I’ve been teaching primary robotics for some time now as part of the computing curriculum that I write for iCompute. I teach with and have produced schemes of work for robotics from EYFS to Year 6 using BeeBots, LEGO WeDo, Sphero and parrot drones to name a few.
Whilst teaching computing itself can be daunting for many teachers, the prospect of the added pressure of actual things being whizzed around classrooms through code can push many to avoid the controlling physical systems aspects of the National Curriculum for Computing altogether!
The rapid pace of advances in technology means children are growing up in an age dominated by embedded computer systems and robotics. It is crucial they have an understanding of its impact on the world and their own futures. Teachers need to be in a position to provide pupils with the level of knowledge, understanding and skills they need to live in the modern world.
Including Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM subjects) in early education provides a strong motivation for learning and an improvement in progression. Teaching robotics is a great way of connecting with children and enables schools to engage the potential engineers and computer scientists of the future.
Most curricula in primary schools cover science and mathematics, but we need to do more in teaching problem solving, computer science, design, technology and robotics.
The use of robotic systems and robotics as a subject offers an introduction to the engineering design process and sets children’s learning in a fun, meaningful, contexts. The fundamental principles of computer science are applied and made easier as models and devices can be designed, constructed, programmed and executed in front of pupil’s eyes. This makes it much easier to learn what robots can and cannot do: their capabilities and, crucially, their limitations.
We’ve recently put all of our robotics units into one primary robotics pack that covers the controlling physical systems aspects of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 (pupils aged 5-11).
I’m also including some free activities as part of our contribution to this year’s Hour of Code, adding to those already featured last year and still live. As the Hour of Code launches each year in December, I’ll be adding a nice festive twist to my teacher-led activities. Hint: Santa’s sleigh is broken but he has a drone! Here’s a sneak peek of the cover…
HOC iFly Cover
Check out my other blog posts for teaching tips and advice about how to manage programming physical devices with younger children. I cover:
Many teachers are tasked with planning computing schemes of work for their schools.
Having produced many for iCompute, I know how huge and time consuming the task is. Here I share my tips about how to plan a computing scheme of work which ensures your school has a broad, balanced, rich and progressive scheme of work that will engage and challenge pupils of all abilities.
Use free software and tools – you don’t need to buy a thing in order to meet the objectives of the computing curriculum
Practise – helps you understand the knowledge, skills and understanding the software and tools help develop
Look for progression – you will start to see that particular tools are suitable for specific age groups
Look for full coverage – Computing is not just about coding
Understand how to assess computing – know where your pupils are and where they need to go next
Adapt – make it fit your school, staff and needs of your pupils
This week Lindale CE Primary School were school of the week on Lakeland Radio. Last Friday our author, Liane O’Kane, who teaches computing at Lindale (a Lead School on the Network of Excellence for Computer Science) met with Breakfast presenter Yakkers and featured on their Back to School with Yakkers segment.
The children and Liane spoke with Yakkers about Computing at Lindale Primary. Lindale teach primary computing using iCompute for Primary Schools from EYFS to Year 6 and it was lovely hearing about how much the children have been learning and enjoying their lessons.
The Summer term is drawing to a close, the weather is warm and you’ll no doubt have lots of activities planned to take advantage of/celebrate the weather in your classes. Let’s not forget about Computing though. Take your pupils outside if you have laptops or mobile devices and use Scratch 2.0 with your Key Stage 2 children (pupils aged 7-11) and our free lesson for summer themed primary computing with supporting resources.
It’s a great end-of term opportunity for your pupils to showcase what they have learned all year in their programming lessons.
Click to download iCompute’s free summer computing lesson plan
I’ve written another step-by-step lesson plan and some teacher/pupil computing resources that I’m using and have added to iCompute to celebrate Summer. Feel free to download and use in your own classroom.
Summer time and the weather is sweet. Makes you want to make a nice cool treat… Challenge your pupils to create algorithms and program an ice-cream simulation/game.
Free ice-cream stand simulation programming activity
Pupil Support Card
As usual, lots of opportunities for differentiation. For instance, less able pupils could use pupil support cards (see Ice Cream stand card which is included in the pack) and/or concentrate on programming random customers and ice-cream combinations to appear.
Your more able pupils could:
program timers, scores and lives (e.g. customers leave ‘hide’ if their order isn’t made within time limits)
add a series of levels that become increasingly more challenging
generate random prices within a range
program your customers to pay
calculate and give change
Ideas for differentiation, extension and enrichment are included in the lesson plan. Plus program templates and partially-written programs for teacher and pupil support. Lots of opportunities to be inspired and get creative!
Using drones in schools has the potential to take learning, literally, to a higher level. As they continue to become increasingly practical, attainable, tools for education, teachers around the world are now using drones in their classrooms for STEM and STEAM activities.
In computing, programming drones helps develop children’s skills in algorithms, programming and computational thinking as well as addressing the ‘controlling physical systems’ objectives of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 2. Exciting curricula and drone lesson plans are being developed that help teachers develop confidence and make the most out of connected devices.
Drones are revolutionising business and industry: engineers use the technology for site surveys, filmmakers capture images that would otherwise be unseen, drones are used in agriculture; farming; conservation; military operations and parcel deliveries. The potential for the application of drones and the rapid growth in the technology is huge. Understanding how they work, their potential and how to control them through coding prepares children for the modern working world.
iCompute lead the way in teaching and learning using educational technology. In anticipation of 3D robotics becoming the next big thing in education, we have extended our connected devices offering of comprehensive, step-by-step lesson plans, computing resources and assessment toolkits using Sphero and LEGO™ WeDo by adding an amazing, creative, 6-8 week coding with drones unit aimed at upper KS2 Computing (pupils aged 9-11 or higher).
Children learn how to program parrot drones to fly, create aerial shapes, navigate obstacles, fire ‘missiles’, pick up and drop objects all set in imaginative contexts. They program Santa’s ‘sleigh’ to deliver presents before going on an epic journey to a Galaxy Far, Far Away to take out the Death Star for the Rebel Alliance!
The Force is Strong with This One…Visit our website to unleash your power!
Not long until Easter and I’m sure you’ll have lots planned for it in other subjects, but don’t forget about Computing. It’s a great end-of-term opportunity for your pupils to demonstrate what they can do with Scratch programming.
Click to download the plan and resources
I’ve prepared a step-by-step lesson plan and some teacher/pupil computing resources that I’m using and have added to iCompute to celebrate Easter and/or Spring. Feel free to download and use in your own classroom.
It’s Easter and the Easter Bunny has forgotten where she has hidden all of her eggs. Challenge your pupils to create algorithms and program the bunny to get all of her eggs in her basket any way they know.
Pupil Support Card
As usual, lots of opportunities for differentiation. For instance, less able pupils could use pupil support cards (see Egg Hunt card which is included in the pack) and/or write a more simple collecting less eggs. Your more able pupils could:
program the ice-cream truck sprite to move across the x-axis
program the hot-air balloon to fly
add the Easter eggs to a list variable when collected
add ‘enemies’ to thwart the Easter Bunny in her quest
add extra, increasingly difficult, levels (e.g. mazes to navigate)
Ideas for differentiation, extension and enrichment are included in the lesson plan. Lots of opportunities to be inspired and get creative.
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:
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.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently written a primary programming robotics scheme of work as part of my role as a primary computing master teacher with Computing At Schools and having been kindly loaned five Sphero. @cas_lancaster will be lending these lesson plans and resources out as part of their equipment loan scheme and the complete unit and associated resources, assessment guidance etc, now forms part of the iCompute for iPad scheme of work.
Today, I presented at #CASLancaster16 conference about my experiences of teaching with Sphero. Here is the free programming unit that CAS Lancaster included in their USB Key given to all delegates.
Enrich learning with a cross curricular approach to primary computing
Click to download the poster
Computing is one of the most fundamentally cross curricular subject areas in education. It’s about using technology, logic, creativity and computational thinking to solve problems that cross all disciplines. It requires the systematic breakdown (decomposition) of both the problem and the solution. We need to prepare pupils for how to live in an increasingly digital world by equipping them with the knowledge, understanding and skills to solve as yet unknown problems using tools and technologies that do not yet exist. We can work towards achieving this by using computing as a means of making sense of the world and using what the children learn in computing across the curriculum.
The best primary practice includes a blend of rigorous, discrete, subject teaching and equally effective cross-curricular links. Both approaches are needed for effective learning to take place, to enable children to make links between subjects and to set learning in meaningful contexts. Using computing throughout the primary curriculum offers a way to enrich and deepen learning through engaging, interconnected, topics.
I have put together a selection of free resources and links to others to help teachers get started with ideas and inspiration for enriching learning and exploring computing through a rich variety of media and technologies in cross-curricular contexts.
As part of my role with Computing At Schools (CAS) as a Primary Computer Science Master Teacher, I have recently been fortunate enough to teach using Sphero, having been lent a set by @cas_lancaster. The task was to produce a set of step-by-step Sphero lesson plans and associated teacher and pupil support materials for primary teachers to use. That is all now done and I’ve had great fun creating our new robotics unit – iCompute with Sphero – which forms part of our iPad pack , as well as being available separately. It will be lent out to other local schools by @cas_lancaster. Teaching progressive lessons using Spheros enables primary schools to meet a number of the objectives of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 2 Specifically:
design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output
use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs
select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information
iCompute with Sphero
iCompute – Features Flowchart
Here, I share my experiences of using Spheros with primary pupils and give some general advice and classroom tips about how to use them effectively, engage and challenge your pupils.
What is Sphero?
Sphero is a robot ball with several features that can be controlled though apps and also includes the facility for pupils to create their own computer programs. The main features are:
Rolling – Sphero can roll at specified speeds and directions
Colours – Sphero can light up to a specified colour
Bluetooth – Sphero connects to mobile devices through wireless Bluetooth
As Spheros are connected to iPads via Bluetooth, preparing to use them in your classroom before your roll up brandishing them and creating general hysteria is vital! Make sure all are fully charged and that your have paired each to a particular tablet in advance. Each Sphero flashes a unique sequence of colours when they are ‘woken’ which can be used to identify them. A Sphero will appear on your tablet’s Bluetooth list using the initials of the three colours it flashes in order, Eg. Sphero-RGB for a colour sequence of Red, Green and Blue.
I added stickers to each of the Spheros with their unique name, as ‘YGO’, ‘RGW’ etc., and also to the corresponding tablet I’d paired it to. This made distributing them and the iPads much easier when in class.
You need lots of space to use these. I used the school hall. I refer back to ‘Preparation’ for this as it may be something you need to organise. I forgot on my first session and arrived with a very excitable class to a hall full of lunch tables. The first half of my lesson therefore involved getting those out of the way.
You can also buy covers called a ‘Nubby’ for outside use.
I tried this with one of my classes and we had to come back inside as it was sunny and therefore impossible to see Sphero’s tail-light: essential to be able to aim it to move in the direction you want it to go. Also, we had iPads and the children couldn’t see the screens.
Now on to the good stuff. My specialism is teaching primary pupils aged 5-11. I think Spheros are suitable for Key Stage 2 pupils, children aged 7-11.
I suggest your first session focus on teaching the children how to wake Sphero, Orient (aim) it and control it using the standard Sphero app. Each Sphero comes with, amongst other things, a pair of ramps and once the children have got used to moving Sphero forward and backward with reasonable accuracy, add the ramps and other obstacles to make things interesting and develop accuracy further.
A lesson, including step-by-step instructions for both teacher and pupil for this are available in our robotics pack.
iCompute with Sphero
The following lessons progresses to using the Sphero Draw N’ Drive app enabling the children to gain greater control and begin to understand that Sphero can be controlled to perform specific actions.
I then move things on for the rest of the unit to programming Sphero using Tickle.
We created quizzes that the children programmed Sphero to move and change colour to answer. This presents great cross-curricular opportunities. We create algorithms and program Sphero to be our dance partners for Physical Education. Also, mazes to navigate with excellent links to Mathematics for distance, direction and angle work. The children also program Sphero to travel the globe, linking to Geography, using a free floor map from National Geographic.
Using robotics in the primary classroom presents creative and engaging opportunities for the children to extend what they have learned about algorithms and programming in Computing by understanding that physical systems can be controlled too. With the right blend planning and imaginative resources, using Sphero’s in your classroom has the potential to inspire the next generation of software designers and systems engineers! The possibilities are exciting…
iCompute Shortlisted as Finalist for The BETT Awards 2016
iCompute Lite for iPad
Brilliant day at the office as the first ever ‘Tap-and-Teach’ app for primary computing developed by iCompute has been shortlisted as a finalist in the prestigious BETT Awards 2016.
The BETT Awards celebrate innovation in technology and education as well as recognise, reward and promote excellence. They are regarded as one of the highest accolades in the industry. The selected finalists have been chosen by a panel of independent teachers and educationalists and are recognised as ‘best of breed’ amongst the sector.
Debbie French, portfolio director at i2i Events Group for Bett and the Bett Awards, says: “The 2016 awards highlight the most effective and pioneering companies and solutions in education, and all finalists are to be applauded for their contribution to education. This year’s awards have seen an incredibly competitive cohort of entries, and we hear that the judging process to select the finalists was challenging in the best possible way. This is testimony to the world-class level of innovation in the education supplies industry, and it is a true pleasure to recognise these companies for their excellence.”
Liane O’Kane, Director of iCompute said : “We are thrilled to be shortlisted again this year for another of our ground-breaking primary computing products. We lead the way in providing educational products and materials that support schools in creatively teaching primary computing. As an organisation that passionately believes in engaging all children in the creative use of technology in education, we work hard to ensure that schools have high-quality support and resources to teach computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Our iPad app puts these resources at teacher’s fingertips.”
At this time of year, with the gorgeous weather we’ve been having throughout the UK, it’s not hard to see the benefits of teaching primary computing with iPads.
One of the main advantages that my pupils point out about iPads over pcs/laptops is that you can pick them up and carry them around. So carry them around we have throughout this summer term. I’ve been teaching from our iPad pack and taking our computing lessons outside.
Taking computing learning outside
Teaching our iPad units just got easier with the launch of our iCompute for iPad apps that now also sell as individual year groups on the App Store.
I can now tap and share resources like pupil support materials and worksheets using AirDrop, play our video screencasts and model how to use the programming apps on the interactive whiteboard using AirPlay. Our teaching resources are now literally at my fingertips. All I need is my iPad, iCompute for iPad and appropriate programming apps and I’m good to go. Anywhere.
Fun in the sun
The possibilities are limitless and I’m so enthused by the success of teaching computing using iPads that I’m currently developing a new product – iCompute Across the Curriculum. This will help consolidate the children’s learning in computing, allow them to practice their skills and enhance other areas of the curriculum.
For now though, the children are enjoying the great outdoors and creating some fantastic apps to compliment their forthcoming sports days. Fingers crossed the weather plays ball!
The primary computing curriculum becomes statutory in September 2014 and across the country teachers and schools are having a meltdown. Here’s a new subject teachers have never been trained to teach and they have to teach children from the age of 5 how to ‘code’.