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:


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!

Retro Day!

So today I’ve been clearing out my cupboards a little and finally making time to try and get the multitude of 1980s computing kit I’ve collected over the years set up and working.

I had limited success. The ZX Spectrum 48k with rubber keys had a broken keyboard membrane so although it powered up no amount of keyboard bashing would make it do anything other than display the phrase which really did burn permanently into my old black and white portable:

Next was the ZX Spectrum 48k plastic key model. I had this one as a child and it set me off on the path to crave a career as programmer and then teacher. This time it worked fine but I couldn’t get the tv to tune precisely so every command was a crazily, distorted blur. It does work but perhaps needs an older tv. I boxed this one up for Martin.
The third spectrum was a grey +2 model. Easily the ugliest of the bunch but unsurprisingly also the most robust. It worked first time and the attached tape deck also had no issues. I was pretty stunned at the build quality to be honest! Amstrad weren’t all bad then.
I tried a few games and soon remembered the length of time it took to load anything. Never mind make a cup of tea, I was able to teach an introduction to a class before returning my attentions to the old dear!
The three Spectravideo joysticks didn’t work so these are to be donated to the art department as still life resources. There was also an extra power adapter which will be winging it’s way to BobToms100 in the next few days. I find it amazing and heartening that so many people still have and use their old computers. Plenty of people around my age no doubt!
The only machine I didn’t have time to try out was the C64. It has all the original bits n bobs but no games. Another friend is going to receive this for their classroom / nostalgic memories.
If this whets your appetite for retro fun, here are a few emulator sites that nearly replicate the entire experience: however, to fully immerse yourself in retro heaven, you’ll need to make yourself a cup of tea before playing.
Can you imagine teaching classes using these machines now? Do you? If so, get in touch as I’d love to hear about it!