Tag Archive: ICT

2013
04/24

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Computing
Teaching

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After-school MinecraftPi sitrep

So I’ve have a few weeks of running the RaspberryPi after-school programming club and I have to say it’s been an interesting ride. In a way I’m a little disappointed with the lack of programming we’ve managed to achieve. But, on the other hand, the amount of Linux experience they’ve gained (to say nothing of the un-spoken appreciation – there’s been little to no grumbling – they’ve developed for the smoothness of systems like Windows and OSX) has been incredible.

So far, then, we’ve managed to set up and boot a RasPi. We then added configuration to try and work through the school proxy (more on that, later) and then managed to grab MinecraftPi (the “hook” I’m using to get them thinking about coding). This last week we finally managed to get a sample program working (this sample, actually, which draws an analogue clock in the sky) against a couple of the pupil’s MCPi instances.

From here, then, I hope to draw out the programming aspects of the club (using Geany to code Python against their own Minecraft instance, initially, although I hope to work up to running mini-competitions, eg building races, in one world) starting from more simple coding challenges like building a cube of a given material, working up to pyramids (well, ziggurats I s’pose, which I’m thinking must be possible with recursive calls).

So, what have I learned?

Well, it’s mostly been about what I’d do differently next time

Like, having a proxy-configured system image and working from there, instead of having to think on the hoof and get them to change configurations as we go. I could still get them to startup, update and install packages, run X and then shutdown… but I could do it from a position of strength, knowing that the proxy side of things will simply work!

Or, about double-checking the amount of background knowledge required,ย in order to be able to follow instructions I carefully set out, on how to set up the environment to use the proxy.

Finally, there’s a lesson in terms of not testing, testing and then re-testing (just to test that the testing was working) ideas, configuration and systems before blithely assuming that they would “all work okay” when put in front of pupils; no matter how keen and self-motivated they are, they’re only KS3 and don’t have my 13+ years of programming experience to fall back on when it doesn’t quite work first time because they mis-spelt “Aquire” or didn’t match case in a function definition.

So, one final thing about the proxy. We’re in one of the ex-EMBC counties that stuck with the Capita solution, which means we’re now using the WebShield proxy solution (albeit with custom certificates so I can now actually access Twitter across the school network) – this has been a right royal pain to work around, but for those interested, the answer seems to have been to actually put the proxy login in the configuration, as well as the proxy address.

So, for example,ย environment variables need to be set like http_proxy=http://user:password@webshield.embc.uk.com:80/ or, for apt-get to function, settings like Acquire::http::proxy "http://user:password@webshield.embc.uk.com:80/"; in the apt.conf file.

Anyone needing fuller details on any of this, don’t hesitate to comment/tweet me – I’m happy to answer questions.

2013
03/02

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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…

2011
09/11

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Teaching

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First week, looking back

Okay, so I survived. And more than survived, had fun. It was a busy week, in all the right places – lessons went well, a couple of new lunch time clubs were frenetic (in good ways, I felt) and my routine is now almost bedded in my head.

I’ve deliberately taken a new approach to lunch times, this year. Last year I was pretty much eating in there every day as children came in to “work” on odd bits of the stuff that had taken their fancy through the year – SketchUp, Kodu, Scratch – and, to be honest, nice tho’ it was to see them enthused, I needed the break.

So this year, I’m having two lunch time clubs – a weekly Minecraft club on an in-school server that I’ve talked the tech guys into installing, and a fortnightly race meeting on TrackMania Nations ๐Ÿ™‚

Vive la difference!

2011
03/19

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Teaching

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Cross-curricular developments

Just a quick putting down of ideas…

As a primary teacher, we were always being encouraged to think "cross-curricular" with our planning. So we did, and the children (mostly) seemed to enjoy it – literacy tied in with science for explanations or non-chronological reports. Science tied in with history, when we studied rocks as part of a topic on castles. The possibilities are endless, when you're in charge of a single class all day , every day.

In secondary, the position changes ever so slightly, of course. I only see each child for 1 hour a week and, most often, other subjects already have their units planned. We're lucky in our school (I don't have much other secondary experience to compare with) in that we have a number of "ILID" days where teachers are being encouraged to head down that cross-curricular route and to plan a day when pupils get to explore much more in the way of "joined-up" subjects (bleurgh… I hate that phrase!). I've already put down thoughts about how that can work out here.

But… I wanted (and hoped for) more. So I've been talking to the English and also the Design and Technology departments and trying to think of ways to build this sort of thing into our normal, everyday, teaching. First stop is English, where I've pitched the idea of using our (newly created) year blogs to publish their writing for feedback (not just from within, hopefully) alongside my own wanting to get them describing their thinking (selfish, I know, but it seems the natural way to be able to assess them at level 6 and upwards if they've already gone through the process of justifying their decisions in a blog post) in ICT. Next, also in English, I've mooted the idea of trying to develop a full unit of work using Inform 7 (like we did in the ILID day) where English take care of the creative writing and possible story outcomes and I take care of the interactive fiction development. And finally, in Technology, we've been thinking about the skills and experience the children would need for certain projects and how I could be demonstrating/using those skills in ICT before they'll need them elsewhere, so as to be able to make better use of their workshop lesson times.

Plus I've been managing to keep an eye on various sites being promoted on my Twitter feeds and passing the more interesting applications on to the relevant departments – I'm meeting with the head of MFL on Tuesday afternoon to have a play with tools like Voki and VoiceThread (have I missed any?) and see what she, a self-proclaimed-technophobe thinks.

The responses all seem to be positive – it's going to be an exciting finish to an already exhilarating year ๐Ÿ™‚

Bring it!

2011
02/20

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Teaching

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…one giant leap for me!

So, today I attended TMM11 – TeachMeet Midlands 2011 – which was, as ever, inspiring. We enjoyed any number of cracking talks: a couple about game-based learning (one using Xbox Kinect, the other on Mario Kart), a fabulous insight into using Aviary in both primary and secondary settings (the latter by Helen Morgan / @nellmog) in a fabulous insight into how to get my own pupils enhancing their animations ๐Ÿ™‚ and a wry look at learning the lessons of practical fault finding.

For me, though, the highlight (lowlight? most terrifying part, certainly) was finally putting my mouth where my money is, so to speak, and delivering a short, unrehearsed, talk on the unit I delivered initially to Y9 (and now to Y8) using Scratch to produce an animated short story. My thoughts, such as they were can be summarised as

  • use simple tutorials to get the children engaged in using Scratch (which isn’t usually too hard, as it’s sooooo engaging)
  • get them to plan a story on paper (which can help with APP AF2c – “can we give your storyboard to someone else to animate?”)
  • extend their use of searching (which can help with AF3a, and have found the Common Craft video very amusing, here)
  • possibly use some image manipulation software to trim borders from sprites to leave them on transparent backgrounds – we used Paint.NET (which can arguably help with AF1a)
  • (the one I forgot) you can demonstrate the use of sub-routines (kind of) by using Scratch “messages”, which then opens the pupil up to level 6 on AF2b

Apart from the usual adrenaline rush I always get from new endeavours, all was good. The only mild frustration was in not talking about the use of “sub-routines” in Scratch – another notch on the APP tick-chart – but was flattered by the positive comments I received. Thanks, all – I think it helped being sat where I was, and being encouraged by the redoutable Zoe Ross / @zoeross19 and friends.

So, in short, that was one small leap for teacher-kind, but… ๐Ÿ™‚

2011
02/07

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Teaching

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Safer Internet Assembly

So, I was asked to work with a colleague to prepare (and consider delivering) the Monday whole-school assembly on internet safety. Not wanting to just regurgitate the standard opions, videos and what-not, I put in a little time to take the default secondary assembly from the site, put a little personal spin on it and re-jig it as a Prezi (which I’ve been teaching at both Y8 and Y9 at various points this year) for that extra “fun” factor.

I was rather pleased with it – it’s here, if it’s of any use to anyone else – and was delighted that a number of colleagues and even a few children commented on it. So, as “firsts” go, this one was distinctly… okay. 

Thanks to the SLT for the edible thank you/reward – who says only children are motivated by chocolate? ๐Ÿ™‚

And I thought I was busy before?

Wow-ee! What a week! I feel confident in saying that even tho’ it is only Thursday.

For starters, my class teachers has a little boy (who incidentally, as it turns out, managed to poke himself in the eye with his drinks beaker on Thursday with sufficient force to draw blood and to warrant a three hour stop in ED) who had been very poorly all weekend, so when their GP said to take him back to hospital, in case of further complications following his bang in the eye, she understandably went with him.

Which, of course, left me high and dry!

Thankfully, cover was found for the morning as we had an off-site activity (planting at a local park with the “Streetwise” council group), but it meant I had to lead the afternoon again (thankfully ICT and a story time) on my tod. Ah well – all good experience.

Turns out the little fella has gastro-enteritis (and a fairly bad bout, by the sounds of it) so my class teacher duly turned up again on Tuesday morning, back to a normal routine, so I got to observe an RE lesson and a literacy session on riddles (at Y2 they aren’t very difficult, don’t worry) then lead the afternoon for mathematics and another story time (yup, plenty of them, which is nice).

Wednesday was interesting again, however, as my class teacher’s husband duly caught a dose of said g-e from their “little darling” which meant that my mentor (the head) had to take the morning session, then observe me teaching literacy after the break! Joy, oh joy! After feedback (best summarised with her quote “don’t get me wrong, it was good – but we can make it very good”) I then led science – an investigation into forces and movement – and my first ever “show and tell” (which was scary, but I escaped with only minimal maulings, thankfully).

This morning, still no class teacher – so the head once again stepped in and led the class in PE, then thankfully arranged for another teacher to come and assist for the rest of the morning (numeracy then break, followed by literacy).

*phew*

I was due to be “non-contact”this afternoon, which I had hoped to use for writing some of the assignment which is due in just under a fortnight, but after a quick meeting with my mentor I was “persuaded” to stay on the premises and catch up with the heaps of paperwork (lesson reflections, planning for tomorrow, etc) in which I had fallen behind.

The meeting wasn’t bad – my mentor was concerned that I was lagging with the paperwork, feeling unsupported and generally having a miserable second placement. Thankfully I was able to then state my position and between us I think we both left the meeting content that the situation wasn’t as bad as she might have feared.

I was able to mollify her further by pointing out that I knew I must have done better today as two of the children in my class came and gave me a hug at lunch time.

*sigh*

2007
02/17

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Teaching

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…and there’s the half time whistle!

Or should that be “half-term”? Both, I guess as this marks the half-way point of my! Eep! Where has the time flown? (Don’t answer – that’s a rhetorical question).

And so concludes the first part of my training. After half-term I’m working in an infants school (year 2) for four weeks, to fulfill the twin DfES requirement to have experience of two key stages (predominantly KS2 at my main school, KS1 in my second placement) and of two different schools.

It’s been a roller-coaster of a start to a new career… and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m certainly not going back to office life (dull dull dull). There is a certain amount of trepidation regarding the second placement (being among the “little people” for starters) with the school being so much bigger (9 classes of just infants compared to my main school which has 5 classes for the entire primary school), but I’m continually being reassured by the staff at my main school that I’m doing fine and will continue to do fine.

So that’s nice.

As a final “icing on the cake” moment, a few of my children had spent quite an amount of time – I’ve been aware they were working on something for the last few weeks in their playtimes – on a presentation, which was duly played at the beginning of my last lesson with them on Thursday. 41 slides!

Not quite “The Return of the King” (thankfully significantly less than the 251 minutes of the extended edition) but not a bad effort for a trio of 9-10 year-olds – obviously the sequence of work we did on multimedia (working up from posters to presentations) did pay off to some extent.

*sigh*

2006
12/22

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Teaching

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1 down 2 to go

So here it is, “Merry Christmas”… and that’s one term down and two to go. I’m shattered, but in a good way trust me.

The school production took up the great majority of the final few weeks – lessons were fit around rehearsals, although the sequence on “The Charge of the Light Brigade” that I’d been working on was squeezed in a fair bit (along with a few maths lessons on negative numbers to be sure that the children had met their targets for the term) with the odd ICT lesson on posters and presentations.

It’s so hard to know what to say, here. The situation has changed so much since I started, that I’m not totally sure which way is up any more. I’m petrified at the thought of qualifying, yet desperately concerned that I’ll never be ready and so won’t pass muster when it comes to assessment time. (This was mitigated to some extent when my mentor assured me that he still wasn’t convinced he’d ever be ready by the half-term in the summer term of his PGCE training).

This has been a wonderful first term – the school is excellent, the staff supportive and helpful and the children… well, most of the time they’re lovely, too.

Now, next term, I just have to get my head around all of the paperwork hoops through which I need to jump in order to qualify! Wish me luck… eep.

2006
11/13

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Teaching

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Observed, moi?

I survived! Yay!

Actually, it all went rather well, in the end. The lesson itself was much smoother than last week and in other areas my work seems to be okay, too.

My link tutor was, I think, rather impressed with the lesson content (she actually said she’d normally have tackled that sort of thing with Y6 pupils) and noted that I’d successfully explained the objectives and had challenged the higher ability children as well as keeping the others engaged… and also complemented me on my burgeoning class management skills (sink or swim does work as a learning strategy, y’see).

All of my notes and files are okay, although I need to start evaluating/reflecting on my own lessons (something I’ve been doing orally with my class teacher and mentor, but needs to be written in some form) and collecting the various bits of evidence that I’ve actually done all that I’m supposed to (which apparently consists of me getting staff to outline and sign bits of paper).

So I’m pretty happy, all in all ๐Ÿ™‚