Category Archives: 2.1 Curriculum

Comment on the draft Technologies Es & Os (ICT)

Unfortunately, due to work commitments I can’t make it to any of the Technologies Es & Os days that our colleagues from Education Scotland are holding. In an attempt to contribute to this ongoing work I offer my observations/comments about the draft CfE Technologies Es & Os -with a focus on the ICT aspect of things.

Now, I fully appreciate and value the change in emphasis Nationally on embedding coding in the primary school experience however, I feel as though we have moved too far in terms of emphasis on this in the new Es & Os. There seems to be such an emphasis on this area now to the detriment in learning that other aspects of ICT can offer. Also, for an area that appears to be dependent on volunteers for Barefoot computing or volunteers to run Code Clubs I think this emphasis is somewhat not matched up with an expectation that this really is a responsibility of all and as we all know the concept of coding has been an explicitly stated Outcome in CfE at second level ever since they were published. Is this volunteering thing a part of a longer strategic plan to look to embed this in schools, TEIs etc?

One of the issues that I have when I read the coding Es & Os is that they come across to me as if they were written by a secondary computing teacher. I do not see the primary teacher voice in there. I remember working with colleagues who were secondary computing teachers in the past when I worked in this area but there was real ownership of the language and context in this by the primary teachers involved but this was informed and influence by expertise of the secondary teachers. Now , even as someone who has some experience/expertise in the use of coding in the primary context, I feel that the language used will a little threatening for many teachers new to this coding switch.

More importantly I am trying to see the progression in this area of the Computing Science section section


If an Early or First level learner is programming a programmable device or on-screen object will they and the teacher look to to fix (debug) the thing it it doesn’t work. It seems that the word building in 1st Level is replaced by design and create at 2nd Level. The mention of a coding language comes in at 2nd Level though. Maybe the benchmarks will help in making this area more understandable. I would argue that there needs to be a clearer pathway through the levels here. As they stand I don’t see a huge deal of difference between the ones in this example.

I was involved in a Twitter discussion the other day about the framing of ICT/digital skills being only used to consume materials and that computing science was the digital context where the creation of material would happen. The inference that I took was that creation is stronger than consumption? The creation and not just consumption mantra is one that I fully recognise and subscribe to as well however we must be careful that we do not lose sight of the rich learning opportunities in terms of creativity in the ICT/digital literacy domain. At present the Es & Os in the draft are pretty sparse in relation to this. For example, take the audio and video domains – there is no explicit mention of these in the draft. The exponential rise in use and popularity of YouTube and video as a learning tool/space is something that we maybe should be tapping in to more. We have our video channels now in Glow as well so why are we not making more of this area? Are we still going to ask children to write newspaper reports when more and more children haven’t seen a newspaper and when so many of them have capture cards and their own online video channels? Are we serious about this ‘jobs that don’t exist’ scenario or not (although I’d argue that has always been the case)? Where is our joined-up and forward thinking here? Again, I would argue that the draft Es & Os and the strategy that they reflect should be taking this in to consideration.

Lastly, the promotion of tools for collegiate/collaborative learning in Glow are promoted quite a deal by Education Scotland. We see so much about OneNote, Yammer, shared docs in O365 etc and yet there is nothing in the Es & Os about how learners can develop the skills necessary to help them become effective learners/contributors in the digital domain. It is not enough to be able to search the web, collect knowledge and be safe online – our children should be schooled in the art of writing and owning the web – it must be central to their thinking and behaviour. This can be done through purposeful contexts to explore coding as well as using the tools made available in Glow or Google for that matter. This is just not coming through in these Es & Os. I think the Mozilla’s Write, Read, Particiapte Web Literacy Framework and even the JISC Web Literacy framework should be points of reference for the further discussion around these draft Es & Os.

An opportunity was missed way back when with the first iteration of the CfE Es & Os were drafted. No account was really taken of the explosion of Web 2.0 at that time. We have to get these right this time.

If Vygotsky played Minecraft

A post from my first ever blog from August 2014. Content of which I think is still very much of interest for prospective teachers:

Last week my daughters were playing with their friends. As a group they were all working together to make a movie and their efforts were industrious, noisy and committed. I listened in on their chitter-chatter and I could hear them make the story up as they went along and as the story unfolded, and as great ideas sprung to mind, they shared and accommodated them and collectively created their masterpiece! At one point there was a disagreement and so I, being the skilled adult who knows better, intervened and suggested that they storyboard their movie and plan it in advance. I mean, that’s how we make movies isn’t it, that is the received/perceived wisdom from the educated educator who thinks they are skilled in such matters? The reaction from them was thought provoking. They told me, “No thanks, this is much better and loads more fun than all that planning stuff!” (at least that was the gist of their response!) Remember the context for all of this: school holidays, children out playing, freedom to act as children – they weren’t in school…

A few months back I was dragged to the cinema by my youngest daughter to see The Lego Movie. Now, this was something I wasn’t too pleased about however within ten minutes I was captivated by the absolute aesthetic beauty of the thing, it’s charisma and charm and its developing plot-line that had me totally  hooked. The plotline saw the main character Emmet become ‘the special’ who was doing his utmost, and who seemed destined to, defeat the evil power of President Business whose dark intention was to gets his destructive Lego paws on the super weapon called the Kragle. In doing so President Business would rule the Lego world forever and ever! As the film roller-coasted to its climax it cut away from the animation to a real life scene – *Film spoiler alert* – that showed a young boy in the basement of his house playing with all the Lego characters and pieces that were featured in the movie…the plot line was all from the boys creative imagination as he played with the Lego figures. He had mashed up all the different Lego kits, ignoring the plans and instructions that came with them, and created his own wonderful creative story that just flowed and flowed from him. However, the Lego basement was the domain of his father and he had deemed the basement and the Lego to be out of bounds for his son! It was his Lego, it had been built, it wasn’t to be touched, the plans and the instructions had been followed – the pieces glued down… Keep out all ye who dare not follow the plan!!!

But, the boy is discovered in the basement by his dad!  Here is their conversation:

I gave a gasp of joy and delight when I realised that the Kragle was the lid of the glue, the lid that would stop the plans and instructions from always setting the agenda, that would allow the conditions for wonderful stories and ideas to flourish and that would end the culture of things being glued down, plans and instructions being adhered to. “Put the lid on the glue President Business!” I exclaimed along with my daughter!

Put the lid on the glue. What a metaphor I thought for my experience and my ongoing reflective thinking as a teacher and educator. For years I have been influenced by my observations of children as they played computer games and as I did so I would always be impressed with how they displayed a natural ability to learn on their own and with others. These observations allowed me to lead a significant effort to promote the use of such child-centered contexts in formal educational settings however the lid of the glue, so to speak, was kept in the cupboard marked plans and instructions by some our very own President Business’ in Scotland with their mobilisation of bias agenda! Anyway, enough moaning about that and on to more important matters…

Such experiences where children show their innate ability to think and to learn without the qualified adult supervision that dominates our thinking about children and learning is continuing to make me rethink the role of a teacher and in particular our reliance on and almost uncritical adherence to a specific aspect of learning theory that is used to justify the teacher/ learner dynamic.

The teacher learner dynamic is one that appears to be heavily predicated on the social constructivist theory of Lev Vygotsky and in particular what he calls the Zone of Proximal development. In teacher education this is used to frame a theoretical underpinning that almost justifies the instruction dynamic to some extent. It argues that the ZPD is

the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.

Now, in some cases I see this. The apprenticeship model is one that I fully appreciate and is one that would I feel allow itself to be informed by this particular theory by Vygotsky however I am ill at ease at using this to help inform and articulate my own thinking about children and learning particularly in view of how I have seen young children master the complex world of Nintendogs at age 5 or by what I see when I observe children learning together as they play Minecraft or even when they are making a movie in the summer holidays. It is generally the case that there isn’t someone who is the more skilled or experienced participant/leader. Yes there will always be a group dynamic but as far as I can see the children do tend to self-organise quite effectively without the intervention of a teacher who, for example, places them in roles in their ‘co-operative learning groups’. Hands up who wants to be time-keeper?! Yeah, me neither.

If Vygotsky were to play Minecraft for the first time what would he do? If he were to sit down with his own children for the first time and where neither of them were the more skilled or experienced how would they learn together, make progress and then reach the heady heights of a glass and gold palace with flushing toilets in every room with a creeper trap at the front door and a redstone circuited rollercoaster to take you up to your pad in the mountains!? How is it that children, very young children in so many cases make such progress and make sense of the complex environments in the world of games and in learning in various other contexts/domains without the adult intervention that we have somehow taken to be the common sense agreed norm? I am seriously beginning to question the way in which we refer to ZPD in teacher education and how we need to recognise, value and celebrate the children as learner a little more than we presently do.

In following and pinning our professional colours to the ZPD mast have we as educators lost sight of the child as a learner? Have we become too directive, managerial and controlling? Are we in real danger of being driven by timetables, uncritical acceptance of theoretical perspectives and the gluing down of learning opportunities to the detriment of the creative nature of the child?

The Lego Movie’s theme song states that everything is awesome. I think our children are. Let’s get that lid on the glue and enable the conditions is school to let them demonstrate just how awesome they really are.

Working with Minecraft

Some years ago I became aware of a new game that was virally spreading via the digital jungle drums of our young people – that game was called Minecraft. I had noted that it was creeping through on my Twitter feed quite a lot and when I chatted with my friends’ 12 yr old son about it and what he was doing (he was managing servers and modding the game) I knew that I just had to find out more. When I first saw it I was a little bemused by its ‘blocky’ nature and I wondered why it was that young people who were so used to the most incredible life-like graphics in their modern console games would be interested in a space that looked like the video from Dire Straits – Money for Nothing video from 1986!

After an initial toe-dip into the world I became aware of the Massively Minecraft work done in Australia by Jokay, Dean Groom & Bron Stuckey. This work was incredible and I was lucky enough to host a visit from Dean when he came to the UK on vacation and was even luckier to be able to organise a Minecraft Teachmeet event at which Dean shared the amazing worlds that he and his colleagues were hosting and enabling children to learn in. It was quite simply breathtaking – one project saw learners work together to build the Districts from the Hunger Games books, the worlds were huge, complex and stunningly crafted.

Attempts to initiate a Minecraft project (via Glow Login) when in my last post at Education Scotland fell flat however I always harboured a desire to explore the potential impact on learning and teaching and so I accompanied my daughters on a Minecraft on XBox360 foray and together we learned how to mine, craft, create and survive in this deceptively complex world and as I did so I continued to think

Not long after returning to the University of Dundee I met up with Deepak Gopinath and together we managed to have a bid for some funding accepted from CECHR to help us establish a small scale research project. Although we had two projects the main one that I looked after was called the Minecraft on the Waterfront project. You can read a bit about this via that last link but in essence we were challenging children from Dundee primary schools to reimagine, rebuild and resdesign in Minecrfat how thery think the new waterfront of their city should look like. The current (and agreed design was already built by 4J Studios. This video so inspired the children:

I am currently wrestling with and transcribing the data for this research and will return to this particular topic in the future however this post is about the reach, for now, of the project.

Reach & Impact

The Minecraft on the Waterfront project was reported via my #minecraftOTW hashtag on Twitter and as a result of this I ended up:

I continue to work with my data to help find out a bit more about how games such as Minecraft are framed by both learners and teachers within formal educational settings. More to tell on that later. As for playing Minecraft, well I have decided to move away from the safe world of Creative and Peaceful to testing myself in Survival mode. If I do survive their will be more to share…

Image available at accessed 07/07/15