Where to with KS3?

My previous post outlined some of the problems I see in KS3, although friends on Twitter suggest that the Strategies are not being followed (or at least used as a broad basis for schemes of work) as widely as I suspect. Certainly, there are people like @andyfield, @mwclarkson and @4goggas trying hard to take more innovative approaches. (And, yes, there’s others too!)

What should schools be doing?

For a start, we should be looking at the “big picture” of ICT in the real world. For example:

industrial robots

By chrischesher, Flickr, CC-SA-NC licence

  • 3D in games and films
  • robotic production lines
  • privacy in the age of Facebook (and why learners under 13 shouldn’t be using FB)
  • massive databases, such as Amazon, EBay and Google
  • sensing in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), Hubble telescope or medical applications
  • games as models (rather than dull spreadsheets)
  • the role of communications in ‘popular uprisings’
  • programming apps for the iPhone and other platforms
  • touch and gesture interfaces

Of course this list could go on. It is also clear that some issues and technologies will be either transitory or fads, but these are things that are ‘now’ and potentially of direct interest to students.

I am not trying to define content with the preceding list, but context.

It is important that key ICT skills and ‘higher order’ thinking are embedded in KS3. But do we need the approach that seems to emphasise software skills above all? Why not use the skills that young people already have and develop these through mentoring, formative assessment/AfL and targeted support, while ensuring that the contexts used are real.

Roughly, I’m thinking of an approach that:

  • Sets out a problem/issue/technical development
  • Organises learners into research groups
  • Leaves then to make choices about how to organise their research
  • Leaves learners to decide whether to report their findings using a document, presentation, audio response, video, blog post…
  • Showcases innovative responses, good use of technology, interesting questions
  • Develops self- and peer-assessment that picks out the good points and areas for development
  • Ensures learners develop their software skills in context across a range of applications.

I want learners to be saying things like “How did she do that?” and “I want to do that next time”. Further, they should be asking each other how to achieve a particular outcome.

BUT I particularly want them to go away with an appreciation (at least) of exciting new areas of technology.

Of course there’s really little new in the above and it would be wearisome if the same approach was being used continually across KS3. @andyfield argues (rightly IMHO) that gaming and programming need to have a real role.

Many are already looking at the wider use of gaming in the curriculum, not least the brilliant @timrylands, @dawnhallybone and @derekrobertson. The latter is particularly involved as leader of the Scottish Consolarium project.

These people are (largely) talking about gaming supporting other parts of the curriculum. But games are just the best place to talk about modelling using ICT. They are engaging; part of what many young people ‘do’; direct in terms of understanding what the model is intended to achieve; and not downright boring like Excel. Financial models are important for some people (and Excel is a great tool in many other contexts), but simulations – to which games are akin – are a much bigger and more exciting part of modelling.

Why don’t we use these things?

I realise that there are issues with hardware (for video reports, or gaming) and internet filtering for researching some topics. But we must raise our eyes and our expectations.  If we expect young people to engage with the tools and skills they already have I think we will be continually surprised by what they can do.

I am sure I am not the only person grappling with these issues. Just this morning, Marilyn Hartwell from the Vital “IT Specialist” community pointed to an article arguing that Cyber security could interest children. This article also outlines the context in the delcine of uptake in ICT. The IT Specialists community wiki (for which you need a Vital login) has other examples of ‘real life’ ICT applications. The task of the group is to enhance ICT at KS4, but the contexts could be applied to younger learners too.

The #ictcurric group has further resources for teaching ICT contributed by @dwsm, @largerama, @ZoeRoss19 and others.

I am convinced that the problem at A Level and KS4 is really the problem of KS3.

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