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
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!


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?


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!


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…



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 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!

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.

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 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 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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