I am currently teaching at a secondary school in Wiltshire, UK. My head teacher and MAT head have very kindly developed my role to enable me to support Computer Science teaching in our multi academy trust (a collective of schools that have formed a partnership). Last year I supported another secondary school but this year my focus is on supporting our feeder primary schools.
Three things to know from the off:
- many primary schools have *no* budget and therefore have *no* IT equipment that is useful.
- primary school kids *love* creating stuff and that includes creating with code.
- primary school teachers are the hardest working in the industry and need to wear many hats in the classroom. Therefore it is often not possible to devote lots of time into developing a rich coding curriculum, although they all try hard to do so.
My job was clear; get some IT equipment and provide support to enable year 5/6 teachers to deliver a rich coding curriculum – not computer science, coding. Most kids don’t want to know how a CPU works or how one computer talks to another, they want to create and have fun. That’s good enough for now. Once they can speak ‘computer’ and enjoy using them they can dissect them later on – if they want to – but either way they are still confident to control a computer.
I also run a software company that helps reduce the burden of administrative tasks to organisations and companies. As a full time teacher I don’t have the time to grow the business as I would like but I am dedicated to serving the customers I have and to develop the software. It must be said that the tech industry works at triple speed compared to other industries. A x5 year old piece of software is like a x25 year old car. My company makes enough to pay for itself (hosting, legal, accountancy) with a little left over that I use to research new products and services. I will use this money to purchase the equipment.
I had limited budget and whatever I invested in needed to be durable and do as much as possible. What I needed:
- kid proof
- portable, to set up in different schools easily
- costs less than £150 each
- runs Scratch
- runs a web browser and web based software
- can code a Micro:bit
- does not need to be online (internet is sketchy at primary schools)
- accessible to all, not just for those who could afford it
- is FUN!
I researched the utility of:
- expensive tablets (expensive and a passive device)
- cheap tablets (slow and a passive device)
- Chromebooks (great but just a little too expensive, needs internet)
- cheap laptops (slow enough to be pointless)
- 2nd hand expensive laptops (great, a little expensive and unpredictable)
- PiTop-Ceeds (OK but expensive for effectively a 14″ monitor Raspberry Pi setup)
Over the last few years I had bought my x2 children (boy 5 and girl 7) Kano Computer kits. These are Raspberry Pi based computers that they put together themselves using incredibly well written instructions. The software is based on Raspian (I believe) but with their own skin on and pre-installed software. You create a character and that character explores an island (that looks very like a Raspberry Pi) with challenges dotted about.
Both my kids love them and I don’t mind them using them. The battery lasts about 2 hours before needing to be charged so there is your screen time limit and they are learning to use a keyboard, mouse, OS, how a computer works, there are badges to earn (that most kids bizarrely love?!) and the challenges are purposeful and engaging. What do I mean? Think CBBC/CBeebies rather than Barney the Dinosaur.
But kits are almost £300. Great for a one off family present but not so good when I have to purchase x30 of them.
Fortunately Kano offers their OS as a free download. I just needed to source a cheap Raspberry Pi setup. Monitor size is important, 22″ is the smallest I considered. CPC-Farnell seems to be taking over from gap left by Maplins. The only differences are that you buy stuff online rather than having to go to a shop (big plus for me) and it is reasonably priced (I could never understand how much Maplins charged). After some prototyping and asking lots of people to help I reached this setup:
Other software can be installed alongside the pre-installed kid friendly OS so it is the perfect platform.
The equipment is being sourced. I have enough for half a class and hope to have a full class worth before December 2018.
A computer is only a tool.
Just like a leather DIY belt full of screwdrivers, tape measures and pencils, a computer should only be considered a tool to help solve problems. The next challenge for me was ‘what problems’?
The BBC Micro:bit is awesome. End. I was a little upset they released it a few months after my BBoard was but I can now see that these two products work together rather than being competition. I use the Micro:bit a lot in my teaching. Kids cannot deal with lots of different platforms and languages so it is great that the Micro:bit can do so much; from simple tammagochi to learning about network protocols. It’s just brilliant.
So each student needs a Micro:bit too.
Thanks to microbit-accessories.co.uk, www.kitronik.co.uk and Lego (who doesn’t love Lego?) I have managed to develop engaging individual challenges that can be handed out quickly and easily to students.
I have developed a way to provide challenge along with appropriate levels of support whilst encouraging personal and peer resilience. If you are interested then buy my book or come along to one of my sessions (www.TechTeachersDirect.com)
I hope to have all the computers I need soon and then I can take this on the road.
I’ll let you know how I get on.