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).

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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.


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.


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).


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:


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.

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.





Teaching Computing – But I Can’t Program!

With the imminent arrival of the new computing curriculum, there are LOADS of resources out there to enable our learners to code.  Here are some of the best that I’ve come across, and what key stage I recommend using them at.

Before You Start

Just before that however, if you’re only going to click on 2 links in this post, then make it these two:

Computing At School – Join it. There are loads of CAS members contributing resources and educating teachers (including myself) all over the country. A goldmine.

Primary ICTITT – A site set up by ‘a small group of teachers and teacher educators convened by the DfE’s Teaching Agency and chaired by Bob Harrison’  with resources linked to the requirements of the POS


KS1 – Bee-Bot app – iPad – works just like the physical bee bots. Simple patterns programmed and executed.

KS1 – Daisy the Dinosaur – iPad – Simple introduction to programming covering loops, events and sequences. Drag and drop.

KS1 – How to train your robot – No languages, no computers. A great ‘physical programming’ activity.

KS2 – Hopscotch –  iPad – Visual programming with simple drag & drop blocks. Starts to introduce interactivity, loops & variables.  Nice tutorials too.

KS2/3 –  Python – A text based programming language that lots of schools are adopting for GCSE Computer Science.  To get learners started early, here are some fantastic Python tutorials from the wonderful Phil Bagge @BaggiePR. Click here for the tutorials.

KS2/3 Scratch – My favourite and the spark for some of the best lessons I’ve ever taught!  Drag & drop code that fits together. You can code anything from a simple animation to complex games.  Start by downloading version 1.4 to your computer, then iIntroduce pupils to the Scratch 2.0 online community in Y5/6 and watch them fly. Find some project ideas on my Youtube channel.

KS2/3 – Kodu – 3d Drag and drop programming by Microsoft. Loads of resources available and can also be downloaded for XBox.  @mattbritland (website) & @GeekyNicki (website) are the two Tweeters I look to for advice about this one.

KS3Greenfoot – A half visual, half textual JavaScript coding tool.  I was introduced to this by the rather awesome Neil Brown (@TwistedSQ)from the University of Kent at a computing INSET day that I organised.  I haven’t had a proper chance to play with it yet, but it is bubbling away at the top of my list and looks like a great bridge between Scratch and purely textual languages.  For the moment, here is the project that we worked on on the INSET day and the YouTube channel from the University of Kent.

KS3/4Code Avengers – HTML, CSS and JavaScript with a superhero theme.  I did the HTML project with a mixed ability Y9 group and they loved it. Pupils could instantly see the effect of the changes to the code in the preview window, which worked really well.There were even boys competing to earn the most points in a lesson!  It seems a lot less ‘dry’ than some of the other online programming tutorials around.

I would probably use the HTML at KS3 and the JavaScript at top end KS3 & KS4 at the moment with a view to moving it further down the year groups as they get more coding experience in earlier years.

KS3/4W3Schools – A great site with really comprehensive web coding tutorials covering everything from HTML & CSS to SQL & PHP. Very nice indeed.

KS3/4 – Python

There seem to be more & more online python courses around all the time.  The ones I have used are:

LearnStreet –  Simple interface and chunked lessons. Projects need some experience to jump into.  Nice class creation and pupil/progress tracking metrics. Also does Java & Ruby.

Code Academy – Similar in format to LearnStreet. Simple interface and points for achievements. Covers Python, JavaScript, JQuery, HTML/CSS etc.

Anther great Python resource is:

Invent with Python – free pdf textbooks covering game programming, games with graphics and hacking secret ciphers.

Teachers – Python School is aimed at skilling up teachers for teaching computing to KS3/KS4/A Level.

KS3 ICT/Computing Resources – A ShaREvolution

I’m a huge believer in sharing good practise and working with other teachers to develop quality lesson plans and resources.  This probably stems from my preference to wander the corridors searching for some poor lucky soul with whom to chat about and refine ideas.  The idea that I can share a questioning framework before school that can be used instantly by teachers around the world is not only exciting, but an incredibly powerful argument for the teaching of digital literacy & citizenship.

I’ve been sharing my resources with various ICT teachers around the world for a while using DropBox, but @MrLockyer has turned it into something bigger. He has become Lord of the Dropbox and organised several collaborative spaces for sharing resources.  I’m a member of the #KS34ICTDropbox and #SLTdropbox, but here is a full list on Stephen’s blog.  If you aren’t a Dropbox member, you can sign up here (I get a few extra mb of storage if you use this link, so if you don’t want to do it that way, use this one instead).

Anyway, to avoid instantly filling everyone’s storage limit on Dropbox, I’ve created a simple document that links to all of my schemes of work, projects and assessment materials for Years 7,8 and 9.  Please feel free to plunder, but with Creative Commons Non Commercial and Attribution restrictions.  Enjoy, sign up to share your own stuff, and let me know how you get on.

EDIT – With the advent of the new Computing curriculum, I have adapted and reworked lots of the content in my KS3 SOW.  Links to the latest resources can be found on the Computing Resources page of my site.