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

Scratch for the reluctant computing teacher

Before my I specialised in computing I was a year 4 teacher for 3 years, initially as an NQT. The 2014 computing curriculum emerged towards the end of my final year teaching year 4, shortly before I was to specialise. I don’t mind admitting that, at the time words like algorithm, debug and computational thinking intimidated me, a technology enthusiast. I imagine therefore, that to a huge number of teachers with interests and specialisms in other areas, these terms must have filled them with dread, and probably still do. I am also fully aware of the timetable pressures and how difficult it can be to fit in non-core subjects, when teachers’ accountability is based almost solely on progress in English and Maths. I lost count of the times something ‘more important’ cropped up than art, RE or MFL (other non-core subjects are available).

Since 2014 I have been lucky enough to teach computing as a dedicated subject. Consequently I have had the freedom and time to develop my own version of the curriculum and experiment with many of the great tools available to support the teaching and learning of computing. I have a passion for computing, and I like taking risks when teaching it. Sometimes these come off with great results, at other times it’s a case of moving on and reflecting on how it could be better next time.

Having learnt from these experiences, I would like to pass on some guidance for non-specialist teachers to help break down the barriers to accessing the computing curriculum, and in particular Scratch, with which you can deliver huge elements of the KS2 curriculum. The good news is there are loads of resources and there is lots of help out there.

Here are a few easy ways for you to get started…

1. Demystify the language
These are all the terms you need to get started:
algorithm = instructions for a computer
debugging = finding and fixing errors
computational thinking = problem solving

2. Try Scratch for yourself
Go to the first tutorial and follow the instructions. In a few minutes you will have coded your first Scratch project, and probably outlined a plan for your first lesson. This will teach you movement, repeats and sounds. if you’re still unsure, have a go at the iPad app aimed at KS1 children as a gateway to Scratch – Scratch Jr.

3. Use resources freely available to help with  planning
Have a look at Phil Bagge’s resources on They are all fully planned and resourced and very easy to follow. For beginners, the smoking car project is a good place to start. There are also great resources on Simon Haughton’s website, Twinkl and many more.

4. Start with an unplugged activity
A great place to start is Phil Bagge’s sandwich bot lesson (there won’t be many primary computing teachers who have not taught this lesson)… It introduces lots of the core concepts of coding and is a good way to familiarise children with the vocabulary they will need.

5. Remix it!
If your nervous about starting a project from scratch(!) then take something someone else has done and adapt it. You could deliberately break it, and challenge children to fix it. Virtually no knowledge of Scratch or programming is required.

6. Use digital leaders to help you
There will always be children who are one step ahead of you. This is an opportunity, not a threat. If you haven’t got any, google the term and see what you’re missing.

7. Embrace failure
You will get more wrong than you do right, but in coding more than any other area, every failure is a learning point. This is a great attitude and message to pass on to children.

8. Look for cross-curricular opportunities
Use two characters in Scratch to code a conversation between historical figures, create a quiz to fit in with your topic at the time or plan a game to help learn times tables. There are lots of easy way to fit computing into a busy timetable.

9. Evidence is easier than you think
It’s easy to evidence Scratch lessons. With a teacher account you can save all class work in one place and access it from one link. You can take quick photos or videos of screens, or use print screen. If you have a blog you can easily link to or embed projects.

10. Relate programming to the wider curriculum
This is easier than you think. The principal behind any programming or coding is a cycle of plan, code, test, improve. Does that sound familiar? You can easily relate this to the process of drafting in writing or problem solving in maths.

Scratch for the reluctant computing teacher

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, 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

Picademy day two – I’m a hacker (not a cracker)

If you ask a class of primary school children what risks they could encounter when using the internet, I guarantee a majority will say ‘you could get hacked’. The most concerning thing here is that there is a massive misconception about what ‘hacking’ actually means, and I include myself in that. The term has seriously bad reputation. Here are a few recent examples:

Talktalk security breach

UK teenager accused of hacking CIA chief

New International phone hacking scandal

Well, today I have spent the day hacking my new Raspberry Pi to take pictures, light LEDs, start motors and create things in Minecraft. Yes, my name’s Ben and I’m a hacker.

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 22.33.00

Whilst I might have been having a bit of fun creating this, I was also ticking off huge chunks of the computing curriculum in my head. Hacking is problem solving, hacking is maths, hacking is creating things and above all hacking is being part of a community and helping others. These are all skills we’re delighted to see in our classrooms everyday,  skills which will help us bridge the digital skills gap. Tomorrow’s hackers will create the next Angry Birds, the next Facebook and the next Raspberry Pi, so now is the time for us to raise a new generation of hackers.

But wait, I hear you say, what about all that bad stuff… I’ll let the urban dictionary take care of that. They’re not hackers, they’re crackers.



Picademy day two – I’m a hacker (not a cracker)

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

How to share and embed Scratch projects

Please note – parts of this post have been adapted from the Scratch community Parent / Carer letter posted on the excellent Somerset Learning Platform website.

I have been teaching programming using Scratch software which can be accessed online Programming has become an important part of learning about technology to meet expectations in the new curriculum. It also develops children’s thinking and problem solving skills. Using this site is a great way to add to the experience of learning to program and also to learn about e-Safety.

You can use Scratch without registering with the site. However, to enable you to be able share the programs and games they create you will need to register with the Scratch community. This allows children, their friends and their family to see what they make at school and at home. They can also view programs created by other people to see how they have been made and can make changes to adapt it to create a similar game of their own.

The site lets anyone in the world see what you have created. Anyone can leave comments about your work. This is fantastic way for children to get feedback and can be very encouraging. They may get suggestions of ways in which they could improve their game. There are many benefits but also the risk that someone might leave a comment you don’t like. The Scratch Team includes a group of moderators who work each day to manage activity on the site and respond to any reports of misuse. When logged in, your child can delete any comments they do not like and can report anyone who is not following the community guidelines. It is extremely rare to see an inappropriate comment but it is important to be aware that it can happen.

The website has guidelines for use which you agree to when you sign up:

* Be respectful. When sharing projects or posting comments, remember that people of many different ages and backgrounds will see what you’ve shared.
* Be constructive. When commenting on other’s projects, say something you like about it and offer suggestions.
* Share. You are free to remix projects, ideas, images, or anything else you find on Scratch – and anyone can use anything that you share. Be sure to give credit when you remix.
* Keep personal info private. For safety reasons, don’t use real names or post contact info like phone numbers or addresses.
* Help keep the site friendly. If you think a project or comment is mean, insulting, too violent, or otherwise inappropriate, click “Report” to let us know about it

The e-Safety aspects of being part of the Scratch Community is explained to children. I am encouraging children to sign up with the Scratch Community so they can further their computing learning at home, and share the great work they are doing.

Here are some useful e-Safety messages for children using Scratch (and other websites):

* Use a safe alias
* Keep password and personal information private
* Give positive feedback to others
* Recognise copyright in terms of acknowledging other people’s ideas
* Recognise inappropriate content – consider whether others would find a project or comment mean, insulting, too violent, or otherwise inappropriate
* Know how and when to report inappropriate content and when deleting a comment is the sensible action
* Consider appropriate length of time to spend online creating and playing games

I suggest you have a look at the website to make sure you are aware of how it is used and that you are happy for your child to be part of the Scratch community. They have a page for parents which may answer any questions you have

Once you have created a Scratch project, it is easy to embed it into a blog post. Here is a quick guide to embedding a project into a wordpress blog.

How to share and embed Scratch projects