Author Archives: Digitalkatie

Badges and e-learning⤴

from @ Digitalkatie's blog

I've been trying out various online learning systems thinking about teaching web design as part of Digital Media Computing next year.  This year we have been teaching computer games development by next year we will have a separate games development class so there will be a gap in the DMC course.

First I looked at Code Academy.  I love this site.  Its such a nice interface and the tasks are broken down into small manageble chunks that you just flow through the work.  There are badges you can win too, and everybody loves badges!  Code Academy started with just Javascript but now features HTML and CSS too.

Then I signed up for Stanford University Coursera's CS101.  It also takes me through learning CS principles using Javascript.  There are clear videos to watch and practical tasks as you go along.  It seems quite good but no badges :-(  The disadvantage of CS101 is the timing - everyone starts together and lessons are released weekly.  Code Academy and other systems have a more flexible pace.

Last night I discovered  This looks fun and interesting but again no badges or accreditation.  It might be a nice site to send kids off to for some independent learning.

I also looked at P2PU's School of Webcraft.  The first task is to write a blog post introducing yourself (Hello, my name's Kate.  I'm a Computing teacher in Edinburgh, Scotland :-)

BadgesP2PU has the added benefit of being part of the Mozilla Open Badge Framework.  This is something we're VERY interested in here at Castlebrae.  We're planning on badgifying our whole DMC curriculum to make it easier for us and the students to reailse what assignments they have submitted and completed and what work they have still to do.  

If you fancy trying out the Open Badges system, try and get a Badges 101 badge and a Hackasaurus badge.  If you teach DMC or NPAs and fancy joining us on our badgifying quest, please get in touch! :D


Royal Society – the future of Computing in our schools⤴

from @ Digitalkatie's blog

My notes from the Royal Society meeting in Glasgow, 22/3/11

The Royal Society are producing a report on the issues affecting the uptake of Computing in schools in the UK.  Last week a group of teachers and other professionals got together to discuss the issues that affect Computing in Scotland.

Curriculum issues:

Timetabling was thought to be a big issue.  Often Computing has the lowest amount of time allocated to pupils.  Often we are trying to teach topics such as games design in one period of 40-45 minutes.  This reflects the perceived importance of the subject by the SMT to the pupils so they then view it as unimportant.  All pupils are entitled to learn about Computing and ICT as part of Curriculum for Excellence.  Amount of time given to the subject reflects how important the subject is to SMT and the kids pick this up.  We are expected to teach to the same quality with a quarter of the time.

It is also frequent that Computing is in the last column for subject choice, displaying again the unimportance of the subject to the pupils – it’s just something fun to choose once you’ve selected all the critical subjects.

Computer Science outcomes are entitlement for all pupils, not just as an elective but this depends on how the head teacher feels about this.  We wondered if the teaching of CS for all be enforced by HMI / Scottish Government?! Do they even know this is a problem?

Osmosis of skills was also highlighted.  It is a common parental view that “My little Susie doesn’t need to take Computing because she’s really good at that, she’s always on Facebook….” People/parents also think you can learn Computing on the job but so many people don’t ‘work smart’ and spend hours on things that would take seconds with the right skills

It was suggested that we could do an audit of skills for new S1 pupils to research and record the difference in the skills they have and the skills we feel they should have.  This would demonstrate the need for Computing and ICT in the curriculum.

There needs to be meaningful progression from the work done by pupils in ICT.  For example if pupils have used Scratch then we need to challenge them with proper programming concepts using BYOB or similar (I am not saying Scratch isn’t proper programming but that pupils may not have been introduced to the theory behind the fun of Scratch).

It’s crucial to have meaningful, relevant and engaging contexts for learning and not to teach theory in a dry isolated manner.  There were some great examples of contextual learning given today (Jason Bain from Fife talked about a fantastic murder mystery topic run in his school).  We need to have this exciting teaching happening to ‘win’ the pupils at course choice time.

All this good practice HAS to be captured!  We need a way of sharing all the learning and teaching resources being developed in schools across Scotland.  Glow Futures / Glow 2 needs to have a way of easily sharing materials, although I’m not sure if we can wait until September 2012 to be doing this sharing.

We need a lead teacher at the council level to help with the strategy and representation.  I am very aware that not all councils have someone providing the role I play at Edinburgh Council.  I also involve other nearby councils when I share information and have positive feedback from them.  This role will become more important as the number of Faculties increase and we lose Heads of Computing.

Web filtering is also a problem.  We can’t teach cyber bullying and social networking effectively.  We also can make use of national resources such as the CANVAS OpenSim virtual world by LTS in many councils due to the firewalls not being opened up.  We need national guidance on this.

Resources issues:

Computing is an easy subject for schools to justify reducing as it is one of the more expensive.  Annual costs for maintaining computers, network costs, software updates every few years (and the resulting time required to learn new packages and adapt teaching materials), printer costs and other peripherals all combine to make Computing more expensive than teaching History with the same textbooks every year.

In the olden days programming BBC Microcomputers was a way to get kids enthusiastic about coding.  Nowadays the equivalent is games design or mobile phone app development.  There seems to be hurdles to any teachers wanting to introduce new initiatives such as app development.  In my council we have the enthusiastic teachers, we have companies willing to train the teachers for free but we don’t have the right operating system installed and there seems to be all sorts of issues in getting that resolved. 

Too many hurdles for new projects and initiatives means teachers lose enthusiasm, lose the skills they have learned in training and lose the will to live!

There was general consensus that there is no money for CPD yet it is the one subject that changes the most.  English teachers don’t come in and find the plot of Hamlet has suddenly changed.  We need regular, focused CPD to keep us up to date.

Teachers are generally allowed to go to CPD if it is free and in our own time.  Events during the day are out because cover costs too much.  There is very little suitable or relevant CPD.

We’d like content based CPD (eg applications such as Flash etc) but also general CPD on what’s happening in Computing.  The sessions that have been run by the University of Glasgow have very well recommended but are difficult to get to from outside Glasgow.

Linking a project I heard about at Game to Learn with a school in England teaching games theory and game design via Adobe Connect and Moodle with lecturers in Fife and Chicago and featuring guest speakers from the games design industry (Heads of big games development companies worldwide).  I think this would be a great way for teachers to learn new skills and keep them current without the expense of traveling somewhere else in Scotland or getting cover to be out of school.

We talked about the use of mobile devices and engaging with the technology in class while managing class behaviour.  There is a real benefit to utilizing technology plus we can use pupils enthusiasm for mobile devices.

Virtual Worlds were also discussed.  CANVAS didn’t get used because only a few councils opened their firewalls.  It will now use Unity and be ‘single-player’.  There are huge benefits to using virtual worlds in education though.

We need people to realize the generic skills learned from studying computing – information gathering, problem solving, etc.  Not every kid will become a programmer or a systems analyst.

We need a good publicity campaign!  For example, the Royal Society had a “not all Chemists wear white coats” campaign.  BCS could do this very well.

Economic arguments for Computer Science: there is a shortage of computing graduates.  The industry has continued to grow despite the dot com boom, recession etc and Computing has become the second most lucrative career (behind Medicine but before Law). There is a huge variety of jobs and careers involving Computing and other disciplines that utilize computing skills.  This message not getting through to pupils!

Computing introduces a new way of thinking about the world.  Alan Bundy from Edinburgh University ran a series of talks by people from other fields on the effects Computing has on their lives (  A Geologist said that when they worked on paper they were restricted to flat models, but with Computing they can have computational models.  Computing changes how we think about the world!

It was overall an interesting and fairly positive day.  England seem to be looking to Scotland as having the answers but there was generally consensus that we have problems here too but just less extreme at the moment.  The time to resolve issues is now – before we lose too many Computing departments in schools.

When is a Barcamp not a Barcamp?⤴

from @ Digitalkatie's blog

I went to Barcamp Glasgow this evening with DigitalSean. It was hosted in the very lovely venue of STV's Pacific Quay building and featured lots of interesting 20 minute talks largely on media and new media. We were given a list of sessions, most of which ran twice (in fact I ended up attending the Scottish Government session twice!) The sessions were by big name organisations: STV, BBC, Scottish Government, The Scotsman, Realtime Worlds

...but it was not a BarCamp.

The sessions were planned in advance. The programme was printed beforehand and given to attendees as they entered.

You could come and go in a limited way, unless you were in a room where you had to go through another session to get to the main area and the stairs.

The audience were just the audience though. After the end keynote session they had an attempt to have a more interactive session (difficult in a room with a couple of hundred people) but they asked all the speakers to put their hands up, again defining the audience as separate.

This is not the ethos of BarCamp or Unconference. It should be planned on the day on big sheets of paper, with the audience as the speakers, volunteering by writing their name on the big sheets of paper. It should be flexible, evolving as the day progresses depending on the interests of the participants and the themes that arise.

It was also sad to see so little Twitter backchannel, to the extent that the #barcamp hashtag was being used more frequently by people in Equador planning heir next Barcamp! This was an event about media: traditional, digital and social. There should have been a much greater electronic involvement.

I did very much enjoy the event. I came away enthused and inspired with ideas I want to put into practice. I would certainly be very keen to attend another media BarCamp, although next time I hope we all get to participate, to broadcast rather than just receive.

When is a Barcamp not a Barcamp?

Little Brother is watching!⤴

from @ Digitalkatie's blog

My technology issues have continued today meaning I've been at work for three extra hours doing silly things like sticking cut out names to bits of paper so I can have classlists next week. Thanks to a fabby Father-in-Law Louis now has all four wheels on his buggy attached and working, which is one thing off the list :-)

One very cool thing that has been happening this week though is I keep getting sent Amazon parcels from random strangers!

A while ago I read a free electronic copy of "Little Brother" by Cory Doctorow. I read it on my phone while on the bus.

Cory doesn't want payment for the e-book version of his novel, instead he has a list of schools and libraries who want copies. If you enjoy the book, buy one for a good cause.

I asked for our school to be added to the list. We got added a couple of weeks ago. This week I've been sent FOUR copies!

My plan is that I can use this to teach the geeky tech stuff in the NC Digital Media Computing through reading the book and discussing the issues that come up in it. 'Literacy Across Learning', here we come!Little Brother is watching!

Technology woes⤴

from @ Digitalkatie's blog

I'm having a bad technology day.
My projector bulb got replaced but it's still not showing red, so I'll have to restrict Media Studies film options to black and white
My computer doesn't have sound installed, so that's us down to black and white silent films!
My smartboard keeps rubbing it in and telling me I don't have admin rights when I log in (so that rules out interactivity)
None of the computers in my room have printers installed, so that rules out printing out good-old-fashioned-worksheets
I got a DVD player delivered today, so that could potentially solve my Media Studies problem...if only I had a SCART cable
I failed to find time today to source video cameras for the third time since March (cause suppliers keep getting removed from the Approved Suppliers list just after I put orders in to the office
I then got told that the 11 copies of Adobe Flash that got approved last term are on hold as we have no money
Then leaving school I realised my dying phone was on the blink again and I had to reboot it three times before it would let me make a call
I'm now off to collect my son from nursery, although I'll have to carry him as one of the wheels has come off his buggy and because my phone was playing up I couldn't phone the wheelchair clinic before they closed to make an appointment to get it fixed (we'd do it ourselves but that toolkit is packed in a box somewhere)
We'll then head home, where we don't have any internet because Sky couldn't install it yesterday because there's "excess signal"!?
....but our new home is really cool :-)

Playing about with Flash…⤴

from @ Digitalkatie's blog

Download Blobs

It's my first project since downloading the trial of Adobe Flash.

My inspiration was the little blob animations you get when iplayer is loading CBeebies programmes! Sad, huh!

I couldn't figure out how to get the blobs to wobble well.  I'll try again later.  Not bad for my first animation after my training course yesterday though!

NC DMC: Comparison chart of units at different levels⤴

from @ Digitalkatie's blog

I've spent a great deal of the morning trying to get my head around the core and optional units for the National Certificate in Digital Media Computing at the different levels.


For each of the levels 4,5 and 6 (Int 1, Int 2 and Higher) there is a long list of optional units at different levels.  There is a lot of crossover, but I wasn't sure how much overlap there was.  I have an SQA spreadsheet with them as a long list, but I wanted to show for each unit which levels it could count towards.


This is now available here.  


Interestingly it looks like this might be the first time this has been done as there are some anomalies, particularly with the core units.  Some of the core units are valid as optional units at other levels.  


For example, you could teach the six Int 1 core units, then progress on to the Int 2 core units with your class.  The topics are the same, however that would be the pupils completed their NC in DMC without actually having selected any optional units.


Also, why is the level 5 unit in Computing: Problem Solving and Planning not a valid unit for the Higher NC but all the other non-core level 5 units are on the list?  Strange.


It is a really huge set of lists so I can understand why these problems have slipped through.  I would hope that no-one would want to teach the Int 2 NC without covering any optional units.  If nothing else, there are some really interesting and fun units on the list!

NC in Media: a first look⤴

from @ Digitalkatie's blog

I was at a very interesting session at the AMES conference today on the new National Certificate in Media.

I had been interested in this from the Digital Media Computing perspective. I had been hoping that there would be more crossover with the two NCs but I have been disappointed. It is still an interesting course though.

As with all NCs, students need to do 12 units, six of which are core (compulsory) units.

My hope was that the optional units would include units also on the NC DMC list. My initial idea was that at my school students could do the NC DMC in S3-S5 then in S6 they could pick up the extra units that would be needed for the Media NC. Looking at the Media NC I now realise this would not be possible.

What is interesting is the amount of crossover, where with a bit of planning students could pick up two or more units for a project.

For example, imagine you're teaching video production by doing a project where students film and edit a short film. As long as copyright and file formats are studied and discussed then students could gain the Media: Basic Video Editing unit and the Computing: Video Editing unit. The performance criteria for both units are very similar. Chances are you could also award units in Working With Others and Problem Solving as well.

I think it will require more analysis (and I'm working from memory on the Computing units as I'm on the train home) but I think there is potential for picking up a lot of units in this fashion. They may not lead to a qualification or award in school but it may be that pupils can they go on to complete NCs at FE college.

Another interesting thought is that there is a huge potential for departments collaborating and working together to cover NC units in a shorter period of time. For example students in S5 could do the NC Media across three or four columns involving English, Art, Computing and Business Studies. Saying this, I think it would be more practical and sensible to send the pupils interested in this off to college where they have the skills, resources and equipment to teach TV or Radio to a higher standard.

So why would schools be interested in the NC in Media? It is a flexible course where the core units do not specify a particular industry so it can be adapted to fit skills and interests of the school. The sectors studied can be TV, radio, film, animation, computer games, interactive media, press, advertising, music and literature. The ownership, organisation, jobs roles and regulation within these industries are studied. The creative process is also studied and students then research and develop creative concepts for different platforms.

The course is highly practical. One of the core units is a Media Project (a double unit) and another is Working With Others. Do a big web design or computer game project and that's half of the core units completed already.

The crossovers with the NC in DMC seem to be in video production, radio production / sound recording and basic website development.

The major downside to the NC in Media is there are currently no National Progress Awards. I see this as being crutial to running NCs in schools. The SQA are at the stage of seeing if there is a demand for NPAs in Media. If you are at all interested in teaching this in the future I suggest you contact the SQA and express your NPA desires!

From personal experience I have found the SQA are open to suggestions for NPAs. Julie McLaren at Forrester suggested an NPA in Computer Games Development and now a few of us are planning the awards. We're at an early stage but it is very interesting. 

Don't just moan that the SQA aren't listening - get involved and make suggestions! What do YOU want to teach?!

DMC: re-evaluating the budget⤴

from @ Digitalkatie's blog

My school is a 20:20 funded school. This means there has been extra funding to run special projects. I was hoping to get funding from the final last bits of funds.

The initial plan was to get five iMacs and set up a separate classroom for media/video work that could be booked by anyone in the school.

We were also hoping to get Adobe Web suite or Design suite. The idea was that I could teach pupils using industry standard software. This would be incredibly valuable for pupils to have on their CVs.

I was told that there maybe enough funds left for this. Later, howver, was told there wasn't enough for the macs and I would only have £2000 for software.

I went away and thought lots and reseached lots. I found three free animation packages, but all drawing based rather than object based like Flash. I don't think my drawing skills are good enough to rely solely on this and I could see kids being turned off animation if their drawings couldn't match their imagination.

There is also the issue that the SQA Animation unit seems to require Adobe Flash (although it doesn't say so). There isn't anything comparible to Flash. The closest I could find was Toon Boom, but the cost is nearly the same so I'd rather go for Flash. Walter McCrorie at Stevenson did tell me about a really cool Toon Boom feature though: you can import video and then draw on top of it, so you could use live action video to turn your friend into a cartoon!

So, my plan was to get 11 copies of Flash, 11 copies of Microsoft Expression Studio (It's not Adobe Web or Design but it has the advantage of free pupil copies for home use) and 10 Bamboo graphics tablets (to use with the free drawing-based animation software).

I've now been told there's maybe only £700 left in the budget so I can have the graphics tablets but that's it.

I think I'd be better getting as many copies of Flash as possible. The pupils could do more as group work, pulling together video, images and sounds that they source or create. The difficulty is initially teaching the application when sharing computers, however I'm working on discussion with Stevenson College and I probably still know a few of the Telford lecturers from when I taught there. Hopefully I should be able to arrange a day or two based at college for the pupils to learn the application (and while I learn too!)DMC: re-evaluating the budget

CPD: Game Making by Judy Robertson, Heriot-Watt⤴

from @ Digitalkatie's blog

Judy Robertson from Heriot-Watt University gave a CPD session on Friday. I always like going to HW for meetings. There are ducks and swans there and I get to have lunch with my husband :-)

Here are the notes I made during the session.

Mapping CfE to game making:

Determination to reach high standards - often you will find yourself limiting children's ambitions to achievable targets. Reworking ideas is all part of the creative process.

The are high rewards for low effort at the beginning, but game making isn't simplistic, it stretches pupils skills and creativity.

Resilience is necessary because pupils will have to work and think about their aims in order to get the programming to do what they what.

Peer learning and sharing goes on with pupils as well as teachers collaboration.

CfE Technology Objectives:
TCH2-09a (P7) and TCH3-09a (S1-3)
P7 is just designing, S1-3 is design and implement.
Now not just games but "game, animation or other aplication" which is good.

CfE English Language principles:
"a text is the medium through which ideas, experiences, opinions and information can be communicated"
including "films, games and TV programmes".

We are now all teachers of literacy
As an example of literacy in programming, Judy said her husband once wrote a Prolog poem for her.

Free (big plus point!) and developed by MIT. Kids are learning programing in a really nice way but don't realise. Good teaching resources including 'Scratchcards'. Games can be shared online. It is great for kids to be able to share with kids outside of Scotland. Can change the language easily (eg into Polish)

Better for older kids. Maybe too difficult for S2.
Free download at
Excellent textbook and tutorials

Crayon Physics and Phun
Phun free, Crayon $20. Cross between sketchpads and physics simulations. You can either design levels or play them. OK for a quick lesson on games design but not so good for teaching programing.

Second Life
Free. LTS apparently using OpenSim and integrating it into GLOW.

Adventure Author
Based at HW Uni, supported by EPSRC.
Aims to study the creative process learners go through when making their own computer games.
User-centred design is where users are frequently consulted when developing. Learner-centred design is where teachers and learners are an important part of the development process.
Worked with schools in Edinburgh, Dundee and East Lothian as well as holiday workshops (which are good because it lets kids get absorbed in the process without the bell ringing.
Based on Neverwinter Nights 2 but with free plugins with added educational tools and trickier parts of software removed. Free plugins at
3D environment which looks good, which is important for motivation.
Fridge Magnets tool is a colour coded design tool.
Conversation Writer tool has a tree branching structure displayed like a play scripts. Conditions possible, for example the first time you meet Cedric Bear he'll tell you a quest. Next time you meet him he'll say something different (depending on whether you've solved the quest)
Comments Card tool has been very successful as a discussion on evaluating the game.
My Tasks tool is a check list tool

Campie Primary School teacher has a blog about the experience. (I missed the link for this though)

We then got a demonstration of how to use Adventure Author and we were then able to try it out ourselves.

Another option suggested was RPG Maker 3000 which is free and doesn't need as powerful graphics card.

There are opportunities for using NWN2 in more depths. The programming is hidden by Adventure Author but can be shown to advanced students.

Suggestions of how to approach teaching Adventure Author:
Let kids "explore the sweety shop until they get sick"! The pupils will learn from just exploring.

Machinima movies are also possible using screen capture.

Judith at St. Augustine's described the difficulties of using this with classes - six weeks of a 50 minute lesson a week can make pupils very frustrated.

Heriot Watt are looking for teachers and schools to be involved in their Making Games In Schools project. The first training session will possibly be in September then a second cohort in November. The training is for 2.5 days at HW. They are ideally looking for two teachers per school, although this would be best to be different subjects. There is a small budget to help with hardware costs.CPD: Game Making by Judy Robertson, Heriot-Watt