Kent Computing Conference Roundup

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Kent Computing Conference (#KentCS).  I was there to present two workshops in the afternoon, one on Kodu and the other on Minecraft & Python. First; I was lucky enough to be able to spend the morning enjoying two excellent keynotes and a workshop by Phil Bagge. I’ll summarise the key information below.

Keynote 1 – Phil Bagge

Phil focussed a lot on the importance of debugging programs as being an essential part of programming. I’d never thought of it that way before, of course debugging happens all the time but I’d never sat back and considered it’s impact on learning until now. Phil highlighted  how this builds resilience and problem solving and emphasised the fact that it is not the teacher’s job to debug code and he is quite right. As a teacher I sometimes find it difficult not to jump in and “rescue” a child when they are struggling but in reality this does them no favours as they simply learn that “if it doesn’t work someone else will fix it” which is complete the wrong mindset. In fact, Phil pointed out that it leads to what he calls “Learned Helplessness” which can result in two things:

    • Being stuck and having no idea why
    • Being stuck and making no attempt to fix the problem themselves

He also identified reasons why pupils may learn helplessness and identified the following:

    • ICT was about the finished product
    • Teachers who fix things for pupils (I think we’re all guilty of this at times!)
    • Pupils who dive in and solve things for other pupils
    • Adults who model helplessness

As a profession I think it is important that we accept that it is okay for students to struggle as this is all part of the journey and probably means they are learning. With programming in particular, often the journey is more significant than the end product. He has a very useful resource on his website that offers guidance to teachers regarding debugging. The keynote followed into discussion around the focus on computational thinking with:

    • Algorithms – a good example was shown where pupils would create a flowchart of getting up in the morning, broken down into small steps.
    • Abstraction – Reducing complexity by hiding irrelevant details, the London Underground map was listed as a good example of this
    • Decomposition – breaking a process down into manageable chunks, he discussed how it was beneficial to do this both as a class and as individuals.

Another useful resource Phil shared was an online learning tool called Rapid Router, which combines the visual programming language, Blockly, with Python and enables children to work through various programming techniques at their own pace, first visually then moving on to using Python to solve the given problems. I’ve signed up my school as I see it as a lovely way to introduce some of the key topics to year 7 before they move onto their Python topic in Year 8:

Rapid Router screenshot

Workshop 1

I remained with Phil for the first breakout workshop which was an unplugged session looking at various resources. The best of which I have noted below:

Keynote 2 – Max Wainewright (creator of 2Simple software)

Super CodersI found Max’s keynote speech really interesting and he provided a range of useful ideas for the classroom. I particularly liked a nice starter idea which involved using pseudo code scenarios to which children put up their hands if the scenarios are true. These would look something like this:

IF breakfast == cornflakes THEN raise right hand

He then discussed problem-solving approaches and looked at decomposing as one method, showing an example of a simple balloon game to which we, as an audience had to work out the rules that made it function. I can see this being an excellent way to make students think about programming and algorithms. Geeky Rubber Duck Max also mentioned “Rubber Ducking” in which students would explain their program to a rubber duck in order to verbalise what they are doing in their programs.

Another interesting classroom idea, similar to the starter mentioned above, was the use of playing cards, giving out large cards to children then displaying programming instructions relating to the cards they have, for example:

IF card colour == red AND value > 5 THEN stand up

Afternoon Workshops

Nicki Cooper MinecraftI delivered two workshops in the afternoon:

    • Minecraft & Raspberry Pi – In this session I covered some basic Python programming techniques that can be used with the Raspberry Pi version of Minecraft. Click here to download the PowerPoint from the session.
    • Game Creation in Kodu Game Lab – Here I covered the basics of how to create a simple game in Kodu Game Lab and introduced delegates to the Kodu Kup. Click here to download the PowerPoint from the session.

Closing Key Note – David Brown (HMI)

The conference finished with David Brown from OfSted ironing out a few OfSted myths which I found quite interesting. In relation to my subject he highlighted the importance of regularly ensuring children and ALL staff are aware of e-safety procedures and how to deal with issues. He advised delegates to read the School Inspection Handbook to keep up-to-date with OfSted procedures.

One point I was particularly pleased David raised was that of recording aural feedback. In Computing we often give out feedback aurally and I know colleagues in other schools have been required to find ways to record this, I’ve often thought of this as a pointless activity, one that exists purely to tick boxes when in reality the time spent recording the feedback would be be better spent actually acting on said feedback! David made it very clear that it is NOT an OfSted requirement to record aural feedback so I was really pleased to hear this!

Overall this was a very enjoyable day and a really interesting conference. If you want to read more, all the resources from the day have been cleverly shared using Padlet:

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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

Posted in Computing, Geeky Barbie, Just for Fun | 1 Comment