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…



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…


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 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!


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…


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.


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!


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!

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?

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…

The Blogging Revolution Comes to Oxfordshire?

Following the really well received Blogging Keynote from David Mitchell at LWT2012 we felt it would be useful to share some of the information and links. What makes anything like Blogging or Podcasting really come alive is to give it a REAL audience and purpose. Blogging by publishing into a vacuum (ie onto a site with very few viewers) soon dies and is very unsatisfactory for all. To get around that, the biggest issue, David Mitchell founded a site to partner up groups of schools into clusters of four schools so that they could take it in turns to blog about focussed issues of things of interest as a major focus for a week, then spend three weeks as the audience for the other schools. The language work invovled in being an audience is still massive, and again with a real purpose and also with the abilty to write back well thought out comments, questions etc. Almost like pen pals but on a different scale! Since LWT2012 we have already heard from many Primary schools who are setting up blogs for children as young as Year 2. Many Oxfordshire schools have since started to create their own clusters to support each other with audience and purpose, many within school partnership or geographic areas. If you are struggling to set up a cluster of your own or if you need more schools to join you then please feel free to email the Oxfordshire CC Curriculum ICT Team and we will see if we can help schools find each other!

For a more global picture though we would highly recommend Quad Blogging!   Below you will find links to some other sites where you will find more information.

David Mitchell’s Blog can be found at His school blog can be found at


QuadBlogging – The defibrillator of the blogging world!

 A defibrillator: To deliver electrical energy to the heart to stun the heart momentarily and thus allow a normal sinus rhythm to kick in via the heart’s normal electricity centre.

QuadBlogging: To deliver electrical energy of a global audience to the heart of a blog to allow a rhythm of excitement to kick via the blog’s widening global audience.

Imagine four schools that had a partnership/agreement that would mean that for a four week cycle, each school’s blog would be the focus for one week out of four. Each school in the Quad would spend some time visiting the blog of the school for that week, leave comments etc. After that week, another one of the four schools would be the focus and this would be repeated for the four week cycle and then repeated. It wouldn’t take the pupils long to work out that during their week, they would get a boost in visitor numbers and comments. This would give a real focus to have posts online ready for this bulge in visits. During the other three weeks, pupils get to visit and comment on other blogs in their quad. Pupils being pupils, they would also venture out of the quads and visit other blogs that are linked.

Text taken from the Quadblogging Website at where you can also find out more about how you can QuadBlog too!

iOS Apps for Education

Due to increasing requests for lists of iOS Apps for iPads, iPod Touch and iPhone we have decided to publish a list of our favourites HERE.  We would like to grow this list, so if your favourite is not there then please let us know and we will take a look at it and add it if we agree with you!

BETT 2012

Once again the BETT show is nearly upon us.  It is the technology in education show for the UK running from the 11th-14th January this year in Olympia in London.  The show usually boasts more than 30,000 visitors and more than 600 exhibitors distributed through four zones spread over two halls and two galleries.

You can get more information and book your FREE place at or you can read more about what’s happening on the BETT BLOG at

Will you get the opportnuity to wander the halls and galleries?


Technology in UK schools MAY have a future…

Love him or hate him, Michael Gove seems, at last, to have been able to utter the word technology…

At The Schools Network conference on 1st December Michael Gove gave a speech in which he talked about how technology had changed the world.  He goes on to say…

… there is a perception by some that my department isn’t especially concerned about such things. That we care more about Tennyson than technology. That our interest is in Ibsen, not iTunes. That we’re more Kubla Khan than Khan Academy.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that our school system not only prepares pupils for this changing world, but also embraces the technological advances which are transforming education. My department is thinking hard about this and we’ll be saying more in the new year.

I guess we all have to hang on over Christmas awaiting this pronouncement!

Gove’s speech goes on to talk about how children and young people make use of technology to communicate and socialise but highlights the fact that classrooms have not kept up with these changes.   He goes on to imply that the problem was an over-investment in technology without really changing what teachers do to make the best use of it.  He mentions gaming and also assessment as well as teacher training stressing the importance of digital content.

He used many buzz words and phrases in his speech including a reference to the Khan Academy, the Raspberry Pi programming computer and 3D printers.

The speech concludes with the paragraph:

… a genuine engagement with the wondrous world of technological innovation will see children’s learning ‘liberated from the dead hand of the past.’ We owe it to pupils across the country to take this issue seriously.

The full transcript of the speech is available from the DfE website HERE

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