Primarily about computing: links to lively locations

This post is first for the lovely, lively children at St Luke’s School. We’re getting stuck into some computing with the Raspberry Pi computers we won for doing so well at the Hour of Code last year. But sometimes one of us (let’s be honest, usually one of the leaders) needs a little reminder or help.

So here are some great sites with short videos, helpful tips and even ready-to-roll software. Try them at school or at at home!

  • Adventures in Raspberry Pi: we have our own copy of this book so you can find out more in ICT Club. Take a look at the videos at the bottom of the page – they should give you plenty of ideas.
  • Scratch ideas – which will work on your netbook or laptop too:
  • Coder: uses the Pi as a web server (just like Google!) so you can connect and create your own pages.
  • Raspberry Pi site: for lots more Raspberry Pi ideas

Let’s make music!

Making web pages

Find out about those mysterious codes that make web page look good:

Michael Gove or Rupert Murdoch: who’s copying the online learning homework?

Michael Gove and Rupert Murdoch express an interest in online learning.

Michael Gove at the BETT Show, 2012
I look into classrooms and they're positively Victorian!
The front page of the Guardian today carried an article by David Leigh about the Secretary of State which included specific reference to the ambitions of Rupert Murdoch to profit from online learning. It’s headlined ‘The schools crusade that links Michael Gove to Rupert Murdoch’. As an aside, Mr Gove, as the author of a book about Islam, might consider the word crusade a little tasteless.1

One interesting passage refers to

…the extraordinarily close links that still exist between publishing tycoon and Tory politician. One of Murdoch’s long-term projects is what he calls a “revolutionary and profitable” move by his media companies into online education. Gove would be a key figure in any attempt to penetrate the British schools market.

And the evidence is:

On 19 May, Gove breakfasted with Murdoch in London. The tycoon flew on from that meeting to address a Paris conference of internet entrepreneurs. This time, he went into some detail about News Corp’s plans for educational technology. He and Klein had been touring educational projects around the world, in South Korea, Sweden and California. Schools were the “last holdout from the digital revolution” he said. “Today’s classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age… The key is the software.”

You can read the full text of Murdoch’s speech on the News International site.

That’s Mr Murdoch, boys and girls. Now let’s have a look at what Mr Gove said at the BETT Show on 11 January 2012:

The fundamental model of school education is still a teacher talking to a group of pupils. It has barely changed over the centuries, even since Plato established the earliest ‘akademia’ in a shady olive grove in ancient Athens. A Victorian schoolteacher could enter a 21st century classroom and feel completely at home.

Now who do you think is copying the homework, children?

Order Teaching English using ICT from Amazon
As presented to Michael Gove!
Does this suggest a reason for the recent interest by the DfE in technology in schools? In the early days of the coalition, having immediately abolished the education technology agency Becta, it seemed ICT in schools was deemed peripheral at best. Now it seems that Mr Gove is asking, ‘What can technology do for learning?’ The answers in his BETT address are revealing: ‘disseminate learning…. think about how we teach… unprecedented opportunities for assessment’. Well, it’s a start, if a rather limited one – which is why I gave him a copy of our book, Teaching English Using ICT, to show him that English teachers have been thinking about this for a long time already. What’s that? You’d like a copy as well? Oh, all right then….

An open-source curriculum?
In calling for ‘an open-source curriculum’, mind you, Mr Gove might not entirely please his former employer and continued friend Mr Murdoch. For in that same speech to the G-8 Forum in Paris referred to earlier, Rupert Murdoch opened by making a strong plea for copyright law:

We hope the G-8 will strongly affirm that the property rights of artists and creators are more than a matter of protecting cultures. In this new century, they are essential requirements for a dynamic economy and the digital future.

As the Open Source Schools site tells us,

Open source software is software which can be used, modified and improved by anyone and can be redistributed freely.

Such a philosophy might not always sit easily with those who see education as a ‘revolutionary and profitable’ market, might it? And that’s before we get to the purists of the Free Software Foundation. Still, taking open source seriously, using free software and publicly-funded and freely available content might save schools a lot of money, mightn’t it? Now that might be ‘revolutionary and profitable’, though more in the spirit of Paris 1789 or 1968 than G-8 Paris 2011….

Rupert Murdoch, the considerate employer
Mr Gove might feel kindly towards Mr Murdoch for a number of reasons. Weary hacks eking out a living in their drafty garrets might be just a little jealous at two further tid-bits in the Guardian story, which shows that ‘Murdoch in turn was kind to his former employee’:

  • When Mr Gove was a backbench MP, The Times topped up his salary with a £60,000-a-year column. Nice work if you can get it – and something covered here in a blog post last July.
  • Murdoch’s publishing arm, HarperCollins, also gave Mr Gove a book advance in 2004 for a history of an obscure 18th-century politician, Viscount Bolingbroke. ‘Puzzlingly,’ David Leigh writes, ‘the book was never delivered.’ What a fine example to set to the children! Well, Miss, that Mr Gove never did his ‘omework neither!

Film least likely to win an Academy Award?
Still, let’s look on the bright side – the Guardian last weekend carried a cartoon by Stephen Collins on films least likely to win an Academy Award. One was Gove: ‘he was a British public figure, but he had a human side too’ (‘extremely detailed… very long indeed’)

Fanciful? Not for Toby Young! In case you weren’t among the 3.26 million who bought the Sun on Sunday, I’ve read it for you – well the bit where Toby Young waxes lyrical about the Secretary of State:

My bet’s on Gove for PM

Haven’t we heard that somewhere before?

1After all, Michael Gove’s Celsius 7/7, published in 2006, ‘argues that Islamists are waging “total war” against the west, not because of imperialism but because of their root-and-branch rejection of “western values”,’ according to Richard Seymour). I’m afraid that another reviewer found this ‘perfervid pamphlet… remarkably trite’. Harsh words indeed! If you want to judge for yourself, Celsius 7/7 is available from Amazon from only £0.01.

Streaming: the new education policies made visible?

Department for Education home page, 25 May 2010
Department for Education home page on 25 May 2010: streamed from right to left

Not much happening on the new Department for Education website; they must all be too busy setting up free schools, abolishing quangos and the like. Their home page (which still, nearly two weeks into the new government, has the temporary feel that I commented on earlier) prompted my next article for NATE’s English Drama Media magazine. Not published yet – and members only: another reason to join NATE! There is a Twitter feed, to show they’re modern, though (bearing in mind the Prime Minister’s comments on ‘too many twits’, there aren’t many tweets so far and those are anodyne).

The photograph on this page becomes increasingly unsettling the more I look at it. Children are reading books – to resort to the demotic: what’s not to like? Look closer, though, and you see Tory streaming policy in action: right wing girl reads one book, commandeers another (it’s the Matthew Effect). Move left and the girls begin to close their books (closed minds). Left-wing boy can’t read, just suck his thumb – must be destined to be a hewer of wood or drawer of water – no doubt there’s some vocational training that an outsourcing company can devise to keep him busy.

One quango that they have abolished is Becta, the education technology agency. Whilst many classroom teachers might not know much about it, some of us will regret its passing. A keen young teacher wrote to NATE: ‘I’m disgusted by this frankly. If there’s one thing a country of this size and waning political influence needs, it’s surely the wider dimension of learning possibilities that ICT offers the common classroom teacher and pupil. What use is the structural investment without sharing the good practice?’ Another commentator with many years experience as a key player in the application of ICT to English added: ‘The worry is that this actually reveals a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of ICT in schools in general.’ Let us hope not. As the Guardian leader commented: ‘Even if the staff now facing the chop at the Becta agency, which promotes technology in schools, are not deployed as effectively as they might be, they are more useful than they will be if they end up in the dole queue.’

Thanksgiving – from me, if not from the turkey

Learning about US education at NCTE’s 2008 Convention

Turkey at Lackland High
I didn’t ask them to bring their Thanksgiving Dinner forward a week, though it was flattering to be accorded that honour, even if, as a vegetarian, I was loath to eat the turkey or the pork on offer. The photo shows a victim (it’s not the bird that gives thanks, we assume) with Suzanne Dreyer and me in the library of Stacey High School at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. Suzanne is Instructional Technologist at Lackland, which involves supporting technology for learning ‘K-12’ (that is, from Kindergarten to the end of high school) – and being a kind of ‘super-teacher’ as well. The tour of the school was an invaluable introduction to the whole range of US schooling – though I was told Lackland isn’t really typical and I could see that Suzanne is exceptionally committed to making the most of the technology.

Welcome, trespassers!The Annual Convention of NCTE (which is the US equivalent of NATE) which Julie Blake, Tim Shortis, Andy Goodwyn and I attended for the next four and a half days, merits more than I have time for tonight. Suffice it to say that we were warmly received and were able to engage in a fascinating exchange of ideas. Chris Warren’s collapsed text idea has now appeared on the US website,, created by Allan Webb of Western Michigan University. And just to make it clear that despite the notice here, we received a warm welcome wherever we went!

What does it mean to be American? British?

US high school students give us their perspective on what it means to be ‘American’ and ‘British’

This YouTube video gives a fascinating insight into what US high school students think it means to be ‘American’ and ‘British’.

It was created by students at Sacramento New Technology High School, USA to help students at Ninestiles Technology College in Birmingham, UK, with a project about identity. Ninestiles doesn’t seem to have produced a reply, which is a pity – but also a great opportunity for others.

See the video on YouTube, where you can choose high quality streaming and see related material.

Interesting footnote: Weed is where George and Lennie have fled from in Of Mice and Men.

Migrating menus for Interner Explorer 6 users

Literary Connections menus in the wrong place for users of Internet Explorer 6

Apologies to visitors to Literary Connections who use Internet Explorer 6. I’ve just discovered that the left-hand menus appear at the very bottom of the page and not at the top, as they should. But I’ve also discovered how to cure the problem. Continue reading “Migrating menus for Interner Explorer 6 users”

Byron urges safety code: can this be true?

Byron urges social networking safety code: but is it the poet’s own work?

Has the enfant terrible turned into a Daily Mail reading Conservative? Byron, who wrote so contemptuously of the Poet Laureate in Don Juan?

Although ‘t is true that you turn’d out a Tory at
Last, – yours has lately been a common case.

It turns out that the headline in today’s Guardian: ‘Byron urges social networking safety code’, is all about teaching children to use the Internet safely. It’s a report by Dr Tanya Byron and is full of sensible advice, though regular reference to what ‘Byron says’ are a little disconcerting to those of us more familiar with the poet. Can you image George Gordon Noel, Sixth Baron Byron, that scourge of conformity and convention, writing: ‘Byron has also recommended a code of practice to cover the moderation of user-generated content’? No, I thought not.

‘Celebrity scandal seems much more his line, whether creating it himself or writing about it at the expense of his enemies. It turns out that, according to another article on the Guardian website today, this is just what today’s teenagers enjoy reading. The list of their best and least loved reading matter makes fascinating reading itself. Number 4 on the ‘Most loathed reads’ list is ‘Magazine articles about skinny celebrities’; top of the ‘Most loved reads’ list is: ‘Heat magazine’. Strangely, as the journalist cannot resist pointing out, ‘the cover and pages six to 12 of this week’s favourite read Heat are devoted to the subject’ of skinny celebrities. But whoever expected teenagers to be consistent?

More on Byron – the poet – here.

Dawn of the digital natives? Or: When is reading not proper reading?

Literacy may not, after all, be killed off by technology

An interesting article by Steven Johnson on the front of this week’s Technology Guardian says that scary reports about the decline of reading in the digital age ignore all the screen reading that’s going on. He’s even found a study (in Michigan, admittedly) that found ‘that grades and reading scores rose with the amount of time spent online’. He concludes, ‘What separates the Google generation from postwar generations is the shift from largely image-based passive media to largely text-based interactive media.’ Why, everyone’s actually writing more now they’re on blogs and MySpace. The end of the literate world may not, after all, be at hand!

The National Literacy Trust published its own findings last December on Young people’s self-perceptions as readers. They surveyed 1143 pupils who defined themselves as ‘readers’ and 471 pupils who defined themselves as ‘non-readers’. However, their findings show, in an interesting reflection of Steven Johnson’s comments, that ‘the a huge percentage of non-readers do read, just not the kinds of materials that are traditionally associated with reading.’ Take a look at the full survey findings to learn more.

Web 3.0 is all about rank and recommendation

Both Rank and recommendation on this site…

It’s good to receive an unsolicited plug in The Guardian, though I must say that I’m still trying to catch up with Web 2.0. Whatever happened to Web 2.1 and all the other incremental steps? Well, it turns out that ‘the technology is not enough on its own,’ which is reassuring in a way.

Meanwhile, Literary Connections has plenty of recommendations….