Friday, April 24, 2015

Blox 3d world

This evening I've been having a quick play with Blox 3d world, which was free yesterday via apps gone free. I liked the look of it because it reminded me of kodu, but on the iPad. Granted it doesn't allow you to program elements like kodu, in fact it is very basic, but I've still had fun creating my very own Westeros. 

There are some tutorials that you can watch, which will show you how to create things based on the type of world you want to build.

I quickly created my land and Castle Black, then added some watchers on the wall and some (white) crows, before starting on Winterfell and the King's road. This took minutes, once I got the hang of adding blocks. The area reduces in size as you start to fill the screen, allowing your world to expand. I initially found it quite tricky to add the land and I think you do have to tap it in the right place (the brown  bit underneath the turf), but it is easy to delete blocks that you misplace - and build them up into hills, walls etc.

Some of the elements interact with each other and it was particularly humorous when I added a tiger (the nearest I could get to Ghost) to the wall as all the watchers ran around with their arms waving in the air. Well it tickled me anyway!

I think it has value in that children can use their imagination and create their own worlds, testing how things interact with each other. 

For more information, check out 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Digital Literacy

When I first created the Digital Literacy page for my iPad site I took the title literally and included all sorts of great apps to support children's developing literacy skills. Then I read other educators' work, such as Doug Belshaw's, which pointed me in the direction of things like Future Lab's ideas, from It's Not Chalk and Talk Any More

'Digital literacy is a complex and contested term. It is often understood as the ability to participate in a range of critical and creative practices that involve understanding, sharing and creating meaning with different kinds of technology and media ...'

This made me realise that I needed to change my thinking - and the website page! It's taken me a long while getting around to it - and now it is a relatively naked page waiting to be dressed. I need to do it properly, so need to read and reflect.

In their computing guide, CAS make it clear that there are three aspects to the new computing curriculum: computer science, information technology and digital literacy. Their aims for digital literacy are that 

'[All pupils] are responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology.' 

though they also acknowledge that the distinction between information technology and digital literacy are open to interpretation. What these aspects do though, is remind us that the new curriculum is not solely about computer science and programming. A lot of people turned their noses up at the new curriculum and complained about the lack of creativity. I wasn't one of them as I think that we have been given carte blanch to interpret the curriculum, carry on doing what we know works well, whilst ensuring that we are teaching essential skills and the area of the old curriculum that most teachers were shying away from - control and modelling. That's not an assumption based on anecdotal evidence - it was the area I was most requested to support during the five years when I worked as an AST and ICT consultant.

So now I am trying to get my head around what digital literacy would look like for children in KS1 and KS2 at our school. I have found a digital literacy skills checklist - Being Digital - from the Open University, which has provided food for thought and is a useful model for my own document. 

My aim for the next half term is to create a meaningful digital literacy page on the ipad site, continue creating some self assessment documents for the computing curriculum, based on my ICT and iPad self assessment documents whilst simultaneously deciding what digital literacy means for our school. Needless to say they go hand in hand - curriculum and assessment.

If you are a regular reader to my posts, you will know that at East Harling we worked together to create a unique new curriculum with values that are meaningful to our school. Each term we share the ways in which we have covered our curriculum and I love hearing what other teachers have done, because there now seems to be very little time in the working week to catch up. We are desperate to hold on to these ideals, whilst working hard to get to grips with the new curriculum and demands of OfSTED and better than expected progress. It is unfortunate that many of the strengths of our children are not measured in their SATs tests, but that's a whole new blog post... 

Because of the aforementioned reasons I don't want to rush, in the same way that we have not rushed into a new assessment without levels system (plus I'm doing this under my assessment coordinator and 'can't let go of ICT'  hat and really must work alongside our computing coordinator on this). Our computing curriculum and assessment methods have to fit in with how we want to prepare our children for secondary school - and life!

If you know of any essential reading to add to my list, I would be very grateful, as I suspect would many other IT folk who read this post! 

Reading list 

Future lab - Digital Literacy Across the Curriculum

Miles Berry - The New Computing Curriculum -some thoughts in fact pretty much everything Miles writes on his site is useful!

Kevin McLaughlin - Digital Literacy in the Primary Classroom

Simon Haughton - Interpreting the New Curriculum Requirements

Somerset learning platform - Digital Literacy

Or if you need a break from reading, then sit back and watch Doug!

App reviews from a gorgeous little beta tester!

On Friday I took my iPad with me to the prison cafe, because I had a perfect little beta tester for some of the apps I have reviewed previously. The apps I wanted testing were 3 problem solving activities for EYFS: Petites Choses, Toca Robot lab and Toca hair salon. 

I was interested to see how long the first would take her to complete and how long the Toca apps would keep her amused. Petites Choses , which is available for android too, was free last week and I enjoyed playing then reviewing it. I completed it very quickly, but thought that it would keep a young child amused for much longer. It didn't really, in fact Ruby managed to complete the television challenge more quickly than both Jenni and I did - and we have a combined age of over 80!! Ruby enjoyed playing it though and quickly learned how to navigate around the app and she understood  the expectations of the puzzles with very little input from the adults watching her play. 

Ruby really enjoyed Toca Robot Lab, which I have reviewed here, because she loved making the different robots. She showed fantastic perseverance soon after starting when she got her robot stuck in a tricky position. It is super for developing logical thinking in our young children. Ruby realised that she had to collect stars and was delighted when she had collected 3 within a level. She enjoyed seeing her certificates when she completed the level and then enjoyed creating new robots each time. I may have spoilt her problem solving skills by telling her to avoid the magnet after she had been whizzed off screen a few times in a row. I'm sure she would have worked it out for herself, but equally she may not have had enough experiences with magnets to understand what was happening. She would have kept playing this had I not offered her another app to play, Toca Hair Salon, which I will review very soon (I thought I had done so already!) 

Ruby brings the mighty FC into the 21st century!

The great thing about this app, compared to the other two, is that  it allows children to explore their creativity, whilst making things happen. Ruby chose her 'model' then proceeded very quickly to select the hairdressing tools to change the hair styles. She showed obvious enjoyment at cutting, combing, colouring and drying her models hair. She explored the app independently and it kept her amused for a long while. It kept us amused watching her creations! 

When she got home I believe mum was on strict orders to get some of these apps onto her iPad! I think they have proved to be quality apps for children in EYFS, though I'd love to know which one she would return to first if she had her choice, and how long they would keep her amused when she is more familiar with them. I certainly think they are valuable apps for EYFS education and they are a super introduction to the new computing curriculum. For more quality early years apps, follow the EYFS tag below. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Snow White - Another Gorgeous Nosy Crow Fairytale App

I have had the Nosy Crow Three Little Pigs and Cinderella apps on my iPad since they first came out and they were two of the first apps to appear on Ipads in Primary because of their high quality and, more importantly, my children's response to them. I added Snow White to my collection today - the newest of the Nosy Crow apps. which you can also see on the Nosy Crow website (there are some film clips and links that I haven't included here). 

I also realised that there is a Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and The Beanstalk app too, which I must have missed at some point during my career change. I have limited time for app reviews and the computing curriculum seems to keep me busy! I shall review these at some point though as these apps are so important for developing children's love of stories - and I am intrigued by the fact that these two are not linear narratives and children can create their own stories by following different paths. 

 Snow White is similar to the other apps in that there are lots of ways that you interact with the story, such as moving the characters, making them speak and making things happen (like tidying things up). In old ICT money you would be modelling effects on screen, in the new computing curriculum you are using technology purposefully to organise and manipulate digital content. 
So, the app. It is as delightful as I expected it to be! The story sticks to the traditional tale, but has been brought into the 21st century with some lovely features. For example, it made me say 'ooh' when I appeared in the mirror and then again in the pond, because it wasn't expected. I would love to see the reaction from a child (though I'm not sure their awe and wonder will differ that greatly from mine!) I will find out!

As with the other apps blue dot appears to point the way if you are not sure what to do next and it also helps to keep the dialogue in some kind of order (although that is not always essential to the story and the way the app works). 

Other nice touches are counting to 10 whilst picking flowers 

matching socks and lots of other interactivity whilst cleaning the dwarfs' cottage. 

There is a handy storyboard to retell the story in your own words - or to use in class, which is what I shall probably do with it. I have been playing for around 30 minutes and am just over half way through (that is a guesstimate, I wasn't timing). 

Snow White has all the features that you come to expect from Nosy Crow and I think the use of children's voices and sound effects add to the storytelling. You can read yourself or have the story read to you, with the words turning red as they are spoken. 

As with Cinderella, the way that the characters are portrayed adds to the story. Can you tell I love it?!

Bossy Ugly Sisters

A lovely Fairy Godmother

There really are some magical elements to the stories and the illustrations are just gorgeous. 

You really do feel like you are part of the story when you do things like swoosh the knitting needles to create the carriage and Cinderella's dress.

Magic knitting needles

There are elements of humour throughout and lots of things to share if you are looking at these with young children. I have shared them with my class and friends' children and they have absolutely loved exploring the pages.

As children become familiar they will no doubt be happy to explore the stories in their own.

I know some of you might be sceptical about digital books for children. As a reader, I jump from reading on my kindle, to iPad, to paperback and hardback books. I've yet to pursue the audio route, though have often regretted not having something to listen to when I'm driving distances. Nosy Crow have provided traditional stories, beautifully done, that will entertain children for a long while and I think these are a valuable addition to a child's storybook collection. I'd love to know what your child thinks about these apps if you have them.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

More learning@home

I have blogged about homework before and do not wish to repeat myself, but would like to share this half term's work and show how it enriches our enquiry based learning in school. I changed the way I set homework in school after having a big think about it last year and gauging opinion from my PLN through a crowd-sourced document. I know that Hattie says that the worst thing you can do is give children projects, but equally he says that the best homework is that which enriches work in class. That's exactly what this homework does - and I'm not sure that they would be classed as projects even thought that's what I call them. The fact that children show an obvious pride in their work and want to show it off to others means that it has already had more than 'an effect of zero'.   

At the beginning of term, as always, I stuck a homework option sheet in each child's learning@home book with a range of choices. Children may decide to do something that isn't included in the sheet, which is absolutely fine as long as it follows the same theme.

The homework arrived steadily over the last two weeks of term and was as delightful as ever. There were information books and some lovely pieces of fiction - one where I starred as a walrus! I'm taking it as a compliment that I was included in the story of course! It is a treat to see the variety of work that has been done and quiet often I learn about talents that I may not otherwise have known. 

Their homework sits beautifully alongside art work and written work that they have completed in class.  

The models are gorgeous and included some very characterful polar bears, some great igloos and arctic tableaux. There is clearly adult input in some of them, but I imagine that it is a lot more enjoyable than parents trying to get their child to complete worksheets.

Three of my children extended their learning at school by creating similar iBooks at home. They were rightfully proud of their work and enjoyed presenting it to the class.

iBooks made at school

Some children decided to cook and we all enjoyed the delicious arctic cake and polar bear biscuits that were brought in. You can see more work on our class blog. What I really love about doing homework in this way (as opposed to worksheet style homework) is that the children have some ownership over it and I like to think that there are lots of conversations about the topic during their learning at home. Parents impart their wisdom and share their ideas, then learn/work alongside their children. Perfect!

Delightful problem solving app for EYFS

I have looked at two apps today that I got via apps gone free (the latter from last week).

Petite Chose is a delightful little problem solving app that an adult will complete in minutes, but will keep our youngsters going a bit longer. There is a bird in a cage with coloured padlocks that you need to find keys for. 

You are then guided to a street and to certain rooms to solve problems,

such as making the televisions work and

matching pairs in the windows. 

Some problems are more simple, but still require thinking about them.

On this one you place the keys on the piano 

and this one the cars become musical instruments. I am sure that there is music to accompany these, but for some reason it wouldn't work. 

A handy finger points the way if your child gets stuck, so they are completely supported whilst thinking. In some ways I think the finger appears too quickly, but I would have to watch a child playing to see if this is true. 

If you are a parent who plays this with your child I would love to know your thoughts - please leave a comment!

The second app is more of a 'do not purchase' warning. I don't usually write about apps that I feel are not good quality, but would hate for anyone to be enticed by Monster maths. The following photos should tell you why.

Twice in a row I was asked to find calculations that = 4 (after finding calculations that = 2 then 3) and the sums were very similar - no progression for multiplication and division.

The thing that made me delete it was the way that the monster defeated the aliens - by hitting them on the head with hammers. Not the sort of behaviours you'd want excitable infants to observe. I deleted it after playing for around 10 minutes. Not impressed.