Robot Week

Nicki   April 12, 2021   No Comments on Robot Week

Several weeks into “Mummy School” it was half term week, I was expecting a little break from the home-learning but my son had other ideas! Each week from school they were given a different theme and he requested a Robot Theme for the week (he wants to be a Robot Engineer when he grows up)! Now many of you will know I love robots so I was secretly doing a little dance inside when he made this request, even though there was a lot of planning to do! Luckily, I had some resources from teaching KS3 but they needed to be scaled back considerably to suit a 5 and 3 year old! So my first challenge was to come up with some fun robot-themed activities for the week with just the right amount of educational value without making it feel too much like school (it was half term after all)!


I knew I wanted keep up with a basic amount of phonics during the week; my son was making good progress with this and I wanted to keep the momentum going as it had been a struggle in the beginning. To continue his phonics practice we alternated each day between reading “ditty” sheets and captioning pictures, this was significantly less than he would do in a normal week so I figured he wouldn’t mind! (I was right, luckily, as he is now quite keen to learn to read despite finding it tricky). I made special robot themed resources for these which you can view and download below.

Design – Create – Evaluate

We began the week by designing, building and evaluating junk robots made by upcycling old Costa Coffee cups as a base, it turns out this fits perfectly on top of a Sphero robotic ball so after building their own robots the boys were then able to place them ontop of my Sphero and navigate them around a maze, this worked well, although I had an old Sphero which wasn’t compatible with the Sphero Edu app meaning we couldn’t pre-program the controls. We were able to use the old app as more of a remote control instead and the boys still had to think about the instructions they were giving their robots and they had fun! Definitely counting that as a winning activity to start the week! I was also really impressed with my five-year-old’s design skills in this task as he really thought about how he wanted his robot to look and his creation matched his design perfectly. You can download the design sheet below.

We followed up with a simple evaluation discussion, identifying what they liked about their robots and what could be improved; my son identified the fact that it would be good to make the robot talk . . . Which brings us onto another of our activities . . .

. . . Programming Using a micro:bit

My oldest son loves electronics, we bought him a kit for Christmas and he’s learnt to build several of the circuits himself so he was very excited when I showed him the micro:bit (a pocket-sized computer that has an LED screen, buttons, sensors and input/output features that can be programmed). We attached this to the head of his junk robot and I guided him in the use of Scratch to program a face on the screen and record things to say. We used Scratch as he already had some prior knowledge of Scratch Junior but halfway through I realised some of the features were missing due to us having a micro:bit V2 so probably should have used Microsoft MakeCode, we had enough functionality for what we wanted to achieve but for any future projects with this I think MakeCode may be the way forward, he is not yet a fluent reader so neither option allows for much in the way of independent learning at this stage but he did enjoy sitting down with me looking through some of the features of the full version of Scratch and how it differs from Scratch Junior that he is used to.

Robotic Hand

My boys both love arts and crafts and I found a really interesting activity on Twinkl showing instructions on how to make a robotic hand using card, string and straws, my five-year-old was able to very carefully cut the straws to length and threaded the string through them so the fingers bend when the strings are pulled. My three-year-old enjoyed decorating his hand! I did consider connecting the strings to a Lego motor to control the hand movement but we didn’t get round to it in the end! (This may be a future project!)

Mars Rover Day

Thursday of half term week was the day the Mars Rover was due to land which fitted in perfectly with our robot theme! We spent much of the day learning about the Mars Rover and its mission, firstly through a garden scavenger hunt; finding and putting the stages of landing in the correct order. We also found a really good video on iPlayer from the Maddie, Space and You series explaining more about space robots. Our favourite activity of the day was probably using Scratch Junior to program a virtual Mars Rover. I had the setting and graphics prepared in advance, with instructions on what needed to happen, the boys basically needed to safely land the Rover then navigate it to an alien through a Mars Maze of rocks using the correct blocks. I’d already pre-programmed the rover to reset to its starting position if it hit the rocks so navigating the maze required a bit of trial and error. My older son managed the task, mostly, independently, while his brother watched, then went on to create his own Mars maze and animation! Having the scene ready-made was really handy as it meant he could get straight into the programming with a clear goal in mind, he really enjoyed having a challenge to complete. Scratch Junior is such a fantastic app for children of this age to learn some basic programming skills without the need to read! I can’t praise it enough and will be sharing more of our projects in a future post.

We also enjoyed some colouring activities provided by Nasa of Mars themed pictures and we ended the day by watching the landing (we let the boys stay up a little later than usual to see it!)

Just for Fun

We had a great week learning about robots and had lots of fun too! One afternoon I hosted a cinema experience (with tickets) to watch wall-E while eating popcorn in our darkened living room and we ended the week by creating robot costumes to dress up as robots and perform a robot song the boys had learnt! Not to forget giving out certificates for their participation in Robot Week!

Lets end with the song (sung to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot”!), by Tara Simpson:

I'm a little robot,
Shiny and tall,
Here is my laser,
Here is my claw
When I get all cranky,
Sputter and cough,
Just flip the switch,
And turn me off.

I hope you enjoyed this post, let me know if you use any of the ideas or resources either in the comments or on Twitter – I’m @GeekyNicki

Computing at Home During “Mummy School”

Home Learning Reflections

So, having been out of the classroom environment for five and a bit years this blog has been pretty quiet, in short I have been having some time out raising a family since my maternity leave started abruptly in 2015. My oldest son started school in September and I’ve experienced home learning for the first time this year during a nationwide lockdown. I’ve been keen to start blogging again so I thought I’d share some reflections on this time. For the most-part I have really enjoyed playing the role of teacher again during “Mummy School”, and although we were given set tasks to choose from I also took the opportunity to throw in some Computing and IT activities along the way too. A few weeks in we bought a Kindle Fire tablet and found some fun and educational apps that support learning. The app I found most interesting was Scratch Junior which is a stripped down version of Scratch made for younger children (non-readers), both my boys absolutely love this and request to use it often (more than games). My three-year-old focusses mostly on the graphical aspects, changing colours and features of the pre-built characters and scenes whereas my five-year-old likes to make things happen using code blocks.

IT Skills at Home

It was fun to introduce some IT skills during this time with a much younger audience than I’ve experienced previously (I’ve honestly never seen anyone get so excited about seeing their work appearing on paper coming out of the printer!). Using the computer my son really enjoyed using Paint to do some basic drawing and we worked together to do some video editing with Henry choosing title sequences and music to present an interview he did with a neonatal nurse. He also created an information poster about owls using Publisher which provided an opportunity to discuss reliable information online and introduced some basic typing skills, he did struggle a little when the capital letters on my keyboard didn’t match his knowledge of what the letters should look like, but persevered and used a word mat as an aid to find the letters.

Learning Through Play

One thing that struck me with home-schooling a child of reception age is how EYFS children are taught, many of the set tasks were very practical and the maths in particular was largely play based with learners using various items and toys to represent and explore mathematical concepts.

Having so much independent play time makes a huge difference in helping children fully learn a new skill, this has been obvious when watching my son learn, at this age we expect children to learn predominantly through play, exploring and really embedding knowledge but somewhere between this stage and by the time I would see them in secondary school there is no longer time for play (or very little at least). Typically we deliver the topic then move on every lesson because we have so much to cover in such a short space of time.  In terms of mastery of the topic, particularly programming, it was something time just did not allow from my secondary perspective. Building and mastering skills was always something I found frustratingly difficult in the KS3 curriculum as having a week in between lessons left a lot of time for some of the learning to be forgotten leaving me frustrated when my students struggled to recall prior knowledge. In the primary sector mastery of the basics is obvious especially with maths and phonics and it is rightly repetitive, slowly building on previous skills. Examples of some of our play-based maths tasks include measuring with building blocks, weighing with home-made (Lego) balance scales, counting with toys, playing dominoes and dice games and playing shops to name a few. Almost every maths task has involved some form of play element and his progress and knowledge is very apparent as a result. We’ve been following the White Rose Maths resources and the pace and content has been spot on.

As I mentioned earlier I’ve been teaching my son some simple programming skills using Scratch Junior in a similar way, I show him something and he plays with it, makes mistakes, fixes them and when he’s ready to move on I then introduce the next idea or concept but the key thing is he gets to play and explore with each new concept in a similar way to his maths lessons, if only we had time for this much play time in the classroom! So far, in Scratch Junior, he knows how to record voices and sounds for his characters, move items around, repeat actions using loops and grow and shrink sprites. Each week during home learning the children were given a poem to focus on and we tried to present this in a different way each time. One week my son chose to use Scratch Junior for this task when given a poem called Furry, Furry Squirrel, using this he was able to record his voice reciting the poem, draw a squirrel sprite and make it move in relation to the words in the poem with very minimal help from me! In fact, he is already reaching some limitations of the Junior version that are available in the regular version but of course this does require a child to be able to read so provides less opportunity for working independently. (However it has provided some motivation for learning phonics, recognising that the more he can read the more advanced things he can do!)

Seeing his development in such a short space of time really highlighted to me that in an ideal world programming skills should be taught in the same way in the classroom and was something I tried to embed into my schemes of work (to a certain extent) and is definitely something I always embedded during staff training sessions; introduce a topic then let the learners play with it until they are confident; much the same as we allow five year olds to play with building blocks to fully understand counting and how combining two groups of 5 blocks make ten and so on (and they practice and build on these skills everyday.)

I’ll just point out at this stage that this kind of mastery within the algorithms aspect of Computing doesn’t need to be taught within a strict computing environment but rather by just the use of our language with children to introduce the basic four concepts:

  • Making things happen (giving general instructions)
  • Making decisions (if . . . then . . . else . . .)
  • Repeating things (loops)
  • Remembering things (storing variables)

All of these can be demonstrated through role play almost daily, something I have been trying to include at home now I’ve thought about it as I know my son will be starting Computing formerly next year and would like to give him a head-start as he already has an interest in the subject. We’ve started playing role-playing boardgames at home too which naturally include all of these concepts without the use of a screen, I’ll talk more about this in a later post and share some of the resources we’ve made.

Summertime and Money Off

Henry CodeYou may have read my previous post on ‘Why I’ve Been So Quiet Lately‘ and as a result will know that I am currently on maternity leave with the little guy on the right until January 2017. As the first three and a half months of my maternity leave were spent with my son in hospital I decided to divert from my original plan and take the full year off. As I’m sure you can imagine as a result of now being on statutory maternity pay (and nothing at all pretty soon) funds are a little tight and I have therefore decided to start charging for some of my teaching resources, this will also give me the motivation to work on some new topics while I am off. You can see what’s available by visiting the store.

My units are reasonably priced at £110 each which includes all resources in an editable format and throughout the summer holiday (up to 1st September 2016) you can get 10% off at the checkout by entering the following voucher code:


There will be some exciting things to come over the next few months including a fully self-marking Baseline Assessment for Computing, so check back regularly for updates!

Have a great summer everyone and if you’re looking for some interesting holiday reads, check out the following books:

Why I’ve been so quiet lately

NICU nurses are superheroes
Henry just before leaving hospital

Some of you may have noticed that I have not posted anything or shared any resources at all this year. Well, there is a good reason for that. On 27th December following the scariest night of my life (up to that point) at just 23 weeks pregnant I gave birth to twin boys, Henry and Archie, both weighing in at just 1lb 2oz each.

My husband and I have had quite a tough journey. Archie sadly passed away the day after he was born but Henry continued to fight on and his strength and resilience over the past four months has been nothing short of incredible. He has endured a vast array of medical treatment, ventilation, various types of breathing support, several infections, many x-rays and 12 blood transfusions under the wonderful care of the Oliver Fisher Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. In total he spent 114 days in hospital and came home two and a half weeks ago (one week before his due date). You can read our full story over on my other website,

I am taking part in a 5km run in August to help raise funds for the amazing unit that kept my miracle baby safe for so long. If you have used my resources or are just inspired by our story please consider making a donation using the link below. Every little helps.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Revising the KS3 Curriculum & Simplifying Assessment

It seems I was a little ambitious with my curriculum plans last year. I had originally planned to complete five topics with each year group during the year but halfway through  computing baseline assessmentit soon became apparent that this was not achievable unless I sped through each topic with no time to review or consolidate information. I’ve spent some time reviewing the curriculum over the summer and have now redesigned it to fit into four topics per year group which I think will be a lot more feasible. Year 7 will still begin the year with a baseline assessment which I have now streamlined so it is predominantly self-marking using  Google Forms and Flubaroo, with only a few parts such as programming and information technology to be assessed manually by the teacher; the results of this are then put into a spreadsheet which automatically generates a level using the CAS Progression Pathways framework. The topics we will now be delivering are as follows:




    • 9.1 – Digital Imaging
    • 9.2 – Web Development
    • 9.3 – Computer Crime Lab (Still being developed)
    • 9.4 – Entry Level Computing (Still being developed. Lower ability completing ‘Life on Mars’ – using Kodu to simulate a colony on Mars then creating marketing materials for tourism on the planet – half complete).

Another challenge I have been investigating is how to effectively tackle feedback and assessment. In my department students do not print their work but instead all work is uploaded to our VLE (Google Classroom). At times marking has proved a little time-consuming due to opening several files that my students have uploaded, I also found much of my comments were just marking for marking’s sake rather than being truly informative.

Over the last few months I have been part of the school’s marking and feedback working party and within this we have addressed how to give more valuable feedback and cut-down on teacher workload. In computing we rely a lot on verbal feedback within lessons. As the work is largely practical it is not useful to collect-in 30 games students have made then give written feedback on these a week or so later, students need instant feedback so they can make progress while they are working on a particular topic so verbal feedback is much better for this, as is peer feedback. As a teacher what I really need to be able to do is assess the knowledge my students have acquired at the end of a topic rather than give mundane written comments throughout. At the end of a topic it is also clearly important that students understand the progress they have made in terms of their knowledge and recognise their achievements. To make life easier for myself and my team I have introduced the following assessment aspects into our curriculum:

    • Quality of work marks – in SIMS when writing reports students can be awarded 1 – 4 for quality of work, with 4 being ‘excellent’ and 1 meaning ’cause for concern’. We will be grading quality of work in the same way to ensure consistency.
    • Open badges – Students awarded with a mark of 4 (excellent) for a topic and homework will be awarded with an open badge to reward them for completing work to a high standard. All students who successfully collect a badge for every topic will be entered into a prize draw at the end of the year. These are awarded through a Google Doc shared with the students within Google Classroom, as shown here:

open badges

    • Virtual Workbooks – To help with assessment I’ve started to develop a virtual workbook for each topic. Students will complete this as they work through a topic meaning most of the content I need to assess is all in one file, making it quicker to mark. Luckily Google Classroom has a nice feature where I can share this document and automatically create a copy for each student. At the end of a topic there will be a multiple choice, self-marking test (made with Google Forms and Flubaroo) and within the Virtual Workbook there is a section to allow students to reflect and respond to the result of the test, giving them the opportunity to show they have improved their knowledge as well as allowing them to self-assess against the progression pathways statements. Here is an example of the Kodu Virtual Workbook so you can see how this works.

Let me know your thoughts below, or if you have any other ideas to contribute, please comment.