Revising the KS3 Curriculum & Simplifying Assessment

It seems I was a little ambitious with my curriculum plans last year. I had originally planned to complete five topics with each year group during the year but halfway through  computing baseline assessmentit soon became apparent that this was not achievable unless I sped through each topic with no time to review or consolidate information. I’ve spent some time reviewing the curriculum over the summer and have now redesigned it to fit into four topics per year group which I think will be a lot more feasible. Year 7 will still begin the year with a baseline assessment which I have now streamlined so it is predominantly self-marking using  Google Forms and Flubaroo, with only a few parts such as programming and information technology to be assessed manually by the teacher; the results of this are then put into a spreadsheet which automatically generates a level using the CAS Progression Pathways framework. The topics we will now be delivering are as follows:




    • 9.1 – Digital Imaging
    • 9.2 – Web Development
    • 9.3 – Computer Crime Lab (Still being developed)
    • 9.4 – Entry Level Computing (Still being developed. Lower ability completing ‘Life on Mars’ – using Kodu to simulate a colony on Mars then creating marketing materials for tourism on the planet – half complete).

Another challenge I have been investigating is how to effectively tackle feedback and assessment. In my department students do not print their work but instead all work is uploaded to our VLE (Google Classroom). At times marking has proved a little time-consuming due to opening several files that my students have uploaded, I also found much of my comments were just marking for marking’s sake rather than being truly informative.

Over the last few months I have been part of the school’s marking and feedback working party and within this we have addressed how to give more valuable feedback and cut-down on teacher workload. In computing we rely a lot on verbal feedback within lessons. As the work is largely practical it is not useful to collect-in 30 games students have made then give written feedback on these a week or so later, students need instant feedback so they can make progress while they are working on a particular topic so verbal feedback is much better for this, as is peer feedback. As a teacher what I really need to be able to do is assess the knowledge my students have acquired at the end of a topic rather than give mundane written comments throughout. At the end of a topic it is also clearly important that students understand the progress they have made in terms of their knowledge and recognise their achievements. To make life easier for myself and my team I have introduced the following assessment aspects into our curriculum:

    • Quality of work marks – in SIMS when writing reports students can be awarded 1 – 4 for quality of work, with 4 being ‘excellent’ and 1 meaning ’cause for concern’. We will be grading quality of work in the same way to ensure consistency.
    • Open badges – Students awarded with a mark of 4 (excellent) for a topic and homework will be awarded with an open badge to reward them for completing work to a high standard. All students who successfully collect a badge for every topic will be entered into a prize draw at the end of the year. These are awarded through a Google Doc shared with the students within Google Classroom, as shown here:

open badges

    • Virtual Workbooks – To help with assessment I’ve started to develop a virtual workbook for each topic. Students will complete this as they work through a topic meaning most of the content I need to assess is all in one file, making it quicker to mark. Luckily Google Classroom has a nice feature where I can share this document and automatically create a copy for each student. At the end of a topic there will be a multiple choice, self-marking test (made with Google Forms and Flubaroo) and within the Virtual Workbook there is a section to allow students to reflect and respond to the result of the test, giving them the opportunity to show they have improved their knowledge as well as allowing them to self-assess against the progression pathways statements. Here is an example of the Kodu Virtual Workbook so you can see how this works.

Let me know your thoughts below, or if you have any other ideas to contribute, please comment.

Our Micro:Bit Launch Plan

BBC Micro:Bit

Along with many other Computing teachers I’m starting to get quite excited about the upcoming BBC Micro:Bit, this is basically a miniature computer which children will be able to program using either a block-based (Blockly) or textual programming language (Touch Develop and hopefully Python too!). Once the program has been transferred to the device it can be unplugged from the computer and will then run the program independently.

These devices are being given to ALL year 7 pupils across the UK as part of the BBC’s Make It Digital campaign and I must stress they are being given to the children not the school. The idea behind the device is that the children keep them, take them home and use them independently for creating cool projects! I think this is great and am really keen for my students to have a new toy to play with and investigate and I’m hoping this will give them more confidence in the subject to simply experiment and see what happens in the comfort of their own homes!

I’ve seen a few mutterings from concerned teachers around the BBC’s method of distribution; wondering how they can use it in lessons and worrying about making last-minute changes to their schemes of work, especially as the children are taking them home and (probably) not remembering to bring them back! My answer is don’t, there is no need to adjust your curriculum plans, no need to change everything once again. Don’t view these devices as a hindrance or  “another thing to think about” but instead view them as an opportunity to put technology in the hands of children who would not normally have access to such gadgets at home. Give them to your pupils and see what they produce!

Kodu and Micro:BitAlthough I’m not planning to embed the Micro:Bit into our lessons, one thing I am interested in is the integration with Kodu. By coincidence (or luck) our year 7s will be working on their Kodu unit at the time they should be receiving their Micro:Bits. I’ve been reading that they can use the built-in accelerometer and hardware buttons as methods for controlling characters so there is an opportunity for them to use these within their Kodu games if they wish. You can read about this further on the Kodu Game Lab website.

So what’s our launch plan?

In my school we intend to make a big deal out of these new devices. My aim is to invite our year 7s into school with their parents for an evening of workshops to give them ideas of how they they can be used. We will also use this evening to launch our Micro:Bit competition, challenging students to come up with the most innovative and interesting uses possible, document their project (in any way they choose) and submit these for us to judge. I’m also planning to introduce a Digital Leaders scheme for year 9 next year so will probably get those on-board with the judging. The plan will be to produce an exhibition or series of displays showcasing the students’ work, making them as high profile as possible.

At the end of the evening each student will, of course, leave with their brand new Micro:Bit along with ideas on how it can be used! Any students who do not attend will be given theirs’ within Computing lessons when we will, again, emphasise and promote the competition.

In addition to this I have some plans brewing for Europe Code Week in October so I have my fingers crossed the Micro:Bit launch will tie-in with this but that will be in the hands of the BBC who have not released any formal information about when the devices will be passed to schools exactly (although I have heard rumours of it being October).

If you’re interested in learning more or would like to get a head-start in reading up on how it works you can read a preview of the Teacher’s Guide over on Hodder Education’s website.

If your school has not received an email from the BBC, you can register for the devices here.

How will you be launching yours? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

Reflections on Google Classroom: Our New VLE

It has been quite a busy year for me this year, as you may have noticed from the lack of posts lately. I’ve been involved in a number of projects and developments within school as well as the day-to-day running of my department. One of my projects has been the roll-out of a new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) across the school in the form of Google Classroom. You can read more about the details of Google Classroom over on Google’s website. Having only been released in September we jumped straight in as a school and haven’t looked back since as Google Classroom offers a lot of benefits and freedom to teachers that were not seen in our previous VLE.

Google Classroom Nicki Cooper

As part of my CPD this year I was required to undertake a TLA Recognition action research project, so for obvious reasons I decided to focus on the roll-out of Google Classroom with the full title being:

Implementing, rolling out and assessing the impact of a new VLE, in the form of Google Classroom, into the school environment.

Within this post I shall summarise my findings from the research. There is a link at the bottom if you would like to read the full research project.

Google Classroom was rolled out in a staggered approach; first we trialled it with KS4 pupils in my department before using with KS3, I then shared and gave an overview during a full staff briefing requesting volunteers to come forward to try in their own department, these volunteers were then given some basic training before using with their classes. Following this, throughout the year training sessions have been offered and delivered across the school and all staff have been encouraged to use Google Classroom with their classes. Some benefits afforded by the use of Google Classroom are as follows:

    • Integration of Google apps for education (Drive, Docs, Slides etc.)
    • Easily allows sharing of documents online and collaborative editing
    • Sets up multiple copies of a template or worksheet at the press of a button
    • Provides one place for students to submit their work
    • Allows teachers to effortlessly share resources and assignments with multiple classes at once
    • Has allowed my department to become paperless (with the exception of exam papers and the odd handout!)

Throughout the year Google have been very responsive to teacher feedback by regularly adding new improvements and modifications. These are the new improvements we have seen so far:

    • Customisable page header images
    • Shared classes
    • Mobile app now shows pupil work and feedback
    • Teachers can post draft assignments and announcements that can be displayed later
    • Archive old classes

Following the developments across the year there are still a few improvements I’d like to see in the future, these are as follows:

    • Allow users to move, organise and group classrooms on the home page
    • Sticky posts on the Classroom stream
    • Notification system for comments (similar to the way notifications are displayed on Facebook):
      • Pupils should be notified when a piece of work has been returned
      • Teachers should be notified when a pupil comments
    • Separate tab for assignments on subject page
    • Display images and videos either embedded on the page itself or as a popup rather than taking you to Google Drive or YouTube
    • Pupils should not be able to submit an assignment if they have not uploaded anything. I would also prefer it if the ‘mark as done’ option was something only the teacher can do.
    • Allow worksheets (where one is created for each pupil) to be added to an assignment later where necessary. Currently they can only be added when the assignment is first set up.

As the VLE is still quite new I’m sure we will continue to see improvements being added as more schools start using this fantastic educational tool. Great job Google!

Finally, here are some useful resources if you are interested in getting started reading more about Google Classroom:

Kent Computing Conference Roundup

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Kent Computing Conference (#KentCS).  I was there to present two workshops in the afternoon, one on Kodu and the other on Minecraft & Python. First; I was lucky enough to be able to spend the morning enjoying two excellent keynotes and a workshop by Phil Bagge. I’ll summarise the key information below.

Keynote 1 – Phil Bagge

Phil focussed a lot on the importance of debugging programs as being an essential part of programming. I’d never thought of it that way before, of course debugging happens all the time but I’d never sat back and considered it’s impact on learning until now. Phil highlighted  how this builds resilience and problem solving and emphasised the fact that it is not the teacher’s job to debug code and he is quite right. As a teacher I sometimes find it difficult not to jump in and “rescue” a child when they are struggling but in reality this does them no favours as they simply learn that “if it doesn’t work someone else will fix it” which is complete the wrong mindset. In fact, Phil pointed out that it leads to what he calls “Learned Helplessness” which can result in two things:

    • Being stuck and having no idea why
    • Being stuck and making no attempt to fix the problem themselves

He also identified reasons why pupils may learn helplessness and identified the following:

    • ICT was about the finished product
    • Teachers who fix things for pupils (I think we’re all guilty of this at times!)
    • Pupils who dive in and solve things for other pupils
    • Adults who model helplessness

As a profession I think it is important that we accept that it is okay for students to struggle as this is all part of the journey and probably means they are learning. With programming in particular, often the journey is more significant than the end product. He has a very useful resource on his website that offers guidance to teachers regarding debugging. The keynote followed into discussion around the focus on computational thinking with:

    • Algorithms – a good example was shown where pupils would create a flowchart of getting up in the morning, broken down into small steps.
    • Abstraction – Reducing complexity by hiding irrelevant details, the London Underground map was listed as a good example of this
    • Decomposition – breaking a process down into manageable chunks, he discussed how it was beneficial to do this both as a class and as individuals.

Another useful resource Phil shared was an online learning tool called Rapid Router, which combines the visual programming language, Blockly, with Python and enables children to work through various programming techniques at their own pace, first visually then moving on to using Python to solve the given problems. I’ve signed up my school as I see it as a lovely way to introduce some of the key topics to year 7 before they move onto their Python topic in Year 8:

Rapid Router screenshot

Workshop 1

I remained with Phil for the first breakout workshop which was an unplugged session looking at various resources. The best of which I have noted below:

Keynote 2 – Max Wainewright (creator of 2Simple software)

Super CodersI found Max’s keynote speech really interesting and he provided a range of useful ideas for the classroom. I particularly liked a nice starter idea which involved using pseudo code scenarios to which children put up their hands if the scenarios are true. These would look something like this:

IF breakfast == cornflakes THEN raise right hand

He then discussed problem-solving approaches and looked at decomposing as one method, showing an example of a simple balloon game to which we, as an audience had to work out the rules that made it function. I can see this being an excellent way to make students think about programming and algorithms. Geeky Rubber Duck Max also mentioned “Rubber Ducking” in which students would explain their program to a rubber duck in order to verbalise what they are doing in their programs.

Another interesting classroom idea, similar to the starter mentioned above, was the use of playing cards, giving out large cards to children then displaying programming instructions relating to the cards they have, for example:

IF card colour == red AND value > 5 THEN stand up

Afternoon Workshops

Nicki Cooper MinecraftI delivered two workshops in the afternoon:

    • Minecraft & Raspberry Pi – In this session I covered some basic Python programming techniques that can be used with the Raspberry Pi version of Minecraft. Click here to download the PowerPoint from the session.
    • Game Creation in Kodu Game Lab – Here I covered the basics of how to create a simple game in Kodu Game Lab and introduced delegates to the Kodu Kup. Click here to download the PowerPoint from the session.

Closing Key Note – David Brown (HMI)

The conference finished with David Brown from OfSted ironing out a few OfSted myths which I found quite interesting. In relation to my subject he highlighted the importance of regularly ensuring children and ALL staff are aware of e-safety procedures and how to deal with issues. He advised delegates to read the School Inspection Handbook to keep up-to-date with OfSted procedures.

One point I was particularly pleased David raised was that of recording aural feedback. In Computing we often give out feedback aurally and I know colleagues in other schools have been required to find ways to record this, I’ve often thought of this as a pointless activity, one that exists purely to tick boxes when in reality the time spent recording the feedback would be be better spent actually acting on said feedback! David made it very clear that it is NOT an OfSted requirement to record aural feedback so I was really pleased to hear this!

Overall this was a very enjoyable day and a really interesting conference. If you want to read more, all the resources from the day have been cleverly shared using Padlet:

New Year and BETT Show

Nicki   February 1, 2015   No Comments on New Year and BETT Show

So you’ve probably noticed I’ve been a little quiet this (school) year with my last post being back in September. Last term was super busy having moved house in the middle (and still haven’t finished unpacking), with that and starting and assessing the new Computing curriculum with Key Stage 3 and a very successful Hour of Code in December, I’ve not had a lot of time to focus on my blog!

Anyway, last week I had the pleasure of attending the BETT Show in London, which as usual, did not disappoint. This year I even managed to attend some interesting speaker sessions. Here is a summary of my findings:


My first visit was to the Microsoft stand which was rather nicely decorated with Minecraft paraphernalia. Following with the Minecraft theme, the first talk I was keen to attend was on Minecraft in Education by my friend Ray Chambers, his talk was very interesting about how Minecraft had been used in different ways in his school; firstly as a fellow Computing teacher he had been experimenting with Red Stone to simulate logic gates.

Minecraft Logic GatesI had a go at this myself, and after a quick Google managed to construct  AND, OR and NOT gates without too much difficulty (as shown on the right).

In terms of programming, Minecraft also comes up trumps enabling children to create their own mods for the game, this allows them to customise their world with  any number of goodies, including dinosaurs, mutant creatures, magic, you name it!

Ray continued to discuss the uses of Minecraft, not only in Computing but in a cross-curricular context too. Firstly Minecraft allows you to simulate your own farm, growing crops and raising livestock providing vital food and energy for your player, not to mention a means to trade with local villagers.

Battle of Naseby MinecraftBeing so flexible there’s no end to what you can do in class. One such example was the construction of the trenches in a history lesson on World War 1. Another student in his school even completed an open-ended History homework about the Battle of Naseby by creating a simulation of a visitor centre giving all the required information.

Lastly, Ray mentioned a useful online resource to get started, Stampy Cat on YouTube provides a range of tutorials for beginners.

I’m currently investigating the use of Minecraft myself, I’ve been using the Raspberry Pi version and programming it using Python, I’m presenting  a workshop on this topic along with Kodu at the Kent Computing Conference on 30th March.

On the Microsoft stand they were also giving out Computing at School’s Quickstart Computing booklet which is a very useful toolkit available for both primary and secondary teachers of Computing. This is also available to download from here.


Google bus stickerMy main reason for visiting the Google stand was to learn more about Google Classroom as we have adopted this fantastic VLE in school and I was keen to know more about any upcoming features. There was a talk about this in the afternoon but unfortunately I got distracted and missed it! If anybody wants to share any info from this in the comments below I’d be really grateful!

I did manage to discuss how to go about organising a trip to Google in London as my students are frequently bugging me about this! I was told the best way is through an existing contact in school. I know our network technician has a contact so I am going to try that approach next.

Also on the Google stand I learnt about two interesting looking apps; TinkerCAD, which allows you to create 3D drawings in your browser and Pixlr, an online photo editor.


I’ve always had an avid interest in Lego and as we already have Mindstorms NXT in school (and at home) I was keen to see if there was anything new to check out. Mindstorms EV3 looks pretty good but I don’t think it has a huge amount more functionality than our existing Lego kits (although the connectivity looks better). While listening to one of the talks on the stand I did discover a programming environment called RobotC which allows you to program the robots using text-based language rather than the visual editor, however I later learnt that it is a little too pricey for my non-existent department budget so I’ll probably stick to Python and my BrickPi instead.

Launch of the Kodu Kup

Kodu Kup LaunchI haven’t really been involved with the Kodu Kup this year but I was keen to see the launch over on the XMA and Viglen stand at midday. Stuart Ball announced the competition along with some children from a visiting primary school. The competition looks really interesting this year with a heavy weighting being on the business side of the game. I’m hoping to enter the competition with some of my keen year sevens.

More information can be found here.

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi stand featured lots of goodies, I particularly like their little lesson cards linked to the lessons on the Raspberry Pi website. They were also promoting a Kickstarter project called Flotilla which offers a treasure chest of electronic goodies to connect to the Raspberry Pi.

There was a range of talks over on the stand and one that I wanted to attend was about Sonic Pi – Audible Computing, allowing you to program your own music (you may have seen this in my previous “Let it go . . .” post). Unfortunately I missed this as it clashed with another session I needed to attend.

Bett Arena – #Error404: The Explosions-based Computing Show

While eating my lunch I managed to check out this fantastic show in the Bett Arena by Fran Scott. The show was excellent with the explosions taking the form of gas-filled balloons programmed to explode using a Raspberry Pi. This was a cut-down version of a bigger show that you can find out more about here. I’d love to have the team visit my school, it would be particularly good at the moment as year 9 options evening is looming! I’m not sure my budget will stretch that far though!

One part of the act I particularly liked was when Fran threw various computer components across the stage to make the point that a computer is still a computer without a keyboard, mouse or monitor attached. This is something my students often find difficult to understand so I might try this approach in class (maybe with already broken peripherals though!).

Other Interesting Things

Finally some other BETT goodies I found interesting are as follows:

That’s my BETT low-down, please add comments below if I’ve missed any good bits! I’ll try not to leave it so long before my next post!