The sum of things to be known is inexhaustible

As Head of Department I usually send a weekly update email to the team on a Sunday evening covering the things they need to know e.g. what’s on the teaching plan, deadlines and meetings. NB I have no expectation that this should be read at the weekend, it just suits me to do it then. I am starting each update with a thought or inspiration. I may occasionally blog them. Here is today’s:

Recently I have been getting into poetry, and I can recommend an audio book called The Poet’s Corner by John Lithgow (The 3rd Rock actor). It’s a fab introduction to poetry and really inspirational. A.E. Housman, author of “A Shropshire Lad” which beautifully captured the pain of growing up, gave a speech on taking up his post as Professor at UCL: “The sum of things to be known is inexhaustible, and however long we read, we shall never come to the end of our story-book.” I’ve put this on a poster in my room as I think it sums up my joy of life-long learning. Find it on Canva here.

Computer Science “Hinterland” Book

Prompted by this post by Tom Sherrington on Twitter and after much discourse about Cultural Capital and its importance in raising attainment of disadvantaged pupils, I got to thinking… maybe I could pull together a “Hinterland of Computing” book to assist teachers and curious students alike understand the history, implications and future of the fascinating topic of Computer Science. 

So I have started. This blog post will evolve and may be followed up by others, but it’s a starting point for my thoughts on the subject. I really need lots of help, so comment below or on my Twitter feed if you have anything to contribute.

I see this being completed in the Summer of 2020 so hopefully published by Christmas 2020, but that may change as I have not published a book before 🙂

My plan is to write a chapter on each topic, based on typical GCSE specifications. In each chapter I would discuss the history of the topic, with interesting stories, discuss the current status and how real-world experiences link to the topic, cross-curricular links and cross-topic links, then cover the future direction, implications and ethical issues, and finish with some inspiration for the classroom, suggested lesson plans and further reading.

For example, the topic on Systems Security might discuss the history of Cryptography from the Caesar Cipher to Elliptic Curve, stories of computer viruses from Creeper to WannaCry, why passwords are the worst way to authenticate yourself (apart from all the others). Everything will link back to GCSE specs and be clear on what students need to know, but the reader will now have lots of background knowledge with which to illuminate the content and hopefully make lessons more interesting, and pass on that Cultural Capital we are all now aware is so important.

Please let me know if you want to help, feedback is very welcome. I’m gathering background reading at the moment so post comments below or message me on Twitter thanks!

Sheffield Uni CS Reunion 2019 – update

This post is a little aside from my regular output to help me connect with former friends and associates from “back in the day”.

I studied Computer Science at Sheffield University from 1986 – 1989, this is a plea to my former coursemates and buddies to reconnect and join me in Sheffield for the 30-year reunion on September 7th. I’d love to recreate this picture from Maths and Computer Science Graduation Day, June 1989. Some names below where known…

img_20190726_134001-1Left to right: unknown, Steph ?, David Thomas, Neil Ledley, myself, Matty Brunt*, Gillian Ainscough (front), Steve Brooks, Alistair “Yocky” Yoxall (?), Rupert “Gint” Holden.

Other folks I’d like to catch up with include Andy Day, Ed Simons, Adam Briggs, John McGinty and many more.

If you are named here then please get in touch via Twitter @tech_magpie, find me on Facebook or comment below and tell me if you’re going on 7th Sep. Cheers.


Update with pics

It was good to see Michael, Gint, Adam and Lucy among others, all 1989 grads. Here we recreate one of my graduation pics, enjoy!




Escape the Room

I’ve finished my Escape the Room activity and I’m sharing it here, hopefully just in time for others to use at the end of term.

Big thanks go to Claire Wicher (@GirlGeekUpNorth) for her resource which gave me a starting point, and I’ve kept in a lot of her content. Claire’s lesson was intended to fit into a standard 50-60 minute lesson, with preamble and review, hence it was too short for my purposes. This one should take 1-2 hours depending on ability and how much help you give them.

The slides are largely self-explanatory. If you open the Powerpoint you will find #escapeinstructions and an inventory of parts. The objective is to open a chest by solving puzzles which reveal combinations for the six locks. There’s a twist at the end though, just for laughs and that extra feeling of achievement.

I’ll post photos of the actual kit next week, and watch my school Twitter account for photos and videos of the students in action. Below is the download link for the Powerpoint file.

Escape_the_Classroom_Resources – WHGS vx


Christmas Computation Challenge

Better late than never! I compiled some computational thinking puzzles into a booklet for KS3 to take home for Christmas. With the Y11 Mocks intervening in January, I didn’t get round to prize-giving until just this week. After sharing the winners on my school Twitter feed I’ve had some requests for the booklet.

Here it is, shared CC-BY-SA as usual, most of the contents are from and shared with permission.Christmas1

Both question and answer booklet are on my CAS resources page (some of my students have found this page so there will be no answers here).

Download just the question booklet directly here: Computing Christmas Challenge 2018

Quizlet Ambassador

I am now officially a Quizlet Ambassador.

I love Quizlet. As a teacher whose students sit in front of computers, I have always been looking for interactive teaching episodes for them, and in particular, an alternative to the dreaded “Card Sort“. I found Quizlet during my Teacher Training about three years ago. I’ve been using it ever since. quizlet-ambassador

Quizlet is an online resource whose time has come. My school, like so many schools do today, values recall practice and self-quizzing: two of the techniques in Barak Rosenshine’s “Principles of Instruction“. To help the students to recall important terms and facts, and later use these to discuss subject knowledge, among many other tools we can use Quizlet.

I have so far made 56 Study Sets, each one a set of pairs, each pair a Term and Definition. With this simple effort, the students now have the ability to self-quiz all the subject topics, in seven different ways, in class or at home. The activities they can do with my study sets are:

  • Flashcards: Just like a teacher, the definition appears, you must guess the term. Click to reveal the answer.
  • Learn: The computer delivers questions based on the study set, using terms from different definitions. The learner must answer the multiple choice question.
  • Write. The flashcard definitions are displayed as questions. You must write the answer. Great for literacy.
  • Spell. No questions, just the definition displayed, and the spoken answer. (Yes, Quizlet supports text-to-speech). All you have to do is spell it correctly.
  • Test. This is Epic. It makes a random test out of the study set, including some Multiple Choice, True/False, Matching and Written answer questions. Of course you can print this and set it as a test, or your students can generate and self-test their own quizzes.
  • Match. This is the one they all like to play as a starter. It replaces a printed card sort. The learners have to match the terms to their definition by dragging and dropping.
  • Gravity is a video-game style test, where the learner has to type the answer quickly before the meteors hit the planet! Very exciting, if a little awkward (it’s tough to type “Fetch-Decode-Execute” before your planet gets blown up :/ )

I have created study sets for most of the content I now teach. It’s all publicly available at . You are welcome to play and copy.

I have not mentioned yet, the joy of Quizlet Live. You may be familiar with Kahoot or many other whole-class live quizzing services. My students love Quizlet Live which is won by the team who has learnt the terms in the study set well enough. They now ask for it, and I have given in to “Quizlet Live Friday” in the past. If you play it a few times, I’m sure you will too.

Message me here or on Twitter at @tech_magpie if you have questions.

On Winding Down.

recreation (n.)

late 14c., […] noun of action from past participle stem of recreare “to refresh, restore, make anew, revive, invigorate,” from re- “again” (see re-) + creare “create” (from PIE root *ker- (2) “to grow”). Meaning “refresh oneself by some amusement” is first recorded c. 1400.

2pm Friday the pupils left for their summer break, and following staff awards and leaving presentations, we headed to the pub. By 7pm I was home with family and asleep by 10, such was my end-of-term fatigue. Now begins my period of recreation. I use the word in its original sense, above, i.e. the re-creating of myself through “amusement”.

It is important to do this, and I try to ensure I have several days to unwind, not thinking of school at all, catching up on my favourite “amusements”. This helps purge the mind of intrusive thoughts, worries and internal struggles I’ve been having, allowing me to properly relax. There is time enough for such things later in the break, now is the time to unwind and de-stress.

So since breaking up on Friday I have

  • had drinks with fellow teachers and laughed about the yearbe the best you image
  • Played my guitar loudly and cheerfully
  • Spent time with family
  • Taken 5 girls to the cinema to see Mamma Mia 2
  • Finished reading the book “Wonder”

I will be getting back to improving my piano keyboard skills this week, and hopefully blogging more. But mostly I will be reading. My “to-read” pile has grown significantly this year, I have “Mark, Plan, Teach” and lots of fiction to catch up on. Plus as much stuff on cognitive science as I can find, (pointers to Barak Rosenshine and related material very welcome in the comments or on Twitter)

But whatever I do this week it will be to re-create myself. As it now says above my whiteboard: “Be brave, be kind, be the best you”. To be the best me, I have to de-clutter my mind now, and re-fill it with good stuff. I might even fit in some exercise.

Have a great summer.