Facts & Myths about Computational Thinking in Classrooms

Whenever I speak to teachers about computational thinking it seems to place a layer of tension and confusion upon their shoulders, as most have preconceptions about this new ‘imposition placed upon them’.  They usually to glaze over and seek alternate discussion topics within minutes...

From experience I find most teachers have this attitude to Computational Thinking.

  • “At some point in time I know the curriculum is going to make it mandatory for me to teach this stuff…”

  • “I don’t know a single thing about coding and robotics, and I think they have something to do with computational thinking.  And that stuff is really hard to learn”

  • “I only teach English or (insert topic here) and it’s not really going to affect me so I am pretty sure all those nerdy teachers will deal with it for my school..”

  • “Maybe if we just ignore it… It will go away.”

Recently, I set about  trying to better understand computational thinking myself through research and professional development, before I had too many more conversations with teachers.

I have good news for teachers getting anxious about how they are going to deal with it when it becomes reality for them…  It’s definitely not rocket science, but it is a little different and can be  quite exciting for teachers and students who are prepared to buy in....

Firstly we need to break down these common misconceptions around computational thinking. So let’s look at the facts.

  • Computational Thinking is a strategy for solving problems that can be applied to any field or situation.  Much the same as the concept of De Bono’s six thinking hats or other problem solving models.  

  • Computational Thinking and Computer Science are two completely different things, and you can successfully teach and use computational thinking without ever touching a computer if you chose to.

  • You definitely do not need to make robots, learn a new language  or program a computer to ensure your students understand computational thinking.

  • It’s not going away anytime soon…  In fact it’s on the rise

If you want to get an understanding of what computational thinking is in  under six minutes then watch this clip from Google Computational Thinking experts.  It should be essential viewing for any teacher  before jumping to conclusions.

Essentially there are four parts to computational thinking as aforementioned which can be applied to any problem.

    Decomposition - Breaking a problem into smaller parts so you may divide a task.

    Pattern Recognition - Finding similarities and differences in order to make predictions

    Abstraction - Identifying the general principles that generate the patterns

    Algorithm Design - Developing the step by step instructions to solve problems.

Don’t get me wrong.  Computational Thinking definitely lends itself to computer science and opens the doors to coding and robotics.  You will certainly need to embrace technology if you wish to go any further than teaching and learning the process of Computational Thinking.

Why are we doing all of this?  Haven’t we already got enough in the curriculum?  I hear you say…

Yes the curriculum is overcrowded, but governments around the world see this as an essential skill in the 21st Century workforce.  If you need evidence around it’s place in our  society simply take look at the look at the world's top companies and richest individuals.  You will see the Apple’s and Google’s of the world fill out a large portion of those lists, and all exist on the fundamentals of Computational Thinking.

In essence we need to turn our kids from technology consumers to creators.  And Computational Thinking allows us to make this change.

If you would like to learn all out Computational Thinking for Educators I would strongly recommend you partake in this great free course from Google.  

from my experience Computational Thinking is a worthwhile problem solving skill  for anyone, and certainly something teachers shouldn't fear.
I acknowledge coding and robotics is a long stretch for most to get their head around but it is not an essential part of Computational Thinking and shouldn't put you and your students off from taking the first steps into a new realm of teaching and learning opportunities.

Google Classroom just made specialist teaching easier across multiple schools

The ever evolving and ever improving Google Classroom has just released an update that will bring a smile to teachers and schools who share staff or run cross campus teaching groups.

This update allows a teacher to work with a class of students outside of their base school domain.  So for example if you were a specialist language teacher operating across three different schools you can now manage all of your Google Classroom activity from a single account.  The other option I can see here is that teachers could also enrol for professional development run through Google Classroom from an outside provider.

For this to update to apply your Google Apps for Education administrator will need to add any external teachers to their white list to ensure security for students.  Further information can be found here.

How Apple are hoping to rejuvenate the iPad's place in education in 2015.

Once upon a time the iPad changed the way in which we used technology in Education.  This shiny new device with a single button, easy to use interface and unrivaled 'App' store could do no wrong in the eyes of teachers and students and made us seriously rethink about what a computer was.

Since the iPad launched in 2010 we have seen the iPad's phenomenal rise and now it's slow fall as tough competition from Chromebooks and budget PC's and tablets closed the technology gap.  Poor decisions from Apple in regards to educational pricing and any significant improvements over six iPad generations aside from the obligatory faster processor, better camera and screen have left many schools questioning it's place in education as it is increasingly being used as a learning toy as opposed to a productivity tool.

Of all the big three tech companies (Apple, Microsoft and Google) Apple's future in education would be the most unenviable.  

Google's marriage of highly effective and cheap Chromebook's with Google Apps for Education productivity suite has bought them hundreds of millions of converts, and they are now the single biggest player in education.  The zero cost model of Google Apps for Education has been a roaring success for Google which will pay long term dividends when today's students are running tomorrow's economies.

Microsoft took a double hit in schools from the iPad initially and then Chromebooks.  They have regained some credibility with the integration of surface tablets and Office 365 for Education.  Surface tablet sales have grown year on year since release unlike the iPad which have fallen over the last two years.

Currently Apple's options for students are either an overpriced tablet or an overpriced laptop.  iTunes U is a poor curriculum delivery platform in comparison to Office and Google Apps and iCloud offers very little in the way of innovation and collaboration for educators.  The iPad is a train wreck when running Google apps for education and Office although both Microsoft and Google have deployed apps on the iPad to allow access to their productivity / learning platforms.  

In an attempt to re-energize the iPad's future in education Apple are planning to allow schools to manage iTunes accounts for students improve the deployment process for the iPad. 

They are also revisiting the manner in which iPads are managed when used by shared users in a school.  Unfortunately it does not look as though Apple are prepared to allow multiple logins on a single iPad yet, but we can live in hope.

The full details of this proposal can be read at 9to5Mac and it is expected to be rolled out in September 2015.  

Education is a huge space for technology companies and I am sure Apple will be working towards a product or policy change that will place them back at the top of the class.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.


How to use the Google Research Tool to improve Essay Writing

Whilst the Google research tool has been a part of Google drive for a few years now  It amazes me how few teachers and students are aware of what it can do.

In short the research tool is the perfect accomplice for writing an essay or creating a project.  It will not only provide you with all the facts and answers you require but also cite them.  And that's just the beginning.

I have put together this six minute video tutorial to make every student and teacher an expert around getting the most out of using the Research tool but also assist teachers in identifying work that has basically been written entirely from this tool.

I forgot to mention in the video that this applies to Google Docs, Slides and Sheets.

Please leave any thoughts or suggestion on this below.


Five Chrome extensions every teacher should have

Chrome has quickly become the most popular web browser across all devices accounting for nearly 60 percent of ‘cyber surfing.’

What many people overlook is the fact that Chrome has it’s own ‘App Store’ much like we see on iOS and Android devices that allows you to add vast functionality to your browser.  This allows you to do things like automatically screen grab an entire web page, edit photos or even play Angry birds.

So if you are a Chrome user I would recommend you visit the web store and have a look at what is on offer.  You will be pleasantly surprised.

Here are five tools I would recommend all teachers install on their Chrome browser.  If you have any other suggestions please add them in the comment section below.


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Record your screen, edit an image and annotate your Chrome usage.  This is particularly useful for teachers and students who wish to create tutorials and guides.  PLEASE NOTE: This is a packaged app. You must also install the Snagit Extension in order to capture images and videos.

goo.gl URL Shortener

This can be particularly handy if you are sharing URL’s to an audience on mixed devices in a BYOD environment and it even has a built in QR code generator.

Save to Google Drive

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Essentially this connects your google drive to your browser usage at the click of a button.  Allowing you to save web content, hyperlinks or browser screenshots to your Google Drive.  Extremely useful for teachers and students

Awesome Screenshot

Awesome Screenshot App is an annotation tool for your screenshot and picture.  Capture, Annotate, Edit, Save and share.

Word Cloud website preview

Wordle is back (Almost) - Turn any web page into a word cloud in seconds.  Customisable, Save and Share.  Great for literacy and quickly sourcing key concepts form text.

Photoshop coming to Chromebooks

Today Google and Adobe Announced Photoshop will be coming to Chromebooks and Chrome browsers on Windows and Mac platforms via a streaming service.   This will essentially mean there will be no need to install gigabytes of software which is currently required to run this premium image editing software and industry standard for over two decades.

A couple of caveats before you get too excited.  First off it will be released to US only creative cloud customers initially as a trial.

And secondly we cannot find any evidence of what this product will inevitably look and run like.  For example anyone who has used Photoshop on the iPad and on a PC will attest to the fact that the iPad version has about one percent of the functionality of the full desktop version.

This is an interesting move in many ways as software like this is the reason why people still spend thousands on computers as opposed to a three hundred dollar Chromebook.

More information can be found here and we shall keep you posted as information becomes available.

Huge upgrade to Google Drive for Education

Today is a great day for Google Apps for Education users as Google Drive just got a whole lot bigger and better.

Today Google brought Google Apps for Education completely in line with Google Apps for Business by providing these three really practical upgrades completely free for all education users.

  • Unlimited storage: No more worrying about how much space you have left or about which user needs more gigabytes. Drive for Education supports individual files up to 5TB in size and will be available in coming weeks. 
  • Vault: Google Apps Vault, our solution for search and discovery for compliance needs, will be coming free to all Apps for Education users by the end of the year. 
  • Enhanced Auditing: Reporting and auditing tools and an Audit API easily let you see the activity of a file, are also on the way. 

As always Google ensures all teachers and students work created and stored on drive is their own.  Is not data mined and filled with advertising.

This has to be be one of the biggest upgrades to Drive we have seen since it's launch and it really opens the doors for schools to move entire servers to the cloud for free now as the 30Gb size limitation has been removed. 

You may wish to take a look at our guidelines around migrating your server to the cloud and just disregard the pricing structure for more storage which is now redundant.

These three releases are all scheduled before the end of the year and will be warmly welcomed.

Why the iPad and Google Apps for Education are a bad mix.

For an individual, classroom or school looking for a device to get the most out of Google Apps for Education and use it in a manner that makes it a productive option for teachers and students save yourself the time in considering the iPad.  You will be disappointed in the experience you are offered from Google.

You will  discover that Google does have apps such as Docs, Drive, Sheets and Slides specifically designed for the iPad and you should rightly have some expectation that these apps would be of reasonable quality and functionality.  

You should expect this.  And you will be highly disappointed when you use them, as they offer students little more capacity to be creative and innovative than a simple text editor.

We know that the iPad is a capable device in this space which has been proven by Apple's own products in Numbers, Pages and Keynote.  Earlier this year Microsoft rolled out a highly impressive version of Office for iPad that does a more than ample job of replicating it's desktop cousin.

Both of these products offer the ability to create visually appealing documents that students would be proud to take ownership of.  They are rich in in features, media integration and functionality.

To give you a comparison of Google's most recent release - Google Slides on the iPad you cannot even select or create a theme beyond a blank white background, insert a picture or media of any type into a presentation.  The only features on offer to you are simply the ability to change font size and style.

Wouldn't your students be stoked to create a presentation on their iPad that contains absolutely nothing but text?  I don't think so.

This lack of functionality is repeated across docs and sheets and will equally disappoint users.

So what is the benefit and purpose you might ask?  Unlike Apple and Microsoft's offerings Google do allow for collaborative creation of content.  But from my experience of working with students on the iPad in these apps they don't find much fun in collaborating on documents that can be little more creative than a text file.

The ability to collaborate is also extremely half baked compared to what is available through a web browser.

So your next question might be "Why don't we just use the safari or even better chrome app to use Google Apps and forget the first option?"

In simple terms this even worse.  by the time you switch between mobile and desktop views repeatedly, receive numerous warnings that your browsers are incompatible with Google Apps and have regular crashes you will answer your own question in minutes.

So the one saving grace for Google Apps on the iPad is the Google Drive App itself which lets you import documents created in far better iPad apps such as Keynote and Office into a shared space or folder.  But don't get too excited as essentially this only a repository to store content, you wont be able to edit or enhance these documents without creating multiple versions of them.

The shame about all of this is that the iPad  is a capable device for productivity for teachers and students.  We've seen this evidenced in Evernote, Office, dropbox, Cloudon and Apple's own software as well as a number of other Apps from third party developers.  All of which do a far superior job to Google's offerings.

The bigger question here is why do the worlds largest technology company in Google consciously choose to deliver such a terrible product to the world most popular student device in the iPad?  

Surely, the unspoken answer to this would be to explore Google's own cheaper and fully functional Chrome book as the solution to the problem. 

In fact it would be ideal if the next upgrade to all Google's iPad offerings simply loaded to a screen that said "if you wish to use Google Apps on an iPad you are dreaming - Go and buy a Chromebook instead."

At least this would allow users an honest appraisal of the situation and let them make alternate choices about which is a bigger deal breaker for them.  No iPads or no Google Apps for Education.  

Currently these two options are like oil and water, and after much promise from Google that this would be addressed and improved they still don't mix.