Category Archives: thoughts

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

Taking the 100 Word Challenge

Well done to all those on the Team 100 WC 🙂

100 WC circle

The 100 WC is short for 100 word challenge, a weekly event whereby a phrase/picture is given out and students then type up a creative piece using only 100 words.

100 WC header

The BIS Year 7 (Grade 6) class finally, finally(!), got around to entering this weekly event. It’s something that was done during the registration period here at BIS (8:30-8:45 am), and overseen by their form tutor.

Last week’s topic (Week 9 of 2013-14) was “…the violent storm was..”, due to the expected storms then in the UK. This gives you an idea of the fact that topics can be random and based upon events/ideas of the team as they happen. Therefore students have no idea of what exciting topic will come next.

By using their registration period it a) doesn’t impact upon their lessons (so other teachers are kept happy!) b) there can be a more relaxed informal approach to creative writing and c) it allows the form tutor (who doesn’t teach them English) to create a closer link with the students.

Once typed up the form tutor checked the student’s work and then uploaded it to the class blog by the Friday of that week. Then, in a relatively easy procedure, the form tutor linked the blog post pages to the appropriate 100 WC page.

Y7 BIS blog header

The best bit of it though was the faces of the students the following Monday morning in their registration period.  The form tutor showed them, via a projector, so on a large screen, the comments other teachers had added. By Monday registration 8 out of 10 student posts had received at least one comment and they were stunned that someone had not only taken the time to read their creative work, but also to say what they thought of it. It should be noted that 10 out of 10 were added by the end of the Monday.

These comment makers were teachers/educators from New Zealand, Australia, and the UK who had read a post or two and then added a positive comment about that post. These teachers/educators were all volunteers, and part of the Team 100 WC.

So, if you are looking for a great idea for your registration time – why not try the 100 Word Challenge – there were 699 entries for Week 9.

Well done to the following; with links to their posts (and thereby the comments they received) 🙂

They, and the few who didn’t enter for Week 9  in Year 7, are now keen and eager to get on with the Week 10 topic, based on a picture taken by Jane Hewitt:Week 10 WC topic
I eagerly await reading their posts, and subsequent comments 🙂

[Personal plug – movember still on so please keep donating at – thanks @nahowie 🙂 ]

How do you make a User Guide?

My Year 8 (Grade 7) students have a topic this year entitled
How do you make a User Guide?

The objective of the unit is for students to have create a User Guide using a specific programme and with a specified target audience.

Last year I used the programme Lego Digital Designer. It’s a free programme that is relatively easy to learn (Year 8s had no problem). Students have to create a user guide for Year 3 (Grade 2) students to show them how to design a basic model. The Years 3s will test and give feedback on the Year 8s work.

Lego Digital Designer

The students have to learn how the programme works, as I show them very little of how things work, they are relatively simple. As they learn how to use it they have to be thinking about the problems/issues they encountered. Then using screen shots they have to create a guide for the Year 3s of a simple model (car/house etc). Students have to work on manipulating imported screen shots (crop/size/format) as well as think about the level and style of their language, and how to link their words with the pictures (e.g. adding arrow shapes).

Lego Digital Designer 2

However this year, as I found out about another similar (free) programme, Scalextric Track Designer I will also give the students the option of either programmes. This programme also offers a 3D perspective of your work, and for you to decide which parts will be added so it is similar to the Lego programme although here one designs a track for toy racing cars.

Scalextric website

So the Year 8s can give me feedback on which is their preferred programme, and why, as well as them receiving feedback from younger students on their actual work.

Scalextric 2My simple 1 minute version (as simple as it can get!)

Perfect ICT Every Lesson – review

Well the half-term for myself and the students at BIS is almost over. Christmas to look forward to next 🙂

One of my personal objectives was to take the time to read and think about a great little book that is just out (October 2013), “Perfect ICT Every Lesson“:

Perfect ICT Every Lesson book cover

Written by Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist), currently Director of E-Learning at Sir Bernard Lovell School in Bristol, UK. This is one of Jackie Beere‘s (editor) Perfect Series, published by the Independent Thinking Press.

It’s basically a book with great advice, simply put, for all teachers using ICT in their lessons, and as a personal development tool. It’s also a great read for parents who want to know what can (should) be done in schools.

It was obviously reviewed by many practising teachers of ICT, as can both be attested by the Praise at the beginning, but also by the number and quality of the links used. It’s up to date (but like all things won’t be in a year or two; hence the word revised and updated will come in) and shows in easy English what can be done.

The book is split into 7 chapters:
1. Taking ICT from zero to hero
2. ICT learning resources for every classroom
3. Activities in the ICT suite
4. The e-safety framework
5. Mobile technology
6. Literacy, digital literacy and ICT
7. Social media

Each section gives clear guidance on why, in 2013, it is important that such activities are being enacted by teachers. At the same time real examples, both of peers classroom activities, as well as websites are given.

There is a section on Twitter, which explains not only why and how it can be useful (as I wrote myself recently), but for the uninitiated there is a quick guide as well.

There are some great ideas about word clouds, using QR codes, and that most over-used programme ever, PowerPoint (or as comes across here using it to make PowerFull PowerPoints!) And I haven’t mentioned the digital literacy chapter with some great examples of where and how to look for information on the internet. There is also an excellent chapter on e-safety, covering what a school should have in place, in this key area for students’ protection today.

As a teacher of ICT, personally the most interesting part was the SAMR model. This taxonomy was explained clearly and usefully. It is something that I will be taking far more notice of, as a guide of where we are and where we could be. This is rightly placed at the start of the book and whilst easy to understand it should not put any one off the easily readable, practical nature of the rest of the book, which is relevant to all (both teachers AND parents).

I’d recommend that a copy should available to every school, so if you haven’t got one, why not get one. Available from Amazon (kindle e-book / hardcover) or other places if you wish.

word cloudMentioned in Chapter 2 of the book – Word Clouds showcasing key words