Using Excel, Macros and @Evernote for Course Planning

I use Evernote a lot. I store interesting tweets, grab sections of web pages for later, have a form of GTD in there (The Secret Weapon) to keep me focussed. I took part in the 30-day paperless challenge in September and had a lot of fun seeing what was possible. I’ve even started to get my colleagues interested in using Evernote. And last month I was very happy to discover my work opened up access to the web version of Evernote.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now: There has been a distinct disconnect in my workflow. Found an interesting link? Send it to Evernote. Got a unit to develop? Plan it up in Evernote and assign a task in my GTD stack. Plan my weekly lessons? A paper desktop planner with scribbled notes on which resources I need to have ready?! It’s really daft but, up until recently, it was the most accessible way to work. I’ve even found myself taking pictures of my planner pages and sending them to Evernote so I can check I’m ready for the coming week!

Two weeks ago I attempted to set up an electronic planner in Evernote from my workplace. The web version didn’t really like being pasted into from a Word document and screwed up all the formatting and numbering so I figured I needed a few hours investigation time and a desktop version of Evernote to make progress. This weekend I made time.

Firstly I wanted to be able to create a template with the correct number of rows for each particular class for each term, so I created a simple macro that took values (class name, start date, end date, number of periods per week) and used them to populate a new Excel worksheet. Here’s the VBA if you want to use it yourself:

Sub btnCreateTermPlanner()
Dim AddSheetQuestion As Variant
Dim StartDate As String
Dim EndDate As String
Dim noPeriods As Integer
Dim noPPW As Integer

StartDate = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(1, 2)
EndDate = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(2, 2)
noPeriods = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(5, 2)
noPPW = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(4, 2)

AddSheetQuestion = Application.InputBox(“Please enter the name of the sheet you want to add,” & vbCrLf & _
“or click the Cancel button to cancel the addition:”, _
“What sheet do you want to add?”)
‘ create new workbook
ActiveSheet.Name = AddSheetQuestion
ActiveSheet.Move After:=Worksheets(Worksheets.Count)
‘ add header text
Cells(2, 2) = AddSheetQuestion
Cells(3, 2) = StartDate & ” – ” & EndDate & “, ” & noPPW & ” periods per week.”
Cells(5, 2) = “#”
Cells(5, 3) = “wb.”
Cells(5, 4) = “Topic”
Cells(5, 5) = “Learning Objectives”
Cells(5, 6) = “Resources”
‘ number rows
Call NumberPlanner(noPeriods)

‘ date rows
Call DatePlanner(noPeriods, StartDate, noPPW)

Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Columns(4).ColumnWidth = 30
Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Columns(5).ColumnWidth = 30
Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Columns(6).ColumnWidth = 30
End Sub

Sub NumberPlanner(ByVal noPeriods As Integer)
Dim count1 As Integer
For count1 = 1 To noPeriods
Cells(count1 + 5, 2) = count1
Next count1
End Sub
Sub DatePlanner(ByVal noPeriods As Integer, ByVal StartDate As Date, ByVal noPPW As Integer)
‘ One date at the start of every week
Dim date1 As Integer
Dim wb As Boolean
Dim daycounter As Integer
Dim weekcounter As Integer
wb = True
daycounter = noPPW
weekcounter = -1
For date1 = 0 To noPeriods – 1
If daycounter = noPPW Then
wb = True
daycounter = 0
weekcounter = weekcounter + 1
End If
If wb Then
Cells(date1 + 6, 3) = StartDate + (weekcounter * 7)
wb = False
End If
daycounter = daycounter + 1

Next date1

End Sub

It’s not refined and I have to admit I can’t remember how to make the macro populate a Word document directly yet but the code above generates something a little (ok, exactly) like this:

A little manual formatting after copying and pasting into Word resulted in this:

Finally, copying and pasting into the desktop version of Evernote was a breeze. It even took in the document header and footer (I’d recommend removing the footer as an Evernote note does not have a page break!).

The time consuming part will be linking Evernote notes into the resources column for each lesson, but I’m happy the structure is there. The aim is that, once completed, these plans will not only be synchronised between home and work (reducing the need for those photographs of paper planners!) but that revising them will be much more efficient as I can immediately add in a new resource or interesting news article link when I find it (because they always appear three months before or after you actually need them). If my colleagues need to look at them for any reason I can send it quickly via email.

The ultimate goal? No paper planner at all for my lessons. These folk have already managed it and, if the web version can handle editing the newly created notes, it won’t take long until I manage it too.

Are we insulating our 21C learners from critical thinking?

Today is the 30th anniversary of the ZX Spectrum. This little box of wires, alongside some forward-thinking parents who patiently saved up to buy one for the family, crafted my career plans and interests from a very early age. Five to be precise. I know I am not alone in being introduced to computers at this early an age, especially in the 1980s, but to me there is a clear difference between the children using iPads and those who used ZX Spectrums (or their contemporaries): real critical thinking.

Today’s computers provide so much functionality and are so integral to the day-to-day life of the family there is much less time dedicated to tinkering. Even when your child gets a chance to experiment they are insulated from the core functions of the computer by helpful graphical user interfaces, voice recognition, touch screens and thousands of pre-written apps. So your toddler can swipe and pinch an iPad screen? Fantastic, but in ten years time how much further will they have progressed? Computer experience akin to bubble wrapping the user is rarely going to inspire, but what about if they could move on to change the way the iPad functioned without the need for expensive developer licences or extra hardware? What if they could tinker, knowing that if the worst happened they could reboot to a stable state and start again?

You thought this was another plug for the Raspberry Pi didn’t you? Not this time. To my dismay, the same insulation is happening in the classroom. As teachers we strive to make learning accessible to all, so we create many ways to access the same information: text, presentations, podcasts, video lessons, wikis, blogs. And we keep doing it, adding an extra layer to the fact bubble surrounding our learners. We explain, they absorb and we watch for signs that they aren’t understanding it before adding another layer and starting again. I’ve experienced this more and more in the last seven years of teaching and think the solution is as simple as the ZX Spectrum itself. Users who tinkered with the computer engaged more deeply than those who simply tried to load a tape: learners who tinker with the resources should more fully grasp the concepts contained within them. As teachers we should stop removing the possibility for divergent thinking from our learners by overloading them with all the solutions in all 52 flavours.

Today, in not so many words, I was asked to provide transcripts for videos which I had selected and included in a set of theory notes. Admittedly this was the first time I had heard this kind of request but then again two years ago I wasn’t recording video summaries. Or dividing up my non-contact time into podcast friendly chunks. It made me stop and think – is this approach actually helping or hindering my pupils? Is our eagerness to engage removing the challenge and spark or interpreting knowledge in a unique way?

Improving learner-teacher dialogue using Edmodo

On Friday afternoon I heard some great news. My school is to extend the trial of Edmodo until Christmas, allowing other teachers in my department to experiment with using Edmodo to positively impact their learning and teaching. This may prove to be the beginning of a big change in whole school policy as, up until now, use of external websites was limited to passive teaching resources such as YouTube and Prezi – only teachers were allowed access.

As part of the approval process I wrote a report on how my Higher Computing class made use of Edmodo in their classwork, homework and preparation for assessment. I was able to answer the concerns of the school’s IT manager with regard to data protection and responsible use. I’ve embedded the document below for anyone else who is interested in investigating Edmodo further.

If the extended trial proves successful Edmodo could become the main resource for allowing external access to pupil resources and, most importantly, providing learners with a permanent record of their knowledge development in a place where it is much less likely to be lost or damaged. Learner-teacher dialogue can be referenced and revisited; gaps in knowledge due to absence could be filled; knowledge could be pulled from the class group rather than pushed. I intend to share my experiences in using Edmodo with my colleagues and blog readers in the coming months.

I’m excited about the possibilities but know Edmodo is not a magic bullet. As part of my research into how Edmodo is used worldwide I set up a Twitter search via TweetyMail and received hourly summaries peppered with disillusioned, confused and angry students who were being forced to use the service simply because it was there, not because it enhanced the classroom experience. I can see the benefits of opening classroom discussion with carefully crafted questions on Edmodo, where every learner has the opportunity to contribute not just the one who thinks fastest. However I can also see the potential for misuse by the minority who want to use Edmodo to keep their classes quiet or too busy to realise that their needs are not being met. It needs to be used in a carefully considered way where it should enhance the learning and teaching of all students in the classroom, but teachers also need to bear in mind that it offers the advantage of being able to hold a 1:1 discussion over a long period of time. The teacher has to make time to read the comments and adapt their usual classroom practice to best serve their learners.

So, in short, it offers the opportunity to deliver a flipped classroom model of education. I’ll investigate this further in future blog posts.

Getting ready for a safari

Tomorrow I take my laptop, preloaded with Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth, to the Junior school to immerse the class in a scenario closely linked to the work they are doing with their primary teacher. I only have an hour with them, so want to make sure everything is set up to work as quickly as possible.

Originally I had wanted to make use of a Nintendo Wii with Wild Earth African Safari but this was not possible (or affordable) as a proof of concept in the timeframe available, so I found an old copy of Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth for PC and installed it on my laptop.
It looks brilliant when displayed on the data projector and allows the players to take part in a virtual animal photograph safari – taking shots for magazine articles. The photos taken in the games are automatically saved to the user’s My Pictures directory on the PC, meaning that they can be used in other applications at a later date. I think this is also possible in the Nintendo Wii version of the game but imagine it’s a little trickier to get the images onto a PC.


When you complete an assignment your photos are inserted into a magazine article = instant reward!


The main advantage of a Nintendo Wii over a laptop is that the wireless wii controller supports exploration of the game by groups of learners sat in front of the SmartBoard. I’ve read posts by Dawn Hallybone and Nicky Newbury who maximise the interactivity of the class by pairing up learners and having one pupil move and the other take the photographs. The laptop could allow this but would mean a lot of moving around and swapping places, so I wanted to try and find the best way to interact with the game wirelessly. There is a GyroMouse in my classroom but no sign of drivers or installation CDs and I wanted to be able to use the keyboard wirelessly as well. Then I remembered reading about using an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse and found Logitech TouchMouse, an app which not only allows users to control the mouse pointer on the PC using the portable device but also access its keyboard. I installed it and after a little bit of fiddling with Windows 7’s firewall settings (you need to allow it to access the Private networks, not Public – go through Control Panel for this) I got it to work!

The only issue with using the iPod Touch as a wireless controller is that it needs a wifi connection that is shared with the laptop to communicate. This is a real issue in school where there are no wireless routers and a very tight rein on network security. When I was Mobile Learning Leader for Inverurie Academy I investigated using the school’s MacBook White to set up ad-hoc wifi networks to allow iPods to access the Internet. There was little success with the Internet-access part, but the iPods were all able to communicate with each other. If only there was a way to do this in Windows 7 I thought – and luckily enough, there is!

After a little Google searching I found Virtual Router – a freeware program which allows your laptop to be set up as a wifi hotspot with the intention of sharing its Internet connection with other devices. Set up is incredibly simple – you give your ad-hoc network a name and a password and it uses WPA2 encryption to ensure no rogue devices interfere with the laptop!

“at this moment i am typing part of my blog using the ipod touch wireless keyboard – i have turned off all connection to the INTERNET and only had to restart the logitech touchuse wireless server!”

It seems to work best if you access the iPod app before starting the Logitech TouchMouse wireless server. If you don’t you may find that the devices don’t connect.

Unfortunately although the keyboard presses do get sent to the laptop, using the keyboard for games control seems impossible. Neither Logitech nor HippoRemote Lite allowed me to control the game character so I may need to allow one child to use the laptop. This may mean one learner is looking at the laptop screen instead of the SmartBoard but if I can position the laptop in a suitable place it may be a minor issue.

I ran through the first assignment on my own and it took about 40 minutes – too long for the lesson tomorrow but if I can set up saved games to allow the class to jump in at appropriate points (meeting the elephant herd for the first time, giraffes grazing, the swimming crocodiles around the elderly elephants) I feel that the class will be able to generate excellent material for their podcasts.

If you have been using computer games to augment your teaching and learning I highly recommend you visit the Consolarium site. This service, offered by Education Scotland (new name for LT Scotland) aims to explore and share how the appropriate use of computer games can have a positive impact on teaching and learning. It has received international praise and attention, and for good reason.

The coffee shop as a classroom: mobile learning environments

Image shared under Creative Commons licence - Kate Williams

I like coffee. No – let me rephrase that – I LOVE coffee. It plays a big part in my teaching – at times providing a versatile prop for explaining the difference between an object and operation, at others simply providing the nervous energy to keep the learners learning. (I’ve been re-reading #MoveMeOn, curated by Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw. thanks to @frankcrawford for that particular gem!)

I managed to clear my desk on Thursday earlier than planned so took the opportunity to walk around the three shopping malls near my new workplace. Not just to kill time (heaven forbid Mr McCormac!), I wanted to expand an ongoing series of lessons on data protection and loyalty schemes I had delivered to my S4 ICT class earlier in the term and me having an up-to-date knowledge of the businesses in the local area was a pre-requisite. It didn’t take long to complete what I needed to do (UK shopping malls or shopping centres are much smaller than in the US with perhaps 20-40 stores, some smaller) so I had a quick stop at the Apple store in Aberdeen to eavesdrop of a group of six pensioners who were being shown how to use their brand new iPads then started my lunch break at the nearby Starbucks with a crème brulee macchiatto and a quick refresh of my social media sites on their free wi-fi.

It was a lot busier than usual – I had, in the past, only used this particular Starbucks as a go-to when late afternoon trains were cancelled and I had an hour or so to kill before the next one – but I found a small table with plenty of scope for people-watching. The coffee-house furniture is a mixture of hard back chairs and small “regular” tables, sofa chairs and low tables, benches and long tables, stools and narrow bars. Students, parents, office workers and transients like myself sat and chatted, read quietly, enjoyed their purchases and from time-to-time accessed their devices if they had them and if they needed to. A few of my Advanced Higher Computing students had had a similar idea to my own, joined me at my table (they asked first!) and then… we had a fantastic unplanned seminar on what had been taught over the past few weeks, about mobile apps, about Steve Jobs, about programming, about social media,  and then finally about learning spaces! During this enthralling conversation (I think we all learned a lot in this half-hour) one asked why schools didn’t create spaces like this and I saw immediately what he meant because it had been percolating in my head at that moment too. Why can’t we all have learning rooms where the furniture offers visitors choice of working areas, where the wireless Internet access is a background consideration that “just works with a quick log-in”, where there isn’t a designated space for the teacher to lecture from, where learning becomes personalised? All three of us had mobile devices on the table between the cups and plates and augmented our conversation with these when we needed to: I showed them Twitter for example and explained why it was such a great resource for me to make contact with others who share similar interests. I posted this tweet:

Coffee chains have undoubtedly studied the effect of their environment on their customers from a financial point of view and have generally come to the conclusion that a varied, customisable, slightly eclectic environment is the worm that keeps us on the hook. So who is doing this for education? There are educators in each authority, in roles from classroom to management, who are striving to find the best furniture or layout for existing classrooms. Most of us tend to tinker with our rooms if we can. But if you’ll indulge the point of view of a Computing teacher for a moment (well you’ve got this far!) this may be the problem – moving the furniture in any space which has been built to deliver the Victorian model of education has inherent restrictions but when you also have electrical equipment, cables and power sockets to worry about you really can’t change very much without the firm belief and financial support of your school management team. And then you move on and the next teacher has a different idea… it’s really not that feasible an option for any subject with fixed resources.

But why do they have to be fixed? Hasn’t the last decade of technical innovation shown that mobile devices are here to stay? That an increasing number of learners arrive in classrooms with devices that can easily be personalised to suit their learning, rather than forcing the learner to make use of a machine set up to a generic specification? Are educators really, as a group, nervous about losing control?

And who is studying the effect of the coffee shop environment on learners? Well, a few have come to my attention. I stumbled on a paper whilst writing this blog post called “The Classroom Coffeehouse” which focusses on reworking the layout of an English classroom to promote sharing of written work between New Jersey 8th graders – well worth a read! Also highly recommended is the well-considered post “The Coffee Shop: A Classroom for Creativity, Reflections from a Coffee Shop in Harbin, China“. The Edinburgh Coffee Morning model is something which I envied a few years ago while at Inverurie and provides a nice text break below!

Edinburgh Coffee Morn Stop Frame from brandfeed on Vimeo.

Edinburgh Coffee Morning: from Mike Coulter, on Vimeo.

Last night I read Angela Maiers’ post “What If You Knew You Mattered?” where she describes an increasingly common experience of customer non-service where recognition of failure and empathy with the customer would do much more than a discount voucher. It’s at the core of GIRFEC policy for teachers to make their learners feel included and respected while at the same time encouraging their development as respectful and inclusive citizens. The two words “you matter” apply to each young person who steps into your classroom, but if you are delivering your education as if you were working a conveyor belt at a factory when do you have the time to make sure your well planned generic summaries (and even the differentiated materials) are actually arriving at their destination? Through spending some time listening to the learners and learning something new yourself. Where better than the relaxed environment of a coffee shop?

I’m not advocating that we all abandon our classrooms for the nearest coffee chain but that school leaders and decision makers take a look around the wider world and really see what engages people. I highly recommend you view the articles, blog posts and videos I’ve linked to if you are in any way interested in developing mobile learning, and please suggest more using the comments option below! I am already planning to make this chance meeting a more formal part of my teaching at upper secondary level in the next term and although, yes, it will be more work initially filling in risk assessments and carefully planning my mobile lessons and – depending on the numbers – speaking nicely to the manager of the coffee shop! Escaping the classroom might be just what our learners need, and all it took was a coffee.

Helping to elicit the stories…

A Wild Question

I love first thing Monday morning. Does that make me weird? Since starting my new job I have been fortunate to be able to teach primary school classes as well as secondary pupils. The role of an ICT specialist as opposed to that of a secondary classroom teacher is quite different: to begin with the class sizes are larger but the main difference is that ICT is taught to enhance the project work primary pupils are undertaking in their current term – the aim of curriculum for excellence in secondary school. This has a number of benefits: extrinsic motivation, longer learning periods (comparatively – perhaps not true for all schools), deeper learning. Also as the ICT needs to help pupils progress toward completion of their termly topics, it requires more in depth knowledge/experience from the teacher.

For example, I am preparing my primary 7 pupils to record and edit an interview. The ICT part is teaching Audacity skills but I also have to frame it within good interview and audio production techniques. This means lots of question and answer sessions with the class, quickly building a good relationship with the pupils is important when they are going to be recording their voice and receiving honest, constructive feedback. So I made sure that I exemplified bad interview technique during the first week and then referred to it in the second. This shows that I am comfortable making mistakes in their presence, hopefully building trust for future lessons where I hope they can make mistakes without fear!

Anyway Monday’s lesson focussed on questioning skills. I wanted them to realise that they needed to think carefully about their questions and try to get the interviewee to share their story instead of give a short response. The pupils combined audio clips to match a text transcript of selected closed questions I had asked them during last week’s lesson and then the responses the pupils gave me. We then listened to the restructured audio and discussed how to adapt these closed questions to elicit a story – or at least more detail! There was some great discussion at this point about what could be classed as an open and closed question – I just sat back and let it happen around me. Learning was clearly in progress and I would just interrupt it if I butted in!

The pupils then worked on their own examples of open questions and we finished the class with the pupils interviewing me using a few of their questions. They really did themselves proud by eliciting a few stories from me and by listening carefully to inform their follow-up questions. I can’t wait until next Monday morning!

Photograph courtesy of [F]oxymoron – A Wild Question: (creative commons)

When you’re not on a cloud you fall a long way

This will be a quick post.

I’m having to re-jig my work processes. It really is a bit of an unfortunate pain, and would be entirely unnecessary except for more strict work ICT policies. Anyway, to summarise these policies bar any kind of social networking or cloud file sharing and insist that files are transferred via USB pen drive or email. Ok then…

2010 and early 2011 were an extremely productive time for me thanks mainly to services such as Dropbox, Twitter, Google Mail, Google Calendar, Google Sites, Google Docs, Prezi and WordPress. I love them all and heartily recommend you sign up for accounts today! These sites were openly available to staff at my previous school and not a single virus or malicious piece of code was launched via the above sites in the time we used them. Whether this was luck or good network management I do not know but being given the autonomy to leverage these services improved the development work I completed as well as making the day-to-day learning and teaching more high impact through extremely up-to-date information related to the course which I could access with a simple Twitter search or Dropbox click; more accountable through constant use of Google Forms for unit evaluations; more accessible through use of Google Sites and Google Documents to distribute course notes, tasks and homework to the pupils and through issuing of a teacher GMail address through which pupils could ask questions and get quick, individual feedback. These were all fantastic successes in improving pupil motivation and results. I was also in the process of extending the use of Google Calendar to provide pupils with catchup notes on lessons missed as well as remove the need for me to carry a teacher planner.

Tonight I sat down to complete some planning for two of my five lessons tomorrow. One was a Primary 7 task which will require them to re-order some interview audio clips after reading a text transcript and participate in a discussion about a bad interview example to highlight good interview technique. The other was an Advanced Higher Computing lesson on the system investigation part of the Software Development Process. Both required Word documents and the Advanced Higher lesson needed a PowerPoint.

In the past it would not have mattered where I was and what machine I was using – I would be able to access the files and applications I needed. As Dropbox synchronises between your computer file system and the cloud you can ensure you always have the most up-to-date file version. My USB pen drive collective were banished to a desk drawer. They’re back in my bag now and let me tell you, finding the most up-to-date file is now a royal pain. I also am in the process of waiting for software4students to issue replacement Office 2010 DVDs so am using the Starter edition (limited to Word and Excel) in the meantime. So to update PowerPoints I had to upload to Google Docs and then convert (usually losing a lot of formatting in the process), make the changes then download the updated file and save to the USB again. I remembered tonight that you can edit PowerPoint documents using but the upload / download process still interferes with the smooth organisation of files previously enjoyed.

I realise that this blog post is a bit of a rant against something that I cannot – at the moment – change but I felt this experience was worth sharing for the benefit of those who had not yet attempted to work using cloud file services and who had not yet experienced the huge benefits of leveraging the myriad Google applications that exist. Once you enjoy background synchronisation of files, shared calendars, high impact presentations, highly motivated and helpful educators on tap and can begin to remove some of the barriers to personal and professonal organisation, you don’t really want to go back. And when you’re forced to for no reason other than another person’s fear, it hurts.

Augmented Reality using a webcam and laptop

I’ve long been jealous of those mobile smartphone types with their fancy embedded cameras and their Junaio, Layar and Aurasma apps. With my iPod Touch 2G I can get the apps but not the content and the closest I can get to mobile augmented reality is to watch cool videos on YouTube as I walk, or stick post-its to my headphones and play pretend…

I set myself a summer holiday target to find out more about Augmented Reality and to try and get it working on a laptop. I knew it was possible but Google searches tended to get bogged down with iOS or Android apps. However this evening I stumbled upon a web-based service called EZFlar. This site allows you to link an image, 3D model, movie, text or hyperlink to one of five fixed marker images extremely quickly (not too sure how it handles recalling the generated AR projects though – here’s a link to what should be an image of Bloom’s Taxonomy…), however this blog briefly discusses how to extend this by downloading the EZFlar program to your own machine and indulging in a bit of Flash ActionScript coding. Definitely something I’m going to try out!

I also put a tweet out asking for help in finding laptop-friendly AR applications. I had two responses, both suggesting which uses Google Earth 3D models and a fixed marker image. It was really quick and easy to get started and I can see this being used with classes for quick and easy demonstrations of Augmented Reality. There’s a suggestion that you can use Google Sketchup to create your own 3D models and then submit links to the ARSights warehouse but I haven’t investigated it as I haven’t used Sketchup before.

So what could these applications be used for in my classroom?

  • a multimedia treasure hunt using EZFlar to store videos / clues to keep the game going
  • a fun way to display pupil work by pinning printed AR markers on the walls rather than a black and white print out of their graphic work / animation / movie
  • a method of allowing pupils to explore digital representations of computer hardware which is too expensive to buy or too fragile to hand out
  • a fantastic way of starting group tasks by using embedded audio / video on an AR-ready placemat in the middle of the group. Scanned by a webcam or mobile device, this could engage all types of learners as well as offering differentiation in the ability to replay these movies on demand (or offer extra AR markers if required)
I want to finish this blog post with a few videos I saw on YouTube. 110 Stories is an augmented reality app proposal currently attempting to get Kickstarter funding. I thought it was a great use of AR – I hope you do too.

My daughter – the fussy client!

Today I started a new project with my wonderful S3 class (actually I have two, but these are my end-of-week favourites). I wanted to give them a chance to work with a client: someone really fussy, who changes their mind as much as a real client does… so my precocious daughter was an obvious choice!

Two years ago I recorded a few video clips of my daughter answering a simple question – “if my class could make you any game, what would you want it be be like?”. Instantly thrilled that strangers would be making a game for her, Mia started describing a scenario involving a baby butterfly, a daddy butterfly, a flower, a vase and an evil flower-stealing bottle!

My S3 class loved the way my daughter described the game, stopping mid-sentence to describe something else that she had forgotten about earlier. They saw that it wasn’t serious, but at the same time they had to listen carefully to understand what she wanted. I helped them by drawing a visual representation on the SmartBoard while they jotted down written paragraphs in their Requirements Specification.

I played the class three videos during the lesson and in the second and third videos the pupils saw what happens when you don’t get your Requirements Specification signed off – Mia moved the goal posts, added in more requirements, changed the enemies, DEMANDED more levels. The class were rapt, the class were fully engaged with this 4 year old who was attempting to describe this wonderful idea inside her head.

Discussions bounced around the classroom as everyone tried to grasp a mental image of the game Mia wanted – what happens if you touch the bottle? Where does the butterfly get the flower from? When does the music play? All valid questions a Systems Analyst should be asking their client.

The bell went far too soon and the class hovered around a little longer than usual on a Friday to see the end of the third video. Two years on from recording I am still surprised, amused and proud of what my daughter is describing and how she is holding the attention of my (her?) class. I think I might need to ask her for some CPD in the future – she seems to have this teaching lark sussed.

Using iPod Touches in the classroom #3

Thanks for your comments, tweets and face-to-face discussions regarding the previous posts on using iPod Touches in the classroom (part 1 / part 2). This blog post concentrates on the issue of using QR codes with a mobile device that doesn’t have a camera!

I met with a colleague from the Aberdeenshire iPod Development Group this week to share what we were doing and to see if there was potential to work together. They discussed an idea to use the iPods in an outdoor learning exercise and wondered about using QR codes to allow pupils to access educational resources while exploring a forest.

I’d also been reflecting on using QR codes within the school for an iPod treasure hunt and we had both realised that the lack of a camera on the iPod Touch 3G made this tricky. Tricky but not impossible. The BeeTagg Reader Pro app (currently free) can read QR codes (and other types) from the iPod Photo Library!

I had successfully tried this app before but wanted to know if I could put more information into the image containing the QR code. This would allow the pupils to be able to differentiate between them in the Photo Library. I tried adding some text underneath the QR code and transferred this image to the Photo Library.

It worked! However the text is a little difficult to read on the small screen, especially when you only have the smaller tile view of the Photo Library. So next I tried colour-coding the QR code images.


It worked as well! I imagine that colour-coded or labelled QR codes could be printed out and placed in appropriate locations (either in the forest or within the school. Or even within your classroom!). The pupils could match up the QR code to the ones pre-stored in the Photo Library and then access the material on their mobile device. This method also enables use of mobile devices with cameras, so has longevity if planned correctly. The material linked to the QR codes can also be modified without having to reprint the labels so resources can be tweaked to improve pupil learning at will.

There are more pressing concerns as to how the content will be stored on the iPods or accessed from within a forest (I imagine you’ll need a 3G signal for internet access unless you can set up some kind of adhoc wifi network in the trees!) but allowing pupils to access this content quickly means mobile devices already have a significant benefit to classroom teachers.