Learning to Program with Tablets & Scratch Jr
Introduce your KS1 computing pupils to algorithms and programming in a fun, intuitive way, using Scratch Jr on tablets. I’ve put together a 6-8 week KS1 computing unit and associated teacher/pupil resources that uses Scratch Jr and am struck by just how quickly my pupils pick up some of the fundamental principles of computer science.
I based the unit around Michael Rosen’s “We Going on a Bear Hunt” to give the children’s coding context and purpose. Over the weeks the children move progressively from adding sprites and programming some basic movement to programming sprites to go a more complex journey in the form of a hunt – just like in the story. The concepts covered that I found they grasped really quickly are:
- Understanding and developing algorithms
- Programming: sequence, selection and repetition
- Computational Thinking: logical thinking; abstraction; decomposition; generalisation; recognising patterns & relationships
- Testing & Debugging
Alongside that, the children learn to work collaboratively, develop digital literacy skills as well as persistence and resilience in problem solving.
You can download our glossary of computing terms for help with any of those concepts. I’ve also created a periodic table of Scratch Jr blocks which have editable blocks use in unplugged computing activities, and some basic blank Scratch Jr blocks for cutting/sticking activities which help support learning.
There are many creative ways to plan primary computing using Scratch Jr and I’m looking forward to starting another unit for our iPad scheme of work very soon!
Get it now and get creative in your KS1 computing classrooms.
Computing Assessment Toolkit
Along with the end of unit assessment guidance, new-look computing pupil progress trackers have been updated for each year group. This also now includes the Early Years Foundation Stage and revised P-Scales for computing to reflect the addition of our EYFS Computing pack and to support inclusion, computing and SEN.
We’ve also added a Quick Look Computing Skills Progression Grid to use alongside the other guidance and tools.
Out now is our whole-school primary computing assessment tests and tasks. Online diagnostic tests and end-of-unit assessment tasks that feed directly into our pupil progress trackers within the primary computing assessment toolkit.
Existing iCompute schools can access the full toolkit by logging in to our main website at www.icompute-uk.com Our Assessment Tests and Tasks pack will be an optional extra.
Computer Science Unplugged
I’m writing new units for our iPad pack. Starting with KS1 using Scratch Jr, I’ve made these basic blank blocks for pupils to use in cutting and sticking activities for computing unplugged (i.e. without the need for computers). I’m using this particular resource in my computing lesson plans for a unit set around the story We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. The children will plan algorithms using physical grid maps and cut/stick Scratch Jr blocks to give directions on the bear hunt.
They are great to work alongside the Periodic Table of Scratch Jr blocks I posted recently here.
Scratch Jr Blocks for Display & Computing Unplugged
I’ve created editable, scaleable, Scratch Jr blocks for you to download and use in your coding lessons. Click/tap the Periodic Table of Scratch Jr blocks image (see below). The blocks can be edited using image editing tools (e.g. Illustrator, Inkscape, Vectr). They are also included in .png format for printing.
It’s important that young children have the opportunity to interact with concrete materials (i.e. printed Scratch blocks) to help them understand both their function and the underlying concepts. I use them in groups for the children to program me and/or each other before moving on to programming using Scratch Jr itself.
I’ve also made a full set of Editable, Printable Scratch 2.0 blocks in another post, which you can also use: download: Editable, Printable Scratch 2.0 Blocks
Scratch Classroom Display & Unplugged Activities
I’ve created an updated version of a full set of Scratch blocks (Scratch 2.0) which now includes the blocks inside the Sensing, Operator, Data, Custom palettes and LEGO™ WeDo motor blocks. Available to download by clicking/tapping the Periodic Table of Scratch blocks image (see below). The blocks can be edited and scaled using image editing tools (e.g. Illustrator, Inkscape, Vectr). The blocks are also provided in .png format.
It’s important that children be given opportunities to interact with physical programming blocks to help them understand both their function and the underlying concepts. I use them in groups for the children to program me and/or each other as well as programming using Scratch itself.
Also available in the same format are Scratch Jr blocks from this post.
Create an Animated Snowman this Christmas
I’ve recently produced a six week animation unit for Key Stage 2 (iAnimate) where the children learn about the history of animation, make their own flipping book animations, make thaumatropes and/or praxinoscopes, explore different animation techniques and, of course, design and make their own fantastic animations using apps and software.
This Christmas, I’ve put together a step-by-step computing lesson plan and teacher resources for creating an animated snowman GIF. You can download the lesson and resources and use them your own classrooms for a little festive fun!
The lesson plan contains lots of ideas for differentiation, extension and enrichment: from making a very simple animated sequence to more able pupils:
- animating backgrounds as well as characters and objects
- adding 3D effects (e.g. shadows)
- creating more frames for smoother movement
- switching backgrounds to create scene changes
- animating more than one object
A little festive flavour of what our full six week animation unit offers and another Christmas gift to you!
Saving Santa with Scratch at Christmas
Looking for Christmas Computing lessons and activities? Christmas is just around the corner and it’s time to have some fun and challenge pupils to show what they know about coding in Scratch.
I’ve prepared a step-by-step lesson plan and some teacher/pupil computing resources that I’m using in my computing lessons to celebrate all that is Christmas and festive. Feel free to download and use in your own classroom.
It’s Christmas Eve and Santa is off on his travels around the world delivering presents when catastrophe strikes! He’s fallen out of his Sleigh! Challenge your pupils to create algorithms and program Santa to get back into his sleigh in any way they know.
Lots of opportunities for differentiation here. For instance, less able pupils could use pupil support cards (see Catch Me Card which is included in the pack) and/or write a simple program where Santa is moved using arrow keys. Your more able pupils could:
- program Santa to follow the mouse
- change the sleigh to make glide randomly across the sky
- add sound effects when the sleigh is caught
- program presents to appear/disappear
- program presents to change effects (e.g. colour or size)
- program presents to fall, so the player must dodge them
- program Santa to throw snowballs at randomly appearing presents – Angry Birds style
Ideas for differentiation, extension and enrichment are included in the lesson plan. Lots of opportunities to be inspired and get creative with my gift to you!
Laying Solid Foundations for Primary Computing
Their world is an ever-changing digital world. We owe it to our children to prepare them for living in it. It is never too early for children to start learning the fundamental principles of computer science because, as Edsger Dijkstra famously pointed out “Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes” (attrib) .
Much of computing as a subject can be learned without using computers at all. Primary aged pupils are perfectly capable of understanding and executing algorithms. They do so every day: they use algorithms to solve problems in mathematics, learn letter sounds, spell, use grammar – I could go on and on! Algorithms are designed and can be applied in a myriad of different situations. Understanding them has become a core skill because, increasingly, the world we live in is governed by them.
Computing is much more than the computer, the device or the tool. It’s about developing computational thinking skills (more on that in this post) so that our children can become effective, analytical, problem solvers. It’s also about equipping children with an understanding about how computers and computer systems work so that, combined, they develop transferrable skills which will enable them to design, develop or even just adapt to new tools and technologies in this ever changing digital age. But much more importantly, they develop digital literacy: the ability to be able to express themselves and communicate ideas using tools and technology and participate fully in the modern digital world.
The best practice for Computing in the Early Years (EYFS computing) is where activities:
- are imaginative and fun
- involve being creative
- require collaboration and sharing
- involve listening, understanding, following and giving instructions
- encourage describing, explaining and elaborating
- encourage investigation
- involve problem solving
- include lots of ‘unplugged’ activities: computing without computers
By offering your children an imaginative, engaging, introduction to computing you help them make solid steps towards understanding the world.
iCompute’s expertise and innovation in teaching & learning with, and about, technology has been recognised by BETT and BESA with iCompute in the EYFS being nominated for two awards. Find out what BESA (chair of the judging panel) has to say about the finalists:
The Hour of Code is Coming!
Not long to go now for the Hour of Code (December 5th – 11th) and we can’t wait to see how many pupils and schools participate around the world this year.
iCompute are delighted to be involved by providing a selection of fun, creative, activities for schools to use as part of this event and throughout the year. We’ve put together, free, cross-curricular computing activities that include Computing with English, Computing with Maths and Robotics with Sphero!
We really hope you join us this year for The Hour of Code and introduce your children to the joy of creative computing!
Preparing The Next Generation of Problem Solvers
“A high quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the World” (DfE)
Computational Thinking lies at the heart of the National Curriculum for Computing. Here, I look at what Computational Thinking means and how teachers can help pupils develop effective problem solving skills that can be applied in all areas of life.
Computational Thinking is about transforming a seemingly complex problem into a simple one that we know how to solve. It involves taking a problem and breaking it down into a series of smaller, more manageable parts (decomposition). Each part can then be looked at individually, considering similarities between and within other problems (pattern recognition), and focusing only on the important details whilst ignoring irrelevant information (abstraction). Next, looking for solutions to other problems and adapting them to solve new problems (generalisation). Then, simple steps or rules to solve each of the smaller problems can be designed (algorithms). Once we have a working solution, we then use (evaluation) to analyse it and ask – Is it any good ? Can it be improved? How?
Teaching computational thinking is not teaching children how to think like a computer. Computers cannot think. Computers are stupid. Everything computers do, people make happen. It’s also not teaching children how to compute. It’s developing the knowledge, skills and understanding of how people solve problems. As such, it absolutely should not be confined to computing lessons and should be used throughout the curriculum to approach and solve problems and communicate and collaborate with others.
iCompute’s computational thinking puzzles for primary pupils are a ground-breaking new development in primary education. In the digital age, the benefits of computational thinking throughout education are increasingly being highlighted. Our, colourful, engaging and challenging puzzles are designed for children aged 7-11 to independently practise and develop the fundamental computational thinking skills that lie at the heart of the National Curriculum for Computing. The puzzles help develop skills of decomposition, abstraction, generalisation and designing algorithms. This means children can find solutions and apply those already found to different problems, in different contexts. All of this helps lay the foundations for them to become effective problem solvers.
Solving puzzles leads to important outcomes including challenge, a sense of satisfaction, achievement and enjoyment. Puzzles rouse curiosity and hone intuition. Our carefully constructed computational thinking puzzles – designed by a computer scientist, software engineer and computer science master teacher – provide challenge, insight and entertainment all of which increase pupil engagement and promote independent learning.
Puzzles help children develop general problem-solving and independent learning skills. Engaging in puzzles means that pupils:
- use creative approaches
- make choices;
- develop modelling skills;
- develop persistence and resilience;
- practice recognition of patterns and similarities, reducing the complexity of problems
Pupils use, applying and develop the following aspects of the National Curriculum for Computing:
* Logical reasoning
* Decomposition – splitting problems down into smaller problems to make them easier to solve
* Abstraction – taking the detail out of a problem to make it easier to solve
* Generalisation – adapting solutions to other problems to solve new ones
* Pattern recognition – spotting patterns and relationships
* Algorithms – finding the steps that solve a problem
* Evaluation – looking critically at a solution to determine if there’s a better way to solve it
* Testing – checking whether a possible solution works
* Debugging – finding problems with a solution and fixing them
Our puzzles are designed for independent pupil work and provide pupils with handy tips on how to approach the problems and challenges. They also make clear links between the puzzles being approached, the skills being developed and the relevance of both not just in computing but the wider world. This enables pupils to make clear links between subjects and helps pupils make meaning of their learning.
Download a free Computational Thinking Diary here:
Hour of Code Lesson Plans & Resources
We in England are very fortunate that Computing is now a statutory entitlement for pupils aged five and over, with the introduction of the National Curriculum for Computing in 2014. We owe it to our children to equip them with the knowledge, understanding and skills that will enable them to fully participate in the modern digital world. We lead the way in teaching and learning in computing science. Elsewhere around the world there is not (yet) the same emphasis on preparing our children to – not just consume technology, but to – understand how computers and computers systems work. In doing so, we set the next generation on a path to become the innovators and digital creators of our future.
I’m passionate about getting across the message that Computing is so much more than just ‘code’ – see this post for more on that. At Computing’s heart, and the heart of the National Curriculum, is developing computational thinking. A fundamental life skill in itself but, with regard to computing, computational thinking enables children to become effective problem solvers: teaching them skills to solve problems (as yet unknown) for technology that does not yet exist! Find out more about computational thinking in this post.
The Hour of Code is a global movement by Computer Science Education Week reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries through a one-hour introduction to computer science and computer programming. As I’m very keen for others to see the benefit of computing throughout the curriculum, I’ve put together three teacher-led cross-curricular activities as iCompute’s contribution to this year’s Hour of Code – scheduled to take place this December – find out more about that here.
Here’s a sneak look. Watch this space as I might have time to contribute more…
Developing Digital Literacy by Blogging with Primary Children
Blogging is a powerful tool for developing digital literacy in primary schools. It provides a responsive community-driven environment that gives pupil’s writing a voice, an audience and a platform. When children share their world and their thoughts through writing, they understand how connected people are. They learn from each other, challenge one other, question and receive feedback.
My pupils love blogging and I often use it as a way to engage my reluctant writers. See below some of the comments the children wrote about blogging in my classes.
When pupils know they have a genuine audience for their writing, especially when its other children, I see both an increase in motivation and in product; which in turn helps me more accurately assess their work.
To help other schools introduce primary blogging into their classrooms, I’ve developed six new units for iCompute primary computing scheme of work. iBlog contains step-by-step primary blogging lesson plans and associated resources. Existing iCompute Online schools have access to all new units at no additional cost.
I’ve also put together a free infographic about the benefits of blogging with primary children that you can download here.
New Year, New Tech
Some schools have been teaching primary computing since its introduction into the National Curriculum since 2014 and some have yet to really get going. Either way, the very nature of Computing is that things change rapidly and it’s time to start doing something new.
One of the things I like best about Computing is that you can’t churn out the same old lessons year on year. Technology’s rapid development demands we pay attention to change; that we learn; that we adapt and, most importantly, that we create.
We owe it to our pupils to keep abreast of pedagogical and technological change. I’ve put together a selection of the fantastic tools and technologies that I use to teach Computing, some of which you’ll know but lots of which I hope are new and you’ll give a go. Adapted from a previous post here, I’ve turned it into a periodic table of primary computing resources. I keep banging on about this but Computing is more than just programming and lots of the resources listed here are for you to use with your pupils to teach the other strands of the curriculum as well as to use with cross curricular approaches.
There are many, many, more and I’d love to hear how you have been getting on teaching computing in your classrooms as well as hearing about the resources you’ve been using.
Full, progressive step-by-step, lesson plans and all associated lesson resources and worksheets are available for the tools and resources included in the table. Visit our website for more information.
Logical Thinking Puzzle for Key Stage 2 Computing
Here’s one of our computational thinking puzzles designed for independent work for pupils aged 7-11 to practise and develop the computational thinking skills that lie at the heart of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.
To find out more about Computational Thinking and how puzzles can help children engage and develop analytical problem solving skills that will help them, not just in computing, but throughout their lives read this post.
To find out the answer, scroll down. After you’ve had a go!
To reveal the answer click/tap ‘MORE’
Digital Literacy in Primary Schools
Now that Computing has been statutory in primary schools since the introduction of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 in 2014, many schools feel that they have got to grips with the objectives and have a view, if not a plan, of how to meet them. With computer science being at the core of the curriculum, its perhaps easy for schools to neglect the other aspects of it – including digital literacy.
A Powerful Tool for Assessment
I’ve covered a number methods for primary computing assessment in this post but, as I’ve been creating some pupil/teacher resources for video screencasting using, free, OBS (Open Broadcaster Software), I thought I’d go over the screencasting part of it again here. You can download the pupil/teacher support card by clicking on the image in this post.
Potentially one of the most powerful tools for assessment in computing is engaging pupils in creating screencasts – recording computer screen video with audio narration. Research indicates that by making learning visual and documenting thinking – through screencasting – pupils more naturally engage in self-assessment. Even when recordings are made without any intended audience and in the absence of prompting, pupils automatically listen back to themselves, reflect, assess and adjust (Richards, 2014)
This promising tool could be used to further develop information technology and digital literacy skills whilst also engaging pupils in the assessment process by editing screencasts for an intended audience with audio and creating visual effects such as captioning. The screencasts could then be uploaded to individual or class blogs, using categories and tags mapped to the appropriate strand of the National Curriculum for Computing, as evidence of learning or saved as a video file for storage on file servers either at school or in the Cloud. Similarly, teachers could use screencasts to provide audio/visual pupil feedback by making recordings when reviewing work. The screencasts could be cross-referenced against a project and uploaded into the pupil’s e-Portfolio.
Richards, Reshan. One Best Thing. iBooks, 2014. eBook [Available here]
Primary Computing eSafety
I’m writing a new six week unit for our primary computing scheme of work for Year 2 children about creating multimedia eBooks and thought I’d share one of the resources I’ve created for eSafety. Most children, and many adults, think that the first result returned from a search engine is the best and likely to be reliable.
As I detail in this post, I make eSafety part of everyday discussion with my pupils and advise the teachers I train and schools using iCompute to do the same. Feel free to use the attached resource with your pupils to help them develop a little healthy skepticism about the information available on websites.
Computing Glossary of Terms
We Computer Scientists like our jargon but now (due to the National Curriculum for Computing) we are teaching pupils as young as five about how computers and computer systems work; teachers need to know – and be able to explain to children – what a plethora of confusing words mean. As Kurt Vonnegut observed “if you are going to teach, you should either teach graduate school or fourth grade… and if you can’t explain it to fourth graders, you probably don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Here I’ve put together a computing glossary of terms that I hope are useful to computing teachers and are used in iCompute’s primary computing schemes of work.
Mobile Device Management
Having recently conducted some CPD for teaching computing with iPads, some of the teachers raised the issue of how best to manage their iPads in school.
iPads are 1:1 devices and were never intended to be used on networks or alongside file management systems. When we first introduced iPads in my school, I researched many options and found some quite sophisticated solutions out there but they came at quite a hefty price.
I’ve attached the following guides as to how I manage the iPads in my school that can be downloaded. They may prove useful to those who are trying to manage iPads alongside a Windows-based school network. I’d love to hear how you are managing yours so feel free to leave comments after this post to help other schools.
You may also find this post useful for some of my picks for iPad apps in the primary classroom.