New Year and BETT Show

So you’ve probably noticed I’ve been a little quiet this (school) year with my last post being back in September. Last term was super busy having moved house in the middle (and still haven’t finished unpacking), with that and starting and assessing the new Computing curriculum with Key Stage 3 and a very successful Hour of Code in December, I’ve not had a lot of time to focus on my blog!

Anyway, last week I had the pleasure of attending the BETT Show in London, which as usual, did not disappoint. This year I even managed to attend some interesting speaker sessions. Here is a summary of my findings:

Microsoft

My first visit was to the Microsoft stand which was rather nicely decorated with Minecraft paraphernalia. Following with the Minecraft theme, the first talk I was keen to attend was on Minecraft in Education by my friend Ray Chambers, his talk was very interesting about how Minecraft had been used in different ways in his school; firstly as a fellow Computing teacher he had been experimenting with Red Stone to simulate logic gates.

Minecraft Logic GatesI had a go at this myself, and after a quick Google managed to construct  AND, OR and NOT gates without too much difficulty (as shown on the right).

In terms of programming, Minecraft also comes up trumps enabling children to create their own mods for the game, this allows them to customise their world with  any number of goodies, including dinosaurs, mutant creatures, magic, you name it!

Ray continued to discuss the uses of Minecraft, not only in Computing but in a cross-curricular context too. Firstly Minecraft allows you to simulate your own farm, growing crops and raising livestock providing vital food and energy for your player, not to mention a means to trade with local villagers.

Battle of Naseby MinecraftBeing so flexible there’s no end to what you can do in class. One such example was the construction of the trenches in a history lesson on World War 1. Another student in his school even completed an open-ended History homework about the Battle of Naseby by creating a simulation of a visitor centre giving all the required information.

Lastly, Ray mentioned a useful online resource to get started, Stampy Cat on YouTube provides a range of tutorials for beginners.

I’m currently investigating the use of Minecraft myself, I’ve been using the Raspberry Pi version and programming it using Python, I’m presenting  a workshop on this topic along with Kodu at the Kent Computing Conference on 30th March.

On the Microsoft stand they were also giving out Computing at School’s Quickstart Computing booklet which is a very useful toolkit available for both primary and secondary teachers of Computing. This is also available to download from here.

Google

Google bus stickerMy main reason for visiting the Google stand was to learn more about Google Classroom as we have adopted this fantastic VLE in school and I was keen to know more about any upcoming features. There was a talk about this in the afternoon but unfortunately I got distracted and missed it! If anybody wants to share any info from this in the comments below I’d be really grateful!

I did manage to discuss how to go about organising a trip to Google in London as my students are frequently bugging me about this! I was told the best way is through an existing contact in school. I know our network technician has a contact so I am going to try that approach next.

Also on the Google stand I learnt about two interesting looking apps; TinkerCAD, which allows you to create 3D drawings in your browser and Pixlr, an online photo editor.

Lego

I’ve always had an avid interest in Lego and as we already have Mindstorms NXT in school (and at home) I was keen to see if there was anything new to check out. Mindstorms EV3 looks pretty good but I don’t think it has a huge amount more functionality than our existing Lego kits (although the connectivity looks better). While listening to one of the talks on the stand I did discover a programming environment called RobotC which allows you to program the robots using text-based language rather than the visual editor, however I later learnt that it is a little too pricey for my non-existent department budget so I’ll probably stick to Python and my BrickPi instead.

Launch of the Kodu Kup

Kodu Kup LaunchI haven’t really been involved with the Kodu Kup this year but I was keen to see the launch over on the XMA and Viglen stand at midday. Stuart Ball announced the competition along with some children from a visiting primary school. The competition looks really interesting this year with a heavy weighting being on the business side of the game. I’m hoping to enter the competition with some of my keen year sevens.

More information can be found here.

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi stand featured lots of goodies, I particularly like their little lesson cards linked to the lessons on the Raspberry Pi website. They were also promoting a Kickstarter project called Flotilla which offers a treasure chest of electronic goodies to connect to the Raspberry Pi.

There was a range of talks over on the stand and one that I wanted to attend was about Sonic Pi – Audible Computing, allowing you to program your own music (you may have seen this in my previous “Let it go . . .” post). Unfortunately I missed this as it clashed with another session I needed to attend.

Bett Arena – #Error404: The Explosions-based Computing Show

While eating my lunch I managed to check out this fantastic show in the Bett Arena by Fran Scott. The show was excellent with the explosions taking the form of gas-filled balloons programmed to explode using a Raspberry Pi. This was a cut-down version of a bigger show that you can find out more about here. I’d love to have the team visit my school, it would be particularly good at the moment as year 9 options evening is looming! I’m not sure my budget will stretch that far though!

One part of the act I particularly liked was when Fran threw various computer components across the stage to make the point that a computer is still a computer without a keyboard, mouse or monitor attached. This is something my students often find difficult to understand so I might try this approach in class (maybe with already broken peripherals though!).

Other Interesting Things

Finally some other BETT goodies I found interesting are as follows:

That’s my BETT low-down, please add comments below if I’ve missed any good bits! I’ll try not to leave it so long before my next post!

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New Year, New Term, New Computing Curriculum!

KS3CurriculumWell, it’s back to school tomorrow and I’ve had a busy summer compiling schemes of work for our new Computing Curriculum which we’ll be starting next week when the children return.

I still have lots more to do but I’ve managed to produce enough schemes of work for at least the first few months for year 9, and years 7 and 8 have enough to take us until Easter.

I should note that we will be assessing all our students by using the Computing at Schools Progression Pathway Assessment Framework and I’ve built this into each scheme of work.

To begin the year I’ve put together an initial baseline assessment activity for all year groups to sit so we are able to gain an idea of what our students know already. In future years we will just carry this out with our new year 7 students.

Luckily I’ve been quite proactive in both my current and previous schools and had started to introduce some of the Computing topics already so in some cases I just needed to update some of my existing schemes of work. Also some of my ICT resources were already well-suited to the last strand of the assessment framework which was handy!

To read about our new KS3 curriculum check out the document below which includes links to all the schemes of work and resources. Hope you find this useful. As always, I’d welcome any feedback. Hope you had a great summer break and good luck with the start of a new year!

 

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“Let it Go, Let it Go . . .” Some Raspberry Pi Music

Frozen - Let it Go on Raspberry PiAs some of you may be aware, when I’m not doing geeky things I am learning to play the piano. Having recently passed my Grade 3 exam I decided to work on something fun over the summer; so I chose ‘Let it Go’ from the Disney film Frozen in hope that this would win me some brownie points with my young nieces next time they visit!

Much to my delight, I also recently discovered a new piece of software on the Raspberry Pi, called Sonic Pi (I’m using V2.0). Brilliant! I can combine both my hobbies into one! After watching a lovely intro video by Carrie Anne Philbin and reading a few tutorials, I understood the idea of how it worked and decided to set myself a challenge! This was to construct ‘Let it Go’ within Sonic Pi and as it also allows multiple threads to run at once, I was able to put together both the left and right hand sections of the piece and I’m really pleased with the end result:

 

This was a nice task to complete as it enabled me to discover some of the key features of Sonic Pi such as:

  • Variables
  • Loops
  • Functions
  • Threads (to run two functions at the same time)

You can see a snippet of the interface of Sonic Pi below, as you can see it has a simple and clean layout which makes it really easy to get started. Sometimes children can be overwhelmed if software has lots of menus and buttons but they shouldn’t have any problem with this!

Sonic Pi Let it Go Frozen by Nicki Cooper

To play the notes, you simply give the program the MIDI number for each note (eg. Middle C – 60) and the timings. The table below gives the corresponding MIDI numbers for each note:

Midi Numbers

You can download a copy of my source code here. Apologies for the lack of commenting in my code, however if you’re familiar with any programming language you can probably decipher it fairly easily!

It wasn’t all plain-sailing though . . . Many of the resources for Sonic Pi I found online are for version 1, so I had a few issues at first until I discovered the built-in help which proved to be invaluable for providing examples of syntax and formatting. Another issue I had was that once I added my second thread to play the left hand part my Pi really struggled and Sonic Pi threw a lot of timing errors at me saying it “couldn’t keep up” and sounded awful as many of the notes became misaligned! I was a bit concerned at this point that all my hard work was in vain but after overclocking my Pi to Turbo Mode it worked nicely! Here is a guide on how to do this.

I should also credit the source of the sheet music, which was the easier version of the song transcribed by Joyce Leong, for this and more sheet music check out her excellent website. (Note, I only went up to page 3 for this activity).

For a Getting Started guide to SonicPi V.20 check out the resources from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

I’m really looking forward to trying this out with some of my students in September, I think this is something that will really engage them and if I notice any budding virtuosos then maybe I’ll enter them into the Sonic Pi Competition as well!

Posted in Computing, Programming, Raspberry Pi | 5 Comments

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

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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