Programming on an iPad #compSci #RGCdevicetrial

At the start of the #RGCdevicetrial I was very cynical about the effectiveness of iPads in education. I did not think they were suitable for use in secondary school classrooms. I saw them as content consumption devices, tailored for personal use only, and an expensive gimmick destined to gather dust in a department store cupboard (much like the iPod touch devices bought en-masse a few years ago).

I’m happy to state that I was wrong. For me, the iPad is a very strong contender for not only becoming the device of choice at our school but for eventually replacing desktop PCs in the Computing classroom too.

Like many others I thought it wasn’t possible to program on the iPad. I’d heard about Scratch being removed from the App Store and, whilst working on a successful Internet Safety project at Inverurie Academy in 2011, had fought a battle of wits with XCode to create and install a series of simple apps on the aforementioned iPod touch devices. I didn’t want to rely on having a spare Macbook sitting around for pupils to code on, in a language that was fairly impenetrable, just to be able to use the iPad in a Computing Science classroom.

However, after speaking to Fraser Speirs at a SCIS event in Edinburgh a few weeks ago, I realised that it was possible. He told me about Pythonista, which allows you to create command-line or graphical programs straight on the iPad. Fraser also told me that he pays for processing time on Amazon servers and gets students to upload code from their iPads and execute it remotely. The extra benefit of this, he says, is that his pupils have access to the same programming environment regardless of their location. It allows them to continue coding at home on a task they may have started in school.

For early stage programmers one app that helps build coding foundations through sequential instructions is A.L.E.X. I downloaded it whilst setting up the iPad for the #RGCdevicetrial and accidentally syncronised it with the iPad Mini which was being used by the ICT specialist in our primary school. She loved the app so I gave it a go last week while learning more about how an iPad mirrors to a data projector using Apple TV. There were young pupils in the playground outside with their noses against the window as they watched the robot move through the levels.

This morning I spotted a retweet by Dawn Halybone and had to investigate further:

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Snap! is a web-based drag and drop programming language developed at Berkeley. Very similar to Scratch, you create programs by associating scripts with sprites on a stage. It runs through a browser so you have to be online to use it however it looks very stable on the iPad. Even though the most recent Scratch beta is also web-based, it does not work with the iPad due to the fact it needs Adobe Flash to play content. I wasn’t even able to access the code screen on the site so, for the moment anyway, Snap seems to be the only option.

Do you know of any other apps or websites that allow programming on the iPad? Please share!

Breaking out of the silo? The VLE formerly known as Glow

I’ve been out of the Glow-sphere for eighteen months now. In that time I have been waiting patiently for parental logins, sighing knowingly when my 8 year old daughter describes forced IT lessons using Glow as the medium (and if she realises they’re forced, something is seriously wrong with using Glow to enhance learning and teaching) and reading – with increasing interest – the often faltering attempts to rebuild Glow as a serious VLE built for learning and teaching but that also allows students and teachers to move beyond the silo and harness the myriad services that exist on the Internet for digital creation, curation and citizenship.

A Digital Learning Environment for Scottish Schools clearly states that teachers “should be trusted to use their professional judgment in how ICT should be used.”, enabling staff to decide how best to use Internet-based or locally installed services to augment their learning and teaching. Some staff will be more comfortable in finding and utilising these services than others, so ICTEx proposed that ‘best of breed’ services should be made available through a national schools Intranet (they have called it Glow+ in their document). The accelerating pace of change in both hardware platforms and software resources means that any solution has to be future-proof and this means that (1) the system must be easily adaptable with regard to access, platform and cost (2) the interface must be device agnostic (3) it should be a springboard for innovation in the classroom, not a constraint.

This goes against the grain of the original Glow design – already out of date when I first saw it in 2006. At that point the security was so tight that access to resources from another school was near impossible, there was no search functionality to make links with other teachers and your individual upload limit was 5MB. There was no option to access via a mobile device (I’m still amazed at how quickly the smartphone explosion has changed the way we demand to access services, but even so I wasn’t designing a future-proof national intranet for Scottish Schools) and no way for students to get feedback or inspiration from those outside of their school but completing the same certificate course.

Admittedly there was an attempt to improve things but, by then, it was too little and far too late. Glow as it exists today is suffering from dwindling numbers of users due to the development of freely available VLE competitors, tech-savvy teachers setting up their own Moodle / Google Sites / hand-built solution or formerly positive teachers becoming disenfranchised with utilising technology in their classes and being forced to use Glow over any other solution by their local authorities.

I’ve sat in on enough seminars, workshops and online discussions to know that the current demand is to utilise existing services in a way that makes the learning outcome greater than the sum of its (online) parts. Rather than having data hidden in silos, unable to control who has access to the information you created, actively sharing content across a number of web services to develop digital citizenship skills and engage students creatively and collaboratively is rightly placed high on the educational agenda. The last two years of presentations at the Scottish Learning Festival have taught me that there is no single solution to the problem of enhancing learning and teaching through the use of technology.

The way the solutions were shared was consistent but the solutions themselves were disconnected. Research and development was inefficient. Schools still remain silos of ideas unless you happen to have connected to an individual teacher in another establishment via social media, email or good old face-to-face meetings. The only difference in these methods of communication is speed of access.

One development that may encompass the aims of the ICTEx group as well as provide a means of sharing good practice between educational establishments is Glew, a single sign-on service that allows access to a variety of Web 2.0 or social sites. Since initial creation in late 2011 Cults Academy Teacher of Computing Charlie Love has utilised the Agile model of development to quickly extend the functionality of his Glew service based on user feedback. The current iteration utilises GlewTiles – a user interface based on Windows Metro – to allow users to customise their Glew desktop.

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Glew is accessible from desktops, tablets and smartphones. Visit http://www.glew.org.uk to sign up to the service and try it for yourself. Then tell Charlie what you’d like him to add!

Divide and conquer Twitter

I’ve used Twitter now for over 3 years (a late starter, making up for that now) but in all that time have never made use of its list functionality. I hate the way Twitter forces you to click , click, click and click again to add a single user to a list and then wait for you to close a window before continuing with the next user… and the next… so, up until now, I’ve made use of hashtags and browsing the main timeline. Not very efficient.

In contrast I really like the way Google+ allows you to build your circles without fuss using drag and drop. I hoped someone out there had created something for Twitter lists that worked in the same way, searched Google for a while and found Icotile (http://icotile.ogaoga.org/, free).

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As you can see the main part of the interface is made up of small tiled images of your Twitter contacts. On the left hand side of the screen are the lists you have created and on the right is the biography of currently selected Twitter user (very handy!). To add a contact to a group simply drag the image on to the list.

It’s not perfect – I’d love to be able to select multiple contacts before adding them to the list for example. You should also ensure you have created all the lists before starting to use Icotile to avoid problems when adding (it doesn’t show any error messages should a contact already be in a list or cannot be added to one). I also think that being able to filter out contacts already added to a list would be very useful, especially when you have over 1500 to sift through! However Icotile has allowed me to begin to organise my Twitter streams more efficiently and allow me to customise my Chrome TweetDeck app¬†(free) to show selected lists rather than the timeline and a series of hashtag searches.

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Can anyone suggest alternative ways of organising your Twitter lists?

Using Edmodo to Engage Learners From Day 1

Over the past week I have been introducing my S3, S5 and S6 pupils to their myriad Edmodo groups and getting them to set up their profiles, communication preferences and folders. Compared to last session (BE: Before Edmodo) the learners have hit the ground running with regard to interacting with their peers and making a contribution to class discussion.

I introduced Edmodo as an electronic extension of their classroom. This helped set out my expectations quickly without having to labour through lists of rules. Over three quarter of the 31 pupils surveyed found setting up their pupil accounts straightforward and our mechanisms to ensure an element of data privacy (if not protection) – first name and initial of surname only, and no real profile photographs – were easy to implement.

Opening tasks were straightforward but promoted collaboration and contribution. For example my S3 class were investigating the different graphical user interfaces encountered on mobile devices and making notes in their jotters for a future lesson. While they did so I took photographs of their devices and uploaded each one to Edmodo. The class were then encouraged to either log in or use the mobile app from home and claim the photo of their device and say why they liked or chose that particular make or model. So far, over half of the class have successfully completed the task (and the follow up dialogue!) and been awarded the “Alert” badge I created for learners who keep up to date with their group posts outside of class time.

My Higher Computing class, who began today by learning how to play and then extend the card game War, Shove Ha’penny and Penny Football, were then set a paper-based challenge entitled Mia’s Maze. This task was a Primary 2 homework ¬†sheet dutifully completed by my daughter a few years ago but is, I think, perfect for reinforcing the need for establishing good boundaries before developing winning strategies. The target is zero or lower. I used Edmodo to successfully share a video of the solution but want to encourage my learners to start submitting their own screencasts or video responses in the coming weeks.

Out of all the benefits to me as a teacher I think the top one is the quick construction of positive relationships with the classes. Already I feel I know more about my S3 and S5 classes than I usually would at this stage in the term (less than 1 week in!). Also all my learners are included in the dialogue. They can take time to formulate and express their opinions and connect more with the lesson objectives. I’m excited to find out if continued use of Edmodo will help deepen their understanding of the course.

I thought I’d finish with a quick Edmodo tip: if you want to award badges to multiple pupils from your group. Right click on each desired pupil name in the posts section of Edmodo and select “Open in a new tab”. This allows you to award the pupil their badge and then close that tab while still being able to see what is going on with the rest of the group.

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.

Threshold adventurers, my reflections on #SLF11

On Wednesday this week I attended my first Scottish Learning Festival at the SECC in Glasgow.

The first seminar was entitled Literacy Through Technology. HT of Dalmarnock Primary Nancy Clunie explained how the school first used blogs, wikis, then a dedicated website to engage the entire school in an international exchange through the Comenius programme offered by the British Council. I was particularly interested in attending this seminar as blogging has not yet been embedded in my current school and I was keen find out as much as I could about proven benefits to learning and potential technical issues to aid future whole school dialogue. Nancy showed how her school used eTwinning to improve pupil literacy in their email and blog exchanges with students in other schools in the European Union. Nancy explained that her pupils were struck by how few spelling errors were in posts made by Polish students. They decided that they should be extra careful with their own communications because of this, but Nancy did point out that although their electronic literacy improved it did not translate to their written work! Other projects and events mentioned included a multi-lingual book club and a Eurovision Song Contest-esque competition to choose a logo for their See The Sea project but Nancy was most proud of the direct communication between her pupils and those from other schools using Flashmeeting software.

After a morning negotiating the stands I was really looking forward to Tim Laver’s (@laverminded) seminar on how he has used Little Big Planet 2 as a teaching aid in his History classes. Tim began using PS3 and LBP2 after a pupil suggested he take a look at the game. He was hooked on the potential of its application in History. Although most of the levels have been created by Tim, he took time to explain that it was not educationally viable to have each pupil creating a level with the rest of the class passively watching and waiting their turn (after using the PS3 and Little Big Planet with classes in the past I can completely understand this point!!). Tim realised that the process of designing the levels were more challenging and engaging for the pupils and required a deep understanding of the topic and how these facts or concepts could be presented as a game so he created a series of worksheets to focus pupils on thinking carefully about their proposed learning outcomes. The pupils were later involved in selecting three of the level designs for creation through peer evaluation and these levels were created by Tim – who admitted this was a time consuming process – but he then showed us these games in action to highlight the high quality of level design shown by the pupils and the high impact presentation possible within Little Big Planet 2. Tim is adding video walkthroughs of these games to the littlebighistory channel on YouTube and plans to continue adding to this extremely creative resource.

I feel I scored with my choice of keynote. Sir John Jones was captivating as he explained to a packed house why he thinks The Future Is Not What It Was. How positive language can have such a beneficial effect on a child and how it can be used effectively in shaping responsible behaviour and how negative language, delivered off-the-cuff can “shred” a child’s confidence. How inspirational, emotional, caring teachings make a difference through RINGing education (making it relevant, interesting, naughty and having a giggle).

Click here to watch his SLF11 keynote

He regularly had the audience in stitches, especially when he used images of increasingly bigger cranes to highlight the benefits of double-loop thinking rather than brute-force repetition. He asked teachers to become threshold adventurers (I prefer this label to his magic weavers alternative), to allow the positive active kids to thrive: (they) “are in your face – is that not what we want?”. We all want engaged minds, not passive viewers and through personalisation of learning, a good relationship with your pupils and by teaching a love of the subject rather than a capacity to recall facts for an exam we will ensure that “they will be smart enough”… if we are good enough.

On the train home I reflected on the messages I took from each of the seminars and from exploring the stands at SLF11:

  1. All three talks promoted collaboration, passion and going the extra mile to help pupils achieve their potential.
  2. Blogs, websites and wikis are not new technologies and pupils should be using them to make learning relevant, accessible 24/7, interesting and to develop their skills as digital citizens.
  3. Well planned use of games consoles can inspire a class as well as providing teachers with a useful revision tool (passive and interactive)
  4. YouTube or other suitable video sharing services are of great benefit to educators in engaging pupils and creating the right conditions for a flipped classroom.
The only slight negative to my experience of SLF11 was the comments from other educators that it “wasn’t as good as previous years”. I heard this a lot – in the queue for coffee, in the main foyer, on the low-level train back from the SECC, even on Twitter. I can’t comment as this was my first year and I personally got a lot of great CPD from the event – CPD which would not have been as effective if I had simply watched the videos online. I hope that SLF continues to be a real-life event and that as many educators as possible benefit from the community and collaboration that these kinds of events offer.

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 http://office.live.com 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.

Curriculum for Excellence: ICT, Science, Literacy (CSI Web Adventures)

I have been a little self-obsessed recently due to a job interview and as a result have let the blog updates lag a little. My email inbox is also becoming home to a variety of tweets that I marked “useful”. I hope to work through the inbox over the next few weeks, sharing anything which could help learning and teaching and reflecting on how it could be used in my own classroom.

The first one I’m going to look at today is CSI Web Adventures posted by @russeltarr. This is an educational resource which puts you amongst the characters of Las Vegas CSI, showing you around their work areas and letting you solve one of three ever more challenging cases.

I can see immediately where this resource can fit in with my current S3 Int 1 Computing Studies Multimedia Applications and Int 2 Information Systems Applied Multimedia hybrid: allowing pupils to experience good user interface design and well thought out scripting to create a CAL (computer aided learning) application suited to Secondary level students (at last!). However with the Curriculum for Excellence courses being developed for S2 I’m looking for ways to help ICT integrate with other subject areas. So this post is about how I think CSI Web Adventures can be used in line with CfE experiences and outcomes, but before I look at it I want to share a very useful CfE planning resource.

I met Maggie Irving at the 2010 MIICE conference in Dundee in May and enjoyed her presentation on the website she had worked hard to create. If you are involved in any way in development planning for Curriculum for Excellence you should have it bookmarked as it is an excellent reference for all the experiences and outcomes. I actually find it more useful than the official site, it’s certainly faster to load and navigate!

I used Maggie’s site today to help me quickly note how the CSI Web Adventures resource could be used to support science outcomes for third / fourth level (secondary school):

SCN3-14b: I have extracted DNA and understand its function. I can express an informed view of the risks and benefits of DNA profiling

SCN 4-13c: I can debate the moral and ethical issues associated with some controversial biological procedures

With a little planning a summary task could be added where the pupils reflect on their experience of using the game and construct a report / recording. This could overtake the following literacy outcomes:

LIT 3-15a: I can make notes and organise them to develop my thinking, help retain and recall information, explore issues and create new texts, using my own words as appropriate.

LIT 4-15a: I can make notes and organise them to develop my thinking, help retain and recall information, explore issues and create new texts, using my own words as appropriate.

The three crimes require reading the conversations carefully and note-taking is advised for the end of training quizzes. I would estimate 2 hours spent using the resource would be a good amount of time to explore the user interface and undertake a number of the tasks. Any less than that and some pupils would not be able to complete the training course!

Severe weather teaching?

With snow falling steadily outside and roads already being closed for public safety I expect quite a few Aberdeenshire schools to be at least partially closed today. Last year a number of teaching days were lost and schools criticised for not ensuring alternative teaching opportunities were available. As a Computing teacher it seemed an easy solution would be to set up an electronic link between classes and myself, so I signed up for and then published an email address where pupils could contact me with questions about lessons, submit homework or share educational links. Over the year it has proved a useful teaching tool in keeping in touch with my classes.

In addition my department worked hard to publish revision notes and tasks on a Google Site to enable classes to be more responsible for their own education rather than wait for the next spoonful. We had investigated use of Glow but felt the extra level of security reduced its usefulness. Many pupils in the past used Glow security as an excuse to not engage in online learning and, at that time, the site was not embedded in all curricular areas. There are advantages to using the secure Glow environment: discussion groups, online courses via Glow Learn, live chat via Glow Meet so the potential to use this as an effective severe weather teaching tool is great!

Google Docs which can be shared between teacher and pupil and collaborated on in real time also offers fantastic virtual classroom possibilities. I now regularly use this in class and since introduction in June my pupils have grown comfortable using the system.

I’ve recently been trained to use Quia – an online assessment management system. Questions can be uploaded and distributed to classes or differentiated by pupil. I found that as the quizzes are HTML videos, audio and animation can be embedded which could be very useful!

I haven’t tried the following resources yet but reflect that they may play a big part in creating a virtual classroom on demand:
– Twiducate
– Twitter (if not blocked)
– Wikispaces
– YouTube

If pupils have time to get comfortable with the technology in class then it is far more likely you will make contact with them during lost teaching days. What do you think?

What I’ve learned this week #5

Another quick week – today I’m out of school meeting with other Computing teachers or faculty managers in the authority. I enjoy these meetings as there are usually one or two new ideas or resources shared.

1. Found out about Quia – an eAssessment web application which can deliver resources, tasks and surveys to entire classes or individual pupils. One of my colleagues at Inverurie Academy uses this with her classes and found that it allowed for quick target setting as well as effective delivery of differentiated lessons or homework. I noted that if classes were shared between teachers with different accounts the pupils would need to remember different logins and passwords. After discussion we agreed that a school licence would solve this issue.

2. Delivered lessons to S3 pupils on new developments in data visualisation. I used sections from David McCandless’ TED talk “The Beauty of Data Visualisation” as well as a short practical task exemplifying sparklines. I made it relevant by showing a spreadsheet of glucose levels and discussing safe levels for those with diabetes. Pupils realised that by having visual indicators of the progression of glucose levels plotted against a safety range was very useful for doctors and diabetic patients who wanted to avoid slipping into a hypoglycemic coma. A bit scary perhaps but boy did it get their attention.

3. The assessment of S4 pupils at the mid point of the new Databases & The Internet unit shows a marked improvement in attainment. In previous years some S4 pupils wasted a term working through Intermediate 2 Database Systems and failing before rushing through Int 1 Information & The Internet during the final term. The overlap between the two units allowed a longer period to master the basics so I combined the two units as a bi-level, multi term unit. Next term the classes split with the Int 1 pupils tackling web design and the Internet theory sections and Int 2 pupils going on to Normalisation to 1NF.