It’s Geekness Day!

Happy Geekness day everyone!

A few weeks ago I received an email informing me that today, 13th July, is officially known as “Geekness day” and I was asked to embrace my inner geek by writing a blog post and answering a few questions, so here goes . . .

So what makes me a geek? Well, I guess it’s a combination of my hobbies, interests and career. I’ve always been into computers and since college I’ve loved programming. I work as head of Computing at an all girls school in Kent so get plenty of opportunities to “get my geek on!”. Currently trying to find more time to play with my Raspberry Pi!

My proudest geek moment? . . . Without a doubt that has to be my wedding day last year. My husband and I decided to have a computer game themed wedding so each table was themed around a different game. I spent the whole of my summer holiday last year (and some) creating papercraft centerpieces to signify each game and we used floppy disks as placeholders. Even the gift boxes stuck to their table’s theme with question boxes for the Mario table and barrels for the Donkey Kong table (and everything in between!).

Geeky Wedding Decorations

My dad even helped out too by constructing an arcade box for us to use to collect cards from our guests. One of the highlights was that I had also organised for the string quartet to play the theme tune to Sonic the Hedgehog, which is my husband’s favourite game!

My favourite geek quote would have to be from Bill Gates: “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one!”

Lastly, my geek role models, would probably be  Ian Livingstone and Belinda Parmar. Ian Livingstone is not only the author of many of the Fighting Fantasy books and creator of Tomb Raider, but also a very inspiring speaker about the games industry as well as gaming in education. Belinda is the author of Little Miss Geek, and has spent a lot of time addressing and encouraging more girls and women to enter tech-related careers. Belinda was part of my inspiration for launching my Geeky Barbie’s Adventures site, documenting women in the IT industry so the girls I teach can see and read about role models in various careers.

Do you have some geekyness you’d like to share? If so post some comments below or join the conversation on Twitter #GeeknessDay

Posted in Computing, Geeky Barbie, Just for Fun | Leave a comment

Kodu Kup 2014 Finalists

Following the success of last year’s Kodu Kup competition I am very much looking forward to sitting on the judging panel again this year. So far I have taken on the role of shortlisting the entries which proved to be a long job with so many!

Games list

At this point I thought it would be a good idea to share with you the list of finalists and tell you about their games, to download a game you can click on its name.

PrimaryDevildroid

  • Clan Kodu from Cardross Primary is the group that won the Scottish heat of the Kodu Kup with their game, “Maze Adventures” in which Kodu has to navigate around a variety of different mazes of varying difficulty.
  • Hampden Gurney are back for a second year with their group, Team Fly Fish and their game, “Human Body” in which you take on the role of a white blood cell to help the human body defeat the bacteria.
  • Gryphon Games from Exmoor Coast Federation and their game “Zack’s Amazing Adventures” begins with a lovely intro sequence and progresses to a range of mini games to complete along the way.
  • Minion Productions from Hitherfield Primary have come up with a game called “Trapped in your own Mind“, which is set inside a dream in which the character is trapped and has to escape.

SecondaryGrand Master

  • Madd Hatt Games from Uppingham Community College have produced a futuristic game in the style of Portal called “Confined“,  in which the player has to complete various tests to progress through the game to defeat an evil robot at the end. I really liked how much planning has clearly gone into each of the tests.
  • From Lister Community School are the Phantoms of Gaming with their game, “The Grand Master“, a very challenging game which starts with an evacuation, followed by the main character having to track down the “Elder Kodu” in order to defeat the Grand Master. Very challenging and fun to play!
  • Stargamer Studios from Highgate School are also through to our finals with their game, “Defeat the Devil Droid” which is a fun selection of minigames to complete after the main character is captured by the evil “Devil Droid”.
  • Last of our secondary entries is the team from Handsworth Grammar School, Seemakhaawk, and their game “Kodu Eruption” in which the player has to escape from a volcanic island by collecting all of the pieces to make a teleportation device.

Judges ChoiceMissionSaviour

This is an additional category for those who have shown great imagination in their games but haven’t necessarily included an in-depth storyline:

  • Haverstock Girl Gamers have produced some particularly well-designed levels with their game “Mission Saviour” in which you play an anti-virus bot removing viruses from the computer’s circuit board.
  • Another entry from Lister Community School is Sweet Rain Productions with “Doodle’s Arcade Crisis” that has a simple but effective storyline in which the player is sucked into an arcade machine and has to play through the various arcade games to escape.
  • Marsden Primary School’s team, Illustration Masters, have created a game called “Mad Mazes” and although this doesn’t have a specific story it does feature a range of talking characters and the world has been well designed.
  • Hampden Gurney’s other entry, this time by Team Missile also features in this category with their game “Jetpack Joyride” which has similarities to Lister’s entry as the player also finds them self sucked into an arcade machine and playing mini-games to escape.

It was a tough job shortlisting all of the entries and I think it will be even tougher selecting a winner from each category at the final, which will feature each team presenting themselves “Dragons Den style” at Microsoft HQ in Reading on 17th July. Luckily there will be four judges on the day to decide!

If your school entered the Kodu Kup but did not make it through to the finals, don’t worry, there’s always next year! For now we have put together certificates for you to give out to those who have entered. Click the image below to download:

Participation Certificates

Good luck and congratulations to all our finalists, I’m looking forward to meeting all of you on 17th July!

Posted in Computing, Key Stage 3, Kodu, Microsoft | Leave a comment

Raspberry Pi FUZE: A Programmable Computer & Electronics Workstation

I was first introduced to FUZE at BETT earlier this year. Described as a ‘Programmable Computer & Electronics Workstation’, this quality piece of kit can be purchased with or without the Raspberry Pi. FUZE workstationIt is clearly a well-made and robust product which will stand up well in most classroom settings. The kit contains everything you need to get started, including a wireless mouse, and the case housing the Pi also doubles up as a sturdy metal keyboard, providing easy access to all of the ports and GPIO pins with a dedicated section at the top giving access to the IO board, seated conveniently next to a solder-less breadboard.

For me the exciting thing about using the Raspberry Pi is being able to combine electronics with programming (otherwise I’m not really doing anything I can’t do on a normal computer) so to have such easy access to the GPIO pins is a real selling point, in my opinion. Also supplied in the box is a handy pin diagram card which sits on the IO board neatly and enables you to identify each of the pins with ease.

Now FUZE haven’t just provided a means to access the GPIO pins, they have also provided a box full of electronics goodies so you can get started straight away. This consists of:

  • 40 jumper cables
  • 60 small jumper wires
  • 30 resistors
  • 24 LEDs
  • 1 buzzer
  • 10 micro switch buttons
  • 1 seven segment LED

FUZE Electronics Components

The SD card supplied features a modified version of BASIC called ‘FUZE BASIC’. There is a nice workbook called a ‘Project Card’ that comes with the kit, although it is much more than a card; this is a simple and easy-to-follow guide that introduces the language and progresses onto loops, variables, user inputs, and selection and offers some fun FUZE Workstation set upchallenges at the end to extend ones knowledge. The only drawback I found is that there are parts of the book which don’t necessarily promote good programming practice, such as the naming of variables, suggesting these should begin with capital letters rather than introducing camel casing. It’s not a massive flaw and certainly not one to dwell over when there are so many good points worthy of a mention, the tutorials do encourage the use of indentation when using loops which is good and something my students often don’t do!

With the kit you get the first 3 project card booklets and there are more to download from the FUZE website.

I was particularly keen to start on the electronics so I downloaded Project Card Number 4 to make a flashing lights program! This is a nice little guide, starting from the basics of switching on one LED to multiple LEDs and goes on to introduce FOR loops to set up each one. It ends with challenges like making animated light sequences, although I was keen to experiment with one of the buttons so I made my own challenge of simulating a set of traffic lights at a pedestrian crossing:

FUZE Traffic Lights

I really like the format of the Project Cards, they are simple to follow and I think they will enable students to be independent when using the Pi. I just wish there were more available to fully utilise the physical aspect of the Raspberry Pi as that’s what sets it apart from traditional computers. The fourth project card left me wanting more and as I have experimented in the past with Raspberry Pi electronics I didn’t find it too difficult to figure out how to connect the button into the circuit, luckily in the box there is also a handy reference guide to the FUZE BASIC programming language so I was able to find out how to read inputs from the button too. In the classroom, however, my students would struggle with this so what I would like to see next is a lot more guides and project ideas being produced for using the electronics components provided; I’m sure there are some in the pipeline.

Overall, what can I say about the FUZE workstation? Well, it’s a high-quality product, well made and robust with a huge range of components to get you started. The product is definitely good value for money. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with using FUZE BASIC programming environment, which brought back fond memories of my old Commodore 64!   As for the students . . . well, I’m passing the workstation on to my colleague after half term who runs our computing club, where she will no doubt have great fun unleashing this to her enthusiastic group of girls!

If you’re interested in learning more about the FUZE kit take a look at their website where you can see their full range of products, resources and up-to-date pricing.

Posted in Computing, Programming, Raspberry Pi | Leave a comment

Planning for the New Curriculum

Nicki Cooper's KS3 ComputingOver the last year or so I’ve been working hard making preparations for the new Computing curriculum coming into action from September this year. In my school we are going to adopt the Computing At School(CAS)  Progression Pathways as a method for assessing and levelling students. For students already in key stage 3 we will be freezing their old ICT levels and starting fresh by assessing them against the Progression Pathways levels for Computing. I have yet to develop an initial Computing assessment but it is something I am going to be working on over the next few months.

So far, below is what the curriculum will look like for Key Stage 3 (some schemes of work are yet to be written and some are being updated with extra parts). I thought I would share this as I know there are a lot of schools needing to plan for the new curriculum so please feel free to use/adapt this model if you find it useful. Once they are complete I’ll be adding all schemes of work to the resources section on here.

Year 7

Topic Overview
7.1 Digital Literacy -
“All About Me”
This will incorporate a baseline assessment and cover some of the more traditional ICT skills. I’m adapting this from my previous Skill Building scheme of work and condensing down significantly to cover the key, essential, points.
7.2 Game Creation in Kodu Game Lab I’ve adapted my original Kodu scheme of work into a new and improved version covering all the main skills needed and more in-depth game design and analysis.
7.3 Web Awareness A Spiderman-themed topic which teaches children the fundamentals of the World Wide Web, including how search engines work, packet switching, Internet safety and security and finishing with web design using HTML and CSS.
7.4 What are Computers? EDIT: NOW COMPLETE Currently a “work-in-progress”, this will be an adapted version of my current PC Basics scheme of work with new additions of how a CPU works and the purpose of operating systems. I’m also planning for students to take apart computers too!
7.5 Introduction to Programming For this topic I am going to completely revamp my Game Control scheme of work, so that rather than focussing on games it will focus on specific programming terminology and algorithms. I still intend to use Scratch for this but will also incorporate examples of the algorithms in text-based languages too and include exercises where they will begin to read and interpret code.

Year 8

Topic Overview
8.1 Grand Designs I’ve been teaching this topic for a few years now. It covers some of the more traditional ICT skills with the addition of 3D modelling using Sketchup. I might add some additional control elements to this using Flowol so children would design their house and then plan for some automated systems to go inside.
8.2 Python Magic This is a scheme of work for teaching children the basics of programming using Python.
8.3 Animation Project This is an existing scheme of work where the students design, create and evaluation an animation for a specific purpose. Although it is essentially complete, the assessment needs adapting to the new framework.
8.4 Ingenious Inventions I’ve yet to begin creating this scheme of work but the plan is for students to come up with inventions that will use a computer control system of some kind, this will focus on using Flowol to design the systems and I might try to incorporate the use of Raspberry Pis here too.
8.5 What are Computers Part II For the final topic in year 8 I’m aiming to build on the basic understanding of computers the students would have gained in year 7. I have yet to plan the content for this fully though.

Year 9

Topic Overview
9.1 Wonders of PhotoShop This is a scheme of work teaching the fundamentals of Photoshop. I intend to extend this somewhat so I can cover binary representation of images to give learners an understanding of how the pictures they create are stored on a computer.
9.2 Web Design This scheme of work will teach learners how to create their own website using HTML, CSS and Javascript.
9.3 Computer Crime Lab This topic will cover the creation and searching of a criminal database as well as giving an understanding of computer crimes and an understanding of cryptography.
9.4 Wedding Planner This is a scheme of work that has been delivered at my school for some time (although I haven’t delivered it myself yet). It’s been a successful way of delivering spreadsheets and ICT skills around design as well. It’s popular as I teach at an all girls school and the techniques learnt can be applied to other scenarios or events too. This will incorporate many of the skills from the Edexcel GCSE in ICT which we currently offer in year 10.
9.5 Entry Level Computing I haven’t fully decided on the final topic of year 9 yet although I am thinking of offering OCR’s Entry Level Computing certificate.

If you have any ideas or suggestions for any of these topics I’d love to hear from you! Just post a comment below. I hope you’ve found this post useful!

Posted in Computing, ICT, Key Stage 3, Teaching | Leave a comment

Koduthon 2014

Koduthon 2014Last Thursday represented the second annual Koduthon hosted at Microsoft HQ in Reading. The Koduthon is a basically a hack-a-thon style event where around 100 children were given the opportunity to enter the adult world and develop a solution to a given scenario in Kodu Game Lab. They were given a really interesting task involving developing a virtual fish tank. This proved to be an excellent exercise as it suited a wide range of abilities. They were given the basic concept of fish swimming around the tank along with suggestions of extensions they could make to this, such as:

  • Schooling
  • Feeding
  • Using the toilet and making the tank dirty
  • Features to clean the tank
  • Laying eggs and having babies
  • Enemies

Really, the list is almost endless as given more time the goal could be to create a complete, self sustaining underwater ecosystem. I’m thinking about adding this into my Kodu scheme of work, perhaps as a homework excercise.

Northfleet School for Girls gives Kodu lessonsIn our school minibus myself and a colleague brought a group of fifteen girls to the event who were also given the extra opportunity to train up Microsoft employees in the world of Kodu. They had great fun doing this and I was really proud of their confidence and teaching abilities, demonstrating patience and good manners throughout. They were even giving certificates out to the staff who took part in their training and they carried out interviews afterwards.

Use of Windows Surface with KoduTo carry out the work on the day the girls brought laptops with them from school along with some Microsoft Surfaces, I have to say I was quite impressed with the tablets. They ran Kodu all day with no hiccups and the batteries were still going by the end! If our school ever goes down the route of one-to-one devices I will definitely be recommending these, also having the USB port proved useful as they were able to utilise both the touch screen and game controllers.

The girls were buzzing in the minibus on the way home (and I’m sure it wasn’t just the supply of pick-and-mix sweets on the way out!). This was an amazing opportunity for them and one, I know, they won’t forget. A big thank you goes to Stuart Ball of Microsoft for putting on this fantastic event.

Posted in Computing, ICT, Key Stage 3, Kodu, Microsoft | Leave a comment