You’ve had a great idea for teaching, let’s say algorithms. How do you know if it will work though, ie in the sense of extending or deepening pupils’ knowledge?
The first thing to do would be to find out if anyone else has tried the idea. You could do so by doing searches in Google and Youtube. Also, you could ask in the Computing At Schools community discussion forums, or one of the Facebook groups. (The one I especially like is called ICT and Computing Teachers, which is a closed group, meaning that you’ll have to ask permission to join.)
Once you’ve thought your idea through, and perhaps discussed it with others. so that you’re reasonably sure it stands a good chance of benefitting your pupils, this is also a great opportunity for some classroom-based research. Bear in mind a few caveats though.
First, there’s an ethical consideration. If your idea takes a whole term and then doesn’t work, the kids are not going to get that time back. Therefore I suggest thinking of something that can be tried and, if necessary, dispensed with very quickly.
Secondly, if it’s something that looks outlandish, or could look outlandish, then you may need to chat to your headteacher or principal about it.
Thirdly, and on the same point, you may wish to write to parents to tell them what’s about to happen, and why. Take games-based learning, for example. Back in the 1990s I reviewed home educational software for a magazine called ST Format.
The reviews were intended for parents of school-age kids. Here’s what I wrote in the January 1992 issue (the allusion to Dickens’ Christmas Carol will readily be apparent when one realises that the edition always appeared a month earlier than the one on the cover; thus this appeared in December 1991):
Here’s what the article reads:
GAMES FOR HOMEWORK?
“But Uncle Ebenezer,” Bob cried. “You promised I could play a game when I’d finished!”
“Never mind that,” Scrooge snarled. “Clean the fluff out of your mouse and load up another piece of educational software.”
Is this dialogue really that unfamiliar? So many people seem to draw a distinction between education and fun or, more accurately, between games which are educational and those which are fun. Life isn’t that simple -even shoot-’em-ups can have some educational value -like teaching manual dexterity, adding up and strategy/forward planning. And when you consider the god-games that keep appearing, then you’re into really serious stuff, like financial planning, thinking about the future effects of your actions and understanding the instructions.
So, the next time your children come home from school and announce that their homework is to play games on your ST all evening, they could just be telling the truth!
Fourthly, document what you’re doing. You’ll need to be able to show impact, or lack of it.
Fifthly, research needs to be analysed, not just evaluated, ie look at the questions raised. This point was made by Dr Chris Harrison of Kings College, London, in a round table discussion at the Global Teacher Knowledge Mobilisation Summit that took place on 4 May 2017.
Sixthly, ask the pupils for their opinions too. Their insights and suggestions could be invaluable. Apart from anything else, you should tell them why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing, or run the risk that they will think it’s a waste of time and a distraction from their real work.
Finally, report the results of your research. Obviously this could pose difficulties if your new approach didn’t result in better learning, however ‘better’ is defined. But in that case you would want to know why it didn’t work, which is where your own honesty and feedback from the pupils themselves comes in.
If you’re interested in evidence-based education, ie education based on research, then there are three things you should do in my humble opinion.
First, book up for the annual conference of the Association for Information Technology in Teacher Education, which takes place in June 2017 in Hull. Lord Jim Knight and Bob Harrison will be speaking. (Disclosure: I am on the ITTE committee and jointly responsinble for PR and marketing, but I’d have recommended the conference anyway.)
Secondly, join Mirandanet, which is an organisation dedicated to classroom-based research.
Thirdly, sign up to my newsletter, Digital Education. This often features articles about research in the field of education technology, and by signing up you’ll be one of the first to know when a new book called What The Research Says is published. (Disclosure: I have contributed a chapter to that book.)
This article first appeared on the ICT & Computing in Education website.