Christmas Cards in Scratch

I am a big fan of creative activities in the last week of term… a chance to do different things and often with a holiday season twist. Many times I given students the option of making Christmas Cards for loved ones, so this year it has been animated Christmas Cards coded in Scratch. Instead of scissior skills they were learning how to create their own sprites. For music we went to Jamendo to find music that we could use under a Creative Commons Lisence then to add different elements we searched through the online Scratch Community to find some Sprites that we could remix. In short, just a fantastic way to celebrate Coding and the end of the school year.

PS… we chose Christmas, but could have been for any holiday that you wanted to celebrate 🙂

…and thanks to Mark Bodino on Jamendo and Howard Abrams on Scratch for their inspiration and sharing of Digital Content.



Scratching for the Stars

I sometimes forget how truly amazing the student’s brain is and today I was reminded Scratchand still can not stop smiling. Now this was not just a single child, but did start from a single question, and it involved 2 classes of 7 year old students.

We are working on Scratch games. Racing games. There is a track, there is a sprite and there is a finish line. If you go off the track you go back to the start and if you get to the end you might celebrate with a ‘Boyakasha’ then change the colour by 25 or pixelate and then go around again.

The games were pretty amazing and all the students had designed their own race car sprites and tracks. At the start of the second lesson  we were looking at completing the finer details, debugging a few errors and filling out the Project Page information – yuo know, tying up the loose ends of a unit before Christmas Holidays interrupt.

A hand was raised… “How do you add the score?”

I hesitated. These are 7 year olds. I do not teach creating variables to 7 year olds…

…but I showed him and we created a Data Variable for score. Before I knew it they were changing code scripts to Change score by 1 when you crossed the finish line. Someone called out -1 score if you go off the track and the score was going up and down. Like most children they wanted to get the highest score and then when one child had a score of 9999 questions were raised….

“You’re Cheating!!!”
“Wow, you are good.”
“That’s Hacking!!!”
“What’s Hacking?!?”
“How did you do that?”

The skills developed at an alarming rate and the questions kept on flying around the class. Soon students realised that a score that could go on forever was pointless and not rewarding in any way. The student who raised the initial question put together a block of code stating ‘If SCORE=5 then Finish all” and a friend added “If Score=-5 then Finish All“.

By the end of the lessson the script was quite long and we had added you win and lose screens. I had no idea at the start of the lesson that it would end up going so far, but I am so glad it did. It would have been easy to gloss over the question, but I learned so much from following through with it, the students went through the Pit of Learning and came out the other side with a smile and a sense of achievement…. I know that I will sleep well tonight.


Making your own Learning – The 4 stages

This is something that I am sure that a lot of people are already know or are coming to the realisation of… as learners we need to take control of our own learning and not just wait for it come and find us. I would be a rich teacher if I had a dollar for every time I heard a teacher complain or state ‘That was irrelevant for me’ about school provided PD, and sometimes they are right, but if you ask them ‘Do you take time to learn things that are important to you and your teaching?’ they often look at you as if you are mad.

I have split personalising your learning into four categories based on my experiences and what I have observed (not very scientific, but hey does it matter 🙂 )

This is that thing we all do, often mid discussion when nobody remembers that name of the drummer of an 80s band or who was the director of ##### or any other obscure question that we need to know instantly… Google it. Although, most of my questions at work are more technical, such as what is the font that is used in Scratch, but there are FAQ and message forums to answer these questions.Google-It-crop.0.0

Needs based
You have to do something and you not quite sure how. Now this is when we call on YouTube and we watch tutorials or we delve through Blogs of those that have gone before us. It is very rare that we want to do something that has never been done before so why reinvent the wheel when someone has made a video that shows you how to make one in a thousand different ways.

Medium Term
This is where the learning transfers from that instant need to know to when you want to make yourself a better educator and need some help. It takes a bit more thinking and planning. Online Courses or MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) cover a mass of topics – not all are good, but some are amazing. You have the choice to pay for the certificate at the end for a minimal fee, but are able to partake at no cost (if you don’t want the PDF). Just recently I completed an EdX course that was run by MIT on MIT - Launching Innovation ini SchoolsLaunching Innovation in Schools, which challenged me throughout and made me think deeply about my practice and vision for Education. Microsoft Education offers countless courses for free (and you get a pretty badge at the end) – the Mindstorms Robotics courses that have 6 hours of course time are incredibly comprehensive and will help any teacher trying to get their head around using the EV3. Lastly there is my favourite of the online courses that I have completed in the past year – Google Teacher Certification. I found the Google Educator course to be the most robust. The exam at the end was challenging and if you fail you must wait a set time period before resitting (Luckily I passed level 1, but I’m yet to face the challenge of level 2).

Now this is the one that I have yet to attempt and not sure if I ever will. This is the one that bumps you up the pay scale, prepares you for leadership, gives you a few extra letters after your name and can suck the life from you for years (so I’ve been told). I have known many to go back to school/university and partake in a Masters Degree or even higher to a Doctorate. This is for the most dedicated. The ones who love the challenge of late night forum entries and essay deadlines. It is not for me, but is for many.

So, after all these ramblings I only challenge to take learning into your own hands. Do not wait for it to come to you. Think about where you want to learn more or what you think you might want to learn and dedicate some time and brain power. Only you can make yourself a better educator, so now is a good time to start.


Screen Record on an iPad

A few new features are now on iOS devices thanks to iOS 11 and finally the one thing IMG_0277.PNGthat has always annoyed me about an iPad has been sorted – the ability to screen record. Previously you would need to mirror your iPad, but now in the Control Center you just tap an icon and the screen recording begins – interestingly it records the sounds off the iPad, such as key clicks and app sounds, but does not record any background sounds.

An extra I also discovered by accident, is when you screen shot of your device you have the ability to annotate the screen shot (very cool).

So, now that I am able to screen record directly on an iPad I was able to make my first iPad only App Tutorial and based it on an App that I am still learning how to use to its full potential and wondering if it is worth showing kids Scratch Jr or just moving them into Scratch as we do at the moment (Years 1-6 all use Scratch to some level).Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 2.24.56 PM.png

The process was extremely simple and makes me wonder if the days where I no longer need a computer are getting closer. A quick intro made with Intromate, add the screen record video, then narrate on iMovie and upload to YouTube. The world we live in really is a wondrous place.

Getting the hang of the EV3

Now I have spent many hours playing with the NXT and using it in class, but I have just received a class set of 15 EV3 Mindstorms kits, I have a lot of tinkering and testing to do before I get down to the planning for implementing them within my class program for the Year 5 and 6 students. First step was to unpack, which with that many kits is long and labour intensive, but with the reward of getting to build, test and play with the new kits at the end it was not so bad.

My one dislike with the NXT was the need to plug in the robot through a USB cable to download the program, but the Lego Education Department have come up with a fantastic app that now allows you to send your program through Bluetooth to the bot and you are able to stop the program instantly over distance from the iPad, which I have found allows for a greater scope with trial and error when writing a program as you no longer need to run, pick up the robot when you have made a mistake and can quickly EV3and seamlessly edit your program on the fly – no USB connection is needed for each mistake, which should be a great bonus in the classroom. Additionally, connecting through Bluetooth was quick and easy and it is simple to rename each of the control bricks, so when there is a class going on there should not be too much problems with students connecting to their brick rather than a classmates.

With younger students the app seems like it is going to make the process so muchEV3 - 3 simpler for getting students achieving instant success. The blocks are colour coded, arranged in 4 separate folders depending on their function and the drag and drop nature of the iPad is perfect for when you are testing and editing a program. Additionally, the app has two entry points, either a work space for creating programs or a set of tutorials that have videos and links to external references. If you add the fact that all the apps are free for Andriod or iPad you know that you are onto a winner.

Now the next step is to spend the weekend playing and testing, reading blogs and watching tutorials then I need to work out if it is 2 classes at a time with one between 3 students or one class at a time with 1 between 1 students. Oh, and how am I going to store them all?

Micro:Bit – Tinkering with a Micro Processor

The Micro:Bit is a very interesting microprocessor that was gifted to all Year & students IMG_9918in the UK in 2016 – it is said that many were given and never turned on as there were rafts of teachers and students who did not have the time, curiosity or ability to get them working.

The BBC Micro:Bit

I had a short play with one at the FOBIT conference in Singapore earlier in the year and have wanted to explore the device further ever since. After picking one up for $15us on Ebay I have been reading, testing, exploring, playing and tinkering and I only wish that I had a whole class set. The resources are there, they are able to be coded in many different ways (my favourite is JavaScript Blocks Editor, which is Scratch like in design and presentation) and the STEAM applications are immense.

image from BBC Micro:Bit website

The Technology Will Save Us Blog offers a Lego Challenge and by adding a few bricks I had a device that at the turn of a dial told me the temperature in the room.

Through nesting a few loops I was able to turn my Micro:Bit into a Magic 8 Ball (well Magic 6 Ball) that when shaken provided one of 6 random messages to be displayed across the 5X5 LED screen.

Screen Shot 2017-08-16 at 7.09.03 PM

Lastly, it may have been a bit messy and fiddly, but I was able to download the iOS app to my iPhone, Bluetooth pair it with my Micro:Bit and then send the code I had written through the airwaves to make the device work in a way that I wanted.

In short… Micro:Bit – Cool, easy to use, I want more for my classroom and so much scope to be used from beginner to advanced level.

Really getting into Coding with Scratch

It has been too long since I have written here (there are dozens of unfinished posts over the past 3 years, but few published). I am now in Vietnam and teaching ICT, rather than a classroom teacher, and it has been a whirlwind of difference. It is a much bigger school, but as I teach most of the students I get to know them all and it allows me to be the kind of teacher that I normally am.

Big change as been, other than having access to Google again, the amount of coding that I teach using Scratch and it can be upwards of 15 hours a week. I feel that I now dream in Blockly and ‘if then’ or ‘forever’ loops. It is like being immersed in a language and it has increased my knowledge beyond all belief.

Year 1 throughscratch-music 3 are using the offline editor and are learning to make instruments play a tune or making balls bounce around the screen and play a recorded sound when they collide. Year 4-6 are making playable video games and now beginning to realise that they are able to create games in their own time (such as the final scratchgame).

Scratch has recently introduced Educator Accounts, for which you need to apply and get approval (a day to wait), but this now allows you to manage multiple online classes, reset their forgotten passwords, add or remove students and sign them up without the need for email addresses to login – such a time s
aver and it may help me keep my hair a few more years.

There are scores of resources out there, any question that you have is answered by a forum post or YouTube tutorial and once you give it a go your students will love it. I know that when they get to Secondary they will be problem solvers, better at logic and reasoning and have a good understanding about how code is laid out and how to change variables and create loops and conditionals.

My first successful game (Even though it has a glitch or too)


This game was created by a student as part of his International Week homework to teach visiting year 2 and 3 students about Ecuador in a fun way.