Classroom observation at City Academy Norwich


I visited City Academy Norwich on Friday, to observe some lessons with Matt Wells and Jez Thompson. It was a particular pleasure to meet Jez; I have known him for donkey’s years, but we had never actually met.

What struck me about the three lessons I observed was that there was no chalk and talk whatever. None. I don’t know if this is a school policy, but if it is then I approve. All the research shows that talking at kids doesn’t work; I suspect it actively inhibits their ability to learn by turning them off the whole experience. What I saw at CAN was kids on task, all the time. Some of that was Yacapaca, some was other activities.

This was also my first opportunity to observe a Year 9 Computing lesson. I was amazed and delighted at the range of tasks the students were undertaking, and the level of engagement the tasks generated. Jez had each student either working on their own task, or in pairs, on a carrousel system. I had not seen this done before in such a fine-grained way, and it was extremely effective. Students were focused much more on their own tasks than what their peers were doing, and as a result were almost completely self-managed.

My actual aim in going was to test out our (very) experimental “Tortoise and Hare” quiz template. And I’m glad I did, because results were fairly mixed and I think I would have missed the nuances of this had I relied only on third-party reports and log data. T&H has potential, but it’s a long way from ready. We shall iterate, and test again. I suspect there will be several rounds of testing before I am happy with it, so don’t expect to see it in production any time soon.

Justin Bieber brings elearing into your classroom, even if you don’t have computers

Three years ago, I predicted that the iPhone, and phones like it, would soon become everyday educational tools. Where are we up to with that? Having spotted this on the Orange website, I’d say we are now only a year away.

If Justin Bieber is endorsing a phone, then it must be cheap enough to appeal to the teenage demographic. Where this gets interesting is that this phone has a nice big touch screen and runs the iPhone’s open-source cousin, Android.

From September, then, you can expect an increasing proportion of your students to be carrying these powerful, permanently-connected computers in their pockets.

How will you respond?

  • Will you feel threatened and try to suppress their use?
  • Or will you see a great way to get around the resource limitation of not enough computers in the school, and embrace the possibilities?

The dog ate my homework

dogThe single biggest concern that I hear from teachers taking their first steps into elearning is that “computers are unreliable”. They fear lost work, broken connections, crashed servers – all things that can and do happen. Whilst I take full responsibility for problems that happen on Yacapaca, and work very hard to prevent them, I’ll confess to feeling a tad frustrated that the same standards are not applied to paper learning materials.

Lost or even destroyed books and folders are an everyday reality in schools, as are textbooks stuck in locked cupboards and worksheets jammed in photocopiers. Analysing these problems we find two types of problem; either of which is enough to give the average digital security consultant the screaming habdabs.

Only one copy of the data exists

All data is fragile stuff and it’s easily lost or destroyed. At Paperless School, we lock it all away in a secure facility with a controlled environment. We also take a complete copy every night and it in a separate, safe place. Exercise books, by contrast, are left on buses, burnt or dropped into ponds whilst looking for frogspawn.

The data is only accessible in one physical location

If you’ve left a book at home, you’ve had your chips. You just can’t access your data until the evening. Not that there aren’t restrictions on digital data; typically you need access to a browser. But digital access gets easier every year; paper access does not.

The real benefit that paper has is that we have become inured to its failings. We’ve simply resigned ourselves to the fact that someone in the class is going to be homework-less or textbook-less. It is high time that we realised that this state of affairs is not inevitable and that we can and should demand reliability of access to data, whether digital or on paper.