Getting the measure of snow

“Snow provokes responses that reach right back into childhood.” Andy Goldsworthy

The origin of this post was a staffroom conversation about childhood memories of snowfall. I wondered why there isn’t a scale to measure the severity of snowfall in the way that, for example, the Beaufort Scale measures windy weather.

A little bit of research (a couple of minutes on google) revealed that there isn’t an established measure of snowfall. The Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale is used in the USA to measure snowstorms on a 1-5 scale, much in the same way as storms and hurricanes, but it measures the impact after the event, and is designed for far more serious weather events than we normally experience in the UK. Weather forecasters do of course, comment on the depth of snow, but that quantitative measure can’t fully describe the experience of snow; the excitement that can be generated its mere prospect, whether the type of snow will bring trains to a halt, or, crucially in the world of education, whether there will be a snow day.

So here then, I present the Experiential Snow Scale, covering the full range of snow events, from the briefest of flakes upwards. Comments and suggestions for improvement welcome.

1. Disillusioning Snow. Is it? Yes it is! There are definite snowflakes, but even as you rush excitedly outside, they melt away as if they were never there.

2. Light Dusting. Like icing sugar on top of a Victoria sponge cake, just enough snow to make the world look a little bit prettier.

3. Snowball. Enough snow to make snowballs that hold onto their structural integrity in flight and create a satisfying ‘whump’ as they disintegrate on contact with their target.

4. Snow Angel. Enough snow covering the ground that you can lie down in it and make a discernible snow angel.

5. Snowman. Enough snow to build a snowman over 4 feet tall, sporting a carrot nose and your choice of accessories.

6. Snow Day. With school buses cancelled, roads and paths blocked, and staff unable to to get into work, a snow day is declared. Columnists writing from home in their pyjamas call it a disgrace and claim that billions will be lost from the national economy.

7. Igloo. OK, so not an actual one cut from blocks of ice, but enough snow to build a dome large enough to house at least a small child drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows.

8. Where’s my car?

9. Where’s my house?

10. Penguin Ramp. David Attenborough narrates as a film crew digs a ramp to help the penguins to get out.

I hope that made you smile, but If you’re faced with the more serious business of school planning for extreme weather, you may want to read my post on severe weather planning in schools.

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Computing, creativity and cheating

Creativity and coding

I believe that creativity is at the heart of computing. A couple of years ago I marked the passing of the creator of Logo, Seymour Papert with this post on his legacy. He created and promoted that computer language to foster creativity in students. The focus on creativity also drives many of the current generation of educational developers. Scratch, a free online scripting language allows all users, most of whom are children, to create and share stories, games, and animations. Created in 2007, Scratch now has more than 4.3 million users worldwide, mainly between the ages of 8 and 18, and nearly 7 million projects. It is used widely in UK schools and is many children’s first experience of scripting code instructions. Creativity is also a driving feature behind other computing innovations commonly used in UK schools such as the coding language Python, the Raspberry Pi and BBC Microbit.

Problems with assessment

If we accept this central role of creativity, it follows that the assessment of computational thinking, and its practical output as novel solutions to coding problems, must take account of this. Unfortunately, in recent years the assessment of GCSE Computer Science coursework has been bedevilled by the appearance of programming solutions to the set problems on the internet. This has forced the exams regulator, Ofqual, to remove this element from the assessment. The current situation is that a programming task forms part of the course, but marks do not form part of the assessment, which is therefore based solely on terminal exam papers. Unfortunately this is an issue that occurs not just at GCSE, but at all levels of education.

Ofqual consultation

Ofqual are currently consulting on this issue for exams from 2020 onwards through a consultation document on the future of assessment for GCSE Computer Science. You can respond to the consultation document here.

I think that they have thought carefully about the pros and cons about different methods of assessment. I am disappointed, however, that there is not more explicit mention of creativity in Computer Science. Ofqual make a comparison with other subjects with a coursework element, such as design technology, but this seems to be in consideration of practical skills which, while important, are not the whole picture. I feel that what is missing is the role of creativity in the elements and practice of computational thinking.

Nevertheless, I think Ofqual have left the door open to a solution that will allow students to demonstrate creativity in their thinking. In enabling exam boards to issue pre-release material to candidates (in a similar way to creative subjects such as art), there is scope for students to think and prepare for a creative response to a particular context, without the details of the specific task being revealed. I hope that in the future, developments in technology will mean that creative computational thinking can be securely assessed in a way that more closely mirrors the reality of programming than the exam hall.

The consultation closes at 4pm on Monday 3rd December 2018. I would urge anyone involved in teaching computing to take some time to make a response.

Image: Pixabay