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Shakespeare Week

Shakespeare Week


As it’s Shakespeare Week this week I thought I’d try to incorporate something into my Year 11 and Year 10 IGCSE ICT classes without disturbing the sequence of what was already planned.

As we are into the revision plan for Year 11s and they need the time to practice tasks for the practical Paper 2 and 3 some background music was called for:


With the Year 10 students there is more flexibility. This half-term we have been looking at word processing, and how to use more advanced layout techniques in Microsoft Word.

So why not give them a lovely task of creating, EXACTLY as it is in the book, the following on one A4 page in Word.

Macbeth opening page


At first glance this looks easy, you can just type in the text. However there are two pages (very close to both being A5) that need to be on one A4 page, so should they use columns or not (text boxes are not allowed). There are different fonts, different styles, italicised text, a horizontal line, different font sizes, tabbed text as well as several other formatting options that the students will need to use to make it an accurate copy.

As they will have the textbook their pages will be clearer that the image above, but they still have to work out what font has been used and what are the text sizes to make it fit.

In the background, as a distraction, was the animated tale of Macbeth, and then to round things off the music as was in Year 11.

This blog post was written and originally posted on 13 March by myself at It has been slightly modified and image links changed.

Magilogical – a Logic Gates card game


Teaching Year 5-8 (Grades 4-7) Computing?
What about this as an option for you – “Magilogical”, a #HereBeDragons Card Game.

Chris Leach has created a card game, in a similar manner to the Top Trumps cards, to teach the basics of Logic Gates to students.

These types of ideas appeal to me, and from experience, to my students. Both in terms of the basic concept it is a novel way to present the topic, but also from the point of view of being related to something they are already aware of, i.e. this style of card game. It’s also good to see a method that means they are not just sat in front of a computer to learn about computing.

Will it require extra explanation and guidance from the teacher, yes of course. It will undoubtedly also require several run-throughs for the teacher to adapt the game to the students that they have in any class.


I can see it as a focus for Key Stage 2 students (Years 5 and 6 – Grades 4 and 5). However, as we are still in a transition phase (at my school anyway) from the change between ICT and Computing in Key Stage 3 (Years 7 to 9, Grades 6 to 8), I can also see that they would benefit during their unit on computer theory. In addition, I am certain that the IGCSE Computer Science students would like to play this as an introduction and/or revision.

So a novel card game with multiple audiences to aid the teaching of NOT/AND/OR/NOR/NAND and XOR)..


Chris used Kickstarter for the first batch, and as this was a success, is once again using this method to cover the cost of printing. As this is a private venture, this method ensures that if there is enough support the printing costs are covered, not leaving him out of pocket and scrambling around to sell enough sets to break even. With a small, starting idea like this, this would seem an excellent way to work. This project has a deadline of 22 March 2018, so not long to back it.

When I first saw this last week I thought “what a great idea!” then realised Chris was showing off the actual printed sets and so it was too late to back the first batch. Then I saw that there had been a few more enquiries into the game, and Chris had decided to launch a second round so I  promptly backed it with a class set bundle.

Just in case anyone thinks this is a plug for Chris, it is, but I’ve never met him or have any connection with this project other than personally backing it. I just think it’s a good idea (as was his previous one, a “Here Be Dragons” book).

Well worth backing, and getting a set…

If you’re wondering wondering what the rules are, this is copied from the Kickstater page:


The youngest player selects whether to play as the Wizards or the Dragons. Each player receives their 16 Character Cards and holds them face up. The 16 Spell cards are placed in a pile face down on the table. Player One (Wizard) selects the top Spell Card and places it face up so the other player can see the spell.

If the Spell Card is the Spell of Not: 

Wizard chooses one category from their card and one category from the Dragon’s card – the wizard must lose the round to win the battle.

If the Spell Card is the Spell of And: 

Wizard chooses two categories from their card and two categories from the Dragon’s Card – the Wizard must win both rounds to win the battle.

If the Spell Card is the Spell of Or: 

Wizard chooses two categories from their card and two categories from the Dragon’s Card – the Wizard must win one or both rounds to win the battle.

 If the Spell Card is the Spell of Nor: 

Wizard chooses two categories from their card and two categories from the Dragon’s Card – the Wizard must lose both rounds to win the battle.

If the Spell Card is the Spell of Nand: 

Wizard chooses two categories from their card and two categories from the Dragon’s Card – the Wizard must lose one or both rounds to win the battle.

If the Spell Card is the Spell of Xor: 

Wizard chooses two categories from their card and two categories from the Dragon’s Card – the Wizard must win one and lose one round to win the battle.

The losing card is placed on the Discard Pile. The Dragon now selects a spell. Repeat until either the Wizard or the Dragon has lost all their cards.

There are slight variations to the game:

Play with 8 cards each to shorten the game, or play until the Spell pile is exhausted – the player with most cards left wins.

Thus far it has been supported:


Follow me @nahowie

#WMD2018 and other events

World Maths Day 2018 (#WMD2018)

It’s back – World Maths Day is on again; this time on Wednesday 7 March 2018.

I’m back, both actively using twitter as well as back  using this blog; it’s been a long time! The last post I did was about Mathletics so I thought it would be appropriate to start afresh with one on the same topic.

World Maths Day (WMD) has been around for a long time. I remember having a great time over 10 years ago motivating students to play and it was so much fun for us all. Those were the days when the results were based on the total number of points, with unlimited games. As such I had a few students playing almost non-stop through the day and night of the event, and that was before we had worked out that it is actually a 48 hour event i.e. whenever it is that day somewhere in the world.

WMD Header

Now things have changed, first was the change to the “World Education Games” a few years ago, incorporating World Maths Day, World Spelling Day and World Science Day each on for a day annually in October, up to 2013. Then 3P learning (the organisers) changed it to every 2 years, with a delay to March 2015. Then, for whatever corporate reason it was dropped totally.

Now it’s back, well the World Maths Day part of the World Education Games. The format is the same, students play Live Mathletics, competing against students throughout the world. However the old days of play, play, play (before around 2010) are well and truly over. Now students are limited to a maximum of 20 games that count (each games lasts one minute), with their year/class deciding which level their scoring points are from.

WMD points chart

I have students who graduated 12 years ago (so now around 30 years old), who still tell me how much fun WMD was. I also have a student who was one of the only 2 European Student Ambassadors back in 2013, when in Year 6 (now about to take his IGCSEs!) He remembers escorting the British and Canadian Ambassadors around the school and showing them what the WMD was all about, as well as visiting other embassies and doing an interview for a national magazine.

So whilst it is up and running again, it is definitely being kept low-key (e.g. no Student Ambassadors). With an anticipated 4 million students taking part it will undoubtedly be fun, so just as in previous years my students will take part and enjoy alongside their peers. In addition with only 20 games counting per student, they need only a single lesson to complete all the games, thus ensuring they can all take a full part because it is much easier to organise.

I look forward to seeing the results, and motivating the students to enjoy using their calculating skills, and then handing out the prizes to our top students.

You can sign up your school/see full details at and follow via @worldedugames with the hashtag as in this post’s title.

Other upcoming events

Another couple of events my school will be involved in during March –

World Book Day – 1 March 2018

World Book Day

Full details at and via @WorldBookDayUK with the hashtag #WorldBookDay.

Shakespeare Week – 12-18 March 2018

Shakespeare Week

Full details at and via @shakespeareweek with the hashtag #ShakespeareWeek.

So lots of fun in Belgrade in March 🙂


Follow me @nahowie

Mathletics – what’s it all about?

As a newly appointed Mathletics Lead Educator I thought I’d jot down a few points about why I thought we use this system.

Mathletics (from 3P Learning) is an online Mathematics programme that we have used at BIS since 2006 with all out KS1-Ks3 (Years R-9/K-8). There are two sides to it for a student.

The first is the curriculum side, which can be tied to UK/US/AUS and other curricula for a student in any year/grade (so the majority could be doing tasks related to the year you are teaching, though a teacher can individually set a students to a different year if this is necessary). Online activities keep students actively engaged with the topics that they have been set, and they get points for correct answers which lead to a weekly certificate programme.

Curriculum use of Mathletics
Curriculum use of Mathletics

The other is a more fun-based educational side, the “Live Mathletics” in which students compete against others in a timed (1 minute) answer as many questions as you can (though 3 strikes and you are out).

Y8s playing Live Mathletics
Live Mathletics

As a simple example my Year 8 ICT class recently had had their weekly Maths lesson in the computer suite and the Mathletics they had been working on was reinforcing that topics they were covering as part of the UK Year 8 National Curriculum. Using a computer is something they are all used to and the teacher had restricted the topics they had access to to the one they were covering that week and the previous one. They actually spent a little more curriculum maths (30 minutes) than the suggestions made in a recent Mathletics blogpost  in part because all Year 7-9s have a 40 minute Maths lesson in the computer room each week. They were allowed to continue or to do Live Mathletics – most chose the Live Mathletics (basically it’s more fun!) and play live against students throughout the world.

In my ICT lesson we had been working on a topic that we’d just completed, following 3 weeks of work and still had 15 minutes of the lesson left. Rather than let them get on with whether they liked I asked them to log in to the Mathletics and then then had to play against each other using the newly introduced class only Live Mathletics. They had a great time counting down as a class “3, 2, 1, go…” and chose to go through the levels 1 to 10. Who actually won didn’t matter and the fact that they got a random 3 others (from having 7 peers in the class) didn’t matter. What mattered was that they all had such amazing fun, bonding as a class, in this great online activity. And a simple example of how this worked is that at level 10 none of them have the faintest idea how to answer the questions – then one of them got the answer of “log(100) + log (10)” right and he was as amazed as were all his peers who openly congratulated him. As an educator I can teach students right answers from wrong, but they learn best when they are fully engaged.

Classroom view of Mathletics
Classroom view of Mathletics

Mathletics is a serious educational tool that can aid students in developing their mathematical knowledge, whatever stage of their school path they are at. It can also be used as a great peer group motivator. We’ll continue to use it as a great tool at BIS, and with teacher’s heavily involved in encouraging students via it I’m sure that our students can only continue to benefit.


Neil Howie, MLE
You can follow Mathletics on twitter or facebook

MOOC – to finish or not?

I just completed week 2 (of 6) of a great MOOC called “Web Science: how the web is changing the world” from the University of Southampton via the new FutureLearn portal. I thought this course would be a good refresher on things that I may not directly need for teaching KS3/KS4 ICT (US Grades 6-10) and haven’t covered myself for many years but still may be able to use/adapt to my own teaching needs. From the first two weeks of the course this is the case. There have been lots of things covered that I have long forgotten, and I’ve been brought up to date with things happening now. I can see how certain facts and links now available would go down well as points with my own students to enhance their learning and understanding of the internet and the social aspects of communication.

Web Science logo

This course is free, as are all the FutureLearn courses. What this means is that it’s easy to join and one therefore has no worries about whether you can do it/can’t do it do have the time/don’t have the time. I read recently, in The Atlantic newspaper an interesting article “Thousands of People Sign Up for Online Classes They Never End Up Taking“(Nov 21, 2013) in which it is claimed that only 2% of those who start an MOOC complete it. With any free course you lose that incentive of not wanting to waste your money. On the flip side however, 2% is better than 0% and if the numbers joining are big then that is still a fair few people learning that may not have done so without the course. Like most statistics this can be contradicted. In a recent article “Online learning: pick a subject, any subject…” (Nov 11, 2013) from The Guardian that looked at what MOOCs are all about they quoted a 10% figure. This figure came from an article in the New York Times, entitled “Students Rush to Web Classes, but Profits May Be Much Later” (Jan 6, 2013).

One of the things that is forgotten s that a MOOC is not necessarily in the same category as a course one has to do/should do to enhance one’s career or CV. They could/may be in the future, but by and large at the moment they are voluntary and for enjoyment/improve one’s personal lifelong learning. I tried a MOOC on Python programming earlier on in the year and just found I didn’t have the time to fit in the reading and tasks so I stopped doing it. I was doing the course simply for my own benefit, not just to tick a box and say I graduated aren’t I great at this. If the motivation I have is the same for others then there is bound to be a big drop-out rate. It is very easy to click on a link that says you will do a course, it is not often easy to maintain the motivation to complete a voluntary course with all the other daily life pressures that there are. There is still the belief that because one did not complete a course (ad pass the final test) then one could not possibly have learnt anything. Even if I stopped the Web Science course today, what I have read and thought about over the past few weeks has been beneficial. Some of the points have been great and I’ll be using them in my own teaching in due course.

On the other side whilst it may de disheartening to the designers/educators of such course, in the main they are courses that are already written and have been slightly modified for this environment. Like anything in teaching designing lessons the first time is time-consuming, but for a lot of subjects they are then tweaked as opposed to being re-written. So if you have a course written, does it really at the end of the day matter if 2%, 10%, 50% or 100% complete it. There is no marking/assignments by the course leaders (on the courses I have taken/am taking) and so if only one person benefits from what has been added then t is should be seen as a success as this is what education is all about.

Any way I’m starting today another MOOC, “England in the time of Richard III” from the University of Leicester and again via FutureLearn. This one’s just for general enjoyment, hopefully I will see it through. However even if I don’t last the course (Christmas is coming) then I will have benefited from anything that I have learnt along the path. So I’m looking forward to it 🙂

RIII Course Image

Teaching digital natives – how?

Two questions that should be fundamental to an educator in 2013 are:

  • What is the purpose of the education we offer in school?
  • How do you teach digital natives in a digital age with non-digital native teachers?

Yet they are questions educators actually spend little time contemplating. Too often we are focussed on the day to day requirements, or on simply using this or that software/hardware and getting something new that looks good. Two recent, excellent blog posts have got me thinking again about the nature and purpose of the (digital) education we do and should offer.

The first is “Students deserve a better vision for education” by Tricia Kelleher, Principal at the Stephen Perse Foundation.

Tricia highlights how the day to day needs of education are often overlooking the essence of education and that the needs of today’s students are not the same as they were 25 years ago. One of the catalysts of change, and difference from years ago, is the nature and use of technology, especially amongst students. Are we preparing them for the future they will have, or the past that we have come from. As she points out in her conclusion “The challenge for today’s educators is to lift their focus from the inevitable granular character of our national obsession with measurement, to the future which is broad brushed and uncertain”.

There is a link to The Stephen Perse Foundation vision for education. It can be seen in full (in their animation) “Taking learning out of the box we call school“. It’ s an example of what all schools should be aiming for.

The Stephen Perse Sixth-Form College is ranked joint first worldwide for its IB performance this year. The college also tops the new Parent Power rankings for fee-paying IB schools published today.” Source: “The brainy belle’s of St. Trinian’s“, Sunday Times, 17 Nov 2013.

The second is “Leadership in the Digital Age” by Eric Sheninger, who posted it on the Connected Principals blogsite.

Eric discusses digital leadership and what should be expected by students today, and how we can achieve this. He notes that the nature of leadership has not changed over time, but the focus of this leadership for learning has. Within schools now there needs to be a clear focus on technology in order to benefit the students of today. As he points out “Digital leaders must give up control and trust students and teachers to use real-world tools to unleash creativity and a passion for learning“.

Eric’s book, which develops his ideas,  “Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times” is available to pre-order now (due out Spring 2014).

The first article, whilst pertaining to education as a whole, has a relevance to the second in that the prevalence of digital tools to aid the teacher (or even replace them, e.g. MOOC‘s) means that in order to address what the purpose of education is must be dominated by the role that digital technologies take in the ways that we want students to learn today, in preparedness for tomorrow.

I do agree though that, unfortunately, we are still obsessed with the culture of exams, whether they be A-Levels/IB Diploma or I/GCSEs or even SATs/Checkpoint. It’s been many years since taught the non-examinable IB MYP (so things might have changed) but I always felt they had the philosophical nature of education right, but the practical reality was way too hit and miss in schools and could lead to the foolish man building upon sand syndrome, as I witnessed. The examination system does bring a concrete base to teaching, but given how political this base is one needs to look at who and why has any subject’s topics been developed (recent discussions about Gove’s plans in the UK will not be discussed here!).

By having a core system can bring in other issues. Give staff a textbook and you make their lives easy. They can work out what page they should be on by what time of year, and if it’s an exam board endorsed book they can turn around and say this is what I should teach so I am, and if it doesn’t have any suggestions for using digital technologies (either than perhaps the occasional use of office software or research links on the internet) then it’s not necessary; the needs of the course (teacher) supersedes the needs of the students. My colleague and I took a different approach to our updated KS3 ICT programme. There is no textbook (they are always out of date, even when published, we decided), and our emphasis is on developing thinking though enjoyable activities in lessons, not teaching facts, facts, facts and them testing them. Therefore there is a question at the beginning of each of our units, and then we use multiple types of software to try and have students understand and have an answer by the end of the unit (my Year 8 class showed on their blog what they did for the first unit). To see if we were on the right lines we had the Schemes of Work peer reviewed by other teachers/consultants in several countries who are in this area of education, and took their comments on board. If teachers are not discussing and working with others in their own subject/field, and have not created a Personal Learning Network (PLN), then are they really working for the benefit of their students or giving themselves an easy life? Do I think we have got it right?  Well even if we did so what, quiet a lot will change for next year as the hardware/software changes. I do feel we have moved forward this year, primarily because we have moved away from the teach, test, teach, test mentality to one that allows the students to learn in ways that benefit them (and have the flexibility to allow them to develop independently). We also aren’t worried about changing things, either small changes (see or throwing out units if they don’t work.

Most of all however I feel there is still a gap, made so apparent by the natural disparity between the skills of the students (digital natives) of today and those of the teachers. Until our education systems focus on the needs of the students’ learning first and foremost and not on the key facts a teacher must impart then teachers who make this the focus and try new ways will be in the minority. Those who want to teach facts/methods from a textbook (whilst their students go home and use e-readers and then discuss topics online via tablets etc., with their peers via synchronous learning) will always be in the majority .

In an age though (not that it hasn’t always been so) of political interference and schools making educational decisions based primarily on economic reasons then the easy road will continue to work against students (change can be expensive). There must be a place in schools for the more traditional exams (though the implementation could be changed to suit digital natives) but in general their does need to be far more emphasis on developing the student’s ability to both critically use the digital technologies (and the data they can obtain through them) and also who and what they are in relation to the shrinking world they live in.

Part 2 – Digital leadership for digital natives’ learning