Reflections on #picademy June 2014

I really thought I’d posted this, but after re-authorising postach.io I decided to check through any incomplete blog posts and found this, so I obviously hadn’t!

I did however manage to post the same article on the CAS Scotland website so you may have read this before!

I’m really pleased to see the #picademy PD days go from strength to strength. I feel they are really important in supporting teachers as they introduce this device into their classrooms and help individuals make links with like-minded folk who can inspire and discuss on Raspberry Pi related themes.

I still await announcement of a Scottish #picademy – would love to help set that up! In the meantime I hope you enjoy reading about my time in Cambridge (UK this time!) in June:

At the end of the school session I travelled to Cambridge to take part in the second PiCademy organised and hosted by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Pi towers was easy enough to find, located just a few minutes from the town centre, and after a few coffees and NDAs it was time to begin.

Carrie-Anne Philbin hosted the event and quickly got the audience thinking about the educational benefits of a low-cost customisable device. The PiCademy cohort were from primary and secondary sectors and – importantly – had experience in different subject areas. We were grouped into teams of five, each led by an experienced Raspberry Pi user, and provided with plenty of sweets to keep our energy up.

The first day gave us the opportunity to see what the Raspberry Pi had to offer. There were workshops on accessing GPIO via Scratch, taking images with the PiCamera, extending Minecraft using Python and using the sample warping capabilities of Sonic Pi 2.0. It was very intense but gave us prompts from which the class generated a lot of ideas of how Raspberry Pis could be used in our own classrooms or subjects. These ideas were discussed in greater detail over dinner on the banks of the Camb.

Day two provided – for me – a unique experience in a CPD course: a chance to think, discuss and develop your own ideas and push yourself to create a resource in under four hours. Watching the class work as individuals or groups on wildly differing projects was fantastic. The Raspberry Pi Foundation ensured that we had plenty of hardware to hand (as well as our complementary Pi!) to allow experimentation. While my OpenCV colour sensor was definitely in draft form I was pleased that it could tell the difference between red, yellow and blue objects and light a corresponding LED. Without the support of my peers and the trainers in the room many of us would have been focussing on the software and not the hardware – which is really where the Raspberry Pi has a fantastic advantage over traditional desktop PCs.

I met such an amazing, enthusiastic group of people at the PiCademy and I hope to keep in touch with as many of them as I can! At the moment I am lucky enough to be the only Raspberry Pi Certified Educator in Scotland. I hope this will change very quickly (the next PiCademy is mid-July with more to follow next session) as schools and teachers north of the border realise how much value can be gained from travelling a little bit further for high quality CPD events such as these.

Of course, if Carrie-Anne wanted to start a satellite PiCademy a little further north…

Thanks to all at The Raspberry Pi Foundation who bent over backwards to help including Carrie-Anne, Clive Beale, Ben Nuttall, Craig Richardson and Sam Aaron.

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Constructivism and the use of technology

After culling my Twitter timeline recently I’ve had much more time to reflect on individual posts (and actually reply to them). I’m musing on this for a future blog post.

I had some time to listen to the podcast linked below and reflect on my own discussion with Dr. Beth Holland recently:

Beth also mentioned a North Carolina study in the podcast which promoted the idea that:

Teachers who… believe students should be active learners and actively constructing their own sense of reality about the world… were way more likely to recognise the power for technology to enhance those constructivist-type experiences.

Schell and Janicki’s paper on Online Course Pedagogy and the Constructivist Learning Model discusses the use of technology to deliver learning content to college and university students. They identified that, with a focus on a constructivist learning model:

A potential problem with online courses could be students spending too much time trying to learn how to use the technology required to access the course instead of concentrating on the actual course material.

This problem occurs whenever attempting to introduce technology into any learning task. As a Computer Science teacher I know that many students who take an elementary ICT course will be faced with an number of “jump through the hoop” tasks in order to gain experience in using a particular application. While this is necessary to build confidence and competence I feel it should be the enabler for application of those skills not the entire outcome.

Giving students more control of the learning process allows students to discover information themselves. Self-discovery has been shown to increase the student’s perceived retention of course material. This style of education better prepares the student for situations that will be encountered outside of the university, where there will not be a professor to guide him/her through a problem.

In my previous role I took on a number of classes who had previously been given autonomy in their learning and, for reasons unknown, had not been rigorously challenged enough prior to their external exams. You will not be surprised to hear they failed to achieve their estimated grades and this had substantial negative impact on their confidence at a key time in their schooling. For some students the move from objectivist learning to self efficacy without consistent approaches and careful support is difficult and learning how to learn (regardless of how it is delivered) has to be embedded into their whole school experience.

As I’m planning my courses for next session I’m keeping all this in mind. During our chat last week Beth recommended investigating the MetaRubric project launched a year ago by Justin Reich. In the podcast she highlights Alan November’s Learning Farm model. In all these time for student reflection is core, as is the importance of individual targets and taking a step back from the lesson or assessment in order to remind yourself (or consider for the first time) why or if the content is important at that time and using that resource or teaching style.

I feel we have now got to the stage where technology is so pervasive in education teachers are realising that they have to think very carefully about how it is used to maximise impact. Technology can fit really well with constructivist pedagogy but so does a pencil and paper or a cardboard box. It is how the teacher frames the learning that matters. In my own experience project-based learning has brought the students great success and engagement with the course material and, for me anyway, a great amount of joy in seeing the spark in students as they present their product to others.

Changing your curriculum to allow for a constructivist environment is undoubtedly hard work and I think that you need to balance active learning tasks carefully as to not lessen the positive impact this approach can bring to lessons. That said the students in my class who were not as happy with their end products when they compared it to their peers gained an understanding of the effort involved to make something great, or that iteration of an idea is essential to identify and resolve issues that occur during the development process and, as this timely tweet reminds us:

 

Spotify Monthly Playlist – February 2018 #teacher5aday

I’ve kept a monthly playlist in Spotify since 2015. Skimming back through them links to events, emotions and damn good songs. I’ve decided to start sharing them here as I find music hugely important in managing my wellbeing.

Direct link to the playlist here: https://open.spotify.com/user/iansimpson78/playlist/1HSSVMfrUFNw3V1hThcoGf

Magic Move in Keynote on iOS #ade2018 #AppleEDUChat

I caught up with the #AppleEDUChat twitter chat this morning and was taken with the idea of using Keynote for simple animations. I’d heard of the magic move transition before but hadn’t really explored the possibilities this offered. The example GIFs shown within the twitter chat really inspired me to take a closer look.

How I created my first Keynote animation

I quickly drew a simple car in Keynote with shapes, added a background image and then duplicated the slide.

Then I tapped on the first slide thumbnail and selected Transitions. I selected the Magic Move option and then Done.

I clicked on the second slide thumbnail and moved the car shape to the right of the slide and the background image to the left.

Previewing the animation at this point I could see the car move smoothly to the right of the slide and the background image scroll to the left. Perfect!

I added a third slide and introduced a tag shape with text on it. Very soon my animation was complete.

How I created a video of my Keynote

To export the animation as a video I used the screen record function built into iOS 11. I’m finding this new function such a great addition as I used to connect my iPad to a laptop and record the screen via QuickTime. Now I can do all this on one device!

I created the above GIF using GIF Toaster (free).

How this might be used in Computer Science

Animations of processes the students cannot easily observe such as how a hard disk drive operates (or an inkjet printer head!).

How to set up hardware for a classroom task e.g. Raspberry Pi or Arduino with various components.

I currently handwrite pseudocode videos using Explain Everything. This is fine but relies on consistent clarity of my scrawl. I’m going to investigate how Keynote might support quicker creation of these videos without simply becoming a video of a powerpoint presentation.

Have you any great examples of using Keynote to create animations that you use in your subject area? Please add a comment with a link to your work!

What’s on the #onepage now? #ade2018 #appleEduChat

I returned to the classroom a few days ago (for a Scot this seems far too early!) and so have cleared out the clutter along with the fridge and grouped my most used iPad apps together on a single page. This isn’t anything new – I know that @mcoutts81 amongst others have been doing this for years – but I was surprised by the fact that most of the apps on the page have been stalwarts since I first used an iPad in 2013 and wanted to document this 4 1/2 years later.

What’s on the #onepage at the beginning of 2018?

Explain Everything

Since upgrading to an iPad Pro in October 2017 this has been by far my most used app. My YouTube channel is growing quickly as a result. As my current school do not have student iPad devices I don’t use the Explain Everything projects however it is fantastic for tutorial sessions, individual student queries and ad-hoc learning opportunities as well as the aforementioned planned ones.

Book Creator

I hadn’t made great use of Book Creator with my senior students in my previous schools, but found a perfect opportunity to get used to its features in my current workplace. The A Level course I teach doesn’t have a great textbook, especially for programming concepts, and I wanted to create something the students could refer to AND access the videos I created in Explain Everything to help them. One of my first projects with the iPad Pro was to create an introductory eBook for Python programming concepts (and the associated pseudocode). You can read the blog post about it here.

Pages, Keynote, Numbers

I’ve always kept these apps handy on the iPad but I find that the apps suffer from occasional errors when offline and as a result make more use of Google Suite to ensure I can edit the files I create while on the move. That said, Pages is fantastic for creating quick, great looking documents and Keynote is my go-to app for creating more professional looking graphics. These apps are much more useful if you have a class set as files can be sent via AirDrop and students can edit their own copies of Numbers spreadsheets very effectively, for example, but as a Teacher-only device at present I prefer to utilise other methods of updating shared assessment records.

Docs, Sheets, Slides

Google Suite is great on the desktop but a bit limited on the iPad however with each new release the mobile apps are improving. I share all my resources with students via Google Drive and create them in Google Docs, Sheets or Slides where possible. I like how you can create the documents while offline and it will sync when you next find a WiFi signal but unlike Pages, Keynote and Numbers you don’t get an iCloud ‘download error’ which prevents you from accessing a document you have just created offline.

Google Calendar

It is much better than it used to be (when I preferred Sunrise) however I still tend to use the web app on a desktop to set up meetings. The iPad app tends to simply remind me at present. I love the recent post by @alicekeeler on collaborative lesson planning using Google Calendar and recommend you read it if you want to see an example of the real power GCal can have when used thoughtfully.

Gmail and Outlook

Essential for my work, personal and GAFE domain email. Both suffer from a lack of ability to save offline drafts for sending when you next hit a WiFi signal, so these may change in the near future.

YouTube

Once my videos have been created in Explain Everything and saved to Camera Roll I can quickly upload them in bulk to my YouTube channel when I have internet access. I don’t usually use the app for content consumption and I hate the intrusion of the recommendations.

iBooks

I recently published my first Book Creator book to the iBooks Store. I would have done this sooner but I needed access to a Mac. The iBooks app is invaluable for storage of PDFs as well as eBooks and I have my digital textbooks, past paper collections and professional development reading. I’d love to work out some way of pushing web articles into iBooks though so if anyone knows how to do this please get in touch!

Photos

The crop and rotate feature of the Photos app are essential for my Explain Everything videos. All my Explain Everything videos are stored on the Camera Roll before upload to YouTube as well. This came in useful just before the end of term when a burst water main also took out the area’s Internet connection. My lesson was still able to go ahead as I shared the iPad with students who had yet to watch the video.

Camera

Laptops may have a front facing camera but tablets always win when it comes to documenting student learning. I remember watching students document S1 geography field trips, using the camera app on their iPad in waterproof bags while standing in the middle of a shallow burn. I use the camera daily to record images or videos of handwritten whiteboard notes, examples of student work, etc.

Chrome

Or Safari to be fair. I need to switch between them at times. I think that Chrome on the iPad is really missing features such as extensions however I find their Desktop Mode invaluable when navigating sites which reduce the functionality for mobile viewers.

Edmodo

Another app that is essential for my school at present (although Google Classroom is coming and I’ve sorely missed it). Very easy to set up classes and the messaging capability so students can ask questions about concepts or work missed is great. The main win for me is the homework and assignment setting which allows students the opportunity to plan their studies more effectively. Also the ability to create smaller groups within a class for differentiated work. There are lots of resources, apps and a thriving community for Edmodo educators (including a yearly virtual conference). If you don’t have a GAFE domain in your school or education establishment this should be your student system of choice in my opinion.

Trello

Everyone has their favourite to-do app and for a long time Trello was not mine. I just didn’t see the point of it. Then last year timetabling clashes as well as working across different school sites forced me to find a way to continue conversations and share out work across my department. Email was definitely not the way to do it and I had the intention of trialing Slack but then very quickly we all realised that Trello was awesome at tracking multiple conversations and assigning responsibility. @exappleboy and I even used it successfully within out Parent-School Technology Committee. The benefits definitely come into play when you use it with a group of people.

Drive

Google Apps for Education domains offer unlimited storage for each account (as does Microsoft, to keep this balanced) and I really need this app to allow me to keep working when out of WiFi range. My curriculum for each term is in a single linked Google Doc which students access resources from.

Notability

Prior to the iPad Pro I got used to this with an inexpensive stylus and love the ability to move the individual elements around on the screen. Brilliant for note taking during meetings and quickly creating hand drawn visual elements for my resources (not that I’m particularly good at drawing).

Notes

I haven’t found this too useful in the past but I love the sync with iCloud and write all my blog posts using Notes first. I’ve only used the sketch feature to demonstrate the Apple Pencil to others to be honest, but then I love Notability and Explain Everything.

KeyPass

Too many accounts, therefore I need a lot of different passwords. It might be age (probably) but I think it’s the daft password policies of individual companies. I’ve tried lots of apps but keep coming back to KeyPass.

What am I really hoping to see this year?

EdPuzzle

It’s such an amazing service I am surprised that a Teacher app has yet to be developed to allow creation of EdPuzzles from a tablet. Perhaps 2018 will be the year?

What was the purpose of this blog post?

I feel that there are a number of apps which I haven’t yet fully investigated that can improve my colleague’s – as well as my own – work practices. I chair the next meeting of the College’s iPad user group is later this month and we intend to share the benefits of particular apps we use in our individual subject areas. This blog post is a record of my experiences with some of these apps but also a conversation starter for the group.

I know much better apps that you should be using!

Then please get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.

Python Programming Challenges and open book assessments

Given that it is Computer Science in Education week and the last few weeks of term I wanted to wrap up my practical programming lessons for the term with some Python programming challenges.

Why programming challenges?

In the past I’ve used these successfully with lower age groups. In my opinion it helps to validate the work all students have completed during the term, gives every student an idea of where they should be competence wise, but also allows me to stretch some of those more comfortable with the Python language.

My students will be sitting CIE 9608 Computer Science exams in May/June where their ability to create or understand pseudocode or actual code will be very important. I don’t want to concentrate purely on their ability to regurgitate past paper answers and internal assessment don’t need to closely follow what is to come in the final exam (although I do have three elements to my internal assesssments and one of these is structured around the theory exams), so I’ve made this section entirely practical and open book.

Why let the students use their notes during challenges and assessments?

It’s all about building confidence. If I see a student completing a challenge and staring at a blank screen I can intervene and support them. If I see a student staring at a blank space where their program code should be during an exam I will have failed them as a teacher. Letting students use a computer also opens up the opportunity to use the Internet to help them research their response.

As well as building confidene I want them to be under a little bit of time pressure, allowing them to decide on the strategy for completing the problem. I’ve made the challenge too difficult to Google but broken down into steps so that they can identify practice programs which might help them come up with a solution.

I also make it clear there is no single correct solution and this matches the life of a software developer in the real world. So far student have come up with amazingly diverse ways of solving the same challenge.

What about administration of these challenges?

Collecting and providing feedback on these challenges is pretty easy now they are all set up with GitHub accounts. Students have become adept at pushing code to their repositories and I was amazed at how confident they were using it this week compared to just over two months ago.

I’ve attached my most recent challenge. Have a go or share it with your class… and let me know if you upload your solution to GitHub…

 

Using Book Creator To Create Augmented Textbooks

Since starting my new role as Director of IT Systems and Computer Science in August I’ve been planning how to enhance the resources students have access to in the classroom. I use a blended learning model which mixes “traditional” lessons with pre-reading/watching/listening tasks for homework followed by practical application of the concepts covered when the students return to class.

 

Why the textbook was required

Put simply, there were no suitable resources for teaching the AS students the basics of computer programming. It is important that students make the link between pseudocode (not exactly program code, but close enough to see the logic of a solution) and the Python 3.x language the students use in class. So I decided to have screenshots of the Python code (I use Pythonista 3, which is still the best programming app out there for iPad) on each page next to a video where I write out the related pseudocode. The students responding positively to this method so I kept the style and layout of each page consistent.

Why I decided to use Book Creator

I decided to use Book Creator as a means of creating my AS Computer Science programming textbook because

  1. I was lucky enough to have access to an iPad (although there is a web version available)
  2. I wanted to embed videos but didn’t want to explore the myriad possibilities of iBooks Author
  3. I wanted to output an ePub version as well as a PDF for students.

Issues encountered

As my classroom is essentially BYOD I published the first few version of the book to our shared Google Drive as ePub and PDF versions. This was when a student kindly pointed out the videos didn’t work in PDF, so I added a link to a YouTube playlist of videos to each page.

The ePub was also difficult for students to access unless they had an iPad or device with a good ePub reader installed. I then remembered about Book Creator’s Teacher account which allows you to publish up to 10 books on their site. This allowed me to share a link to the online book and ensure that the students get the intended experience.

What next?

The students are moving onto more complex programming concepts this term so I’ve already begun creating a second textbook. I would also like to inspire my students to create their own Book Creator programming portfolios which contain images, text, audio and video to help them revise for the AS and A2 exams in the future. I was really impressed with the ease of use of Book Creator and once I had come up with a simple consistent layout and worked out what was possible with the app it was very straightforward to create the book over a number of weeks. I think I prefer the iPad app to the website at the moment because I got more done on trains and planes (without access to WiFi) than when I was in the classroom.

 

The textbook is embedded below. Any comments on any aspect of the book would be gratefully appreciated.

You can also find out more about Book Creator’s resources for teachers here.

Redirecting TinyURL shortcuts using Google Sites

I’ve had my CompSci department page live at my current school for nearly two years now. It links many of the resources students find invaluable and is regularly used across KS3, iGCSE and IB courses. However the new Google Sites layout is much easier to configure and seems to help with accessibility so I decided in the last few weeks of term to help smooth the handover process by rebuilding. The problem was I wanted to retain my extremely useful TinyURL shortcut and make it point to the new site – and that’s not possible.

The solution

So I will have to keep the homepage of the original site (fine, I’ll transfer ownership) but wanted a quick way to redirect automatically without having users click on a link. Luckily someone had already thought of a way to do this with (the old) Google Sites: URL Redirector Modified

Setting up the redirect

To set this up simply:

  • go to the Insert menu when editing the page in the old Google Sites
  • select More Gadgets…
  • click on Public and then enter “url redirector modified” in the search box
  • select the gadget

Next customise your redirect. The first textbox is for your new URL. I also chose 10 seconds for the timeout as I wanted the students to see a message about the new site before the redirect, however you could adapt as required.

Then simply save your page and try it out!

 

 

Diagnostic Questions for Computer Science #DQ #CompSci

With my classes on exam leave or preparing for their end of year assessments I have been teaching a variety of revision sessions and lessons recently. While I feel it is valuable to prepare students with exam style or past paper questions, time management strategies, peer review of answers I realised we hadn’t reexamined student thought processes with particular focus on programming and problem solving questions.

The weekly #CASchat on Twitter reminded me of http://www.diagnosticquestions.com. I had investigated it before prior to mock exams  in January but hadn’t used it with my classes. The reminder was perfectly timed as I had just interviewed students about the areas of the course covered so far that they felt less confident about. I had my focus areas and a purpose for use of diagnostic questioning.


I curated a mixture of pre-created questions from the Computing topic into quizzes and allocated them to classes. It was very easy to build the quizzes and set up the classes. Students joined the class using a code which I shared via email.

DQ shows the selected questions and accepts a single multiple choice answer from each student, however it then asks the students to explain the reasoning behind their chosen answer. This can allow the teacher to uncover and address misconceptions or gaps in learning. I wasn’t sure what the students would make of this but, after a few sample questions to get used to the system and my expectations they, in the main, worked their socks off to explain to me why they chose one answer over another. The results sorted the questions into order of most commonly answered incorrectly so I could highlight the correct answer with a small group or as a whole class discussion.


At the end of each class today I asked the students how the site compared to for example Kahoot!, and I fully expected to be told that the other multiple choice revision tools were more exciting or interesting. However almost every student loved DQ and requested more sets of questions do they could continue to review and improve their own learning! The fact that you could see peer explanations (even from other students around the world) gave my classes another viewpoint with which to deepen their understanding of a topic.


The site has its glitches of course: the convoluted way to de-select quiz questions is a particular highlight. As is the lack of ability to create your own scheme of work for your subject area.


However it is so easy for teachers to create their own content (I made two PowerPoint templates for my IGCSE and IB question sets in around 10 mins and import the individual slides as images into DQ) I now fully intend to use it regularly throughout the year and track student understanding not only across topics but also across year groups and courses. It has definitely become another useful tool in my Flipped Classroom box.

My favourite childhood book #teacher5aday #memorymarch

This post is part of a series linked to the #memorymarch initiative created by Ritesh Patel for #teacher5aday. Please visit his blog post for more details and join in if you can!

“Childhood and memories in general are priceless. Yes there will be some bad memories but also some memorable ones! That’s life & we have to keep going and stay positive! This month, lets reminisce and share together.”

I was really lucky to have parents and extended family who liked me to have or read books from an early age. One grandparent bought me non fiction every christmas and while my dad preferred engineering and tinkering to reading he introduced me to Scottish comic strips such as The Broons and Oor Wullie. As I grew older we spent an hour or so every Thursday after school in a tiny portacabin library near my primary school where I developed my love of Usborne programming books.

As far as I can remember, my first book was one from a very popular series:

And while I thought I couldn’t remember which one a quick Google search unearthed the cover – instant time-warp!!

The books were written by Jayne Fisher who was only nine when she first created The Garden Gang series. I think I was three or four years old when I got this book and have very fond memories of it. The pictures in the book were originally drawn with felt pen and I wished I was as half as good at art as she was. A little Internet research told me she did indeed become an artist.

I don’t have my copy any more as we passed it on our old toys and games to our neighbours during house moves and clear outs. I remember it being a well read and loved copy with a cracked spine.

Strangely enough we were given the Simon Swede and Avril Apricot book by a friend a year or so ago and now my kids both love the series too.

My first job #teacher5aday #memorymarch


A photo taken this morning enroute to my current job

This post is part of a series linked to the #memorymarch initiative created by Ritesh Patel for #teacher5aday. Please visit his blog post for more details and join in if you can!

“Childhood and memories in general are priceless. Yes there will be some bad memories but also some memorable ones! That’s life & we have to keep going and stay positive! This month, lets reminisce and share together.”

My first job was, like many others my age, a paper round at age 14. The pay was terrible for the work (if I remember correctly £4.25 a week PLUS a free video from the limited selection in the village shop) however I really enjoyed it. The round itself was easy enough – about 70 houses – which took about 90 minutes by foot and a bit quicker by bike. I remember the weather being generally nice which is strange for North East Scotland so I’ve probably blocked out the months of rain and howling wind.

What I really enjoyed about the job was the thinking time. The process of delivering the papers to the houses quickly became second nature and I just daydreamed my way around it. Much like today I came up with ways to link my learning together (although I probably didn’t actually realise I was doing this), whatever it was at the time. I now know that reflection of my students is one of the most important parts of the learning process. There has to be gaps to reflect both inside and outside of school.

I think that this kind of job is now pretty much obsolete with the increase in digital news consumption and the loss of local village shops to larger supermarkets however I do think that thinking time and reflection remains as important as ever. Italians have the right idea here, with aperitivo time every day where they sit, chat, read and think. It helps that there is often sunshine of course but, speaking as an 18 month resident of Milan, there is a lot more rain, fog and chill than most people realise!

That said, it is beautiful today…

My own reflections on #teacher5aday #fitfeb

I (along with many others) have been a long fan of the #teacher5aday hashtag on Twitter. It has firmly established itself as a supportive, reflective network of educators and, if not always contributing my thoughts, I always read the tweets and pass on suggested initiatives to my local school community.

While I didn’t directly contribute to the discussion about February’s fitness focus (#fitfeb) it aligned with my own attempts to keep the bugs at bay through more regular exercise. Even though you can regularly feel that you have no time for yourself you have to find a suitable balance or overwork and stress will cause you to be forced to take time off. I revisited the NHS Couch to 5K podcasts and got up an hour earlier to jog (slowly) around Milan before it got too busy but my partner also suggested the NHS Strength and Flex podcasts too. They compliment each other and aren’t too strenuous or time consuming at around 30mins each. I think they really helped in the run up to the mid-term break (much needed!) and hope my suggestion is useful to you too.

Brave or Stupid? Abandoning email #workflow #teacher5aday #wellbeing #productivity

https://pixabay.com/en/hustle-and-bustle-woman-face-arrows-1738072/
https://pixabay.com/en/hustle-and-bustle-woman-face-arrows-1738072/
There are plenty of articles out there about email productivity, labelling, filtering. Colour stars abound. Branching labels grow unchecked. I won’t link to them here.

My workflow – for years – has almost always been manually controlled: Interesting / useful email message? Forward to Evernote for archiving and tagging. An action from an email message? Add it to my To-Do list. An email bulletin from a website or solution provider with an interesting article to read? Forward to my Pocket address so I can read it on my Kobo later.

But the email pile grows ever bigger, even with archiving, and searching for an email is just as frustrating as it was before. Add to that the 24-7 nature of email and the “respond now” culture that has evolved over the past few years and you have very little chance of switching off. France are making headway with this issue (but not banning after work email) as they realise this seriously impacts staff wellbeing.

It has got to the point where I want to abandon email altogether and work with a system that helps organise and track tasks for me and others in my department. I have a feeling this is a simultaneously brave and incredibly stupid action but want to explain my reasons behind the decision:

Last weekend (yes, weekend – I’m such a hypocrite) I introduced Trello to my team. You may already know about it but for those who don’t it is a collaborative system where you can have discussions within a card. These cards can be organised on a board. Those boards can be private or public. After a week or use we have reduced our department email to a whimper of what it was previously. Within a week. The boards are evolving and we are communicating almost entirely within Trello cards. It has been so successful at channelling and tracking our asynchronous communication that I’ve put on hold the plan to introduce Slack (which I thought would be an essential component) for the time being.

However my non-department school email continued to pile in. I realised that most of these were being actioned then archived to Evernote. I use Evernote for its tagging and have been archiving web pages, resources and documents of interest since 2010. I have a nice labelling system set up and had previously attempted a productivity system within Evernote without much success. The main issue then was that I had to manually forward actions from email to Evernote, then manually tag them in Evernote appropriately, then remember to manually check the saved searches, etc. It was adding to my workload, not improving it. By removing my department email threads I realised that I had an opportunity to automate some of my workflow for the benefit of me, my team and perhaps the rest of the school.

dilbert-urgent

I looked again at email filters. I created two new ones: The first to file department mail into a “Computer Science Department” label, the other to file all other emails from within my school into a “Whole School” label. I’m working on the simple premise that, if I know who sent it, I know (roughly) what area of my school it relates to.

Then I used the IFTTT service to detect when unread emails with either label appear in my inbox and forward the email text (not attachment) to Evernote. The IFTTT applet files them in my Action Pending notebook and tags them as department or whole school.

At this point I have some manual intervention. I read the messages within Evernote and decide if they need actioning. If urgent I tag them as “1 – Now”. Other levels of urgency are available but none are automated as yet. I realise this is just moving an email to another system however Evernote does not notify me of new notes so removes the “respond now” demand and allows me to schedule a time to check messages every day.

I created another IFTTT applet that looks for a note in Evernote being tagged as “1 – Now”. When this happens it automatically creates a Trello card with the message text and puts it on a private board called “From Evernote”.

From Trello I can now move this from my board to public department boards if it requires action or input from my department.

Other emails from suppliers or subscriptions remain in my email for the moment but this now allows me to take time to purge what is spam (I’ll bet most of it) and what I can automate into Pocket articles in the future.

Potential issues:

I realise that the emails that have attachments will still have to be manually viewed in my email. If I need to forward emails to Evernote instead of using IFTTT in the future it is a minor change as I already have an automated workflow which archives scanned student work for marking within Notability. At present I can upload attachments up to 25MB into Trello cards if required.

There is a daily cover email which is important to read and action if necessary. This one cannot be delayed until a quiet moment of Evernote contemplation. At present I’m not sure how best to filter this – perhaps a separate private Trello board for cover is required (at least until I can convince the school that this is the way forward)….

So my questions are: Brave or stupid? Do you think this will work? Do you have any workflow suggestions to share?

And now I’m going to spend the rest of my day with my family…

Constructing my hackable classroom – Part 1 #ThisIsMyClassroom

Untitled//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

In late 2015 I had the opportunity to sit down and design a classroom environment suited to Computer Science students. After surveying my students and getting lots of ideas (including one which resembled a living-room with C shaped sofa – tempting, I’ll admit) for what they consider would be their optimal learning environment I let the ideas stew while over in London in January for the Apple Leadership event and BETT 2016.

My interest in flexible learning environments roll way back to my time at Inverurie Academy when I worked in an open plan floor of six classrooms. I posted my first #ThisIsMyClassroom blog in May 2011 as a way of recording the changes to my classroom environment. Even at this time I was asking students about how they would like their learning environments to be arranged and remember the 3D walkthrough videos created by a great S3 class. It was truly excellent work that culminated in a video conference with Anna Rossvoll, who was at that time creating her own flexible learning environment at Hill of Banchory school in Aberdeenshire. I’ll try and find these videos and upload some of them.

Since the launch of the Raspberry Pi Computer Science teachers have had the ever-increasing opportunity to embed low-cost working models in their classrooms. While at Robert Gordon’s College I set up a separate Raspberry Pi lab (imaginatively titled PiLab) but when we moved to new classrooms in 2015 integrated the Raspberry Pis into my Computing classroom and made them part of the curriculum rather than an extra-curricular club.

I also used my experience from attending the PiCademy in Cambridge to investigate how Raspberry Pi might be used to allow students to access previously static areas of the classroom environment and bring them to life.

Perhaps the final piece of the inspiration puzzle came when I visited OnHouse Milano during last session. While primarily a showcase design home I had a great discussion with their programmers on how they use themes and scenarios to integrate a number of systems. This gave me the idea of creating Python API wrappers that allow the students to move easily access a number of hackable devices in the same program. These libraries could then easily be imported into a student’s programming environment and let them, for example, take the colour sensed by a Raspberry Pi camera and mimic it in the Phillips Hue lighting system.

https://flickrit.com/embed.js.php?id=6K55HRV5KS

I still want to keep the same classroom environment ethos as I introduce more (relatively low cost) interactive technology to the classroom – the students connect more by displaying their work. So areas of the room are set aside ready for student posters which can then be augmented using Aurasma, CodeBug projects can be displayed in a gallery area around the LAUNCH posters, the robotics created by students in extra curricular clubs are always on display. It does sound like I’m looking forward to the room becoming a slightly updated version of Eduardo Paolozzi’s studio

At this point the desks are in, the screen is in a more suitable position so that all students can view, the double whiteboards are up and the power provision in the classroom has been enhanced. There are also elements of the hackable classroom in place and the students will begin to use these as part of their lessons in the coming weeks and months

Flipped / Blended Classroom with NEO LMS

NEOLMS

As the new school year started last week I wanted to push further with my Flipped Classroom approach. My hacked-together system of EdPuzzle videos, Google Form WSQs and Google Classroom feedback to the students worked but was very time-consuming for the teacher. There was also a drawback to the students as it was difficult for them to quickly return to a topic at a later date for review.

I am currently half-way through completion of a University of Georgia Coursera entitled “K12 Blended and Online Learning”. I wanted to complete this to further my own knowledge and experience in this field and hoped that it would open my eyes to some pedagogical or behavioural methods for use in this type of learning environment.

I am enjoying using the Coursera system but it doesn’t let individual teachers create their own courses. When I worked at Robert Gordon’s College I successfully developed a number of iTunesU courses for iPad but unfortunately couldn’t leverage the same system for Macbook. I did a little research and found NEO LMS. It’s early days but I wanted to give my initial impressions of the service.

Courses were easy to create and customise and students register for these with an access code. When I introduced it in class last week there were NO issues with sign up – that rarely happens with new services. Students were impressed by the interface and found it easy to navigate.

I spent some more time exploring the multitude of options this afternoon while setting up two new courses. NEO LMS has made it so easy that I’m going to attempt to Flip my entire curriculum, not just a course or two throughout the year. I’ve already worked out how to get my students into separate Groups which then makes it easy to register them for future courses without the need for an access code. In fact, if you have the Enterprise edition, you can leverage the Rules engine to automatically enroll students in the next course when they finish the current one!

If you are looking into building your own Flipped / Blended courses then I highly recommend you check out NEO LMS. The individual teacher account is free and supports up to 200 students. You also get a 14-day trial of the Enterprise edition when you sign up.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn, 11th September 2016

Evaluating Coursera for Blended and Online Learning (Part 1)

Adjusting back to the heat of Milan in August is taking a little time for the family and this means broken sleep all round. Add a fantastic thundstorm right overhead at 3am and you have the perfect recipe for an early start to your day!

Inspired by some of my notes from reading Jay Ashcroft’s The Tablet Revolution (see review) I decided to investigate alternative MOOC platforms to iTunesU. I love iTunesU but the iOS app is a far superior experience than a student gets using iTunes on a MacBook. I flitted between Coursera and Udemy for a while not really finding a suitable course for comparison before stumbling upon an old article related to e-Learning: Most Popular Online Courses for eLearning Professionals. It seemed familiar and my Evernote concurred that I’d been here before.

While many of the courses listed are now long gone I found that Georgia Tech had just begun running a course titled K12 Blended and Online Learning. I decided enrolling would be useful on two fronts:

  1. Allow me to evaluate the Coursera platform
  2. Further my own professional development in the area of blended learning

Week one concentrates on the standards and documents from iNACOL. For anyone interested in deepening their understanding  of blended learning I highly recommend visiting their site. Of course Georgia Tech have linked all the required reading into their MOOC for you.


The instructional videos were clear, less than 8mins each in length and punctuated with short multiple choice quizzes. I do however wonder if Coursera allows different types of questioning similar to EdPuzzle (which I love). The iOS app reminded me of iTunesU a little, especially the ability to download videos for offline viewing.


I do wonder what the extra space is for in the video player… Might have been nice to have a transcript here.


I realise that students might be accessing Coursera on their MacBook so their experience will probably be different.

I completed the pre-assessment you can see linked in the screenshot earlier and found it very useful in helping to focus my targets. I’m comfortable with policy, online tools and classroom teaching, but want to delve deeper into intervention strategies that will enhance the learning of my online students. As the pre-assessment was a spreadsheet (also a PDF option) I would have liked the ability to upload an image or type some notes to myself and link it to my current stage in the course. I couldn’t find a way of doing this outside of the discussion forums so will have to rely on Evernote instead. On reflection it is probably good to have my notes outside of my MOOC, just in case.

Supplemental information appears to be text-only with hyperlinks and this is fine. One of the pages had embedded PDF and XLSX files that opened in Coursera’s own browser. Clicking on a world icon then opened it in Safari so documents could then be opened in other applications or saved. It would have been nice to select between Safari and Chrome as the default.

The discussion forums were basic but easy to navigate. Nothing I’d want to add there, there’s a reply and an upvote button for each post. Not sure how you are notified of new posts but will find out soon I hope!

In summary this is a good start. I’ve not tried creating a unit in Coursera yet but as a user I’m finding it easy to learn and navigate. I’m also enjoying the course and picking up new tips along the way which I intend to share with you, dear reader, in another instalment.

Book review: The Tablet Revolution by Jay Ashcroft @LearnMakeruk

The Tablet Revolution by Jay Ashcroft (amazon paperback & kindle)

The Tablet Revolution Cover

As someone involved in the planning, design and implementation of a large scale iPad rollout project a few years ago I found this book a fascinating read that echoed much of my own school’s experience. Each of the chapters cover a particular area that a school or education authority must consider before putting devices into the hands of teachers and students with nuggets of wisdom from the other side of the fence: that of the sales or support team wanting to part you from your funds!

The case studies peppered throughout the book highlight the pitfalls of poor planning or vague vision as well as the better-known success stories. I found this refreshing as many articles and books tend to make it seem like every project has been a success whereas anyone involved in an IT project in education or commerce will know this is just not the case!

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 18.12.35

I highly recommend this book to those who are planning a roll out of devices to students, those who are in the midst of the roll out and definitely to those who have been through the highs and lows already. I took the opportunity to reflect on my own approach, assumptions and practice as I read this book and think that Jay has given me insights in how to improve the learning and teaching outcomes of those using devices in the future.

Thank you for sharing this Jay!

Rating: 5 stars

As posted on Amazon.co.uk

You can read an interview with Jay Ashcroft here: http://www.ipadeducators.com/single-post/2015/04/03/INTERVIEW-Jay-Ashcroft

Cryptography #iGCSE #ComputerScience

One of the nice and not-so-nice things about vague arrangements documents is that you have to work out how to best fill the gap.

Encryption methods are part of the Computer Security section of the course – symmetric and asymmetric encryption to be exact – and, while I could simply put two slides up on the screen and move on, I saw this as an opportunity to break away from exam style questions and have a little bit of practical fun with the students.

I introduced my Year 10 students to the Caesar cipher this week, surprised that very few of them had even heard of it. They caught on quickly though and were soon manually translating coded messages back into plaintext.

But as the lesson progressed the messages got longer and the students began to find translation very time consuming. So, after a bit of discussion, we decided it might be best to ask a computer to do the translation for us. We would still provide the ciper-text and shift key, and it would do the rest.

This allowed us (imagine that) to then recap on relevant pre-defined functions to translate characters into ASCII codes and then build an algorithm to apply the shift key to these ASCII codes. Once the codes were converted back to characters they were ready to display on the screen! Most students managed to get to this point, with some even working on alternatives (more on that later).

The next day the students returned and were given a tougher challenge: decryption without the shift key! We discussed the letter frequency graph shown above and tried to create an algorithm to accurately calculate the shift key.

The open-endedness of this task challenged everyone and the variety of solutions suggested touched on some of the actual decryption methods utilised.

A few students suggested a brute force decryption of a digest of the entire message, looking for a small number of short English words before comparing the calculated shift key to the frequency analysis graph. When challenged further they explained that this would decrease the processing time of the decryption algorithm as it wouldn’t have to translate as many characters. Some students had even had researched further to find out which were the most used English words in written text!

The students rounded off the lesson by creating a list of advantages and disadvantages of symmetric encryption. While students took longer on the concepts it gave them the opportunity to understand some of the ideas and issues with this type of encryption.

Next week we tackle asymmetric encryption. I can’t wait!

Social media generated art in Python #ThisIsMyClassroom #Programming #STEAM

For the third blog post on this topic I wanted to use Python to generate different pieces of art without relying entirely on the random function. I decided to use the tweepy library, mainly because I had already used it to post content to Twitter but had never investigated how it could be used to read information back from Twitter.

It didn’t take long to find out how to read the latest 10 tweets from my own timeline using Python. Then I split the individual words into a list and sorted them into alphabetical order (for no real reason at the moment, but frequency analysis will follow!). Then I used the write method from the Turtle graphics library to place each word at a random location on the screen. This was my first attempt:

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 23.50.08

A bit tricky to read the words I thought. And I’d accidentally forgotten to penup before moving the turtle. However this accidental vector spider web became part of the artwork (because when I removed it, it looked quite boring).

A little while later I was able to change the font size at random (I changed the font to palatino after experimenting with a few others) and changing the pencolor in the same way as previous Python art programs changed the text colour too.

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 23.53.35

I had a lot of text to display, even just from 10 tweets, so I thought of ways to reduce the amount. I wrote a little Python subroutine that removed hashtags, mentions and URLs (as well as any other non ASCII text) and that was enough!

The video below shows the program in action. I decided to make a video this time because you can make out the individual words much more clearly at the beginning of the drawing than at the end!

As before the code is now on github (with my tweepy details removed for security). I’ve left in a commented out section of code that allows you to run a search for a keyword, hashtag or phrase instead of taking the latest timeline so you can experiment.

Any comments or improvements would be much appreciated!

SOUND GENERATED ART IN PYTHON #THISISMYCLASSROOM #PROGRAMMING #STEAM

I had a lot of fun experimenting with the subroutines and Python Turtle methods yesterday but wanted to push it a little further and find out if I could make use of a new Python library to help create automated art.

Somehow I’ve never built a program that utilises and analyses audio before, so challenged myself to find out more about libraries such as PyAudio and Wave this afternoon. My daughter was practising piano in the other room so it gave me a push to integrate live audio into my solution, rather than rely on pre-recorded wav files.

I learned about numpy a little this afternoon too. I hadn’t realised it had functions to extract the frequency from an audio block (FFT). The more I explore Python, the more I fall in love with it as a language!

Once I’d successfully extracted numeric frequencies from the 5 second wave file into a list I looped through them and attempted to place shapes on the Python Turtle screen to correlate with the current frequency. I decided on a simple X axis plot to begin with but then, as I realised the range between min and max frequencies usually exceeded 8000 I introduced a scale factor so they could be seen on the screen together and adjusted the Y axis so that each frequency appeared bottom to top in the order of analysis.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 18.18.40

Quite nice, but there’s a lot of white space where the unused frequency range lies. Instead of removing this range from the visualisation (which, in retrospect, might have been a good idea) I decided to attempt to create ghosts of the circles fading out as they get further from the original position. This led me into colorsys and all sorts of bother, reminding me (eventually) not to mess with anything that returns a Tuple until I convert it back to a List first. Anyway, I removed that part of the code and put my arty effects on the back burner. You can see one example of the mess below. Ugh.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 18.19.00

I decided to alter the colour of the background this time too. I think I’d like to use some audio analysis to decide on the colour range in a future version so that low audio frequencies create darker images and high frequencies create bright, bubblegum pop images.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 18.06.42

The last thing I added to the program was the option to use pre-recorded audio WAV files instead of always recording 5 seconds of audio. This was very easy to add as I’d modularised the code as I went, so all that was needed was a few lines extra in the main program:

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 19.08.33

Trying out the program with a few WAV files from www.findsounds.com or playing a YouTube video in the background resulted in the following images:

chimpanzee.wav
chimpanzee.wav
uptown funk
uptown funk

Python files can be found at Github – https://github.com/familysimpson/PythonArt/. Feel free to fork the code, leave comments below or just enjoy the images it generates!

Computer Generated Art #thisismyclassroom #programming #steam

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I wanted to create a task that allowed students to create a computer program in Python that would automatically create its own artwork but be customisable so that each student could experiment and personalise their own program to their tastes.

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It’s a rough Python 3 program using the Turtle library and an array of Turtles but so far it has produced some really nice work. In the images shown below the program uses a user-defined function that draws a randomly sized square. I thought this would be easy for the students to understand and hack into something new!

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Of course art can be created as a response to an external stimulus so a possible extension of this program would be to get input from the user (colours, mood, age) or calculate a range of colours from an input sensor or device (temperature, time, image).

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 02.15.38

The code is below! Any suggestions or improvements would be appreciated!

import turtle
import random
wn = turtle.Screen()
w = wn.window_width()
h = wn.window_height()

t1 = turtle.Turtle()
t2 = turtle.Turtle()
t3 = turtle.Turtle()
t4 = turtle.Turtle()
t5 = turtle.Turtle()
t6 = turtle.Turtle()

turtles = [t1, t2, t3, t4, t5, t6]

def square(item, size):
for x in range(4):
item.forward(size)
item.right(90)
item.forward(size)
item.left(random.randrange(-180, 180))

wn.tracer(False)
for iteration in range(3):
for item in turtles:
item.penup()
item.goto(random.randrange(-w,w),random.randrange(-h,h))
item.color(random.randrange(0,255)/255.,random.randrange(0,255)/255.,random.randrange(0,255)/255.)
item.pendown()
wn.tracer(False)
for move in range(2500):
for item in turtles:
item.speed(0)
square(item,random.randrange(5,25))
wn.tracer(True)

wn.exitonclick()

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 02.51.34

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 02.54.57

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.

Adding some WSQ to my #flipclass

I’m nearly a month into my flipped classroom approach and I’m already seeing the benefits (some of which I’m sharing as part of a whole-school INSET on Wednesday):

  1. Students are – in the main – responding well to the video introductions or lessons
  2. My tasks are becoming more diverse to cater for students who need additional challenges in the extended time we have in class
  3. My department website is the central focus of most of my lessons, where students can find or create sections on concepts
  4. EdPuzzle has been great at tracking video views and the embedded questions have helped me group students together where possible for remediation or further challenges
  5. Students are learning to make best use of the time in my class to move forward at a pace that suits them and to engage in deeper learning tasks

I’ve included a little screenshot of one of the pages of my department website to show you how I am beginning to embed deeper learning tasks into each concept.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 23.37.00

While the layout isn’t pretty it is consistent and students are becoming used to completing the Task link (usually a Google Doc with some questions or challenges) before moving on to the Deeper Learning Tasks link.

I used an idea I picked up on whilst completing my Google Certifed Educator exams late last year: the Multi Media Text Set. This is where the student is given a number of different options: links to webpages, articles, videos, etc. so that they have an element of choice in each lesson. Here’s a screengrab of some of the deeper learning tasks for the Machine Instruction Cycle topic:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 23.42.44

I have to thank the great Voxer group I’m part of for keeping me motivated, focussed and for sharing their own practices and challenges. One teacher (Shai McGowan) told the group about WSQ (pronounced whisk) as a way of collating feedback from students on the flipped approach. I’m currently using a mixture of EdPuzzle, Kahoot quizzes and 1:1 conversation with students (now I have the time!!) to gauge their progress but am interested in reading further. I did a little searching and found the following comprehensive guide to WSQing your flipped lessons:

http://flippingwithkirch.blogspot.co.uk/p/wsqing.html

The next step is to try the approach with a few classes. While my target class for the flipped approach has been my year 10s I have been teaching younger students the art of note taking (Cornell style) so they should be by now more than capable of completing the Summary part of a WSQ. Come to think of it, I’d be very interested to see who are better – those who have been explicitly taught to take notes in a certain way or those who haven’t.

Inspiration from "The ON House" Milano #thisismyclassroom

I was lucky enough to find out about this house through a parent of the school and visited it today. The ON House has been created by Simontech to demonstrate the various home and office automation products that they sell and how they can be integrated together via an overarching web app.

As you might remember from previous blog posts I am gathering inspiration, student wish lists and researching classroom design in order to develop a classroom with a clear Computer Science identity and purpose. In short I want a classroom that can be customised to suit particular learning and teaching tasks but also become integrated into the lessons I teach.

I plan to take some of my students there so they can also gain an insight into what is possible with current technology. What I particularly liked about The ON House was that the technology was not obvious or overwhelming however the integration of the technology made the house more accessible and customisable.

During the visit I thought about how some of the technology could be integrated into a Computer Science classroom. For example the ambient lighting presets could be used to indicate and suit different learning activities. Programmable colour changing LEDs in the ceiling or floor could also be accessed directly by students in their programming lessons. I think there would have to be a way of allowing access to these lights during lesson so that my classroom did not become a disco when a student got home!

The ability to change the machines that were displayed on the short throw projector via an app would also be very useful in class. At my previous school a custom SMART panel was used to switch sources which meant that any changes required software updates from the company. It also meant that if the panel broke – it cost a lot to fix it and rendered the AV unit useless. Multi-platform applications that perform the same function as a custom panel would, I think, allow changes in the future to be made much more easily. Also replacing an android tablet or iPad mini would be much cheaper than a custom SMART panel.

Simontech also explained that access levels can be set within their system and I think that this could be fantastic for lesson preparation. If you have the lighting, AV, etc. set appropriately for a particular task or topic you can quickly save this as a preset at the end of a lesson and recall that preset the next time the class comes in leaving you free to start the lesson without fiddling with the technology.

There were other interesting components built into The ON House including electric privacy glass. On returning to school I trawled YouTube for a while and found a great short video showing this in action.

In the video you can see that when the glass is set to white you can project on the surface and, if you think it’s useful, add a touch screen too. This could allow you to open out a classroom with few windows so that more natural light was let in and also function as a display space.

Another aspect they discussed was security. In their kitchen demo they showed that their app could prevent doors into other rooms as well as individual cupboards and drawers from opening depending on the preset.

I have linked a few videos and articles about the ON house below so you can find out more about it. If you are in the Milan area and would like to visit it you can send an email to theonhouse@simontech.it or phone +39 02 40043548.

A slightly late #teacher5aday 2016 pledge

Although spending most of the Christmas holidays under the weather (double dose of the Milan flu I’ve been told!) I really enjoyed following the #teacher5adayslowchat hashtag on Twitter (started and perpetuated by Martyn Reah). I peeked over the parapet to post my thoughts and had resolved to post a #teacher5aday pledge before the end of the week. However – I forgot!

To keep my own wellbeing in sharp focus, as well as the development of my students, I pledge to:

#connect – although I already connect a lot digitally I want to try and voice chat (already getting into @voxer)/ video chat with friends and colleagues more in 2016. I also want to take advantage of the short visits home to catch up with as many technophobe friends as possible!

#exercise – take advantage of Milan’s BikeMi service, where you can borrow bikes from areas across the city by swiping your metro card; swim in the lakes as soon as it gets warm enough!

#notice – Explore Milan, find secret places, drink in the artwork and try to slow down in my spare time.

#learn – I was lucky enough to get an electric guitar and iRig for Christmas so I’m currently using Yousician to brush up on some rusty techniques; My Italian could (and will) be better; I also want to continue to learn from my colleagues – both real and virtual!

#volunteer – As well as planning for TeachMeet Milan at the end of the school year I’d like to volunteer outside of the educational sphere. I’ve heard that Italians are some of the most generous and helpful people in the world. There must be a way to lend a hand…

Using @EdPuzzle for the first time #flipclass #flipchat

EdPuzzle is not a new site to me, however I’ve never had the time to sit down and investigate it properly. I got the opportunity today as the rain made an overdue visit to Milan.

My Year 10 Computer Science students are revisiting the Python language and I gauged their knowledge during class last week. As they all selected similar problems to solve I decided to share my solutions via video and take advantage of the embedded questioning offered by EdPuzzle.

I had intended to link to the finished EdPuzzle from a Google Form and then mark student submissions using Flubaroo however I was happy to see that EdPuzzle linked to Google Classroom and recorded student results and progress for me.

I’ve attached a quick video walkthrough of one of the tasks below, in case you want to see how it works. I think that next time I’ll make one video so that students do not have two tasks to complete but would appreciate any other feedback or suggestions!

Trying to create a student understanding tracking system using Google Forms and Sites #gafe

I used (and sorely miss) Geddit. It was very useful in gauging student understanding during a lesson and was a low-cost, high-gain tracking tool that I could refer to after lessons, before end of topic tests and during parents evenings (if needed).

I decided to try and create something along a similar vein, but using Google Forms and Sites. The advantage of this is that I can restrict access to those within the school, automatically use GAFE login details, and – in the future – customise it with more complex Google Apps Scripts so that students can be emailed and Google Charts automatically generated into a dashboard (I’m thinking by student or class at the moment).

My late-night sketch was simple enough – the teacher could choose a class and enter a question into a teacher-only Google Form. This would then be parsed by a Google Script to somehow display the most recently entered class and question in or above the student Google Form. When I’m generating reports into the dashboard I can use the timestamps from each Google Form response spreadsheet to correlate which question the student response relates to.

Anyway this was easy enough to prototype:

Teacher question control form
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 01.48.33

Student response form
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 01.49.05

The problem however was getting the most recent teacher question to appear in the Google Form. I decided to create a new Google Site and see if I could publish a range of the teacher Google Sheet as a webpage. I thought that this would be the easiest way to display the current question.

First I used a Google Sheet query in a new tab (called Question Feed) to reverse the order of the Google Form submissions:

=query('Form responses 1'!A1:Z, "select * order by A desc", 1)

I then created another Google Sheet tab (called Web Page) to create the view to be embedded in the Google Site:

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 01.56.53

I managed to publish this tab as a web page and then went about embedding it into my Google Site. All worked great! However Google Sheets only seem to refresh every 5 minutes so I investigated a way of doing something similar using a Google Script.

Using code similar to the following I was able to change the page title of the Google Site’s current (only) page to the most recent question submitted:

function displayQuestion() {
var ss = SpreadsheetApp.openById("put your Google Sheet ID here");
var sheet = ss.getSheetByName('Web Page'); // or whatever is the name of the sheet
var range = sheet.getRange(2,1); // Get the question
var question = range.getValue();
var range = sheet.getRange(1,1); // Get the class
var data = range.getValue() + ": " + question; // concatenate
var site = SitesApp.getSiteByUrl("put your Google Site URL here");
var page = site.getChildren()[0];
page.setTitle(data); // Puts current question from SS into page title section

}

I added the script to the Google Site and set a trigger to run the function every minute.

The student view of the system currently looks like this:

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Yes there are UX issues – such as the page refresh to get a new question, or the need to click on “Submit another response” to change the teacher question or add another student response, however I think I’m happy with it as a starting point.

Please feel free to use the above code if it is useful to you. I’m going to try it out with a few classes in the next few weeks and see if I can use some real data to create reports from. Any comments on how I can improve the system would also be greatly appreciated.

On wellbeing

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It’s fairly commonplace to be self-reflective at this time of year and, for teachers anyway, the holidays are usually when we consider how to improve our own wellbeing. Recovering from a draining term, it has definitely been on my mind…

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I was intrigued by the Twitter discussion #teacher5adaySlowChat over the past few days however decided to lurk instead of post. Long-time Twitter friend Robert Macmillan wrote a fantastic discussion piece yesterday on teacher wellbeing. I found this section particularly jarring:

If you are naive enough to believe the pundits and the politicians, then we’re treated quite well. Indeed, the ‘Get Into Teaching’ website preaches that as a “valued professional” you can look forward to:

Job satisfaction, “competitive salary, generous pension”.

It goes on to tell about long holidays in which you can: “pursue your interests, travel and spend time with family and friends.”

Not for them the lower life expectancy that has seen several of my former colleagues die just after retirement.

I wouldn’t paint all schools with this broad brush but have experienced the highs and lows of working in locations where teacher wellbeing is either a high priority or completely ignored. Teaching is a career that can completely overwhelm all other aspects of your life and needs careful attention to ensure that you don’t spend your long holidays recovering from illness, fatigue or stress. My family spent most of the last term swapping bugs which left us all exhausted by Christmas and I’m sure a lot of other teachers would have been in the same boat around the world. Even one week in we’re nowhere near 100%. Hence my preference to lurk and consider at the moment – at least I’m managing to spend time with my family…

Milan traffic ban

Milan is a beautiful, vibrant city with so much variety to observe and explore. However what I found most striking recently was the (non-peak) ban on vehicles in the city. Yesterday the city was eerily quiet between 10am and 4pm for the first time since 1999. I had imagined it would be reminiscent of traffic levels when we arrived in early August, when most of the Milanese head for less stifling heat, however it was completely different. I walked with the kids to a local supermarket and saw a handful of low-emission cars quietly whirr past on the way but was delighted to see how many people were out on the street chatting to neighbours, walking slowly, enjoying the winter sun. For someone who is used to everyone moving quickly and with purpose, it was a unique and enjoyable experience. I don’t know if the vehicle ban is going to help current smog levels to be honest, but it appears to be improving the quality of life for its residents in other ways.

How to be happy

The Guardian article “New year, new you – how to be happy” by Rachel Kelly didn’t contain anything that hasn’t been said before however it groups advice from yoga techniques through to recent screen time recommendations in one easy-to-reference list. I don’t agree with the “60% rule” heading but do feel that sometimes our perfectionism forces us to overwork.

The pros and cons of digital connections

While some of us decide to take regular digital detoxes to improve our wellbeing. While I agree that you need balance between online and offline activities I disagree with the idea that you need to force yourself to take a month off to realise:

The other thing that struck her was just how much pointless “digital noise” there was in her life. “When I got back home, I realised I didn’t have any messages that were actually important, that needed me to do anything. No one had died.”

Without our regular Skype or Appear.in chats with family back in the UK, my Facetime and iMessage discussions with friends and teaching colleagues I would certainly feel very isolated as suggested by the Ages 2.0 project.

Clean slate classroom: What would you do?

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I’m thinking about classroom design this evening.

My current classroom is suitable for any subject area – as long as there are less than 12 students. I’m considering how to make it stand out as a Computer Science and STEM classroom while still retaining practicality and space to move!

I’ve thought about my movement in the current classroom, what irritates me about current organisation that -if changed- will have a positive impact on my classes, my desire to amalgamate the classroom and STEM club (currently two floors apart) and how the room should be primarily a place for students to learn, but also a place that promotes the subject to visitors.

The current STEM room has desktop monitors that I have moved into the classroom in the past (two floors apart remember?). These dominate the layout and take up a lot of space when not being used so I am interested in trialling some HDMIPi screens which can be stored away when not in use.

I also want it to be a fun environment where students can interact or change some of the elements. Ideas for this include an interactive electronics wall where elements can be added or removed to change how it works, multi coloured dry erase vinyl stickers that can be placed on walls and desks, and easy access computing kits that are in magnetic containers stuck to a themed wall. I want to maximise what students can do in lessons while minimising the daily prep required to get the room ready and then reset.

Not included in the sketches are alternative seating or the location of the tall benches.

Nothing is to scale. Comments and suggestions would be lovely!

image

#STEM club were mesmerised by the @raspberry_pi @CambridgeJam EduKit 2 this afternoon

The High School STEM club have been meeting since early October. To begin with we built the Kano kits. This was an easy, but impressive starting task which allowed students with little to no experience in computer hardware to create their own microcomputer.

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I was always keen to show the students how to create simple electronic circuits but had barely moved beyond LEDs and screaming jelly babies myself. Then I spotted the CamJam EduKits and purchased enough to allow each Kano computer its own set of LEDs, buzzer and sensors.

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Today the students began working toward building an alarm system. We know this is going to take a little while but this afternoon managed to create the first section of the breadboard – the flashing LEDs and the buzzer! The students were extremely pleased when they managed to get the circuit working with their Python program (quick tip – the + / – wiring diagram for the buzzer appears to be wrong).

I’m already looking forward to next week and seeing how they cope with temperature and PIR sensors.

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…

#PayItForward Creative Commons and Digital Citizenship

My year 9 students have been learning about copyright, public domain and creative commons in recent weeks and I wanted to give them a task that had value.

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by Ludovica PB (BY-NC-ND)

I asked them to create images – photographs or drawings – that they would like to share freely on the Internet under a Creative Commons licence.

Their work is below. Please feel free to use any of the images for non-commercial purposes as long as due credit is given.

https://flic.kr/s/aHskpat2c3

Please let me know in the comments below if you have a similar initiative at your school!

Hour of Code Around the World (Event) #edchat #ukedchat #aussieED

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After some discussion with a friend and former colleague (and some thinking over a few coffees) I was inspired to post a short tweet yesterday:

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My aim is to get a small number of schools involved in a Google Hangout on Friday 11th December, code together and learn a little about how Computer Science is taught in schools in different parts of the world.

Even if timezones prevent schools from taking part in the Google Hangout there is still a chance to take part.

Interested in finding out more? Send me a tweet @familysimpson.

Getting started with Arduino #Gemma #STEAM

SpuOf5

Tonight I found time to finally open the Arduino Gemma that arrived just before the October break.

It comes with no instructions, but Adafruit have plenty of guides on their website. However depending on where you start, you may waste a bit of time. More on that below.

The first guide I read told me nothing about how to use the Gemma, just what it was, and offered no links to follow up guides. Thanks.

The second guide I found recommended the codebender.cc website as a way to program the Gemma to do what I wanted. I figured that this would be a good place to start and that I could learn from other users on the site. It started quite promisingly, with a Getting Started Guide that took me through the process of installing the Chrome extension, Arduino drivers and then… well then it wouldn’t let me get any further because… the Adafruit Gemma programmers aren’t yet supported for the codebender app! There was no explanation behind the error message (what exactly ARE programmers in the context of Arduinos?) and I imagine that other beginning Arduino users like myself would have been bemused by the lack of user assistance.

Back to the adafruit website where I find some information about drivers. They confirm I have the Arduino Gemma because it’s teal not black. This is useful information and it means that my time on the Adafruit website has been wasted. I’m also still bemused at why codebender only offered Adafruit Gemma as an option earlier.

Right. Off to the Arduino website to see if they can be any more help. I now ignore all Adafruit guides in my Google search results.

I install the Arduino IDE and connect the mini USB cable to my Gemma. Red and green LEDs flicker and then there is a steady green LED.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 19.20.36

I find and copy the Blink code into the Arduino IDE, following the instructions in the comments (good work, see above). However the IDE is obviously now different and “Upload using Programmer” is now in the Sketch menu. By the time I’d found the correct menu the 10 seconds of red LED blinking had passed and I had to press the reset button a few times on the Gemma to get it blinking again. Second time around the code transferred successfully.

I looked for a way to run the code, but then realised that the steady blinking red LED was the code running!

I’m off to investigate some more code now but thought I should summarise with my steps to getting the first program running on my Arduino Gemma:

  1. Download the Arduino IDE
  2. Connect the Arduino Gemma to Macbook via mini USB cable, make sure LEDs are lit
  3. (Windows users have to download drivers)

  4. Copy the Blink code into the code window on the Arduino IDE, replacing ALL text that is there
  5. Select Arduino Gemma from the Tools > Board menu
  6. Select Arduino Gemma from the Tools > Programmer
  7. Press the small button on the Gemma between the red and green LEDs. The red LED will glow dimly then begin to pulse. This means it is ready to receive data
  8. In the Arduino IDE select Sketch > Upload Using Programmer while the red LED is pulsing (you have 10 seconds to comply)
  9. Check the Arduino IDE output message. If there is an error message I suggest you repeat steps 6 and 7.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 19.35.03

At this point – perhaps after a short wait – the red LED on the Gemma board should begin to blink slowly. This is confirmation of the program running!

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

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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

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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

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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!

Full STEAM ahead!

It’s late. I’ll not apologise for that title.

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After rediscovering the missing Raspberry Pi SD cards (lets put their reappearance down to pixies) I was back on track to start the STEAM club in my High School today. My colleague had already successfully started his club with younger students a few weeks before and the Kano kits, Lego Mindstorms and drones were going down a storm.

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Our space is a reclaimed dormitory in the top floor of the school. It currently has five desks, four Kano kits and lots of my imported Raspberry Pi goodies. The students spent today setting up their Kanos and exploring the gamified Kano OS. I did wonder if the High School students would consider the system a bit young for them, but I had no reason to worry, they loved it and spent a long time extending the python Snake Game and then coding different objects in Minecraft.

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In the coming weeks we will begin to use TinkerCad to learn about 3D modelling and design with the intention of creating prototypes on the wonderful Ultimaker 2 3D printer and (if possible) importing some of their models into Minecraft. We are also going to visit the new Makerspace at Museo Scienza to gain inspiration for customising our own workspace. I’d like to explore WeMake too…

We would love to link with other school Makerspaces or STEAM / STEM clubs around the world. Please post your details in the comments and we’ll be in touch!

#Google #Classroom for building Digital Citizenship

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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.

Transferring ownership in #Google Drive #GAFE

In a few days I will be leaving my current school and want to ensure that the work I have curated, created and shared via Google Drive over the past four years does not disappear into the digital ether.

A few weeks ago I began to investigate how to backup Google Apps for Education emails, drive files, photos, etc and discovered Google Takeout. It’s a neat service that worked in the background to create 2GB segments of my work which could be downloaded. It worked really well: converting Google Docs, Sheets and Slides into Microsoft Office compatible files, extracting email into an MBOX readable format. I may not need to use all the files and the emails are purely for reference but I felt a lot better having a non-cloud backup, just in case.

Transferring ownership is very easy as long as you have the email address of someone within the same GAFE organisation. The most efficient method is to use the GAFE admin console which is the only way to transfer ALL files to another user quickly.

However it isn’t quite as quick and easy as you might think: The alternative is to transfer ownership of each file individually! For someone who has kept three or four folders for each of the “strands” of my role – Computing Teacher, eLearning Coordinator, CAS Aberdeen hub chair, Form teacher, etc. there doesn’t appear to be any easy fix via the Admin console – unless there was only one person taking over all of the folders (there isn’t). Transferring ownership of a parent folder does not automatically transfer ownership of all other files and, once my account is deleted, the files are removed from the folder owned by the new user.

There is a simple solution to this – keep files related to departments in dummy department accounts e.g. computingdept and elearning for example. This means that, when personnel changes happen, it is a simple matter of removing the share from the old user and then sharing the folder with their replacement.

You will have to remember to create all files while logged in as the department account too – otherwise the GAFE admin console is still required to transfer ownership from the user to the department account.

Heather Dowd’s video below explains clearly how to go through the process of transferring folders and files to another user and makes use of a dummy “curriculum” account too:

Here are other elements you might have to consider:

  1. Remember to transfer ownership of Google Sites, G+ communities and YouTube channels as well!
  2. Should you deactivate any live Google Forms before transferring ownership?
  3. What happens to comments created by a user who is then deleted from the GAFE system?
  4. Is this something that can be scripted and run by GAFE Administrators prior to a user leaving the domain?
  5. Is Google Takeout a suitable option for students who have built up a lot of data over the course of their time at the school? Should there be a data retention policy so that storage is cleared every few years?
  6. Should you keep your sub-folders to a minimum in order to reduce the time required to transfer ownership? (I know I’m regretting being organised now!)

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?

Storage terms iBook (#Nat5, #iGCSE, #CompSci) #cc0

  

I had a few hours to fill on my flight this morning so decided to finish off a few iBooks which I’d been experimenting with this session. The one on storage terms is short and sweet, with video examples of conversion between bits, bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes and petabytes. There are also a few challenges (and answers) too.

Not on the iBooks store but you can download here

Feedback gratefully appreciated.

CC0 means use it as you like!

#GAFE Google Mail Tip – Filtering out calendar RSVPs

Email invites and responses can very quickly clog up your inbox. The following guide explains how to redirect or archive some of these. Be careful (if adapting this filter) not to accidentally filter out the invitations from others!

In Google Mail type the following in the search bar:

(subject:”declined:” OR subject:(“accepted:”) OR subject:(“maybe:”)) has:attachment invite.ics

Then click on the drop-down arrow to the right of the search box and select “Create filter with this search”

Filtering calendar invites - responses

Tick or make a selection in the appropriate boxes and then click on “Create filter”.

Filtering calendar invites - responses (1)

All future email invitation responses will be filtered according to your settings.

Rebuilding the PiLab

We moved into the new Science and Technology Building at our school just a few weeks ago. Since then, classes have been taught, exams have come and gone and boxes have been unpacked in between.

Over the past few days some students from my Makers and Breakers lunchtime club and I began to set up the Raspberry Pi devices in their new classroom. As we were lucky enough to have HDMI monitors in the new rooms, with on-screen controls to switch between inputs, I wanted the Pis to become permanent fixtures rather than devices hidden away in a cupboard outside of club time. We decided on two per semi circle (of three or four machines) which would always allow for at least one Windows machine for Internet access in case of troubleshooting.

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I used small Velcro coins to attach the Raspberry Pi to the top of the PC base units and then added the HDMI cable to the very tidy bundle feeding into the monitors. Numbering each case with a Sharpie to match its SD card means that students can continue their Pi experiments from lesson to lesson.

Each Pi has been given its own cat 5 cable and I intend to use a collection of recycled BT Homehubs to set up mini wired networks as and when required. The holy grail is to be granted access to the guest wifi but Python and minecraft tasks will work just as well for the moment.

The new setup removes the need for students to spend most of their club time assembling and disassembling the devices – now we can (almost) get straight to the fun!

Monitor multiple Raspberry Pi logins using PHP and MySQL

As you can see I recently bought a domain name in order to host a more customisable WordPress blog as well as build a few experiments. One of which is a quick and easy system for logging each of the Raspberry Pi devices that run my custom boot script.

I’d previously created something similar when I got my daughter’s Raspberry Pi to send a tweet whenever it booted up. That was fun but it didn’t scale easily when used with multiple devices. I wanted a central list where all devices were displayed in boot order.

I decided to create a simple MySQL database that could be queried via PHP. The database would contain information sent to it by each Raspberry Pi as it connected to the Internet. I decided initially that I only required device name, username and a timestamp.

I had thought that each Raspberry Pi could run a Python program that opened a connection to the MySQLi database but this appears to be the wrong approach. It seemed much easier to create PHP code that wrote a line to the database using values pulled from the URL (using the $_GET command).

In case it helps, here is some of the PHP to add information to the database:


$sql = "INSERT INTO pilogin (piname, timestamp, username) VALUES ('" . $_GET['piname']."', now(), '" . $_GET['username']."')";

if ($conn->query($sql) === TRUE) {
echo "New record created successfully";
} else {
echo "Error: " . $sql . "
" . $conn->error;
}
$conn->close();

The final step was to edit /etc/rc.local so that it ran cURL with the appropriate web address and values. I wanted to delay the command until the network connection setup was complete and found that this forum post had a great suggestion for doing this while also allowing other programs to continue running.

I won’t post the actual line for obvious reasons but a similar solution. I’ve also included code that extracts the current Raspberry Pi hostname and user and encodes it into the URL.

Here is an extract from my /etc/rc.local file:

u="$USER" # system variable for user
h=hostname #note the backticks
(sleep 30s; curl "http://webaddress/page.php?hostname=$h&user=$u") &

Happy to hear of any improvements or alternatives!

#CASAberdeen Hub – New Chair Required

I sent the following email to the CAS (Computing At School) Aberdeen hub earlier in the week:

Dear all,

Due to an impending relocation this summer I am looking for a volunteer to take on the chairing of the CAS Aberdeen hub.

The hub has run a number of small but successful events over the past few years for Computing staff and students. Schools across Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire have benefitted from free professional development, resources and hardware. In short, it would be a real shame for this hub to close.

This position is entirely voluntary but funding is available via the Computing At School organisation to cover tea/coffee expenses for any event you organise.

Please let me know by return email if you are interested.

All the best
Ian Simpson

So what has the Computing At School Aberdeen hub done since its inception in March 2013? As well as providing member schools with a number of Raspberry Pi devices courtesy of the Google Raspberry Pi initiative we have hosted an event by Lego Education UK, delivered professional development sessions on the use of Edmodo and BYOD at the CAS Scotland Conference, created links between primary, secondary and further education in the Aberdeen City and Shire area, demonstrated how to use Raspberry Pi devices in the classroom, ran a Raspberry Pi fun day for students at Satrosphere, Aberdeen and started a resource sharing project between all member schools using GitHub.

I wanted to share it with others who may not yet be a member of the hub (or know of its existence) but would like to get involved – perhaps even chair it for a few years!! Please feel free to get in touch if you want to discuss the role in more detail.

To fork or not to fork: Should there be only one way to share digital resources in a school?

Image by Chris Pluta, CC0

My current school is in the midst of a digital revolution thanks to the 1:1 iPad rollout and Google Apps for Education installation. There are so many options open to staff and students with regards to sharing the digital resources they have curated or created and while this is great for choice and accessibility it can also become a mess of misconceptions, policy conflicts and training needs.

During the pilot with our S3 students I’ve been deliberately hands-off and encouraged experimentation within departments. In January I launched a more formal option (not policy) where teachers were given a structure to work with in Google Drive where they could receive or view work created by students in their class. I’ve received very few comments at all about it but know that more and more subject areas are using Google Drive for sharing resources and receiving student work back. Other options are still being used (and I think it is important to allow this to continue) but I want to provide staff, students and parents with a baseline – a method that can be easily implemented in classrooms but that can also be built upon or adapted with the consensus of individual classes (and by that I mean both students and teachers).

Digital is an abstract medium for many and asking staff or students to suddenly begin to utilise this way of working over and above all others can cause confusion, hit confidence and increase resistance towards future workflow changes. Experimentation followed by discussion on the pros and cons of different systems can help build a more robust workflow that is more immediately useful to a larger number of individuals within the school. I am confident that the discussion to come in the next few weeks will become strong foundations for policy that has been created from the bottom up and is based upon experience rather than sales pitch. However I have a concern that one way of sharing digital resources is not best for all and, very like the variety of subject areas and specialisms in the education system, the standard policy will need to be forked (to use GitHub terminology) to suit other areas.

Perhaps using GitHub is a way forward for school or educational authority policies? The system offers clarity, accountability, accessibility and flexibility. I’d be interested to hear if other schools are allowing departments to remix standard policies (with permission of course) to best suit the educational needs of the student and – like Christopher Ritter – use a service like GitHub to record and approve the changes.

Mail merge in Google Docs

Until recently I’ve not needed to use mail merge style functionality in Google Drive however I am keen to build a way of generating individualised revision questions for students based upon their self-reflection. I already collect this via Google Forms so wanted to create a script that parses student responses automatically or at a set time.

The first piece of the solution was to use autoCrat – a Google Sheets Add-In which can be found here . This script allows you to create individual Google Docs or PDF documents built from individual rows in a Google Sheet. It was very easy to use once installed, but there is a great “how to” guide written by Krista Moroder .

Adding mail merge tags to a Google Doc is easy. Simply use <<tag name>> and make sure there are no numbers inside the tag. Then, in the Google Sheet, open autoCrat and set up your mail merge. Once you connect to your template document it will automatically pick up the mail merge tags and let you match them up to the columns in your Google Sheet.

What I really love about autoCrat is that you can then use the merge tags in an email. So you can send automatic responses to users in a GAFE domain simply by requiring them to be logged in before completing the form. Alternatively you can send yourself an email so that you know when a student has completed the feedback form and then forward it on to them.

Next I want to parse the individual responses and replace their areas of development with related revision questions. If anyone has any pointers to plugins or scripts that can do this, please let me know!

The blogger shuffle

Earlier this month I received a bit of sad news. Postach.io was going premium only and my intermittent online presence was going to disappear.

I really like Postach.io but wasn’t willing to commit to an annual fee quite yet. I wish them all the best with their service and may – one day – rejoin the ranks…. but for now it’s back to WordPress!

This time the move was easier. I moved my Evernote blog posts from the Postach.io notebook into a new one called Caffeinetangent (for my own clarity if nothing else) and synchronised. Then I set up a Zapier account and used their recipe to create a WordPress post for every new note than appeared in the Caffeinetangent notebook in Evernote.

One downside I’ve noted is that images from Evernote don’t feed into the WordPress post. Has anyone had any experience with this and can offer a solution?

Technology in Education: Making a difference to pupil learning (#SCSSA Annual Conference 2014)

[Ollie’s website](http://olliebray.typepad.com)

“Technology is not going to make teaching easier, it’s going to make it different” – Chris Kennedy, West Vancouver School District

New usage models in everyday life

Who would think that Twitter – essentially a digital post it note – could be so disruptive.

Technology is changing how we interact:

New tools, old tricks?

How could we leverage technology to meet in a different way?

Technology for Learning

The investment in technology in classroom hasn’t really paid off. Why?

– infrastructure

– worked well for enthusiastic early adopters, not so much for the rest

Technology IN learning

Take the learning first, how can technology improve it?

Feedback has impact – Dylan Williams, John Hattie

How can we use technology to give feedback digitally?

Model for student engagement

Learning is interesting or engaging. Learning through good pedagogy.

Ollie’s components for exciting learning:

– cultural relevance

– real time interaction

– different learning pathways

– authentic audience

– accessible

This has got teachers talking (and sometimes worried) in his school.

I. Culture

If we invest in digital it has to be really good digital.

Ollie found that games had a calming influence directly after break. Students played Wall-E for five minutes, then updated a Google Doc to lead into a numeracy task.

Google Doodle’s cultural relevance. It is a great opportunity for people to dive into learning about different, but relevant topics around the world.

Choice is important

Each person is engaging with text in some form of another.

Allowing students to access the text in differnt way:

– PDFs or graphic novels?

II. Real time learning

Dumfries and Galloway – delivering music tuition via video conferencing.

[Skype in the classroom](http://education.skype.com)

– mystery skype: guess where the other school is

Google Earth

– can superimpose real time weather maps

– webcam view of other time zones

We shouldn’t just be planning to develop documents, we should also think about collaborative working with 1:1 devices

We are not talking about 1:1 anymore, it is really 2:1 though using mobile phones AND laptops / tablets in class.

Voice is very important: Students use voice search more than adults. This can change classroom culture.

Social media – history event anniversaries, links with NASA. Golden moments.

If we want children to improve their writing, create digital assets to develop skills before returning to traditional forms (e.g. Pixton comics)

IV. Audience

Turn work around to show the public during holidays.

YouTube channels can facilitate formative and summative assessment.

Trust and respect – youtube is unblocked for students

EPortfolios leads to students publishing to Wikipedia. Enables discussion about bias and validity of information.

V. Accessibility

Young people are being prevented from using technology because we don’t teach them the skills they need.

Susan greenfield – “the most important skill is framing the right question”

Develop appropriate skills.

GLOW evolution (#SCSSA Annual Conference 2014)

Ian Stuart was a fierce critic of the original Glow. He is now GLOW product owner working with the Scottish Government.

I haven’t used Glow in anger for a long time. I say anger because I used to absolutely loathe it.

I also had issue with how the Local Authorities banned anything other than Glow in an attempt to force teachers to use it. The theme underpinning the entire conference has been that any initiative that is forced upon teachers is doomed to fail.

This is the first time I’ve logged into the new Glow.

The new apps look good but I feel – and my table agree – that because we moved away from Glow in search of a better, more reliable product, many of us have found a better, reliable product and so don’t need to move back.

Ian is keen for front line practitioners to get in touch with issues.

If your local authority has a Microsoft agreement you can download the full version of Office onto your personal devices. Currently 27/32 of the local authorities in Scotland have this agreement.

Uploading class lists from Seemis will be available in the next two weeks through the Management Console.