Bare bones Raspberry Pi PC gets ready to launch

From BBC (see the Raspberry Pi blog for technical details):

The eagerly anticipated Raspberry Pi home computer is about to go into production.

The $25 (£16) machine is being created in the hope that it will inspire a new generation of technology whizz kids.

The Pi uses an ARM chip similar to that found in mobile phones and is intended to run a version of the Linux open source operating system.

Test versions of finished devices are being checked and if all is well volume production will start in January.

The idea for Raspberry Pi came from video game veteran David Braben who was searching for a way to inspire young people to start a career in technology.



Written Ministerial Statement on the National Curriculum Review

A written statement by Michael Gove published yesterday. A random quote:

  • The evidence identifies the higher expectations of pupils in mathematics, English and science in high performing jurisdictions.  For example:
    • In Singapore, pupils are expected to know all their times tables and related division facts by the end of Year 4; here our national expectation is at Year 6. […]
    • The Canadian province of Alberta and the US state of Massachusetts both have a separate section on grammar in their curricula with clear standards which must be met. […]
  • The panel also recommend that we should look again at the “key stage” structure of the curriculum which they argue can lead to a lack of pace and ambition at key points in pupil’s education.

It would, of course, be wrong to conclude that England should simply import systems used in other countries wholesale. But it is absolutely clear that these findings challenge fundamental tenets of our current system.


Two linked reports:

Review of the National Curriculum in England: What can we learn from the English, mathematics and science curricula of high-performing jurisdictions?

This report aims to explore and present initial findings on what can be learned from the analysis of curricula of high-performing jurisdictions, in order to inform the development of the new National Curriculum for English, mathematics and science.

Review of the National Curriculum in England: Report on subject breadth in international jurisdictions

This report describes the organisation and content of school curricula in several countries and jurisdictions. It includes information about their: curriculum structure and organisation; curriculum review processes; lower secondary qualifications; and compulsory and optional curriculum subjects at different educational phases.

Review of the National Curriculum in England

From BBC:

instead of introducing changes for English, maths, science and PE in 2013, the revised curriculums for all subjects will be introduced in 2014.

However, by the time the revised national curriculum is in place in 2014, it will almost certainly only be compulsory for a minority of secondary schools, as academies have the right to “disapply” the curriculum.

At present, more than 40% of secondary schools are academies or in the process of converting – and academies, with flexibility over the curriculum, are set to become the majority in 2012.

Review of the National Curriculum in England. Summary report of the call for evidence

is published. This is its fragment related to Mathematics:

Key stakeholders that responded on mathematics included the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, London Mathematical Society, Mathematical Association, Association of Teachers of Mathematics, Mathematics in Education and Industry, Personal Finance Education Group, Royal Statistical Society and National Association of Mathematics Advisors.

The key findings from the evidence submitted included:

  • support for a key stage approach rather than year-on-year;
  • support for a slimmed down curriculum built upon around key components that enable pupils to develop a deep understanding of mathematical concepts;
  •  the importance of presenting content so that it captured key mathematical ideas and presented them in a way that showed connections that would aid understanding of the links between different aspects of mathematics;
  • the importance of including mathematical processes, such as reasoning and problem-solving, to support the use and application of mathematics;
  • the need for a greater focus on the importance of algebraic and arithmetic manipulation; and
  • support for reduced content in primary mathematics to create more time for the learning of key concepts to be consolidated before pupils entered secondary school.

Elizabeth Truss MP: Do the maths first

In 1990 I discovered the school computer club and found that programming in Basic and creating pop-up people on the Acorn Archimedes was the most interesting way to spend my lunch break.

It was all built on the concrete realisation of an ideal machine, first imagined in 1936 by Alan Turing. To develop the idea he did not employ the tools of technology — he employed his mind.

IT practice in modern British schools could hardly be more different from Turing’s conceptual breakthrough. Calculators and computers are too often viewed as magic boxes: put in the numbers and out pops the answer. Few question how they work. We are in danger of creating a generation of “sat nav” students reliant on technology but incapable of recreating it.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, recently lambasted what is going on in British Schools, saying “your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made“.

Calculators are rarely used in the majority of schools in the Asian countries that perform best in maths. In Singapore almost no primary school uses calculators.

Britain is the country most in love with the calculator, with only 2% of primary schools not using calculators.

Our mathematics curriculum contains a section on “calculator methods” for 8 to 11-year-olds and is riddled throughout with mentions of how to employ technology in the classroom. Combined with subject content that does not contain enough basic maths practice, this is a recipe for failure, evidenced by our position of 28th in the world league table for maths.

Other countries with similar practices to Britain are now questioning early calculator use. In Massachusetts, the top-performing American state for maths education, pupils learn how to perform basic arithmetic operations independently of calculators. In Alberta, a high-flying Canadian province, there is a focus on mental mathematics. Sweden has a non-calculator paper at senior high school for even its most able pupils.

The government should use the 2013 curriculum review to at least limit the use of calculators in primary schools by making the Fey Stage 2 tests calculator-free and removing the current encouragement from the curriculum. Better still, it should adopt the policy of Massachusetts.

The next step should be to abandon compulsory ICT for 11 to 16-year-olds, which has been criticised by Intellect, the leading computer industry group.

Computer Science is a sophisticated subject that should be taught when pupils have basic mathematics and physics under their belt. Any earlier and the pupil does not have the understanding to grasp the concepts that Turing developed. To regain our computing heritage, Britons need to do the maths first.

Elizabeth Truss is the MP for South West Norfolk.

This post is extracted from a longer article in The Sunday Times on 20 November 2011 under the title Cancel the calculators and make pupils think.

Computer Science in the National Curriculum

The Association for Learning Technology published a policy paper on Computer Science in the National Curriculum which focuses on three questions:

  • To get the next generation of comp scientists do we need Computer Science  in the National Curriculum?
  • Where do we put Computer Science ?
  • Should Computer Science  be only for those who are interested or for all?
It is interesting because of obvious parallels with mathematics.
Disclaimer: views of the Association for Learning Technology do not necessarily coincide with those of the LMS.

Ofsted report on best practice in early arithmetic

On 13 November 2011 Ofsted published Good practice in primary mathematics: evidence from 20 successful schools. A summary of the summary:

Key findings

The following key findings, taken together, reflect the ‘what’ and ‘how’ that underpin effective learning through which pupils become fluent in calculating, solving problems and reasoning about number.

  • Practical, hands-on experiences of using, comparing and calculating with numbers and quantities and the development of mental methods are of crucial importance in establishing the best mathematical start in the Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1. The schools visited couple this with plenty of opportunities for developing mathematical language so that pupils learn to express their thinking using the correct vocabulary.
  • Understanding of place value, fluency in mental methods, and good recall of number facts such as multiplication tables and number bonds are considered by the schools to be essential precursors for learning traditional vertical algorithms (methods) for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
  • Subtraction is generally introduced alongside its inverse operation, addition, and division alongside its inverse, multiplication. Pupils’ fluency and understanding of this concept of inverse operations are aided by practice in rewriting ‘number sentences’ like 3 + 5 = 8 as 8 – 3 = 5 and 8 – 5 = 3 and solving ‘missing number’ questions like – 4 = 5 by thinking 5 + 4 = 9 or 9 – 4 = 5.
  • High-quality teaching secures pupils’ understanding of structure and relationships in number, for instance place value and the effect of multiplying or dividing by 10, and progress in developing increasingly sophisticated mental and written methods.
  • In lessons and in interviews with inspectors, pupils often chose the traditional algorithms over other methods. When encouraged, most showed flexibility in their thinking and approaches, enabling them to solve a variety of problems as well as calculate accurately.
  • Pupils’ confidence, fluency and versatility are nurtured through a strong emphasis on problem solving as an integral part of learning within each topic. Skills in calculation are strengthened through solving a wide range of problems, exploiting links with work on measures and data handling, and meaningful application to cross-curricular themes and work in other subjects.
  • The schools are quick to recognise and intervene in a focused way when pupils encounter difficulties. This ensures misconceptions do not impede the next steps in learning.
  • Many of the schools have reduced the use of ‘expanded methods’ and ‘chunking’ in moving towards efficient methods because they find that too many steps in methods confuse pupils, especially the less able. Several of the schools do not teach the traditional long division algorithm by the end of Year 6 (age 11) and most of those that do say that a large proportion of pupils do not become fluent in it.
  • A feature of strong practice in the maintained schools is their clear, coherent calculation policies and guidance, which are tailored to the particular school’s context. They ensure consistent approaches and use of visual images and models that secure progression in pupils’ skills and knowledge lesson by lesson and year by year.
  • These schools recognise the importance of good subject knowledge and subject-specific teaching skills and seek to enhance these aspects of subject expertise. Some of the schools benefit from senior or subject leaders who have high levels of mathematical expertise. Several schools adopt whole-school approaches to developing the subject expertise of teachers and teaching assistants. This supports effective planning, teaching and intervention. Most of the larger independent preparatory schools provide specialist mathematics teaching from Year 4 or 5 onwards.

Parliamentary debate on calculators in schools

Westminster Hall debate on 30 Nov 2011 was initiated by Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk, Conservative). She said:

I am pleased to have secured this debate on the use of calculators in school. The Library confirmed to me that there has not been a single debate on this subject in the past 10 years, and I suspect that it goes even further back than that. There may never have been a debate in Parliament about the use of calculators in school, but it is extremely important that the subject is given an airing before the curriculum review in 2013.

To make the position clear, I am not anti-calculator. In fact, I count myself a bit of a geek. I was a mainstay of my school computer club, and I was happy to spend time programming in BASIC, and whiled away many a contented teenage hour doing so. However, I believe that technology has to be used in the right way at the right time and at the right age. I do not believe in the micromanagement of teachers, or telling them what they ought to do in the classroom. On the subject of calculators, we must acknowledge that the Government have actively encouraged their use in school through directions in the national curriculum and calculator use in standard assessment tests. We are therefore not looking at a neutral landscape.

Read more,  including speeches by Nick Gibb (Minister of State (Schools) and  Nick Gibb (Minister of State (Schools). 

Use of calculators in primary schools ‘could be curbed’

This is becoming increasingly interesting:  The Telegraph, some quotes:

Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, said pupils can become “too dependent” on calculators, adding: “They need to master addition, subtraction, times tables and division, using quick, reliable written methods.

“This rigour provides the groundwork for the more difficult maths they will come across later in their education.”

On Thursday, the DfE confirmed that the use of calculators would be considered as part of a wholesale review of the National Curriculum in England.