Using CodeBug tethered via USB on a MacBook

It has been a few weeks since our CodeBugs arrived here in Milan and after playing around with some of the sample programs and thinking about their features I have decided to use these with next session’s Year 10 students as an introduction to the iGCSE Computer Science course in September.

While they worked really well with the Raspberry Pi I struggled to get the CodeBugs working with IDLE on the MacBook. Installing packages via Terminal updated the Python 2.7 install that comes with the OS and – for me anyway – Homebrew complicated what should have been a very easy process. In Visual Studio if you wanted to use a module library you simply added it to the project and IDLE does not have this function.

I found PyCharm today – an IDE for Python that allows me to add the codebug_tether module (and any others I need) with the minimum of fuss. Now my CodeBug can be programmed while connected via USB to my MacBook! As an added bonus I learned more about Virtual Environments.

IMAG1237

To make it easier for my students to get going with their CodeBugs in September I created a 20-step guide linked here. It’s CC0 so please feel free to use and adapt as required. If you find any mistakes or it just doesn’t work for you in the same way please let me know.

Vector Graphics using Google Drawings

I’ve been experimenting with Google Drawings over the past few weeks to see what is possible in the app. I’ve been impressed with the range of features this simple application has and, while it won’t replace Illustrator any time soon as your one-stop vector graphic package, it is fantastic for introducing students to the idea of vector graphics, layering objects and editing points on a path.

I’ve included two YouTube videos I created for my classes for reference. In the first the students are shown how to create a vector super hero (and then challenged to create their own). In the latest video students are shown how to create a complex vector shape using the polyline tool. The shape is then used to create their own interpretation of a stylish book cover that only uses a small number of colours and shapes.

Any comments on either video much appreciated. Do you teach vector graphics to your students? Do you jump straight to the industry standard packages or keep it simple? I’d love to hear from you in the comments…

Some thoughts on a developing workflow – Google #Classroom and #GAFE

Some thoughts on a developing workflow – Google #Classroom and #GAFE

home-office-336377_1280

It is nearly the end of my first term at my new school and Google Classroom and other apps are fully embedded in my subject for years 7 – 13. I thought it was a good time to reflect on some of the successes and issues still to be resolved in my workflow using Google Apps for Education.

Keeping in touch

FullSizeRender

Given the large number of students I teach and the fact I’m usually split across two campuses each day it’s important that I’m easily reachable by students if they need to ask a question about class or homework. Younger year groups are, I’ve found, much happier to communicate by public or private Classroom comment whereas older students still prefer face-to-face communication. Perhaps this is linked to the KS3 work on Digital Citizenship this term.

I found that successful communication relies not only on the teacher and student checking their email regularly but also directed use of notifications within Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc. For example I wondered why students did not respond when I shared PDF files of their commented class tests and, of course, it is because they do not check their Google Drive regularly for updated content. After discussing this with my senior students we decided to try a “notifications” Google Doc where I could post a message linking to a new file. I realise I could post a message on Google Classroom but this would (a) not be specific to the student and (b) fill the timeline. It’s a real shame Google Docs does not allow posting of comments onto non-Google Apps files but I might have to check out this documentation to see if I can write a script to send out notifications in future.

Note that I am not using email directly, but instead relying on notifications that students receive via email. This allows me to keep track of the feedback given in the student document. If I can’t comment directly in the document I use Notability to annotate and then share the file back to the student via Google Drive.

I’m happy with the return functionality in Google Classroom as it allows me to communicate the grade and any feedback to my students however students are still having an issue with Turn In / Hand In – instead alternating between this and Sharing the document with the class teacher. I’m testing out a mechanism where the homework is contained within a Google Form and successful completion of the form (as long as you set it so it cannot be edited once complete) forces Classroom to mark the assignment as complete.

Sharing class tasks

FullSizeRender (1)

I love using Classroom as a way of keeping student submissions together but wish I could hide a post from the timeline or mark it as reviewed. My standard is to mark all homework tasks as “Homework x: …” so that students can differentiate between what is due to be submitted from home and what is to be accessed and completed in class. I also would like to be able to override a student Turn In status if they have not completed the task or, if they hand it in using a different mechanism, change the status for them.

I’m also developing the way students access information related to their class task. Initially I used Google Classroom to store all files associated with the task but – and this might be due to slow Internet connections – the assignment task does not always display all files linked with it. Over the weekend I created some assignments in Google Slides and have embedded a link to the information sheet into the slideshow, just to see if this makes any difference.

Recently due to days out of school I have left printed copies of work for some students. These are later digitised using a photocopier that scans to PDF before emailing the documents to me. I would like to further automate this process to move the documents from my email into a specific folder in Google Drive for marking.

Organising feedback

I work on a no paper system wherever possible and this includes providing students with feedback. It is not practical given the number of workbooks I would have to move between campuses. Marking paper submissions on location is near impossible given the tight transit times between classes.

When students fill in Google Forms they have the option to have a copy of their responses sent to them. However this doesn’t include any feedback from the class teacher. My aim is to work on a mechanism to automatically convert Google Form submissions to individual Google Docs so that I can provide feedback back to the students and use the direct notification process (+emailaddress) to highlight this to them.

I would also like to know that students have taken the time to regularly reflect on the feedback given from all tasks. At the moment I’m speaking to students in class about their work in general based upon my observations of their homework, classwork or assessment tasks but would like to be able to have more information from the student in advance of these discussions without having to create separate Google Forms for each task.

This reflection journal would be updated by the student after receiving feedback from the teacher. They would include a link to any reference document e.g. homework or class test, a summary of the feedback given, and their reflections on what can be done in order to improve. I’d also like to be able to access these files from a central list – perhaps a Google Sheet – which can detect and colour code journals which have been updated since the last time I accessed the list.

I’d welcome any comments on the above workflow or clever suggestions of scripts or plugins that would simplify any of the processes!

#Google #Classroom for building Digital Citizenship

hand-408781_1280
Thanks to Pixabay.com: image link

The term has started here in Milan and I want to have a safe area for students to collaborate and comment and develop the way they respond to other users on the Internet before we move on to other, more public, mediums.

I decided to use Google Classroom because the school is already signed up to GAFE – mainly for email purposes, but they are also keen to develop their use of Drive and other apps available to them.

I thought about setting up individual groups for each class – for example I teach 3 year 8 and 3 year 9 classes. In the end I decided to keep it simple and created one per year group. Why? I wanted dialogue across the 3 classes and felt that, as the students were still all within the same school, I could easily monitor and react to any misuse of the site.

The school are also keen to use Classroom for issuing homework tasks (must investigate Charlie Love’s calendar script for broadcasting this from a central calendar) so I delivered an introductory demo to staff just a few days after starting work at the school! The SMT are also keen to have an overview of groups across the school – this would be useful for parent meetings certainly.

Some students are already embracing the communication aspect. After a few garbled “test” posts (which I quickly deleted) all was quiet until Saturday morning when one student asked a question about the homework task. Usually it would be left to me to respond but, before I had a chance, two other students in the same year had replied in order to help. The conversation continued until the first student understood fully and I took the chance to thank his peers for their help.

Today there were a few posts from another student who was having difficulty with another of the logic problems in the homework. I was happy to see the student who had received help on the previous day was first to respond with a detailed description of the mechanics of the problem (without giving away the answer!).

I’m hopeful that this helpful dialogue will continue but feel that, as well as an acknowledgement message from me in the group, the assistance given by the students should be recognised through the merit system that exists in the physical classroom. I’m looking forward to visiting their form classes tomorrow with the merit slips and hope it sets them up for a great week.

I think that by consistently applying the set behaviour system (for good and bad) in both the physical and virtual areas of the school community we might begin to dismantle the idea some hold that the Internet is somewhere you can say and do what you like without fear of being identified or punished. And if we can do that by highlighting the moments where students have taken the time to respond respectfully and helpfully, so much the better.

Are we still in the dark ages of digital literacy?

Reading Emma Mulqueeny’s 2013 blogpost on embedding digital literacy as early as year five made for familiar territory this evening, and not because it’s a post I’ve read before!

“we are falling behind all other countries by doing nothing more than shaking our heads at the problem and perhaps attending a 1-day course on coding”

Emma has a point. Not just about the coding bit (which I am beginning to realise has become lost through the reduction of the art of programming to abstract drag and drop components) but of the progress the teaching community has made in embedding digital literacy as a component as essential as literacy and numeracy in primary school and of convincing universities to demand more of their students than the ability to navigate a website and use Harvard referencing styles in their essays. Technology is still widely seen as the carrot; the reward; the thing students do in the evening or in extra-curricular clubs; the phone in the pocket, rather than a compartment of the learning toolbox essential for future success.

Secondary level teachers also have to accept their portion of the blame for this lack of progress. We shuffle ICT and Computer Science topics like cards to try and find the best hand in order to increase numbers taking the subject at certificate level. Then we simultaneously complain that our subject has been dumbed down through introduction of faculties and non-specialist teachers, a near-empty CPD budget, lack of suitable technology or time – all the while beautifully distracted from the key aim: to actually address the digital literacy problem.

But what would we actually do in this utopian classroom to enlighten and engage students and – as a country and with barely a nod to OECD PISA rankings and the like – actually nurture digitally literate children?

New Yorker’s James Surowiecki summed up the current problem still faced by many so-called digital natives (and others!) in his 2007 article “Feature Creep” which commented on the (then new) iPhone:

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, allowing us to do things more quickly and efficiently. But too often it seems to make things harder, leaving us with fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals, and cars with dashboard systems worthy of the space shuttle.

Just like the multitude of excuses and ever-changing course plans that distract the education community, technology can blind the user with its blizzard of features and this makes fixing a measure of digital literacy challenging. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Why do we want to improve digital literacy? What will the accomplishment of digital literacy mean for our students?
  2. Is a digitally literate person someone who can understand and operate a microwave? A smartphone? A Sky+ box? A Raspberry Pi? An Arduino? A drone? A 3D printer?
  3. Is digital literacy an achievement that can be assessed? In what format?
  4. Is a digitally literate person from 2014 as digitally literate as someone who achieves this in 2015?
  5. Is a consistent technical infrastructure necessary to ensure national digital literacy?

Have JISC accurately captured the different aspects of digital literacy?

Or Futurelab?

Or the Open University?

Or Doug Belshaw?