but on the other one has to wonder just how much better informed the other parties are.

Take this recent article that reports that Labour’s plans for all students to continue to take maths until the age of 18 are the “best protection against unemployment”. And apparently “Our future success as a nation depends on all young people taking maths to 18”, not to mention that “It is essential that everyone is mathematically literate in this scientific age”  – as a number of leading and in no way biased mathematicians predictably proclaimed with 110% certainty and no margin for error to an infinite number of decimal places.

Now this is fair enough if a student is going on into a technical or scientific area but the vast majority won’t be. When was the last time you factorised a quadratic equation involving a surd, constructed a perpendicular bisector and solved a linear inequality?

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“All I wanted to know is how much it would be for a cup of coffee…”

The problem is that the sort of Maths taught for GCSE, and presumably beyond, is not particularly interesting, exciting or relevant to the everyday maths skills that are actually needed in the typical workplace. And anyway, even then it seems to have completely escaped everyone’s notice that Siri (the vocal iPhone assistant) is more than capable of solving maths problems for you, and showing you how it worked it out. And, even better, there’s also Photomath, a free App that enables you to take a photo of an equation, and it will calculate it for you.

Now of course you can’t take a Smart Phone into a formal examination – but All Change Please! wonders if anyone has yet thought about the future need to also ban iWatches, which once they incorporate a camera, could unobtrusively run the Photomath app as you seemingly check to see how much time you’ve got left?

To be fair, Marcus du Sautoy’s remark above has, surprise surprise, been taken somewhat out of context. In this article he suggests a second maths GCSE course might:

 “…expose students to the big ideas of maths: concepts of infinity, the maths of symmetry, the challenge of prime numbers. It is finding out what maths is really about that might change the national mindset…”

“What will be important is making sure that the maths we expose students to is both relevant to their future and the future of our country.”

Although All Change Please! would like to suggest that the logic and rationality in the world he seeks needs tempering with a good dose of creativity and imagination as well. But what is quite clear is that the teaching – and examining – of maths needs a major 21st century overhaul.

Meanwhile the key maths skills that politicians probably need right now is the ability to furiously calculate the complex permutations of coalition party members they will need to work with in order to form the next government.

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6th May Update…

Would you believe it – someone just has:

Students ticked off by ban on watches in exams

Photo credits: Flickr / Mulan / Sean MacEntee / Mulan

Flowers in the Rain

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This week it’s the unusual turn of Alan Titchmarsh to provide the provocation for the latest missive from All Change Please! In his recent Telegraph article he begins in potential prize-winning petunia fashion:

“It is surprising, but there are still some people in this world who think of apprenticeships as second-best, as a career path to be followed only by those unlucky enough to achieve grades that will not win them a place at university. It is a sentiment that is as inaccurate as it is flawed, and it has resulted, over the past 30 or 40 years, in a completely unbalanced workforce: a workforce lacking in practical skills and overpeopled by those with academic qualifications that have no relevance to their eventual employment.”

But then unfortunately his article starts to sprout a few weeds: “I bemoan the general lack of respect today for those who are good with their hands.”, which is followed later by references to a bouquet of “horticulture, thatching, building and wood-carving“.

It’s great that he is promoting the need for a drastic increase in the number and range of apprenticeships, but a shame that he mainly presents them in a 19th century way, associating them with rural crafts as activities that have always been portrayed as being essentially mindless and thus more suited to the non-academic amongst us: our hands do not work independently from our brains and our senses, but in close connection and interaction with them. Meanwhile in today’s world it’s the ability to create and communicate using the latest in material and production technologies that is the most sought after, alongside the ability to continually learn and update our skill-sets as things rapidly change.

What’s currently missing in education is a ‘Third Way’ that combines intellectual and practical creative and technical problem solving skills with an understanding of how the real world works – things that neither academia or many traditional purely craft-based apprenticeships currently provide. Such studies are not the most appropriate for everyone, but there are a sizeable number of bright and able, but non-academic, children who are going to miss out if – as appears to be happening at present – it becomes a two-way choice. Courses in Design and the Creative and Performing Arts used to provide such experiences and opportunities, but their second-rate valuation within the EBacc system and their increased academic content is diminishing their accessibility.

Surely we want all the plants and flowers in our garden to grow and bloom? And to do that we need to account for the fact that each variety develops and matures in different ways, at different times and in different conditions.

And here’s a post from someone who agrees!

https://designfizzle.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/the-apprentice-too-little-too-late/

 

Photo credit: Flickr / Tony Hammond

BROKEN NEWS…

5179626687_0c40c7ab41_zLong delays expected in any sort of change

Statement to Parliament: GCSE in design and technology: delay in teaching

Further to its statement today that new Design and Technology GCSEs are now to be delayed a further year until first examination in 2019, the government has also announced that all new UK industrial and technological development will be delayed until the same date. As a result no new or upgraded TVs, mobiles, computers or any other technologically advanced products will now be made available to consumers until the summer of 2019.

This is in order to give ministers a chance to catch up on what is going on in the world today and to be able to prepare better informed spin, thus avoiding the sort of embarrassment that followed David Cameron’s recent quite impractical, crazy ‘cloud cuckoo land’ proposals to ban the use of certain social network apps.

Meanwhile between now and 2017, some one million children will be denied the chance to undertake a GCSE course in Design and Technology that is more appropriate to the 21st century than to the 19th and 20th – though this will not be a problem as the UK will have got correspondingly further and further behind the rest of the world.

These changes will ensure that the UK prepares students and businesses well for life in a slowly changing, largely backward-looking world“, Nick Glibb didn’t say as he completely failed to grasp the irony in his actual statement that change in educational provision was being slowed down to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world.

This will give us all that little bit more time to find a dictionary in order to find out what the word ‘Iterative’ means.” Glibb glibbly continued. “After all this approach to design was only identified by the Assessment of Performance Unit in the 1989, so by 2019 children will only be 30 years behind the time.”

 

Photo credit: Flickr/Will Clouser

 

One giant leap?

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If All Change Please!‘s recent One small step post suggested that the way forward for education was to try to get traditional and progressive teachers to try and come to a better understanding of what each are doing, then what would One giant leap for Schoolkind be like?

Well, it might not surprise you to learn that All Change Please! regular Tony Wheeler has some suggestions…

“I’m sorry to be the pouty one throwing my toys out of the playpen, and I really do want progressives and traditionalists to get closer together, but having spent the last 30 years pussy-footing around, tactfully making the connections and emphasising the similarities (in order to make progressive more palatable for traditionalists), all that happens is active/progressive/project-based teaching and learning gets more deeply compromised, misrepresented and sidelined.

The truth is that while it may be possible to identify some bits of evidence in some bits of lessons that look a bit similar, progressive and traditional both start from such utterly different intentions that unless you have felt/experienced/participated/enjoyed both, it is really really difficult to make meaningful comparisons.

As I do, most educators seem to value most what has worked for them, and this is the real problem. Everyone’s had good, bad and mostly mediocre experiences of traditional fact-based chalk-n-talk. Despite what Daisy, Gove, Toby and the Campaign For Real Education would have the media believe it’s still what kids get for well over 90% of the time in schools.  In contrast, at the same time well over 90% of people have never ever seen, let alone participated in effective, purposeful, contextualised active learning.

If I were managing a school (perish the thought!) I would want to work with a team that wanted to (amongst other things):

  • give young people as well as teachers, real power to participate in the design of new approaches to teaching and learning
  • stop using subjects as the key components of curriculum and attempt to replace them with something more like ‘teaching’ (not learning) styles to ensure a breadth of experience
  • talk about metacognition as being important for pupils and doubly important for teachers. I would negotiate a process involving pupils and colleagues to help all teachers contemplate and review their own strengths and weaknesses as educators
  • encourage all teachers to prepare and maintain a dynamic personal teaching and learning statement (i.e. ‘I think education is important because…’, ‘The role of our school is…’, ‘The capabilities/approaches I bring are…’, etc.) which they share and build into collective dialogues with learning teams
  • replace timetabling as a mechanistic process to manage resources/subjects completed by an administrator with a process to choreograph individual pupil’s daily learning experiences managed by experts in pedagogy.
  • ensure all children have equal access to ‘purposeful active’ and ‘knowledge transfer’ styles of teaching. As they progress through the system they can opt to specialise in one or other but they will always need some of both.
  • manage the range of style and expertise so as not force staff to teach/interact in ways they are unhappy to take on
  • as a community search for the similarities/links/connections across subjects and negotiate purposeful activities around these supported by appropriate knowledge transfer.
  • group students by interest, experience and capability, rather than age, ability or gender
  • encourage the local community (and teachers) to participate as learners, trading time/skills for learning participation
  • evidence progress using structured dynamic portfolios, building towards external individual presentation beyond school
  • accredit through international collective comparative judgements
  • agree more equitable and appropriate measures by which to report school effectiveness (i.e. emotional index, elective participation, community impact, range of destinations)

In the wasteland of the last 20 years of government tinkering and media misrepresenting, this would of course pose a significant CPD challenge and require a multi-million pound marketing budget to convince potential parents. But if we really want to create an education system fit for the 21st century, that’s what’s going to be needed.

In the meanwhile, maybe something we could do as a start is to identify, profile and champion compelling isolated exemplars of active learning and begin to devise possible strategies for scaling up across the whole curriculum and all schools.”

So, if you were managing a school, where would you start? Or perhaps you already are, and have done?

 

Image credit: Flickr aloha75

Can I see tea?

From the vaults. Dedicated to all teachers about to embark on delivering the new Computing curriculum…

All Change Please!

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Over recent weeks All Change Please! has posted about the draft National Curriculum requirements for Design & Technology, Art & Design, and History. Now it’s time to look at the new-fangled Computer studies (or as a DfE press release recently called it, ‘Computing Studies’), and to help us we’re delighted to welcome back the wondeful spirit of Joyce Grenfell, who is leading today’s Key Stage 1 lesson.

“Ok class, let’s all gather round. Today we’re going to learn about computers. I expect you already know a lot more about them than I do, don’t you? Well at least I’m rather hoping you do. Now, first make sure your smart phones and tablets are all switched off please – you’re not really supposed to have them in school are you? No, I’m sorry Larry you’ll just have to finish working on your facebook hacking app later – which reminds me, you…

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No, Stop Messing About!

 

 

As readers of a certain advanced age will know, Kenneth Williams was a cast member of the popular 1950s radio programme Hancock’s Half Hour.  And that his catch-phrase was ‘No, Stop Messing About’.  Fast forward some 55 years and the cast members of Matthew Hancock’s Half Hour seem intent on doing what they know how to do best: messing about with education.

Further to the examples they recently gave of their plans for new world-class 19th century vocational education, the DfE has since come up with another to add to woodwork, dressmaking and how to wire up a light bulb.

“In the past, too often they would learn some abstract theory at school. They might describe an engine, for example, rather than actually strip down and rebuild a motorbike. They would then struggle to find work, or an employer willing to give them the training they should have already received”.

Ah yes, good old motor-cycle maintenance. Yes, a lot of employers are currently looking for school-leavers able to plug one end of a computer cable into a motorbike so that the completely closed system can be automatically repaired and fine-tuned. Still All Change Please! supposes such a course might come in useful when they need to ‘get on their bikes’, Norman Tebbit style, to go to look for work in some other country.

Meanwhile, somehow the DfE have been messing about so effectively that they have somehow managed to completely miss this report from from the New Economics Foundation Innovation Institute, which clearly sets out the issues for STEM-related learning.

“The skills crisis is a well-aired issue, but forecasting the skills requirements tends to be based on immediate local or short-term priorities. There is no coherent vision and no national strategy.

The problem has been exacerbated by the rapid technological change that is sweeping through the workplace: 3D printing, robotics, nanotechnology, cloud computing, mobile technology and the internet are causing major disruption in many sectors. New roles are proliferating, while traditional skills are falling out of fashion.

Why, for example, are so many colleges focusing on carpentry and bricklaying and ignoring building information modelling software, which will become compulsory on all government construction projects from 2016?

We should also move away from outdated assessment and qualification models. These create artificial learning levels that can hold back a student’s natural pace of enquiry and development. Learning should be student-led, with the tutor acting as coach and facilitator. It should be grounded in real-life scenarios and placed into context.”

The full report can be downloaded here

And if it had recently heard from its collective brain instead of thinking about nothing else but the possibility of an extended playtime, the DfE would have surely studied this Infographic, provided of course that they had not got it messed up and completely obliterated by sawdust and engine oil.  It presents what it claims will be the 10 most important work skills in 2020. Driven by our increasing longevity, the rise of smart machines and programmable systems, a new media ecology, superstructured organisations and the diversity and adaptability of a globally connected, the skills our current generation of schoolchildren will require include: Sense making, Social Intelligence, Novel and Adaptive Thinking, Cross Cultural Competency, Computational Thinking, New Media Literacy, Transdisciplinarity, a Design Mindset, Cognitive Load Management and Virtual Collaboration. And All Change Please! would like to add its own ‘Quality Long-term Health Care’ for those of us who are actually old enough to remember Hancock’s Half Hour.

Of course no-one knows exactly what the skills of the future will be, but that’s the point – what we need to do is to ensure today’s students know how to acquire new knowledge and be able to learn new skills as they emerge during their lifetime.

In this age and culture of technology, surely what we urgently need is a technology-led rather than academic-led curriculum? Now that really would, as Kenneth Williams might have described it, be ‘Fantabulosa’.

But until that happy event, please DfE, just STOP MESSING ABOUT

And finally, if you haven’t already, do scroll back up to the top and watch at least the first couple of minutes of the video to listen to Kenneth Williams trying to pick up a female-impersonating Hancock…

Thinking the Unthinkable

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On All Change Please!’s list of set texts this week was an article by Lucy Mangan in The Guardian, reminding us that the real point of studying English Literature at school was to develop a love of reading. And for the majority of children that’s unlikely to involve umpteen Shakespeare plays and 19th Century British novels. She even dares to suggest that perhaps there should not be any examinations in the subject. Quite unthinkable, of course…!  Lucy Mangan: Don’t stop with Steinbeck – let’s can all of Eng Lit

But what’s emerging in the new GCSEs is an increasing emphasis on academic subject content – even in the more practical subjects – as a preparation for study at university, with the doubtless result that an equally increasing number of children will, after 11 long years of formal education, be quite incorrectly tagged as being failures in life. And then there are the new A levels to consider. Their narrow, academic-led requirements are entirely inappropriate for most 16-18 year olds. With Gove’s new specifications sounding more and more like old-fashioned A and O levels it seems increasingly likely that BTECs will become the new second-class equivalents of the old CSE, so there’s some major long-term re-thinking that needs to go on here too if we are going to create a credible more technical or vocationally-orientated alternative that will have the necessary status in life and future employment.

Somehow we seem to have lost touch with the underlying essentials of learning. Also on All Change Please!‘s reading list was this worthy article in which the basis for GCSE assessment in Design & Technology is earnestly discussed:  Devising a learning journey for D&T

While it provides an enlightened exploration of the way in which potential 3D product designers of the future need to be educated, it fails to account for the fact that the vast majority of children who sit the examination are unlikely to end up working in this particular and highly specialised field.

The inherent value in D&T lies in the way in which it can help children learn how to develop the creative and analytic ability to propose worthwhile solutions to complex, open-ended problems, and to successfully communicate those ideas to others. At the heart of this is the highly transferable concept of modelling – representing ideas in different formats, materials and at different scales that make it easier, quicker and cheaper to explore and try ideas out. It also helps provide a rationale for a critical appraisal of the technological products, places and communications children will go on to encounter throughout life as consumers, citizens or specifiers.

The processes and products of professional design merely serve as a contextual reference point: D&T in schools shouldn’t be about overtly preparing children to become 3D professional product designers, which is what only a very small minority might become. Yet at GCSE the D&T debate seems to be centred around the assessment of a high level of knowledge of the application of mechanical and electronic control systems, the properties and working characteristics of a specified rage of materials, and associated tools and manufacturing processes, all based on an out-dated 1960s version of industrial design with a bit of added CAD-CAM. And it’s the same with the other GCSE subjects: they are far too specialised and wrapped up in their own inefficient, discrete, non-transferable academic bodies of knowledge.

Meanwhile All Change Please! recently heard of a school where a KS3 group were successfully undertaking extended cross-curricular project work. When challenged as to how this would meet the requirements of the various subject-based Programmes of Study, the response was that they were ignoring them and relying on their ability to demonstrate that they were effectively delivering the Importance Statements that come at the very start of each National Curriculum subject specification. In the rush to cross the t’s and dot the i’s of the PoS, the Importance Statements provide the rationale for what should really be happening in schools, yet in practice they are usually ignored and rendered impotent rather than important. Again, surely it’s time to start thinking different?

Finally, another article on All Change Please!‘s entirely global 21st century reading list, again from The Guardian, somewhat shatters the notion that undertaking an academic degree at a leading university will in itself provide a passport to a lifetime of well-paid work:  The ten skills students really need when they graduate

According to the author, there are some other things graduates looking for employment will need to be able to demonstrate as well their academic ability, such as a good business sense, a global mindset, a sound digital footprint, office etiquette, computer literacy, teamwork and people skills. Instead of more and more specialist academic subject knowledge, we should surely be paying more attention to these requirements in our school curriculum?

If we are going to develop a curriculum and delivery system fit for the 21st Century, then perhaps it’s time we started to think the unthinkable?

 

Image credit: Flickr gforsythe