Tag Archives: KS2

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.

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!

Recording a school CD

Last year I saw this tweet from @MySchoolCD and it piqued my interested.

Naturally my first thought was, ‘what’s the catch?’ So I investigated further.

It turned out that MySchoolCD were offering to give away a class set of African percussion instruments if you sign them up to come and record an album at your school.

Encouraged, I booked the recording and it all went rather well. Later I moved schools and have just repeated the process of recording an album with my new school.

In this blog post I aim to share my experience and the benefits of recording a whole school CD.

So what’s in it for them?

Once the album is recorded, they sell it. Your school (or school charity) gets at least £1 for every CD sold and they get the rest. The price you can sell it for depends on the quantity you sell. Suggested selling price is £7.99. There are 3 different options you can sign up for, but on both occasions  I went for the ‘Zero Risk’ option. Mainly because it meant I wasn’t tied down to selling any guaranteed quantities. Basically I’m not too comfortable with risking school funds and being left with CDs that I can’t shift. If you are willing to commit to more sales then you can get a better deal overall.

What’s in it for you?

Firstly we got a class set of African percussion instruments. Useful. Especially if your topic is Africa.

Secondly, you hold a whole school art competition to design the album cover. In our school this was judged by some member of the senior leadership team and we gave the winner a copy of the finished album as a prize.

Thirdly you get to meet a large part of the music curriculum while giving the children purpose for their work and a very memorable experience.

We practised in whole school assemblies and each year group had their own songs to sing. It gave the children a real reason to work hard at improving their singing as an ensemble and listening to each other as well as the music.

Recording

The day of the recording itself is pretty straight forward so long as you have rehearsed and communicated clearly with the rest of the team so they know what what is going on.

The engineer arrived by 10am and was set up within 20 minutes. We recorded most songs in 2 takes (so allow 15-20 minutes for each one). The engineer on both occasions really useful. He was keen to do a good job and was happy to record as many takes as was needed. I was really struck by the fantastic behaviour of the children. It was obvious they were completely engaged with the process from the moment they walked into the hall and saw the microphones set up. They sat straighter, listened more intently and sang better than I had heard before.

Overall I found working with MySchoolCD to be a positive experience and one the children will remember for a long time to come. While the percussion instruments were a welcome bonus, the main benefit was the sense of purpose it gave to our singing and music within the school. The children and staff all upped our game considerably because we had something to work towards that we can now listen back to and be extremely proud of.

A multimedia approach to literacy

I was asked to talk some School Direct students about ‘A multimedia approach to Literacy’. This blog post is the result.

The Literacy Shed contains a collection short animated films with teaching suggestions. These can be used as a wonderful stimulus for writing in a wide range of genres. http://www.literacyshed.com/ .

Writing fake text message conversations is a lovely way to introduce dialogue for story writing and play scripts. http://ifaketext.com/

@Fascinatingpics and @abandoned_pics are two twitter pages that offer some interesting pictures that can used as writing prompts. Superb for scene description. Other great writing prompts can be found on this Literacy Shed blog by @redgirob

 http://www.literacyshedblog.com/blog/story-starters 

Use x-ray goggles to ‘hack’ or at least adapt any website to say what you want. https://goggles.webmaker.org/  The example below is one we used in school during book week to help  draw the children in. Be warned it can lead to confusing conversations with both children and parents. Also, as you are only pasting over the top of the web page so any links and comments will relate to the original story.

http://blake-lobb.makes.org/goggles/usernames-remix-of-usernames-remix-of-bbc-news-schools-must-do-more-to-help-disadvantaged-pupils

If you wish to let the children in on the scam it can be a wonderful way of getting them to write their own news stories.

Use random name generators available from classtools.net (http://www.classtools.net/) and primaryschoolict.com (http://www.primaryschoolict.com/) to select children at random in class. This helps the children in the class remain focused during the lesson and you don’t get the same children putting their hands up every time.

I also use the generator for sentence and word games. The example I’ve included below can be used with any writing, take a spin and ask the children to include whatever comes up in today’s writing.

One of my favourite tools at the moment is Padlet (https://padlet.com/). Padlet is an online bulletin board which is perfect for sharing ideas in the class to encourage collaborative learning. It’s free to join and simple to use.  I share the URL to my page with my class and then they can add their ideas so the whole class can see them and build on them. This Padlet page shows examples of some sentence my class were writing.

Mainly to support my lower ability writers, I use Keezy on the iPad to record and play back sentences. This allows them to listen back to what they want to write as many times as they wish. See my previous blog post for more information.

Most of the ideas shared so far are ways to stimulate literacy. These usually result in writing in books, but there are a few other ways for children to commit their ideas to the page digitally. eBooks can be a lovely way of getting children to write stories. There are loads on iPads and you can add your own pictures to many enabling you to write fiction and non-fiction. Zooburst and Storybird have been recommended to me by @ianaddison. Storybird is particularly beautiful but you need to use their (admittedly wonderful) artwork. This can be limiting or inspiring depending on your need.

Our class blog also gives the children another means of sharing their writing, with the bonus of offering a real audience and sense of purpose to their work. Quadblogging (http://quadblogging.net/) and the 100 Word Challenge (http://100wc.net/) help to broaden that audience.

No doubt as more websites, apps and tools spring to mind I will add to this post.

Using Keezy in the classroom

I first came across Keezy being used by Reggie Watts on Sky Atlantic’s Setlist. He uses the app to record beats and loop them before working his vocal magic over the top of them.

And this is a great demonstration of the musical possibilities.

This inspired me to begin exploring Keezy myself. At first I thought I might be able to work it into my own musical repertoire and then remembered I am a primary school teacher and not Ed Sheeran.

Then I wondered how I might use Keezy with the children in my school. It is visually very bright and stimulating as well as being very simple to use so I thought it would appeal to the children. I have a responsibility for leading music provision at school and as part of that role design learning journeys from which the class teachers plan their lessons. These learning journeys give a basic outline of objectives and an expected outcome. This term we are writing stories about travelling through the human body. Once the children have written their story they will pick a favourite section/passage/paragraph and read it into Keezy. They will then use the other 7 channels to record sound effects to accompany the story. They will also need to write a graphic score to show when each sound effect is needed.

During discussions with colleagues it occurred to me that Keezy could have many uses beyond music lessons, particularly in Literacy. Initially we thought it could be useful for less confident children to say sentences into the Keezy meaning they could play it back as many times as they needed while writing it down. The more I thought about it, the more uses sprang to mind. I have included a few below.

Music

  • Practising harmonies
  • Singing in rounds
  • Recording samples and creating original compositions
  • Recording sound effects and creating graphic scores to accompany stories

Literacy

  • Practising sentences – Record each sentence you want into Keezy before writing it and play it back as many times as you need
  • Extending sentences – Write a simple sentence (The bus was red) on the board and in groups the children take turns to pass the iPad around adding a word or two each time to improve and extend the sentence. Listen back and discuss to the outcomes as a class.
  • Building sentences – In groups the children say 2 verbs, 2 adjectives, 2 adverbs and 2 nouns into Keezy. Pick four at random and include them in sentences on mini-whiteboards.
  • Matching sentences – The teacher records compound or complex sentences into the app. Half the sentence into one of the coloured rectangles and half into another. The children then match the two halves to complete the sentence.

History

  • Some of my colleagues  recently used Keezy in their history lesson. They recorded four questions into the four tabs on the left hand side and the children had to find out the answer and record them into the tabs on the opposite side.
If you have any innovative uses for Keezy I would very much like to hear them and I can included them in updates on this page (naturally you will be credited for your genius).

Downloading

The catch was that I couldn’t actually get Keezy on my iPads in school leading to me asking @pasql (the co-founder of Keezy) what that was all about. He kindly informed me that…

Useful. However, it still didn’t work for me. The simplest way I found was to go onto Safari on my class iPads and google ‘Keezy’, click on the first link that comes up and download. The draw back with this was that as it wasn’t through the App Store I had to load it individually on to every iPad in the school! (thanks to @NeilHall21 for the help with that).

Keezy is great for all ages. My 18 month old son can even use it. He has recently been exploring the demo that come in the library and created some tunes that don’t sound too dissimilar to Aphex Twin.

So I see Keezy having educational uses from very early years right the way through reaching way beyond the music. It’s also FREE!

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