Tag: Teaching

New Challenges for the 2019/20 Academic Year

New Challenges for the 2019/20 Academic Year

Late July / early August usually gives teachers and tutors a few moments to take a breath in and take stock of what just happened. It’s a good time for us to look at the data that we have so far before the panic of September crashes on us. Attempting to juggle evaluative data and prepare for new classes in those first few days of September, I often feel like one of those squishy things in the rock pools on our local beach – I’ve spent a lovely summer in the shallows on my rock & now a whole ocean has just arrived and is being dramatic overhead.

This year, is very different for me as it’s my first September tutoring full time (with writing on the side) instead of dividing my time between teaching, tutoring, and writing. That’s not to say that it’s not a tad overwhelming, but it does mean that my boss has given me some very clear targets to work on.. because I’m the boss.

The genetics of teaching are very strong in this one and it is impossible for me not to use the standard teaching appraisal template on myself. However, the difference this year is that I’m making it public for the world to see and have openly invited both teachers from the wider sphere, other tutors, and my own students to evaluate me and help form my targets for this year. Because my personal appraisal and that of TeachAllAboutIt as a business is intrinsically linked, being entirely transparent can really only be a good thing.

So, without further waffling, let’s get this apprisal underway.

My first task is to look at the feedback, as ultimately as a tutor feedback from students, parents, and the colleagues that we work with is right up there as one of the most important factors in how successful we are. I’ve previously blogged about balancing being a perfectionist with resillience, and it was professionally scary to open myself up to comments from all. Between us, this appraisal took me a while to write as I had to take a deep breath after part 1!

The two areas I wanted to focus on was specific student feedback on my tuition and feedback from CS teachers on areas where tuition could help progress. To this end, I posted a public poll on a well used social media page with the following question:

What are your students up to over the summer? Looking for private tutors apparently! I’ve been really surprised at how many requests have come in over what is usually a super quiet time of year.
This year, one of my personal targets as a tutor is to identify how I can work more cohesively & positively with teachers (after all, we’re both working towards the same goal!).
So, to that end, what can tutors do to make your lives as teachers easier and help support your students better?

I’ve added a few ideas, but feel free to add your own

It is abundantly clear that the vast majority felt that reviewing the summative tests with students is a valuable use of tuition time, and I will be using this as a focused target this coming academic year.

An unexpected result of the poll was a number of hostile responses towards the use of tuition as a whole. Whilst I have left the 13% of ‘other’ responses in here (having chosen not to include the wording of the added responses), I felt that it was important not to skew the data by removing them. Instead, I have used this as a learning and evaluation opportunity around resillience and how we talk to others online in our professional capacity. There’s no such thing as failure – only feedback?

The Teaching standards is something that I hold right up there with being a decent human being. Even though tutors aren’t neccesarily required to provide evidence of these, I can’t imagine why a tutor wouldn’t feel confident in applying these to their everyday practice. Rather than present my student feedback as a set of questions with data with little context, this is why I asked them the questions that I did (student feedback was anonymous unless they wished to add their name at the end).

Teaching & Learning

1. A teacher (tutor) must set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils

There are a number of ways that we could evidence this within TeachAllAboutIt, from the production of the open topic introductions that support students across the UK and beyond, to the private individual feedback pages provided for every student where we link help and show progress. Asking students whether they felt challenged to be independent of my support felt like an appropriate area to focus on here.

I am encouraged to develop independent problem solving / learning skills
66.7% Strongly Agree
33.3% Agree
I am encouraged to develop independent problem solving / learning skills

Clearly, I would have like to see 100% strongly agreeing. I am after all a perfectionist! However this is encouraging that despite intensive 1-2-1 support, my students feel that they can work independently.

2. Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils

On an individual basis, this is fundamental to where we are as a company, and also on a personal level. It would be easy for me to talk about what I do to encourage student confidence in lessons, but far more powerful to provide evidence in the form of student feedback. Whilst there have certainly been more eloquent reviews left for me, receiving this feedback from this particular student warms my heart, not solely from the perspective of the improvement in grades, but more so from the increased confidence and responsibility.

I am encouraged to challenge myself in lessons
66.7% - strongly agree
33.3% Agree
I am encouraged to challenge myself in lessons

Whether all of my students see this challenge as a positive thing, I’m not sure. However, this has cemented my firm belief that by setting a baseline and refusing to acknowledge the ceiling helps my students feel confident to make personal progress.

3. Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge

This year as been full on in terms of curriculum knowledge. The website has grown to over 100 pages of Computer Science topic introductions that are used by students on a daily basis. Last summer saw me being involved with BBC bitesize as the author of the GCSE AQA Computer Science pages, and throughout this year I have had continued involvement with the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE), helping to develop their training programs for teachers of Computing.

Having completed my NCCE facilitator training this summer (shiny enamel badge on its way), the next step in the new academic year is leading the in person training along the south coast in the UK for teachers.

I feel well supported in my learning
Strongly Agree - 100%
I feel well supported in my learning

It would be all too easy to sit back and say that this one is ticked off, in the bag, sorted. However, none of us are ever truly done with education and my own journey will continue this year through embarking on obtaining further Masters credits through the Open University as a means to pushing my Computer Science knowledge further.

4. Plan and teach well structured lessons

This one is really difficult as a tutor. Lessons are individual to students and often take tangents when a misconception is discovered. Tutoring and teaching in this part are entirely different beasts. Taken from a different perspective, the planning and preparation of lessons via TeachAllAboutIt could also look at the longer term planing of topic revision (or individual teaching for home educated students), with the digital resources for each lesson being uploaded to the student’s feedback area.

The resources made available to the students (every tuition student is given a site subscription for the duration of tuition), and the provision of the online learning platform is also a fundamental part of planning for a tuition lesson. Despite many tuition sessions being student-led, a wide range of ‘pick up and go’ activities must be planned and available in response to student needs.

Resources and support are good
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
Resources and support are good

This coming year, I plan to continue improving this through the completion of the summer website upgrade, publication of three new printed revision guides, and development of further resources that can be used both in tuition and on the website.

This year will also see a collaboration with Tutor In A Box, where I will be developing resources for their monthly learning boxes for KS3 and KS4 Computer Science.

5. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils

During my transition from classroom teaching to private tutoring, one thing that I noticed about tuition is the intensity is far greater than a classroom. Juggling a classroom of mixed ability students requires a completely different skillset to adapting to the changing needs of one individual child.

I absolutely eat my words after the conversation I had last year with a highly respected tutor who told me that being a great teacher doesn’t always make you a great tutor (and vice versa). They were right, and I am so glad that I took their advice to constantly reflect on the needs of child in front of me instead of having an educational theory focus.

I have a choice about how to learn new things
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
I have a choice about how to learn new things

That’s not to say that I ignore educational theory whatsoever, however I am more inclined to trust my educator instincts and run with what I know will work for that particular child. On harsh reflection, stepping away from a school-centric focus and having the space to work intensively with learners and really see what works for individuals has made me a much better educator. As someone who believes passionately in education, this is an evaluation that saddens me.

6. Make accurate and productive use of assessment

Assessment in tuition is often discreet and observed. There is a continuous stream of verbal feedback (my students would certainly agree to that!), and through the use of technology that allows us to collaborate over documents and online whiteboards, written feedback becomes the norm of a lesson.

With that said, within my student voice survey this is the one area that has been highlighted for me to clearly focus on. Whilst a few had commented that they felt neutral as they had no exam to sit (which is fair), I want all of my students to feel confident even if I set them a test out of the blue right now.

I feel well prepared for tests, exams, and coursework
Strongly Agree - 50%
Agree - 16.7%
Neutral - 33.3%
I feel well prepared for tests, exams, and coursework

Based on this, throughout the next academic year I will be placing a focus on improving confidence in my learners around their exams through the introduction of exam planners and examiner feedback pages where they can attempt practice questions and understand what the exam board are look for in particular areas.

7. Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment

Behaviour management for online tuition is a world away from classroom management. After a decade of strategies for engaging a room of students and ensuring good behaviour, I’ve moved to working with students across the country via webcam. Behaviour is rarely an issue with tuition, and when it is my strategies are more akin to parenting than teaching (sending a child out of the room when on internet chat isn’t going to work! Nor is there a member of SLT to refer to).

In tuition, behaviour management has much more focus on setting initial ground rules, which in my case are a written contract between me and the student, and talking to them directly when behaviour is not appropriate. This is a real example where 1-2-1 has an enourmously positive impact on students who struggle to feel heard in a group setting.

I feel respected and encouraged in lessons
Strongly Agree - 83.3%
Agree - 16.7%
I feel respected and encouraged in lessons

It will always be a target for 100% of students to strongly agree with this statement, and I will continue to ensure that students are involved in the set up process of their tuition accounts and understand their rights and responsibilities with regards to their personal data, and right to be treated fairly and equally.

8. Fulfil wider professional responsibilities

As a classroom teacher, wider professional responsibilities included running of clubs, revision sessions, leading CPD etc. Whilst this is a little different now I am tutoring, I have continued to engage with the wider community in terms of developing CPD as part of a team with the National Center for Computing Education (TeachComputing.org). This year, I presented the plenary at the 2019 Exabytes Conference which pushed me entirely out of my comfort zone!

However, one of the wider professional areas that I have focused on this year as been the pastoral aspects of tutoring. Not only focusing on academic progress, but increasing confidence in students whether they are struggling academically or stressed out by pushing for top grades.

I enjoy my lessons and found the work interesting
Strongly Agree - 100%
I enjoy my lessons and find the work interesting

Enjoyment of learning has gone in and out of fashion within observations in education (I’m looking at you Ofsted). However, it is my strongly held belief that when we are enjoying something we learn more and retain more. That’s not to say that lessons shouldn’t be challenging, or tackle tough topics, but there is simply no reason to assume that because something is gruelling it’s more worthwhile than the lesson where you laugh. This is the point where I step down from my soapbox.

Personal & Professional Conduct

As with the teaching and learning areas above, I can’t see why I would want to shy away from the areas below as a tutor. After all, this applies just as much to us as professionals and possibly moreso as there is no overarching professional body to ensure that we meet them.

Teachers (tutors) uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by:

  • treating pupils with dignity, building relationships rooted in mutual respect, and at all times observing proper boundaries appropriate to a teacher’s professional position
  • having regard for the need to safeguard pupils’ well-being, in accordance with statutory provisions
  • showing tolerance of and respect for the rights of others
  • not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
  • ensuring that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways, which exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law.

Within lessons, this is a simple case of following my own policies of respect and high standards. I would hope that students feel comfortable in my lessons and any instances of discrimination are dealt with professionally.

I feel that I have a good relationship with Holly
Strongly Agree - 100%
I feel that I have a good relationship with Holly

We have clear safeguarding policies in place including the introduction of staff badges with a lite version of our safeguarding policy & numbers printed on the reverse, and whilst the probability of there being any issues when tutoring online, we have adopted a policy of never say never. This year, we contacted Ofsted to request voluntary registration as a tuition centre. Unfortunately, as we are purely online our request to register was declined. In response to this, we have implemented the required Ofsetd policies for safeguarding and safer recruitment anyway.

Maintaining an online professional presence has been an area that has required a steep learning curve in terms of marketing and self-promotion (not something that comes easy to me!). Since moving to owning my own business, my personal and professional lives have merged significantly and I am far more aware of how my individual actions as Holly will impact on my professional persona as TeachAllAboutIt. I have been extremely lucky to have assistance this year in the form of Catherine who keeps our admin and social media accounts afloat.

Teachers must have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school in which they teach, and maintain high standards in their own attendance and punctuality

As a tutor, maintaining high standards, attendance, and punctuality is vital to the continuation of what we do as professionals. Of course, there are instances where I have been ill or the technology has failed – we are human after all. However, the teacher work ethic has really come into play here, and in fact has prompted reflection on my available timetable for this coming year.

The quality of tutoring is good
Strongly Agree - 100%
The quality of tutoring is good

I am delighted that my students have wholeheartedly told me that they found the quality of my tutoring was good, but I want it to be great! In order for this to happen, what I am going to focus on this year is creating a balance. In 2018/19 a full time teacher with a full timetable will be in the classroom for 27 hours per week – this allows for planning, and marking etc. Towards the end of this academic year, I was teaching upwards of 35 lessons per week whilst also writing and developing the website. Next year, I have allocated a maximum of 27 hours per week until Easter to allow me time to breathe. In order to accomodate this, I have set a target of taking on an additional Computer Science tutor to work with us this year.

Targets

Goodness! That was quite the essay. But nevertheless, a useful reflective task for me personally, for us as a business, and hopefully gives you a transparent insight into where we are right now and how we intend to improve next year.

So, in summary our targets for the coming academic year are:

  • Complete the summer website upgrade
  • Publish the revision guides for GCSE Computer Science (September)
  • Set up physical revision resources through Tutor In A Box
  • Develop exam-based learning resources to improve student confidence
  • Holly to commence Masters unit of study
  • Continue work with NCCE (TeachComputing) to offer in person teacher CPD
  • Expansion to allow a second Computer Science Tutor to work with us

Holly

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

12 Days of Christmas – Teacher Edition

12 Days of Christmas – Teacher Edition

With the festive season firmly underway, the days of education for this year are definitely coming to a close. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t employ ‘the 12 days of teaching’. Put simply, it’s 12 tips for you this festive season, and we’re going to go ahead and get right into it here and now.

12 Days Off Working

Kicking things off is 12 days off work. While it doesn’t have to be 12 days exactly (or at all!), the basic principle remains. You need to take the time to stop and think about your own health and wellbeing and put all your work out of sight and mind. Remember to try and focus on your own inner peace for a few days, then you should be recharged and ready to continue. A burnt out teacher isn’t a great teacher – you can’t keep drinking from a cup that isn’t refilled.

11 Pens-a-Clickin’

The best practical present that you can get for someone who is teaching is stationery, although the January sales are often better for that! Many teachers will ask for equipment to complete their tasks with, and so it’s worth joining the many people who are looking to do so.

10 Boots-a-Walkin’

When you do happen to have time off from the chaos of the classroom, it’s worth considering going for a walk during the festive season, or at least getting out in the fresh air. The weather may indeed be frightful sometimes, but there’s no question that it’s good for you to go and be active while getting some fresh air. You might be sceptical at first, but there’s no doubt that it’ll help you to get a new perspective and clear your head.

9 Board Games Playing

The problem with the festive season is that even when you’re supposed to be spending time with your family and enjoying life at the moment, your mind can often be elsewhere, focused instead on the papers you have to look over or the lessons you need to plan. That’s why it’s usually highly recommended that you take the time to actually play some board games, just to try and maintain a sense of the present. Board games are absolutely not just for kids!

8 Tweets-a-Tweeting

Social media, especially EduTwitter is an amazing resource, but equally can be a real distraction during the holidays, and often serves as a means to stress and worry. With a lot of holidaying teachers all looking through their favourite sites, the chances of running into an article that upsets you or finding something to distract yourself from the here and now is pretty likely. That’s why it’s a good idea to distract yourself from the online world and take a detox for a few days if you can possibly manage it. Don’t feel guilty about not tweeting or blogging for a few days!

7 Doors-a-Closing

Sometimes you’ve just got to make sure that you’re taking a stand for you and really pushing to make sure that you look after yourself. Teaching & tutoring is time intensive, so keeping a day for yourself to stay in pjs, read a book, or do whatever makes you happy is not selfish. It can be useful for you to make a day all about you and do whatever you need to, so you can just chill out.

6 Tunes-a-Playing

Music is a beautiful part of Christmas time, but that doesn’t mean what you listen to has to be festive by any means. The important thing here is that you do your best to listen to tunes which appeal to you and make you feel better because music can seriously do you a lot of good.

5 Gold Stars

Seriously, who doesn’t love a gold star? However, they’re just symbolic here of rewarding yourself for a job well done. Being a teacher can be a challenging task, and there’s no doubt that it can be a struggle to try and motivate yourself to keep going during winter months when the terms are much longer & mock exam marking is everywhere. However, rewarding yourself and keeping your mind positive is the best possible way to succeed. Even if you do just give yourself a gold star.

4 Spa’s -a-cleaning

When you’re struggling to chill out and end the year on a high note, it might be time to consider a spa trip. There’s no doubt that a spa trip can make almost anyone feel like new again – all the rejuvenating properties and activities, along with the feeling of freedom from responsibility can be intoxicating. Men, this applies to you too – never be afraid to self-care!

3 Rooms-a-Cleaning

Have you ever heard that the state of our rooms are a reflection of our minds and how we are currently feeling? For example, an untidy room might suggest a scattered mind that’s trying to deal with too much all at once. This is where taking the time to clean out your rooms can really help you – it gives you the much-needed concentration to regain your focus.

2 Decluttered Drawers!

What you have to appreciate about decluttering is that it makes you feel so much better about yourself. Go and find a drawer in your home, and declutter it until it looks like new. It’s exceptionally therapeutic, and also provides a productive distraction from your work.

And a Day With Your Family!!

One of the best things to do when you want to be able to wind down and spend time with other people is to go and visit your family. They’re the people you’ve grown up with and celebrated all your best moments with. They’re great for forgetting your problems with, catching up on their lives and making some beautiful memories.

All in all, these are the 12 best ways that you can enjoy the festive season while taking the time to relax and enjoy yourself. It’s not always an easy task by any means, but it is one which will seriously mean a lot to you if you can get it nailed. When Christmas time approaches, we’re all wondering how just to take that step back and relax. It’s not an easy task by any means, but it’s one we all need to learn to do, especially teachers. It’s crucial that you take the time to sit back, relax and forget for a day or two because there’s no arguing that teaching can be a very demanding vocation. You have to give yourself over to it a lot, which is why it can be essential to try and make a portion of the season about you.

If you’d like some practial everyday tips for teaching in the classroom, you can buy my book in paperback & e-book now!

Until then, wishing you a very peaceful Christmas.

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

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

How To Bloom As A Tutor

Ah, the words that bring fear into the heart of every trainee teacher across the land – Bloom’s Taxonomy. But with tutoring not having the same pre-requisit for training that teaching does, not everyone is familiar with the term.

The arguments for and against professional status for tutors are likely to go on ad infinitum. There are a great many unqualified tutors who work absolute miracles with individual students, and likewise a number of teachers who fail to make the transition to tutoring. With all this aside, all of us can benefit from the metacognition brought about by using Bloom in our lessons.

For the uninitiated, Bloom’s Taxonomy is simply a hierarchy of learning that shows how students build from foundations to deeper learning. We often imagine it like a pyramid showing how the foundationslead to the pinacle of learning.

bloom

In doing this we actually do us and our students a disservice. The visual of a pyramid gives the impression that students must remember before they can apply, or analyse. In fact, the benefit that a tutor has over a teacher with a classroom of 30 or more is that we can provide the space and structure to analyse and create as a conduit to remembering.

Essentially, our ultimate goal is for our students to leave us with the ability to create the new using their understanding of the knoweldge that we facilitated.

All Ages Bloom

The idea that only older students will reach the higher levels of learning is simply wrong. In fact, the youngest of our learners are the ones who take to deeper learning much easier.

Listen to any 5 year old tell you about a specific interest. They will likely tell you the names of all of the characters (remember), will explain how they relate to each other (understand), will berate you for mixing up genres and tell you why they are different (analyse), and will have made models and drawings of their favourite characters (create).

 

Using Bloom For Progress

Tutoring is a much more intense process than teaching, and it is this one to one contact that allows us to push progress forward. However, its also presents a risk that we create over-reliance on our assistance.

By presenting a topic of study alongside an expectation of the student analysing, evaluating, or creating forces me to take a step back. It also creates an environment where it is ok for my student to feel very slightly out of their depth, because like a parent teaching a child on a bike we’re close enough to catch them but provide more reassurance than anything else.

In the classroom, I was taught to sing a verse of Baa Baa Black Sheep in my head to force myself to give students thinking time after a question (it feels ridiculous, but please try it!). I have used this technique far more in tutoring where the pause seems to last forever. Over time, I have realised that my brain is actually running at a rate of ten to the dozen and my students benefit from that pause.

Not Just 6 Words

By using the verbs given in Bloom’s taxonomy, I can word my questions to them and indicate the level of response that I want from my student. But it’s when we delve deeper than purely those six words that Bloom’s really becomes useful.

Imagine for a moment the last tutee that you were sat with. You have shown them an exam question and they look at it blankly… What do you do?

Using Bloom’s, we can prod them in the right direction:

Can you show me any key words in that question? (Remember)

Could you rephrase that question, so it makes more sense to us? (Understand)

Where have we seen that phrase used before? (Apply)

What do you think the difference is between this and that? (Analyse)

How can you tell that is the correct answer? (Evaluate)

Now you know how to answer it, can you think of your own exam question that would test your knowledge? (Create)

In short, most of us do this naturally already but use verbs that resound with each level. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, and in fact there are a whole host of resources providing word lists that link to the stages of learning.

The Bloom’s Taxonomy Teacher Planning Kit is an incredible resource to have when planning objectives or questions to help move students forward. I particularly like the example questions at the bottom.

 

Despite not changing a great deal since the 1950s, I am a huge fan of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a planning tool for my own tutoring. You could almost say I bloomin’ love it!

Do you use Bloom’s in your tutoring practice? How have you used it? I’d love to hear from you.

Holly

 

 

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

Letter To Myself #EdChat

I loved reading this letter to his newly qualified self from The Nerdy Teacher. And it got me wondering, if I were to talk to myself ten years ago and give myself advice, what would it be? So here it is:

desk job cropped

Dear Holly,

So you just got a phonecall suggesting that you take on a part time role teaching A Level Computing. That’s going to be one heck of a jump from your routine of rocking up at your programming role with pink hair with Friday lunches with the boss and wine.

Life as a developer is tough and rewarding… but the next decade is going to be a rollercoaster! You’re going to meet kids who, like you are that square peg in a round hole. They may not be the ones who get the A* grades, but you’ll make much more of an impact on them than an exam grade.

Ah yes, the kids. In one job you’ll be greeted by a year 9 with “we made every other teacher leave, you’re next” – that same kid is going to hug you when they get their A Level results. Persevere. You won’t win every battle, but the victories will be worth it. Others you’ll remember like your own – possibly because they spent so much time in your classroom. Giving up your lunchbreak is time well spent.

You’ve always been your own harshest critic, and teaching is going to make you reflect on every lesson. A single complaint will overcast a hundred compliments & thank yous. And because of that, your ability to build resilience is going to either make or break you. You’re never going to get used to the crushing feeling when the outcome doesn’t reflect the hard work. But remember that all the time that you feel crushed by results it means that you still care.

That teaching diploma is going to be tough going, especially as you’re teaching full time alongside it. Make the most of the friendships you make with fellow teachers in training – they’ll turn out to still be your partners in crime years later. In fact, you’ll meet a number of people who make a significant impact in your life over these ten years. Treasure those people; they are all too often gone too soon. Teaching fills our hearts with love, but doesn’t do wonders for the blood pressure.

Oh, and just when you think you’ve got it all together and you’re feeling top of your game, life is going to throw you a massive curveball and you’re going to need to negotiate teaching alongside some interesting health issues. As it turns out, your talent and passion for working with individuals is going to help there, and online tutoring is going to be the saviour of your career (and sanity!) as your ability to physically negotiate a classroom reduces.

Strangely, things will end up going full circle with you using your background in Computing to build a website that helps hundreds of kids learn computer science. Because of that site, you’ll end up writing for a number of places including the BBC.

I can’t tell you what happens next, but have faith in your ability to fly by the seat of your pants. You’re going to need it. Oh, and carry pens – the kids won’t.

 

 

 

 

A Parent’s Guide To Surviving September

A Parent’s Guide To Surviving September

We’ve all seen the memes doing the rounds on social media about how tired parents are and how the kids dread September, but the parents will be waving them off gleefully. But I’m going to buck the trend here and say that I’m dreading it too – and not just because I’m heading back to the classroom myself!

Term time holds mixed feelings for us. With one child firmly on the autistic spectrum and another with a painful genetic condition, maintaining a busy routine during term term is not always a pleasant experience. We’ve learnt to put strategies in place to help everyone get through the weeks until the relative peace of the holidays returns. I’ve talked about some of those strategies below, and whilst they may not work for everyone, hopefully they will give someone some ideas from both a parent and a teacher perspective.

Maintain a Bedtime Routine

pexels-photo-1021051.jpegMy teenagers really don’t thank me for this, and according to them I am the only parent on the planet that insists on a bedtime for a child over the age of 10. My Occupational Therapist, the ever lovely Jo Southall calls this ‘Sleep Hygiene’ and it has incredible impacts for both mental and physical health.

Now they’re older, we no longer have the bath and story type routine that they had as tiny people. Instead, their optimum sleep hygiene routine includes handing over phones & laptops to be charged in our room (no wriggle room on this), tidying up their sleeping area (I can dream!), and lights down with books. Of course this means that the eldest reads horrific horror books until late, but the brain activity caused by reading is very different to screen time.

But this doesn’t just apply to the kids. How exhausted do you feel as a parent with the school runs and juggling kids and work and a million other activities? Having a wind down routine to help you get the best rest is just as important.

Have Set Homework Time

Yes, I know, I mentioned the ‘H’ word. But there is method in my madness here. As their homework load increased, we implemented set times and days where homework would be done. Having a regular time each week acts a little bit scheduling in a meeting at work – if it’s in the diary, you avoid booking in other things and pushing it down the to do list.

pexels-photo-515171.jpegSaturday mornings whilst I am tutoring, they address any outstanding homework for the next week. Two hours and no more is allocated. And they have three hours over the week in the evenings to get a head start on other things. With five hours set aside, that is enough. That’s not to say that it’s always enough time to complete everything to perfection, but we are also teaching them that work & life must balance and to achieve that you have to let go of some perfectionism. (of course we won’t let on that I haven’t mastered that whatsoever).

I fully subscribe to the ten minute rule. That is children should study at home for ten minutes in total for every year they have attended school. Using this calculation, our eldest who is entering UK year 9 this year will have been at school for ten years this year. 100 minutes should be just shy of two hours per week. Of course this doesn’t always work out, but allocating set time each weekend based on the ten minute rule has eased the stress of getting everything done.

Shop Online

If the back to school sale aisles are making you nervous, you’re not alone. I hate seeing my eldest flinch at the crowds and hours of walking will inevitably bring on a night of pain for the smallest. So instead, we have honed a routine of creating Amazon shopping lists to deliver the non-logo items that will make life easier at the start of term.

 One of the banes of my life is buying suitable school bags. Last year, we bought two of these bags which served the additional purpose of having straps that were soft enough not to hurt the youngest one’s shoulders, and sturdy enough to last a full year at high school. They were particularly pleased with the phone charger ports!


Another lifesaver over the past few years has been my constant supply of pen grips. These are great for kids (and adults!) who find that they grip pens too hard when writing and end up causing themselves pain. With both the youngest and me having exceptionally hypermobile hands, these go on most pens we own. They also had a surprise benefit of also improving her handwriting.

A few years ago I would have balked at spending £15 on a lunchbox. And yet here I am, genuinely recommending this as the best thing since sliced bread… Our eldest has some interesting food habits – her palette is very adult (jalapenos & olives are favourites), but like a culinary Ghostbuster, the food mustn’t touch! Bento boxes were the perfect solution for this and had the added benefit of being Japanese for my little shinnichi.

Don’t Dither On Subject Changes

If your child has just made their subject choices for GCSE or A Level, you may end up having the dreaded conversation of wanting to switch. If this does happen, it’s important to make sure that this isn’t just September nerves, however keep in mind that many schools and colleges have a swift cut off date for changing courses. These cut off dates are usually early October, if not earlier.

The first port of call for subject changes is always your child’s form tutor who will advise them on the possibility of subject changes (their new chosen subject may be full, or may clash with their timetable).

Of course if you are considering supporting a subject with tuition, the same advice applies. The earlier a student receives support when they start to struggle, the more positive the outcome. There is very little a tutor can do if a student commences tuition in April. The best time to search for a tutor is July before the academic year starts – doing this will allow you the pick of the best times as many of their tutees will be sitting exams and their books will begin to clear. Failing that, August to October will still see many excellent tutors with spaces available. Look for recommendations from previous students and parents, and ensure that any private tutor is able to provide a full DBS check to ensure the safety of your child.

Keep In Contact With School

fashion-person-woman-hand.jpgOne of the biggest changes that I noticed when my children moved from primary school to high school was the contact. We went from a class teacher in a village school who knew them like their own, to a huge high school with teachers for every subject and no daily parent contact. If anything, it was more of a shock for us than it was for them.

One thing we did discover though was email contact was a surefire way to keep in touch. As parents who were new to the high school experience, we quite often dropped a short email to teachers if we had concerns. Replies were reassuring and quite often allowed us to share information that teachers were very grateful for. Often your email will provide context for something that they’ve noticed in class – if it’s big enough to notice at home, you can guarantee the teacher has a clue that something is wrong.

On average, most teachers will receive between 5 to 10 parental emails each day, so if you don’t get a reply straight away please don’t feel that you’re being ignored. It’s quite likely that your email is on a to do list for a teacher with 200+ students to wrangle.

 

Do you have any top tips for surviving September as a parent? Let me know below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

*Note: Some of the links above contain affiliate links. I never recommend anything that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend without payment. However you are supporting the continued running of the site & blog should you click / purchase.

I have linked to Jo Southall above without affiliation – she is a genuinely brilliant OT.

How To Write A Great Student Reference

It’s something that I’ve been asked to do across the academic year and each time I write a reference for a student I realise that these is a real art to it. So as we hurtle rapidly into the time of year where we are writing references for college or UCAS, here’s how to write great references without sacrificing your need for sleep.

desk job cropped

Use a Writing Frame

I’m not suggesting that you use a template to write your references and just fill in the names. Therein lies a truly dreadful reference. Instead, consider the aspects of the reference that you want to write about for each student and adjust accordingly. The example below is one that I use regularly for my subject UCAS references:

  • How have they engaged with the subject?
  • Have they indicated that this is their chosen subject? If not, how will it help?
  • What extra curricular activities / volunteering have they undertaken?
  • What have their exam/test results been compared to their target?
  • Have they started their coursework? What is the topic?
  • End on a return to their chosen subject

Using this, we could write the reference:

“A methodical and dedicated learner, David has studied Computer Science with me for the past year arriving in year 12 having not studied the subject at GCSE. Despite being behind his peers at the start of the year he has made tremendous efforts to catch up, attending numerous Computing Clubs and extending his knowledge outside of the curriculum in our robotics club which led to his interest to study AI.

It is clear that his targeted grade of a B was initially a challenge, however based on the clear upwards progress within our class tests and mock exams I have little doubt that his choice to take the subject further at University is the correct path for him.

David has commenced his A Level NEA project making AI the basis of his investigation and has already begun to complete a complex project linking the Twitter API to a machine learning algorithm. This, along with his strong exam results to date indicates both enthusiasm and aptitude to study Computer Science further.”

Keep To The Point!

Usually, a UCAS subject reference is no more than three paragraphs, so I group the six questions into two per paragraph, and for some students they won’t be relevant so I omit them entirely. For longer references for US universities or apprenticeship applications, having all six questions as a writing frame helps me to focus on the student as an individual rather than just stating what they have completed as facts.

Imagine that you were the admissions officer, or employer reading the reference – a statement of fact is tantamount to a bad reference. You know your students; you are the person best placed to get across their ability to be an ambassador for the subject that you love.

We know report and reference writing is a tedious process and eats into our evenings when the sun is shining, but those few lines of personal praise can be the difference between a foot in the door to their chosen career and a line of applications elsewhere.

You are their first step up; They have to climb the stairs.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

[amazon_link asins=’1911067869,0992664993,0951928414,0993231187′ template=’ProductGrid’ store=’teach064-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’8bf389be-9409-11e8-8c18-d3bed7510d03′]