Category Archives: ICT

When a Sphero comes along

A few months ago I wrote about my desire to get some Spheros in school and learn how they might be used in lessons to meet the ks2 computing curriculum in a creative and engaging way. Since then I’ve taken delivery of 10 new Spheros and started a Coding Club with children from each class in the school. I wanted to begin with a club so I could iron out any teething problems before introducing them across the school. While I made sure each class was represented so that when they do go into the classrooms each teacher will have a few experts to call upon to help them out, should they need it.

The purpose of this post is to give an update on where we are now and pass on the things I’ve learnt along the way.

You need a lot of space.

It turns out 16 children and 8 spheros in one classroom can be a confusing squeeze. The robots are controlled by iPads via Bluetooth and sometimes keeping them all connected can be an issue as can finding enough room for each child to explore the capabilities of the apps we have been using.  It was great fun when we got into the school hall and had a race!

Be organised.

Have a designated iPad for each Sphero. I began by getting any iPad and searching for devices to connect via Bluetooth. This is fine if you only want to connect one or two, but will take ages if you want to connect 10. Each device has it’s own 3 letter code. I’ve written these on to each Sphero and also made a note of them on the designated iPads. This has simplified the logging on process and keeps the children engaged.


Keep it simple.

During our Coding Club sessions I set the children a variety of challenges. By far the most successful ones were the simplest. The challenge in the video above was to race up the hall, turn around past the cones and then race back. This allowed the children to use the Tickle app to create their own algorithms and debug them in order to accomplish a specific goal. Other challenges included being the fastest around a chair and following a paper path on the floor.

It does the job.

We purchased the robots to help meet the ‘design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts ‘ bit of the KS2 computing curriculum. I’m very happy that we fulfil our statutory requirements comfortably here. But more than that we are discovering many cross-curricular possibilities and the children absolutely love them.

What next?

The next challenge is to plan a scheme of work that can be delivered to the whole class. I’ll probably write another blog post as and when that happens, I’ll just have to think of another sphero based pun first.

I need a Sphero

I have been struggling with the bit in the computing curriculum where it talks about ‘controlling physical systems’. I can see the importance of applying the coding skills we’ve be learning on Scratch and the like, to something with a more physical presence. Something tangible. But I don’t want to spend loads of money on something that will only be used occasionally and require a lot of staff training.

First we researched RaspberryPi as they do seem to have a vast range of applications across the curriculum.

It is a single-board computer the size of a credit card. You can get a starter kit for around £50 from Amazon, and this means a whole class set is certainly reasonable. For early computer science, RaspberryPi looks very good. But it all seems a bit complex for the majority of our ks2 pupils and I worry the staff would also require a lot of training and support. It is something I may well return to further down the programming line, as the children’s knowledge and expertise has developed and they need the next challenge.

Next, we looked at Lego Education.

They had a big, shiny stand at BETT so we had a look. It’s certainly a brand our children have heard of and connected with themselves. This would no doubt help with engagement. The two stumbling blocks as I see it are that it is bloomin’ complicated and can be expensive to get some of the better, more interesting kits. As with RaspberryPi, Lego Education is great for those children who have an interest or some talent in coding, but when it comes to whole class engagement I worry it might be ‘a bridge too far’ for some. Both would be great for a ‘Computing Club’ though.

Then we heard about Sphero.

It’s essentially a programmable ball. It’s controlled using a tablet via Bluetooth. We are lucky enough to have iPads in school and these do seem to have the better apps currently available to download. As there are so many apps available, differentiation is quite straight forward and it can be used in ks1 and ks2.

Potential Benefits…
  1. It’s instantly engaging, with wide raging applications across the curriculum, particularly in Maths.
  2. The ‘Tickle’ app offers coding in a familiar format to those familiar with Scratch.
  3. Differentiation and progression is straight forward given the range of apps available.
  4. It’s relatively cheap. Around £90 a go on Amazon. While the apps I’ve used so far are all FREE to download.
Potential Problems…
  1. 10-15 robots being controlled by Bluetooth could well lead to a drop off in connectivity and lead to confusion.
  2. As apps like ‘Tickle’ are currently not available on android, you do need iPads to get the most our of Sphero.
  3. This will not stretch our more able year 6 pupils when they become more proficient with coding over the next few years. This is when we might need to look at the other options previously discussed.
Our story so far…

I ordered one for school at the end of the Summer term and took it home to experiment with over the summer. I found it straight forward to use and when I shared it with children of friends and relatives aged between 5 and 15 I got very positive responses.

Learning journey.
  1. Begin using the original Sphero app as a remote control to allow the children to see what is possible. Set challenges and get to grips with the controls.
  2. Use the Drive ‘n’ Draw app to instruct the robot what you want it to do.
  3. Use the Tickle app to programme Sphero to follow paths, complete mazes, etc…
What next?

Order 10. I wanted 15. We compromised. When these arrive I will introduce them initially to Coding Club. This will allow us to iron out any teething troubles we may encounter and mean that many classes across the school will have pupil experts able to help out when they are used in lessons. We can also try out a range of the many apps available, to see which ones are best suited to our needs.

By January I will have trained the staff how to use them and hope to see them being used to across the curriculum. By the end of the year the whole school will have completed a module in controlling physical systems. I best get planning.

Podcasting with Spreaker

People communicate in many different ways and in the modern World it seems that new avenues of communication are being created all of the time. As a teacher, I think it’s important to make as many of these avenues available to our children as possible to allow them to choose the way they wish to express themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s music, mfl, coding or anything else, what’s important is that they are able to say what they want to say, and make their voices heard.

I have always had an interest in radio and was lucky enough to attend a college and university which both had student radio stations. Growing up, my Dad also spent many years hosting a show on a local radio station, so I have long had an affinity with the medium.

Since becoming a Primary School teacher I have wondered how I might use radio in the classroom. I have made radio adverts during persuasive writing modules and written scripts before, but it’s all been rather hypothetical as we didn’t have the hardware.

I have looked at a few school radio station providers (namely School Radio and  Anderton Tiger Group) and they offer some fantastic equipment which is very child friendly, of a professional standard and even rather sexy! Like I say, I’m into radio.

However, I had a few problems with these options. The main problem, and if I’m honest, the real problem, was the cost. It’s very hard to justify that sort of expense when it’s unclear how much it will be used and how much impact it will have on results. Practically speaking, the equipment takes up space, quite a bit of it, so you’d need a room to house and use it in. We don’t have much free space. Also, given the money spent, it could/should take up valuable curriculum time. So I kept on looking…

Then, Rachel Jones was speaking about interesting stuff at TeachMeet Pompey, and she happened to mention Spreaker.


Spreaker ticks a lot of boxes for me. It’s a FREE on-line podcasting app. It’s available on iOS and Chromebooks (as well as others) so we can use it on all of our school devices. As it’s on-line, it takes up no room and as it’s free, we can use it as much or little as we need without feeling like we’re wasting precious and limited resources.

It is fairly straight forward to use and importantly can be shared easily.  We had our first go today. I borrowed a couple of Year 6 children and talked them through the plan. They wrote a script and had a couple of run through practices before asking our Head to come in for an interview. This seemed a suitable topic for our first episode as he is leaving us at the end of term, so it was a chance for some of the children to ask him some questions. We added a simple effect at the beginning and got on with it. Once recorded we uploaded it to the school website and then played it in assembly.

Within an hour we’d gone from no script to published on-line and played to the whole school.

I realise it’s not always that simple and Spreaker has a far greater capability than we’ve used today, but it’s got me thinking and planning for the new year. School Radio Station here we come.

Using ICT in Primary Music – with Musical Futures

As the music leader at my school I was on the look out for some training that would give me some ideas that I could use in my own teaching and pass on to other members of staff.  Thanks to twitter I came across a course called Finding Your Voice, run by Musical Futures. You can find out all about them by visiting their website for yourself (and I recommend that you do) but given the course outline it seemed perfect for my needs.

Today I attended this training and was not disappointed. They gave us loads of practical tips and activities to try in our schools but also a range of different ICT that they use to support Music teaching. This was particularly helpful for schools with limited resources and budgets. Again, check their website for the resources, including some excellent vocal warm-ups, but I wanted to use this post to share some of the ICT used and suggest some that I use already.

LOOPY – app


Loopy, as the name suggests, is used for looping sounds. There are a few looping apps available for iOS but this one is particularly child-friendly. I’ve long since been a big fan of Keezy, but Loopy offers quite a bit more. Unlike Keezy, Loopy allows you to actually loop, making composition easier and you can also get a rather handy metronomic count in. Create music by layering looped recordings of singing, beatboxing or playing an instrument.

A top tip is to go to settings and switch the ‘monitoring’ and ‘live input recording’ to off before recording, in order to avoid feedback. Loopy is available from the from the App Store for £2.29.




We all worry about how we show progress. James Emberley, the secondary music teacher who delivered the Musical Futures training, presented SoundCloud as part of the solution. It is an online audio distribution platform that enables the user  to upload, record, promote and share their originally recordings.

Record at the start of a scheme of work as a baseline and then record again a few weeks later. Hey-presto PROGRESS recorded, without the need for the student to write anything down. If you record using the free AudioCopy app, you can upload directly to SoundCloud.

Launchpad – by Novation – app


I have been using Launchpad for a while to create compositions across a variety of genres including Hip Hop, Trance and Drum & Bass. You can build layers and make arrangement without the fear of going out of time.

We’ve used it this year with our Year 3s as accompaniment to their performance poetry. It’s been great for teaching the children about tempo especially, but also dynamics, structure and texture.


As I come across more apps and tools that I particularly like I will update this post, but for now, here are some other apps worth exploring. GarageBand, Drummer (by Keezy) and the guitar and piano apps by Smule. While these other blogs have more useful suggestions Musical Futures and a couple from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.

ICT across the curriculum

Following my previous blog post about using ICT in Literacy this post aims to cover the whole primary curriculum! Now, this is far too broad an area to put into one post, also there are far better informed bloggers and tweeters than me with websites which are designed to offer far more ideas. However I will simply share a few of my favourite websites, apps, tools and devices which can be used across a range of subjects. This has come about as part of a training session I ran for some Schools Direct students.


Padlet is an on-line pin board. It’s free and perfect for collaborative learning  across a range of subjects. You can simply share the URL with your class and they can all add thoughts, research, links, photos, etc to share with the class.

Alternatively, the children can use it as a very simple website of their own allowing them to build on-line research pages, like a mood-board or montage for DT ideas.

Here is an example writing Alan Peat’s De-De sentences.


Socrative is a FREE web based service which allows you to write quizzes which can be shared with your class. The results are then collated into a spread sheet for you to get instant feedback. Brilliant for AfL, and lots of fun. You can also find Socrative quizzes which have already been made by other teachers.

Once I shared this with the students I was training, one of them then shared something similar they had been using with me. Kahoot is also free and web based but is even more visually appealing and simple to use.


Skitch can be used to label pictures, websites, maps and PDFs on iOS and Android devices. @IanAddison has written a rather useful guide to using Skitch on his blog, so check it out.

YAKiT Kids

Children and adults alike will love playing with YAKit on the iPad. It allows you to add an animated mouth to absolutely anything and record speech to make it come to life. Great fun and a brilliant way to encourage those less confident in speaking to the class. Fantastic for practising short dialogues also as you can have two objects speaking in the same scene.


Get the children to film themselves and view it back to accelerate progress. We’ve long since used peer assessment to help children understand their strengths and weaknesses. Getting them to film themselves and watch the results has really helped my class, particularly in dance and gymnastics. This can be applied across the curriculum, as being able to see where we are going wrong enables you to put it right.

And finally a really great idea I got from @leah_moo is to use ‘Just Dance’ to teach dance routines, as PE warm ups or as a little light relief. To get you in the mood, here is the Macarena, hundreds more are available, many can be linked to topics and most are more current than this example!

Friday @ #BETT2015

So today our only plan was to go along to some kind of talk or seminar. We failed. Nothing really caught the eye in the brochure and we were having much more fun exploring the stands loading up on complimentary coffee, lollipops and popcorn.

The first highlight of today for me was a rather pleasing few minutes I spent at the Sound and Music stand learning about ‘A Minute of Listening’. It’s a fairly simple idea where you play 60 seconds of sounds and the close their eyes and listen. Afterwards there are some questions that the children can think about and discuss. This can be the basis for whole lessons or more likely a daily calm moment of reflection. This will certainly help meet the part of the music curriculum related to listening and responding to a range of music. Also, it is claimed to help the listening skills of the children. Makes sense to me. More information can be found here;  . It does sound like the sort of thing I could make myself, but it would take a bloomin’ long time and it’s just not going to happen. It’s £40 a term for the whole school.

We already use Accelerated Reader at our school and really like it, so went to investigate Accelerated Maths. As with the reading programme there are two parts to it. The assessment side, which gives levels, highlights areas for development and allows you to track and evidence progress.

The other side is the teaching bit. Pick levelled, targeted activities for each child in the class. Differentiation as many ways as you like/need. All jolly good, but a dramatic change of approach to the teaching and learning of maths across the whole school. Realistically I think we’ll just get the assessment bit for now, if budgets allow.

RMBooks is an on-line library from which you can borrow or buy books to use with your class. Have them on your screen or share with the children’s devices. Annotate the books to ask children questions  to use for guided reading or simply allow the children to follow along, or take over, during a class read.

After being excited by Fiction Express yesterday we went back and sign up for the free trail today. As an added bonus they had a couple of the authors there and we were able to chat to them further about the process of writing these episodic stories and allowing the children to be such an integral part of the creative process. Check them out: 

I have found the whole BETT experience to be a very positive one. Loads of great ideas and creative solutions to problems, even ones I didn’t know I had. The problem I had was that there is just so much to see and do. Although we were there for two days, I still felt as if I missed a lot. Another problem is that I have a fairly short attention span so struggle to focus on things when there is so much sensory stimulation all around. Flashing lights, loud music, presenters with microphones, people dressed in costumes and lots and lots of people. Despite all this I still found the trip extremely rewarding and came away with a wealth of new ideas and I am keen to return next year.

Thursday @ #BETT2015

I spent most of the first few hours at BETT walking around wide eyed. There certainly is a lot to take in. We walked around all of the exhibition hall, just to get a feel for the place. The Millgate stand certainly caught the eye, mostly because it had a dance floor, mirrorball and was offering free cocktails. This had the desired affect of drawing us in and at the price of two Mojitos each, we had a very informative chat with their consultants and a follow up visit has been arranged.

Once we got our bearings it was time for lunch, and the big hunt for somewhere to sit down at a table. This afforded the opportunity to check the map and identify which stands we wanted to see.

First up was Fiction Express. They publish e-books online in weekly episodes, pupils vote each week to decide where the plot goes next. This sounded great for whole class guided reading sessions 2 or 3 times a week. For £249+VAT a year it is something I am very interested in. 3 week free trial period here we come.

The next exhibitor to impress us was Hapara. It’s a teacher dashboard for google apps which allows us to see what each child is working on and share information and feedback more effectively. At £4 per child for the full package it makes it an interesting preposition and one we are seriously considering.

The Lego stand was very interesting. We’ve already invested in a little bit in Lego Mindstorm, but seeing it in action makes us want at least enough for a class set. Hugely engaging and versatile for across the curriculum.

Also enjoyed the Brainpop, EducationCity and  Frog stands, but we’ll have a more detailed look tomorrow. They all seem to offer things we are already getting elsewhere.

The real treat of the day for me was winning a £50 Amazon voucher from OCR for being really quick at putting some magnets on a board. Random, fun and rewarding. Pretty much like my whole day.

Over all it’s been a very good day. Tomorrow we’ll even take in some seminars and what not. Bring it on.

Animating teaching with Wideo

Wideo is a free on-line tool for making videos. You can use their templates or start from scratch to create your own animations. It is possible to upload backdrops and different objects to animate, enabling you to make your videos specific to your needs.

This term in ICT we have been learning how to use Wideo to make animated movies of firework displays as part of our ‘Firework Maker’s Daughter’ topic. A simple black background is used with a variety of firework we found on google images layered over the top.

Through teaching and exploring Wideo I began to see other possibilities for using it in school. We are currently rehearsing ‘Jack and the Beanstalk‘ as our Christmas production and so I had a go at creating the set using Wideo. It took a bit of playing with timings and it was important to keep the animation to a minimum, but it was brilliant to see the beanstalk grow while the action takes place on stage in front.

There are short tutorial videos available on the site and youtube as well as hints and tips to help you along the way. All this makes it very easy to use for my year 5 class and the results are slick and most pleasing.

Due to it’s ease of design and format Wideo can also be used for any number of lesson and staff meeting presentations, helping to engage and inspire.

The catch is that it is only free for Wideo animations that are 45 seconds or shorter. Perfect for our firework display but obviously this can be quite a limitation. We have also experienced problems using the site with the whole class as too much traffic can cause the site to freeze. This can be frustrating but is a good opportunity to teach the children about patience!