Monthly Archives: March 2013

2013
03/21

Category:
Teaching

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Victory!

Small beans, but our STEM czar ( @RedmoorSTEM ) has been running a wind power engineering challenge all week, and WE WON!

My intrepid team of 4 Y7s plus myself built the most successful wind powered crane – wish I’d taken photos now (actually, they did, as it turns out) – lifting a whopping 38ml of water!

I’m going to stick with the day job for now, I reckon 🙂

2013
03/19

Category:
Computing
Teaching

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My first after-school club

So I ran my first proper computing after-school club, this afternoon. This is my third year at the school, having transferred up from primary teaching, and I guess it’s fair to say that it’s taken me this long to feel ready and able to take it on and give it the attention I deserves. Nevertheless, it was a busy session, but one that I found rewarding… once I got my breath back!

As a school we had bought some Raspberry Pi computers to use at a poetry exhibition the school had put on at a local gallery (the Atkins Building gallery), to play recordings of the pupils reading their own poems. The clever gent who helped out it together had carefully popped them in a large plastic casing with buttons, wired onto the GPIO port, so that when you pressed one of the buttons the recording was played through the headphones.

Challenge one for us this afternoon, then, was to get into the cases and “liberate” the Pi’s. Running alongside that, I was busy imaging the pupils’s SD cards that they’d brought in (it seemed fair; we supply the Pi’s, they supply the SD cards – which, after all, they can then take home and use if they feel sufficiently inspired to buy one of these fabulous devices).

After that, it was “merely” a question of hooking them all up (we’re based in my normal ICT suite, so that involves connecting to the PC monitors with a HDMI-to-DVI cable, cannibalising the various PC that have USB keyboards and mice, plus swiping their network cables for the duration) and watching them all switch on… And they all worked! Yippee!

We then briefly talked about the concept of the console shell, X-windows, the superuser and access rights before it was time to show them how to shutdown again and put the lab back to normal, ready for tomorrow.

Next time, I’m hoping to get as far as configuring them to go through the school proxy, updating and then downloading and getting MinecraftPi up and running. The ultimate aim is to be teaching Python programming to these dedicated, geeky, few (I have had interest from about 12 pupils, 7 of whom turned up tonight).

Watch this space…

2013
03/18

Category:
Computing
Teaching

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Inspiration from within

So we have an incredibly dedicated Science teacher here in school. So much so that her efforts in the STEM area have just borne the most incredible fruit:

  • The Broadcom Masters Place
  • NSEC Junior Science and Maths Runner Up
  • NSEC Intermediate Science and Maths Runner Up (former pupil)
  • and recognition for the club itself

  • Young Engineers award for the “diversity of projects”

Massive congratulations to staff and pupils alike for all their hard work.

But now, us other STEM-related teachers are wondering what we should be doing, too? Me, I think I’m going to be trying out some programming-related activities on the Raspberry Pi, but I know the Maths department are also looking to get some projects going.

Time to share the spotlight around a bit, maybe?

2013
03/17

Category:
Computing

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First!

So here’s the first post on the new host (I’m with HippieHosting for the record, who, aside from a minor glitch in the PayPal process, have been seamless in letting me “get things done” on my shiny new site) and all looks good. I’m very happy with the facilities, the responsiveness seems excellent, now all I need to worry about is the bandwidth 😉

More anon.

2013
03/02

Category:
Teaching

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When they don’t do what you expect… #tmmk

Last night I attended TeachMeet Milton Keynes (#tmmk – I’ve tried to Storify the experience into a useful form here) and had a fabulous time; fabulous ideas, fantastic people, inspiring all-round.

I also tried to deliver a 2 minute nano-presentation but found that despite some rehearsing, on the evening I significantly over-ran and had to stop short (next time I’ll bite the bullet and put in for a full 7 minute slot, even if I finish short).

So below are the full ramblings and ideas I was trying to get across: the talk was titled as above and sub-titled “or how I learned to get over myself” and the slides I was using to accompany the talk are here on Google.

My background is in computers. I remember my Dad soldered together a Sinclair ZX80 as our first home computer when I was 9 or so, and it grew from there. After 13 years or so as a programmer, I feel I know my way around systems pretty well and being (as my sixth-form wrote me up as) suicidally pedantic, I make sure I know what I’m doing in software as best I can.

Which does mean I get a little exasperated with pupils who will insist on assuming that PowerPoint is the answer to everything:

  • Need a poster?
    • I’ll fire up PowerPoint.
  • Making a mind-map?
    • Hey, here’s PowerPoint.
  • Design a menu?
    • Ooooh, I could use PowerPoint.

Aargh!

So, I’ve got my year 9 groups working collaboratively on a project to “help” the owners to a flesh out a new cafe in town, producing such things as colour schemes, posters, booking systems, interior models, customer service training and the like. And, while I have had to beat off the odd inappropriate PowerPoint file, I’ve actually had to admit that there have been times when the pupils have made appropriate choices for software for tasks THAT I HADN’T EXPECTED.

Oopsie!

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For me, the learning actually starts slightly earlier this academic year, when a set 5 pupil asked whether he really had to use Publisher for the task (I think it was a poster, I was trying to get them thinking about backgrounds, page sizes, good colour schemes, etc – basic stuff, I know) or whether he could use Paint.NET (which, if you haven’t tried, you should). I hummed and hawed – he isn’t the best worker, and I was concerned he would just scribble something and call it quits.

How wrong could I be?

20 minutes later I was sat down next to him having a high-speed master class on best use of transparency in colours, on layers, Gaussian blurs and the like. It was from this encounter that I took home the lesson that I don’t actually know everything there is to know about computers (ouch!) and made a mental note to listen more carefully when pupils asked to use alternative software.

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Fast-forward a term or so and we are back in our cafe task.

Only now, where I asked for a 3d interior model, I naively assumed they would all turn to SketchUp (which we studied last year). Hah! I have a handful of groups using Minecraft. And using it WELL. One group have completely finished that part, then videoed themselves flying around their model giving me a guided tour. Some of the building tricks that I’ve seen in other groups have been, for me, breath-takingly fabulous. They know their onions, in that world, no doubt about it.

And finally, where I had asked for a “customer service training package” carefully trying to slant the task to get them thinking in terms of animations of customers entering the coffee shop to be grilled mercilessly about what they wanted, whether they wanted the cake of the day, etc (we’ve done animated nursery rhymes in Scratch, too) I instead get one group of girls recording themselves in a drama performance which they have then used iMovie to edit into a suitable training video!

I’m pleased, don’t get me wrong. Very pleased that for 9 out of 10 students, PowerPoint isn’t the default. But oh boy, was I wrong to try and assume that I knew what the “most appropriate” choice of tool for them.

Hopefully I won’t make that mistake again. Hopefully…