Author Archives: Mr Feist

Teaching Coding for the First Time⤴

from @ The Digital Revolution

Please note, feature image is from Learn 2 Code and has been used in this post with permission.  For more information about the Learn 2 Code website, please click here.

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Truth

I get it, I really do.  Technology is progressing far more quickly than anything we have ever had to ‘keep up with’ historically, and, whilst our world is evolving, education is falling behind.  We are preparing our children for jobs that don’t even exist yet in a truly digital world.

Look at how far technology has come in the last decade and think, in a decade’s time when our current primary children are graduating into a world of opportunity; what will that opportunity look like?  Truthfully, we don’t really know.  What we do know is that computing will play a huge role in it and it’s our job to give them the skills and tools to work with it.

“But that’s okay for you; you can code!”  I’ve had that said to me on more than one occasion.  How wrong that statement is.  I’m not a programmer or even vaguely competent at coding – anyone who has seen me making my own games in Sratch will know that.  But, we aren’t teachers because we are professional coders.  We are teachers because we are professional learners.  I had to teach coding, so I learned the basics of coding with blocks.

Four years ago, I didn’t know anything about computer coding let alone how to teach it; however, as ICT coordinator at the time in my previous school, I was asked to teach it.  I was scared, I had to find training, I had to look into it and I had to learn quickly because I had no choice.  We are all at that stage now – we all have no choice.  Teaching coding is part of developing children’s digital literacy and we must begin to do it effectively.

Below, I will note the way that I have found through personal experience and in training others to be the best route into teaching coding.  It is very progressive, and allows you as a practitioner to learn and develop at the same time as your children.  It is not threatening and you really can just get started and have fun.  There are many, many other coding websites and resources out there, so please do look into as many different ways as you can to give your learners the best possible experience; this is simply the route into coding that I have found to be the easiest from a teaching and learning point of view.

I have indicated the appropriate class-stages for each subsection below in order to save you taking time to find resources appropriate for your class.

Code.org

code.org is fast becoming the ‘go-to’ website for getting started with coding.  It is really engaging and really progressive and I will always recommend starting here.  Better still, code.org can be accessed on any computer or tablet with internet connectivity.  I will outline all of the benefits of code.org below, but it is really important to note that anyone can start using code.org, and you could even try it with your children tomorrow without ever having looked at it first – it really is that straight forward.

Hour of Code (P4-7)

When I started teaching coding, after some research into it, I was in a school that did not (at the time) have a ICT suite / computer room.  It didn’t even have a laptop trolly.  What it did have was 2-3 desktop computers in each classroom.  Whilst there were some benefits to having continual computer access for children, there was no way in this setup to facilitate whole class computing lessons.  Having spent hours researching how to use Scratch (I’ll talk more about Scratch below) I realised that I’d need to find something that allowed children to learn much more independently.  Fortunately, that’s when I discovered code.org’s fantastic ‘Hour of Code’ page available at code.org/learn.  Thanks to the nature of the Hour of Code courses, I was able to assign slots in the timetable for children to get ‘their turn’ coding and working through the given course.

The hour of code is exactly what it sounds like: a one-hour coding course that children can work through on their own or with a partner.  I do find that coding works much better in pairs, as coding is quite a communicative task where children will naturally work together and troubleshoot with their partner, whereas when learning individually I do see more children ‘giving up’.  Moreover, the courses are all designed around games/films that the children know and love, and it really does engage them.  What’s more, for less able readers they can ‘play’ the instructions (I’d recommend headphones for this…) and for children with EAL, you can use code.org in any language; simply select the child’s language from the dropdown menu!

Since that time, I have used Hour of Code courses as a great introduction to coding for all of my classes in P4-7.  An able P3 class could possibly manage it too, but I’ve not tried it yet with any P3 classes.  There are some courses available on the code.org/learn page that take you to different browsers – I wouldn’t recommend these.

The most popular hour of code course with the children that I have taught are:

  • Angry Birds
  • Flappy Birds
  • Star Wars
  • Minecraft (all three Minecraft courses available under the Minecraft tile – although I’d recommend ‘adventurer’ as the best starting course)
  • Moana
  • Code with Anna and Elsa
  • Code Your own Sports Game

The developers do continually add new games and tiles, so it’s always current for the children and very engaging.

Code.org courses (P1-7)

studio.code.org/courses is the section of code.org that really provides the most personalised and tailored progressive coding experience.  As it is based on (I believe) the American education system, the ‘stages’ don’t exactly correlate to the Scottish classes, but I will provide an overview below of what has worked for me.

For primary, you want to be using the Grades K-5 tab.

I have used code.org courses with all of my classes with little issue, including primary ones from their second term in school (I think it’s beneficial in term one to use Microsoft Paint for children to use mouse control to draw pictures)

The progression that I have followed is:

P1 – Course A (Lessons 1-7)
P2 – Course A (Whole course)
P3 – Course B
P4 – Course C
P5 – Course D
P6 – Course E
P7 – Course F

Please note though that you may wish to use more/less advanced courses for your class, however, I have never had any problems with the above progression and this allows all children to develop their skills yearly.  Whilst some courses start very simply, they all develop in a very progressive manner that is aimed at deepening core understanding of the concepts.

Within each course are ‘unplugged activities’.  These are lessons that you can print off and work on with no access to a device with your children, and generally explain a new concept in a practical manner.  In the past, I have skipped these and it really is optional to do them or not.

Assigning work (p1-7)

You will notice at the top of code.org that there is a ‘sign in’ option.  It is free to set up a code.org account, and you can add your students, generating usernames and passwords (picture passcodes for infant classes, where they select ‘their’ picture).  By doing this, you can track pupil progress and get analysis about their learning and next steps: as I said, it is the most progressive coding course out there!

Code.org – the role of the teacher

I use the term ‘teacher’ quite lightly in this section, as actually you are more a facilitator in code.org lessons.  My first rule is NEVER show a child how to solve a code problem.  The main learning, in addition to instructional writing and often maths concepts, that your children will access from coding is problem solving – known in this case as debugging.  When something goes wrong, the children must work it out themselves.  That’s not to say you can’t help, but instead of showing a child, ask things like “why do you have… block” or “what is the purpose of…” or “why is your character ending up there?”  By ‘solving’ a code problem for a child, you’re effectively saying, I can do it so ask me rather than asking the children to develop their resilience.  Coding should not be quick and easy, and code.org is very good at giving the children just the right level of challenge – heck, even I am sometimes challenged by the problems, but the smile that comes over their face when they solve the problem is so worth it.

The only time I do ‘show’ the children how to do something is when a new block is introduced.  I pick one level from the lesson and solve it in front of the children, modelling how the new block is used.  I normally deliberately make a mistake in front of the children and debug it with them to show them that it will happen, and that mistakes are very helpful in coding, as they indicate how to improve.

Scratch JR (P1-3)

Please note that this is an app, so you will need a tablet device for your children to access ScratchJR.

There are many great apps for coding out there, but few give younger children the power to design and create as well as ScratchJR.  ScratchJR is a free app, and very powerful.  I would recommend using the code.org course with your children before using ScratchJR, as it is essentially a ‘blank canvas’ app, where children create something from scratch.

You may want to familiarise yourself with ScratchJR before using it with your children.  There are many resources available for ScratchJR lessons.  Here are two of my personal favourites:

 

Scratch (P4-7)

Essentially the ‘big brother’ of all school coding platforms, Scratch is one of the most powerful programs out there.  As of August 2018, Scratch 3.0 (in Beta at the time of this post) works on computers and tablets with internet access.  Scratch is also however the reason that so many teachers fear coding as it’s a blank canvas with a lot of blocks and options.  Fortunately, if your children have worked their way through the code.org courses, they will be quite familiar with the blocks, as it is very similar, and will be able to use Scratch quite well.  The only limit is their creativity.

There are limitless resources available for teaching Scratch, but I would recommend familiarising yourself with Scratch, or attending CPD courses in your area before using it in the class.  Great teaching resources can be found the following places amongst many others:

 

Conclusion

Providing your children with weekly access to coding experiences, whether online or offline, will hugely boost their attainment in literacy and numeracy as well as in computer science.  Problem solving, instructional writing, using axis and coordinates, angles, measure, logic, communication and collaboration – these are just a few of the skills that children develop when coding.

I was sceptical before I started teaching coding; but is is one of these things that you will not see the benefits to your children until you start giving your children experience of coding.  Don’t be afraid to try it, and don’t be afraid to learn with your children.  We are all on a digital journey together – where our destination is, who knows? But it’s going to be a good one!

 

I will be creating additional future posts about coding, including unplugged coding and also coding with programmable toys and devices.

 

Additional CLPL opportunities can be found here:

*Barefoot – free resources and training to build confidence in teaching computer science

*Computing at School – free articles, resources and training in computer science

 

 

 

 

 

Starting Your own Digital Leaders Team⤴

from @ The Digital Revolution

Starting your own ‘Digital Leaders’ Team

Pupil Council, Eco Committee, JRSO, etc. – schools have so many different forums now for children to be involved in their school community and have their voice. Each of these forums can be transformational to the life and running of the school whilst benefiting learners.  However, if used as an ‘add-on’ or a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, they can also be a monumental waste of time.

I have been fortunate to run a very successful team of digital leaders in Mosspark Primary, known as the Tech Team, and I hope that this article will let you see, not only the benefits of having a Tech Team, but how to set up a digital leaders’ team with a similar model and run it so that it has a measurable impact in raising attainment through digital learning.  Please note that there are so many examples of great digital leaders’ teams out there, and by accessing professional learning networks, such as Twitter, you will be continually inspired in the running of your own digital leaders.  I would also like to point out that there are official programs for children to be involved in, including childnet’s digital leader training program, that will not only train your children, but allow you access to a wealth of resources and a community of other digital leaders.

Getting Started

The main problem with getting started is identifying a member of staff who will take forward the digital leaders’ program within the school.  Ideally, that person will be you – the person reading this – as that person must have the passion to take it forward.  I mentioned other similar ‘committees’ that are held in schools: often are these run by a member of staff that has been ‘given’ it to run.  There are so many examples of great pupil councils and great eco committees that truly have an impact in their school, but similarly there are many examples of those that do not.  If your school is going to invest in a Tech Team, you must make sure that someone is willing and able to commit the time needed.

Interviews

Identifying children that are not only keen but dedicated is crucial.  We run on a ‘no opt-out’ basis: that is to say, once you’re in, you’re in it for the year.  When I’m pitching the Tech Team to the P5-7s, I make sure that I tell them about the ‘bad’ stuff and skim over the ‘good’ stuff.  Rather than saying ‘we’ll be going on trips to…’ I say you will be giving up a lunch time each week and sometimes class time too.  Rather than saying ‘we’ll be learning about really cool…’ I say ‘we’ll be presenting to classes and assemblies’.  I need to make sure that the children that put themselves forward really want to do it and won’t be put off after joining by the commitment involved.

After pitching the idea, the children complete an application form.  I always like children to be able to see what an application process for a ‘real world job’ would look like.  The application forms should be simple but give a good idea of what the learner thinks they will be able to ‘get out of’ being in the team.  I always set a deadline on applications, and never accept any after the date (no exceptions), again, mirroring the real-world application process and also making sure that the children applying are truly committed.

Finally, I interview all of the children that have completed the application process to try to determine who would benefit the most from being a member of the Tech Team.

I find that either 10 or 15 members in a Team is perfect, as you will see in the ‘duties’ section.

Meetings

‘Pupil voice’ and ‘children leading learning’ are the two biggest parts of a Tech Team.  The first meeting should be to identify roles within the team.  In the same way that a good pupil council will run with children chairing and leading meetings, a Tech Team should be no different.  In the first meeting, the children learn about the roles of a chair-person, vice-chairperson, secretary and vice-secretary and then vote on the person that they feel would be best to take each role.  This is of course entirely optional but does form a huge part of how my Tech Team runs, as, prior to a monthly meeting, the chairperson, secretary (and sometimes vices) meet with me to set the agenda for the coming main meeting and voice any concerns that have been raised.

Following this initial meeting, we then have two types of meeting:

– Monthly ‘main’ meeting

This meeting is facilitated by the teacher but run by the chairperson and secretary, both of whom are assisted by their respective ‘vice’.  This meeting runs to the agenda set previously, and minutes are taken by the secretary.  The main purpose of the meeting is to outline the schedule for the coming month, decide on the skills to develop over the month, troubleshoot any issues, and look at timetabling of duties.

– Weekly skills development sessions

Weekly skills development sessions are always held at a specified lunch time each week and run for 45 minutes.  The children get a 15-minute early lunch so that they can be there as I feel that 30 minutes is too short.  It does however mean that either I take lunch to the meeting or miss it.

In the monthly meeting, children identify the skills that they want to develop over the month.  I feel that in order for children to truly lead their own learning and have their voice, they should choose what it is that they want to learn and get out of the Tech Team.  Each week, I then train the children in the skill(s) that they have identified – for example, last year, the children said that they wanted to learn about green screen and stop-motion animation for their first month.  This being the case, we learned how to create movies with green screen in one session, learned how to create a stop-motion animation in the second and then learned how to create a stop-motion animation that incorporated green screen in the third.

There will be times that you aren’t confident in teaching the area/skill that the children want to learn about.  In these cases, I would suggest trying to book a STEM ambassador to come out to work with the group, seeking advice on Twitter/other PLN, or using YouTube tutorials to either teach you or to do the teaching for you.  Remember to document any CPD that you do in this way.

The weekly skills development sessions are, in my opinion, the most powerful aspect of a school Tech Team, as they are the time that you will see the biggest difference in your learners.

Events and MS Teams

It is important to note that sometimes you will need to dictate a skills development session; however, try to restrict this to a maximum of one per month.  Say, for example, Safer Internet Day is coming up and your team has been asked to present lessons or an assembly, you may need to give up one session to prepare for it.  Do make sure that the preparation is done in one session only, otherwise your Team will be at risk of becoming a teacher-led experience which almost entirely defeats the purpose of it.  In Mosspark Primary School, our Tech Team have a Microsoft Group that uses Teams to communicate.  I upload a skeleton presentation with title pages, for the children to research and put in the information and any media necessary.  The children get control of the design and transitions of the presentation, and even organise who will say what.  By using Microsoft Teams, it enables the children to communicate via the ‘comments’ section, and in real time collaborate on the same document either in the meeting or after at home.  I set the children a deadline by which the presentation is to be finished and am on hand for the initial meeting and at a few other times that the children can use as a drop-in session.  Otherwise, the children are left to work on their own.  On the deadline, I then review the PowerPoint and feed back to the group on the group chat prior to the assembly or lesson.

I have scheduled a blog post in a fortnight for a more in-depth look at setting up teams, but it is well worth looking into activating your members’ Glow Logins as soon as you set up your own Digital Leaders’ team.

Duties

The first change I always make when assisting with an ICT program is ridding the school of class logins.  Frankly, they are a waste of time.  With infant classes and even older classes, why waste valuable lesson time logging out of a previous class’ session, sometimes even having to reboot computers and then logging in.  With younger classes it’s frankly absurd, and in the older classes is just a complete waste of time.  In place of class logins, I always switch to a single school login.  In our school, it is the responsibility of the Tech Team to log on to all of the computers in the ICT suite during registration time on their timetabled day (they let their teacher know that they’re in at 9am, and head straight to the ICT suite).  The reason that I like my team to consist of either 10 or 15 members is due to my being a little OCD about the duties timetable.  Having 10 or 15 members in your team means that you always have either 2 or 3 children timetabled on duties per day, and the duties are thus:

  • 9am: Log on to ICT suite computers and hand out class iPad to each class
  • 2:45pm: Collect in class iPad from each class for charging and secure storage and remind class in ICT suite to log off at the end of the day.

I have found that the children do take their duties very seriously, and it has given some of our children a real sense of responsibility.

Assisting

The main reason that digital leader teams are formed though is to help raise attainment in digital learning across the school, and for children to really lead learning.  In my mind, leading learning is not simply ‘presenting’ at an assembly or in a lesson – that’s an EXA outcome.  In our school, leading is taking forward learning.

Each term, our staff work with a GCC ‘Improving our Classrooms’ model of moderation, whereby they receive training in an area of digital learning.  Over the course of the term, they then use that aspect of digital learning (e.g. creating movies with iMovie, or coding with code.org) with their classes to feed back at the end of the term the impact that it has had.  Often though, after only one training session, all staff aren’t always confident to teach a lesson using a program that they’ve only seen once – which is understandable and will be the same in all establishments.  By having the Tech Team, it means that staff are able to request Tech Team support.

The process for this is threefold:

  • Two or three team members are identified to work with the staff member. These members are picked fairly in order that it’s not always the same children helping, and to ensure that members aren’t missing out on aspects of their other learning.  The members then meet quickly with the staff member to discuss how they can help and find out what the subject is, so that they can prepare.
  • If the Tech Team members are not sure about the area in question, they ask me for a skills development session in that area, otherwise they set a date to go into the class to either teach the lesson (I’d normally support with the planning / running of this), team teach with the class teacher, or support the children and troubleshoot once the teacher has introduced the concept. The choice is entirely what the teacher feels that his/her children would benefit the most from.
  • The Tech Team members feedback to me and the Team about what went well and what they would do differently next time.

The trickiest thing for this process to work is for staff to come onboard with asking children for support.  I’m very fortunate that my colleagues have been fantastic and have really embraced using Tech Team (even for areas that they are comfortable with, but rather as additional support for the children).  This has had such a positive impact on the team members and their confidence but has also really boosted the profile of the Tech Team, and digital learning, within the school.  However, in talking with colleagues from other establishments, often staff have been reluctant to engage with the tech team in this sense, and so they haven’t been getting used well.  It is important though, in setting up a team of digital leaders, that you do monitor how they are being used and encourage staff to invite them in to support with the use of iPads and computers.

Conclusion

I could write so much more about the digital leader teams, as they have truly transformed the way I view the topic of ‘children leading learning’ and have had such an impact in my current school; however, time is pressing for the publish time!

I’d strongly suggest looking at as many examples of good practice as you can to get ideas and inspiration for setting up your own team.  Check out Mosspark Primary and my own Twitter feed for regular digital literacy posts, but especially follow the #MPTechTeam hashtag to see the type of things that the Mosspark Primary School Tech Team have been doing.

I do hope that you’ve found this post helpful.  Please feel free to tweet me about any ideas/suggestions for future posts, and if you have any comments/questions about this one.

Thanks for reading,

Donald

 

N.b. all images used in this post have been of the 2017-18 Mosspark Tech Team.  You can find the original images and more information using #MPTechTeam on Twitter.

 

August Schedule⤴

from @ The Digital Revolution

I’ve finally decided on the final schedule for August blog posts, thanks to help from everyone on Twitter.  In order to help everyone get started in the new session, I am going to bring my posts forward by one week as follows:

Sunday 12th August, 8pm – “Starting your own Digital Leaders Team”

This post will focus on the practicalities, benefits and considerations for setting up your own team of Digital Leaders; a truly essential way to raise attainment in digital literacy and engage pupils in leading their own learning.

Sunday 19th August, 8pm – “Introducing Coding”

This post will be aimed at teachers who are either about to teach coding for the first time, or staff that have a class that have never experienced coding before.  It will also be aimed at providing training to staff in your school that are not confident in teaching coding or don’t realise the impact that it has on learners.

Sunday 26th August, 8pm – “Using Microsoft Teams for Collaboration”

Whether you are looking for a better way to collaborate with your own learning community / staff team, or want to see your class / club engage collaboratively on documents/presentations and work both in and out of school, ‘Teams’ is for you.  This post will look at how it has transformed the way that children in my clubs work with one another and will show the benefits of an online learning environment. 

First Blog Coming Soon!⤴

from @ The Digital Revolution

Getting started

I’m very much looking forward to starting blogging this term.  I will create a blog post each week of each school term this year, starting when we start back in August.

I’ve not yet finalised which day I will publish each week, but it will most likely be on Sundays at the end of each school week. So, all being well, Sunday 19th August should be the first post!

My ideas for the future posts are:

  • Simple offline coding lesson ideas
  • How to teach coding
  • Sharing learning with parents
  • ClassDojo: To use, or not to use? That is the question.
  • PLNs
  • Using Microsoft Teams & Groups
  • Digital Leaders – the birth of the Tech Team

I have lots of other ideas, but would love to know which of these you would find the most beneficial and also what things you would like to see on the blog!

Tweet me your suggestions to @mrfeistsclass