Innovate, Create and Tinker : A Keynote speech

Here are the notes for my keynote speech at the recent Wokingham ICT Conference that was held in Reading on the 26th March. It’s not exactly what I said but is roughly the same.

First of all I would like to thank Kathy and the rest of the Wokingham ICT team for inviting me along today – especially in these interesting times for ICT or should we be saying Computing? I feel that I have to say right now that I am not a Computer Scientist and that personally I believe that Computing is just part of ICT.  I’ve known Kathy for a few years now but only through Twitter – we’ve shared ideas and resources and as you will see Twitter provides a constant theme to my personal story as an ICT teacher.

Five years ago, this month I joined Twitter purely because I had read about it in a computer magazine. I joined, I tweeted, I though what’s the point? And left it for months. At the time I was working in a large primary school in East Sussex as a Year 6 teacher already feeling the pressure of SATs and still finding my way as I had only completed my NQT year the year before. To be perfectly honest at this time 5 years ago I was beginning to wonder whether teaching was actually right for me. Working in a large school I was finding it very hard to find my own identity as a teacher – most of the planning was already done the year before and I didn’t feel confident enough to change what was already in place. One geography lesson in particular stood out in my memory – it was an introductory lesson about rivers and just reading the lesson plan bored me and I thought to myself  – if this bores me now it’s going to be even harder for me to engage the children – so I went off plan. We overturned all the tables in the classroom and arranged them into a boat – we had visuals on the whiteboard and a rainforest soundtrack playing as I took the children on a guided tour down the Amazon. The children then disembarked the boat and on the riverside wrote some fantastic descriptions about the river. Later that week I was called into the head’s office and was told that parents had complained – not about my lesson – but by the fact that mine were the only y6 class that did it that way – I was then told to stick to the plans so that every class had the same experience.

This was the last straw – my confidence was already low – so I switched roles. I became the school’s Network Manager and taught the occasional maths and science lesson. During this time I revisited Twitter – I had read an article about a few teachers who were using it to share and develop ideas. I began to follow a few people, got reading some blogposts and read about other lessons like my Amazon guided tour which made me realise I wasn’t completely wrong to try and do something slightly different. 6 months later a vacancy came up in Year 5 and I spoke to the Head about applying – he basically told me not to bother – and as far as I was concerned that was my teaching career over. I handed in my notice and planned on moving down to Devon. It was while I was trying to decide what to actually do in Devon that someone on Twitter pointed me in the direction of the Head of ICT position at Winchester House. I looked at the job description and it looked perfect so I thought “What have I got to lose” and I applied. I did a little bit of research and discovered the Head is a history teacher and so I created a project to show how ICT can be used to enhance history and so the Gunpowder, Tweeting and Plot project was born in which children researched and tweeted the events of the Gunpowder Plot from the point of view of several characters as if it was happening in real time.

The interview went really well and I was offered the job. Looking at the job description I could see that I would be required to teach ICT to all year groups from Nursery up to Year 8. The school I had been working at delivered their ICT through their Learning Journeys. It was all cross-curricular so the children would create posters about the Tudors, leaflets about the Egyptians, instructions for their DT work and digital versions of their art work. I was so used to treating ICT as something that could be taught through other subjects that my initial grand plans for ICT at Winchester House were that I would develop this cross-curricular approach so that it was taught in other subject areas and as a result almost do myself out of a job. I had read a lot of people describing ICT as simply a tool for learning across all subjects and this is what I set out to achieve but it didn’t take me long to realise that ICT is much more than that and I realised just how much had been missing from the ICT curriculum at my previous school because of this cross-curricular approach.

One of my first attempts at a cross-curricular approach was to tie a year 6 project in with their history topic. I wanted the children to carry out online research and then blog about the events as they studied them and create online timelines. For various reasons this didn’t quite work – the classes the children were in for history didn’t match with their classes for ICT and so some children were further ahead in their history work than others and so I adapted the project and we created online timelines about the evolution of games consoles. This began to make me realise that there is much more to ICT than simply a range of tools to support other subjects. ICT is a subject in its own right – it is about how we use technology to communicate information – not just computers.

And so I began to completely rewrite our ICT curriculum. I gathered ideas, resources and articles about ICT. As I gathered these ideas together the wall in our spare room gradually got overrun by post-it notes and as I arranged and grouped these together four strands began to emerge. At one point it was six strands, then it became 3 but I finally settled on four and these became known in my planning as Digital Literacy, Digital Creativity, Digital Technology and Digital Society. It took me a while to settle on these names simply because in some cases they have slightly different meanings depending on who you talk to. What I finally decided was to just settle on the definition that made sense to me and what I wanted to achieve and our children to experience.

And so my first message is “Don’t be afraid to Innovate”. If the current proposed Computing curriculum does make it into the National Curriculum for 2014 then it is vital that schools realise that these proposals are simply a starting point. There does seem to be a certain assumption that some things in the old ICT programme of study will carry on and there is also the fear that some schools will look at the new Computing curriculum and think that is all they should be teaching. The new Computing Programme of Study is simply supposed to give an indication of what should be taught and doesn’t concern itself with how it should be taught. One omission that stood out to me when I first glanced through the Computing curriculum was the mention of creativity in Ks1 and Ks2 and I have seen some people complain that this will lead to a boring, uninspiring subject – but there is nothing to stop people continuing all the fantastic, creative work that they are already doing. I had written my version of the KS2 programme of study before the latest draft was published and despite the fact that there are quite a few differences I am confident that everything in the new proposals is covered in my version.

The way I deliver ICT at Winchester House is project-based with the children working on a different project each half term. Each of these projects is designed to include elements from the four strands I mentioned earlier. For us the term Digital Literacy refers to the basic skills children need to use the digital tools at their disposal. It also refers to their understanding of issues such as e-safety and copyright. Digital Creativity is concerned with how the children apply these skills in order to create something. I use a term from the NAACE ICT framework – digital artefacts to refer to the various things children can create – these can be posters, digital art, podcasts, computer games, webpages and even pieces of code. Digital Technology refers to how things work as well as looking at the history and future of these technologies. In the digital technology strand I also cover the pioneers who contributed to the development of ICT. I don’t teach about them in any great depth but there is always reference made to people such as Alan Turing and Charles Babbage. All of our laptops are named after computing pioneers and displays in the ICT room celebrate the work and achievements of these people. In one lesson I ask Year 8 to nominate 4 ICT pioneers to feature on British bank notes. This year’s most popular 4 were Charles Babbage, Alexander Graham Bell, Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing. Finally Digital Society looks at how ICT impacts our everyday lives and I encourage the children to think about some of the legal, moral and environmental issues relating to ICT.

My Year 5’s have just finished a project in which they design an album cover for a band’s debut album. This obviously concentrates on elements of Digital Literacy and Digital Creativity but along the way we look at how the technology we use to listen to music has evolved from the gramophone to the iPod and we discussed the issues of illegal downloading and HMV closing down.

One of the key philosophies behind my ICT plans is that the children are always given opportunities to create something and share this with an audience beyond the school. We have really begun to use blogging quite heavily this year as a way of providing the children with an audience for their work. Year 2 have recently been learning the basics of word processing by attempting Julia Skinner’s 5 Sentence Challenge. Each week their writing has been blogged and they have been thrilled to receive comments from as far away as Canada, Argentina, New Zealand and even from Pedro the Penguin at the South Pole. The children didn’t question the fact that they had received a comment from a penguin but were more concerned that Pedro didn’t seem like a very penguinny name.

Before Christmas Year 4 do a project based on robots and to start I asked them to come up with a range of questions they would like to ask an expert on robotics. Each child came up with one question that was posted on our ICT blog and by the next week two professors of robotics had replied to each and every one of the questions – and in quite some detail as well.

Year 5 have been blogging some of the work they have been doing for their album cover designs and they were all incredibly excited when they started receiving comments from the bands themselves admittedly the bands don’t actually exist and all the comments were written by me – but the children believe that they are designing the debut album cover for an unsigned band.

I am also really keen to ensure that the children are given opportunities to create much more than a leaflet in publisher or a presentation in Powerpoint. I want the children to be able to write their own programs, build their own robots, develop their own apps and become true digital creators rather than simply digital users.

For me ICT stands for Innovate, Create and finally Tinker. When I bought the ICT department an Arduino micro-controller board I also bought a Getting Started with Arduino book and in that book it contained this wonderful definition for tinkering…

“Tinkering is what happens when you try to do something you don’t quite know how to do, guided by whim, imagination and curiosity. When you tinker there are no instructions – but there are also no failures, no right or wrong ways of doing things. It’s about figuring out how things work and reworking them”

I always try and give children opportunities to tinker. If we are using a new piece of software I allow the children time to experiment in order to discover what the program does. I recently used Lego Digital Designer with Year 4 for the first time and several of the children have discovered ways of doing things that I didn’t know about. I’m not afraid to admit to the children that I don’t know everything and that quite often there is more than one way of doing something

ICT = Innovate, Create, Tinker

I want the children I teach to be innovative –  to try something new, to develop new ideas and to not be afraid to try something different. There is one girl in Year 8 at the moment who never ever quite does what she has been asked to do – but what she does produce is always fantastic.

I want children to be creative and to create things for others to use. I want the children to be creative from an artistic and technological point of view and I want them to appreciate and respect creativity in others.

I want children to feel free to tinker – to see what happens, to try something, to take something apart and then see if they can put it back together again

But Innovate, Create, Tinker does not just apply to the children and what they experience – it also applies to the curriculum itself. I want ICT at my school to be innovative and constantly evolving. I want to take whatever the National Curriculum throws our way and build on it to create the curriculum I believe works best for the children in my school. And I want to be confident enough to tinker with the curriculum so that from one year to the next the plans may never be quite the same but the children that I teach will always get the best that I can offer in a subject that is always evolving and that is why I love teaching ICT.


Thank you




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