2012
07/08

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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?

2012
01/23

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Teaching

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2011
11/05

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Teaching

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Informal learning, wikis and other collaborations

Having followed through and read the article Steve Wheeler referred to in this tweet, I was struck that there've been a number of times recently where I've been thinking specifically in terms of how to share ideas and information across colleagues – in one case between schools, in another in my own school.

For the former, I'm trying to get a wiki off the ground and see what sorts of things can come from that.

For the latter, I've opted for setting up a simple rich-content page on the in-house VLE in the hopes that (non-ICT) people won't be too afraid to use it.

Now I just have to see how this all pans out; I'm confident that the people involved want to share the information, that's not the issue – the sticking point will be whether they remember, are willing (and can be bothered to do so) in such a public way.

Hmm…

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 🙂

Vive la difference!

2011
08/04

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Teaching

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Eureka moments

So, there I am pootling up and down the pool, not really concentrating on too much, when… Poof! I suddenly realise how I can at least try and make units about standard office software marginally more interesting. As ever, it's about making the activity real, something which my maths lecturer did his best to drum into me when I was training (thanks, Kev) and I obviously forgot to apply here in secondary… that'll teach me!

The thing of interest was the way in which the idea came to me – while swimming. I've had similar success with ideas that come to me in the shower. This got me reflecting on the blog entry by James Mitchie that I read earlier about finding (and using, I suppose) the places where you are best productive – apparently, I've found mine. It's taken a while, as I've not been regularly swimming for some time but I'm using the summer holidays to try and set up some "good routines" that I can hopefully then carry over into the new school year when things get busier 🙂

Oh, by the bye, my ideas? For the unit on word processing, I'm going to go with applying the techniques to a Project Gutenberg text; for spreadsheets, I'll be re-using a unit I tried last year on Fantasy Football; and for presentations (I'm least sure on this one) I'll try getting the pupils thinking about the various types of social media and appropriate/safe/proper usage.

2011
08/02

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Teaching

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What are your “must-have” office skills?

I’m thinking about next year, strangely. I’ve now been taken on permanently in ICT (yay!) and my new department head is very much a progressive sort. So, I’m starting to think about to plan out the road-map for the year. In particular, I’m wondering what to do with the new year 7 intake. The new Y8s are fine – I had some fun this last year doing animations in Scratch, presentations in Prezi, design in SketchUp as well as some work in Excel, so they’re okay. The new Y9s have at least a half-term already “blocked” for an introductory look at the OCR Nationals (in the form delivered by the local upper school), plus I want to do some work with them using GameMaker (thanks @ZoeRoss19 for the introduction to that one) – I’ll need to be thinking about more there, too.

But it’s the new Y7s that I’m focusing on at the moment; I’d like to deliver some short(-ish) student-led units looking at how to use the major features of office software, properly.

…And yes I do mean office software, not Office software. I’m hoping to get them using not only Microsoft Office (the standard school installation is still Office2003) but Google Documents and possibly even LibreOffice, too, for a wider exposure to the genre than just the norm.

So my point is this… what are your “must-have” office skills? For me, there’s a whole heap of skills that simply don’t get taught (maybe, actually, most people primary teachers included don’t know them) that make using office software bearable. Now I’m sure that units a-plenty have been written on using Microsoft Office, but (a) do they adequately cover the alternatives now available and (b) do they actually teach the right skills?

Word processor: styles, table of contents, mail merge, headers and footers (including page numbering), section breaks as opposed to page breaks
Spreadsheet: cell references (including to other tabs in the same document), standard formulae, validation, naming ranges, web queries, absolute vs relative cell references
Presentation: master sheet, consistent look, minimising words

And then, after all that, there’s what desktop publishing software is for (and why it isn’t the same as word processing) and also thinking about what databases are for and how to use them.

What have I missed? Am I re-inventing the wheel (again) to no good end?

2011
03/30

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Teaching

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Enfin! Pupil blogging!

Finally! I've managed to get some pupils blogging 🙂

Early days, mind, and they're only really doing it because I'm telling them to, but it's a starting point.

Most of the posts are of the "we did this, I thought it was [fun/bleurgh]" variety, but Rome wasn't blogged in a day. I'm going to be coming back to the site time and again as we carry on through the year, getting the pupils to try and think about their ICT lessons and to put their thoughts down to try and build up some communication between them; to get them to realise that theey aren't alone – if something is tricky for them, it probably will have been for others – but how did anyone deal with it? Can they (will they) take time to help each other out?

One stand-out post, for me, was this beauty from a Y9 rejoicing in the cognomen on "Mr Cow Snuggler" (don't ask why – I didn't dare ask, myself). I've been using it as an example of how to start successfully thinking about their own work in other groups… here's hoping it spawns more than a series of clones.

I'm hoping it gets them thinking.

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 🙂

Bring it!

2011
03/05

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Teaching

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While you were sleeping…

Had an LA subject leader network meeting on Friday. There was some excellent discussion about a number of things (some of which don’t affect me in KS3), like “Functional Skills” which don’t really crop up in my school (although “Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills” do) and some sad news regarding the way in which LA consultancy is now going to be organised.

But the main point I wanted to mull over, in the open, was the for-want-of-a-better-word-for-it… prevailing attitude. The deal had always been that, even though the consultancy team was being scaled back, they could organise these network meetings provided that we all chipped in and put forward some kind of idea of a talk that we could give on something we’d been doing in school.

So, first off, in a group of 16 or so ICT subject leaders (not just teachers… although, come to think of it, I’m not a subject leader so there may be others in the same boat) there were 3 people who were willing to come forward. Actually, make that 6 as 2 had already spoken on the work they’d been doing to introduce APP in their schools and another gent got a different slot as he had a specific target and audience (more on this onem in a second). But, in essence, 30% of people had something they could/would share? Really?

Putting that aside, the talks were mostly rather interesting – obviously aside from mine, but that goes without saying 😉 – one on how to introduce annotating, another on how he’s been introducing a “facade” pattern to get his staff to use APP and SIMs. The one stand-out talk for me, however, was the one on e-safety using Facebook as an example – obviously not really using Facebook in a classroom, as that might be dangerous, to actually allow us to give pupils access to the very thing they keep using in an unsafe manner at home, y’know? – and it was a genius example. The short unit (couple of lessons, I would imagine, if you took your time but the learning… oh the learning!) was essentially based on the idea that teenagers don’t listen, so no matter how many beautifully-shot educational videos you showed them on the dangers of social networking sites and how you really ought to think about what you post… they don’t listen.

So instead, he let them prove to themselves how dangerous it was. He mocked-up a Facebook page (which he told them he’d had to save locally as he couldn’t acces FB in school) and then slowly, gently, nudged them through how to work, effectively, stalk someone from the very small nuggets of information that people just don’t think about when they post. Like, what school they were at. And, what clubs they went to. And, what gigs they were going to. And… before the children realised it… they had a pretty good idea of where/when to find this person, where they lived (which they could find on Google) and even which window was theirs! Genius, I tell you! Of course, as ever, some weren’t happy. But personally, as I say, genius!

And then came the slump… as we tried to think about the next SLNM and how to share all these fab ideas and web-sites, the inevitable “I wouldn’t know how to find these out” or “as if I have time to do all this” came through. So I gritted my teeth. I bit my tongue. And I just made sure to swap email addresses with those that plainly *could* make the time and *do* know how to go about finding this out.

And yes, I’ll go to the next one and happily swap all the information I can. But I can’t help feeling a little disappointed that those attitudes are still prevalent in teachers whose very job is supposed to be to enthuse and inspire learners into making better use of technology.

2011
02/24

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Teaching

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Half-time… erm… term

So, it's half-term and although I'm trying to relax, I'm finding my evenings taken up with thoughts about teaching (no change there, then). Time to put some ideas down before I lose track of everything…

  • Twitter – having finally started getting to grips with lists, I am once again finding this a useful rather than overwhelming resource. On my phone (Android, I use TweetDeck) I can just follow the lists I need to keep an eye on and then scan through the "of interest, but not essential" ones at home (where I'm using Seesmic Desktop 2)
  • Pulling some of my units together into some semblance of "SoW"-like documents/collections (including the ideas I've had regarding using APP)
  • Keeping up with new tools, ideas, etc
  • Aviary's audio editor is definitely one to look into… ta @kvnmcl
  • SlideRocket will be interesting to play with as an alternative to PowerPoint (even tho I've already "done" presentations this year, using Prezi as well as PowerPoint)… ta @ICTEvangelist
  • SketchUp and the AR-media plugin from Inglobe Technologies will also be a "for sure" exploration for a unit later this year… ta @iteachyear4
  • Not quite sure yet how/whether this could be used in school, but Hit'n'Mix looks fascinating… ta, Dad
  • Following #ictcurric with a view to making-use-of and contributing-to the repository of knowledge (and the nice people, naturally)
  • Along with preparing for assessment data being due next week, that should keep me going 🙂