Picademy – The Raspberry Pi Academy

It’s been almost a week since the Picademy began, and for me I suppose it held a different meaning to the majority of teachers that attended. I’ve had a Pi since day 1 when I was frantically clicking just like everyone else to get hold of one. Again, like most, I plugged it in, thought “Kewl!” And then it sat there for maybe a month or so until I cracked to open to have a real go at what it could do. For me, being a child who coded back in the 80’s and spent most of my young life on Donkey Kong, Space Invaders and the like, one of the first things I got it doing was retro gaming, this provided a spark of interest amongst the children in my school, most of which had never heard of the likes of Frogger! I digress, back to Picademy!
As a lead teacher at Picademy, I was invited because of the success I have had in integrating the Pi into the Tech-Dojo events I have organised at Ysgol Bryn Elian and for some of the innovative tasks I have had children complete using Scratch.
So bright and early on Monday 14th April 2014, we all waited in anticipation of what lay ahead. The agenda for the day was absolutely jam-packed, and rightly so. So much to cram in that was fun, relevant, useful, and had a deep learning outcome. We played with the PiCamera initially, something I’d yet to have a go with, I’ve got to say, the libraries of software that comes with this is impressive, with lots to do and learn along the way. It was at this point that my focus in Picademy took hold.

I was completely immersed in watching how teachers learn.

They obviously learn in the same way children do, and face the same issues children do, and experience the same things children do. Fear of embarrassment, exploration, discovery, awe, wonder, intrigue, sense of achievement, but then teachers have that extra facet to their learning, application. The conversations throughout the tasks often centred around where the best learning outcome was in the task for children. Of course there were many. Creativity, coding, and problem solving to mention a few.
Working with another Wales based colleague I guided him through coding in Python where we encountered syntax errors and then shared the joy when we were successful.

We then moved on to physical computing and experimenting with the GPIO pins on the Pi, coding traffic lights. A task I’d already completed with my Year 7 class using Scratch last term. Again, seeing how teachers tackled this was really intriguing. Here we were, only two sessions in and complete novices were confidently plugging in hardware.
This was a completely new experience for most of the teachers, but one which they all found a lot of fun and extremely rewarding. I heard lots of of people burst out with “Yes!” a few times when it worked as they wanted it to.
Next up was Minecraft, the tasks provided by Craig Richardson were absolutely brilliant and allowed all to code Minecraft using Python. Dave Honess couldn’t overstate just how much children love Minecraft and that by using this as a hook, once again, deep learning could take place. If you haven’t seen the Minecraft work by Craig before, it is seriously top drawer and well worth a peek! You’re children will love it!
What followed in the afternoon was a session using @SamAaron‘s Sonic Pi. Sam is one of the most inspirational, motivated coders with an absolute passion for what he does it was a pleasure to be in his company. He provided a session on Sonic Pi before everyone got coding music. It all went a bit disco/90’s rave by the end of it, but some great music was being coded across the room.
The second day began with talks from Eben Upton, Matt Manning, and Sam Aaron, before a day of hacking and making got underway. Lots of great projects took shape and teachers were busy playing with components, LED’s, PiCameras, and breakout boards. There was a real buzz in the air as everyone started hacking their projects.
Here is a video of our bullet-Time Babbage project, unfortunately, not the desired matrix style as we ran out of time, but not forgetting, the production as well as the filming of the video was all done on a Raspberry Pi!

For the Foundation, it’s vitally important that the whole Education arm is sustainable, particularly as far as educational resources are concerned. For that reason, we enjoyed a session on GitHub from Ben Nuttall about how best to go about documenting lesson plans and schemes of work. Lincoln even made an appearance here which he was very pleased with.
The event was wrapped up by Carrie Anne Philbin who did a superb job in putting this quality CPD together. Attendees shared their experiences of the two days before eagerly heading off on their individual journeys to a life of Pi.

For me personally, I look forward to mirroring the success of this event when I take Picademy to the teachers of North Wales this summer. One thing is for sure as far as the Foundations core aims are concerned building and getting the Pi to where it is now was the first part of the job, now, it’s up to educationalists alike to populate a wealth of resources to really take the movement forward so that computer science can once again become commonplace amongst our young learners.

Look out for more Picademy events in the future!


Take a Tour of Ysgol Bryn Elian Minecraft Style!

The Digital Leaders at school spent almost a year painstakingly creating a model of our school in Minecraft, for the most part it’s complete, there is the odd gap that could be tweaked, improved or extended. The most impressive things for me are the lighting system in studio 1, it comes on and goes off very realistically and functions through the use of some complex redstone built into a false ceiling. I also like the canteen with working dispensers, and projectors on the ceilings in the classrooms.

The map is absolutely huge and traversing it to capture video took almost ten minutes so I had to cut the video down a little.

Behind this task was a mass of communication, collaboration, conflict resolution, creativity, reasoning, and plain, simple FUN.

Get your class building the school in Minecraft, it’s one hell of a task with a superb end result that you can put on your website. It’s also great to let children tour it on/before transition days.

Video Arcade promoting KS3 Curriculum


At the recent Open Evening, I decided to turn one of the ICT rooms into a video arcade to highlight our game making work in our KS3 curriculum. The classic video games took visitors back to when arcades where vibrant, noisy, colourful and extremely fun to play in.

Using Scratch, we teach KS3 pupils loops, variables, and sprite interaction resulting in them producing a game they have designed. Last years results were very good and I can’t wait to see what our pupils have in store for us this year.

Today we hosted 14 pupils from Ysgol Plas who had great fun making the mobile device classic Angry Birds. They initialised variables, created movement based on conditions and implemented a scoring system and a means to record birds left, all in an afternoon.

I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did, and sincerely hope they grab the resources from my blog to continue with it. You never know, the next big game developer could be right here in North Wales.

Keep on Programming!!!

Flying with Kite

During the Summer term we finally began the transition to the Kite learning platform from our previous solution. As a staff we felt the old VLE was under used and stale. In addition, it included lots of features that we didn’t use that simply served to clutter up the interface and confuse users, staff and pupils alike. The process of adding content was also troublesome and taking time away from the all important task of teaching.

Since Kite has been implemented within Ysgol Bryn Elian, the whole process of making content available for pupils has been greatly simplified. Since initially looking at Kite we were extremely impressed with the approach e4Education had taken in ensuring users intuitive needs were met. Using Kite’s drag and drop technology (browser dependant) staff were now adding content in a much more fluid manner than had ever previously been encountered. Couple this with the ability to add different blocks for things such as image galleries, embedded video, customisable text fields allowing for HTML code to be inserted, flash capabilities and a resources block to populate a lesson or course with files, and you have a learning platform that is truly a joy to use.

Courses are easily created, units added to it and lessons within. These lessons can then be dragged onto the teachers timetable to allocate that topic to that class in a specific time slot. The freedom to reorganise and shuffle blocks around on a page makes a refreshing change from the prescriptive norm. Every course can be made to look rich and varied with the powerful ability to add a range of media content easily.

One of the biggest plus points for the administration of Kite is the permissions. Put simply, all pupils see everything, you then adjust for what you don’t want them to see. A much easier solution than allocating specific groups to specific content which gets very messy very quickly. Pupils now have access to the content they need with very little searching.

As Head of ICT I am looking forward to working with Kite further on future developments, I think the relationship they have built with us as a school is one based on the fact they understand our needs and are actively working with us on a regular basis to ensure the vision we have for our learning platform now and in the future is realised.

To summarise, Kite is powerful yet simple to use. Users find it visually pleasing and staff are packing it with content ready for our learners to navigate and explore. We couldn’t be happier now that our Kite is flying high at Ysgol Bryn Elian.

Digital Leaders at iNet Wales National Conference

The Digital Leaders from Ysgol Bryn Elian presented their achievements to date at the iNet Wales National Conference on Thursday 6th October 2011. Not before a first class trip on the train to Cardiff where the event was held.

The three young leaders and I gave a presentation at the conference to teachers from across Wales on how the Digital Leaders programme was progressing including how it started and what has been involved. They discussed their work on E-safety, the VLE and an insight into Ysgol Bryn Elian’s new 3D technology.

A video of my youngest Digital Leader (my son Lincoln aged 2 confidently using an iPad) helped pose the question “When does Digital Literacy begin?”

After a few questions at the end, the leaders were interviewed by another school on what they had achieved, then it was back to the train station to rush back to school as they were also representing the Ysgol Bryn Elian at our annual open evening.

As a teacher of ICT it’s great to have such a dedicated group of youngsters who really want to make a difference in their school. The three representatives along with the rest of the YBE Digital Leaders worked tirelessly during our open evening to showcase the 3D technology and the new Augmented Reality resources available for 10 subjects. They were presenting to parents with such confidence they made me very proud.

I look forward to continue working with these dedicated pupils for a long time to come.

Well done guys, you ALL did a fantastic job!!!

Computer Science comes home!

Today was the day we were told what we knew was coming. ICT lessons had become boring, pupils were not as engaged as they might be and the move towards more computer science based lessons is on the horizon. Thankfully, I was in the crows nest with a telescope some time ago and saw this coming. For a while now I’ve been using Scratch and teaching a little HTML and JavaScript. 

In my opinion, qualifications such as the OCR national had become a qualification for the school rather than the individual. Trudging through MS office for years to get the equivalent of a million GCSE’s seems a little pointless and hardly preparing our children for what lies ahead. Who knows what the technological landscape will look like by the time the enter employment. The likes of the OCR National sit well with those comfortable in teaching “what they know” with little requirement to spread your wings further than a 4 bit binary number!

Here in Wales, we are fortunate to have time on our side in that we don’t have to run with this for some time, however my feeling is why delay it? Let’s do it now, embrace it, get brilliant at it and most of all enjoy it. It’s the curriculum I’ve been dreaming of anyway so for once I get to open my presents BEFORE Christmas.

Today took me back to 1987 where I was a 14 year old nagging my parents for the brand new Spectrum +3. Thankfully they heard my plea and I was furnished with one for Christmas. On that epic first computer of mine I learned to code in BASIC. I spent hours typing code to see an array of beautiful graphics displayed on the screen. I went on eventually to develop a Football simulation game and a fruit machine game, both of which I submitted to Future Publishing for them to include on the cassettes on the front of their Spectrum magazine.

Now, at 38 years of age, I’m learning to code in Python, a language I dabbled with when working for a software house in Bangor shortly after completing my Computer Science degree at University in 2005. I aim to be teaching this to a group of MAT pupils this year and then to Year 7’s starting September 2012.

I’ve often lamented about the work of Alan Turing, particularly when working on my own Artificial Intelligence project making a Tutorbot, looking at his famous Turing Test, today, he would be a very happy man indeed. The field he excelled in has been put centre stage for ICT teachers across the country to grab with both hands, never before have we had so much freedom to develop a curriculum suitable for the requirements of the future. So long as we make the right choices through careful decision making during curriculum redesign I feel excited about the future. I’m excited to be teaching a subject I have passion for. I am now a teacher of Computer Science and ict (small ict).

The only ones that should be scared are the ones who are too comfy to move with the times, my advice, we are moving without you. Our children deserve it, the success of our future requires it.

Let’s get out our coding manuals, Computer Science is coming home!

Had I known, I would have stuck reindeer on the front of my car!

The term was almost over, almost without any great discomfort. Mary had almost finished classes and we were looking forward to spending time together for Christmas. All we had to do was get through Friday and Saturday and we were home and dry. I set off promptly to school on Friday as I needed to stop for fuel, after filling up at the garage I text Mary to say it had snowed a little so go careful. Within 3 minutes of me sending that text, I’d spun around on black ice on the Rhuddlan flyover and crashed my car. What are the chances?

Thankfully, I wasn’t at fault. Just before my spin on the ice I noticed a crash on the side of the road, and two minutes AFTER my crash, another car entered a spin not dissimilar to mine and crashed into a BMW 10ft away from where I did.

As I made the call to my wife to now say go REALLY careful, I was passed by two fire engines, an ambulance and two police cars, a little further down the road a car had spun and landed on its roof. What had happened? Were we in a scene from casualty and didn’t realise it? Or we’re we all just being stupid on the same day? The answer to these questions is no.

The problem was that despite numerous warnings of bad weather, and a 25% increase in salt/grit, the council in its infinite money grabbing, tight-arsed wisdom decided to save the salt for a colder day. The result, the worst black ice I have ever encountered on a road that I’ve been driving on for over ten years! This could all have been avoided had the gritters put a shift in the night before. The good news is no one was hurt. My car has seen better days but it’s drivable with just an unsightly dent in the door. I dread to think what could have happened in different circumstances with a different mix of vehicles.

I got to school in time to see the end of morning registration, and a fun last day was had by all, especially the chocolate consuming pupils. A few hours later I made “the call” to the insurance company, with a bit of luck the weather and no grit combo as well as the fact that there were 4 other crashes within 15 minutes will ensure I don’t get tagged as the guilty party.

The rest of the weekend panned out pretty much as planned and we can now begin to enjoy the run up to Christmas with a very excited little boy. And if anyone wants to stick a new car under my tree I won’t complain 😉

Merry Christmas everyone, that’s probably all from me for 2011 so Happy New Year, stay safe and have fun!

Cloud Based Solutions at Ysgol Bryn Elian

I’ve had quite a few enquiries about what we are doing at YBE ‘cloud-wise’ so I thought i’d bung it all in a blog post for you to read.

I implemented Dropbox for a few reasons, firstly, to allow pupils to put work in a central location where they can access it whenever they want to. By sharing their folder with me, I have access to their work that I too can assess wherever I have an Internet connection, with Dropbox on iPad it makes it even easier. Another big factor in implementing Dropbox is the savings that can be made on toner/paper etc, we were wasting huge amounts of paper in constantly reprinting work that needed to be improved. In addition to this pupils were also stood at the printer for large periods of time waiting for work. Since its arrival, I am finding I am getting a much more regular submission of work from the majority of pupils. The admin side of things behind utilising Dropbox is taking a little longer but the results pupil wise are worth the increased efforts.

Taking Dropbox further, if some pupils haven’t set up an account eg Year 8, they can still send work to my dropbox by using a site called www.dropitto.me with this you give pupils a URL, mine is www.dropitto.me/ahd a password, and they can upload a file to my Dropbox account. Lastly, we are using the widely publicised live@edu for our email solution which also incorporates office online and sky drive storage for all pupils with the potential for use in all subjects as dropbox may be too much for the majority of faculties.

Last year we were using google email but found their relentless security a real bind in school and were having huge issues getting new users on the system. The system was easy to use but Googles constant need to enter captcha codes was a nightmare.

All in all the system is working very well now, as I said, it requires more admin effort on my part keeping their mark sheets in order class wide but as a bi-product I feel much more organised so it’s totally worth it.

Hope this sheds a little more light on it for you and I’d be glad to assist further should any of you need more advice on it.

This is also an interesting article re cloud computing.

Summer so far

Well despite the weather, the summer holidays arrived, and the rain continued to pour into the first weekend of the summer break. A very much needed break however, following a manic finish to the end of term. Getting as much prepared for September was challenging itself, without having to battle with the WJEC about the exemplar material I produced for the Essential Skills Wales. Needless to say, I’m not backing down, they need to realise what does and what does not constitute evidence and understanding, I’ve met them in the middle on some points and thats that. Pack all that with a trip to Llandrindod Wells where I presented a talk on Innovation at Ysgol Bryn Elian and it was a very hectic run in.

Since then we’ve been very busy, we had a journey to Surrey for our friends christening which was lovely, Lincoln was very well behaved all the way there and back, made me very proud. My brother came to stay briefly, probably for the last time in a while as he starts his teacher training in September. We are awaiting a break in the weather so we can visit the zoo, Lincoln has been waiting patiently for over a week and if I hear the words elephants or chimpanzee again, I swear I’ll go crazy.

Anyway, that’s all for now, I’m about to have a rant about the Tottenham riots.

Digital Leaders get started!

A team of Digital Leaders at Ysgol Bryn Elian in Colwyn Bay are spearheading a drive to educate students, staff and parents about the possibilities that are available to them through the use of technology. The Year 7 Digital Leaders took part in an exciting application process during which they were asked to apply for one of a number of roles with one small catch: the application had to be in a digital format! Entries ranged from encoded binary messages to animations, and even included presentations encrypted with a password that could only be discovered through decoding a QR code!

The team of E-Safety advisors, Digital Journalists, VLE Champions and Teacher Trainers are offering assistance to pretty much anyone within the school that needs it.

The Digital Leaders already have their work cut out for them with many teachers lining up for assistance creating courses and uploading resources to the schools’ VLE and helping jazz up electronic teaching materials, making them more interesting and engaging for pupils to look at and learn from. Performing Arts events will be covered by Digital journalists who will be on hand to record and publish stories and interviews of performers. Similarly Sports Day will be covered live on Twitter with information on competitors’ progress in the individual events.

These young techies will also be working alongside members of the school council who have organised an upcoming event to raise awareness of e-safety aimed at pupils and parents. The event will allow parents to get hands-on experience of how to help their children tighten up their privacy settings on social networking sites.

The school embarked on their Digital Leaders journey after being inspired by pupils from Hamble Community Sports College at an event in Birmingham back in March. Since then, pupils have been working hard, training to gain all the expertise needed to help the ever growing list of teachers vying for their support.

Here’s what the team at Ysgol Bryn Elian had to say about the programme:

“I became a digital leader because I want to help teachers, parents, and students to use ICT to improve their skills.” – Lauryn Evans, VLE Champion.

“I have a passion for technology and often help my parents when they need help. I get a sense of satisfaction that I have helped someone when I have shown them something they didn’t know. This helps them get better at using technology and it also helps me find out things I didn’t know myself.” – Liam Herbert, Teacher Trainer.

“With this team of enthusiastic young people, I’m sure the Digital Literacy of staff and pupils in the school will be well placed for whatever technology has in store for us in the future.” – Allen Heard, ICT Teacher.

Ysgol Bryn Elian would like to thank Acer and Gaia Technologies who have teamed up to provide a netbook to assist the Welsh Digital Leaders in their quest for technological excellence.