Monday, December 29, 2014

Espresso Coding

We made the most of the Espresso coding resource whilst it was free for schools, then purchased it to complement existing resources and to support teachers to deliver certain aspects of the computing curriculum. We are very fortunate to have the Rising Stars Switched on ICT scheme, which supports teachers to use ICT creatively, but this makes sure that the coding aspects are covered, such as the first few bullet points of the computing curriculum at KS2:

Pupils should be taught to:
  • design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
  • use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output
  • use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs

The Espresso Coding resource is split into year groups with a starter, and 2 units for each (apart from year 1). 

Overview showing skills progression

The year 2 starter unit, for example, is split into 3 sections, which review and recap the objectives taught in year 1.  The quick start guide offers an overview with the learning objective that is covered and a rough idea about the timing for the whole unit. 

Once you have finished the starter units, there are a further 2 units with up to 7 sessions in each.  With one session a week this resource will support over a term's worth of teaching. It really will support as well, because lesson plans and tutorials are provided. 

When I introduced this to my year 2 class, I first let them explore the year 1 units. This is because they haven't seen them before and I want them to feel confident navigating around the resource. They have since been totally engrossed each time we have used this. What I really like is that at the end of each unit children get the opportunity to build their own app, using the skills they have learned in each unit.  So, for year 2s, they get to decide what will happen to objects when they are clicked. The session at the end of unit 2b concentrates on debugging exercises, helping to cover the program of study at ks1 perfectly!

Choosing your characters and background 

With my year twos I have offered very little teaching input as I have been curious to see what they do independently. Certain children have needed support in the form of encouragement, though the majority have been able to navigate around the activities and solve them independently. I find that mixed ability pairing works well in these situations, though I have to monitor carefully that each child in the pair is working and understanding what they are doing.  For trickier sessions and assessment, I split the class in half so that I can concentrate on more children. 

Espresso Coding supports teachers to deliver the coding part of the curriculum and sits very well with other resources, like Kodu and scratch, because it makes sure that all skills are covered (the overview photograph above shows how the progression of skills are covered). It supports teachers because it is more structured and because the tutorials and lesson plans are helpful. 

Tutorial videos
In my opinion, Espresso Coding sits very nicely with the other apps and resources that we have in school. If you do invest in it, invest in staff meeting time too. I would recommend a session for teachers to play themselves, then a follow up session the next half term where teachers are expected to feed back their own and pupil's views. If you're paying for it, you need to ensure it is used!

Lesson plan

Sunday, December 28, 2014


This app is free today via apps gone free and is another good app that allows children to learn and create. In the models section there are 12 animals to create, some scaffolded with the shapes showing. 

The shapes are drag and drop- easy for little fingers to manoeuvre. The build section lets you explore your creativity, then allows you to move your creation around the screen, save it and photograph it. 

It's a great little freebie that once again satisfies elements of the computing curriculum at ks1. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My first OfSTED as SENDco

I am writing this post in the hope that it will be of some help to others. That is always my aim, so it's nice to hear from you if you have found it helpful. It refers to the SEN part of the inspection, so my comments and thoughts are about this, not the overall experience.

Those of you who have read my blog before will have seen my new SENDco posts about how I have approached the role and what I have achieved in the last year. I was supported through attendance on a training course for new SENDcos, run by Judith Carter - an inspirational ed psych and county advisor. I picked up lots of juicy snippets of information during the course and would highly recommend it to new Norfolk SENDcos - indeed some SENDcos said that they found it more useful than the national qualification. Failing that, Judith's Willow tree SEN network is a must.

In my role at school I am very much supported by my headteacher-Amanda. Yes I have the SENDco title, but there is very little that I know about our children with SEN that she doesn't, if anything.  Her knowledge of our children and their families is astounding, partly because of how long she has been at the school but mostly because she works hard to get to *know* the families. I emphasise this because I have been in - and know of - schools where the headteachers don't know the children, let alone families. I am also in awe of her ability to recall factual information instantly.  This made me feel very reassured as I was pretty confident that if I was asked a question about children that I didn't know the answer to, Amanda would.

So the inspection. I felt prepared for it, but having never been through one as a SENDco I was a little unsure about what to expect. Our lead inspector had a primary SEN background, but instead of worrying about it I decided it could be highly beneficial. Who better to ask advice about best practice? As it turns out, that didn't really happen.

My meeting with the inspector lasted around 40 minutes. She asked me to bring some examples of IEPs and a case study to the meeting after lunch, so I gave her my OfSTED file first thing in the morning. I have written about this OfSTED file before, but had tweaked and updated it somewhat at the start of the new school year. One change is that my provision map now states costs and duration of interventions. Accountability is key. I will blog about the updated file contents at some point, but I think it's important to say that in the first couple of pages, just behind the document showing our children with SEN, is an action plan. It states clearly how and when changes are happening at school in line with the new code of practice. 

The meeting

The first question that the inspector asked was tricky, in that I'm sure she already knew the answer and was just making a point. She asked, 'So, you're deputy, SENDco and a year 2 teacher. How much time do you get?' When I told her, she replied that it wasn't enough. That put me on the back foot a bit, as she then asked me what I did with my time. Hmm. How to promote what you do without sounding like you have to burn the midnight oil to do it. I made it very clear that I had accepted the job knowing this, that I was used to working at a pace and have good time management skills (usually). I am also a bit of a control freak with my class and have colossal expectations of anyone who teaches them. They deserve the best. It is therefore hard to let them go, but that's something I think I'm going to have to do a bit more in 2015 as it has been made a bit of a requirement. 

I was asked briefly about a couple of the children, but the case studies provided had identified the interventions and additional support that certain children had been given. She acknowledged that we knew our children extremely well and that the support we were providing for individual cases was exceptional. However, what she was more interested in was how the TAs were monitored. Long gone are the days where teaching assistants were parents who came in as 'helpers'; the support they provide must have an impact. Nearly all of our TAs are Read, Write inc trained and they deliver high quality sessions. These are monitored regularly by our RWi co-ordinator, but the inspector was very clear that I should be observing too as I would be focussing on the children with SEN. It's a fair point, but of course there are cost implications and like many we are on a tight budget.

I was also asked about how children's progress was monitored. I explained how Amanda and I hold pupil progress meetings together, which provides the opportunity to discuss specific children. As a school we use Pupil Asset to check progress and attainment. Amanda has set up a tight system whereby staff appraisals link back to these meetings and the school development plan sets objectives to improve provision. Our inspector complimented this and pointed out again how well we know our children. We talked about TA cpd, but I know that I need to go back and check that approaches and resources are being used successfully. Observations leading to improved practice are essential - monitoring needs to be more rigorous. That was one of the over-riding messages.

 What we need to do as senior leaders is make sure that the exceptional support that is provided to individual children (and their families) is balanced with rigorous monitoring. The time we have spent on individual cases is incredible - more so for Amanda than I. It's mostly the parts beyond the actual teaching that are so time-consuming - the phone calls, referrals, meetings, paperwork and pastoral support for children and families are all important. We have adopted a phrase 'It's an explanation, not an excuse,' and I guess it means that in the future tough decisions about priorities are going to have to be made.

The SENDco meeting didn't feel at all like an interrogation, it felt like a very fair question and answer session. She was not trying to trip me up, she just wanted to get a broad picture in as short a time as possible. The feedback was positive and she was complimentary, but she also gave clear messages about next steps. I've come out the other end feeling like I'm doing a good job and I have a clear understanding of how to do better, even if I am somewhat reluctant to step outside my classroom more than I already do, to fulfil this. 

Toca Mini

Another great little app for EYFS, Toca Mini is very similar to the puppet workshop app that I reviewed earlier today. It starts with a blank 'doll' in a box, which you then design using a range of colours and parts. 

You can make a weird or funny mini, monster or human-like. When you colour the skin it goes up in straight lines, making it easy to create things like stripy socks. There is a range of stamps to choose from to decorate the body, face and limbs.  

The one thing that this does that the puppet workshop app doesn't is animate - and it (kind of) interacts with you. It starts to blink when you add eyes, then speaks when you've added a mouth. It looks happy at certain things and may scratch itself, sigh, smile etc. If you lose concentration for a minute or two, it may wave or growl at you - a monster bear I created started boxing! When you have finished you can take a photo, then it gets boxed up and whizzed off!

The possibilities are endless and it's another great little app for promoting creativity in our youngest children. I was fortunate to get this one via apps gone free. They are quite expensive for schools to fork out for, but they are high quality and easy to use. 

Puppet Workshop

I love this app! It's perfect for creative little fingers - and leads nicely into early computing. You start with a choice of 4 socks that you can make into your puppet.

Once you have selected, you can start creating! 

The app is very easy to use and offers countless possibilities. There is a wide selection of buttons, strings, ribbons and other real life resources to choose from.

Some funky music plays in the background, which I quite enjoyed, but can be muted if you find it irritating. 

You can change backgrounds, then photograph your finished product. The only thing that would make this more perfect for me is if the app could simulate a hand inside for a bit of movement. I shall definitely be gifting this app for friend's children! 

Robo logic LE

A quick app review whilst having a cuppa in bed this morning! Robo logic is another linear, Beebot style game that is not as slick as Fix the Factory, but may appeal to your ks1 and lower ks2 children. There is a handy tutorial to start with, but it really is self-explanatory.

You can be creative with how you run your program by using F1 and F2 for your repeat commands. 

And it's good for children to see their algorithms in different ways. However, I became bored fairly quickly. I shall have to find a little beta tester (my nephew!) to continue playing. He might not be irritated by the synthetic sat nav voice as I was! 

It is nice to have a choice to offer children though and they all have different opinions. The robot games seem to appeal to younger children more than the Beebot ones, or maybe it's because they are shiny new? It's an app worth sharing any way.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

More learning@home!

I have written before about our learning@home successes and thought I would share some more with you. We have linked up with a school in London and before OfSTED arrived we managed to send letters and drop in via Google Earth.
For the half term homework my children had a range of options as usual to choose from and once again there have been some jaw dropping moments. Here are a few of the pieces of work that have arrived.

The London Eye

London landmarks

Big Ben

The Tower of London, with poppies!
Yes, there has clearly been adult input, but that's the point isn't it? My children are working with their parents and my parents are being positive role models with their child's learning. The quality of the work is incredible - much better than we would produce at school, because all children are getting 1:1 support. All children have produced things and the variety is incredible. I have learned new things from the children and they are very excited to share their work. Tomorrow we will celebrate in style with a massive show and tell! 

Big Ben

An amazing pop-up book

The response from parents has been very positive too. They love the variety and that it links in with our school work from the had term. They also tell me how much they enjoy coming in to see it during our open school sessions. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Run Marco!

This is a nice little app that will help our young learners apply their computing skills. It is available for both ipad and android. At KS1 children will learn:
  • that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions
  • to create and debug simple programs
  • use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs
and KS2:

  • design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controllingor simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
  • use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and variousforms of input and output
  • use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs
(Computing programs of study 2014)
There are 10 levels, with 10 more coming soon. 

It starts off with simple steps that are modelled for you, so you can't go wrong. 
It quickly moves on to the repeat command, so that our children can make links between this and the previous steps - and the reason for having a repeat command.
The next step is learning about variables in a very simple way. This again is modelled clearly for you. 

It encourages children to think about shortening their sequences and creating loops, thus making their algorithms more efficient. A great little app that is free too!

UR Brainy maths app

I have had a play with this app this weekend to review how good it will be for our ks1 learners - particularly a child on my class who needs resources to support with his independent learning.
There are four areas that you can explore that support basic number skills. If you get an answer wrong, the incorrect number becomes dull so that you don't press it again. There are 4 questions for each level. One thing that would make it easier for some children would be the option to hear each question. 
When you play the more/less activities, there is a nice model that allows children to count cows to find one more. Showing one less is not so obvious as it looks the same as below, but with the cow on the left faded for one less than 2. It might be clearer just to have a line through one. 

This will certainly be a useful app for our earlier learners. I will add the opinion of one of our little beta testers tomorrow! Thank you for the trial @urbrainy!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fix the factory

Another super little app for early programming. Like ALEX this will appeal to my year 2 children because it involves robots. There are some great things about this free app too. Firstly, you have to complete the first levels before you can unlock and access the harder ones. There are 24 levels altogether- pretty good for a freebie!

The game starts off simply, the same as ALEX, but becomes more challenging very quickly. By level 3 you are learning to grab and drop, then by level 4 your computational thinking is being challenged (well mine was!) with turns, grabs and drops.

The thing I really like about this app is how it scaffolds your learning. When I went wrong on level 4 ( yes, that early on!) it let me know exactly where I went wrong by putting a cross (or kiss as I like to think of it!) onto the command that was incorrect. The commands in your procedure light up as the robot performs them, so you can see exactly where you are. Perfect! I know that the point of computing is that you learn to debug, but for year two children it's nice that they are given a hint. 
The notion of 'if at first you don't succeed...' is great, but I don't want children to switch off - and this has happened with the Beebot app. The fact that they don't have to rewrite the whole procedure is also good. I'm not ashamed to show how many attempts on made at level 6 (it's11pm- that's my excuse!)

The fact that I didn't have to rewrite the whole procedure each time meant that I didn't give up. I'm still debugging my code in the same way I would if I was using a written programming language.

 So, well done Lego-it's a brilliant app and I will definitely be using this in school. I might have to finish all the levels first though. Only 18 more to go...


This is a very brief post as I have only had a brief play with Tynker. It uses blocks for coding in the same way as scratch, hour of code activities and Hopscotch. This app allows children to explore their creativity and therefore goes beyond the linear games such as ALEX, Beebot and Fix the Factory. That said, I might have found it easier to have an aim when I started. It doesn't have the same creative freedom as Kodu (now wouldn't a Kodu app be incredible?!) and I quickly became frustrated that I wasn't doing anything purposeful with it. I do however recognise that children will master it much more quickly and find ways of getting the characters to interact more.

There are a few different 'worlds' you can choose from to create and play and the app has a game that you can play at the start (this does provide a model of what you can achieve, but it was quite a simple game.) 

The create and play element of it is useful in that you can tweak your characters if they don't quite do what you want - so debugging becomes simple for children.

When I start my code club next year I will be interested to see what the children think of it. 

Two apps for EYFS/early computing

 I have been playing with a couple of new apps this week that, in my view, lend themselves nicely to early computing.  In old money they fit in well with modelling and simulations, in the new curriculum children will be using logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs.

The first one I have looked at is Toca Robot lab - it's another lovely app to add to the Toca family. First you select different parts and build your robot.


Then you take your robot on a test flight. There are lots of things to move and crash into and three stars to collect on the way, before you hit the big magnet. This takes you out of the area you have been whizzing round and gives you the opportunity to change your robot. You get a lab test report at the end showing how many stars you collected.  

I would love to see this app being developed a bit further so that maybe they use on screen controls to move their robots, or maybe some areas that they have to learn to avoid etc, to provide a bit more challenge for our able children. A nice little app tho - I'll try and get an opinion from a wee one about it!

The second app is a great little builder app called Build and Play 3D, by Croco studio. There are 15 classic toys for children to build and you can't go wrong assembling them because the model rotates and the parts snap into place. 

Once you have built your toy, you take it out and test it!

Using simple controls on the screen you can simulate a real life situation (in terms of EYFS of course!) I think it's a great little app!