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:

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)

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)

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:

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.

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

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.

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

BETT 2017 Hit List

I’m really looking forward to my second visit to BETT next week. Last year I went for the Saturday only, which was great, but not really long enough to get the full experience. I also found that many of the people I wanted to meet up with were only there during the week, so this year I’m there for a couple f days, with the bonus of meeting up with an old friend on Friday evening.

Having adopted a bit of a scattergun approach last year, this year I am going to plan which stands I would definitely like to visit:

AB Tutor – This is something I looked at last year at Bett. AB Tutor, and a number of similar offerings enable you to remotely manage students’ desktops. You can see from one console what they’re doing, freeze or takeover screens or push content out to screens. As a classroom management tool I can see the benefits, but I am concerned that it might be too administratively heavy.

BCS – Simply to keep across industry developments.

Bloodhound – I’ve been following the Bloodhound project for years. For those that haven’t, the BLoodhound SSC project is aiming to break the land speed record with a super sonic car (SSC) designed to top 1,000mph. They are using the project as a launchpad for a huge variety of STEM activities in partnership with schools and colleges throughout the country. I’m interested in seeing if there are any projects I could introduce to our school.

ClassVR – Having recently experienced Google Expeditions, this will be an opportunity to have a look at an alternative solution – quite how they can compete with the mighty Google’s free solution, I’m not sure, but they’re promising a free VR headset so I think I’ll see if I can find out…

Erase All Kittens – This is a must visit stand. Erase All Kittens (EAK) is the most bonkers coding site I’ve ever been on. It’s designed to bridge the gap between block and text based programming so children can smoothly into using ‘real’ code. It does using a fantasy based narrative which engages girls whilst not alienating boys – a clever trick. If the whole premise of the site isn’t mad enough the characters certainly are, how about a half mermaid, half unicorn with flowing blond hair called Tarquin? Behind the weirdness there’s some real substance – backers include gaming big-hitter Ian Livingstone and ex-Labour Schools Minister Lord Jim Knight.

I’ve used the demo versions in school for the last couple of years, but they have now released the first paid version. I’m looking forward to seeing what additional features they have included and how they will be pricing it for schools.

Explain Everything – This is one of my favourite iPad apps and, in my view is an essential app for primary schools. It’s unusual in that it can be equally useful for students and teachers. I will be looking to see what they are showing this year, and what plans they have for the future, particularly around licensing, where I understand they are making some significant changes.

GBM – A good chance to catch up with our preferred Apple reseller to see what they, and Apple have in the pipeline.

Google for Eduction – Not long after our extremely enjoyable session with Google Expeditions, I’m looking forward to seeing what Google will be showcasing. In particular I would like to see what scope there is for using Google Classroom for shared devices in a primary setting.

Internet Matters – Obvioulsy a massive issue for anyone who is involved in schools in any capacity, but in my role as ICT co-ordinator this is top of my priority list. I’m particularly looking for resources which will encourage and support greater parental engagements so messages from school are being re-enforced at home.

Kahoot – Another must have iPad app, Kahoot has been a huge success at our school, even amongst technically reluctant teachers. It will be good to see how they see Kahoot and what their future plans are.

Lego Education – Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of lego? However, this visit will be purely for professional reasons, you understand.

Makeblock – A bit left field, this one. I was lucky to get a Codeybot for christmas. This is a programmable robot which was developed through a crowd funded project. It’s now been on the market for about three months, but there is very little in terms of support materials online. I will be seeking assurances of their support and commitment to this product in the future.

Microbit – I’m keen to find out what’s happening with the Microbit. From what I’ve seen it’s got huge potential,  but the project has been beset with delays, to the extent where my duaghter, who was in year 7 last year didn’t get one. I think it’s something we could utilise in primary, so I’d like to see if they share my view.

Minecraft – One of my aims for this year is to start using Minecraft education throughout the curriculum, not just in computing. I would like to understand more about what the education version offers and how it could be used in the classroom. Last year I attended a brilliant session by Stephen Reid (@ImmersiveMind) – if he’s there again I will definitely try to see him.

Raspberry Pi Foundation – As a relatively newly qualified Raspberry Pi certified educator I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to show at Bett. I’m hoping to get a small suite of Raspberry Pis in school, so will be looking for some simple starter projects.

UKEdchat – I have had a number of blog posts re blogged on UKEdchat and have had an article published in their magazine as well as being a regular contributor to #UKEdchat but have never actually spoken to any of their team face to face. This will be a good opportunity to put some names to faces and look for opportunities for more collaboration in the future.

In addition to all the above stands, there are also some general areas I am interested in. I am particularly interested in how I can introduce more physical computing and robotics, but on a very limited budget, so will be looking for ideas and inspiration in that area. I am also keen to get a 3D printer into our school – I think this would be a great way to combine computing and DT.

BETT 2017 Hit List