#CaughtInTheNet – Year 7 Computing

This is a brief outline of Year 7’s first three Computing lessons this year.

In the first lesson we talked briefly about computer networks and they wrote a definition of a computer network for their dICTionary. We then left the ICT room and went out onto the tennis courts. The children took their chairs with them and I asked them to sit themselves in a line. I explained that they were now nodes on the network and the child on the end was the hub. I then “connected” the “network” with some string to form a bus network and passed a tennis ball down the line to represent the data. We talked about how if the connection broke then communication with the end nodes on the network would not be possible.

The children then rearranged themselves into a ring network and were reconnected. This time they realised that they could pass the ball in either direction so that if there was one break in the connection then every node was still contactable.

Next we formed a star network and finally a mesh network where every node was connected to every other node. This took up a lot of string.

Back in the ICT room the children wrote a list  – networks = [“bus”, “ring”, “star”, “mesh”]

They then investigated just how many connections would be needed for a full mesh network with nodes.

Lesson 2 – Protocols and Packets

I explained that a protocol is a defined set of rules that need to be followed and as a class we came up with a Letter Writing Protocol (LWP). The children then wrote their version of a Letter Sending Protocol (LSP).

We then discussed why data is split into packets to be transmitted. The children were given a blank 3×3 grid and were asked to draw a treasure map on the grid. They then had to follow a protocol:

  • write the coordinates in the top-left corner of each square (A1, B1, C1, A2 etc)
  • Write the name of the intended recipient on the reverse (the address)

They then cut up their grid into 9 smaller squares and placed them all in one plastic tub. The squares were all shuffled about as the children formed themselves into a “ring network”. Each child was handed nine random squares from the tub and the challenge was to see if we could get everyone to receive their intended message. On the command “Pass” each child passed one square to their right and received from their left. If they received a square with their name on they kept it in front of them and as the activity progressed they were able to recreate the map that had been sent to them.

The children were then asked to write their Treasure Map Transfer Protocol.

Lesson Three – “The Birth of the Internet”

In this lesson I will ask the children to start off by simply drawing the Internet in their books. I will also then ask them questions such as “When was the Internet invented?” just to see what they think. I want them to then think about the origins of the Internet and why it was created.

I have recently found the following description about the birth of the Internet (well Arpanet) written by sci-fi author, Bruce Sterling http://www.internetsociety.org/internet/what-internet/history-internet/short-history-internet and, using Plotbot, have adapted it into a short script for the children to record as a radio play. Hopefully I will be able to post the results next week.

Here is the script.

Imitate, Innovate, Invent

I am currently doing a lot of work on how I assess ICT / Computing in our school. This term I have introduced three stages of achievement…

  1. Apprentice
  2. Qualified
  3. Master

And I have used the following to help describe to the children the difference between the levels…

  • An Apprentice simply imitates – they will take something that already exists and copy it or in the case of something like PowerPoint they will simply “click to add a title”.
  • When Qualified a pupil will innovate – they will make changes to what they have been given – such as alter a template, change fonts and colours, add animations to a PowerPoint – but always build from something that is already there.
  • A Master invents – they create something from scratch, starting from a blank slide rather than using a template – they consider their audience and ensure there is a consistency in their design.

ICT Achievements

This week I introduced the idea of Unlocking ICT Achievements to years 5 and 6. I presented them with a list of 7 PowerPoint based Achievements and explained that Apprentice Level skills were worth 1 point, Qualified are worth 2 and Master Level are worth 3 points.

The children then set about creating a presentation about a person of their choice. I wanted to see how they would get on with minimal intervention from myself. I wanted to know how they would explore hte program, overcome difficulties and support each other.  I was also interested in how the new children in the class would get on.

I found that the list of Achievements really focussed the children and many of them looked at the list of skills and set about discovering how to do them. I stressed to the children that this was their opportunity to show me what they can do and that they should only award themselves points if they could do something without anyone elses help. I also allowed the children who showed others how to do something to award themselves extra points.

A few children unlocked the Get Animated skill simply by animating every single thing in their slideshow. This demonstrated they knew how to do it which is what this system is all about but then allowed me to comment on the effectiveness and appropriateness of their animations.

After looking at the work they have produced I was then able to define three levels of work;

  • An Apprentice level presentation was one where the child had not deviated from the default settings.
  • A Qualified level presentation showed that the child knew how to change backgrounds, add animations, format text etc.
  • A Master level presentation showed that the child had really considered their design, their audience and had shown a consistency throughout their presentation.

Year 8 Computing Menu

I teach in an independent Prep school where Year 8 is “top-of-the-tree” and a year where the children are focused on scholarships and Common Entrance exams. As a result of this ICT has always dropped down their list of priorities and as they have such a busy, full-on timetable I have often felt it more difficult to motivate and engage the children once they reach Year 8. To try and combat this I am toying with the idea of creating a Computing / ICT Menu for the children so that they can pick and choose the tasks they wish to complete. This means for those children who need to focus their energies on other areas for scholarships or common entrance can choose simpler tasks whereas those who are particularly interested in Computing (especially with the potential of Computing Scholarships being discussed) can choose to do more in depth projects.

My plan is to create a Chinese Takeaway style menu in which the children have to complete at least one task from each section. So, just as you would have a Chow Mein and a Rice section in a Chinese takeaway menu the Computing Menu may have a section for Programming, CAD or DTP. Each of these tasks could be given a ‘Spicy’ rating to indicate how difficult they are (to tie in with the school’s suggested Apprentice, Qualified and Master terminology) and there could also be Set Tasks for 4 which are designed to be run as a group project.

Ultimately the aim is to find a balance between allowing those who are talented in Computing and wish to develop their skills the chance to do so but also not putting additional pressure on those who have to focus their time in other areas such as Art, Music, Sport or their Academic subjects.

Any thoughts on the Computing Menu idea would be most welcome so please comment below.

#BingeThinking – Lesson Planning

#BingeThinking = getting some thoughts out of my head.

As far as planning activities to meet the learning objective and planning for differentiation there are two types of lesson:

SERIES: In this lesson activities are planned to occur one after another so that the pupil works their way through the activities. The first activity would be Apprentice level followed by Qualified and then Master. This means that every child has the opportunity to reach Master level and differentiation is by outcome. A SERIES lesson would typically occur at the beginning of a topic and would allow the teacher to assess the children before a PARALLEL lesson.

PARALLEL: In this lesson activities are planned to run simultaneously so that you have children working on Apprentice level tasks while others are working on Qualified or Master level tasks. It is important that children are able to shift between levels and either move up or down as appropriate.

Imagine If… Lesson Plans

Imagine if lesson plans were completely open documents designed to be shared.

Designed to be shared with the children – after all we share Learning Objectives, Success Criteria etc.

What if Children were able to comment on a lesson plan? Imagine a lesson plan shared through Google Apps on which children could leave comments to explain whether they found a task too, easy, too hard or just right.

Children could be invited to suggest what happens next – to have a say in their own learning adventure.

What if this document was also shared with Parents? Would it help parents support children at home? Would it help with parental engagement

I’m just posing these questions because I am genuinely interested in tinkering with different ways of planning, assessing and reporting and I welcome any comments, thoughts and opinions.

I will be posing another “Imagine If…” question next week.

Unlocking ICT Achievements

I would appreciate any comments on this. Is there anything I need to explain further? etc etc

In the incredibly popular computer game Minecraft, Achievements are used as a method for gradually guiding new players through the game. Minecraft’s Achievement system involves a tree composed of achievements, some of which must be completed before others.

“I’ve had the idea to make achievements kind of like the in-game questing. So you’d be able to see the first achievements in a tree of achievements, and you unlock the top ones before you can unlock the ones further down.” – Notch (Creator of Minecraft)

For example, the “Time to Mine” Achievement, which is unlocked when the player has crafted a pickaxe out of planks and sticks, can only be unlocked after the player has already unlocked the “Benchmarking” Achievement which in turn can only be unlocked after the “Getting Wood” Achievement. (http://minecraft.gamepedia.com/Achievements)

Minecraft’s Achievement mechanics are the inspiration behind this ICT Achievement system which aims to be:

  • Simple
  • Comprehensive
  • Engaging

I wanted to create a system that was simple enough for the children to manage themselves and that could be used across all subject areas in which ICT is used. I want all the Achievements to be very clear and concise so that it is obvious to the child what they have to do in order to unlock the Achievement. I have attempted to avoid any vagueness to prevent Achievements being interpreted in different ways by different pupils or teachers.

The system needs to be comprehensive so that it covers all areas of ICT and also allows the children to demonstrate a deeper mastery of their ICT skills. The system will also be expandable so that new sets of skills (branches on the tree) can be added as appropriate. I also want one system to cover Key Stages one, two and three.

The system needs to be engaging for the pupils and hopefully its roots in MInecraft will help do that. I want the children to want to unlock further Achievements. I want them to be able to see what Achievements are further along the branch so that they can aim to master their skills. As a result the system will tie in with our school’s existing rewards system of House Points and Commendations so the children will be rewarded for unlocking Achievements.

This system will also feed into my reporting process as it will enable me to be quite clear about what an individual child can do but will also pinpoint what they are yet to achieve. It is important that this system shows the children what they need to do next as they progress through their Learning Adventure.

This ICT Achievement system also links in with wider school assessment policies and the intention is that non-ICT specialised teachers will be able to quickly identify which ICT skills will be demonstrated and developed during any lesson they plan or teach.

Every Achievement will be graded as one of these possible levels:

  • Apprentice
  • Qualified
  • Master

This means that the very simplest skills that you would expect all children to be able to demonstrate would be classified as an Apprentice Level Achievement. Skills you expect most of the children to be able to demonstrate are graded as Qualified and then those skills that only the most able may demonstrate are classed as Master. It is important that every child is provided with the opportunity to become an ICT Skills Master.

In order to make the system more meaningful and accurate the children have to actually demonstrate a skill more than once before they unlock that Achievement and, even though the intention is for the children to manage the system, the actual unlocking of an Achievement needs to be verified by a member of the ICT team.

Skills classed as Apprentice level would be those that you would expect a child to be able to do fairly regularly and therefore the child will be expected to demonstrate that skill more often than a Master Skill before unlocking that Achievement. This also works with Master Level skills which will tend to be those that children will have fewer opportunities to demonstrate.

This means that the actual unlocking of an Achievement borrows another game mechanic from Minecraft (and other games) – Experience Points.

A child will gain Experience Points (XP) each time they demonstrate a skill and once they reach 12 XP then they unlock that Achievement. Each time a child demonstrates an Apprentice Skill they gain 1 XP; a Qualified Skill is worth 2 XP and a Master Skill earns them 3 XP. Therefore the child has to demonstrate an Apprentice Skill 12 times before unlocking the achievement, a Qualified skill 6 times and a Master Skill 4 times.

This may suggest that is is quicker and easier to achieve a Master Skill but actually children will not have as many opportunities to demonstrate Master Skills and also the child will have to have unlocked certain Apprentice skills before they are even able to go on to Qualified and Master.

Each pupil will be given a file in which to keep a record of their Achievements. Each page will contain one set of Achievements (one branch of the tree) and extra pages can be added as necessary. Each achievement will be presented to the children with an icon, a simple “I can …” statement and an Experience Bar. The icon will indicate the level the Achievement is classed as, the “I can…” statement will be very clear and concise and the Experience Bar will have 12 sections for the children to colour in as they demonstrate the skill. The icon on the page will be grayscale and will have a padlock over it to indicate that it is yet to be unlocked. Once the Experience Bar has been completed then the ICT teacher will award the child a sticker to cover the icon. These stickers could also be presented in the form of Digital badges.

The unlocking of Achievements will automatically earn the child House Points:

  • Apprentice = 1 House Point
  • Qualified = 2 House Points
  • Master = 3 House Points

It is important that the children understand that they are able to unlock Achievements in any lesson in which they use ICT and therefore must be given opportunity to do so.

The intention behind making the system child-led is that is will then allow the teacher to focus their assessment on the child’s creativity, effort, and application of their skills rather than the actual skills themselves.

Teachers will be provided with a similar Achievement pack to those used by the children. The main difference will be in the descriptions for each Achievement. The pupil versions will be very concise such as “I can print my work” whereas the teacher description will be more detailed to give specific criteria about how the skill should be demonstrated, for example, “The pupil can print their work unaided when required to do so. This does not cover printing when it is not needed or printing unnecessary multiple copies of a document.”. It is important therefore, that there is some discussion between teacher and pupils when new Achievements become available for unlocking.

The system of awarding ICT Achievements will also link in with our Digital Leaders programme as it will allow entry requirements to be set. So it might be decided that a child needs to have unlocked a certain amount of Master level Achievements before becoming eligible for a Digital Leader position. These entry requirements should be different for different year groups as a Year 6 pupil would be expected to have unlocked more than a Year 3 pupil.

Parents can also be engaged in the system as each child could keep a digital, online record of their Achievements via a Google spreadsheet. This spreadsheet would simply indicate which Achievements have been unlocked and which have yet to be unlocked. This spreadsheet could then be shared with parents who should be encouraged to comment. These comments could simply be words of congratulation or encouragement or the parent may choose to give examples of how a child has demonstrated skills at home – such as using a digital camera or creating a presentation in their own time.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

ICT Achievements

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For quite a while now I have been trying to develop a system to track our pupils’ ICT skills. This system needs to abide by the following principles…

1. Be thorough and detailed so that it actually means something
2. Be usable throughout the school (from KS1 to KS3)
3. Be easy for staff to use and understand
4. Be engaging for the pupils and simple for them to manage themselves
5. Be compatible with other planning / assessment systems already in place.

The system I am working on is heavily inspired by Minecraft and in particular the Achievements within Minecraft. If you are not a Minecraft player then this link will give an indication as to what I mean –> http://minecraft.gamepedia.com/Achievements

The way my system should work is as follows…

Each child will receive a booklet of ICT Achievements. These Achievements will range from the very simple such as printing their work through to changing settings on a printer for different sized paper. Each Achievement will be a particular skill – something the children can actually do – and will be graded as either Apprentice (for the simplest tasks), Qualified or Master (for the more difficult).

Each time a child demonstrates a particular skill they will receive Experience Points (XP). The number of XP will be determined by the level of the Achievement – so an Apprentice Achievement will be worth 1 XP, a Qualified Achievement = 2 XP and a Master Achievement will be worth 3 XP. The children will record their Experience Points in their booklet and once they have filled their XP Bar (12 XP) they can then be awarded their Achievement. This could be as a sticker or as a digital badge. This means that to gain an Apprentice Achievement they have to demonstrate the skill 12 times but for a Master Achievement they only have to demonstrate it 4 times.

I am currently working on the list of Achievements on this Google Doc and I would welcome any feedback, suggestions or comments about this idea.


#CaptainsBlog Steampunk Names

For the Captain’s Blog project each child will take on the character of a Victorian/Edwardian Polar Explorer such as Shackleton and Scott.

They will have to create a name for their character and I will use this Steampunk Name Generator that I found in the programme for the recent Arena tour of War of the Worlds.


My name would be Captain Byron Starkweather ( quite fitting for an Antarctic explorer! )  I want the kids to create a digital version of the name generator in order to incorporate some coding into the project.


For Year 4’s ICT project during the first half of the Lent term I plan on linking up with their Creative Curriculum topic about Ice Worlds. The project will cover the topic of Publishing Online using tools such as blogging. The children will take on the character of an Antarctic explorer inspired by Shackleton and Scott and will blog about their expeditions to the South Pole.