Category: Learning

Why I Chose To Home Educate As A Teacher

Why I Chose To Home Educate As A Teacher

But you’re a teacher? A qualified one, yes. So why did I choose to home educate as a teacher having worked in the system for so long?

Before our youngest child asked us if we would consider home education, I had taught for a decade in schools as a secondary & sixth form teacher of Computer Science, already been tutoring full time for several years, and had recently opened our tuition centre in West Sussex. During the second school lockdown in the UK they approached me with a detailed list of pros and cons to argue why they should remain at home when everybody else returned to school despite being in the first year of their GCSEs. So no biggie really

Bean Home Education
Reading is enjoyable when you’re comfy

My youngest had always struggled with the rules and regulations in school and although they had never really been in trouble and worked incredibly hard, their anxiety had peaked on joining key stage 4 and unlike many children their mental health had actually improved during the first lockdown when they had the independence to study in a way that suited them. Without any distractions of whether their school uniform was perfect, or whether they were sitting in the right way and looking attentive, their grades sailed through the roof. We had a sensible looking child who went from averaging predicted grades of 3s and 4s to one with bright green hair but averaging actual grade 6s, 7s and 8s.

How do I argue with a child who has managed to independently improve their grades so much?

I had been reluctant to home educate as I had worked within the home education community for some time and the majority of parents talked about unschooling which was something that made me personally uncomfortable (although I am aware that this works very well for other families). My background as a teacher and our preference as a family for structured education seemed at odds with many of the things that other parents were saying. As we investigated the possibility of them staying at home to study, I discovered a full community of home educators like myself who follow a structured form for their children and access small online classes to support their own curriculums.

Prior to any of this conversation I had been running an IGCSE in computer science aimed specifically at home educated students for two years and whilst the numbers were low, those who completed the course had 100% pass rate. Gaining are better understanding of home education through being there myself personally, has allowed me to extend this to several groups including a full key stage three curriculum for computing which is something that I have taught for many years but have now adapted into a more flexible home education course.

In becoming a home educator myself, I have begun to understand some of the struggles that a number of parents go through in understanding a complex curriculum, made even harder by a lack of information and clarity from local authorities who simply walk away aside from an annual letter. I remain in a privileged position that I understand far more about the exam system as I work regularly with exam boards, and I have begun to use this to assist other parents with understanding the expectations from colleges and universities who often have very little understanding of home education.

Isn’t Home Education Expensive?

Bean Photography
Creative courses are both easier and harder to access in Home Education

One of my major considerations when we opted to home educate was the cost. Although on a daily basis there is certainly a lower cost as there is no uniform, no leather school shoes that raise a shine, no suitable hairstyles… this is subsequently outweighed by taking on full responsibility for all resources and exam fees which start at around £150 for each exam.

We added to this financial load by identifying practical groups for photography and several subjects where they would see a tutor on a regular basis to support the work that we were undertaking at home. This was in part to assure me that we were following the correct path and making sufficient progress, but also because of the boost in confidence that these weekly lessons give them. It’s certainly not the most cost efficient option, but I am booking their “gold service” of individual time and the results are quite evident. At school, education wasn’t free (I distinctly remember being paid to teach!) – and tutors are paid an equivalent rate; it’s just directly.

So why did we opt to home educate if we are going to follow a structured form of education anyway?

We are raising an independent child who has taken responsibility for their own learning and has removed the ceiling placed on them by standardised tests and progress tracking. This is not to say that the standard school system is not perfectly appropriate for the vast majority of students, but in experiencing an alternative to the norm, my long-held belief that education should be individualised to support the person and not the institution, has grown much stronger. I’ve taken Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem & proved his point. Whoops?

The Impact of Tutoring On Teen Mental Health

If there is one thing that I’ve become more passionate about the longer I’ve been involved in education, it’s the impact that our system has on the mental health of our young people. Each week there seems to be a new hashtag or thread out there to support people who feel like it’s just them. One that’s done the rounds for a long time is #ItsOkToNotBeOk and it remains something that I often look through and offer an ear on.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about implementing a digital detox for a few hours each weekend as a part of improving our own mental health. Perhaps what I missed out on there was the impact that the education system was having on the mental health of almost every member of our family. Our KS3 kids were overwhelmed by the pressure of GCSE options and increasing homework loads; as parents we were stressed out by the pressure to be “good parents” that ensured all school work was done, keep a nice house, and spent quality time with increasingly large people who declared how lame we are; and with exams looming and my tuition timetable overflowing, my anxiety levels were through the roof (which meant everything was being cleaned & organised to within an inch of its life). It’s not really the insta-worthy picture is it?

Photo credit Chalk and Salt

After 7 weeks of our weekly digital detox for just a few hours each weekend, I can report back that everyone is feeling much better without exception. Clearly, we’ve done more than just put our phones away for a few hours, but it’s been the catalyst to consider whether all work and no play is a healthy state of being (spoiler: it isn’t).

However, it dawned on me that I am in a unique position to do something about lessening the impact on those around me as an independent tutor. The views on employing a tutor are polarised, possibly because it often costs a tidy sum to bring an individual into your home to work one-to-one with your child. Because of the price tag attached, it’s seen as only accessible to the elite and another way to create unequal access to education. But talk to many private tutors and you’ll find that the students that come to them from a variety of backgrounds, and more often than not a percentage of their tuition is through scholarship or pro-bono. Talking to tutors will also highlight the variety of reasons that students access their services.

Anxiety is the top reason why parents seek individual tuition for their child from me. Whether this is exam anxiety where I can prepare them better by familiarising them with the exam style and answering their questions until they feel safer (and safer is absolutely the right word to use with anxiety), or an overall fear of what is perceived to be a difficult subject, almost without exception the students seeking tuition are looking for confirmation that it’s going to be ok.

Part of my toolkit for reducing educational anxiety is to use a form of gentle stoacism. We look at the toughest questions together and I mark harshly.

So, if I marked this trace table as a 2 out of 5, but you answered these correctly what is the worst grade you’re going to get?

Ok, so if you get that grade, what’s the worst outcome?

That may sound harsh, but as we progress and the worst grade becomes a 5,6,7, or even 8 or 9. What’s the worst that could happen is that they get their chosen place in college even though it wasn’t a 9. Stoacism is a form of CBT that I use myself (Good rule of thumb: I wouldn’t try anything that I wouldn’t put myself through).

Once students are feeling more confident to try questions, I throw in a few from the next level up (AS questions at GCSE, or A Level for AS) without telling them. Once they’ve answered and gained marks I confess that it was actually far more than they needed. Ater a few weeks, my students know I’m sneaky and expect some kind of evil but fun activity.

Anxiety isn’t the only issue that teenagers are suffering from, but it is the pastoral area where tutors are most likely to be supporting the work that teachers are already putting in. By working one-to-one with a student, we have a unique ability to address that child’s individual fears and help them feel heard. And this is not a dig at teachers – with 30 kids in a classroom for an hour lesson, that’s two minutes per student if you did nothing else but talk to them. This also isn’t a millenial snowflake* situation, but a real issue that impacts on not only grades, but will follow a child into their adult lives.

If a tutor can help a child feel less anxious and give them the tools to learn independently, then we’ve done a huge service to the child, their parents, and their teacher. Strategies like digital detoxing are part of a whole toolkit for mental health – your tutor is another.

*These are quotes words, I shudder using them

Holly

On April Fools Day, Education Is No Joke

I was all for writing a lighthearted blog this week with a quick fool in it. After all, the sun is shinging, the tank is clean…

Unfortunately, I was also sent this article over the weekend and my heart just hurts.

Pupils without 100% attendance sent to the back of the lunch queu

I know that school attendance is important, and there is clear evidence of a correlation between good attendance and higher levels of achievement. Encouraging good attendance is never a bad thing. But using food and public shaming as a punishment can’t possibly be seen as an acceptable method to deploy… anywhere, let alone a school.

For those that haven’t read the article about Immanuel College in Birmingham in full, in summary each student is awarded two badges at the start of the term – one for attendance and one for behaviour. Those without 100% attendance lose their badge, those who misbehave lose their other badge. When joining the queue for lunch, those with two badges go first, followed by the “one badges”, with those without badges going last.

After working in education for over a decade, and with young people for over twenty years, I am acutely aware of the unique and individual issues that any number of children face with attendance and behaviour. There is no way I could tackle the intricacies of these in a single blog (or even a whole book), but to just skim the surface…

The following issues may cause a drop in attendance:

  • A virus
  • Obeying the 48 hour vomiting rule
  • Injury (sports or otherwise)
  • Medical appointments
  • Mental health
  • A family funeral

Of course, there are students who may stay off school for illnesses where they could be ok to be in school, and yes there are students who truant. However, combining the student who had emergency surgery with the student who sauntered off at lunchtime & didn’t return is just plain wrong at best, and at worst dips into disability discrimination.

My other concern here is the risk that parents will begin to ignore the rules on contagious periods. As someone with a compromised immune system, contact with a child with flu is a nightmare (and one of the reasons I changed my role), but with these rules I wholly understand why a parent would feel under pressure to send them in.

Finally, let’s turn to the behaviour badge. Whilst the attendance badge irked me, this badge made me sadder for our education system than I have been for a long time.

Put yourself in the position of the child for a moment: Home is perhaps unstable, you have caring responsibilities and you’re tired, or your anxiety is at an all time high, so because you’re a teenager who is still wrangling your hormones you verbally lash out. Instead of a teacher stepping in and acting like the adult that you need and talking you through what’s going on, you lose your behaviour badge. For the rest of the term you are visibly less than the others around you. How’s that anger issue going?

Kids with poor behaviour do not deserve to be stigmatised by the adults who are meant to be supporting them and encouraging them to take an alternative path. Yes, they are hard work. Yes, there needs to be consequences for poor behaviour. But consequences shouldn’t be making a child feel that they are less worthy than others.

As educators, we need to do better.

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Going Screen Free – Helpful or Harmful?

Over the past few weeks we have begun to introduce screen-free time into our family lives. A combination of both adults working from home, me setting up my own business, and two teenagers means that a large proportion of our lives is spent working at or conversing through screens. After what has felt like an alarmingly long and grey winter we were all feeling a bit, well, meh.

The jury seems to be out on whether screen time is is a good or bad thing. Certainly, there are arguments for both sides and a study at the University of Cambridge in 2018 suggested that it was no more damaging than eating potatoes.

As a teacher & tutor, spring is my busiest time of year – daily emails requesting a space for lessons remind me that I am just one person and there are only so many hours that I can offer. I have not yet mastered the art of cloning myself or dividing into two like bacteria, so for now I will have to resign myself to pleasing some of the people most of the time.

The pressure that I was beginning to feel from my email and social media accounts pinging at me appeared to be mirrored in my family, perhaps not from work but the feeling that when a message was sent to them they had a duty to respond no matter what time of day or night. I don’t believe that this is true, and decided over the past two weeks to test this theory.

I started testing the theory on my own to see if it made any difference to how I felt before inflicting my psychological studies on my kin. On Sundays, I have been writing a short blog but have switched off my emails. Then during the week, I have switched on my email assistant after 7pm. I’ve fiddled with social media, but only on my own accounts – work accounts are switched off. In effect, I wasn’t limiting my screen time but giving myself permission to enjoy other activities.

Suggesting a walk outside to teenagers instead of the standard combination of Playstation & Discord may seem laughable, but once the predictable groaning and flopping into the car was over we all experienced a change. The teens were delighted and confused in equal measure that I insisted on them abandoning homework and leaving the house. Putting down the phones and being outside allowed us to chatter and drop the pressure of being ‘on duty’. Instead of being horrified at mess & disorder, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the teens chase each other about with muddy sticks and explore.

Photo Credit: ChalkAndSalt

Now clearly, I’m not suggesting that we transformed into the Von Trapps with a couple of weekends of fresh air, but with the rise in teenage stress levels during exam season there is method in my madness.

As parents and teachers we sometimes forget that the overwhelming stress and pressure to be a success is also felt by our children, and with the more emphasis placed on exams at all key stages the need to walk away for a while is more pressing than ever.

Photo Credit: ChalkAndSalt

Being in the fresh air may work for us, but isn’t the answer for everyone. Whatever is it that allows you to step back for a while and just be whether you’re a student, teacher, or parent is what is right for you. In some cases, that may well be screen time!

Now back at work and typing a blog about sharpening my own axe, the connection between me needing a break from my emails and my students needing a break from constant revision is really clear. So parents: please make sure your teenager gets some regular down time (even if like madam above she doesn’t appear entirely enthused!), and teachers: the most frequent feedback I get as a tutor is planning for homework. Please give kids a week to complete it. Let them attend those time out activities, have that family time, and get to bed early.

Oh, and one other benefit of getting outside and away from screens? How often do you get to see things like this? David Attenborough eat your heart out! (alsocue swaggery teens instantly whisper-squealing things about Bambi)

Photo Credit: ChalkAndSalt


Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Why GPS Isn’t The Solution To Knife Crime – A Computer Science Approach

This morning I was sent a link to a tweet suggesting that I read the responses for some amusement. I duly did so, and I’ll admit some of the responses did make me chuckle. But then I considered the suggestion from a teacher’s perspective and realised that the suggestion really did come from a place of good intention, but also from an ignorance of technology.

Tweets like this one by @td_ward highlighted the reason for me writing this rather lengthy blog. The frustration expressed by people who understand technology is utterly understandable, but are we doing enough to educate those that don’t understand?

In 2017, 0.4% of female A Level students, and only 5% male A Level Students elected to study Computer Science according to the Department for Education’s report on take-up of academic subjects in 2017. Those numbers have risen slightly, but not enough. The removal of the GCSE IT qualification has reduced the numbers of students studying a computer technology subject substantially.

Why have I included those statistics?

Because, the fewer young people that study technology but use devices that seem to work as if by magic, the more people will make mistakes like Scott Mann. So, rather than ridiculing him, I want to use this as a learning opportunity to look at the potential for technology to make an impact on knife crime, not just in the UK, but anywhere.

bath ducks bathing bathroom bathtub

One of the things we teach in Computer Science is to avoid the solution until we understand what problem we are trying to solve. Decomposition of a problem often allows us to identify problems that we didn’t realise we were actually trying to solve.

Much like rubber duck debugging, explaining the problem in enough basic detail so that even a rubber duck could understand quite often helps us to identify the real problem on our own (many thanks to my husband who acts as my own rubber duck when I get frustrated with code on here! Quack quack)

What Problem Are We Solving?

Knife crime is quite a big issue and has so many aspects that a simple solution may well not be enough. So let’s decompose the problem (this is a fictitious conversation to show how I would decompose the problem – please do get in touch if this could be more accurate):

What’s the problem?

We need to solve knife crime

What would a solution look like?

A reduction in the number of cases

Does the problem lie with the weapon or the person?

Both

Which one could technology help with more?

The knives

What is the problem with the current solution? (carrying a knife with a blade longer than 3″ is already an offence)

We can’t trace the knife to the person

Why doesn’t DNA testing work?

It takes too long & isn’t always accurate

What information do you want from finding the knife?

The owner, the address, and for it to be a deterrent

….

Using this conversation in my head, I would assume that what Scott Mann was actually trying to suggest was a way of firstly deterring people from carrying knives, but also a way of reliably tracing them back once they were found. I could of course be wrong and he was indeed trying to track each one like a vehicle can be.

So let’s look at some possible devices that are small enough and would link to his idea:

An NFC Chip

The chip that I believe Mr Mann was referring to (I could of course be wrong, but I live in hope) is actually an NFC, or Near Field Communication chip.

Using the breakdown of the problem above, this actually could be a potential partial solution. NFC requires no power to run, so could be easily implanted into the handle of a knife, or added as a sticker or such once a knife is bought.

NFC technology is wonderfully useful for storing small amounts of registration data. There are a number of different types of NFC – those that we use in our phone are powered and can send & receive data such as files and contact information, or the less powerful passive NFC used in payment cards that allow a reader to access information using a ‘tap’ of the card.

What’s the downside? Well, using NFC to identify a knife would be as simple as having an app on a phone to read the data, but only at distances of a few centimeters. This would be fine for searches, or in the sad cases where the knife was used. However, the data would be accessible to anyone with a reader so there would be a serious issue of data protection. Inside the home, this would be less of an issue, but in the case of work or fishing what would prevent someone from walking past and reading your data? In short, not a great deal.

It is for this same reason that anti-NFC wallets have been created.

An RFID Chip

RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification was actually developed before NFC and like NFC has a variety of types both powered and unpowered.

If you’ve ever taken your pet to be “microchipped” then you’ve used a form of passive RFID. Your pet is not actually bionic or powering the device, but the chip is powered when a reader is placed nearby and activates the chip to send data.

RFID chips can be placed in an amazing amount of devices and are often used to open doors via security cards, or to save identification information to retrieve a lost device. The potential to use RFID as an identification tool has some distinct possibilities – RFID can be programmed to only be read by certain devices (like pet microchips), although there’s nothing to stop someone developing a reader as this is an open standard and would need to be for all manufacturers to include them.

Passive RFID can also be read from up to 25m which means that the ID could be read from a safe distance (but probably not soon enough). The longer range active RFID can have ranges of 100m, but then how many knives are there within a 100m range at any given time, and the issue of power crops up again.

RFID is indeed small enough to add to any knife, but then a database of every knife would be needed. The owners of the Pet microchip database will tell you how difficult it is when the users don’t update their information – this has become easier with the introduction of a website to keep them up to date. But, if people are reluctant to update ID information about pets that they love, how likely are they to update data about their kitchen implements?

A GPS Chip

In his original tweet, Mr Mann suggested placing a GPS device on every knife sold in the UK. GPS chips can be quite small, but there are a few issues with this.

GPS is a wonderful invention and has been used to track people and devices to within a few meters. I use this on a daily basis with my children as they come home from school (with their consent!), and would be quite literally lost without it every time we travel.

Unfortunately, placing a GPS device requires a power source. Try an experiment with your phone to prove this: Monitor your battery usage for an hour with your location services switched off, now using the same apps & in the same place switch on your location services & monitor your battery usage for another hour. The difference in power consumption will explain the first issue.

In order for this system to work, you would need to charge your knives. Simply allowing the battery to run out would then take the knife “off the grid”.

The second issue with this is detection. I mentioned that I use GPS to track the location of my children (or at least their mobile phones – they don’t have GPS implanted in them!), but with their consent. In order to see their position they have to individually allow me to see their position, and it’s something that they can switch off at any time. An ethical debate comes up when a device like this is embedded in a device with implied consent that the location can be seen by a governing body.

  • Is implied consent enough? (GDPR)
  • What if the knife is stolen?
  • What if you use them for work?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the loss of privacy?
  • Who is monitoring the data?
  • What if the data is hacked?

Of course, in almost every news story my inner teacher will spot an educational element, and this was no different. In fact, in writing this blog, I spy an exam ethics essay question!

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Helping Your Teen Revise Over Christmas

Christmas GCSE Revision

Christmas is almost here! There’s no doubt that it’s an exciting time, and the whole family comes together. However, when you’ve got a teen who’s trying to revise for their mock GCSE Computer Science exam, everything becomes a bit more complicated! Of course, it’s important to make sure that they’re studying for the exam, but at the same time taking the time to be with family, so we’re going to look at how you can help them with this.

 

Establish Goals From the Beginning

One of the first things that you’re going to need to do is to establish a clear set of goals from the beginning with your teen. Make sure that you know what they need to do to be ready for their exam, and what Computer Science revision needs to get done. If you set clear objectives with them from the very beginning, then you can make sure that they’re doing what needs to be done without compromising on family time.

 

Be Positive

When trying to get the GCSE mock revision exam nailed, it’s easy for your teen to be discouraged or even upset. It’s brand new territory for them – there won’t have been exams like this before on this scale, and it can be seriously tough. However, what’s important is that you take the time to encourage them and support them through the journey. They may be older children now, but they’re still your kids, and your encouragement will mean everything.

 

Help Them Revise

pexels-photo-1467564

For some teens, their Computer Science exam may well fall on how good their general knowledge is. You can help them in this area, so it’s often worth taking the time to do just that! If they need someone to revise with, then this could be your chance. Even if you’re helping them with quizzes and general knowledge questions, it’ll make the revision process a bit easier for everyone. If you feel particularly nervous about the content, have our GCSE Computer Science introduction pages open.

 

Maintain a Healthy Balance

Revision is an essential part of any teen’s school life, but a balance is also vital. You need to try and find that balance to help your children to do well without burning out. It is the festive season, after all, so you should take the time to give them breaks from their revision. Revising in chunks of 30 minutes broken up by a mince pie & a cup of tea is going to give their brains chance to digest what they were working on and be ready for the next topic. No-one wants to work over a family holiday and teenagers especially find it difficult to visualise the long-term benefits of giving up fun things, so avoiding long periods of work and arguments really will go in everyone’s favour.

 

Overall, these are some of the things that you can do to help your teen revise over the festive period. It’s not an easy task by any means, but they’ll be so thankful they took the time to revise; it makes all the difference when it comes to trying to get those higher grades. However, you need to make sure that your teen has good mental health as well because we all know how difficult it can be to try and juggle all of these responsibilities while at the same time looking to the future.

If you’re a parent in the UK and concerned about your teen’s mental health, you can get in contact with Young Minds who support both parents and young people. You can also support us on our Facebook Page where we are raising money throughout 2019 for the charity.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

 

 

 

 

Kipling Feedback – It’s Exceedingly Good

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a concept called Flapjack Learning that a friend had coined. The general idea was that it was a healthier ‘snack’ of knowledge.

Of course, that evolved into a list of 2am cake related learning ideas that were written in my blog book (if you have 2am flashes of inspiration, I highly recommend keeping a notebook next to your desk to write these down – if nothing else, to allow you to re-read the notes and wonder what you meant by “not a cat”?!).

Kipling feedback works in a similar way, in that it’s bitesize, kids look forward to it, and It’s exceedingly good!

cupcakeConsider why we eat cake – unless you’re Marie Antoinette, it’s not to sustain you. Cake is a treat, cake gives us a boost, cake makes us feel better. Not once have I been given cake as a punishment. Cake has never made me feel bad (in moderation) – but I have been told that I’m stupid by a teacher. In that case, it was being told outright, but when we give overly negative feedback under the guise of progress, we chip away at a child’s self-esteem.

Thankfully, the breed of teacher who believes that a child will be motivated by being chastised is almost extinct. However, with grade expectations hanging over our heads, we can easily inadvertently punish a student with our feedback.

Our verbal feedback & teaching should be the main meals – nutritious & satisfying, leaving the written feedback as the cake.

Consider this written on a longer answer question:

Your answer isn’t balanced – where are your examples? Check your SPaG & presentation.

Ouch. It would be easy to be understandably cross when a student doesn’t take care in their work and hands in something that’s rushed and scruffy. But, is there a way to sweeten the feedback? A certain nanny once said something about a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. What if the feedback was written as:

Have you considered both sides of the argument? This would be much more detailed if you included examples – try looking up “examples of…”. Please check your SpaG where highlighed. I’d like you to write this out in neat, taking care of your presentation.

Yes, the feedback is a little more wordy, but given time in class, or as a homework to redraft and improve, this more nutritious style of feedback keeps in mind that this is a person. More detailed, but less frequent written feedback often produces far better progress as they take notice of it. If we were constantly eating learge meals, we’d never appreciate them – they need to be hungry for your feedback.

In class, the verbal feeback is the cake. Ask deeper questions, but lead with a postive:

Evelyn, that image works really well for your website topic. I’d like you to think about the presentation next – How could you adapt your code so the image is in line with your text?

 

question matrix

If you’re unsure about asking differentiates questions on the fly, try using a Question Matrix.The concept is quite simple – Your questions take a starter word from the left, and a follow up from the top. For students working at the top of Blooms Taxonomy, start at the top left of the grid with a “What is…” question.

The further towards the bottom right your question, the deeper the student has to think about their answer.

If you’ve not used one before, try this Printable Questioning Matrix – while you’re planning your lesson, add in some potential questions that you could ask students based on the lesson. Even if you’re a seasoned teacher, using the matrix can help you to reflect on how you perceive your students working in contrast to how tey actually are (if your planned questions are usable, you’ve predicted acurately).

So there you have it, Kipling Feedback – it really is exceedingly good.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Mocks Shouldn’t = Misery

I’ve set myself a mission for the next few weeks. Every morning, before I do anything else I’m responding to at least 5 cries for help from students on social media.

Student sat at laptop studyingWe’ve entered the festive season of mock exams and for many year 10s, 11s, and A Level students this has meant an increase in mental health problems. So many posts about feeling overwhelmed, scared, and much much worse cannot be ignored.

The majority of my responses are reminding them that the results are formative, so will help them revise better. It’s not a “fail”, it’s still a work in progress. These discussions have prompted me to create my Painlessly Planned Revision printable which I’ve linked to at the end of the post.

What are mocks for?

With the new A Levels being linear (the exams are at the emd of two years), and most GCSEs being at least 80% – 100% exam, most students won’t experience the exam hall until the real thing. Mock exams give students a taster for what it’s like, so when they sit the real exams the anxiety of where to sit & what to bring is gone.

They’re also a way to assess progress so far. By now, most (not all) of the syllabus will have been covered and many teachers will use mocks to pick up on trends of topics that need to be re-covered as a class. They also give students the opportunity to identify what to put into their revision plan later.

They are not:

  • A final grade
  • An end point
  • Going towards the real exam
  • Pointless
  • The end of the world

Can I fail my mocks?

On a technicality, yes. But! You’re not failing in a final sense. It’s not failure, but feedback.

Done well, your mocks should answer the following questions:

  • Am I on track for my target?
  • Are there topics I need to study?
  • Can I improve my technique?

Even if the grade written on the front of the moack exam paper isn’t what you were hoping for, it is an opportuinity to identify when you should work on over the next few months so it’s not the grade that arrives in the results letter.

 

How Am I Meant To Revise If We Haven’t Finished The Syllabus?

Desk with books and a hand holding a penIf you haven’t covered it in class, it most likely won’t be in your mock paper. Lots of students have fooled themselves into thinking that every school is given a set of mock papers that everybody sits. Some are even sharing these online.

Firstly, don’t be so daft to think that sharing exam papers won’t land you in a tonne of hot water. If that really is an exam board mock paper, you could end up in heaps of trouble. Everything you post online is tracable, even if you’re not using your real name. Just don’t risk it. Please.

Secondly, the vast majority of schools and colleges write their own mock papers, and will set them based on what you have covered so far.

The best advice I can give you is to plan your revision to cover all of the topics that you have been taught, and if you can’t remember just ask your teacher for a list of topics (you can make it easier on them by printing the topic list from your exam specification and asking them to highlight the topics that you haven’t covered yet).

 

Why is Revision So Stressful?

If you weren’t a bit worried about your exams there would probably be something wrong. Feeling a bit worried means that you care about the results. However, if the worry is affecting the way that you sleep or eat, or you have felt really low about them for some time, you ought to talk to someone about it.

I sat my GCSE mocks waaaaaay back in the 90s, and it was quite stressful then. But comparing them to the high stakes & volume of the GCSE tests now, we really did have it easy. If you happen to scroll past posts bemoaning how much easier you have it and that it’s just fuss over nothing, keep scrolling. Don’t take it personally – it’s very likely that they haven’t seen the changes to the exam papers of the past 10 years. Don’t feel that your stress in invalid, equally don’t feed it with poor study habits.

 

Ok, How Should I Revise Then?

If your mocks aren’t for a few weeks then you still have plenty of time to put together a plan. If not, well a condensed plan will have to do (some revision is still better than no revision). I’ve spent some time putting together my Painlessly Planned Revision printable which I’m sending out into the world completely free.

If you’re a student, please download it and keep reading that first page until you believe that we’ll be utterly proud of your best, no matter what that is (although you might want to fill in the rest too!).

If you’re a teacher, please feel free to download and print off copies for everyone. It’s not subject specific – in fact it’s designed to be a plan for all revision.

If you’re a parent or guardian, please download it and use the first few pages as prompts to talk to your child about how they feel going into revision, and as a springboard to being able to offer help (even if you’re a bit nervous about it).

 

You can access a free copy of the Painlessly Planned Revision printable here.

Painlessly Planned Revision

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Holly

Creating A Classroom Escape Room

Creating A Classroom Escape Room

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year, it’s that I love a challenge. And nothing bit me harder than the escape room bug.

Now, not that I’m competitive (much) but over the course of a weekend away with friends we smashed three room records and laid down enough trash talk for a full wrestling match. And it was while we were enjoying a well deserved gloat after our final room that it hit me – this NEEDS to be turned into a computational thinking lesson!

And so my ‘welcome back’ escape room idea was born.

Now clearly I wouldn’t be able to recreate secret doors and hidden rooms in my version, but the idea was to recreate the sense of urgency, teamwork, and fun that we’d spent an eyewatering fortune on…. without it costing a fortune?

What you need (hardware)

I actually found it easier to plan out my escape room puzzles once I’d bought all of the bits and pieces that I needed for each team. In my room I had two teams with slightly different puzzles for some of the locks, just to avoid cross-team espionage (it’s almost like I know them!).


For each team, I bought 5 boxes of varying sizes. The boxes were plywood boxes which ranged from £1.50 to £3 each. I then bought a tin of walnut colour varnish and painted them all to make them look like old boxes.

Unforunately, it’s really difficult to get hold of boxes with clasps that can be used for locks, so I had to add my own. I managed to buy some really nice ones through Wish (although they took a few weeks to arrive, they looked great) and the rest were £1 each from The Range. Assembly was pretty straightforward, with only minor bloodletting – the moral of this story is to add a small square of plywood behind the clasps for the sake of fingers; yours and the kids!

Finally, you’ll need a combination lock for each box. This was actually the most difficult part because they’re really expensive in shops and this was nearly the end of the whole project. However, if you look online and don’t mind waiting you can pick them up for around £3 each.

Cost Per Team (5 – 6 students):

  • Boxes x 5 = £10
  • Clasps x 5 = £7
  • Varnish = £3
  • Padlocks x 5 = £15
  • Total = £35

If you’re balking at the price of the lesson so far, remember that this is an initial outlay.  And you could make this much cheaper by asking for donations of small boxes and old padlocks.

Once you have a set of boxes, you don’t have to buy it all again to run another escape room puzzle, all you need to do is redesign the game. I plan to reuse these with two year groups at least once each half term, so it’s only an expensive resource if you don’t plan on reusing it.

Setting Up The Puzzles

You can be as simple or as creative as you like with your puzzles, and the great thing about it is any puzzle can be linked to the curriculum.

classroom escape room japanese puzzle box

I started my teams off with a spacial awareness puzzle – a Japanese puzzle box which requires you to find a hidden drawer in which I’d hidden their first clue. Of course what I hadn’t predicted was for them to struggle more with this than any of the number or literacy puzzle I set!

The clue inside here led them to the next box , although just like a real escape room, I hadn’t told them which box they needed to look at next, so all locks had to be tried.

classroom escape room picture lock

One puzzle I was particularly proud of involved buying a set of scrabble tiles which were hidden in a box. When the box was opened, this was their only clue. Using the scrabble tiles, they needed to create a word – on the back of the word were the symbols that matched a particularly beautiful Chinese padlock.

This may seem like a simple puzzle, but there’s a literacy link in there. However, even better is the logical step that the word chosen has two letters the same. As the teams became frustrated that they clearly had the answer, I floated past with “how many ‘o’s are there in soon?”.

classroom escape room mirror puzzle

Another puzzle with a literacy link was the poem. One box contained nothing but a printed poem (in a script font & crumpled up so it looked old & tatty).

The poem was The Mirror by Sylvia Plath. It’s a particularly descriptive poem and indicated that they needed to use the mirror to solve the next puzzle. In using a poem to describe an object, they had to decipher the meaning of what initially is a very odd piece of text. It worked far better with my maths heavy computer scientists that I’d expected.

The same was true of the log book. I wrote out some odd looking notes that appeared to be the increasingly maddened scrawling of a ship’s captain. I included some piratey drawings and diagrams as red herrings, but also a word on each page that had been encrypted along with a number either as a date or as a word – this was the key.

classroom escape room caesar cipher

Ciphers are brilliant for these puzzles, and if you’re adding these as part of a computational thinking lesson, you can create the ciphers that are linked to your syllabus plus some additional ones as an extension. In these boxes, the two parts of the cipher wheel were hidden in separate boxes and the message started in plain text then hinted at the encryption method.

 

With all five boxes completed, to add a bit of competition, there was only one final box between the teams making it a race to the finish!

I took rather a lot of pleasure in having left a visible clue to solve the final box in plain sight for the entire time – in this case I used a letter combination lock that spelt out the word MARCH as the code to unlock, and on the table with the final box (which also held the mirrors and several other objects) was a date cube with 30th February showing… which is of course, March.

classroom escape room letter lock

 

So, was it worth it?

Absolutely. 100% worth all of the effort that went into the session. I used the classroom escape room with my returning students as a brain ‘reboot’ and my new students as the ultimate ice-breaker. In fact, as an ice-breaker it worked a treat – I’ve never had a class gel together so quickly and I put a large amount of that down to the positive moments they had together in that very first session.

 

What next?

The next step is to package up the printables from this game and release them as part of the TeachAllAboutIT October resources bundle for our members to download and play with in their own classrooms. After that, my Christmas escape room “Secret Santa?” will be in my classroom with more of a focus on combining the answer to exam questions to solve the codes.

Have you used an escape room in your classroom? What tips can you give other people to enhance lessons?

 

 

Note: Some of the linthis case ks in this post are affiliate links. By purchasing from them you are helping us to cover the costs of hosting the site. I do not link to anything that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend anyway, and in I am linking to products that I have already bought and used as part of this project 🙂

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Holly

Flapjack Learning – Snack Your Way To Knowledge

Everybody develops their own unique way that they like to learn, and this week a friend of mine coined the term for her preferred learning style. It’s similar to those times when you know that you’re hungry, but you can’t manage a whole meal so instead, you grab a flapjack; it’s nutritious, it will sustain you, but it won’t overwhelm you.

a tray of flapjacks - relating to flapjack learningAnd so flapjack learning was born – for those times when a long course is too much, but the instant hit of just reading up isn’t enough to sustain you. Flapjack learning can come from a series of webinars, or individual tutorials, or perhaps even an online course that you take over a number of sessions. Flapjacks are both fuel and a treat, and the more often you enjoy one, the more tempting it is to eat a whole bowl of porridge.

As a tutor, this rather appeals to me. I have a number of students who struggle to study independently, but would relish the chance for some flapjack style learning. This is one of the reasons why I have been developing a number of pre-recorded courses – allowing students to dip in and snack on their learning between their tutor ‘meals’ builds fabulous habits and will ultimately benefit them across all of their subjects.

So what makes a good learning snack?

Sticking to a single topic is a good start. In fact, the style of this particular type of learning lends itself particularly well to taking just one topic and learning exclusively about just that. It’s unusual to add a side dish to a flapjack, so why add anything else to your learning snack?

Give yourself a few minutes of absolute peace. Grab a cup of tea. Now enjoy the short time that you’ve set aside to refuel your knowledge. Often this is through a pre-recorded short lesson with an accompanying task which allows you to focus for a short period of time and sparks an idea for the next step.

 

Would You Eat A FlapJack For Dinner?

Absolutely not! (I’d be sick). But, I would use them as part of a healthy diet. Just as I use pre-recorded learning material alongside classroom or independent study to carry on learning… yes, despite teaching and tutoring, I still study. No-one ever reaches the end of their capacity to learn.

Pre-recorded courses have the additional benefit of often being cheaper than one-to-one live tuition. And no wonder really – despite the initial costs associated with writing, recording, and editing a course, a tutor will only have so many hours in the day. By creating a pre-recorded course, tutors can provide the knowledge part of their lessons to many more students. Of course, the pastoral and specific support side is missing, so pre-recorded will never fully replace that one to one relationship.

Much like my flapjack, having a learning snack may reduce my apetite and allow me to leave longer between meals.

 

Of course, I have the ever talented Catherine from Willows & Wildlings to thank for coining this phrase. Look out for her contributions to the GCSE Photography short courses soon.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school