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!

 

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

“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 | 4 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 | 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 | 1 Comment