Educake for Science – self-marking GCSE homework questions @educake

I’ve seen MyMaths in action and was impressed by the usefulness and flexibility of the package.  I wondered if there was a self-marking system for science.  The best tool I found was Educake which offers self-marking questions testing content from AQA Science.  The pricing structure is very reasonable and gives departments the opportunity to try the package before committing.

Getting students to register seems to be a little bit of a hurdle and is the one aspect of the site that requires improvement.  Students are provided with a link that lets them sign up and links their account to that of the school.  I used bitly to shorten this address to make it easier to distribute to students.  There is a requirement that students have an email address and that they use this to sign up.  In an ideal world the teacher would create the signups by importing a CSV from the school’s information management system like SIMS.  I could see a potential safeguarding issue if students signed up using a personal email address (as the site encourages) and then this is available to teachers through the student management pages.  Teachers can reset student passwords so the email address could easily be removed by a small amount of recoding.

Setting a test is quite easy (if you are familiar with AQA topics from the specification) and questions are graded in three levels of difficulty.  You can assign the tests to different groups of students and set a deadline if required.

The tests are a good idea but assume that students have fairly good literacy skills.  Further work to improve the accuracy of the marking algorithms would stop errors like evaporate being refused where the system was looking for evaporation (although I can accept this would depend on how the question was worded).

Statistics are available at the end that show how the students have done, and give you an idea of areas that you might need to revisit.  The ability to export results is available in paid versions of the website.

I’ve enjoyed using Educake and my students have too (despite the initial teething troubles).  I look forward to continuing to use it over the rest of the year and will post updates as it develops and improves.


Examination fees – really a good use of public money?

Image © ccarlstead @ Flickr CC BY 2.0

I work in a special school, with a small number of pupils.  This means we enter a relatively small number of pupils for examinations etc.  Earlier in the year my bursar came to find me with an invoice for well over £1000.  “Is this yours?” she asked me.  Being a stickler for financial protocols in school, I was sure I hadn’t spent that much money, until I noticed the logo on the top of the invoice.  The logo belonged to Edexcel, and the invoice was BTEC Science fees for the 18 students I had just entered.  Scale that ten times or more, and across multiple subjects, you start to get an idea of some of scale of examination spending by schools, but is this really value for money?

On the day we broke up for the Christmas vacation I received a message from a copyright officer at AQA concerning copyrighted materials on my blog.  Immediately my mind jumped to the science resources I had put online.  Did any of these contain examination questions or materials from AQA that shouldn’t have been there.  I have been extremely careful which of my resources I share, so I decided to investigate further.  A quick search of the logs revealed that someone with an IP address belonging to the Northern Examination And Assessment Board in Manchester had been following links from Google Images to my site.  In fact they had visited my site over a period of an hour and forty-five minutes so they clearly had nothing better to do a few days before Christmas.   Yes I had been very naughty indeed, I had linked to an AQA logo in a blog post of two years ago offering free resources to support the AQA exam.  Of course I removed the offending link from my blog, requested that Google re-index the page, and emailed the copyright officer to let them know.  It is strange that they didn’t have time to acknowledge my email given that they had an hour and forty five minutes of free time to keep looking at it!  If only AQA would invest more money in the format of their (atrocious) multiple choice core science exam and less money on red tape and copyright, our children might perform better in their examinations.  I’m glad to see they are putting our huge examination fees to good use.

In a press release on the 7th January (and reported in the TES on Friday 8th Jan) the National Education Trust questions the spending of millions of pounds of pounds of taxpayers money on examination fees.  With the current huge levels of public debt we should be asking ourselves if it is still best value for money to pour money into the pockets of the examination boards’ shareholders.  Perhaps it is time to look at examinations at 16 (and their fees) afresh!

Comments welcome

Pupils use Windows Movie Maker to create Anti-drugs videos

We were short of time and pupils hadn’t got time to record their own video clips for a drugs awareness video.  Instead pupils used a series of still images and windows movie maker to create a slideshow.  They then used a microphone to narrate the advert.
The resulting adverts weren’t as scientific as I would have liked (despite asking!) but pupils hadn’t used Windows movie maker to do this before, and spent so long worrying about talking into the mic that the content got neglected.  This wouldn’t be a problem if you carried out this type of activity regularly.
The video is typical of the ones my year 11 class created (remember we are a special school!).