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...
How many of you can type at a reasonable speed, say around 50 words per minute? If you're not sure, test yourself by clicking this link. I tend to average around 65wpm with text that I don't know, higher if I'm typing original text. My typing has actually slowed in recent years, when I was at university and probably doing the most typing I've ever done, I averaged around the 80wpm mark without too much trouble. As with anything its down to practice.
But why is it important? The fact is, to be productive you have to be able to type. No one, despite millions being spent on research and development, has come up with a better method of text entry than the qwerty keyboard. Sometimes it's just the case that an old design is... the right design! Take a look around a Year 7 classroom (and later years, I'm not singling them out) and you'd be shocked at how poor the typing skills of students are - it's not unusual to find students that only use one finger to jab at the keys in an incredibly painstaking process that takes, unsurprisingly, forever.
The technology of each generation does tend to dictate the set of skills they end up either consciously or inadvertently learning along the way. If you go way back, it was usual that students learned to take notes in short hand, or touch type (no looking at the keys, ever). Move forwards to the 1990's and for well over a decade people round the world suddenly became amazingly adept at typing because of the growth of instant messaging over the internet. It wasn't uncommon to have an AOL IM account, Yahoo Messenger and MSN messenger all running at the same time, with at least 6 conversations on the go all at once, with the taskbar flashing like a police car at you, demanding your attention. Every young person at the time knew how to alt-tab their way around each box and hammer out messages at well over 100wpm without thinking - they learned to adapt because you had to!
Strangely, that seems to have been the golden age of communication online. Since that time all the messenger services have died off for one reason or another and nothing really has replaced them. In that time, we've had the advent of touch screen devices and a real shift away from traditional PC use, meaning that today's students simply don't use computers in the way people of an older generation are used to, or expect.
This is actually causing quite a problem. I asked a class of Year 7 students recently, "how many of you use a desktop PC or laptop at home on a regular basis?" Approximately 3 hands went up - 10% of the class. At first, this surprised me. We asked other classes and the numbers never rose much above 20% of students in each group. This goes a long way to explaining some of the problems we have when students arrive at secondary school, especially the length of time they take to adjust to our way of working, but particularly to how a computer works. The number one problem used to be that students could not understand the idea that one "drive" was theirs and another was shared on a network and they can't save to it. Now it's that coupled with the fact... students don't really know how to use a traditional computer at all!
Why was I surprised, though? My own desktop computer sits in a cupboard at home gathering dust, not because I'm not interested in computing any more, but simply because there isn't a need to use it. Desktop PC's are anti social machines that require you to sit usually out of the way and, these days, don't actually offer any compelling functionality unless you're doing tasks which require a powerful machine. This is compounded by the fact I now have a very portable and powerful laptop in the form of a Surface Book which means I have even less motivation to use a desktop, but... I still use a PC every day!
So what are younger people doing? They're using tablets and, predominantly, phones. Why wouldn't they? The internet is available in its entirety in their pocket, they can communicate and listen to music, share experiences and have everything they need in one place. They're extremely adept at using these devices and are quick to share new applications, methods of working or just things they think are interesting. In this way, they're the equivalent of our MSN generation, they've learned to use the technology available to them and adapted to it perfectly.
The outcome of this is, strangely, that we have in many ways returned to the early 1990's where there is a about to be a real need for the teaching of "ICT" skills again. Students are brilliantly aware of the technology that is prevalent to them, but woefully ill equipped to deal with a working world that they will move in to. Yes, I acknowledge that touch screen/tablet technology will become more acceptable in business, more mainstream and more integrated with traditional machines, but the bottom line is, to do decent work you are going to need to be adept at using a mouse, keyboard and desktop operating system. No one has come up with a better method of working and I cannot see this changing in the short to medium term.
One thing you can be certain of, however, is that these technologies will merge. Look back and you see the perfect example being modern smartphones. Where once you needed a computer to browse the "full" internet, a music player to store your music and a phone for communications, they are now all one device. Laptops are already changing to have screens which detach to become tablets but no one has found the perfect medium yet and may never do.
Apple have spent millions on research into touch screens and traditional computers and Steve Jobs, before his death was adamant there was no way that touch screens worked on traditional computers, the two just don't match, it's interesting, then, that Apple are now desperately trying to sell iPads with keyboards and touting them as "computers." The fact here is that Microsoft may well have accidentally gone down the right path after all with Surface in that it's a fully featured PC in a convenient form factor. Only it's absurdly expensive...
Anyway, the bottom line is, to be productive we need typists. We need people who can work across a range of technology and, sadly, right at the time when our students need it the most... we've killed off ICT. Nice work, CAS!
Love it or hate it, people young and old are going nuts for a bit of Pokemon Go. On the face of it, it all seems rather pointless - you walk around to find characters and then flick them a bit. But there is much, much more to it than this and it's heralding a new era of games that will completely change how people think of gaming.
Since the release of Pokemon Go, the value of Nintendo has risen by over $7bn as people have been rushing to buy shares in the company. Why? Well, investors in general are not stupid people, they're responsible for vast sums of money and amongst other things, our pensions, so nothing too important. In simple terms, they're gamblers who have unlimited amounts of someone else's cash to waste. Sounds good to me.
So why have investors been betting on Nintendo, or at least showing strong support for a new concept? The reason is because this is the first successful example of mass adoption of Augmented Reality and the potential market is absolutely massive - big emerging markets are like fairy dust, Christmas, rainbow riding unicorns and pots of gold at the end of very large rainbows to investors because they can bet low and make absurd profits when it all goes mental.
Augmented Reality is in it's total infancy at the moment and will either surpass or at the very least compliment the very best virtual reality. The fact is that augmented reality is more accessible than VR, has a much wider range of opportunity than VR and solves all the problems of VR without trying - you don't need to stay in your house/one location, you're not going to break your nose running in to a wall or smash your house up because you can't see it and it won't make you redecorate the place with vomit because of motion sickness.
Then there's the potential, not just creative but social also. People are already getting really excited that technology may actually hold a solution for the one big problem it has helped to create - a distinct lack of movement. Now people are running around town, chasing imaginary characters (a wonderful image of a crazy society if ever there was one) in an effort to "collect them all" which, whether you like the game or not, really has done more to get people moving than the sales of millions of Wii Fit boards that now gather dust under millions of TV stands ever did.
The social aspect is huge as well, you're now very likely to bump in to a fellow Pokemon player who is after the same things as you, the potential for unintended meetings are really high, which means social connections that would otherwise never have happened, now will. On top of that the idea that you can compete with rival teams to "take over" an entire town or region is utterly brilliant. Often the most successful ideas are the most simple.
Think about politics - parties spend millions trying to motivate people to get out of their houses and vote, to "take over" a town or city in the hope of a candidate becoming elected. The gamification of this idea has had drastically more success than political investment ever has or probably could and the potential to apply this simple competitive element to other areas is huge.
Finally, there's the very idea that you can simply take anywhere, any space, any area and turn it into the most awesome game you ever played. With advances in motion sensing and wearable computing it is not difficult to imagine playing a future version of Doom or similar where you literally walk in to an empty building complex, put on your AR glasses and suddenly you're instantly transported into an amazing game world where you're not a passive participant but actively in the game - your physical movements all translated in to the game. The level of involvement, emotion, stress and so on will be amplified to a level never seen before. All those empty, derelict buildings will suddenly gain a value they never had as the latest level in a game.
If you take it to the extreme you could find teams of people travelling all over the world to play in games in all kinds of countries (as you would now in Uncharted and other games for example, as you follow clues to an eventual goal). It has the ability to create an entirely new form of travel agent, one who will create your very own personal, world wide adventure of a lifetime.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is why a $7bn increase in company value is just the beginning. Done right, this has the ability to make companies like Apple suddenly look like a corner shop.
Computing suddenly got very, very exciting again.
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