ISSN 1470-5524

Practical advice for colleagues who use, teach, lead or manage information and communication technology (ICT) in schools.
04 December 2009
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In this issue...



Most of this edition is given over to reviews. I hope you find it useful. There’s another set of reviews to come, hopefully next time. If you have bought a product and would like to review it, please let me know and I’ll consider it.

If you also subscribe to Coming of Age News, you’re receiving this because it mentions the new Web 2.0 Projects book. I’ve decided to merge the CoA and Computers in Classrooms mailing lists because (a) there are only so many hours in a day and (b) all Web 2.0-related announcements will be made in Computers in Classrooms anyway. I hope this is acceptable to you, but if you would rather not receive this newsletter in future all you have to do is click the ‘Leave Mailing List’ link in the email you received..

The New Website

The new ICT in Education website has been up and running for over six weeks now. There are quite a few articles there already, and it’s growing quite rapidly. Please do bookmark it and tell all your friends (and non-friends!) about it. If you’d like to contribute an article to this newsletter and the website, do pitch me an idea.

I hope you like the pared-down clean-cut look of the new website. It’s almost widget-free, and I’ve set it up to make it really easy to find stuff.

There’s a new RSS feed to go with the new site. If you’re not sure what an RSS feed is, you may find What's RSS and why is it useful? useful.

In case you prefer to read the articles on a phone, there’s a new mobile website too.

Finally, you can listen to the articles too. Either click on the button in each article, or subscribe to the automated podcast feed. Check out the control panel for details of how to do so.

The Web 2.0 Projects Book

I’ve received over 100 responses to my request for details of ideas which people have tried out in their classrooms, using Web 2.0 applications. I’m currently in the process of going through them, and will be emailing folk to tell them if their submission will be included in the book, or to ask them to amend it or provide further details.

The deadline for submissions was 30 November. As a subscriber, you can still submit something by the start of next week if you’d like to, ie by 7 December. Details of what I’m looking for and the online form are here. I’m extending the deadline only to subscribers to this newsletter.

The first edition of the book was downloaded around 12,000 times, and I think the second edition will do even better. Contributing to the book is a nice way of sharing ideas with other educators whilst bringing your work to the attention of a wider audience.

K12 Online Conference

Still on the subject of Web 2.0, this year’s K12 Online Conference is looming (although there has already been one 'fireside chat'), is free, and is on the theme of ‘Bridging the Divide’. Go here for the full programme.

‘Mobile learning; handheld learning?’ What do we mean? 

This free event takes place on 8th December at the WLE Centre, Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, WC1H 0AL.

Free refreshments too! Nearest tube: Russell Square.

You can also participate online On Flash meeting and in developing a collaborative map of our professional knowledge so far on each topic.

Register on MirandaNet

Seminar and round table: 1600 – 1800

Four speakers with contrasting viewpoints:

· Norbert Pachler, M-Learning group ( )

· Graham Brown-Martin, Handheld Learning ( )

· John Traxler (Wolverhampton University)

· Elizabeth Hartnell-Young (Nottingam University)

Followed by the MirandaMod debate: 1800 -2100

Register here

Are you taking Twitter too seriously?


Of What Use Is An Elevator Speech?

All the books on marketing and networking say the same: you need to have an elevator speech ready for trotting as soon as you meet someone new at an event. The elevator speech – so-called because it needs to be short enough to make whilst in a lift (elevator) – is intended to convey, in a pithy manner, what you do and why you’re eminently employable.

The strange thing is, though, is that in all my years of going to conferences, not one person has made what I would regard as a decent elevator speech.

Most of the time the response I receive to the question, “So what do you do?” is along the lines of “I often ask myself the same question!” Cue laughter, but it doesn’t inspire me to wish to probe any further.

Or this: “I’m a consultant.”

Sometimes, the elevator speech I hear was presumably crafted whilst going from the top floor to the bottom floor in a very tall building. On a couple of occasions, the response to the question (above) has been a sales pitch in which the speaker adopts the ‘royal we’, as in “… and we’ve just launched our new product range which looks set to redefine the global market in widgets.” The speech (which is an apt term for it) goes on forever and is, presumably, designed to bore people into submission.

Perhaps the reason that elevator speeches are so difficult to make is that they are impossible to get right unless you know what the person you’re meeting is likely to be interested in, and what they know already. You have to customize your elevator speech to your audience at the time.

For example, suppose I tell you that I undertake ICT Mark assessments. If you don’t know anything about the ICT Mark, you will have learnt precisely nothing. And even if you do know a little bit, having heard it talked or written about, you may still not realise what carrying out an assessment comprises, and therefore what skills I bring to bear on the process.

It’s similar to submitting a short biography to be included at the end of an article, or in a conference programme. At the last count I had about 20 of them, and I still usually have to adapt one of them when a new assignment comes along.

So are elevator speeches completely useless? On the contrary, I think you need to develop several of them, to use in different situations, cf my 20 or so short biographies. Even before hearing the term ‘elevator speech’ I decided it would be useful to have something to say should I bump into the Headteacher in the corridor, or the Director of Children’s Services in the council offices, or whatever, and asked my team to think about this too.

Depending on who it is, you need to be able to say things like, We’ve just been looking at Google Street to get an idea of what New York looks like to a New Yorker”, or “I’ve been helping the ICT staff in such and such a school prepare for an inspection.”

Whatever you do, make sure that when speaking to someone who could fire you or have you fired, your answer to the question “What have you been up to?” is not “I’ve been wondering the same thing myself.” That could turn out to be, in a memorable phrase spoken to me once, “career-limiting”!

What To Do When An Inspector Calls: 9 Suggestions

What do you do when an inspector calls? The initial reaction of most people is to panic, followed closely by furious publishing of policies and strategies that have never been discussed, will never be read, and will certainly never be implemented. All that is a waste of time and energy, and is completely counter-productive.

Fortunately, there are more effective and efficient ways of responding to inspections and evaluations. In this article, I draw on my experience of inspecting and evaluating ICT and Business Studies departments in schools to provide a list of Do's and Don'ts which will be useful for most kinds of inspection or evaluation.

Be aware of what will happen before, during and after the inspection, but especially during

In England and Wales, the new Ofsted framework (see below) states that the following will take place:

“Much of inspectors’ time on site is spent observing lessons, the quality of teaching and pupils’ learning.

While on site, inspectors may also ‘track’ potentially vulnerable pupils, such as those with special educational needs, those with disabilities, those who are gifted and talented, and children in care.

Other first-hand evidence gathered by inspectors includes discussions with pupils and scrutiny of their work; scrutiny of school records, documentation and parents’ questionnaires; and meetings with staff, governors and school partners where appropriate.”

Conduct your affairs as though you might be inspected at a moment's notice

That way, any notice you're given is a bonus, allowing you to do more or less carry on as usual except, perhaps, for just making sure that documentation is up-to-date, lesson plans are in place and so on – in other words, the sort of last-minute checks you'd want to make in order to give yourself that extra confidence boost.

Make sure your classroom displays are excellent

This is an ongoing task, not just for inspections, which is why I’ve placed it immediately after the ‘always be prepared’ point. There’s a lot more to display than trying to make the walls look pretty with a few colourful posters! You may find my ebook, A Practical Guide to the Importance of Display, useful. (Please go to our Ebooks page for details.)

Provide the inspectors with everything they may need in order to do their job most efficiently

This means making sure that you do not take it for granted that they will somehow find out about things if you don't tell them: inspectors are perceptive, but they're not psychic. It is also worth noting this specification in the new Ofsted framework:

“Information held by the school must be made freely available for inspectors, and the school must cooperate in the inspectors’ task of gathering evidence.”

When I was last inspected in a school, I provided the scheme of work, lesson plans and the year’s homework. It all went down quite well.

If you have a secure website area or intranet, set up a space for the inspectors

Upload your policies and strategies there, along with data you've collated and so on, so that the inspectors can access it easily (a) before they even arrive at the school and (b) any time of day or night and (c) from anywhere in the school and outside.

Provide the inspectors with details of how to access the school's website

And direct them to areas that may be of interest to them. When I used to do inspections I always looked at the school website to give me a feel for the school in general and the ICT provision in particular. I do the same now when I assess a school for the ICT Mark Award. I have a good look around, but I’m always happy to be pointed towards bits that I may have otherwise missed.

Provide the inspectors with at least one computer and printer

Many will have their own laptops anyway, but providing the inspectors with guest logins to the school network really does help. There is little that is more frustrating than wanting to print a document, or type one up, without being able to.

Remember, inspectors love statistics

Data such as how many laptops the school has, the pupil:computer ratio, the average number of posts in the parents' online forum each week, and, of course, data relating to the children's achievement -- all help to build up a picture and provide a starting point for discussion.

Just in case you think that last one mentioned is so obvious as to not be worth mentioning, you’d be surprised at how many ICT leaders do not know what’s going on in their own subject. In the past, I’ve had conversations like this:

Me: How do you account for the discrepancy between girls’ achievement at Key Stage 3 in ICT and boys’ achievement?

ICT Leader: What discrepancy?

Not good enough!

Be hospitable

Provide a nice environment, and tea/coffee-making facilities. Make sure there is a supply of paper clips and ball point pens and sticky notes available. Make sure they have a telephone and the number of the school admin officer who has been specially assigned to look after the inspection team -- someone senior, like the Headteacher's PA.

Obviously, these are general points, and some may not be appropriate in your particular situation. Nevertheless, I hope they’ve given you a few ideas.

The Children, Schools and Families Bill

The Children, Schools and Families Bill was presented to Parliament on 19 November 2009, and made the headlines as a series of guarantees for pupils and parents.

On the face of it, that's not a bad thing, although it did receive some flack in the press for not promising anything new.

For leaders of ICT in schools there is, as far as I can see, one positive aspect of the Bill and one rather worrying one.

The positive one is that the Bill places Personal, Social and Health Education (PHSE) on a statutory footing and ensures that all young people receive at least one year of sex and relationship education.

"What's that got to do with me?", you may ask. Well, there is scope for encouraging your PHSE and Citizenship colleagues to explore the internet for resources and exciting activities. Indeed, in this newsletter there are two reviews, one primary and one secondary, of a recently-launched website called Your Justice, Your World.

As for the sex and relationships aspect, well I don't think we want to get involved in the sex part, but I think ICT leaders have much to offer the 'relationships' bit.

Firstly, discussion of issues such as cyberbullying and online etiquette is never wasted.

Secondly, acknowledging that most of us learn by doing, why not set up or join a Facebook-like community using the free facilities at Students and teachers can contribute to forum discussions, upload videos and photos, and write blogs. It's definitely worth looking into, as some of the contributors to the forthcoming Web 2.0 Projects book will testify.

I started such a community a while ago, and you're welcome to join in order to see what the features are like: However, I have to warn you that I haven't had the time to administer and nurture it, with the result that spammers keep getting in. For this reason I suggest that if you do start your own, set it up such that applications for membership have to be approved, or make it by invitation only (which would make sense in a school setting).

If you would like to see a particularly vibrant community, involving students as well, head on over to Digiteens. Established by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis, the Digiteen project and Ning was created as part of their collection of flat classroom projects. The community is open to teachers but not students, unless they have taken part in a Flat Classrooms project. There's a forum for teachers only at

Back to the CSF Bill, and the worrying part for me is the fact that it creates new powers for local authorities and the Secretary of State to intervene to raise standards in schools, especially the latter part of that. I've heard Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, speak, and he seems genuinely passionate about education. But is it healthy for him to intervene in order to raise standards? How would 'standards' be judged? Would an experimental project involving, say, blogging, be deemed to be not raising standards fast enough, and so be knocked on the head? How far would issues like that depend on the political persuasion of the incumbent of the post?

There may not be much we can do about it on a macro level, but I think this is another reason that anyone engaging in a Web 2.0-type project with their students needs to ensure that they can demonstrate that they are achieving good outcomes according to traditional measures. You can read more about this in a series on the ICT in Education website about projects, including 15 Ways to Make An Educational Technology Project Successful. You can also listen to me talking about it on Classroom 2.0 Live.

What does the Ofsted report say about ICT?

The latest annual report from the Office of Standards in Education (Ofsted) doesn’t say much about ICT, but what it does say is not entirely positive. Unfortunately, there is almost no information provided on why the ICT is good or bad, and one of the statements – “At its best [ICT] enhances teaching, engages students and supports independent learning. However, when used less creatively, it can fail to add value to learning.” – tells us nothing that we didn’t know already. We might say that this statement fails to add value to our knowledge. Indeed, as far as ICT is concerned, this is true of the whole report. So what the report does is give us a snapshot of what’s going on overall, ie not just in ICT, but not really much extra.

Here’s what it says.

The not so good bits:

“… where there are weaknesses in teachers’ subject knowledge, they are most likely to be found in mathematics, information and communication technology and science.

In satisfactory and inadequate colleges, there are particular subject weaknesses in … information and communication technology.

In the colleges visited, …. Poorer areas included … information and communication technology, in which less than a third of the provision was good.

Success rates in the key skills of communications, numeracy and information technology are often low and learners’ performance may be limited by poor attendance and punctuality. Managers’ expectations of learners are too low and individual target-setting is unambitious.”

On the positive side:

“In Further Education, learners are stimulated and challenged by high-quality learning materials, including information learning technology.

In sixth form colleges, the use of information learning technology is increasing. At its best it enhances teaching, engages students and supports independent learning. However, when used less creatively, it can fail to add value to learning.

The overall volume of adult and community learning provision is falling, but information and communication technology is one of the five main sector subject areas which now make up the majority of provision.

The quality of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teaching has risen in line with improved information and communication technology facilities, [and other factors]. “

An example of a well-structured lesson was taken from an ICT lesson in a further education college. The lesson was well-paced with clear objectives, and sequenced well, with learning being built up incrementally, each task laying the foundations for the next.

I think what we can glean from this report, in a nutshell, is that:

· ICT remains a popular subject;

· Good ICT facilities can aid learning;

· ICT, when used well, can be stimulating and encourage and support independent learning;

· Subject expertise is important; and

· Setting expectations which are not too low is crucial.

The New Ofsted Framework and ICT: 7 Key Points

How does the new inspection framework affect ICT teachers? Under the new arrangements (from September 2009), inspectors give priority to (amongst other things) the following six considerations:

Evaluating the achievement and wider well-being of pupils as a whole and of different groups of pupils, and assessing the extent to which schools ensure that all pupils, including those most at risk, succeed

There is clearly a role here for ICT. By making it possible for youngsters to contribute to discussion through forums on the school's Virtual Learning Environment, or contribute to video projects or take part in podcasts, for example, you can help to ensure that all of them have a chance to achieve and not suffer from being excluded.

Evaluating learning and teaching: inspectors spend a high proportion of their on-site inspection time in the classroom

You may not relish the idea, but I think this is good news. As far as I am concerned, data tells only part of the story, and inspectors need to see good lessons going on, in which students can explain what they are doing, and why they are doing it. You also need to make sure that students have a good idea of what level they're working at, and what specific things they need to do in order to improve. I say 'specific' because 'I must work harder' isn't really good enough.

Assessing how well schools promote equality of opportunity, and how effectively they tackle discrimination

There are lots of ways of using technology in education to promote equality and tackle discrimination. As well as using the sorts of approaches already mentioned above, you could set up an online community in your VLE, or setting up a Ning community, as already discussed.

Checking schools’ procedures for safeguarding – keeping children and young people from harm

One of the things you might contribute here is to make sure your e-safety policy is up-to-date, and that all staff understand the issues. I don’t see e-safety and cyberbullying as ICT-specific issues, but I think the educational technology or ICT co-ordinator has a role to play in helping to ensure that colleagues understand the issues, and how to tackle them.

Gathering, analysing and taking into account the views of parents and pupils

One way you can help to achieve this is through online surveys using such applications as Google Forms or Survey Monkey.

Assessing how effectively schools work in partnership with other providers in order to promote better outcomes for pupils

I like to think that the terms ‘partnership’ and ‘providers’ can be interpreted broadly. Belonging to communities which promote good practice is a good thing to do, as is visiting other schools to see what they’re doing.

The grading system

The grades awarded are:

· Grade 1: outstanding

· Grade 2: good

· Grade 3: satisfactory

· Grade 4: inadequate.

Further information on the new inspection arrangements and changes to the Self-Evaluation Form.

The Ofsted report and framework are © 2009 Crown Copyright. I have reproduced them here under PSI licence number C2008000032.

Learning new software: Adobe CS4

Neil Howie discusses the value of teaching Adobe CS4 and how he keeps his skills updated.

I’m sure that like me you eagerly anticipated the new Adobe CS4 release last autumn! Having not been involved with the Beta stage I certainly was, yet I knew that when it arrived I would have to work out how to adjust my Adobe CS3 lessons to fit in with it, and introduce some new things.

How was I to do this? One of the key things I’ve learnt in over a decade teaching ICT is that every year many things are new and I have to live with the fact that I must keep up to date with new software whilst being able to apply universal knowledge to aid my students.

As an Adobe Education Leader I feel privileged, yet I asked to join because I like their software (then it was Macromedia) and whilst I started to design websites to teach many years ago in Dreamweaver I still have to keep up to date with the new ways of designing them. With Dreamweaver CS4 for example the reliance on Cascading Style sheets (CSS) to define the colours/sizes/fonts being used on a webpage and the ease of using Absolutely Positioned Divisions (APDivs) to define where areas where objects will go on the page as opposed to using tables are notable improvements, but they are certainly far more difficult to teach to secondary (high) school students.

Keeping up-to-date

Here are some of the ways that I have, hopefully, ensured my skills are up to teaching what is actually happening in the real world. Updating this knowledge does not take too long, but is essential in order to both teach the topics well, and also so as not to trip over when students point out that it's your fault things aren't working the way you told them.

With the new release of Adobe CS4 I wanted to really start using Illustrator CS4 and have students design vector graphics, initially corporate-style logos they could then use within their Dreamweaver-created website. I haven’t used Illustrator before, the last time I covered vector graphics was in Freehand many years ago. Given I’m not a graphical/art type of person even working with Photoshop I find a challenge.

How can I learn this effectively and then pass it on to my students? There are several methods available that I used: Online TV; online training (with DVDs available); and books. Here I’m not going to go into learning from colleagues as ways to do this would take up another article (see Tom Barrett’s article in April 2009's Computers in Classrooms for one example).

Online training and books

For a basic overview of new features and a marketing perspective of products some software companies now have their own TV/videos online. Having watched the Adobe TV programmes for Illustrator CS4 (, I used this as the first homework for a group of students when they were designing a website logo. The aim was to show them what a serious piece of software they were using and to get some of the words into their heads rather than to necessarily have them understand how to do things. There are some great TV programmes out there, with plans to add more educationally orientated ones in the near future.

Another way to learn is through online training; I use, though there others, such as VTC These are subscription-based websites but like with most things you get what you pay for (Editor’s note: except, of course, in the case of Computers in Classrooms, which is of an amazingly high quality despite being free!). Here good money gets you excellent quality training. It can be purchased for students, but unfortunately I’ve never had the spare budget to do this. However for myself, with new professional products I wouldn’t be without it. Specific product DVDs (copies of the online training) can be purchased from Amazon, for example, but I prefer to have a subscription and cover as many products as possible.

Online training is geared to show you all the features of the product in a visual manner, with files so that you can practice the techniques yourself. Whilst it’s not geared to the school environment, it does give you a good overview of the ins and outs of the programme. I prefer that it is geared towards business as in education things tend to be based on a particular curriculum – as I have taught various different curricula I want to be the one who adapts and uses the features of a program within an overall unit of work, and so adapting online training like this works for me. It also allows you to learn many shortcuts quickly and easily, as well as some of the tricks of the professional trade.

There are, of course, traditional books available. I find these useful as whilst I do enjoy learning from the likes of, I’m not keen on reading from the screen, and having grown up holding and reading books these still psychologically feel like the right way to learn to me. Both Adobe and Aquent have produced an excellent series of books for the CS4 suite entitled “Classroom in a Book” and “xxx CS4 in the Digital Classroom” (where xxx represents the CS4 products) respectively. In addition there are other CS4 titles available for both series as well as other books.

DVD cover
Book coverBook cover
Websites: - a fuller list of Illustrator CS4 products I created when looking at what was around (or ../dw.htm, ../ps.htm, or ../fl.htm) - Online training for CS4 - Adobe online TV channel - Adobe TV programmes for Illustrator CS4 - Magazine with monthly DW/PS/Ai tutorials

(This article was created using Zoho Writer within

Neil HowieNeil Howie is Deputy Principal at the British International School, Belgrade, Serbia. He has been teaching ICT for over ten years in the UK, Nigeria, Serbia and Austria. He is an Adobe Education Leader, Microsoft Master Instructor, and Member of the Institute of IT Training. His latest blog is at; contact details: Twitter: nahowie;


Your Justice Your World

Beatriz Lopez Tienza looks at this new website from a primary school’s perspective.

For the last couples of weeks I have had the chance to try this new website with my students. The website provides a number of lessons with matching activities. The lessons are based on an imaginary town and the issues surrounding this neighbourhood. The website´s layout is very clear and engaging, however for younger children brighter colours would make it more attractive. The first and second units, which are based in the new school, Crownford Rise, were the most suitable for the age group I teach (Year 2). The characters are primary school children who have the same problems as the children I teach. The third and fourth units were more complex, dealing with issues that at the moment do not affect the children in my class, which makes it difficult to role play the scenarios.

The website offers a good range of activities catering for all kinds of students, discussions, role play, worksheets and online activities which can be printed once they have been completed. It also offers extension activities for more able students. Students with special educational needs should be able to access these activities, although depending on their needs they may need adult support.

The content of the website is in line with the current National Curriculum requirements for PSHE and Citizenship as stated in each lesson plan. It will also be suitable when the new primary curriculum is in place, as it will address the main requirement, educate responsible citizens who would make a positive contribution to society. I have concentrated on the 7-11 activities, although some of my children are still only 6 years old.

Role-playing and reporting

When I first explained that we were going to do citizenship on the computer and that they were going to be able to play some interactive games, they felt very excited. Previously we had been able to use the computers to do some work related to citizenship, but they had never been able to play citizenship games on it. This has brought a new dimension to the subject and although they have always enjoyed it, throughout the week they kept asking me when they were going to do citizenship again.

We started with the first unit: WHAT ARE LAWS FOR? In this unit, children carried out the suggested role play activity. We set up a mock council meeting, which proved to be very successful. Most children are not part of the school council and at this age and they sometimes find it difficult to envisage how the school council works. I decided not to have children playing the part of the school governors, as this role is not clear to them, but we had pretend parents, teachers, children and neighbours (in case they wanted to say something about noise levels during playtime). They then became reporters.

I slightly changed this activity and instead of writing for a newspaper, they reported in the news, as I didn’t want the children to worry about the writing and miss the essential points of the lesson.

We answered the questions together and then, in groups they chose a sentence to report on. I found that the use of a pretend microphone helped! They also designed a leaflet for Martians. The stimulus for the activity was very successful, especially for boys, whose engagement at times can be a challenge. They love Martians and they enjoyed explaining the school rules in the leaflet.

Overall the unit was a success. Children felt engaged at all times and produced some great pieces of work. The only aspect that proved difficult with some children was the amount of reading that it was required to complete the online activities, for example, when playing the dominoes game, they needed to be able to read all five pieces of writing before matching them to the image. Also for the quiz, we had the same problem, we needed to solve the quiz as a group. However, we found a way around this difficulty by pairing more able and less able children, which is what I intend to do from now on.

Lesson structure

The lessons within the unit are structured in three main parts:

Discussion: I allowed about 10 minutes for this part of the lesson, as when children came to a decision on the issue proposed, they found it difficult to then consider other points of view.

Role Play: this was probably the most successful part of the lessons. Children understood the purpose of the activity and found no difficulty in becoming someone else, although as specified before, some roles were removed as they were not relevant to children of this young age.

Extension activities: These activities were also of their interest. In here they had the opportunity to record, in writing, orally or in pictures, their thinking and conclusions.

Finally I would like to add that the opportunity to print their own work when completing online activities was very well welcomed by the children, the print outs were clear and attractive. Overall I have found this website very useful. The opportunity to do citizenship online, children to play interactive games, following a story of “real” children and having a structured lesson plan to follow has been really successful, and therefore I plan to continue making use of it in the future.

Beatriz Lopez Tienza teaches Y2 and leads PSHE and Citizenship in Whitchurch CE Primary School, Hampshire. The school is set in the small town of Whitchurch, Hampshire. It has 287 number of children who come from the surrounding area.

Your Justice, Your World

Will Ross looks at this new website from a secondary school’s perspective.

This is a thorough resource on the justice system with a wide range of web-based activities and useful lesson ideas. It is not a one-stop-shop in terms of just leaving students to work through the units. However it is not designed to be used like this and If a teacher is willing to put in the time to work out what they want their students to learn and go through the teachers’ notes to support the web-based activities using this resource will be rewarding in terms learning and engagement of students.

Graphics and layout

The graphics on the whole are good. The cartoons are not too immature for older students but would still appeal to younger students. The use of the map seems a bit of a needless distraction as it adds little to the navigation and the moveable map in the circle at the bottom right corner of each activity seems to serve no purpose at all.

The layout is “busy” but clear. Occasionally during the activities it is difficult to locate what to do next in terms where the appropriate button is.

I think sight-impaired students would struggle with the size of the text and the intricacy of some of the drawings. However by providing the audio of the written elements it goes someway to combat this.

Age suitability

In terms of suitability for different age groups, I think this depends on how you choose to use it. Some Key Stage 3 students would struggle with the amount of text and written sections required with some activities. However if a teacher were to use this as a stimulus using the IWB it would be manageable.

Key Stage 4 students could to some degree be left to work independently with the activities. The print option also provides an opportunity to produce evidence of their learning. This is more valuable than the multiple choice assessments at the end of each section. These may be enjoyable for students but simply test on facts rather than learning across the unit.

Differentiation is mentioned in the “How to use this resource” section but this is a bullet pointed list of strategies that most teachers are well aware of.

The resources

The resources for 7 to 11 year olds could be used for more independent work with KS3 students and with those with special education needs in a more directed manner. This is due to less text and simpler interactive activities. However the topics are sometimes clearly for younger students making this troublesome, such as coming up with rules for your primary school.

In terms of meeting National Curriculum requirements for Citizenship, the web-based activities clearly meet some range and content in terms of legal rights and the justice system. It still requires the skill of the teacher to make sure they deal with the concepts and processes. The discussion, role plays and extension activities in the teacher notes give a useful steer for this. In terms of the National Curriculum links given within the teachers’ notes sections, I find some of these are not entirely accurate missing off some of the processes being used for activities.

The teachers’ notes contain a useful background information section with key terms and some links. The glossary pages are inexplicably numbered rather than alphabetised making navigation needlessly tricky. However within the text in the students’ activities any key words are underlined and when clicked give a succinct definition.

The useful links and resources section is fantastic covering a range of topics and containing some very good resources. Quite often links pages on education websites simply have every link and resource available with no quality assurance whereas there seems to have been a lot of care taken here.

The “How to use this resource” section is 6 web-pages and would be more palatable as a 1 or 2 page download. I initially did not realise there were 5 further pages resulting in me blindly struggling with the notes on the activities at first. My main concern with the resource as a whole in that it is just so big, though the designers have done their best to help with this by providing clear objectives for each section and easily navigable activities.

If teachers take the time to decide which sections are appropriate for their students, breaking up the web-based activities with the discussions and role plays, they will find this a fine and useful resource.

Will Ross is the Association of Citizenship Teachers’ Citizenship CPD Project Manager and Consultant.

Write Monkey

One of the problems with Word and other word processors is that they are, if anything, too well-featured. Sometimes, it’s good to have very few distractions. This is where Write Monkey comes in. Unless you count the ability to emphasise a word by placing stars around it when you attempt to make it bold, or underscores around words when you try to italicize them, it has no formatting features to speak of.

What it boasts, if that’s the right word to use in this context, is as plain an interface as you can imagine. That is, perhaps, slightly misleading because behind the scenes it is quite feature-rich. For example, you can look up words in a thesaurus on the fly, and you can mark text for export.

The primary attraction for me is that you can set a target number of words, and a timer. I find that quite an encouragement to get an article written as fast as possible. Sad, I know, but I get a sense of achievement out of producing a reasonable piece at the rate of something like 300 words in 10 minutes from scratch!

So, might this be a way to encourage pupils to write, especially boys? I don’t know how well it would work on a school network, but it might be worth trying it out on a stand-alone computer if you have one, and giving it a test run. Oh, did I mention that it’s free?

A bit of a fun feature is that you can turn on a typewriter sound, which gives it a kind of retro feel. All I need is a cigarette and a single lightbulb swinging from the ceiling, and I’d feel like one of those reporters in the old black and white movies. Mind you, I’d imagine that if the kids found out you could make such a racket when typing, it would drive you insane.

It has a very competent spellchecker built in, which is just as well because a problem I’ve discovered is that it does not always display links correctly when you copy/paste them from another source. It’s something to watch out for, and perhaps it will be sorted out in a future upgrade.

Apart from that, it’s pretty good. And a bargain at the price!

Marxio Timer

On the subject of timers, there’s a pretty good one from Marxio. I set it to remind me to take a break every 20 minutes. (I often ignore it, but that’s another matter.) Obviously, you could use it to set a time limit for reading, or writing, or anything else.

As you can probably tell from the screenshot, there’s a wealth of options. And it’s free! Download it from the Marxio website, where you can see a list of features.

If you know of any similar software for Mac or Linux systems, I’d be interested in talking to you about a review for a future issue of Computers in Classrooms.

Most of the following books may be purchased from the Amazon page on the ICT in Education website. There is a separate link for purchasing Grown Up Digital.

The Making Of A Digital World

The Making of a Digital World has a very promising subtitle: The Evolution of Technological Change and How It Shaped Our World. It sounds like a more academic version of Thomas Friedman's 'The World is Flat' – and in many respects it is. To be more precise,

“The central question of this book can be … formulated as follows: do the past patterns of global system development still hold true for its current transformation or are we witnessing a structurally different development, whether technologically induced or the result of its increased complexity?”

The book is certainly detailed: the wealth of historical data and the breadth of literature cited are impressive.

Unfortunately, however, I found the book to be almost unreadable. Now I realise that some may protest that academic books are not meant to be readable: they are there to be consulted, which is not quite the same thing. I would have to disagree: the best written work is always gripping, even if it is intellectually alien. For example, I sometimes read Scientific American. The technical terminology used in some of the articles renders large parts of them effectively inaccessible – but that does not prevent my enjoying the bits I do understand.

Not so with this book. Long and complex sentences (such as the one quoted at the beginning of this review) do not make the reading easy. But it's not just that: the book is also – there is no nice way of saying this – poorly written. Take the following sentence, for example, which I do not think is atypical of the book as a whole (although it is one of the worst examples):

“This process is nested in the process in what Modelski terms the active zone process, defined as the spatial locus of innovation the world system, representing the political process driving the world system evolution, and unfolding over a period of roughly two thousand years (again separated into four phases).”

Dorothy Parker once said, in reviewing a book,

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

I dread to think what she would have done with this book.

So, is there anything positive I can say about it? Well, there is the enormous amount of data it contains, along with references for further reading. The author has done an impressive job of drawing together many disparate sources into an overarching conceptual framework. I have to say that the price is somewhat alarming, but if you can persuade your local library to stock it you might use it for source material for assignments and discussions.

Bottom line:

Try to persuade your nearest library to buy it.

The Well-Fed Writer

What's a book on writing doing in a publication about educational ICT? Looked at from one point of view it's completely out of place. However, that is not the only perspective available. Much of the ICT curriculum centres on the concept of audience. Whether it's preparing a presentation for a particular audience, or responding to user feedback, the work requires an attention to someone other than oneself, and something other than the technology. Peter Bowerman, the author of TWFW, has managed to forge a living out of writing. It follows, therefore, that he may be able to teach us something about audience, and have some useful web resources up his sleeve into the bargain.

The book is, in effect, a marketing manual for the would-be serious freelance writer. Thus there is much about how to choose products and services (free is not always second-rate compared to exorbitant, it turns out), and how to approach potential clients. There is good advice about website design and what you should provide on the site, a wealth of websites to explore, and guest sections by other writers (including a few I've come across in the blogosphere, and whom I respect as writers).

There are a couple of niggling things. One is that although Bowerman makes it clear that social networking is very important in today's economy (schools that ban them, please take note), he admits that he himself isn't a member of any of them. That is disappointing because he may have been able to distil into a few bullet points the best way of making contacts in such spaces from his own first-hand experience.

As far as I can tell, there is no information about print-on-demand. Given that writers can be their own publishers these days, a section on that would not, I think, have gone amiss. There was a section about it in his companion book, The Well-Fed Publisher, in which he disparages the use of PoD (although at that time Lulu had only just appeared on the scene, and Bowerman himself had not used it yet).

However, given the readability of the book, such annoyances can be overlooked. Although the jocular (in parts) tone can start to sound a bit forced occasionally, it more often has the effect of making you want to look up that website or read such and such a blog.

Bottom line:

Perhaps not the most obvious choice for an ICT department in a school, but full of hidden gems and a cornucopia of resources. Buy it.

Totally Wired
totally wired

Does a day go by when there isn't a newspaper article about something dreadful that has happened to someone through Facebook or other social media? I say 'through' because, in my opinion, people's behaviour does not change anywhere near as fast as technology does. So whereas young people of my generation had to meet people in real life or engage in 'chatting up' banter on the telephone, teenagers these days have other means of achieving the same thing. And just as, when I was that age, you'd occasionally hear stories of people coming to grief because they met someone they had only spoken to by phone, these days we hear of similar stories.

Little wonder then that parents are scared, bemused and confused about what their kids are up to. With all the scaremongering that goes on, where can they turn to for sensible advice?

Totally Wired is a good starting point. What I especially like about it is that it takes a very common sense approach, and draws parallels with teens of previous generations. What it says, in effect, is "Hey, you were a teenager once! Remember what you got up to?!"

There is a good section at the start of the book in which the author describes a typical day in the life of a teen. We in education, certainly in the UK, have seen this sort of thing many times. Often, such descriptions are slightly futuristic and far-fetched, whereas the one in this book seems a little more realistic to me. The reason such devices are used, of course, is that they provide a non-technical way in to the teenager's digital world.

I was impressed by three other things in particular:

Firstly, there are plenty of websites given where you can find out more about what goes on and how to help keep kids safe.

Secondly, it does put matters into perspective. For example, it states that of the 800,000 cases where kids in the USA go missing, only 150 of them involve strangers. I don't feel that the book is attempting to minimise the risk of 'stranger danger', but it does provide an antidote, I think, to almost total paranoia.

Thirdly, I like the use of sidebars scattered throughout the pages of the book. Sometimes these contain useful historical information; other times they feature information from teens themselves or stuff which parents ought to know about.

The book is a couple of years old, and shows its age here and there, such as when it discusses Facebook's limited availability. However, any book that concerns this subject matter is bound to be out of date almost before it has even been published. The key thing is that the main messages and principles espoused in the book are sound.

Bottom line:

A great book to use as a resource for your own dealings with parents, or even to lend it out to worried mums and dads (in which case, buy a few copies and ask the school library to do so as well).

Wikified Schools
wikified schools

It's tempting, when picking up a book for the first time, to skip the introduction and go straight for the 'meat'. However, it's usually worth investing a bit of time in reading it, to find out where the author is coming from. In the case of 'Wikified Schools', this is a good use of time, if only for the sentences:

"In order to improve student learning, we must be model learners. We must be lead learners."

I love that phrase. 'lead learners’. In July 2009, I wrote an article called What makes a good teacher as far as technology is concerned?, in which I said:

“Does this mean that I go along with the old chestnut about teachers being a 'guide on the side' rather than a 'sage on the stage'? No, because I think that is a false analogy or an abrogation of responsibility. I see no point in spending an inordinate amount of time encouraging kids to discover something that you could have told them in 5 seconds, so the guide on the side thing is not appropriate in all circumstances anyway.

I don't have a catchy phrase to express this idea, but the way I see it, the class is like a group of walkers going on a guided ramble. You have the leader, who knows the terrain and knows what to look out for and to point out. But at the same time each person on the walk is making sense of it all in their own individual way, and discovering other delights that the leader has not pointed out. That sounds to me more like the guide at the front than the guide on the side. I told you it wasn't very catchy.”

Well, I now have the phrase I was looking for: lead learners.

Most of the books and articles I've come across about wikis are concerned with using them in the classroom. Where this book is different is that it addresses the school's leadership and administration. The subtitle, 'Using wikis to improve collaboration and communication in education' gives the first hint that this is no ordinary book on the subject.

Following the Introduction, the opening chapter is a masterpiece. Rather than dive in and explain what a wiki is straight away, the author invites the reader – the school leader or administrator – to take a 'test'. This consists of going to your school district' website, and looking for particular documents, and noting how long the process took and how many web pages were used up. In short, what the book does is to say to reader, "You've got a problem (even if you didn't know it), and here is a solution." It's a clever tactic, and it deserves to work.

The benefits if using a wiki are further expounded in Chapter 3, in which Sandifer compares two systems (System 1 and System 4) of organisation, and shows how wikis fall into the latter category (although, confusingly, the table summarising the information features 'System 2' instead of 'System 4').

This highlights one of the strengths of the book. Those of us who have tried wikis and developed our use of them have tended to do so, I think it's true to say, by trying things out to see what works and what doesn't. We have not, in other words, tried to justify our actions with theory.

However, when trying to convince others to take a particular course of action, it is often fruitful to draw upon research to show that there is a respected, and respectable, community 'out there' that consists of people who have shown that what you're saying is not simply something you thought of in the shower last night!

The book has so many strengths that it's hard to do them justice in a review. For example, it's well-known, I think, that many people divide the world into two: the world of education and the real world. The specious nature of such classifications is demonstrated in a table that aligns educational processes with corporate processes that are often managed with a wiki. It says, in effect: "If this is good enough for businesses, why not schools?".

The book covers various processes that could be managed by a wiki, including continuing professional development, and interactions with parents.

The section on how to make wikis work in the organisation is very good indeed, with advice on wiki etiquette and sets of reflection questions.

The weakest parts of the book are, inevitably, those which contain how-to information about the most popular wikis in use. This kind of information is always bound to date, in ways and at times which are beyond the control of the author. I think it may have been better to have omitted those altogether, perhaps pointing the reader to a section on Sandifer's website for the book -- which is, of course, a wiki:

Anyone who has had the unenviable task of collating the views of senior management on what a policy should contain, as I have, will appreciate how useful it would have been to use a wiki for the purpose. This book makes a very good case for doing so, and makes the whole prospect far less daunting than it might otherwise be.

But could it be of use to students also? I think so. Although it hasn't been aimed at the student, it is important to ensure that students know how such applications could be, and are being, used in work environments. Wikified Schools would be helpful for this purpose.

Being great for dipping into as the need arises, the book is refreshingly readable too. Good material, at a more than affordable price.

Bottom line:

How come you haven’t ordered it already? Stop reading this and get on with it!

Twitter Means Business
twitter means business

The subtitle of Twitter Means Business is 'How microblogging can help or hurt your company'. If you regard yourself, or your school, as a brand, the concern is exactly the same as for a company.

There is always a danger with any book of this nature that it will date as new applications come, and old ones go. However, the author has managed to side-step this possibility very deftly, by the simple expedient of focusing more on using Twitter than the various applications built around it.

Thus the first five chapters are concerned with examples and case studies of how companies in all sorts of sectors have used Twitter.

What I especially like, apart from the variety just alluded to, is the soundbite-style 'lesson' at the end of each case study. For example, "Listen to your customers, really listen. Find the conversations that mention you, join them, and turn negatives into positives with zero spin and lots of love."

Another strength of the book is that it features the names of people whom you may wish to follow on Twitter. Yes, there are automated lists that can do that sort of thing and, much better, recommendations from people you're already following or who are following you. However, these are of little use to the Twitter 'newbie', in which case a recommendation or suggestion from an author of a book such as this is more than welcome.

Although, as I said at the start of this review, there is a danger of application-centred books becoming outdated quite quickly, there are so many apps and services mentioned in this volume that the book is future-proofed to a large extent. Besides, for me, the main strength of the book are the principles and advice it suggests to the reader.

One of the slightly irritating aspects of the book, but which is also a strength, is the number of examples of tweets it includes. They're irritating because it's difficult to read lots of tweets in one go, or perhaps that's just me. But it is at the same time a strength because it very vividly causes the book to walk the talk, as it were.

The book is highly readable. I've read technical tomes about Twitter and they're not easy reading. This is, and its personal tone and emphasis on the author's personal experience lends it an air of authenticity which is not always present.

So would it be useful in a school? I think it would. It's thin enough and readable enough to be dipped into by yourself and other (busy) colleagues.

It would also have a place in your library for students to borrow – not only those taking a course in ICT but also business studies or similar.

Bottom line:

Buy it.

Grown Up Digital
grown up digital

Reviewed by Neil Howie

We have entered the era of the net generation, those between the ages of 11 and 30 who have never known a world without PCs/Macs or mobile phones or other devices (that often baffle me) being part of their everyday life.

Don Tapscott has spent his academic life researching and evaluating how best to approach and understand the different way that the net generation think and act. There is a great chapter on “the net generation as learners” that demonstrates how the net generation do not see the internet as just one research tool among many, or question its value, to them it is there, so use it.

This is the generation that are and will become the leaders and as teachers it is for us to understand how best to help them on their way by looking at the way they can learn. Tapscott here gives many examples, both in schools and the work environment of how and why they may think differently, and why it would be wise for us to take this into account.

As a father with a seven year old son (i.e. of generation Z, after the net generation) who is at ease using Facebook (though moderated by his father), I found this book both professionally and personally very interesting. Tapscott’s research however is very US/W Europe based, where the idea that e-mail to the net generation is ancient history for example. This amused me as one who thought it great to use e-mail as a tool to communicate with an IGSCE (International General Certificate of Education) class; perhaps I should be using twitter and FB instead and my students were only humouring me!

Bottom line:

Buy it.


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