Lets be realistic about the situation. You've spent the last five years having the time of your life at secondary school. Well, maybe not the time of your life if you didn't enjoy it. Er... You've done time. Yep, that should be a good catch all term to describe it...
So you've done five years and you're coming up for release, or "graduation" as it's more popularly known, and all you've got to do to set yourself up for life on the outside is pass your exams. Shouldn't be too hard, right? You've had eleven years of practise leading up to this point anyway, so it'll be a doddle! The only thing standing in your way is that over used and rarely understood word:
You see, the problem with revision is as teachers we stand there in front of you saying all manner of wonderful catch phrases:
"If you do more preparation and revision, then you'll improve!"
"You really need to revise more for your tests."
"You need to do at least an hour a day or you won't get through it all."
"You have two choices, revise yourself to death or fail and die."
Maybe the last one was made up.
But you get the point! My problem with this is that we bash you round the head with the word constantly for five years and very rarely does anyone actually improve to the point we'd like. Why is this? Simple, so rarely do we actually explain what revision is. Worse, teachers are terrible for passing on their stress to you as students. This is very naughty and ends up with situations reminiscent of The Simpsons where Homer is strangling Bart:
"Why aren't you passing your exams at the highest level so I look good??!!"
"I don't know!!"
"Why aren't you a machine?!!!!!!"
You get the point.
I genuinely try not to do this with students. If I grind you into the ground with stress you're likely to do badly anyway. If I say lovely things all year when you are, in fact, utterly terrible then you'll fail thinking you were amazing. Its a balancing act of just enough encouragement mixed with a bit of reality. I'm better at the reality part...
Before we go any further, I need to make a confession to you. A confession in the hope you'll realise that I am human and was indeed once your age.
When I was at school I came across as being very, very lazy. I called it "being efficient."
But I wasn't stupid. Well, not all the time anyway.
It felt as if I ran on batteries from Poundland and in order to not run out of power, I'd apply myself when necessary and only at those times. In other words - if it needed doing, I'd do it properly. If it didn't then... it got a lot less attention.
The thing to realise here is:
In my ten years of teaching I've come across lots of students who were just like I was. However, I also come across students every single year that just baffle me. These are the students who:
This is the single most stupid and dangerous thing anyone could ever do.
If you aim to simply do "just enough," to just scrape through on the last mark of the last question in the paper than you are playing an extraordinarily dangerous game that you are more than likely going to lose in the most spectacular way.
I don't understand it. You've worked for 11 years of your life to get to this point. That's over 2/3 of your entire living life. That's a long time, right? And at the first point in your life where it really, really matters you're going to go "can't be bothered."
Wow. Goodnight, ladies and gentlemen! Thanks for coming! Hope you enjoyed the show.
That's it? 15 years to get to a point where we just shrug our shoulders and consign all our potential in the bin and then most likely live a life of bitter resentment for the education system that "failed" you.
Some facts to understand:
It's not too late.
At this point in the year it's not too late to change your outlook, to change your mind about how you view "studying" and that maybe it's not just saddo's and weird kids that want to succeed. Whether you like it or not, we are all human and we all have a love of rewards, a love of success, a love of doing well. You can't tell me you don't - you might not feel it in school but you felt it when you thrashed your mate 6-0 on Fifa. It's the same thing. You won - you felt good.
I'm not going to tell you how long I spent revising for my exams. But I will tell you that in my final year of University, myself and a group of 6 friends managed to, for an entire week solid:
We all passed those exams. Not just by the skin of our teeth, we passed them well.
One of those people in that group also did his dissertation in 1.5 days. He'd given up, had enough, was going to quit university - right at the death. The exact same as a student giving up when it's GCSE time.
I managed to convince him to at least do something. He stayed up all day, all night and handed in what turned out to be quite a good project in AI.
He's now the head teacher of a behavioural school.
Why am I telling you this? Because if you're a student who:
Then you should realise you still have a chance to change your mind and realise that you could make a decision which completely changes your life. Oh and makes you filthy rich in the future.
So what do you do? Simple, it's time to talk revision...
What is revision?
I'm going to upset your parents.
You cannot revise for hours on end, day after day. You shouldn't be drawing up absurd timetables, colouring in each day a different colour for each subject and then feeling awful when you, strangely, don't behave like a machine and stick to it.
Let's understand you're human. Worse, you're a teenage human which means you're a total nutter with no sense of self preservation and an insatiable need to have a good time.
So we won't be shutting you in your room for days on end thinking somehow the knowledge will fall into your mind from the books you never open.
Revision is also not reading. If you've spent the last 5 years wondering why you get terrible results even though you read your book for 6 hours before the test... it's because you read your book for 6 hours before the test.
Here, based on real science (genuinely) is Mr Davidson's Lazy Persons Extremely Effective Revision Technique. (C) (Tm) (BSc Hons.)
While you are still in school:
We form memories through repetition, routine and familiarity. If you don't revisit your learning then those memories are much harder to form, or simply disappear altogether. This reading exercise basically keeps them "familiar" to you and makes your life much, much easier.
When it's revision time:
That's it. I'm sorry to say there is no magic here, but if you are prepared to put the time in... then magic will indeed happen.
So rant over. Please open your minds, think about your futures and have faith in yourself. If you can't believe in your ability, then remember I still do and you need to come and talk to me about it!
Oh and... don't leave it until later, start now.
Well that was a surprise, wasn't it?!
The Ofqual consultation came out today, and to our sheer, wide eyed, awestruck surprise we discovered that... they did exactly what they fancied doing! Click here to read the riveting document explaining their decision for yourself.
Ofqual have decided, like most decent schools had felt for years, that they've had enough of the cheating and that the coursework for both 2018 and 2019 GCSE entries will not count. However, you've still got to do it...
Why? Because it's part of the specification, which means if you don't cover it then technically we can't say you've completed the GCSE. There is also the small point that you desperately need programming skills in order to pass your unit 2 exam.
In many ways, this is the right decision. Now your grade will not be affected by other schools deciding to break the rules and do what they like. It also means that your grade is now entirely in your hands, based on the performance you put in during the summer exams.
It's the implications for the future that are more interesting/worrying:
OCR have the right idea here, by the look of it, in that we still do a programming task in the lessons we have with you but you then have to answer questions on the work you have done in the exam. This is fair enough - most candidates that cheat don't actually have a clue what their code does so wouldn't be able to explain this in the examination anyway.
In the meantime, what does it mean for you and what should you do going forwards?
If you want to know more, have a read of the the links below. Otherwise, carry on doing as you're asked and be thankful you can now begin your exam preparation just that little bit sooner.
It had to happen didn't it?
If you didn't know, the Government in its infinite wisdom and never ending "drive to raise standards" decided to get tough on coursework. This meant that for most subjects it was promptly placed in the bin and, lets face it, this was actually a really good move.
Because I'd wager about 10% of any given piece of work was actually the product of a student.
The sad fact is that schools and sometimes students (if they're feeling particularly weird) are desperate for results. Desperation for results ends up in people finding creative ways in which to make improvements and coursework was the absolute worst for this kind of thing. Doing an essay? Go through 15 "drafts" and each time just add in what I tell you. Languages work? Lets work on the answers before hand or memorise some text from Google Translate. When I took German GCSE I did it because my mother spoke it for her job and I knew all I'd have to do for my coursework would be to memorise whatever I could get her to write for me.
Maths used to have coursework and I know for a fact that it simply became a badge of honour between parents who all wanted to be the first to find the formula for the given task, which then went round the rest of the class like wildfire in an improved version of what happens in form and break times across the country every day as students trade their homework to others.
Don't get me started on homework.
Then there's computing. Out of everyone, we really were the worst because it was quite simply a case of being able to Google the correct code and you could copy and paste an acceptable solution to most GCSE tasks together in a few weeks. "Controlled conditions" meant that students were only subtly told what to do rather than just being given the answer, because you feel less guilt cheating that way. Failing that, lets write a "this is oddly similar to the real thing" practise task which we then change a few lines of text in and hand in as our "real thing."
Last year my students did it properly. No, really. I didn't help them write their code. I didn't tell them what to write and I didn't decide to have students work "miraculously" improve over night when it was clear they were going to fail. This goes against what happens in a huge number of classrooms up and down the country. As a result, my students coursework was reasonable. Not poor, but reasonable. Some students absolutely smashed it, they were natural programmers, but most just did a competent job - and this is key.
There are few natural programmers.
There are even fewer natural programmers who show it at GCSE.
But, now sit down when I tell you this, somehow the average coursework results were rather high and would contradict that.
Turns out there had been a lot of "accidental assistance" up and down the country. As a result, my students actually performed absurdly well in the exam but proportionally not as well in the coursework.
Nationally, that kind of thing looks rather odd. Why? Well, and stay seated, it seems that nationally students perform far, far better in coursework than in their exams. How can this be? Is it that they're simply better at coursework than exams?
No. Sadly, its their teachers who are better at coursework than exams.
So the Government set out on its crusade to put this right and in many ways it looked like a good start had been made. The marks went down from anywhere around 60% all the way down to a maximum of 20% of your final grade. Then they banned the internet - which has to be one of the most absurd things in the history of poor decision making. Think about it:
Now, the Government isn't that thick, they asked Ofqual/JCQ to threaten inspection visits to schools on a random basis and also if their exam results were obviously worse than the coursework results.
Which was good, right?
The worrying thing is that this coursework has been leaked from a school. The only way to get the tasks is if you've got a log in to the exam board of your choice and the rules are clear:
So someone took it home....
....and lo and behold solutions appeared on the internet.
This just drives me up the wall because there are schools out there that do it properly and really do play by the rules. We're one of them.
Having taken a good look at the tasks when they came out, we took the calculated risk of taking a significant time out of our schedule to properly prepare our students to plan and write code unassisted. We spent hour after hour learning not only how to plan code on paper but then go and implement it in our chosen language. We didn't start the coursework until we were convinced the majority had it in the bag and had the tools they needed to code for themselves.
They were confident - are confident. They've built up, week after week, a set of skills that mean they can tackle most problems. The down side is we now have far less time than other schools to prepare for the exam, but that's ok because this is still 1/5 of their marks, right?
Not any more.
You see, what the government giveth, the government taketh away. We've spoken before about the rush to fill our schools with "real computing" because we all know there's a huge skills shortage and technology is going to only grow.
As Kryten once said, "An excellent plan, sir, with only two minor flaws."
You see, the thing about CS is.... it is neck beard central. It is an area of study that is so devoid of people skills and personality that it could quite easily form a weird form of black hole which simply sucks the very soul out of the universe, from which no one even remotely interesting will escape past the event horizon, leaving behind a world that is eerily quiet as the remaining population stay indoors for fear of accidentally socialising with someone and dissolving from the awkwardness as a result.
This means there is a shortage of people who want to teach it, before we even get to the problem of those teaching it actually being any good - or at least ones not hung up on their own ideologies which they spend their time at CAS conferences massaging their ego along with other like minded personalities.
So what happens when you suddenly erase ICT from schools and push everyone into CS even though they haven't the faintest idea about computing and can't program let alone teach it? (hey everyone, best learn Python because that's what we do when we don't think for ourselves and like to just jump on the bandwagon!)
What happens is people take the path of least resistance.
And lessons are a car crash.
And people cheat.
So I'm not sure the blame entirely lies at the door of the government, but teachers have to take some responsibility also. As a famous meme said - "you had one job." That job was simple - don't cheat, don't let kids put the task online and don't share answers to it.
Because when you do, the few institutions that do it properly now have to explain to students who have played the game, come along for the ride, believed in you, followed your instructions and done a bloody good job off the back of this that their work is now, quite literally, worthless.
Sorry, kids. At least we still have our morals intact.
If you didn't know already we love Office 365 and as we move forwards we'll be making more and more use of the tools that it offers. If you didn't already know, all our students have an Office 365 account. To log in, simply visit:
and sign in with your school email address and your normal school password. For example, if my user name was "davo345" then my school email would be "email@example.com"
Office 365 offers you:
We will be making use of something called "Forms." With the exception of exam based assessments, all our tests will now be conducted online, through a web browser. At the start of the lesson, just check your email and I'll have sent you a link to the latest quick test.
Once complete, we will be able to see how the class handled the test, any areas of weakness we have and you will receive personal feedback by the next day via email once again. Some questions may mark themselves automatically and for those questions you will receive feedback immediately after clicking the submit button.
By using this system we can regularly do a quick check of your knowledge, provide you with valuable feedback and keep a much better track of your progress throughout the GCSE course. I hope you appreciate the new tools we're using and get used to them quickly - go check them out!.
In my haste to run away and have a baby, I may have neglected to notice that the set up for visual studio has changed quite a bit since I wrote my Visual Basic lessons. If you follow the instructions below you shouldn't have any issues getting it working - the actual programming techniques haven't changed.
Step 1 - Google "Visual Studio Community Edition" and download the installer. When its downloaded, open it and select ONLY the ".NET Desktop Development" option. Then click Install.
Step 2 - Wait for all the downloading to happen...
Step 3 - When the installer is done, reboot.
Step 4 - When you reboot, open visual studio and when prompted - sign in with your SCHOOL email address and password. Remember your school email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Your password is the same as the one you use to log in at school. Do NOT miss this step.
Step 5 - Go to File - New - Project...
Final step - on the LEFT, select Visual Basic (if you don't, it'll all look very weird to you later on. Then select "Windows Forms App" from the list on the RIGHT. From there, you're good to go.
In recent updates:
Lots of other smaller updates include:
A significant amount of new material is now appearing on the site. To summarise:
The schedule for updates are in this order of priority:
By the end of this academic year:
Next academic year:
Obviously, anything can change in the mean time and some things may appear before others.
Big updates are on the way, finally, including the revision notes for units 1 and 2 of the new GCSE.
If you're not already making use of Office 365 and your 1tb (that's a lot) of online storage, then you should be.
All you need to know is your school email address and normal school password. Then you can log in at the office 365 portal here.
Reasons you should be using it:
Watch the video below for more information.
I've recently been developing an application at school which pulls class data out of our management system and spits out an editable seating plan. It's meant to be an easy to use, press one button and don't worry about it job.
After a few evenings of programming I had something that worked fairly well and got to the point where I needed to test it with some different data sets to make sure it didn't throw its toys out of the pram when presented with unexpected information.
I got to a point where I thought it was pretty much finished and off I went down to the technicians office to share what I'd been doing and get them to test it out for me. So, there I was, clicking away, showing how you could go back, change your mind, change options, load a different data file and so on and it was all working as it should.
No. I lie. As is so typical in computing, what works perfectly for you every single time will inevitably die in a hideous fashion as soon as you present it to anyone. Its like oranges and bananas in your fruit bowl - they're fine until you walk out of the room, at which point they immediately go soft, brown or gooey.
I fired it up, loaded the data file and showed how it works. At which point I changed one of the options and suddenly all the data disappeared. I then uttered the words that all people who work in IT say when they have absolutely no idea what's going on - "that's interesting" which translated means, "I've broken it and have no idea how, why or what I'm going to do about it."
If you were in my class I'd now suggest that you bung a break point in the program at a sensible point and then step through using the debugger to find out what's going on. So, once I'd got to the point where I could replicate the error every single time, this is exactly what I did, and this is where it gets weird.
You can switch off now if you're not interested in the beardy bits...
The data in my program is stored as a list of objects, which when a button is pressed is then passed to another form which then rearranges the data into the order the user selects and then fills the form in the layout requested. None of the code is destructive and once the form is closed, the data is re-sent from the main form if another plan is required.
What was happening was at some point the list of objects was being cleared - which should be fairly easy to pin down. So I started following the program and watching the contents of the list at each stage.
The code would run first time without any issues whatsoever, but click the button a second time and this time when a certain sub routine returned, the list would be empty. The strange thing was that at the end of the sub the list was populated, but on returning was cleared.
"it's a byref, byval problem!" I can hear you say. "Think about the scope!"
I'd agree with you, but if that were the case the list would be cleared every time. Nothing had changed, the exact same code was being run. First time, fine. Second time, not fine.
Scratching around for a solution I then commented out one line of code. This line was before the list was finally populated at the end of the sub routine and the debugger had shown worked fine.
It worked. No bug any more.
This was mind bending for so many reasons - the line didn't empty the list on the first run through, didn't empty the list when debugged and wasn't the point at which the list was disappearing in the debugger - this was happening 3 or 4 statements later! But yet... it fixed the problem.
This happens in programming sometimes. You can do something that absolutely shouldn't work or shouldn't have any effect on anything and yet you'll get bizarre results. I'm still lost as to why this fix worked, but considering my code isn't going to risk anyone's life, I think I'll take it and walk away...!
Inevitably, this can happen in class as well - try explaining that one to 25 perplexed students...
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