Category Archives: learning

Jigsaw programming

Blockly program to compute a factorial

A program to compute the factorial of a number using Blockly

I’m sure many of my readers will know what I mean, but just in case, I am talking about the visual programming languages for programming computers which use blocks that plug together like a jigsaw to express algorithms. Examples include StarLogo, App Inventor, Scratch and Blockly.

These are widely used to introduce programming for the following reasons:

  1. such languages tap in to a pre-literate capacity to help learners make sense of things without depending on technical reading and writing literacies;
  2. learners appreciate the tactile and kinaesthetic sensibilities involved in producing a visually pleasing artefact, the program, regardless of what it does;
  3. such languages clarify the logic of the program through the display of visual, diagrammatic shapes that make it easy to determine the relationship and scope of program elements;
  4. it is impossible to make syntax errors such as incorrect spelling, conjunction or punctuation;
  5. they provide a visual menu of programming elements so that opportunities for expression are clear and the learner’s memory is not overtaxed.

All this I can understand and I am very much a fan, but I am unclear why there is considered to be a desirable progression from these languages to the traditional text-based languages?

In some cases features are missing from the visual programming languages. For example Scratch doesn’t do functions and local variables.

It may be thought that a complex program would be visually unwieldy, but I find that true of any reasonably sized textual program.

Then there is the historical/cultural/custom-and-practice concerns of experienced programmers – I can hear them saying “surely there is something important, expressive and pure about traditional programming languages?”.

I maintain an open mind about this and can even imagine jigsaw programming becoming the method of choice for serious programming in the workplace. If I am right, there are some interesting challenges:

  1. What are the criteria for judging the effectiveness / efficiency / legibility of a program made using jigsaw programming?
  2. What are the examples of programming problems that cannot be solved using jigsaw programming?
  3. How do we benefit from the version control and sharing that matter for collaborative development?
  4. How do they effectively encapsulate and hide libraries of service functions and procedures?
  5. Can we add styling control so that we can tailor the visual appearance to suit the person and the task, or simply provide an alternative view?
  6. How can they reveal and make editable the variables and data they manipulate? (Scratch does this well with lists).
  7. How can they animate the program’s diagram to illustrate its execution, single step, interrupt and thus help us debug?

Some of these challenges may already be tackled – I’d be pleased to hear about where to find developments!

Learning Theory

Learning Theory concept map

I have been working for the HoTEL EU Support Action recently at Brunel University and I was asked to produced a report on learning theories – a struggle, since there seem to be so many ‘isms’ and often I come across what seems to be the same theory, but from a different disciplinary or professional context.

So, this A3 poster of Learning Theory was central to the outcome and I would welcome feedback, especially since I will use it as part of my theoretical and conceptual framework for my PhD by Retrospective Practice. There is also the live this CmapTools version with clickable links to Wikipedia and InfEd.

Here is an extract from the report:

“Learning theory has been a contested scientific field for most of its history, with conflicting contributions from many scientific disciplines, practice and policy positions. With the continuing and disruptive influence of technology on information, knowledge and practice in all sectors of society it is no wonder that innovators, drawn to the interactive potential that computers bring to learning, are challenged by the theoretical basis for their innovations.

Formal education is also a high stakes, culturally & institutionally conservative activity, which serves more than one societal purpose, including:

  • learner development and fulfilment;
  • child care;
  • preparation for citizenship, parenthood and retirement;
  • preparation for work;
  • selection for jobs.

Even in the higher, informal and professional sectors of education, complexity of education is matched by complexity of learning outcomes which may include:

  • skills development;
  • knowledge acquisition;
  • improvement in strategic, analytic and creative capacities;
  • attainment of competence;
  • establishment of attitudes and values.

Each of these societal purposes and these learning outcomes demand different approaches and understandings for the theorist and may develop at varying rates or found to be diverse in relation to context, location and culture.”

Thanks to all the Twitterati that responded so positively when I shared an earlier draft at the HEA TeachMeet: @mike_blamires  @stephenharlow  @lenatp  @LizaField  @fleapalmer  @laurapasquini @JuneinHE @ProfDcotton @RebeccaRadics @catherinecronin @oliverquinlan @STEMPedR @IaninSheffield @louisedrumm @valerielopes @marloft @ethinking @HEAEducation @suzibewell @DebbieHolley1 @cgirvan @suebecks

Reflection on Reflection™

No this is not a treatise on reflective practice, it is reflective practice.

Today I took friend @benjeddi ‘s advice and decided to RiskIT (for only seven minutes rather than two weeks). A key RiskIT element is to be ‘Not afraid of failure, but learn from it’ – an attitude I have nearly always benefited from, despite some pain.

I was presenting at TeachMeet Essex, in front of an unusually strong gathering including many head teachers. The meeting exceeded my expectations of this novel form of CPD with excellent food (thanks KEGS’ chef and kitchen), excellent organisation (thanks @aknill and @ICTMagic) and clear evidence of the power of a good head’s sanction, thanks @headguruteacher!

My risks were:

  • to demonstrate from an iPhone via Reflection on my laptop;
  • to present my ideas using VideoScribe;
  • to test a proposal for developing modern apps based on lost ideas.

It all went wrong, as it often does when you use technology in a presentation for the first time, but since I am going to do it all again at #tmbolton on Friday, I fruitfully learnt from the experience.  For all those let down by a slightly duff speech, here is the video from Videoscribe I would have like to shown:

Incidentally, I created the video by using Reflection to record the video as it was played by VideoScribe on the phone. A subsequent re-compress using Quicktime Player 7 to half size and H264 yielded a video only 3.3Mb in size.

Brentwood Community Print

I have been volunteering with Brentwood Community Print, working to advise Paul, their web developer, as he created a first web-site for them. First and foremost the company is a print shop serving the Brentwood area – they are quick, friendly and competitive – I ordered and got 250 business cards inside an hour. I recommend them without reservation.

Secondly, they offer a place for people recovering from mental illness, providing a challenging, supportive and happy context to build confidence and meaningful work to develop skills. I have really enjoyed my time helping Paul and getting to this point has been Paul’s success. It was particularly rewarding today watching him complete ‘job 1’ – a published web-site. Everyone pitched in with proof-reading, critical feedback and ideas for improvement, some of which will provide tasks for ‘job 2’, the next stage in what is an unending series of revisions to keep the web-site dynamic and increase its quality.

Well done Paul and all the team!


How does technology enhance learning?

Ever since 1979, I have been curious about the instinctive reaction (and evidence in front of my eyes) that computers might support learning. That first computer program, intended for me to discover how to program, was Snooker. It simulated (on a Research Machines 380Z) the snooker table with a single ball. By specifying a force and a direction (as a bearing) you could hit the ball and see if it went in the pocket. When I showed my mathematics pupils, they were full of it – running to the cupboard to find protractors so they could more accurately estimate the angle.

In 2002 (call me slow) I had the opportunity to make my own analysis of how technology could enhance learning in the context of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority project, Investigation Into Pupils’ Creativity Across The Curriculum, for which I was a consultant.

In 2012 (call me an octogenarian snail) I have tidied up that work into a a rather text-full poster which summarises what I had learnt, mapped on to the model of learning which I use in my practice – expression and evaluation – that poster is coming next!

UPDATE 14th August 2012: I have recreated Snooker using QuiteBasic!

Collabor8 4 Change – Conceptual framework for Computing

Following up my presentations in 2007 at Naace in Feltham  ‘The Importance of Computing as a Specialist Subject in Schools‘ and in 2010 at Computing@School in Birmingham ‘Computing at School‘, I am hosting a table at Collabor8 4 Change at BETT 2012 this year .

Titled ‘Conceptual framework for computing‘ it is planned to be a discussion of how we can be clearer about the nature of the computing subject at primary and secondary level and in particular how we can know better the continuity and progression for learners.

My challenge, in the context of computing and ICT  is:

  1. I believe we need to find out what knowledge children can attain at which age
  2. I suggest we could do mass practitioner research to answer that question
  3. What’s wrong with this proposition?

Here are the few slides to kick off the discussion – I shall add an update to this post when we have had it!

UPDATE 13/1/2012 after attending:

The two sessions went well, with interesting feedback. For most participants, there were more important issues at the level of teacher competence, school organisation and the government’s upheaval of ICT and Computing, which deserved more debate time. On the other hand few felt that I was wrong!

I enjoyed Kathryn Day’s session, ‘ ICT vs Computer Programming curriculum ‘ which usefully contrasted the many documents that inform (or confuse) the practitioner when planning.

I also attended Chris Ratcliffe’s session ‘ How much should pupils be, or feel, in charge of their work? ‘ which clarified some of the barriers to further responsibility being transferred to pupils, whilst agreeing it as a good thing.

Finally I joined Steve Philip for his session ‘Curating the past is more important than creating the future’ in which he proposed the term ‘curativity’ – the act of curating the avalanche of creative work made possible in schools with digital tools through selection, deletion, categorisation and preservation/presentation for an audience. Highly relevant to the National Archive of Educational Computing!

Well done to all the presenters & participants and to  the organisers: Penny Patterson, Dave Smith and Terry Freedman and to compère Russel Prue – the round tables format has a lot to recommend it, with more time for exchange in contrast to the more theatrical Teachmeet.

Screens, health and causality

Hal playing a game in the back of the car

‘Warning over children’s multi-screen viewing’, a BBC web site article by Katherine Sellgren from August 2011, updated today and hence came up for my attention, reports on research at Loughborough and Bristol universities. They found children (63 in Bristol) were often “multi-screen viewing” – watching TV while simultaneously using smartphones, laptops or hand-held gaming devices. Furthermore, they are reported as saying such habits are linked to obesity, poorer mental well-being and health problems in later life.

If you read their peer-reviewed published research report, the claims are somewhat softened – the health problems are concerned with adults mostly and with too much overall screen watching. And in the discussion, the reasons expressed by the 11-12 year olds give comfort – they are common-sense explanations which confirm the thirst for knowledge, activity and social communication:

“Participants reported that there were three main reasons for engaging in multi-screen viewing.”

“Firstly, it tempered impatience that was associated with a programme loading or waiting for a response to a text message or instant message. For these children the second or third screen filled the time and prevented boredom.”

“Secondly, multi-screen viewing was a reactive response that enabled the child to use their time more efficiently as they could filter out unwanted content such as advertisements and focus their attention on just the content that interested them.”

“Thirdly, multi-screen viewing was a proactive decision with the children opting to do two or more things at once as it was perceived to be more interesting or more enjoyable.”

Still, no clear certainty that the health problems are actually caused by multi-screen viewing (sad, fat people may prefer to watch television than join in team sports).

My colleague and friend Stephen Heppell discussed this issue nearly twenty years ago (!) in ‘Children of the Information Age and the Death of Text‘ – an article that first appeared in the Society of Authors’ journal “The Author” as part of a computer focused edition “The Electronic Author”, in Summer 1993.

In the article Stephen writes:

“…the TV too is typically reduced to a small information window in a larger social context – children watch it whilst browsing a magazine, listening to music, playing with their “Game Boy” or whatever.”

and that:

“We should not view this as a deficiency model of children. It is not that their concentration threshold has declined; rather, they are not happy anymore to adopt the role of passive information consumers. This is progress.”

I find it simply amazing how frequently researchers judge children’s habits as deficient before proving the causal question – is it the multi-tasking use of multiple sources of information which leads to the health and well-being issues suggested?

Might there be a connection with the food industry, dysmorphia or the ‘stranger-danger’ fear of playing outside?

How has the research shown any connection with later life?

Most importantly, why are we discussing passive ‘screen viewing‘ as being the predominant interaction in the contexts described when modern mobile technology is all about active choices, games, social communication and creativity?

Computing at School

I presented at the third annual Computing at School conference, reporting Nili Naveh’s research in a seminar I proposed to discuss the research into childrens’ conceptions in computing. The central issue is the contrast in the attention paid to children’s conceptual development in maths and science compared to computing. In maths and science, research has established a Piagetian analysis based on data of what percentage of children can achieve which conceptual understanding at a range of ages, and this is the basis for the National Curriculum levels. Clearly this should not be used as a straitjacket – there is a diversity in attainment and children are often underestimated. Teachers have excellent tacit knowledge of this, but I argued it may be helpful to articulate this more clearly and to construct a data-gathering exercise from schools across the country. We had a good discussion, thanks to some really good presentations earlier in the day which gave good fuel for our debate. Here are my slides:  Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs.

Old lobster almost boiled

Learning on the Beach 2011

The second annual Learning on the Beach unconference #lob11 has just scattered – I am blown away, boiled, invigorated and inundated – and that was just the weather. We were a self-select group of ‘old lobsters’ like me @richardmillwood and some fresh faces like @squiggle7 – the value of this mix in challenging the norms of indoor education was enormous.

Activities included:

  • a scene setter on flat-lining and free-learning from John Davitt
  • collaborative presentations by teams of participants on themes (and genre) as diverse as Irish History (sing-song), The Salt Marsh (tragedy) and Tides (rap)
  • a tour of the beach with Seán and Matthew to understand the nurturing approach to the ‘machair’ or sand dunes found on the west coast of Ireland and particularly in Mulranny, where we were staying
  • the Explainer Olympics – a chance to hone with a sharp stick in the sand our skills in capturing a concept
  • a Ceilidh to let it rip -thanks to Jim and Ann, @angedav @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @magsamond @johndavitt
  • Postcards from the Edge, scribed on the beach – to let us shout about our findings
  • thoughts to challenge suppliers – what do we need to support learning outdoors in the design of equipment and infrastructure? Peter at @westnet_ie made it possible for us to connect from the beaches around Mulranny so that we could benefit from our vast array of gadgetry to support our inquiry including TouchaTag an RFID technology, but there were many issues addressed regarding weatherproofing, robustness, daylight viewing and power supply that would enhance outdoor activity anywhere
  • hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold plunge and swimming pool – four facilities that were welcome 😉
  • the sharing of Guinness, Google, kindness, camera-derie, Twitter, time, humour and happiness ( to say nothing of black and white pudding, fresh air and fine rain)

There are not enough wild sea-horses to hold me back from attending #lob12  – I already miss the lobsters: @squiggle7 @magsamond @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @andyjb @dughall @VickiMcC @johnmayo @johndavitt @angedav @katherinedavitt @timrylands @sarahneild @susanbanister

Analysis of a single interaction

I revived this Analysis of a single interaction recently thanks to a PhD student who is working on user-centred design. It was first developed in 1988 based on Donald Norman’s work, applied to the kind of computer software we were designing then. The ‘concept keyboard’ mentioned was a programmable touch pad from that era which enjoyed considerable popularity as it allowed an interface based on the developer’s own visual layout, suitable for younger and special needs pupils – a precursor of the iPad!

Is society presenting a ‘still face’?

This article about ‘brain science’ and policy relating to early childhood development by Chris Corrigan is uplifting and affirmative, but the ‘still face’ video showing a child interacting with mother and then being shunned is heartbreaking, saved by a happy ending. The notion that interpersonal relations start early is tacitly obvious to many, but this video articulates it so clearly.

The extension, to ask whether society presents a ‘still face’ to young people may be a leap to far, but it could be argued that ignoring the interests of the young leads to upset, perhaps amply demonstrated by the recent action by students in response to a reduction in government funding of further and higher education in the UK.

Thanks to Jonnie Moore for highlighting this.

Quality & delight for business & learning

W Edwards Deming

Knowing my interest in delight in learning, colleague Derek Wenmoth pointed me to a post on Steve Denning’s blog, from which Derek quoted this:

“…management in the 20th Century was about achieving a finite goal: delivering goods and services, to make money. Management in the 21st Century by contrast is about the infinite goal of delighting customers; the firm makes money, yes, but as a consequence of the delight that it creates for customers, not as the goal.”

This reminded me of the way delight was discussed by W Edwards Deming:

“It will not suffice to have customers who are merely satisfied.” I would add, “They must be delighted.”

Deming was credited by the Japanese as being a major force in their rise to world economic power in the second half of the 20th Century, so Steve’s view that this is a 21st Century idea is a little late, although perhaps a reasonable observation about many western businesses.

Nevertheless it is good that Steve is promoting this and it is a short step from Deming’s assertion to say, as I would:

“It will not suffice to have learners who are merely attaining targets.” I would add, “They must be delighted.”

In Deming’s case, the policy of delighting customers leads to them spreading the word and returning to purchase more from your business, which sustains it. In my case, it is ensuring learners remain lifelong learners, whatever their attainment at any stage.

Mostly, it is those who attain highest who are delighted in learning, which is not to imply cause and effect, simply to observe these can go hand in hand. But this minority success does not sustain and develop the global community nearly so well as having everyone continuing to learn throughout their lives, because they delight in learning, no matter what their early attainment level may be.

And that is without even starting on the moral case for delight….

Research community

A model of community reseearch

Had a very useful meeting in University of Bolton with colleagues intent on developing a community of research – the diagram illustrates our joint efforts to come to terms with this idea, but it does not clarify the concern I have, which is to be confident who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ – I believe to have a conversation that supports learning, you have to feel ‘safe’ with your audience to take risks with ideas. This is exacerbated when you are online, since the audience may be unclear or grow later to include people your are not so sure about!

PhD / Masters opportunities with University of Bolton

I have been working part-time in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics (IEC) at the University of Bolton for the last two years, after seventeen years at Ultralab.

IEC houses three major projects:
•    the JISC Innovation Support Centre for Educational Technology & Interoperability Studies (CETIS);
•    the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning project creating innovative higher degree frameworks (IDIBL);
•    the TenCompetence European research project developing a lifelong competence development infrastructure for Europe;

I work on the IDIBL project with Stephen Powell and Mark Johnson – an enormous pleasure to refine and improve the Ultraversity model we created in Ultralab at Anglia Ruskin University in 2003 and which is still running. The model is of work-focussed action inquiry as a means to learning, supported by colleagues, online community, facilitators and experts.

After IEC’s success in the recent Research Assessment Exercise, we are able to ramp up our activity in this area and are looking to extend our research group in IEC to focus on the following topics:
•    systematic institutional transformation;
•    organisational improvement;
•    inquiry-based learning;
•    learning with technology;
•    interoperability and standards;
•    learning design;
•    assessment and portfolios;
•    lifelong competencies.

Key features of the learning experience for new members of the research group are:
•    improvement in current work context as the focus for study which enables work full time and study full time;
•    completion of Masters in 15 months, PhD in three years;
•    study online with no need for attendance;
•    learning together as an online community with access to IEC experts;
•    assessment to fit creative and work expertise.

A competitive bursary scheme for PhD will help lower the costs for successful applicants.
If you feel that you fit the bill, then we would be delighted to  to discuss further – mail me at r.millwood [at] or call me on +44 779 055 8641

Guilt upon accusation

New Zealand's new Copyright Law presumes 'Guilt Upon Accusation' and will Cut Off Internet Connections without a trial. Join the black out protest against it!
There are some major proposed changes in NZ law that will have an impact on education.
The proposed Section 92 of the NZ Copyright Amendment Act assumes Guilt Upon Accusation and forces the termination of internet connections and websites without evidence, without a fair trial, and without punishment for any false accusations of copyright infringement. An organisation called the Creative Freedom Foundation has been set up to specifically represent artists voices on these issues.
Check out their website: , sign up and help NZ MPs make an informed decision about S92!