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.


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.


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?

Online Safety

Another Safer Internet Day has been and gone and it’s boosted my ‘number of children trained’ (and number of adults) for CEOP via the think-you-know website considerably (boosting the number of children I’ve trained to over 3400).

Having spent some time over the summer fully absorbing Ofsted’s new ‘Online Safety Standards’ (read more at  http://swgfl.org.uk/news/News/online-safety/Making-Sense-of-the-New-Online-Safety-Standards) I have incorporated chunks of that document plus the BBC Newsround research announced on Safer Internet Day into my presentations.  Whilst I was at it I have also been through all of my presentations and paperwork chasing away the remaining references to ‘e-safety’ to replace it with ‘Online Safety’ as recommended by Ofsted.  To be honest I was ahead of the game having adopted ‘Online Safety’ as the new name for ‘e-safety’ some years ago following conversations with 360 Safe assessors about how confusing the name e-safety was to parents!

There are a growing number of Oxfordshire schools engaging with the 360 Safe matrix and quite a few now actively working towards the 360 safe mark.  Many schools are also taking to heart the need to keep all staff updated on Online Safety issues with annual trainning and updates.

Board games and Computational Thinking

Watching our children play board games collaboratively this afternoon I am struck by several things:

  • working with a partner collaberatively requires a high level of communication.  The children need to be able to have a vision of the algorithm they need to achieve their objective in the game and then they need to be able to effectively communicate this to their partner or team to persuade them that their solution and idea is the best one.
  • listening is difficult…
  • learning that other people might have a better idea than yours is something that everyone needs to be able to do!

Even playing simple board games in teams allows such levels of communication and persuasion that there seems to be greate value.

Linking back to computational thinking:

  • identifying patterns is a key to developing your strategy
  • creating an algorithm to achieve the progression you need in the game is key to winning the game
  • the aim of the game needs to be distilled through abstraction to get to win
  • to be successful you need to have an eye on the whole picture to develop a winning strategy BUT you will also need to decomose the whole aim into smaller achieveable parts to work towards a winning position…

Computational Thinking

Having taught ‘Computing‘ for two years now I have taken some time during this summer to reflect on Computational Thinking.  Since September 2013 I have been telling Primary Teachers that the new Primary Computing Curriculum (England) was about ‘reprogramming’ pupils to help them think logically, to attack challenges in a logical way by decomposing them into manageable chunks.  This is a life skill and something with application across their lives and the whole curriculum from Maths to Science to Music…

I have been reading more about Computational Thinking over the summer.  I first really looked at  the phrase when it came up in Barefoot Computing from CAS.  That then made me take a look at Google’s Computational Thinking for Educators online course.  It’s a free course that will make you think a little more about Computational Thinking so if you are interested I would recommend it.

Computational Thinking involves some of the following:

Decomposition (I mentioned earlier) is about taking a large challenge or task and being able to identify sensible parts to break it up in to to tackle it in a logical manner.  This can apply to any physical or mental task from ‘writing a piece of music’ to ‘making a cupboard’ and of course will include ‘writing a computer game program’.

Pattern Recognition is about spotting patterns that can be used to help you work out solutions.  These could be patterns in data which would help you solve a problem like ‘what is causing this illness’ to patterns in a computer program so if you code that bit you can re-use that code again.

Abstraction is a confusing word which tends to make most Primary Teachers panic!.  It seems to be about discovering the principles which make the patterns happen.  Sometimes it is described as being about honing down what is going on to the bare bones. ‘get the little dots and avoid the ghosts’ = Pacman!

Algorithm is another confusing word.  Basically it’s the recipe that makes something happen.  Cooks use them to create their wonderful food, young pupils are taught them for ‘what to do when you first come into the classroom in the morning’ or ‘what we do now it’s dinner time’.  Algorithms are vital for programming.  If a programmer doesn’t understand exactly what the program should do they will not program it correctly.  In Pacman the player character needs to be able to move left, right, up and down but NOT through walls. Once you understand this little part of the program you can work out how to make it happen.

Computational Thinking is definitely a life skill, but it is also something that I believe not everyone will be able to embrace and be proficient in.  Having said that even if pupils just gain a little more insight into how to tackle something logically the benefit to society will be huge.

Taking time…

One of the hardest things to do as a teacher is to take time.   Teaching is a time-pressured occupation where every second counts.  Particularly when it comes to Computing, or even embedding technology in every-day teaching and learning across the curriculum.  Too many schools and teachers rush into decisions and jump on to technologies without really understanding WHY they do or do not need them.

In bygone days there were Local Authority Advisors (I was one) who could take the time to step back from the technology and pressure, were not under any obligation to sell schools anything and who could take the time to summarise the pros and cons of the various technologies.  If schools were very lucky these advisors would also know the schools, staff and pupils well enough to make personalised recommendations based on their experience of the individual setting.  On the whole this has disappeared from most of the English education system.

The loss is felt beyond just the schools.  Companies used to know that if they had a product they belived in they could send it to the local authority who would review it impartially and who would then recommend it to schools which it fitted.  This gave a route to market for the companies, and also a buffer to the schools.

There are some independent advisors who can still be employed by schools to give them impartial advice.  Some who work with specific schools on a regular basis and know the schools and what will and what won’t work for that specific school.  Schools also rely more on their own social networks, recommendations from other schools, colleagues, Twitter…

Despite this we still regularly experience schools who have bought often very expensive technology without really knowing WHY they needed it and WHAT it would do to enhance their teaching and learning.

This isn’t a local phenomenon, there are well publicised high-profile cases where whole school districts in the US have done exactly this and then been lambasted for it in the media.  Surely this is putting the horse before the cart?

Every schools NEEDS to have a regularly updated technology plan (for want of a better term).  This plan needs to consider HOW the school sees its teaching and learning developing over the coming few years.  They need to understand how their use of technology should  develop over the next 3-5 years.  This plan WILL be out of date after 12 months and will need revising every year.  The plan needs to START with the educational outcomes that the school desires and NOT with the latest, best kit or what the neighbouring school has just purchased.  With the clear vision schools will understand what they want to achieve to then find the best way of achieving it.

If a school can explain their vision for HOW the piece of technology they want to purchase will enhance teaching and learning, explain how they are going to train staff and impliment it and how they expect the technologies use to develop over the next 3 years then there is a fair chance that technology will be used.

Unfortunately schools don’t often take the time to do this.  They jump on some technology because someone else has it or someone recommended it.  They buy it, it’s put in cupboards, no training is given, it gathers dust…  because no-one takes the time to ask what do I want to achieve BEFORE asking how can I achieve it…

Technology is not the goal but a means to an end…

Staying safe online by being SMART

It is a modern day life skill which no-one who uses technology can afford to be without.  The internet pervades all that we do, it underpins most of the 21st century technology in our homes and offices.

From smart phones that automatically back up your photos to the cloud (something that certain celebraties will wish didn’t actually happen now) to Central heating thermostats which you can control from your iPad.  Modern devices are increasingly interconnected via the web.

21st Century technology users need to be tech-savy!  They need skills to avoid making costly or embarrassing mistakes!

There are websites which give advice and support to children and their parents such as think-u-know from CEOP. There are podcasts such as security today and there are myriad blogs choked full of advice but a good dollop of common sense and healthy scepticism would make the journey through today’s technology a far safer one for many people.

Smart people follow the SMART rules!


S – SAFE – keep your personal information safe, don’t share it with people you don’t really know.

M – MEETING – if you plan to meet people you only know online get an adult you trust to help make the arrangements AND to go with you when you first meet.

A – ACCEPTING – think carefully before accepting attachments, opening links etc.  Nasty things can come in attachments or from rouge web links, even from people you know and trust.

R – RELIABLE – how reliable is that website, that person online?

T – TELL – the MOST important rule.  If anything makes you feel uncomfortable online then you must tell an adult you trust or talk to someone at Childine or click the Report Abuse button online.  If you have a friend that you believe is being bullied you must also tell someone!\

Find out more about the Smart Rules from Kidsmart

Download a poster for your classroom or home from HERE!



The Kodu Kup 2013

At Bett 2013 Microsoft, and various partners including CAS and Naace, launched a new competition for KS2 and 3 students – The Kodu Kup!

Kodu Kup

The competition is free to enter and involves using Kodu (FREE software from Microsoft) to program a simple game on one of three themes. The game, plus a poster design for the game, have to be entered online by 31st May 2013. Entrants can be individuals or teams of up to three students.

Games created will need to cover at least one of these three themes: •Retro Arcade Game – Recreate an arcade game from the past with a Kodu twist! If you need some inspiration you could try taking a look at classicgamesarcade.com for some examples. •Water awareness – Create a game that tackles the environmental issue of water. This could be a local or school-based scenario or something more global. •Mars Exploration – Use the Mars Rover character in Kodu Game Lab to create a game centred around the exploration of Mars.

The creators of the ten lucky short-listed entries will be invited to attend a workshop day at the Microsoft Reading headquarters where they will also present their game to a panel of judges. The best three games will win an Xbox 360 plus Kinect for their school with the over-all winners lifting the Kodu Kup too!

To help support Oxfordshire schools we are offering a FREE two-hour introduction to Kodu for absolute Kodu beginners. Unfortunately we cannot offer this until Monday 18th March 2013, and places are strictly limited to two-per-school only. To book your FREE place please visit http://kodukupoxon.eventbrite.co.uk to sign up now.

You could run a mini competition in your class or school to choose a school entry or you could encourage your G&T programmers to create an entry in their own time which you could support them with by getting other pupils to test maybe! If you are interested then you can find out more from the Microsoft Partners in Learning site

Draft National Curriculum for ‘Computing’

As of February 2013 the new National Curriculum document shows ICT as no longer a subject as it is replaced by Computing, which is compulsory across Key Stages 1-4.

Computing (as announced in the Draft Curriculum documentation, Feb 2013)

Purpose of study
A high-quality computing education equips pupils to understand and change the world through computational thinking. It develops and requires logical thinking and precision. It combines creativity with rigour: pupils apply underlying principles to understand real-world systems, and to create purposeful and usable artefacts. More broadly, it provides a lens through which to understand both natural and artificial systems, and has substantial links with the teaching of mathematics, science, and design and technology.

At the core of computing is the science and engineering discipline of computer science, in which pupils are taught how digital systems work, how they are designed and programmed, and the fundamental principles of information and computation. Building on this core, computing equips pupils to apply information technology to create products and solutions. A computing education also ensures that pupils become digitally literate – able to use, and express themselves through, information and communication technology – at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world.

The National Curriculum for computing aims to ensure that all pupils:
•can understand and apply the fundamental principles of computer science, including logic, algorithms, data representation, and communication
•can analyse problems in computational terms, and have repeated practical experience of writing computer programs in order to solve such problems
•can evaluate and apply information technology, including new or unfamiliar technologies, analytically to solve problems
•are responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology.

Attainment targets
By the end of each key stage, pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study.

Subject content

Key Stage 1
Pupils should be taught to:
•understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following a sequence of instructions
•write and test simple programs
•use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs
•organise, store, manipulate and retrieve data in a range of digital formats
•communicate safely and respectfully online, keeping personal information private, and recognise common uses of information technology beyond school.

Key Stage 2
Pupils should be taught to:
•design and write programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
•use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output; generate appropriate inputs and predicted outputs to test programs
•use logical reasoning to explain how a simple algorithm works and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs
•understand computer networks including the internet; how they can provide multiple services, such as the world-wide web; and the opportunities they offer for communication and collaboration
•describe how internet search engines find and store data; use search engines effectively; be discerning in evaluating digital content; respect individuals and intellectual property; use technology responsibly, securely and safely
•select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information.

Key Stage 3
Pupils should be taught to:
•design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems
•understand at least two key algorithms for each of sorting and searching; use logical reasoning to evaluate the performance trade-offs of using alternative algorithms to solve the same problem
•use two or more programming languages, one of which is textual, each used to solve a variety of computational problems; use data structures such as tables or arrays; use procedures to write modular programs; for each procedure, be able to explain how it works and how to test it
•understand simple Boolean logic (such as AND, OR and NOT) and its use in determining which parts of a program are executed; use Boolean logic and wild-cards in search or database queries; appreciate how search engine results are selected and ranked
•understand the hardware and software components that make up networked computer systems, how they interact, and how they affect cost and performance; explain how networks such as the internet work; understand how computers can monitor and control physical systems
•explain how instructions are stored and executed within a computer system
•explain how data of various types can be represented and manipulated in the form of binary digits including numbers, text, sounds and pictures, and be able to carry out some such manipulations by hand
•undertake creative projects that involve selecting, using, and combining multiple applications, preferably across a range of devices, to achieve challenging goals, including collecting and analysing data and meeting the needs of known users
•create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital information and content with attention to design, intellectual property and audience.

Key Stage 4

All pupils must have the opportunity to study aspects of information technology and computer science at sufficient depth to allow them to progress to higher levels of study or to a professional career.

All pupils should be taught to:
•develop their capability, creativity and knowledge in computer science, digital media and information technology
•develop and apply their analytic, problem-solving, design, and computational thinking skills.


Find out more from the DfE website

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