The BBC micro:bit

I returned from the Easter break to find 4 huge parcels containing 280 BBC micro:bits (one for each Y7 in school.  This is tremendously exciting!  I’ve had my teacher bit for, erm, a bit and have loved playing around with it, as has my 6 year old daughter and her friends (a small plea – MORE of this sort of thing please BBC – lots of other year groups and especially primary teachers would LOVE these resources).

2016-02-16 09.16.24

Little Miss Colley and friends investigating the micro:bit.

The Y7 micro:bit pioneers club have been writing some excellent programs such as a compass, a real life snakes & ladders and a magic 8 ball too.

Now it’s time to start introducing all of Y7 to their new devices.  We’ve made the decision to keep the micro:bits in school whilst we work through the 4 lesson scheme of work and give them out at the end once pupils have become more familiar with the devices and (hopefully) some fires have been lit.

As usual, I’ve been busy creating resources, so here are:

My YouTube playlists:

My microbit website profile – basically all the scripts that I have written.

The scheme of work and lesson resources.

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Thursday 15th October 2015 – #EducationDay – A Day In The Life Of My Classroom

IB3 Classroom

This post is intended to show a day in the life of my classroom and share my lesson resources as part of Twitter’s international #educationday.  All of my resources are shared here using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license – you are free to us and adapt but do not sell them on.  If you want to ask me any questions before, during or after the day then please comment here or tweet me (I’ll be able to respond at break and lunch).  Thanks, and here we go……

Period 1 – 8:50 – 9:50 – Year 9 (age 13/14) Computing

Year 9 are taking their first steps into text based programming by learning Java.  In this unit of work we take a programming skill (such as selection) and split it into three exercises – a worked example in Scratch, recreate the same program in Java then try an independent challenge based on what they have learned.

Today the class are completing the Java worked example and starting the challenge for selection (activities 5 and 6 on the ‘contents’ page).

You can see my tutorial website for the students here

Download all the resources for the scheme of work here.

Matthew talks about his Java program:

Period 2 – 10:50 – 11:50 and Period 3 – 11:05 – 12:05 – Year 10 (age 14/15) GCSE Computer Science

I have two GCSE groups in Y10 this year, so this is two separate one hour lessons, not a double with the same class.  This week we are learning about data representation.  Tuesday’s lesson was about ASCII and Unicode text representation and (if it’s all gone to plan – I’m writing this bit in advance) today’s lesson is about representation of images. UPDATE – Y10 P3 have had one lesson on this topic. They will be creating pages on the class Wikispaces wiki to summarise their learning.  P4 have completed this work as they have had 2 lessons this week.  We will be starting representation of images with a very early Christmas themed lesson!

I’ve planned these lessons in collaboration with my ace colleague @Miss_Noonan88 and based them on the equally fab resources available on @clcSimon‘s great website.

Representation of text lesson resources are here.

Representation of images lesson resources are here.

Hamza and Steve talk about representation of images:

Heather talks about ASCII and her revision Wiki

Period 4 – 12:05 – 13:05 – Year 8 (age 13/14) Computing

Y8 are refining their Scratch programming skills by creating a ‘Virtual Pet’.  Here’s my example of the finished product.

This project consolidates their knowledge of input, output and variables.  We then use selection, loops, lists and procedures (blocks) to add extra features to their pet.  Learners will be adding extra characteristics (thirst/happiness etc) to their pet or using random selection from lists to make it speak.

The project tutorial website is here.

Download all resources for the scheme of work here.

Awesome female coders Katie and Maddy tell us about their Scratch virtual pet.

Lunchtime – phew!

Spent fixing case sensitive <img> links on my project websites that didn’t show up until I uploaded to the web server!

Period 5 – 13:50 – 14:50 – Year 11 (age 15/16) GCSE Computer Science

Y11 are currently doing their Controlled Assessment, so unfortunately I can’t share examples of work in progress.  They are using Java to code a memory game which generates a grid of nine or sixteen words read in from an external file.  After 30 seconds, the words are randomised, with one word replaced with a different one.  The user has to guess the words that have been removed and added – they have three tries.  Here is the AQA exam board specification for the project.

We have finished coding on the project, the class are either completing test plans, testing or annotating their code listings to explain the programming techniques used.

The end?

So that’s the teaching part of the day done.  Next it’s a departmental meeting for about an hour and then home to see the family.  Once the kids are in bed then there are about 50 pieces of Y9 work to be marked.  Hope you’ve enjoyed a day in my classroom, it has served to remind me what awesome students I’m lucky to work with.  Until next time…

Andy

Spicing Up Text Based Programming

It’s been a while since my last post.  I’ve had my head down working away at the demands of teaching KS3 computing and GCSE computer science for the first time.

Without a doubt the toughest learning curve has been teaching Java to my Y9s, where class sizes are that bit bigger and they have had no experience of text based programming.  When they get stuck, they get stuck.

We started off the year with the grand idea that we would convert my old spreadsheet quiz unit into a Java based quiz, so we produced a whizzy tutorial website.  However, in practice, it was a bit too high level, and my classes, whilst being keen to do well needed more careful scaffolding to enable them to take their first steps in text based coding.  I was spending lessons running from one problem to the next as I hadn’t helped students develop the resilience to solve issues on their own before calling for me.  Combine this with a new piece of software (Eclipse) with it’s own set of folder management issues with multiple students using the same machines lesson after lesson and I wasn’t able to step back and see the big picture in class.  I needed to tweak the lesson structure to provide more built in support and free me up a bit more to challenge and support where it was actually needed.  The way I did this was though a three step process.

Here’s an example of how I taught loops:

Step 1 – The Human Computer

Five *ahem* “volunteers” were chosen to be the human computer.  Then I brought out the chocolate digestives (lots more volunteers next lesson!).  I set the variable ‘biscuits’ to five and we munched our way through the code below.  Whilst doing so, we discussed how we could code without the loop to achieve the same result.

BiscuitLoop1

Step 2 – The Worked Example  

Students were given the code for a program using loops (loosely based on my adventures on the M6 with two small children in the car during the summer hols).

DoWhile

Step 3 – The take away menu.

This, I think, is the best thing we’ve done with this unit.  Nicking an idea from Ross Morrison-McGill (@teachertoolkit), I created a differentiated take away menu of independent tasks for students to apply the skills.  They are graded against the Nando’s spice rating menu, with the spiciest involving skills not taught in class.  Here’s the loops example:

NandoLoops

This approach has worked much better, breaking down programming into discrete skills and  giving learners chances to apply and embed as well as a sense of ownership over their independent tasks.

To look at the whole unit, along with fully resourced tutorial website, please visit my Dropbox folder.  All work is licensed under Creative Commons non-commercial, share alike. And enjoy!

Computing At School ‘Switched On’ Magazine

My article for the Computing At School magazine ‘Switched ON’ has just been published in the Autumn edition.CASMag

The article deals with differentiation in Scratch programming.  My bit’s on page 10, and I’d heartily recommend reading the rest of the magazine too. Here’s the download link: Switched On Autumn 14

I have now finished resourcing two Schemes of Work using the 4 step differentiation technique outlined in the article.  Follow the links below for to grab a copy from Dropbox.  I’m just finishing off running the Y8 unit and am very happy with the progress of my learners – using variables,  selection and loops in Scratch and debugging & discussing how their programs work with key terms.  Any feedback or suggestions for improvement are more than welcome.  Please use the resources under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution, non-commercial, share alike license.

Y8 – Virtual pet in Scratch (based on a project by Marc Scott – @coding2learn)

Y7 – Binary converter in Scratch.

KS3 Computing Assessment Framework

Since the disapplication of the ICT programme of study a couple of years ago, ‘KS3 assessment criteria’ or a variation thereof has been one of the most frequent search terms that lands people on my blog.  Whilst I tweaked and remixed the ICT criteria in 2012, a new program of study (and for a lot of us a brand new subject) has resulted in the need for a new assessment framework.  Here’s how my department and I have been going about it.

Start Points

Our three main touchstones for the process were as follows:

1. The new KS3 programme of study (and also the KS1/2 POS to see what we were picking up from primaries).

2. This rather superb Guide to Computing in the Secondary Curriculum from Computing at School (CAS).  Again, there is a primary version that I urge you to read.

3. Miles Berry‘s (yes, him again!) assessment framework available on the CAS resources hub.

If you’re getting the feeling that CAS is a valuable and knowledgable community and resource centre, then you’d be right!

Rationale

My school will continue to use levels for 2014/15, so we used the traditional numbers, but any nomenclature would do just fine, white belt > yellow belt, stone age > bronze age (OK, maybe not that one) etc etc.

There were two key tenets for the process, they were:

There should be as much consistency across one level as possible – all the level 5 descriptors should involve a roughly similar complexity of thinking.

There should be a clear progression ladder in each topic – steps between levels should represent an increase in the complexity of thinking/comprehension but without enormous leaps in the complexity of what we are asking students to do/understand.

Process

Rather than take Miles’ framework and implement it unedited, we felt that it was important for the whole department to have a say in the scaling process.  To do this, we used an afternoon of departmental INSET time on a physical cut & paste exercise, where we literally cut all the statements up, clustered  them into rough topics and then sorted them into order.  The strands we used were Digital Literacy, Computer Science, and ICT.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 20.05.48

To help us, we used Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, the SOLO taxonomy framework and good old fashioned professional argument.

Whilst we tried to standardise key words across levels, sometimes we agreed that understanding one concept was more complex than understanding another and so one was (for example) a six whilst the other was a five.

This sorting and arguing really helped us to clarify our understanding of the descriptors. In some cases we adapted, combined or re-wrote them to fit the two main criteria of our rationale. As a result, we now feel that we have a robust tool to help us plan individual units, feed back to pupils and help them progress toward the (very ambitious) statements outlined in the programme of study.  All staff have more of a shared understanding of the criteria and ownership of the framework.

Cut & Paste

The result

If you’ve skipped the earlier paragraphs, or even if you haven’t, please bear in mind that this is not a finished product.  Just like with my resources, I would strongly recommend that you examine, question, adapt and tweak for your own school. The process of creation of this V 1.0 has been just as valuable as the outcome.

For planning purposes, I’ve mapped the descriptors to various topics in this Google Spreadsheet. The letters are so that we can keep track of which descriptors we are marking against and update each pupil’s KS3 assessment overview document (which hasn’t been produced yet, but will be in a simpler format.

To access the document in Google Drive (it displays much better there) here’s the link.

I’m absolutely sure that this framework will adapt as we get to grips with the new curriculum in the classroom, but your feedback on V1 would be more than welcome.  Please comment with your views.

Talk to the duck – debugging and resilience

Two of the key aspects of computational thinking are decomposition (breaking a problem or process down into sequential steps ) and debugging (finding & fixing errors in your code).  If you can’t do these things, then programming is going to be very difficult.

However, I can forsee students getting very stuck and very frustrated if I don’t teach them how to think sequentially and give them a toolkit of techniques to try when their program doesn’t work as they want it to.

To help, I’m going to draw on research from prominent educational theorists Bert & Ernie. Student are going to learn the ancient, noble art  of rubber ducking.

Yes, we are buying every member of the dept an actual rubber duck. Yes, we will make the students explain their program to the duck.  Will it work, I don’t know yet, but it will make them think in a computational way, which is half the battle.

So, from September, it looks like my 4Bs resilience list will now read BBBDB.

Go talk to the duck…………

rubber ducky 2

SSAT Computing Conference 2014

Thanks to everyone at #SSATComp14 for a warm welcome at my first conference presentation.  My workshop was about the Y7 binary converter scheme of work that I have been developing for teaching from Sep 2014.  I had an absolute blast, and here are my key learning points from the day:

1. Computing isn’t just programming, it’s a blend of ICT, digital citizenship and Computer Science.  This excellent document form Computing at School is a good reference point.

2. You won’t get it right first time – the new curriculum is there to be played with and tweaked. Think of it as a beta release.

3. What are your (up to) 10 key ideas about Computing – design your curriculum around those and you won’t go far wrong.

4. You are not alone, there are lots of other people in the same boat or a bit further down the line.  Some of these people are on twitter, where lots of valuable discussion take place.  If you are one of the people that I bullied persuaded to sign up on the day and you’re not too sure where to start, then just follow Miles Berry (@mberry).  He’s like the Kevin Bacon of the Computing curriculum – he’s connected to everyone. Look at who he interacts with, follow a few of them and you can’t go far wrong!  See my resources page for my stuff and a list of my recommendations for resources made by others.  Once you see what others are doing it will fire your creativity and get you thinking about where you could take it.

5. Own your curriculum. Yes, I share my resources, a lot of which have been adapted from other people’s. I wouldn’t recommend that you use my resources out of the box, tweak and adapt for your school and your pupils.  You know them best after all.

6. Don’t think that every lesson has to involve computers – it’s about solving human problems and sometimes simulations and abstractions can get in the way of that.

7. Big data is ace! Nuff said.

For those who were there (or not), here are my slides, and a link to all of the resources from the scheme of work.  Any WWW/EBI comments about the session or the resources would be more than welcome.