Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Time I went to Picademy...

Having heard about this amazingly inexpensive and useful computer called the Raspberry Pi about 2 years ago, I finally decided to undertake some formal training in order to fully understand exactly what it was capable of doing, especially in my classroom. Enter Picademy!

I have always loved Twitter as a means of finding out what other professionals are doing to engage their pupils, but one day I caught a glimpse of a hashtag that really interested me... #Picademy. I follow quite a few Raspberry Pi enthusiasts so #Picademy seemed to be popping up everywhere! From a small amount of research, I discovered that it was a fantastic two days of CPD for educators who wanted to extend and develop their knowledge of computing and the new curriculum through the use of my new favourite 'toy', the Raspberry Pi.

I completed the application process to join Picademy #8 which included writing a blog post on 'Being a 21st Century Teacher'. I then had a long wait ahead of me to hear whether I would be selected to attend. I regularly headed back to Twitter to discover a whole host of amazing Picademy applicants, including David Saunders and (past Picademy attendee) Cat Lamin. Through my discussions with these two technology gurus, I was starting to get very excited about attending. So I think it's fair to say that I was bouncing off the walls upon receiving my acceptance email. The beautiful thing about Picademy is the community spirit. It's like one big family of incredibly creative people and I'm very happy to finally be a part of it.

So what did I get up to in two days of Picademy-ing... In a very small nutshell, the first day consisted of workshops with various experts, some of which were from the amazing community that I just mentioned! The final day was our own to take what we had learned and turn it into a Raspberry Pi project of our choosing.
Carrie Anne greeted us as we arrived at Picademy #8


According to, Sonic Pi is 'audible computing'. Sounds intriguing, huh? A more detailed description is also provided on their website:
I had heard of Sonic Pi before Picademy but hadn't really seen exactly what it could do until the seriously brilliant Sam Aaron conducted his workshop with us. It's just fantastic to see coding being seen as an art form, and Sam is incredibly passionate about its use! And you can't help but agree with him.
Sonic Pi's nice and simple user interface
He took us through a thorough demonstration of what Sonic Pi could do, starting with three basic commands: 'sample', 'sleep' and 'play'. With these three commands in hand, Sam says you can start creating all kinds of music immediately, and the best thing to do next is to play around and see what you can do! We were then shown some more advanced tricks up Sonic Pi's sleeve, like loops and even live loops. The latter being when you can actually perform a piece and tweak it on the fly! But it didn't stop there... You can control Minecraft with Sonic Pi! More on that on day 2...

Sonic Pi is a beautifully simple, but powerful piece of software from a passionate creator. I will definitely be taking this back to school and bringing music alive through our computing curriculum.

Every child's favourite video game character hasn't gone unnoticed by the Raspberry Pi. A version has been ported to the Pi, and while it isn't the 'full-fat' PC version, you have the wonderful opportunity to hack it to pieces! Martin O'Hanlon, co-author of 'Adventures in Minecraft' (get it!), showed us how to do just that using the Python programming language.
Picademy rocks!
While O'Hanlon's book takes you through a whole range of Minecraft hacks and activities, we focused on some 'simple' elements: typing a chat message on screen (see image above); identifying Steve's location, and then changing it; identifying a particular block, and then moving a block to a different location. We achieved all of this by completing a couple of tasks (click the titles for links to GitHub code):
  • Don't Look Down - throwing Steve into the air by finding his current location, then changing the y coordinate value.
  • Duplicator - copying the block that Steve is standing on and placing it on top of his head. We did this by identifying the location and type of block beneath his feet, then adding that same block type to the location above his head.
  • Walk on Air - placing blocks beneath Steve's feet so he could 'walk on air' by looping the placement of a diamond block in the location under Steve's feet.
Martin has created a very handy Minecraft worksheet which goes through some of these tasks and a few more to boot. After completing these tasks, Martin challenged us to create a Rainbow Bridge based on the Walk on Air project. I actually shocked myself by completing it! My Rainbow Bridge code:
Rainbow Bridge code
Rainbow Bridge

Three of the first day workshops revolved around physical computing. We learned about the Pibrella, the PiCamera and using the Pi's GPIO pins to attach LEDs. Ben Nuttall had the job of showing us how to setup and use the PiCamera with the Raspberry Pi.
Picamera selfie!
Below are the slides from Ben's presentation:

I have already done a little time lapse photography with the Picamera but I am looking forward to doing some more with the children at school. Here is a time lapse video of my school's Summer Fayre last year:

Big Les Pounder walked us through attaching a Pibrella to our Raspberry Pi. This cool little board sits on top of the Pi and consists of a button, three traffic light coloured LEDs and a buzzer for you to interact with. Les also showed us how to add additional components to the Pibrella, like a motor! We basically followed this tutorial on the Raspberry Pi website.
Lastly on day one, Clive Beale showed us how to use python to turn on an LED attached to the Raspberry Pi's GPIO pins. He also had one of the best props I've ever seen for demonstrating this too... I really wanted to take them home!
Land of the Giants?
Using the GPIO on the Raspberry Pi is what this amazing little machine is all about. Being able to turn an LED on and off seems so simple but it completely opens the doors to a wealth of other projects that can gradually increase in complexity. Instead of LEDs, attach motors and you have a drivable vehicle...
Look ma, no resistors!
So that was a whirlwind tour through day one... But that was only the beginning! Day two promised to be just as exciting.
Back at the hotel after a looooooong first day!


As I said at the beginning, day two was generally about being let loose on all the hardware to create an interesting project. Our experts were on hand to impart any relevant knowledge (as well as irrelevant!) to assist us in our quests. At first, I wasn't very sure what I wanted to do. Dave Honess gave a few of us a quick demonstration of Astro Pi, a board that sits on top of the Raspberry Pi and is full of sensors that will soon be making the long journey to the ISS with Major Tim Peake.
Astro Pi in all its glory
As exciting as the Astro Pi was, I finally decided to do something with Sonic Pi and Minecraft. I was so impressed with Sam Aaron and Sonic Pi on day one that I felt I had to dig a little deeper with it. With the help of James Robinson, Sam and fellow Picademian, Alex Young, we set about exploring how we could incorporate the use of coded music into the phenomenon that is Minecraft.
Introducing the Sonic Minecraft Keyboard!
Alex and I thought it would be really cool if different pieces of music played when Steve stood on different terrains. If Steve was taking a walk in the desert, a summer time tune could play. Alternatively, when he was hiking through the arctic lands, a chilly winter theme would be heard. This would allow for dramatic storytelling to take place in the Minecraft world. Imagine Steve walking into a dark, scary cave just as a haunting piece of music begins to play...

Unfortunately, we didn't quite get that far! However, we did create a 'keyboard' to test different sample sounds that worked a treat. The completed code can be found here.

At the end of the second day, all attendees had the opportunity to share their projects to the group. When I said that the Picademy community is full of creative people, after watching all the presentations, I was definitely not wrong! I am well and truly honoured to be part of the Raspberry Pi Certified Educators family. Well done, everyone!
Picademy #8

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Uni of Greenwich Professional Development Day

Tomorrow I'll be delivering a 'Professional Development Day' for a group of PGCE students from the University of Greenwich. I will be informing them about the new computing curriculum and showing examples of best practice through my school's use of technology.

I am very much looking forward to seeing what the new breed of teacher already knows about computing, particularly as they only know the new curriculum. It shouldn't surprise me to find that a generous number of them are more 'tech savvy' than myself...

The plan for tomorrow will be to spend about 20 minutes discussing the new curriculum and the future of education. I will then spend a generous amount of time on a range of resources that we use in school - approximately 15 minutes each.

Planned resources:
  • iPad apps for coding: Bee-Bot, Daisy the Dinosaur, Kodable, Scratch Jr and Hopscotch
  • Other iPad apps: Explain Everything and Book Creator
  • MinecraftEDU
  • Scratch (will probably go through my coordinates lesson)
  • MaKey MaKey, Python and Raspberry Pi
Below is a copy of tomorrow's Prezi:

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

My ADE 2015 Application Video

Last weekend, there was an amazing buzz on my Twitter feed. The deadline for the annual Apple Distinguished Educator institute was looming and it seemed everyone was talking about it! There are some amazingly talented people out there...

I've been reading on many blogs and Twitter posts that the application process is a great opportunity to reflect on your current practice as a teacher, and they are all absolutely right. I found myself digging deep into the last few years to unearth my successes (and failures too, of course!)

I have not even joined the ADE community yet (fingers crossed though!) but the 'togetherness' I witness on Sunday night has got me very excited for the future. Everyone was wishing each other well with their applications, and best of all, sharing their application videos! I spent a huge part of Sunday evening watching clip after clip. Each one as inspiring as the last!

So here is my ADE application video. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed watching everyone elses! :)

Coding with a Positive Message!

I recently discovered some fantastic printable Scratch coding blocks and thought they would be great for some CSunplugged work! They are available to download here.

This evening I had a little idea. What if you could take some of these Scratch blocks and use them to create a positive message of encouragement for your pupils? I decided to give it a try, and this is what I came up with... while True:

This is a nice message that helps children understand a tiny bit of technical vocabulary around coding, but also gives them a useful message about never giving up! It reminds them that they may not be successful straight away, and that if that is the case, they should TRY AGAIN and work harder to reach their goal!

I wonder what other positive messages can be created using these Scratch blocks? I'd love to see what others can create!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Are you a 21st Century Teacher?

Technology, whether you like it or not, is changing the way children learn and how educators teach. No longer are we closed off behind the four walls of our classrooms. Technology has helped bring the whole world to our doorstep. And I for one, couldn’t be more excited.

To quote a video that I saw on YouTube many years ago:
“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist...”

I love this video and that line has always stuck in my mind. The role of an educator is to prepare our children, as best we can, for their future. A significant amount of the most desirable jobs at present require some form of computing experience. A quick Google search turned up this list showing Software Developer, Computer Systems Analyst and Information Security Analyst in the top 10 ‘Best Jobs’.

With the new changes to the UK curriculum regarding Computing (here is a great CAS guide for primary schools), it seems that steps have been taken to provide children with at least a basic understanding of key computing concepts which they can build upon. This has forced teachers to move swiftly into a new area of teaching that perhaps they have never experienced before - Computer Science. And so the 21st century teacher was born!

A 21st century teacher is not the one who crowbars every imaginable piece of technology into their lessons. It is not using technology for the sake of using it. Therefore, a 21st century teacher should use technology appropriate in order to create an engaging learning environment. It is no surprise to anyone that children generally enjoy using computers, iPads, playing Minecraft, etc. So if an educator can harness the engaging power of these technologies, and uses them smartly to deliver a challenging curriculum, then there is your ‘engaging learning environment’.

In order to become a 21st century teacher, you do need to know your stuff. This is pretty obvious, of course, as how can you prepare children for their technologically advanced future without the subject knowledge yourself? This doesn’t mean going back to university to get a degree in Computer Science, but instead you can spend a little time with some quality resources. That is all… Play around with it and ask questions.

A great teacher knows the tools needed to teach. Most schools these days will have a computer in every classroom with an interactive whiteboard connected to it. A lot of schools are starting to purchase mobile devices, such as iPads. These are the tools for the modern classroom, so learn how to use them. The 21st century teacher does.

We must not forget that being able to use technology isn’t the end goal here. Using technology still has value and is, of course, very important within the curriculum, but we need the next generation of software developers to create technology too. The Raspberry Pi is an incredible piece of hardware that many schools have been picking up which allows children to do just that. The possibilities are endless! If you have not discovered the credit card sized computer yet, and you want to become a 21st century teacher, get yourself one! (I have four!)

Lastly, here is a very popular image that has surely made its way onto your social media feed at some point in the last year or so. Want to become a 21st century teacher? See how many you can cross out before the end of the year… GO!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Using Hopscotch to Create Story Animations

I have been spending a huge amount of time with Hopscotch on the iPad in the last few days. It would seem that an obsession is growing...

As you can see from some of my earlier posts, I do like to play around with Scratch to create fun little games and projects, and if I'm honest, I hadn't really used Hopscotch much since hearing about it a couple of years ago now. Then I saw a link to one of their YouTube videos:

After watching it, I immediately wanted to give it a try! With my Scratch experience safely tucked under my belt, I ventured into the wonderful world of Hopscotch!

So obsessed am I, that I have created three YouTube videos so far! Each one has progressively become more and more elaborate. 'The Magic Minecraft Pencil' even became a full animation piece. Here are my three videos in a playlist:

This really is a great app, and perfectly introduces children of primary age to coding. It is very easy to create something, and that something may be a simple animation or even a hugely complex game. I would aim this app at children in key stage 2 as there are other apps like Scratch Jr and Kodable that I would give to key stage 1 and Early Years first. That's not to say Hopscotch couldn't be used at all in those phases, of course!

I always like to look for cross curricular links in all of my teaching, and creating animations in Hopscotch could very easily support children in the writing of short stories or even non-fiction writing (instructions perhaps!) Children could either create the Hopscotch story scene first and use that as a stimulus to write their story. Or, they couldn't create the story first and then try to bring it to life in Hopscotch.

Happy Hopscotching!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Using Scratch in Other Areas of the Curriculum

I have been using Scratch for a couple of years now, and while I'm definitely not a pro by any stretch of the imagination, I have found a couple of different ways to incorporate it into other areas of learning. The reason for this is the children I have worked with have always found it very engaging, even if a tad challenging at times (what's wrong with that?!)

One obvious link to computing is mathematics.

Here is a Scratch project I created for a coordinates lesson that I taught with some more able Year 5 children about a year ago. To see inside the project click here.

The idea was to get the children to create a variety of shapes in any of the four quadrants on screen. As you can see from the image below, all the children had to do was change the x and y values in the blue 'motion' blocks. Remember, this was a maths lesson and not a computing lesson. I tried to take away as much as possible from the computing side of things. The most they had to do was know to take away one 'wait' and 'go to...' block to create a triangle (one less side).

The children really enjoyed doing this activity. It was much more interesting and engaging than completing a similar task in their maths books!

But don't worry if you are not too familiar with Scratch at the moment! You will probably find something great to use in your lessons by using the search function on the site. There are lots of clever people within the Scratch community and they have probably already created something special just for you ;)

Monday, 9 February 2015

Safer Internet Day 2015

As it's Safer Internet Day tomorrow, here's a great idea to help young children understand their responsibility to be respectful online.

Childnet have published a great little story about a duck called Digiduck which I have read to my Year 2 children (link to the online story by clicking on the front cover below). Now that the children know the story, I have reduced it to the main events and imported those pages into one of my favourite apps, Book Creator.

Tomorrow, I'll be asking the children to add whatever multimedia they like to the book - sound clips, videos, etc. This will allow them to comment on the story as it progresses!

I have created an example to show the children and you can download it here! There are lots of hidden sound clips so try tapping on a couple of characters faces to see what happens.

My favourite part of the eBook is the final page, where there are 4 key questions to check the children's understanding. Here the children will record their responses in video or sound clips again!

I will be using some of my children's stories to collate a school Internet Safety eBook. I've asked all the teachers in my school to create a year group 'chapter' each about a different aspect of eSafety. Once I have collected all the chapters, I'll combine them all into a great book!

I'm looking forward to tomorrow!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Osmo Game System

With the help of Mr. P and has amazing ICT Blog (go check it out!), I discovered a great little toy recently - The Osmo!
If nothing else, I'll be getting a lot of hours of fun out of it myself... However, I really like it as a simple tool to engage children in solving puzzles through the use of critical thinking skills.

On the box, the Osmo suggests it is a 'unique gaming accessory for the iPad that comes with games that will change the way your child plays'. Indeed... Quite a bold statement! But the Osmo really is pretty special. Let's see how it works!

The first thing out of the box is the base and reflector. Your iPad sits in the base and the reflector slips over the front facing camera, which contains a mirror in order to allow the iPad to "see" in front of it - clever!

iPad with base and reflector attached
The Osmo currently comes with three games - Tangram, Newton and Words. All three apps can be download for free from the App Store, but the hardware is needed to play, of course!

This is a physics game that will feel fairly familiar, in which you have to make the falling balls land on targeted zone by putting any object on the 'playing field'. The objects that you place can literally be anything - a pen, a set of keys, your own hand! You can also place a piece of A4 paper in front of the iPad and draw lines on the page...

Tangram is a lot of fun! You need to arrange the physical tan pieces to match the on-screen shape. You can start off with a simple puzzle where you are told which shape goes in which position, and quickly progress to the real challenge of having a complete silhouette with no guidance at all. I could see this being very popular in a classroom and having the iPad there to interact with will make it so much more engaging!

The last game in the set is Words and, as with all three, it is a familiar game played in a more engaging digital way. This is the Osmo's take on Hangman. Words is a two player/team game with each side having their own complete alphabet on small tiles. A picture clue will appear on the screen and both players have to frantically work out what the word in and then fling the correct letters in front of the iPad. Obvious links to consolidating phonics skills here, as well as developing those all important critical thinking skills too.

Ultimately, I really like the Osmo. It has rejuvenated some classic games/puzzles and I know for a fact the kids'll dig it!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Apps that rock my world!

It's been a long while since my last blog post and lots has happened since. So I'm going to make a very late New Year's resolution to try to make an effort to post more regularly.

Having paid a visit to the BETT Show a few weeks ago, I'm eager to share some of my favourite toys for the iPad that can be used in the classroom. I'd like to mention that I don't usually like these kind of blog posts... Too often the apps are very specific in their function and can only be used in certain lessons/situations. I have picked these apps based on their ability to be used throughout the curriculum. So, I'd like to present to you...

My Top 5 iOS Apps:
Book Creator
Book Creator
I've been using this app for a few years and the children in my class love the ability to create their very own multimedia eBooks. I often use it to allow the children to review their learning. For example; during a maths lesson on solving word problems, I asked the children to record themselves explaining the solution! I also love the ability to App Smash with Book Creator - create an image and video in another app and simply import it in!

This app is a new discovery for me and I absolutely love it! It essentially allows you to turn anything into a living talking creature by taking a photograph of it and drawing a simple line mouth. Children can then record their own message. It is easy to imagine how this could be used in the classroom. I recently had some Year 2 children creating talking foods to describe their smell using similes!

YAKiT Kids
YAKiT Kids
YAKiT Kids is very similar to Chatterpix but allows you to add cartoony eyes, noses, mouths and more onto your own photographs. You can then record an audio message and watch your image come to life! What a fantastic way to create new characters and allow the children to bring them to life!

Google Classroom
Google Classroom
Google have finally released their iOS app for their fantastic Google Classroom service. I posted previously about how excited I am about this and the app has made things even more accessible. It seems to be mainly geared towards student access, rather than for teachers but it's perfectly fine by me.


Another new one to me, but again, it's easy to see the huge amount of potential there is for both students and teachers! With this app you can basically add text, web links, pictures and videos to your images. Maybe you'd like your children to label the countries within a continent? Or label the bones in the human body? This can be done in a much more interactive and creative way thanks to ThingLink.

If you have found any apps that are worth mentioning, please let me know!