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.


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.


Choosing a different type of book to read to the class – Fighting Fantasy

tumblr_m6wkl0ENgu1rqszvno1_400Every day we spend at least 10 minutes where I read to the class and they listen and respond with questions.  We build up a understanding of the characters, discuss what makes a book good to read aloud and how the authors describe through showing what is happening in detail rather than telling. Normally it is a novel, occasionally a book of poetry and if we find a great picture book author we might spend a day or 2 reading through a stack of their books investigating how the art moves the story along and tells what words do not need to.

I have a list of books that I know I would captivate any class – The Tale of Despereaux, A Series of Unfortunate Events, anything by Roald Dahl, The Iron Giant, Kensuke’s Kingdom and the list goes on.  Additionally I have a list of some of my most beloved books that just do not sound good being read aloud to a class and have not gotten past chapter three before I say “…and if you are loving this book it is at the library.”

Ok, I’m usually blogging about IT integration in the classroom and I still do.  When we read are reading a book we will have the Interactive Whiteboard open and use…Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 8.30.06 AM

  • – Discovering the meaning of the word suppurating was fantastic.
  • Google Earth – Tracking the trip around the world in Kensuke’s Kingdom.
  • YouTube to compare books to their movie trailers

To the real point of this posting. I found in the back of a cupboard the other day my copy of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain – A Fighting Fantasy Gamebook. Now at age 9 this book captivated me as it is a cross between a board game, puzzle and just a great story.  So I brought my dusty, crusty old copy that was given to my brother fresh from publication in 1982 then secretly stolen from his shelf . The game record page had been worn thin from pencil scratchings and eraser marks.

I simplified the fighting rules and presented it to the class on Monday morning – eyes were rolled, groans echoed around the room and one even said 4677291212_24c0acc623‘Really Mr Dyer, rolling a dice when you read a book sounds a bit dumb’. So I read, the noises stopped and the ears pricked as the language unfolded. The first argument began as we were asked to turn East or West at a junction in the passage  and decided by voting visually by standing either in the East or West side of the class.

Next they chose to enter into a room were faced with 2 goblins and the first battle began. We dispatched one instantly, then we took a hit and then the second goblin was slain – the class actually cheered and the teacher from the room next door had to pop in her head to check we were ok. We pillaged the room and found a key marked 99 that was recorded on the Adventure sheet that was up on the IWB.

After a week we have taken hits, freed a crazed madmen gave us a clue that saved us from certain death. Choosing to try and steal a gem resulted in the statue to come alive attack us and we only just left the room with one health point left after the battle with the Iron Cyclops. We have an inventory list of items that we are yet to use and every time we come to a door the class hope it asks for key 99.

It may sound silly to some, but to me, the geek who was raised on D&D, Warhammer and similar games, it is normal and just too much fun. I was not expecting it to work, but hoping that it would provide a type of book that might appeal to some of my reluctant boy readers. The reality is that I have found a text that the whole class is engrossed in. Looking on TradeMe (NZ version of EBay) you can pick Fighting Fantasy or Pick a Path books up for $1 each and even if they just sit on the shelf of your classroom library for the kids to read individually you are providing a new genre for your students.  I know they will be a hit with the class, so give it a go.

First attempt at a Rewindable Lesson

EEicon_512x512Using Explain Everything I have been practising how to create the rewindable lesson. Not quite there and some scripting and technical issues to tweak, but not bad for a first attempt.  Not at the level of sharing with students or even making public on YouTube, but happy to post secretly here as it has to have some form of audience.


Lesson Observations as a Teacher Development tool

Today was spent doing something that I do every day, something that I feel that I do quite well, but it was one of the most nerve racking days of the year so far and at the same time it was one of the most rewarding. Today was the first of two days working with Gail Loane looking at our writing within the school and reflecting on what each teachers learning steps are with regard to the writers in our class.

I regard Gail as a Guru of Writing and have been privileged , through being at the right school who knows where to invest their PD budget, to work with Gail for two whole days every term for the past 5 years. She has completely flipped my approach to writing teaching and I know that my class has benefited from the time that I have spent with her. Gail’s approach to writing is based on purpose, experiences and need; her book is titled ‘I’ve Got Something To Say” and that is her guiding principle – every child has experiences to draw from and every child arrives at school with something to say. Every child 9780473142605has experienced hurt or surprise or anger and it is our responsibility as educators to guide our students towards recording these experiences in detail and with the feelings and emotions and description that they occurred.

Now I am not going to describe the journey that I have been on, but do implore you to read her book if you can, it is full of pearls of wisdom and lesson plans and models of quality writers that you can use in your writing lesson. The reason for this post if for me to quickly reflect upon the journey that I have been on today and why it was so challenging and rewarding.

Today all teachers were released from their classes and relief teachers were used. As a group we al went to the hall and then one by one, beginning at year 1 we brought in 6-10 of our students and presented a writing lesson for all of our peers. The lesson was only 20 minutes long, but was then followed by a 30 minute debrief and questioning session. The scary part was sitting and watching amazing teachers share their practice and their students writing journey and having to wait until the fourth session to share my lesson. By the time it rolled around my stomach was in knots and I had changed my lesson a dozen times over in my head. The reality was that when I sat down on the mat with 6 of my students, who are neither the top or the bottom in the ability ladder, my teacher brain took over and all nervousness went away.

I had looked at our writing from the previous weeks and looked at our jottings book ad looked at what was in jottings and not in our writing – pLanned the lesson from need. We took previous lines of poetry and then played with how we could add adjectives from our jottings, so the line…

Swim bags hang in the changing rooms


Wet tightly stuffed swim bags hang in the changing room

…and then we looked at some jottings from a visit by four puppies last week. By the time that we got our first sentence on the mini white boards and shared them to each other 20 minutes was up. The lesson was over. Was it a perfect lesson? No. Does it give me things to work on tomorrow? Yes, and that is the way that I believe it should be. As teachers we should always be looking towards the next level and seeing where the next step in a child’s learning should be. Like DeBono says – Ebne: Excellent but not enough.

My next journey is to look into A Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher and see how I can develop my use of the Jottings book to incorporate phrases and sentences as many of the class are just writing key words, which is making it hard for them to take their jottings to writing in she same detail as they experienced it.

In conclusion it was one of the most amazing professional learning sessions that I have been involved in for the single fact that I was able to watch each of my colleagues teach, a thing we do not often get to do, and see the writing progression in our school from 5 year old to 11 year old.

If you have not had your teaching observed by your colleagues recently you need to. It is hard, uncomfortable, scary and not much fun to begin with, but if you are a learner, and we all like to say that we are, we need to share our teaching and be questioned about the choices we make. The words we use, experiences we arrange and the lessons we plan are the things that make us teachers and i feel that there is no better way to appraise your teaching than to have a colleague you admire and value watching you.

Unintentional Metacognition

I must admit that when I first looked upon Stories for Thinking by Robert Fisher I was guilty of judging the book by its cover. I flicked through the book and came across a series of short stories and each was followed by a set of questions that would build thinking skills. I put it aside ready to return it to the resource shelf where I found it.Stories for Thinking by Robert Fisher

Before I had the opportunity to return the book I was given a 15 minute slot that I had not planned for as we had returned early from swimming. This time would usually be an opportunity for fitness type game outside or a ‘Circle Time’ favourite, but it was raining and the kids were exhausted after a week of swimming and asked for a story.
Flicking through Stories for Thinking I came across one titled Fair, which was fitting as fairness has been a bit of a playground focus, so I began to read.

Short synopsis is… A Farmer needs workers for his orchard so he goes to hire a man at 9am and says “If you work for me today I will give you a gold coin”. Then he hires subsequent workers at 10am, midday, 2pm and 4pm and each time he repeats “If you work for me today I will give you a gold coin”. Then when at the end of work for the day he gives each of the workers a gold coin no matter how long they have worked and the workers are upset.

Well a the end of this story the class was fuming with the workers, which is where the follow up questions come in, as the first concept was that why should the be upset with the farmer, when he did not lie to them and told them exactly how much he would pay them. The debate and questioning of the students lasted the ten minutes after the story and well into the next day as the students were so thrown by the story that they were engaged. Most students had varying points of view either in favour of the farmer or the workers and all were able to relate it back to their own experiences to make connections to their life.

This was not an intentional lesson, but the learning that occurred within that discussion into an Aesop like story was incredibly engaging and makes me think that I need to allow more time for exploring of issues and developing of thinking skills and debate style learning.

What next
Firstly I have flicked through Stories for Thinking companion Poems for Thinking and come across Somebody, a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and have penciled talking points and questions over it. I might not use it until the bus arrives is early again or a wet lunch hour or I might use it in our library session tomorrow. When ever I use it I know that the discussion around who is a somebody and who is a nobody will be fascinating and hopefully lead somewhere.

Additionally, it has jogged my memory back to a teacher that I met at ICOT from Rangiruru College in Christchurch. We sat next t each other at the SOLO Taxonomy session and had a chat and I discovered that he taught Philosophy to year 7 through 13, which I thought had to be one of the coolest educational jobs in the world. When realising my enthusiasm he told me of  Kids Philosophy organisation in New Zealand called Philosophy for Children or P4C.  So maybe if we want 21st Century learners to learn in an environment encompassing Guy Claxtons 3 Cs and 3Rs we need to expose them to a bit of Philosophy?

Now as I go to try and work out how I could use P4C in my class and reconnect with a teacher named Andrew from Christchurch I will leave you with Somebody by Lord Tennyson to unravel.


Somebody being a nobody.
thinking to look like a somebody.
said he thought me a nobody.
Good little somebody-nobody.
Had you not known me a somebody.
Would you have called me a nobody?

Alfred, Lord Tennyson