Computing at School – Rochdale Primary Hub

CASLogo

As a recently appointed CAS Master Teacher, I am now looking to set up a CAS hub in Rochdale.

Computing at School’s mission is to provide leadership and strategic guidance to all those involved in Computing education in schools, with a significant but not exclusive focus on the Computer Science theme within the wider Computing curriculum.

Excellence in the teaching of Computing can only be made by teachers through the way they deliver the skills, knowledge, understanding and attitudes associated with the curriculum. Through the participation of the wider community CAS seek to support and empower each other in an inclusive and self-sustaining body so that each child has the opportunity of an outstanding computer science education. CAS achieves this by supporting and promoting all those individuals, partner organisations, companies, and university departments who wish to run CAS regional hubs, put on CPD courses, generate teaching resources etc. that support the Computing curriculum.

I am now in the process of establishing a primary hub for CAS in Rochdale.

What is a CAS Hub?

A CAS Hub is a meeting of teachers and lecturers who wish to share their ideas for developing the teaching of computing in their schools, their classrooms and their community. It is a meeting of like-minded professionals with the general objective of supporting each other and the specific aim of providing (at least) one idea that can be taken and tried in the classroom.

They seek to provide the opportunity:

– for teachers to meet in a relaxed and informal atmosphere with refreshments
– to share ideas and resources
– to receive informal training
– to gain mutual support from discussing teaching methods with colleagues.

Furthermore, CAS derives much benefit from drawing in members from Universities and –
industry as well as schools. The CAS Hub provides a unique opportunity to meet colleagues from local higher education institutions and local employers.

The success of a CAS Hub relies on local teachers committing to the Hub and the vision and direction provided by the Hub leader(s). One meeting per term is as much as most teachers can manage. This is supported by online discussions and follow-up via the CAS website where each Hub has their own dedicated space. Most CAS Hub meetings are a face-to-face event, but each local community is different. The style and format of the meeting is up to the discretion of the Hub Leader and online Hub meetings do take place especially for our international CAS Hubs. However, the face-to-face meeting remains one of the most effective forms of communication; they can create a great deal of energy and motivation amongst those who attend.

If you would like to become part the hub and drive forward the teaching of computing in Rochdale please let me know – I can be contacted through the main office at Lowerplace (01706 648174) or on Twitter – @hengenall

Computing at School – Rochdale Primary Hub

Computing at home – how parents can help

We had a parent’s evening last week at our school. Lots of parents showed a real active interest in computing. A number of people asked me how they could help support learning at home, and which apps or websites to use. Here is a quick summary of the tools I use with the children in school. Where possible I like to use apps which are free, however there are some where there is a small charge.

Key Stage One:

Bee-bot
We have a set of Bee-bots in Foundation Stage, so by the time the children get to year one they are familiar with these great little robots. There is an app which mirrors the physical robots and is a good introduction into how computers need algorithms (instructions) to function.
IOS Bee-bot app (free)

Blue-bot
This is an extension to Bee-bot and lets you see the algorithm as a whole. We will shortly have a set of Blue-bots in school. They do the same as Bee-bots, but can be controlled from an iPad via Bluetooth.
IOS Blue-bot app (free)
Android Blue-bot app (free)

A.L.E.X.
Another free app, which build on the skills learned in Bee-bot. A.L.E.X. is also based on controlling a robot, but with this app you can also build and design your own levels.
A.L.E.X IOS app (free)
A.L.E.X. Android app (free)

Scratch Jr
ScratchJr is a fantastic entry point for children to explore more open ended programming. It introduces characters, background, more movements, repeat loops and basic if/then routines and offers children the opportunity to experiment and play. There are lots of great ideas for projects on the ScratchJr website.
Scratch Jr IOS app (free)
Scratch Jr Android app (free)

Key Stage Two:

Scratch
The logical next step from ScratchJr, Scratch is a brilliant platform for children to broaden their skills, and to become part of a wider community, sharing their own ideas and borrowing from others. It is a block based platform which all children in Key Stage two will use at Lowerplace. Please see this post for instructions on how to register a Scratch account and why it is a great project to be involved in.

Scratch is web based and needs to be run on a PC or Mac with flash player installed.

Lightbot
Available online, an IOS app or on Android, this is a great too for developing logical thinking and introducing processes into programming. Lightbot also shows that there can be more than one solution to a problem and that some are more efficient than others. There is a free version with a limited number of levels and then paid versions for more levels and challenges.

Lightbot is part of Microsoft’s Hour of Code project, have a look at their website for lots of other great games and activities.
Lightbot free (IOS)
Lightbot full version (IOS) £2.99
Lightbot free (Android)
Lightbot full version (Android) – £2.33

CargoBot
Another app to develop logic and reasoning, but more challenging than Lightbot. The aim is to move pallets around using a crane which you program with loops and repeats. Make sure you start with the easiest levels!
Cargobot IOS (free)
Cargobot Android (free)
Erase All Kittens
This is great fun. There is a free demo version, or for £4 you can buy the full version. Erase All Kittens is a good way of progressing from block based tools such as Scratch to coding using characters, in this case with HTML. It’s a great activity to do with your child, you’ll be surprised what you can learn too.

Swift Playgrounds
This is a new app which has been developed by Apple for iPads. It is based on the Swift programming language which is used to develop many populart iPad apps. It’s not one I have much experience of yet, but I will be introducing it to children in Key Stage two next term.

Physical Computing

In addition to all these great apps and online tools, you can also experience physical computing at home for a reasonably modest outlay.

Codebug
Starting from about £10, codebugs are great little devices which you can program from a computer using a Scratch like interface. It has a set of LED lights which you can control from your computer as well as input and output ports for connecting peripheral devices.

BBC Microbit
Again starting from about £10 the Microbit is similar to the Codebug, but with more resources online.

Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a fully functioning computer which fits in the palm of your hand. you can buy one with a Linux operating system for about £45. Once you have connected a monitor, keyboard and mouse you can do pretty much anything you can do on a £1000+ PC or laptop. There are masses of online resources and accessories which you can add to Raspberry Pis such as cameras, sensors and motors – the possibilities are endless.

Crumble Kit
The Crumble is another cheap microcomputer which can perform a variety of functions. The kit comes with the main motherboard, an LED light, a power supply, a servo motor and an ultrasonic sensor. It also has all the wires and connectors you need for basic projects. Once you get familiar with it, you can combine elements, so you could make the light illuminate when the ultrasonic sensor is triggered. This is also programmed through a simple Scratch type interface.

Computing at home – how parents can help

Out of Africa

It’s all about the core subjects, exam results and league tables. The direction of travel in the UK education system is clear for all to see. There are many who fundamentally disagree with this approach, including me. What is the benefit of the KS2 SATs test to the children who actually sit them? The marginalisation of arts and non-core based subjects smacks of of early 80s Thatcherism and will surely lead this country down a cultural cul-de-sac to the detriment of everyone. I wonder also if, in 10 or 20 years time our Olympians will be as successful as they are now?

Sometimes you need to see something completely left field to crystalize your thoughts on an issue. For me, this came in the form of a video which one of my oldest friends shared on Facebook at the weekend. Dave and I grew up together in Thornbury, near Bristol. This was in an a pre electronic entertainment era – if any of the three or four (from 1982) TV channels weren’t to your liking then you had to make your own entertainment. That typically involved bikes, go karts, breeze blocks and any old pieces of wood we could find, and in the summer endless games of cricket. From those heady days our lives took different paths, after University, after a couple of turns Dave now lives and works in Cape Town and I ended up teaching in Rochdale.

The video Dave shared was about an outdoor learning project at his children’s school, the Imhoff Waldorf, which is situated on the Cape Peninsula, right on the South Western tip of Africa. It’s hard to imagine a geographically more stunning setting, situated between the stunning Atlantic coast to the West and False Bay to the west and nestling in the foothills of the Cape Point Vineyards. However, it’s location is not the only thing which is special about the Imhoff Waldorf School. Take a look at this video and decide for yourself.

Whilst very few schools will have the luxury of such magnificent topography, there are surely lessons we can learn from the ‘Waldorf’ approach. What screams out from that video is the focus on the child, rather than the result. Right from the early years in KS1 children in our system are defined by their achievement alone. Schools are ranked by SATs, GCSEs ans A levels, children are merely numbers which are fed in to oil the wheels of the machine.

There are examples of schools in the UK which are seeking to connect more closely with their local communities and environments. A great example is a small rural primary school in Weardale, a small village in the North Pennines. They have put farming at the heart of their curriculum. This makes great sense for a small rural school, but perhaps others could learn from it too. Outdoor learning should be encouraged across the curriculum. Excellent projects such as incredible edible offer the opportunity to combine schools and community whist teaching messages about sustainability. It’s also really easy to bring children closer to nature. I’ve recently introduced children from the school I work in to the webcam showing a nest of peregrine falcons in Rochdale. I get asked more questions about how they are getting on than I do about anything else – why? Because it’s happening on their doorstep and they can relate to it.

The lessons we can learn from schools such as Imhoff Waldorf should not be ignored. They are using their environment to create a holistic education centred around the needs of the children. They also strive for academic success, but realise that this should not and does not determine what a successful education looks like. Given a shift in priorities, there’s no reason why our school system could not strive for the same goal. In the short term that’s very unlikely to happen, however, it’s up to us all as educators to look for any way we can to help broaden children’s outlook and experiences so they are better equipped to connect with their own communities and environments.

As my mate Dave pointed out “at least we had the chance of a life of creative play outside of school.” Many children no longer have that luxury at home, so it’s up to us to make sure they do at school.

Out of Africa

The Power of the Image

To stay true to the spirit of this blog post, I will begin by crediting a fellow blogger for inspiring it, so thanks to John Sutton of Creative Blogs for raising the profile of copyright infringement – a hugely important consideration for any blogger.

Images are a fantastic tool for bloggers. A well chosen picture can hugely enhance a blog post and add another dimension to your writing. In particular, on twitter, tweets with an image attached are likely to get more views, likes and retweets, simply because they catch the eye of the reader. It’s easy to overlook a text only tweet, but if there’s a picture attached you are more likely to make that split second decision to read the tweet.

This begs the question – where should we get images from and how do we know they are safe to use?

For years now, I have wrestled with the dilemma that is Google images. On the one hand I know that nearly all the children I teach will, at some stage find themselves searching images unsupervised. Given that, is it not sensible to teach them how to use it safely and responsibly by using it in school. On the other hand, should I not be pushing them towards alternatives sources of images which are safer and more secure? The answer, of course, is both.

When it comes to image searching it’s not just the suitability of the image which is important. The other significant issue is copyright, and it’s something which is potentially about to get a lot more serious – there are ‘copyright trolls’ out there actively targeting schools who infringe copyright, threatening fines up to £800. Copyright is an issue which is equally important to children and teachers – the number of times I see teachers posting images (in their own posts and posts by children which they have approved) subject to copyright on blogs proves it.

At least in schools we (should) have the filters to ensure that in the vast majority of cases children will not find unsuitable content on Google images, and in the unlikely event that they do there is a clear teaching point – stay on the page and tell a responsible adult so something can be done about it. We can therefore teach children how to find copyright free images on Google in a relatively safe environment. However, once they are away from school, any filters in place are unlikely to be as robust and may not be there at all. We are also compelled to inform parents about the potential dangers and what they can do to mitigate them of tools such as Google images.

This is where images search resources targeted more at bloggers and children in particular can be introduced. There are a number of sites which enable to you find and re use creative commons images. These include photopin, pixabay and photosforclass. If you are using any of these it’s worth checking search terns before introducing to children – on the former two sites I have found some images which would be unsuitable for children. There is also an increasing trend for apps to embed creative commons searches. Currently, Pic Collage includes this feature, and there are plans for it to be incorporated into Book Creator too. This is great for children, as it means they can find appropriate, copyright free images without even having to leave the app they’re using.

As with all internet safety dilemmas, the key word is awareness. We as teachers need to be aware of the dangers of unfiltered image searches and copyright breaches. We also need to be aware that children do not have the same safeguards in place when they are away from school, and that they need help to use them safely and responsibly. Finally, parents need to be aware of these issues and of how they can support their children to help them stay safe.

The Power of the Image

Growth Mindset in the Real World

It’s not like it used to be. Sunday night, crowded around the radio waiting for the Official Radio 1 Chart Show to find out who would be this week’s number one. And, if it was a special week, poised with your finger over the record button trying desperately not to get the DJ talking over your favourite songs – why did they always do that? Nowadays there’s no chart show and singles and album sales are no longer the be all and end all for music artists.

It won’t be a surprise, then if you missed the fact that a local bunch of lads secured their second number one album a couple of weeks ago. For a start, it was announced on Friday via a press release on their website. No fanfare, no fuss, just a number one album. If you haven’t worked out who I’m referring to you yet, you’re probably not from Bury – it is, of course, Elbow.

Their story is one of unlikely triumph, so some would like you to believe. The seeds of the band we now know as Elbow were planted in Tottington Primary School, Bury (which, incidentally is where I trained as part of the now defunct GTP program) when three boys – Richard Jupp, Mark Potter and Pete Turner – became friends. One would become a drummer, one a guitarist and one a bassist. Their friendship survived through high school, where they began to write and perform (badly). Through a series of chance meetings and changes of direction the band was completed by Guy Garvey and Mark’s younger brother Craig.

I first met them just before they released their first album in 2001. For them to get to that point was nothing short of a miracle. Their first big break came a couple of years before that when they were signed by Island Records. After releasing their first EP to great critical acclaim and building a loyal following through lots of gigs around the Manchester area, their first album was written, recorded and ready to go when out of the blue they were dropped by their record label. They went from being the next big thing to having to take part time jobs in local bars to make ends meet. This would’ve finished most bands off, but against the odds they managed to negotiate another record deal, this time with V2, re-record the album and got it released.

If they though it would be plain sailing from thereon in, they were wrong… Two more albums followed, both of which were again critically acclaimed but massively under promoted, to the extent that even some of their most loyal fans didn’t know that their third album ‘Leaders of the Free World’ had even been released. The inevitable lack of sales which followed meant that they again faced to prospect of being dropped. This was even more of a big deal than the first time. By that time band members were married, some with children, for the band to continue something drastic had to happen. Through sheer hard work and persistence a third record deal was signed, this time with Polydor (ironically a subsidiary of Island Records).

This is the point at which you might become familiar with the Elbow story. Their first album for Polydor and fourth overall was ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’. It was again released to much praise form the music media, but again achieved modest sales success. Their big break came when it was nominated for, and won the 2008 Mercury Music Prize. After nearly twenty year writing, rehearsing, recording and performing Elbow became an overnight success. Shortly after they won the Mercury they played their first headlining arena gig at Wembley Arena and it was at this gig that I got my best insight into the secret of their success. At the after show party I spoke to their bass player, Pete Turner. Without really thinking I commented that I bet they couldn’t believe they were playing such a big venue. Not a bit of it, he said he knew it would happen one day, it was just a matter of time.

The Elbow story is not one of unlikely triumph. It’s one of hard work, determination, persistence, an absolute belief in their own abilities and a refusal to accept defeat. There were so many times when they could’ve called it a day, a running joke in our family was Pete’s lack of a plan ‘B’ should the band not succeed. Thankfully they didn’t listen. They kept practicing, writing and honed their craft to such an extent that when their break came (and it wasn’t lucky – you win the Mercury Prize on merit alone) they were at the top of their game and ready to take advantage of it.

I can’t think of a better example of a growth mindset. How else could they overcome so many hurdles and prove so many people wrong? If you don’t believe me, download their latest album ‘Little Fictions’ and go and see them live this summer – 30 years after they began to play together they’re better than ever.

Growth Mindset in the Real World

Cross-curricular computing with Scratch Maths

Earlier this week I was privileged to take part in a joint twitter chat, with #caschat and #mathscpdchat joining forces. As a dedicated computing teacher it’s sometimes easy to forget how much the subject overlaps into other subjects, and chats like this are a great way to help you re-connect to other curriculum areas.

I was particularly pleased to be introduced to the Scratch Maths project. This is a research led project which develops Computing and Maths skills through Scratch. There are so many reasons why this is a good idea – it’s a great way of encouraging class based teachers to embrace computing by placing it in well planned and resourced units which also covers broad sections of the maths curriculum, or alternatively you could use computing sessions to re-enforce maths learning. Either way, what’s not to like?

If they are able to prove a link between this project and higher attainment in Maths, this could be the start of something special, not only in Maths, but in Computing too.

Cross-curricular computing with Scratch Maths