After many months of squeezing in an hour or so here and there, I took the decision to dedicate five full days over the course of a month to creating my first iPad app. Working at a special school, I had a vision, long ago, of an an app that allowed pupils to label things around the room, in a sort of pseudo augmented reality fashion. The app would speak to pupils, linking to the word on the label; my idea was that vocabulary could be learnt in a real-time learning environment. The app would be accessible for all pupils, and would help learn key vocabulary.
After following numerous tutorials on learning Swift 2 and SpriteKit, and jumping through all of the hoops to publish on the App Store, I have now released version 1 of my app. I decided to call it Labels: Materials, with a view to later releasing more apps under the ‘Labels’ banner. It is still a way off my original vision, but the app allows pupils to label items in a picture by dragging the labels from a selection. If the label is pressed for more than a second, the label speaks its name. The app contains six different backgrounds to label, including a kitchen, a playground, a park, the beach, a street and a playroom. Photographs from the camera roll or the camera can also be used for labelling, allowing pupils to take a picture of, for example, their classroom, and label items around the room.
For my next steps, I’m intending to upgrade Labels: Materials to include a title and the ability to save an image to the camera roll. Any suggestions for future improvements are warmly welcomed from any readers or users. I’m also hoping to make the following apps using a similar template:
Labels: living things
Labels: the home
I have enjoyed writing the app. I have to admit to having long periods of frustration when familiarising myself with XCode and Swift 2. As Swift 2 is a relatively new programming language, much of the support available online is for earlier versions of Swift or for Objective C. Most importantly, though, I am looking forward to using it in school, and hopefully enjoyed the rewards of seeing pupils benefit from its use.
Describing Kodu as a game making tool is perhaps a little understated. Kodu allows the creation of 3D worlds, complete with clouds, wind, water and waves, and the 3D world can then be populated with a range of ready made sprites including objects such as trees and castles, and more mobile sprites such as Kodu itself (an alien creature, I believe) and various vehicles.
The new National Curriculum for Computing describes how pupils in KS2 should ‘design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems’; whilst many programming tools such as Scratch, Hopscotch, Logo or the Just2Easy resources can facilitate achievement of the first part of this goal, Kodu lends itself very well to achievement of the latter part – controlling or simulating physical systems. As mentioned previously, Kodu allows the creation of entire 3D worlds, with so many of the attributes of the world, including the sounds and sights experienced by the person playing the game, to be controlled by the user. The sprites that are added to the world can then be programmed using a visual programming language to interact with the user via the keyboard, mouse or even an XBox 360 controller. Sprites can also be programmed to interact with each other, and variables such as the score in a game can be adjusted based on such interactions.
The camera angle can be controlled by the games designer, meaning that Kodu can be used to create first person and third person games, ranging from collecting games in the style of PacMan through to more complex games in the style of Zelda! Race games can also be created, although two player games are a bit trickier as there is no facility for split screen.
When considering investing potentially significant amounts of money and time in an ICT resource, I would always recommend that schools consider what they are hoping to achieve and why they want to achieve it first of all; once these questions have been answered, then the question of ‘how’ can be considered, and it is at this stage when schools can consider the most appropriate hardware and software solutions. For example, wanting to remove the barriers to learning for all pupils may possibly be what a school is hoping to achieve (the what); removing barriers to learning will ensure good progress for all pupils (the why), and the ICT solution (the how) may involve 1:1 mobile device ratios for pupils with SEND to facilitate access for all.
It is very easy to follow this route in reverse, especially when attending events such as Bett, when school leaders can be bombarded with such a wide array of dazzling products, money can quite easily be spent in an ad-hoc manner. Remember that good strategic leadership is characterised by having a clear vision.
There follows in this post links and descriptions a range of ICT software and hardware. I would very much like to expand this post over time and any suggestions for additions are greatly appreciated!
Every device, whether desktop PC, tablet or phone, will have accessibility settings that can be adjusted. Zooming levels, colour schemes, voice overs and control via devices such as switches can normally be configured for different devices.
Sharing digital content with learners can be helped by sharing the URL via a website or blog. Additionally, learners can be given easy access to websites and text, avoiding having to type overlong URLs by:
providing a QR code for learners to ‘scan’ using a QR Code reader.
With seemingly every classroom now equipped with a large screen display such as an Interactive Whiteboard and projector, it is hugely important that teachers consider whether or not their classrooms are inclusive when using such devices extensively. Learners with visual impairments may not have the visual dexterity to scan such large displays; many learners find maintaining focus difficult. Duplicating the larger display to other devices such as tablets can reduce the visual burden, and screen magnification software can allow the learner to focus on a particular area of the screen; Windows and MacOs have built in tools under the ‘accessibility’ settings. ‘Screen readers’ can verbalise electronically what is on screen, helping learners with reading or visual difficulties. Software such as ‘Teamviewer’ allows learners to view the teacher’s screen, with the ability to record the screen for later playback. Collaborative tools such as ‘Twiddla’ allow collaboration on the whiteboard without the learner having to visit the front of the classroom in the traditional manner.
EduApps consists of eight useful software collections that are free for you to download and use: http://eduapps.org/
To supplement or support speech and communication a variety of symbol systems are available, with ICT the tool to facilitate the learner using such symbols, or the teacher creating resources using symbols.
For many learners, a visual timetable can give structure to the day and reduce anxiety. There are many applications around that allow you to easily make a visual timetable, including Interactive Education, who have written a useful Visual Timetable Maker that is available for free: http://www.inclusive.co.uk/downloads#timetable
Supporting Literacy Skills
ICT can be used to remove barriers to reading and writing via speech synthesis – the computer reading aloud the text that is written. Word processors can also offer support via word banks, predictive text, spell checks and dictionaries. Electronic writing frames can offer support with sentence starters and inspirational clipart. Touch typing skills can help learners communicate ideas more rapidly, and there are many online tools available to develop typing skills. Speech recognition software has improved dramatically over the last decade, converting what is spoken to type for the learner with some accuracy – watch out for noisy classrooms though!
Searching for appropriate information from the Web
Searching for information from the web is commonplace in schools, but often learners are presented with literally millions of webpages, with much of the information written for adults. However, search engines such as Google often have filters or other tools to ensure that the presented content is age appropriate. In the case of Google, the ‘Search Tools’ option presents a ‘Reading Level’ option. Learners will need a little encouragement to regularly use this feature, but refined search skills should yield better results. Related to searching, whilst mobile devices have had the facility to search directly via speech for a while, the Chrom browser on PC and Mac also has this feature.
Communication and collaboration are two key words at the heart of blogging. In schools where blogging is used well, achievements are celebrated, with the whole world having a ‘virtual window’ in to the life of the school. Imagine children going home at the end of the day with parents already knowing part of what has been learnt, having seen a photograph or video clip on the class blog; could this be the end of the eternal answer of ‘nothing’ to the question, ‘What have you done today?’. Not only can achievements be celebrated, but blogs can be used to share day-to-day things going on in school, keeping parents up to date with things like homework or key dates and information.
Pupil blogs can be a terrific tool for teaching our children to stay safe online, respecting privacy and developing an understanding of copyright. Pupil blogs can also be used as an ‘e-portfolio’ of work and achievements across the curriculum. Peer assessment via comments, and collaboration via shared blogs, can become integral parts of the learning process, and giving pupils an audience for their work is surely motivational.
Many school leaders make excellent use of blogs. A ‘Headteacher’s blog’, if used well, can be of great motivation for the whole school community, with the school’s vision and values permeating the posts.
E-Safety and School Policy
Before endeavouring on a journey with blogging, it is important that school leaders, including governors, staff, pupils and parents have an e-safety policy in place that all stakeholders adopt. This policy should include who is responsible for any blogs, and any ground-rules for posts and comments on posts. Questions to consider include who can write blog posts? Do the posts need checking by a line manager before they go public? Who can comment on posts? What rules, if any, are established for commenting? Comments on posts will undoubtedly need to be moderated before they are published live. The e-safety policy should also have a clear section about keeping children safe online, including whether or not images of children in school are used, and if any personal details such as first name are associated with images or other online content.
Examples of education blogs
So many educators around the globe are inspiring whole learning communities with the blogs they have created. A web search will soon reveal many examples of educators who blog regularly, whole school blogs serving a whole school community, and class blogs maintained by individual teachers, but here are a few useful links to explore:
Microblogging involves blog posts that have a restricted number of words and are, as such, straight to the point! Due to the shorter nature of messages, Smartphones are ideal devices for microblogging. Many schools make use of the popular (huge understatement their) microblogging website Twitter to communicate with the school community. School Twitter feeds can be useful to share up to the minute information such as sporting fixtures, useful weblinks, a quick photograph or similar. Twitter is also extremely popular in the education sector for sharing thoughts and ideas between practitioners, and many teachers, myself included, have built ‘learning communities’ over the years, collaborating with hundreds or even thousands of educators from around the world.
Edmodo has a similar feel in, some respects, to using Twitter, but it is designed for school use, and can be ‘locked down’ so only pupils with permission can access. Pupils can communicate with the teacher and each other using Edmodo, with key e-safety skills being considered during the process. Edmodo can also be used for work submission and online polls and quizzes.
I’ve only recently discovered Pinterest, and whilst not a blogging tool itself, it is a super way of creating your own collections (called ‘boards’) of related web content, or exploring the boards created by others.
Weebly is an online website creation tool that includes a powerful blogging facility. Whilst Weebly is free, an educational upgrade to the ‘Pro’ version isn’t too expensive and allows lots of extra features. Weebly is relatively simple to learn how to use for blogging or for creating websites. Additional users can be given access via email, allowing multiple editors. Other notable features include easy embedding of documents including audio, video and even MS Office, and a wide range of customisable themes for your site or blog.
Google Apps for Education is free for schools, and includes some excellent blogging features. Users can create their own ‘sites’ using Google Sites, with an ‘announcement’ feature that is equivalent to a blog. Google Apps for Education can be configured so that sites are only visible to users within the school’s domain, meaning that pupil e-portfolios can be private.
WordPress is a very powerful blogging platform and is hugely popular in schools around the world. There are a number of companies that provide hosted WordPress sites specifically for schools, often with additional features and content.
Parents may well wish to subscribe to a class or school blog to receive email updates whenever changes are made or new posts are added. Wordpress has many plugins to achieve this. If using Weebly, or most other blogging platforms, Feedburner (http://feedburner.google.com/) can be used to set up an email subscription list based on the RSS feed from the blog.
Content from a range of creative websites can be ’embedded’ in your blog posts. Below are some examples of content embedded from elsewhere.
Animoto – create amazing videos. Free for education. http://animoto.com/
Following the Google Teacher Academy (GTA), I was very excited to get going in deploying Google Apps for Education for our school (see post coming soon). Prior to GTA, I had already successfully applied to Google for Google Apps for Education (GAFE) for our school, and I had set up a domain via registering with Go Daddy. Continue reading
NAACE and Computing at School have produced a very useful document that has been sent to primary schools across the country this week. Entitled ‘Guidance for Primary Teachers on Computing’, the document contains information on how schools can meet the statutory requirements for computing, and extend beyond them. The document explores using a ‘pupil centred approach’ to learning, and encourages teachers to adapt rather than adopt any pre-written schemes of work. Continue reading
Quite possibly the most apt name for a piece of software ever, the software previously known as ‘Phun’ and now known as ‘Algodoo’ is now available for free! This amazing piece of software allows 2D models to be created in a 2D physics sandpit. Having such a flexible modelling environment is incredible for pupils exploring simulations and models at Key Stage 2, and it complements the Computing curriculum very well. Continue reading
Written and adapted during my work in teaching computing across the primary age range, the scheme of work that I’ve put together is aimed at providing teachers with the resources, including lesson plans and tutorial video clips, to deliver the programming aspectsof the National Curriculum for Computing. Thanks go to the wonderful pupils and teachers of Great Horwood School, and the many colleagues (mostly via Twitter) who have kindly shared ideas online.
The scheme of work now consists of fourteen units of work, with more units being added as often as I get a chance.
Update – December 2014
In addition to the programming units, new units have now been added for word processing (year 1), creating pictures (year 2), email (year 3), creating and manipulating images (year 4), comics, (year 4), simulating the real world (Year 5) and movie making (year 6).
Please feel free to use or adapt this scheme of work for your school, respecting the Creative Commons Licence.
Due to a number of requests from schools, I am now offering the scheme of work on a DVD-ROM for £20 plus postage and packing. The DVD-ROM contains over 800mb of video clips and lesson plans, and purchasing a DVD-ROM includes a site licence, entitling the school to copy the contents of the DVD-ROM to the school’s network or individual teacher computers.
After three years at its own home, www.planetnumber.net, my MSc project has now been moved to be a sub-domain of PlanetPDA. Planet Number can now be found at: number.planetpda.net. The reasons for the move are purely down to cost. Planet Number has been running for 3 years now, at no cost to the schools that have used it. However, it has reached the point where I can’t afford the separate hosting. Continue reading
I have enjoyed exploring the free ‘Show Me’ app on an iPad. The app allows videos of the screen to be recorded, complete with a recorded soundtrack. On playback, the user views an animation of all of the sketching and annotating that has taken place. My example below is a quick demo of showing grid method; I have simply sketched the calculation, but pictures can be imported too. I can’t understate how simple the app is to use! On completion of recording, the app can be published live to the Show Me site following setting up of an account, and the embed code can then be used in a blog or VLE such as Moodle, or the usual array of social networking sites. Continue reading