Sunday, February 22, 2015

Two iPad apps for early computing

These two apps were freebies that I installed via apps gone free. The first is called RGB express and much to my surprise I was quite impressed with it! The aim is to get your truck to the garage, sometimes picking up cargo on the way. You plan your route, then finger swipe the way you want your truck to go. Press play and you're off! 

 I can see how this would fit in nicely in the early years and was impressed when it became clear that the further you progressed through the app, the more thinking is required! 

When you get to certain levels (and you reach them quite quickly) you have to think through the routes for both your trucks as they can't cross over. Perfect! Logical reasoning, unambiguous instructions, creating and debugging are covered in an EYFS style! 

The second app looks very familiar, in a Beebot kind of way. Code blast differs in that it makes writing algorithm slightly easier, in that turns and moves are not separate commands. For that reason I wouldn't give it to a child who has mastered Beebot, as this would confuse them (it initially confused me!) It's a nice introduction to writing algorithms and the commands are visible on the right hand side of the app. When you press play it highlights in green where it us, which helps debugging when it goes pear shaped! As you can see, the algorithms can be quite lengthy.

When I completed 12 levels I earned a certificate, which I knows important to many children.

I'm now on the silver level and am now able to shoot aliens that are in the way. This will keep some children interested, if they have kept their interest up to level 12.

I am intrigued as to what will happen in gold level and am hopeful that it may progress onto the repeat command, but presently I don't have enough time to investigate. I shall find a willing beta tester next week at school! I will add their opinions asap.

Don't forget you can find some more computing apps on my ipad site

Thursday, February 19, 2015

More incredible learning at home: The Great Fire of London

I have blogged about homework before (we call it learning@home) and know that some teachers have appreciated seeing the work that we have completed and the ideas behind them. Others have debated the usefulness and impact of homework, but it is an expectation that we provide it. I have tried to make it as meaningful as possible by linking it in to the work that goes on in class. This homework activity sheet went home to all families at the beginning of January and every child bought in a piece of work before half term. Yes they varied in the amount of adult support that the child received, but I actually don't have a problem with this. In the same way that I wouldn't expect a child to bake on their own (and I understand that they can experience rich conversations and  new language whilst doing so), I feel the same about some of the models that have been created. It's clear that they haven't been achieved independently, but I imagine the quality family time that has hopefully happened. Even more important, the children are incredibly proud and very keen to show off their learning at home. We certainly celebrate their achievements in class!

A sketch of the new St Paul's

Tudor houses

Tudor houses


An incredible project about the Great Fire of London and another fantastic model of St Paul's Cathedral. 

 A church that burnt down in London

Thomas Farynor's bakery buns

We all appreciated these - they were delicious!

The bakery fire
Tudor recipe books, diaries, pictures, posters, fact sheets and top trumps cards.

Our display is growing!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What is an algorithm?

Trying to teach your children what an algorithm is, but not sure how? Well there's plenty of support out there that will help you become more confident when teaching your class to understand what it means - and how to write them.

The BBC describe algorithms as a list of rules to follow in order to solve a problem. They have kindly created a page called Code Needs Algorithms, which is part of their What is an Algorithm? Bitesize pages. You are reminded about the times that you have already used algorithms, such as map directions and instructions for how to make things. There is a handy video that you can play to your class before starting work. With the pages on digital literacy, it's a nice gentle way to get you started on the computing curriculum.

When the light bulb pings and you realise that you have used algorithms many times before, without naming them, you realise that there are many ways you can extend learning through other curriculum subjects. Barefoot Computing have put together a lovely little KS1 activity called Crazy Character Algorithms that, even if you don't use it yourself, will surely spark some ideas of your own.

Stuart Hadfield, a member of CAS, has put together a page of ideas for introducing algorithms to children in reception class. If you look back at my previous posts you will find some great resources that enable children to write and use algorithms.

Writing algorithms in key stage 1 and 2 with Scratch

Scratch has been around for a while now and in my opinion is a great tool for early computing, not just because it is free, but because  it allows children to use their creativity and create a wide range of projects independently. It can be used as early as year 1 and many infant teachers have used it successfully. I have used it with my more able children in KS1 and infant digital leaders.  For KS2 children it satisfies the very first bullet points of the new curriculum:

  • 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

Having Scratch on an ipad is a bonus too, as it is a great introduction to the more in-depth projects that can be achieved on a PC. The basic app is free, but you can buy Scratch games too, which provides video tutorials for creating your own games.

There are many scratch experts out there and I have never felt the need to create my own resources because of this. Before I found them, I used the cards and projects from the Scratch site to show children the basics and what could be achieved, then I let them explore. When they learned new skills they taught one another, consolidating their own learning in the process. Simples! Don't be afraid to let them take the lead. If they own their learning, they are much more likely to extend it. I know the basics and am able to help to a certain point if weaker children got stuck, but if I didn't know an answer I modelled great problem solving skills, trial and error and perseverance. Still great teaching in my opinion! Children have loved creating simple games, from the very basic car track to angry birds games. Thanks to Phil Bagge (@Baggiepr) who has created a sequence of Scratch programs that can be used for year 2 up. Simon Haughton has also created Scratch resources and has a website  devoted to all things ICT/computing.

Part 2 coming soon!