This Is My Classroom – August 2012

The return to school coincided with the first consecutive days of sunshine I’d experienced since Slovenia. At the end of last term I had decided to replace the orange monolith (which had previously been full of a colleague’s resources and simply served as a display board) and mini stage with another computer workstation, primarily to be used by learners to record and edit video off the network.

The monolith has gone!

I was overjoyed to see the space released by removing these two items. Now I had a large display area between whiteboard and door as well as space (and power) for a small desk in the future. This display space is the most prominent in the entire room so I wanted to make its contents stand out as well as be accessible to my learners to allow them to evolve the content and take responsibility for recording their class’s development. I intend to try SOLO taxonomy with a number of my classes this session and have put up a few items to get started with thanks to the inspiration of Tait Coles, Darren Mead and Pam Hook.

Learning Wall

I also wanted to increase my visibility to learners and other educators so I’ve taken the simple step of putting my timetable on the door. This is nothing spectacular as I remember my university lecturers doing the same but hope that this will reduce unnecessary email asking where I am hiding!

Before the end of last session I also began to investigate recommended reading lists for learners. Not necessarily textbooks but non fiction (and fiction hopefully!) that are related to the field of Computing Science and ICT. I plan to liaise with the school librarian to ensure copies are available or put on the wish list for the future.

Also to enhance learner engagement with the wider community I intend to put up a list of computing-related events going on the local area. I also want to make further use of the digital frame in the corridor to display pupil work, thought process and reflection.

By removing a few items of furniture I’m hoping to enable my learners to interact with the classroom environment rather than be served by it which, on reflection, is how I approached my classroom design last year. And while I mean interact in the most low-tech way possible, the newly rejuvinated gyromouse and Promethean tablet may help in their own way too.

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┬ástarting 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.