Bee-bot/Blue-bot prompt cards

When looking for Bee-bot or Blue-bot prompt cards online, I’ve been frustrated to find that the majority of resources do not use the correct terminology. As a tool which is usually children’s first introduction to programming, terminology is everything.

When you instruct a Bee-bot to move forwards or backwards, it physically moves from one location to another, however when you ask it to turn, it turns or rotates on its current location. It is therefore crucial that the words turn and move precede the relevant instructions. This will address the common misconception that if you press the left arrow, the Bee-bot will move to the left.

Here are a set of cards with move and turn instructions and the relevant arrows – I hope you find them useful.

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Bee-bot/Blue-bot prompt cards

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

The advent calendar of educational iPad apps day 14 – Bee-bot

This is an old favourite. In my opinion, still the best way of introducing algorithms to KS1. It’s a great app and the physical Bee-bots compliment it very well.

I tend to begin by teaching instructional language in games such as ‘Simon Says’ to EYFS, then moving on to Bee-bots themselves, before consolidating skills on the app. It’s a crucial age for securing the correct terminology and Bee-Bot gives you the opportunity to do that.

Above all, the app is great fun, which is essential for younger children. Once children are comfortable with the interface and have grasped the basic concepts, children will choose to go on the app unprompted and learning to create algorithms in the process.

The advent calendar of educational iPad apps day 14 – Bee-bot

Block or text? Managing the transition to year 7

I took part in an interesting #CASChat (every Wednesday 8-9pm) last week which focussed on the transition between year 6 and year 7 for computing. One of the questions, by Andy Colley (@MrAColley) asked if text coding should be introduced at KS2 and whether block based programming should be dropped at KS3. As a primary specialist I will focus primarily on the first part of the question. I will start with some context, to explain where I expect children to be at year 6.

In my current role I teach across the age range, right from EYFS to year 6. Typically, I will introduce the concept of instructions to EYFS, using physical devices such as bee-bots which then progresses to the bee-bot app. My focus is very much around securing computational language at this stage and encouraging children to experiment to find solutions to problems.

In KS1 I consolidate understanding of bee-bot by introducing more complexity and encouraging children to deconstruct solutions to levels. I also introduce block based programming using the excellent Scratch Jr. My aim is that by the end of KS1 all children can confidently program an animation involving multiple characters, repeats and sensing blocks.

When children reach KS2 I introduce them to ‘full’ Scratch at the earliest opportunity, so that by the end of year 6 they are confident ‘Scratchers’ and can design, build and test their own projects. This is the cornerstone of the KS2 curriculum I teach, but by no means the be all and end all.

I am a firm believer that children should be exposed to a wide variety of coding experiences to broaden their problem solving skills – apps like Lightbot and Bee-Bot are great for this. With this in mind, I do introduce text based programming in year 6, and depending on the cohort, sometimes in year 5. My reasons for this are:

– Scratch is great for problem solving, but does not help children understand what is happening under the hood
– Text based programming teaches children the importance of accuracy in programming. The earlier this is introduced the better
– It promotes good keyboard skills (although a lack of these can inhibit progress)

I start by using a bridge between block based and text based programming. There are a number of great free resources for this, each with a slightly different focus. Here are some ideas (all free) for managing the transition:

Hour of code – a Microsoft sponsored site which guides children through block based projects. However, unlike Scratch, you get to see the code behind the blocks
Barclays code playground – a fun site where you can change parameters to change the way the objects in the site behave or appear
E.A.K. (Eraseallkittens.com) – this is a brilliant site which guides children through game levels which they complete through coding. It offers more freedom than hour of code and Barclays code playground, and does a really good job of making debugging easy and accessible. As a bonus, the kitten theme really appeals to girls whilst not turning off the boys.
SonicPi – another amazing resource, which uses coding to create live music. The great thing about Sonic Pi is that you can either start from scratch (pardon the pun) or edit existing projects. The great benefit is the live aspect, meaning children instantly see results as code is changed.
Mozilla x-ray goggles – shows you the css and html code behind websites, enabling you to edit text and pictures to create your own version of a website.

All of these sites demonstrate that there is actual code behind everything they see on a screen, with the first three maintaining the link with block based programming to smooth over the transition.

Using these means that when you move on to something like Python, children are already familiar with writing lines of code. This demystifies the process and prepares them for more complex concepts, and hopefully helps ease the transition between years 6 and 7.

Block or text? Managing the transition to year 7

Beyond Bee-bot in KS1

Whenever I introduce a new tool in computing lessons I look for two key features:

1. Does it compliment learning which has already taken place?

2. Is it accessible to be used beyond the four walls of the school?

Having used Bee-bot extensively with years one and two for the last couple of years, I’ve been looking for something to develop programming skills further before moving on to the less structured environment of Scratch Jr. I have in the past gone straight from one to the other, however, with Bee-bot (whether it’s on the app or a physical Bee-bot) you don’t actually get to see the complete algorithm, unless it’s recorded whilst it’s being inputted.

Therefore, I was looking for a tool which you can use to program movement to a specific goal and see the complete algorithm at the end of it. In KS2 I’ve used the brilliant Lightbot from code.org, but this is a little advanced for most of KS1.

The best solution I’ve found so far is A.L.E.X. It’s a robot based game, which seems to appeal to both boys and girls, with some great graphics and nice sound effects. The concept is very similar to Bee-bot, but with a couple of key differences. Firstly, instructions have to be input in one go, rather than one step at a time and secondly the algorithm is displayed in it’s complete form. This means there is a greater reliance on problem solving skills and you can’t use a trial and error approach.

I am also considering using it in years three and four. In addition to completing the levels in the game, there is also an option to design your own levels. This could work well as a paired activity where each child designs a level and challenges their partner to try it out.

Does it compliment learning which has already taken place? Definitely, in that it helps re-enforce what an algorithm is and encourages children to develop their computational thinking. Is it accessible? Again, a big yes – there is a free version with 25 levels on both the App Store and Google Play (an Android version is very important – the cost barrier of iPads means the vast majority of tablets in most children’s homes are Android based) and there is a paid version with additional features available for only £0.79 on both platforms. As a bonus, the free version is ad free.

 

Beyond Bee-bot in KS1

Coding resources for all ages

Although when I entered teaching I had nearly 20 years experience in the IT industry, almost all of it (except for a bit of workflow design) was from a non-technical perspective. This meant my experience of coding was limited to a bit of BASIC on the ZX Spectrum! If I did any at school, I can’t remember it.

It was therefore the one area where I was unsure what and how I would teach when I became solely focussed on teaching computing. Over the last 18 months I have used a wide variety of resources and come to a couple of conclusions: 1. Coding is NOT difficult to teach, and 2. You do not have to be technical to teach it.

Here are some of the resources I have used, arranged loosely in the order you might want to introduce them to primary children.

1. Simon Says – no link or app for this one. A simple way to teach children how to follow an instruction. Can be used in FS and KS1 and easily adapted for different ages and abilities. Language is crucial, this is the time to introduce words like instructions, algortithms etc. You can also use directional language at this stage to teach or re-enforce left/right, forwards/backwards etc. Give children the opportunity to lead as well as follow.

2. Bee-bot – If you are lucky enough to have bee-bots in your school, they are a great way to introduce the link between inputs and outputs and help build the children’s directional language. You can spend more money on mats and grids, but in my experience, a board with areas marked in tape works just as well. There is also a great Bee-bot app which I have used to get children to make their own algorithms by recording their instructions using R=Right, L=Left etc. This makes the link between a character which will form part of an algorithm and an outcome.

3. ScratchJr Now available on IOS and Android devices, ScratchJr is a fantastic entry point for children to explore more open ended programming. It introduces chracters, background, more movements, repeat loops and basic if/then routines and offers children the opportunity to experiment and play. There is also a fully planned set of lessons freely available to help you use this in class. I find these useful, but also found that most children are ready to move on more quickly than this series, so it’s better to dip into them than follow them to the letter. There are also assessments and useful ‘how to’ guides on the Scratchjr website.

4. Scratch – the logical next step from ScratchJr, Scratch is a brilliant platform for children to broaden their skills, and crucially to become part of a wider community, sharing their own ideas and borrowing from others. There are loads of places out there where you can find great scratch resources. A couple of the best I’ve found are from the brilliant Simon Haughton’s website and from Code Club. The best advice I can offer is to get stuck in!

5. Light-bot hour of code – 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. It’s a nice assessment tool which you can use to see how capable children are of adapting to a new interface. It’a also a good way of demonstrating the importance of testing, children can build their solutions and test them at each stage.

There are also lots of other great activities on the hour of code website, last year my year 4’s really enjoyed the ‘Make a Flappy game’ activity.

6. Erase all kittens – This is a good way to progress to html coding. EAK is a platform game which needs to be adapted by its players to make it work by changing to html code behind the page. I have just done this with year 6 as a one activity (there are only three levels) before I move on to more advanced html later in the year.

Coding resources for all ages