Category Archive: Computing

2013
03/19

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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

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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
02/14

Category:
Computing

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Feeding from Twitter into Evernote again

So, after talking with @IanYorston at BETT2013, I was once again determined to see whether I could get my workflow of posting my favourited tweets into EverNote. The problem being Twitter having shut off the part of their API that easily allowed such things to happen.

After only a short time Googling, I discovered this page which talked about using RSS feeds from your Twitter account. It also (if you read it) goes on to mention about Twitter shutting off their support for RSS feeds in favour of JSON by the end of this month.

Further research led to this article which posited the idea of creating a mini-app on the Twitter side to allow easy access to your account feeds and even gave a simple PHP script to access them.

“Aha,” thought I, “that should be easy!” You would have thought after 13 years of commercial development experience that I would have learned not to assume such things…

After much muttering, I do have a solution working, for free. I probably made things a little harder for myself by only working from my iPad, but I’m kind’f deliberately seeing how much I can actually get done without a laptop just by way of an experiment.

So here’s what I learned:

    • not all free hosts support curl, even though they support PHP scripting

    • online documentation is invaluable

    • once a developer, always a developer – even though I’ve never used PHP before (I was a JSP boy) I found I could follow things enough to get by

    In short, I now have a simple Twitter app registered for my web-site which allows the script to connect using OAuth, then GET my most recent favourites using the 1.1 API, converting the returned JSON to RSS so that my IFTTT recipe can trigger and store those ideas in EverNote.

    Any questions, you know where to find me 🙂

    2012
    07/08

    Category:
    Computing
    Teaching

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    Using Inform7 with English

    I love the idea of children programming in school. I’ve used Scratch, Kodu, done some simple HTML development and am mooching around with also using GameMaker, Greenfoot and Alice. But of particular personal interest is Inform7, an interactive fiction development platform that attempts to handle plain English to create games.

    The breakthrough for me came when I discovered that the head of English at my school was a bit of a computer games, in particular interactive fiction, geek. We bashed a few scenarios around and eventually came up with a plan for a one-day session which we ran successfully a couple of times. We showed children a story-heavy i-f game (in our case, it was Anchorhead) and then let them explore for a while. After a break we helped them plan out a small world of their own, modelled how to define locations and doors, and then let them loose to see what they could work together to produce. The results were great fun.

    So we decided to “think bigger” and opted to plan out a proper scheme of work, to try and build a full (still trying to think small) game in groups. Year 8 were the lucky volunteers, as they had a small gap at the end of the year and also, we thought their recent work on Shakespeare gave us an obvious “in” in terms of a story hook without curtailing their choices overly.

    The idea was that they would plan and write the creative descriptions in English, then work on turning that into a game in ICT. There were various technology-based hiccups (like when we opted to try and get them to map their world out in Prezi, but then English found they had spent entire lessons with ICT support in there having to reset passwords, etc) but overall English have found the experience a positive one (woo-hoo for cross-curricular working) so we are set to try again, next year, building on what we have learned.

    So… what have we learned? Well, for starters, I’ve learned a lot more about game development in Inform7! I’ve still a long way to go (so that’s part of my summer learning, right there) but it’s been brilliant having something geeky to get my teeth into. Also, I’ve learned that children’s imaginations are way less constrained than mine – some of the ideas they have come up (that I have had to read up on) have been fantastic! I’ve been thrilled with some of the work that otherwise troublesome pupils have done – obviously, this unit really inspired them.

    But I’ve also had to face that some children still found this very hard. So next year I think what we’ll do is get some of them to think of it purely in terms of freeze-framed tableaux… ie, how did the story end? if you could wander around at the end of (for us) Macbeth, then what would you see? What items would be lying around? What bodies? What would you be seeing, smelling, hearing, and so on. Perhaps, for some, the key is to link it to their creative writing and being able to use the computers to explore that world, rather than having to think of it in terms of game development, again.

    What do you think?

    2011
    02/07

    Category:
    Computing
    Teaching

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    ILID fun and games

    So our school has a number of days (ILID – integrate learning in-depth) where in the past there have been themes, usually per-year, that run through the day. But this time, the SLT opened it up to teachers to see if there was an idea that they would like to run that wouldn’t normally work within the confines of an hour (or a series of hour) lessons.

    I’ve tried, in the past, to run after school clubs building interactive fiction games (using Inform 7, for its natural language approach) having long enjoyed playing such games and seeing the myriad learning topics available in such ventures (ie problem solving, creative writing, logic, organisation and planning). But tomorrow, I’ve been let loose with 30 hand-picked children and a colleague (an English teacher) to try and introduce/teach the beginnings of building interactive fiction under the guise of “creative writing”!

    Let the good times roll 🙂