Devices, devices, devices?

It’s true that schools should never START their technology journey by deciding on a device, but by thinking about their curriculum and what they want to be able to achieve using technology before considering which device BUT the real truth is that most schools are not starting with a blank sheet.  They have numerous devices of different types already in their school.

In my experience most Primary schools have Windows devices of some kind, often with a mixture of Windows 7 and 10.  Most have file sharing to a local server of some kind so that pupils can pick up any device and find their work.

Lots of Primary Schools have a number of iPads.  Some have a small number for group work, others just an iPad per class, others a full class set of 30+ iPads!

Some Primary Schools are looking at some of the cheaper devices such as the Windows 10S devices or Chromebooks.  Some have experimented with Raspberry Pi too.

So if your school is looking to start a tech refresh you need to understand what each devices strengths and weaknesses are, so that you can match the right device or devices to match your desired outcomes.

Before we get to devices maybe we need to consider storage.  Many primary schools have ageing server technologies which are reaching the end of their life.  The CC4 Store was a popular cut-down server from RM in the UK which has not been available for a number of years.  The ones that are in schools are generally reaching end of life, with Windows updates causing various issues slowing down or stopping some servers, so is it time to consider the cloud?

If you have a good server then by far your most sensible option is still to buy laptops to use with your existing server.  If your server is nearing replacement it’s time to consider how you are working, and how you might like to work in the future, and whether it would be best to save yourself the thousands of pounds it will take to replace your server and consider the cloud instead.

Cloud Solutions

There are two main cloud options for schools.  Any school can have an Office 365 cloud solution from Microsoft or a G-Suite cloud solution from Google for free.   Some schools are using both as they both have strengths and weaknesses.

Office 365 from Microsoft

On the plus side:

  • Free to schools
  • Email accounts
  • Shared storage using Sharepoint and One Drive
  • Collaboration spaces using Microsoft Teams and groups and sharepoint
  • Shared One Note notebooks
  • Familiar software means staff and pupils can use office suite on personal devices or web versions which don’t require installation or updates

On the more minus side:

  • Can be confusing to set up collaboration

 

G-Suite from Google

On the plus side:

  • Free to schools
  • Email accounts
  • Shared storage using Google Drive
  • Collaboration using Google Classroom and Google Sites is very intuitive and easy to use.

On the minus side:

  • Can be out of the comfort zone for staff particularly

 

Computer Devices

Windows 10 Professional

This is the device of choice if you have a reliable server and want to keep it.  Combined with a server you can fairly easily manage software and all users have a login which means they have secure personal storage and also the ability to access shared storage.  With a Windows 10 Professional machine you also have the ability to use web-based software and Cloud storage as well as locally installed software and apps too.

 

Windows 10S

This is Microsoft’s answer to the Chromebook.  It is a cut down and cheaper version of Windows 10 which aids battery life and promotes cloud storage.  The Windows 10s devices can only install software as apps from the app store.  Your school computer administrator can choose which apps are available.  You will need Azure if you don’t have a physical server.

With all Windows devices you can still make use of either Office 365 OR G-Suite.

Chromebooks

The Chromebook is fast becoming the go-to cheap computing device.  They are still more popular in secondary schools rather than Primary ones.  They are very fast to boot as there is not much of an operating system.  Android Apps are available for installation on newer Chromebooks though some are not compatible.  They are designed to be used with G-Suite but also can be used with Office 365 without any issues.

iPads

The iPad from Apple is still amongst the most creative tools available for the Primary Classroom.  There are so many apps covering so many areas of creativity that it wins hands down on creativity.  They are harder to manage BUT with new features such as Apple School Manager and the Classroom app and a plethora of MDM solutions available it’s become easier to take control of new devices and have them set up for pupils to use as shared devices.

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a very cheap computer, HOWEVER they do need a screen with an HDMI connection to be able to use them.  They have a version of Linux which runs on them and they can be used for programming and controlling devices.  They have limits to what they can do so make sure you really understand what they offer before buying.

 

Peripherals

Schools often already own a range of peripheral devices used to help deliver their curriculum.   Here’s a list of the most common.

Beebots

Beebots are simple programmable devices often used in Early Years and Key Stage 1.  You can program them with a number of steps using a forward/backwards motion and right-angle turns.  Newest versions (like the Bluebot) can also be programmed via blue-tooth from tablets and phones or dedicated programming boards.

Probot

The Probot is the ‘big brother’ of the Beebot and has a screen and a number of sensors for inputs.  The Probot’s programs can be edited and can use the inputs to modify the program such as reacting to bumping into something .

Roamer

Almost every school seems to have a grey circular Roamer knocking about.  The newer version of the Roamer runs on smaller batteries and boasts the ability to change keypads meaning you can have more or less complex controls which can be tailored to match your pupil’s level of computing engagement.

Sphero

The Sphero at first glance looks like a remote-controlled ball.  It has a number of free apps on the iPad which allow you to program the Sphero to get it to navigate a route or to create games.

MicroBit

The MicroBit devices were given to year 7 pupils although they were originally intended for Primary pupils.  They are small microcomputers with a range of built-in sensors and an array of LEDs for outputting information.  They are  programmed from a computer or iPad as they can connect using a USB cable or via blue-tooth.  They can work together via Blue-tooth or one can be programmed to control the actions of another.  MicroBits are relatively cheap and the software is all online.  There are a range of add-on robots and connection boards available for use with the MicroBit.  There is a massive community being built up around the MicroBit offering support, resources and also a growing range of additional items which can be used to augment the MicroBit.

Crumble

The Crumble is a robust device for controlling motors and lights etc from Redfern.  They are simple devices programmed from a PC.  They are very robust and the programming language software is available for free and is very Scratch-like.

LEGO WeDo

The LEGO WeDo has been around for a while now.  Whilst not the cheapest option and having a very limited range of outputs and inputs it is part of an organised ecosystem with resources designed to support teachers and teaching.

The others…

There are a myriad of other peripherals from data-loggers to fully-fledged robots but these are some of the key items for Primary schools in my view.

Your Journey

Know what you want to achieve, how you want to teach and how you want to engage your pupils and then go looking for how to do it!

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Crumble Racing

What’s a Crumble?

A good friend (Phil Bagge) sparked my interest in Crumbles…  Not the fruity pudding but the small self-contained computer.

Photo of a Crumble micro computer
[Photograph from the Redfern Electronics site http://redfernelectronics.co.uk/crumble/%5D
There are an increasing number of microcomputers from the Arduino boards to the Raspberry Pi.  The Arduino and Crumble share many similarities.  They are incredibly basic and need another computer to create programs on before transferring the compiled program to the Arduino or Crumble for it to run.

I had already used MicroBits in schools (see my earlier post).  They are similar to the Crumble in that you need to use another computer to create your program before uploading it to the MicroBit.  The MicroBit, however, is a more complex beast with an array of lights for communication and a range of sensors from temperature, to tilt and a compass.  The MicroBit also allows you to connect to a tablet or another MicroBit using Bluetooth radio too.

Where the Crumble has its niche is that it has large connector surfaces (pads) designed to be used to wrap wire around or to use a crocodile clip to make a quick connection.  This, and the fact it is so robust, makes it an excellent choice for a maker project for younger children.

The Crumble has a growing range of things you can connect to it.  The programming language is free to download and runs on Windows, Mac and Linux (I’ve tried all three) and will be familiar in format to anyone who’s ever programmed Scratch and so quick and easy to pick up!  It’s also really easy to transfer your program from the software to your physical Crumble.

The Crumble IS basic.  You can connect a variety of things to its four input/output pads AND connect up to two motors to its dedicated motors pads.  The Crumble has resistors built in which means you can connect switches, sensors, LEDs and motors without risk of weird things happening, or risk to the Crumble itself.

Starting off

One of the funkiest things to start with are what’s called ‘Sparkles‘.  These are addressable LEDs .  Basically you plug in a number of sparkles ‘daisy-chained‘ together in a line and then you can program the Crumble to set each Sparkle to a specific colour and intensity of light individually.  You could create your very own coat of many colours, and colours which change too!

Racing?

This project was centred on the use of Motors however.  The challenge for the pupils (or in may case Cubs at winter camp) was to create and program a vehicle using 2 motors, some crocodile clips, a Crumble and a battery pack and a load of junk modelling (oh and a laptop for the programming part).

We laid out a course on a hard-surfaced floor using masking tape and then we got down to the kind of movement we were looking for.

Movement and Steering

We talked about how a TANK moves and looked at some pictures and some video from YouTube.  We noticed that the tank doesn’t have wheels (like cars and vans) which turn at the front when the tank steers.  So I picked two volunteers and gave them a broom!   I got them to stand next to each other holding the broom across them in front with both hands on the broom.   If they BOTH move forward they manage to move roughly straight BUT how about a turn.  They quickly work out one person can stop and the other person moves and they turn.  With a little prompting you can get one person to go backwards and the other to go forwards and they spot a tighter turn, in fact on the spot.  Why do this?  Because our crumble can control two motors.  We COULD devise a very complicated model with front axle which pivots and employ a stepper motor or servo to turn the front wheels BUT the best idea is to create their Crumble vehicle like a tank!

Making our vehicle

Our vehicles were only ever intended to be temporary.  The whole thing was held together with masking tape so that we could photograph and disassemble for the next group.  You might be lucky enough to be able to create something MUCH more permanent if you can afford to buy lots of motors and wheels in which case a glue-gun would be a real boon!   So the kids set to work creating their model.  We had false starts.  It’s amazing how kids can be blinded by a glossy container and then find they attach their motors and wheels only to find that the wheels don’t touch the ground but they all got there in the end!  As I say ours were basic because time was very short!

Once they had something stable then it was the trial and error bit.  When you do this have a START box clearly marked so their model can be positioned in exactly the same space each time they test their program.  Our course started with a long straight.  This gave them time to try a program which started both motors and waited for a bit.  This program is a disaster because the Crumble does exactly what you program it to do.  Start motor and wait for a bit is great but the motor will keep going until you tell it to STOP!

Eventually they work out how to get their vehicle to the first turn.  Then the real fun starts.  How do we make it turn?

Troubleshooting

We had a few models with wheels which were not mounted very parallel to each other.  On the whole it wasn’t the end of the world BUT, through trial-and-error we realised, it was easier for the kids to program if they lowered the speed of the motor on the side which their vehicle was turning FROM until their vehicle could go in a straight line again!

There is always a group which struggles to work out that if their motors are mounted in opposite directions one of them HAS to go in reverse for their model to go straight otherwise it just goes around in circles!

Winners?

We ran out of time.  My test group were Cubs on camp and we had only one hour to do all of this in…  They did really well, but in the end it was the group that went furthest that ‘won’.  You could put them against the clock if lots of your groups complete the course, or you could devise a more fiendish course as the next stage!

We had hoped to have time to add a Sparkle Light to create emergency or rescue vehicles with programmed flashing lights and decorated bodies for their vehicles but time…

 

Going to BETT?

It’s almost that time of the year again – BETT time!

bett uk logo with dates 24-27 January 2018 at Excel London

What is BETT?

It’s an educational tech show in London, UK and it’s THIS WEEK! (24-27th Jan 2018)

BETTfree to attend massive ed-tech exhibition with presentations and workshops spread throughout many of the stands, as well as in the designated ‘Theatres’.

Who should go to BETT?

BETT is for any teacher of any age child/young person who is interested in using Technology in the classroom.  There are many Head Teachers who attend to try and get a handle on future trends.  There are School Administrators who attend to find better suppliers of communication tools (phones, email and messaging services) or catering payment systems etc.  It’s a great exhibition to attend as a Student Teacher, to understand some of the services and technologies that can help you really engage your pupils.

What can you get from BETT?

Ideas, new kit, new services, replacement (cheaper?) services, a view of what’s the next thing to come to your school.  You can also network with Educators and experts and pick up excellent tips and tricks via the presentations and workshops, as well as at some of the stands.

There’s a good spread of official seminars listed on the BETT site and if you download the free BETT app you can shortlist seminars (and even suppliers) so that you can see what you want to do very quickly.

Top Tips for Surviving BETT

There are many people who offer tips for successfully attending large exhibitions like BETT, but here are mine:

  1. Hydrate – Take a disposable water bottle with you and drink as often as you can.
  2. Plan to visit seminar sessions spread throughout the day so you get a sit down!
  3. Be selective over promotional materials.  All stands will offer you flyers and booklets.  I hardly every accept them.  If there’s something I want to think about or come back to later I photograph the stand/promotional materials to remind me to take a look online, or arrange a trial etc.
  4. Take business cards.  This is less important these days as most exhibitors zap badges instead, but there are still some exhibitors (mainly the smaller ones) who ask you to hand-write details onto a pad.  Instead I give them my card and they keep that OR copy from it themselves.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes.  Every year I think to myself I’ll check my mileage or steps walked at BETT and I haven’t remembered yet.  Maybe I will this year…
  6. It can be overwhelming and daunting so do some preparation.  Plan what KINDS of things you are interested in to create yourself a list of things to look for.  Try and stick to your list to stay focused.  If there are suppliers you want to touch base with make a list of them (or use the app as mentioned above).
  7. Check the seminar program in case there’s something you just can’t miss.  If there is set yourself a reminder or alarm, it’s easy to loose track of time!
  8. Exhibitors get tired!  If you are attending BETT on Friday or Saturday try to remember that the exhibitors are getting tired.  It’s hard work to set up a stand, stay in a hotel and smile all day whilst standing on your feet and trying to attract people to talk to you. I have often spoken to exhibitors at BETT with the vague feeling that they’re not really on this planet towards the end of BETT week, though maybe that’s just my effect!

Other Advice

Lots of other educators offer advice, in fact Terry Freedman has created a full-blown book available from Amazon – find out more here!

Around BETT

There are two TeachMeet‘s planned during BETT.  If you are not aware then a TeachMeet is a kind of un-conference organised by teachers for teachers.  No suppliers, no-one selling anything.  Teacher’s and educationalists offer to share a 3 or 7 minute presentation on ANYTHING to do with teaching.  Anyone can volunteer, times are usually strongly adhered to and there isn’t allowed to be any sales pitches.  Some are sponsored and so feature nibbles, others are not.  At BETT for 2018 there are two TeachMeets.  There’s an international one on Thursday evening and then the traditional TeachMeet BETT on Friday evening.  Find out more and sign up to attend or present for free at the TeachMeet site

Register for BETT

Register for your free ticket to BETT online.  They email you a link so you can print your ticket and skip the queue!  Then work out how you are going to get there!

 

Safer Internet Day 2018

Create, Connect and Share Respect: a better internet starts with you!

That second day of the second week of the second month of the year sure does rush around fast these days, and as a CEOP Ambassador and also a 360 Degree Safe Assessor I’m getting quite booked up by schools in a frenzy to help their pupils (and wider community) understand something about the risks of the online world and how to help children avoid them!

Safer Internet Day Information graphic from www.saferinternetday.org.uk
Safer Internet Day Information from http://www.saferinternetday.org.uk

Safer Internet Day has been around since 2004, but has now risen to such a level of acceptance that I don’t know of a Primary School which doesn’t embrace it at some level.

Every year has a slightly different theme, and this year’s is ‘Create, Connect and Share Respect: a better internet starts with you’.

The idea that the internet belongs to all of us, so we are all responsible for what’s there, is an interesting point for a discussion.   To help schools engage with pupils of all ages the UK Safer Internet Centre has created a range of resources, which focus on healthy online relationships and digital empathy, such as a Education Packs with engaging lesson plans, SID TV films, a quiz and advice pages.

Last year’s campaign reached 42% of all UK children, the aim is to make this year’s Safer Internet Day the biggest yet!

Resources for teachers can be downloaded from  https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/safer-internet-day/2018/education-packs or you can find out more from the UK Safer Internet Centre at https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/

If you, or your school, are active on social networks then why not sign up for the Thunder Clap.  The idea is to flood social media with the message about Safer Internet Day.  You can find out more at https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/blog/join-2018-safer-internet-day-thunderclap

How do you find out new stuff?

I sometimes worry I’m becoming stale…  Looking back with ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ it seems that in the past I was able to spend more time keeping abreast of new things than I am now.   I seemed to be more able to find new opportunities, to discover new things and to learn new things in the past.

So how do you discover new and exciting things to do in the classroom with Computers?

I’ve managed to make use of a myriad of avenues to help me discover new things here in the UK…

Conferences

I have attend conferences such as the (now sadly defunct) Naace Conference where for many years (over 10) I relished the opportunity to network with old friends and made new ones too.  I picked up some gems from the main presentations, but in many ways more important were the little ‘show-and-tell’ sessions running on the side where teachers and consultants would quietly show you what they’ve been doing.  Some of the best things I have taught (and still do) come from sessions like that!

More recently I’ve attended the E2BN conference in St Neots.  It seemed to capture the same feeling as the Naace conference and sent me back to ‘work’ with a fresh step and new ideas bubbling up again.

I have attended Bett annually in London for over 15 years now, often trying to put a high priority on choosing sensible seminar sessions above the exhibition.  It’s amazing how the slightest thing can be that spark of an idea which can turn into something excellent.  Bett as a conference is too large still and you really need to go equipped with a plan of action or a specific focus to get the most out of Bett.  This year I started by sitting down with the seminar timetable and drafted myself a list of those to use as a scaffold to then build my Bett visit around.  I then created a must-visit list of exhibitors and also a list of things I am looking for.  As  travel around bett I will keep my eyes open for anything else that catches them too!

The CAS Conference is a really CHEAP conference which takes place over a weekend and which has provided me with excellent ideas over the years BUT focused exclusively on the programming and logic side of Computing.  I have attended three CAS conferences over their nine-year history and taken away many things which I have tried in classrooms.

Some of our local Apple re-sellers have offered excellent free days where you could go off to a nice location to see experts showing you what’s new and ‘funky’ in the Apple world.  I got many great ideas from these sessions, things that helped me become really creative with iPads especially.

The issue with conferences of any kind is that they are often not cheap AND you usually need time out of the classroom or work to go.  A double-whammy!

TeachMeets

TeachMeets CAN be great.  I have helped run several over the years and attended dozens, but not so much recently…  Having said that I am signed up for the 2018 Bett TeachMeet taking place on the Friday of Bett.  I am even tempted to sign up to present!

What is a TeachMeet then?  Well, it’s a kind of cross between speed dating and a conference.   They are usually run in the evening (so negating the cost of release from the classroom).  They are also usually free to attend (often sponsored by some education company) or very cheap to attend.  They are run in a social atmosphere, often with drinks and nibbles and they are usually organised and run by teachers.   Anyone can sign up to give a presentation.  Presentations are normally either 3 or 5 minutes long and you can’t go over time (or give a sales pitch)!  I’ve picked up many gems over the years from TeachMeets so I am really looking forward to the Bett one, and getting a chance to catch up with some old faces there too!

CAS

I guess that brings me on to CAS or Computing At School to give the organisation its full name.   CAS is a free community of educators created to help ‘support and promote excellence in computer science education’ according to their strap line.   I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with CAS for many years.  They have an active online presence, an annual conference and a printed magazine but more importantly they have unique regional ‘hubs’ (I used to help run one).  These CAS hubs arrange local teachmeet-like sessions where teachers meet up and share what they’ve been doing in Computer Science.

CAS predates the changed computing curriculum and have campaigned to raise the profile of computer science for many years.  I agree with much that CAS do, but their tight focus just on the logic and programming side of ICT (and the fact they tend to be more successful at engaging Secondary Schools rather than Primary Schools) means that they are not the whole answer for me, but a useful part for sure.

Social Media and the Internet

I used to be an avid Twitter follower (I don’t really Tweet much myself) but I hardly visit it anymore.  The fact that even when you are fairly selective over who you follow I found I missed far more than I read.  The amount of time it takes to sort through and skim tweets for the return I got just didn’t add up.  Every now and again I feel I ought to go back, and I spend an hour or so ‘catching up’ but then it seems a bit fruitless.  IF I were engaged in conversations I am sure it would be different…  There used to be some great resources for finding ACTIVE educationalists on Twitter…

Newsletters

I do subscribe to some newsletters.  I think these probably came from people I followed on Twitter or saw present at a conference or TeachMeet.  The newsletter is an interesting concept…  It’s an opportunity to condense the kind of content I used to find spread out on Twitter into one place.  Generally the newsletters I follow bring me ideas and concepts which are edited together by the newsletter creator saving me time in trawling twitter and the net!

Doug Belshaw crafts an excellent weekly newsletter called Thought Shrapnel which arrives most Sundays.  There’s usually something which I follow-up in more detail.  Not so much the classroom teaching ideas as the bigger picture from Doug.  Doug also has a live version of this where you can discover new ideas and thoughts as they happen to him and an archive of older posts.

Audrey Watters produces her ‘HEWN‘ newsletter weekly too.  Often with a more American focus, Audrey produces thought-provoking pieces.

Terry Freedman has produced newsletters since the year 2000.  They are more spasmodic in frequency but also more content-rich than other newsletters.

Blogs

There are more educational blogs than you can shake a stick at (this being just one of them).  To be honest I don’t follow ANY of them…  I’m sure there are some excellent things out there (and my very mildly autistic side hates the fact I’m missing them) but HOW do you discover them?

I guess it doesn’t really matter how you get your new ideas, so long as you do!

 

Snapshotting understanding

A couple of weeks ago I was challenged to provide inset for one of my regular schools to help them get more use out of their iPads.  To be honest I didn’t get around to really thinking about it until the day before, and then it was a bit late to get apps sorted so I reflected back on how I thought I should be using iPads more.

Recently as a company we’ve been recommending Prowise interactive screens, as much for the software as the hardware.   There’s one excellent feature of the software that seems a real game-changer to me and as it’s web-based, device agnostic and also FREE.  It got me thinking on how I could use it more.

Prowise Presenter is fairly simple to use and quite feature-rich compared to many interactive whiteboard programs I have tried in the past BUT the clincher for me is ProConnect.  This feature links your whiteboard to a large number of internet connected devices (iPad, smart phone, android tablet, chrome book, laptop, PC) via a simple code.  Once the devices have joined you as teacher there is so much you can do.  There is a free Proconnect app for iOS, Andoid and I believe Windows too.

You can ask a quick question, vote, use and create quizzes.  You can also share your screen out to their devices and they can annotate or create content on the screen you have shared and then hand it back again for you to share on your board.  For instant class engagement it is really efficient and easy to do.

That then got me thinking about other cheap or FREE options for class engagement using iPads:

Plickers is possibly the least high-tech (and so least technically demanding for schools).  Each pupil is provided with a unique laminated QR code which they can hold up one of four ways.  This enables pupils to show one of four choices (A, B, C or D).  The teacher uses an iPad (or other smart tablet/phone) with the Plickers app to very quickly sweep the room and it records each person’s response.  Quick and easy.  Ask a multi-choice question and capture instant responses.  Plickers is currently free to use.

Socrative is an app I looked at years ago and then forgot about or ignored.  I think it has developed a lot since then, and I will be using it a lot more.  Pupils need internet connected devices BUT again these can be anything (phone, iPad, chrome book, pc…).  The teacher logs into their Socrative ‘room’ and the pupils use a unique code to join.  The teacher can ask questions, set quizzes, take votes etc all with ease and instant capture to spreadsheet or PDF file.  Socrative is free, though they now have a pro level you can purchase for a small annual fee.

Kahoot! is a fairly new app to me.  It’s a teacher-lead game show where pupils race each other against the clock to answer questions.  The quicker you answer the higher your score.  There is a large bank of ready-made Kahoots to use, or you can make your own online.  Again, at present, this is free to use.

There are lots of alternatives to the ones mentioned here, but these are the ones I ended up sharing with the staff at this particular school, and I will be using these more in the future!

My return to the CAS Conference for its 9th year

After around five years of absence I returned to the 9th CAS Conference held in Birmingham today.

I was hoping for new ideas and a chance to catch up with people and I got both.

Now, cooling off in the garden with darkening skys (it is nearly 11pm) I have spent a few hours reflecting on the day…

The day started really well.  I boarded my train, bacon roll in hand, and made my way to my reserved seat to find none other than Phil Bagge sitting in the seat opposite.  Phil was one of the CAS people I met at my first CAS conference and I’ve pinched his ideas and shown his jam-sandwich-robot video to teachers ever since.  We had a lovely chat about work and life and I tagged along with Phil right up to the University.

The opening sessions were thought-provoking…

Mark Guzdial introduced us to three keys to improving computing teaching:

  1. Prediction – the power of asking the pupils to make predictions help them understand and remember more
  2. Sub goal labelling – making it obvious (almost decomposition) what we are doing
  3. Instructional design

This gave me my first take-away – trying to include Sub Goal Labelling in future resources and planning

The first breakout was on CAS’s Project Quantum with Miles Berry.  Again someone I’ve known for years and who I’ve quoted and also used his YouTube videos around the new computing curriculum with teachers in the past.  One thing he mentioned that really got me thinking was about hinge points/questions after around 20 minutes of teaching was something new to me and a definite second take-away.

Taking time to check real understanding at appropriate times within a lesson before moving on is something I probably don’t conciously focus on enough.   Project Quantum was interesting, a quantatitive online bank of quiz questions that can be used to assess pupils knowledge and understanding of Computing, but currently heavily biased towards secondary.  It made me want to contribute more primary-level questions…

The second break-out I attended was with the aforementioned Phil Bagge and Mark Dorling.

They have been working on a project around attitudes.  What makes a good Computing Problem Solver…

Phil’s resources and animated explanation and description made me want to try these ideas out straight away (another take-away).  I will certainly be introducing them into my teaching from September, if not before.

After lunch I attended a rather poorly attended session on streamlining assessment using tablets.  Will Franklin took us through Formative, Socrative, Kahoot and Plickers also mentioning Google Forms and Class Kick.  Although there was little really new here for me, it did server to reaffirm my ideas and prompt me to spend some time developing Socrative particularly which also made me think a bit more about Hinge points too… so another take-away!

The final breakout I attended was with Steve Bunce and Mark Dorling (again).  This was a look at how to move pupils from a block-based language (Scratch) to a text-based language (such as Python) via something like Snap.

The plenaries in the afternoon started with Miles once more recapping Project Quantum, but with some interesting audience participation!

The Second plenary was a very interesting and engaging talk from Chris Ensor of the National Centre for Cyber Security who talked about his organisation’s changing role since World War 1 and the modern challenges.  He talked about how they are hoping to encourage and support a new generation of security experts (and programmers who understand the absolute need for code without holes) through things like the Cyber First bursary scheme.

The day was rounded off by a charming and highly engaging session from Linda Liukas.  She’s describes herself as an author, storyteller and computer scientist (and more).  Author of the growing “Hello Ruby” book series.  Her storytelling style had the whole lecture theatre of 300+ people spellbound despite the heat and left me with even more to think about (and an Amazon bill for books).  A superbly engaging way of introducing young children to Computer Science and I can’t wait to share it with a reception teacher I know!

Thank you CAS for a great event, thought provoking and invigorating (and excellent value).

Micro:Bits in the Primary Classroom

I attended an excellent hands-on workshop with the BBC Micro:Bit at an RM Seminar at the back end of 2016.  I forget who it was that lead that session, (though it might have been Stuart Ball).

In the session we were told, anecdotally, that the Micro:Bits had originally been intended for Year 6 pupils and although I had dismissed them it became immediately apparent that they are eminently usable by all Key Stage 2 pupils using the blocks editor which is very like Scratch!

I had spent many years wandering in the wilderness (well around Bett) looking for that perfect storm of a computer-controllable device which didn’t break the bank and was suitable for Primary Schools – it suddenly looked as if I had found it!

At only £15 including VAT for a starter kit from Kitronik they really seem a no-brainer!  Combine that with the Inventors kit for less than £25 or the Line Following Buggy for less than only £27 they are truly flexible, adaptable and cheap!

I must mention here that I am not on commission (I wish I was) and that I don’t work for Kitronik but they have been really helpful and supportive and I enjoyed meeting them at Bett 2017.

Since investing in a class set of these I have really enjoyed introducing them to pupils from year 3-6 (aged 7-11) starting with the virtual experience programming the online emulator (free to do at http://microbit.org/code/) before watching their faces light up as they successfully transfer a program to the actual physical thing and it lights-up before their eyes!

We started simple, basic scrolling text controlled by a variety of inputs.  We moved on to the basic Dice program before exploring other dice options.  We then created our own compass and even moved into controlling an eco-house created from an old dolls house and using the Inventors Kit.

Light-Controlled_Lamp_MicroBit

Whether your computing platform is PC, Chromebook or iPad based (yes they work via bluetooth too) if you are looking for something to control on a budget then I would HIGHLY recommend the Micro:Bit!

The promise of Learning Platforms

My first introduction to a learning platform came way back in 2004/5 as far as I can remember. At that time I was a primary classroom teacher and we (all of the schools in the County) were presented with a Learning Platform and told that this was the future and we were expected to use it…

We were told it offered unparallelled opportunities for personalisation of learning, collaboration and anytime learning extending the learning well beyond the school day. We were presented with an empty box and some instructions…

Looking back

In hindsight (and isn’t that a great thing to have) I think they were ahead of their time, ahead of the technology and ahead of the connectivity. Looking back from here (more than ten years later) I wish I was being given that Learning Platform now…

In 2004 not all homes had a computer and certainly many didn’t have the internet. Now everyone has an online connected device, and in most cases children have their own. What could I do now with truly personalised learning and collaboration?

So the Learning Platform’s time has come but most have gone…

That could be blamed on the change of government and the sudden disappearance of the money for and obligation on schools to have a learning platform. It might have been the right decision for the majority then but some schools could see the Learning Platform benefit and stuck with it.

How could learning platforms work now?

At a time when children seem to be voraciously absorbing YouTube videos on anything and everything and play apps and are often left to entertain themselves it seems a shame that this ‘informal’ learning can’t be steered by something a little more formal.

Imagine a modern “Learning Platform where teachers ask children to blog about the things they find out about online? Why can’t teachers take the children’s interests and extrapolate these to help children to learn AROUND things that interest them? My girls (10 and 12) are interested in lots of things on YouTube, mainly around Minecraft currently but I know they have ‘learnt’ about hair care, hair styles, makeup and beauty tips and far more. Why can’t these ‘interests’ be harnessed to get them to reflect on their informal learning and to guide them towards learning other things through their own interests.

Today

We live in such a connected and accessible world why are most schools ignoring this and pressing on with teaching grammar!

Sometimes I wish I was back permanently at the ‘chalkface’, responsible and able to make decisions for my group of children. Would I be brave enough to grasp the nettle and truly personalise their learning?

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