All posts by abarker

Teaching Year 1-2

My son turned 6 this weekend. I decided to organise a Maker Party for him and his friends. Each of the x12 party goers got a small wooden robot (2D) and a Microbit. They spent the first 30 minutes decorating their robots. They *loved* this. Lots of glitter, stickers and felt tips.

Robot decorating

We then all ate some food and played some party games; pass the parcel, musical statues etc.

Then I handed each child a Microbit and some instructions that showed them (with their parent) how to make the Microbit say ‘Hello’. Nothing difficult and apart from the copying the downloaded Hex file over to the Microbit, it all went well. The next worksheet showed them how to display a smile when the A button was pressed and sad face when the B button was pressed. Again, nothing fancy but they were thrilled at what they had done. They then attached their Microbit to the robot to complete.

The Lego inspired Microbit instructions – CLICK HERE to view

Some observations:

  • This age group, on the whole, have not used a mouse and keyboard before. I guess the only computers they have used to this point have been tablets.
  • Literacy levels are relatively low so instructions have to be *super* simple. As my boy can follow his Lego instructions OK I used that style; landscape showing no more than x2 steps to follow, a single image visually showing the instruction along with the instruction itself written in simple language.
  • This age group *love* decorating, painting, stickers, drawing – making stuff. They turn to it naturally. I think that some form of creating/making in this way should be at the heart of any task given.
  • An individual activity should only last about 20-30 minutes.
  • The Microbit IDE works fine offline. It just needs to be loaded beforehand whilst connected. It works from the cache thereafter. Even the simulator works without the Internet.

CodeClub.

I, along with another IT enthusiast and four DofE students have just started a CodeClub at our local library. The experience has been really interesting.

It was interesting to see what children aged around 8, who were interested in coding, would do if they were given time to just play around using Scratch. They had a whale of a time making up stories and silly images. Admittedly their coding was almost non-existent, but that is something that us leaders could deal with over time, but they loved what they were doing.

It gave me an idea for a lesson style for that age group. This lesson idea will be repeated over many contiguous lessons, each time building upon the last.

Assuming that kids just want to have fun, start by introducing one of the x4 Principles of Coding, eg ‘Variables’, then give them some example code to copy that uses the principle, eg. code that counts down from x10 each time a key is pressed. Then give them the challenge to create a story using the princple, but also add that they must include in their story specific words; silly words that will make them smile, like ‘underpants’ and ‘sausages’.

We intend to run break-out groups each Saturday alongside the regular feature of Scratch-free-for-all. Looking forward to it!

Primary Schools Outreach – reflections

I have now taught at x2 primary schools and have learned much.  I thought I would share these reflections for anyone else who is considering such a project.

Firstly, it’s hard work! 

It has been usual for schools to ask that I arrive at 9:00am and leave at 12:00. Primary students are like mini nuclear power stations – they never switch off and I have to be ‘on it’ from the get-go until the end.  It can be exhausting, in a good way.

The first job is packing the car which takes about 20mins and this is only really possible with a trolley:

A trolley.  £39 well spent.

The computers pack away into the monitor boxes which is good as it doesn’t cost anything extra, and they pack efficiently into the car, but eventually they will fail as they are cardboard and there is no weather protection for the days when it has rained.  Also, they are not that stable when being arried on the trolley.  I need to think about this a little more.

It all just about fits in.

Everything else (Pi’s, mice, power, keyboard etc.) goes into x3 plastic container boxes to keep things simple and secure.

Unpacking and setting up has taken me 30mins if given a room without children in and easy access to the room (one school had their classroom up a flight of stairs).

Total time: 20mins packing + travel time + 30mins unpacking/setting up = ready to go.  Then the same routine in reverse at the end of the session.

Secondly, things go wrong but the show must go on seamlessly so bring spares.

Luckily I have a spare keyboard, mouse, Pi and SD-card because on both occaisions something has broken or gone wrong.  It would have gone badly wrong had I not been able to quickly swap out the broken stuff for a working replacement.  There would have been x2 children with nothing to do = x2 dispondent children + classroom management issue.

Fortunately the RPi is quick to boot so only a few minutes are lost changing over a complete system.

Leave on a high.

The x2 sessions I have run so far have taken the following format:

  • Students are in pairs.
  • Introduce myself, where I am from and why I am there.
  • Hand out keyboards (monitors are already set up)
  • Hand out mice
  • Hand out power packs
  • Then ask if students are ready to go.  Some say yes, some ask where ther computer is.  I then labour the point that the monitor is NOT the computer before introducing the RPi.  I explain that the RPi has been designed specifically for them by boffins in Cambridge.  I drop one and let the case come apart, then reassemble it to show them how durable they are.  I then hand out the RPi’s and ask the students to plug in everything EXECPT the power.
  • The RPI’s are handed out WITHOUT the SD-CARD.  Once the RPi’s are plugged in I show the students the SD-CARDs and explain that they store the memories of the computer and that I have put some memories on already for them to use.  I then hand out the SD-CARDs for the students to install.  This installation process gets the students used to the computer so they can do it themselves at home, it gives them confidence to tackle hardware issues during the session and it ticks off a paragraph in the KS2 Key Skills (something about respectfully and carefully using hardware…)
  • Students then power them on and go through the initial process of following the instructions (type in team name, activate mouse etc.)  They DO NOT log onto the WiFI, there is no need.  Students do this themselves with only a few needing teaching assistance.  In fact, I usually hide near the door so I am not immediately around them so they appear less likely to put their hand up.
  • First hour, students can explore the system themselves.  It is normal that some students find the PONG game and play that endlessly (!?) so they need encouraging to move on if they take too long on PONG.  I also encourage students away from Scratch and onto the “Story Mode” which is a virtual world where they learn about the different parts of a computer.
  • Then break time.  Tea and biscuits.
  • Second hour is on the Minecraft challenge to build a castle.  This does sometimes glitch, especially if the students do something wierd.  But the handy thing is it is easy to reset: quit the challenge and restart usually fixes anything major.
  • Some students find following the Minecraft instructions hard and so, wanting to finish on a high, for the last 15 minutes I ask them all to open “Numpty Physics” a great little problem solving game.  I can’t describe it well enough so please Google it if you are interested.  But the kids love it.
  • 12:00 end.  Hand out certificates (with website addresses for further help for parents) and pack up.

Offer resources and advice to all (The stages of Computational Thinking)

Parents often need advice on how to help and what to buy, students often want to continue this stuff at home and primary teachers often want resources and advice on how to cover CT at KS1-2. 

I have put together a parents page on my department website outlining how they can help (help.thinkct.com).

I have also put together fire-and-forget lessons for primary teachers to simply follow (codeq.thinkct.com).  I am a great believer that all that is required is for the stages of Computational Thinking be taught at KS1-2.  Simply giving the students little problems to solve in a structured way, but mainly getting them onto creating in code as much as possible is the best and more engaging thing for them at that age.  The theory about networks work etc can wait until KS3.

Primary Schools Outreach trial #1 – SUCCESS!

I was lucky enough to trial my Kano computers at a primary school. 

My objectives were that:

  • Students would get a rich and robust computing based challenge
  • Students would go home enthused and tell parents/carers to buy one for Christmas and therefore further their learning at home
  • Teachers would not have to be knowledgable or experienced in computing in order to offer this opportunity

Unfortunately I do not have the ability to get feedback from parents/carers about the experience, but all other objectives were successful.

This letter arrived a few days after this event.  It made me very happy to know the day had impact.

I simply set out one computer between two (running KanoOS), talked them all through the startup (type in your name etc.) and then I left them to it.  

I stepped back and did nothing but watch.  I didn’t tell them what to do simply helped if they had a technical issue.

They spent the first hour feverishly going this way and that, soaking in what was on offer and what they could do.  Most appeared to prefer wandering around the simulated world.  They met people and asked them questions, there were quests to do and every now and again some coding to be done.  Most would have done that all day.

Dinner time was a natural break.  After dinner I asked them all to open the EduMinecraft software and follow the instructions the computer gave in the ‘Build a castle’ challenge.  Some got all the way through and built the castle (using code).  Some were slower and only got the first few challenges done – but ALL were totally focussed and loving it.

On top of learning about how to sequence instructions to perform a task (coding), the students were learning how to use a mouse and keyboard, work together in solving problems (a lot of communication needed for that!), overcoming technical problems and showing resilience when tackling new challenges.

The classroom teacher and myself only had to help on a very small number of occaisions.

I heard through older siblings that some had indeed gone home and were talking positively to their parents/carers.  I hope Father Christmas sends them a KanoOS computer and they continue their journey.

Disclaimer: I do not work for Kano or have any links with Kano.  They do not give me money for anything, in fact I give them money as I’ve bought x2 of their computers for my own children.  I just think what they offer is good.

Primary School IT-Skills Project

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:

  1. many primary schools have *no* budget and therefore have *no* IT equipment that is useful.
  2. primary school kids *love* creating stuff and that includes creating with code.
  3. 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.

Get resources

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.

What 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.  

Genuine challenge based enjoyment.  www.Kano.me

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:

Sturdy, it can’t fall over
A cheap wall mount turned 90 degrees mounted on a piece of ply board.
It instantly folds down and fits into the monitor box for storage and transport.
The child can move around the Kano island learning about computers and coding as they go.

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.

Some of the computer systems that have been converted and ready to be used.

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)

Next…?!

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.

Anyone want to be a game programmer? One at a time please!

Hello World,

I’ve had another email from someone in the US. Sandy is on the West coast and has a daughter called Sarah who is an aspiring game developer – a very popular career choice!

Whilst looking for resources about developing computer games she came upon a website with some very interesting resources and wanted to share them with other aspiring game designers.  Thank you Sarah.

The link she gave is to IT Hare:

Programming Guide For Video-Gamers

I can’t vouch for the rest of the site but there are some interesting links on this page.  My particular favourite is a very comprehensive guide to creating PacMan in Scratch.

Good luck with your game development career Sarah and thanks to Sandy for the email.

Friends in the US

I would like to extend a hand across the pond and a massive “Thank you” for the lovely email received from the Kitchen family based in the US.  I am really pleased to hear that they have worked on computing projects as a family and humbled that this site has helped them in some way.

It seems that the Kitchen children are somewhat pro-active in their learning and research other sites that can be of use to them in their studies.  They would like to share one particular site that has been of use to them and I am happy to help them do this:

Beginner’s Resources to Learn Programming Languages

Thank you again for your email, it was great to hear your story.  Best of luck with your studies!

Al.

How to use tech in teaching: SAMR

Thank you to P.Mapstone (@petemapstone) et al. at King Edward VI school in Southampton for showing me their work embedding technology into teaching and learning.

King Edward VI is a well funded, forward thinking and highly accomplished (fee paying) school and over the last 4 years they have been focussing on developing their use of technology to make learning more effective.

iPad

After much research the iPad platform was chosen for the one-to-one device for students.  Their study identified many good reasons why the iPad was better for them over the alternatives such as Android, Chromebook etc. but those that I found particularly interesting:

  • the iPad provided specific apps that they considered useful to their curriculum
  • they were impressed at the stability and robustness of the hardware
  • teaching staff needed to assume a consistent platform throughout their class

They have x2 online learning environments; one deals with homework, school diary and work deadlines and the other is Google Classroom that is used to provide student collaboration and more effective management of digital resources (delivery to students and subsequent collation and assessment).

Google Classroom

I was really taken by what Google Classroom offers, particularly for assessment and feedback.  ICT and Computing mostly produce digital artefacts – ie. not in books.  This makes assessment and effective feedback very tricky.  Pete and his team ask students to make short video clips of their work (screen casting or mobile phone filming) with students explaining their thought processes and explanation of any difficulties overcame etc.  These clips are then uploaded via Google Classroom into class collections.  Teaching staff can then select their class and click on each video clip providing written or verbal feedback.  Google Docs enables comments so a feedback dialogue can easily exist with any written work.

SAMR – Substitution / Augmentation / Modification / Redefinition

After choosing and purchasing the technology, the next problem for Pete and his team was how to enable teaching staff to use IT effectively.  Acceptance and adoption of the technology has been, on the whole, positive – I did hear of a teacher proudly using their iPad as a book mark.  But each teacher had the same problem: “Where do I start embedding this technology into my teaching?”.  Pete and his team did a lot of the leg work for them based on the SAMR model and then provided (and still does) training – in his opinion a key requirement for success.

SAMR is a model popularised by Dr. Ruben Puentedura that tries to abstract the layers of technology use in teaching.  It is aspirational.  I once heard a head teacher proudly proclaim that “…we are at the forefront of elearning – we have electronic whiteboards in every classroom”.  From my experience electronic whiteboards are, due to the vagaries of the technology, unstable and therefore useless.  In my view they do the same job as a projector screen – others may disagree.  As they do the same job as non-digital alternatives they fit into the “Substitution” category or the “S” part of “SAMR”.  I don’t agree with using technology for the sake of IT.   I think technology should enhance the learning environment.  This is dealt with by the other layers.   I therefore think how I can access the higher layers of this model. “Redefinition” is my goal.

Whether SAMR is the panacea or not, it is certainly a good base from which to consider how to use technology in our teaching.  It has also been linked to Bloom’s.