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
Everyone likes putting a seasonal twist on lessons during the approach to Easter and I’ve been making Easter computing lessons for my pupils to add to iCompute‘s computing scheme of work
This time, I’ve put together a step-by-step computing lesson plan and teacher resources for Key Stage 1 pupils. You can download the free Easter computing lesson and resources and use them your own classrooms for a little seasonal fun!
A spin on the Bee Bot app, this uses Scratch 2.0 and ‘BunnyBot’. The children create algorithms and program the Easter Bunny to collect Eggs.
Click to download lesson & resources
The lesson plan contains lots of ideas for differentiation, extension and enrichment
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:
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.
Our children grow up surrounded by technology. Their everyday interactions and experiences involve it, whether that is inside their homes, at school, out shopping or playing.
Their world is an ever-changing digital world. We owe it to our children to prepare them for living in it. I believe that it is never too early for children to start learning the fundamental principles of computer science because, as Edsger Dijkstra supposedly famously pointed out “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes”.
Much of computing as a subject can be learned without using computers at all. Primary aged pupils are perfectly capable of 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.
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 them 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. More than that, they develop important skills that will help them in their everyday lives, throughout their lives.
The best practice for EYFS is where computing activities:
are imaginative and fun
involve being creative
require collaboration and sharing
involve listening, understanding, following and giving instructions
encourage describing, explaining and elaborating
involve problem solving
include lots of ‘unplugged’ activities: computing without computers
By offering your children an imaginative, engaging, introduction to computing you help them form solid stepping stones towards their KS1 computing and beyond.
Developing Digital Literacy by Blogging with Primary Children
A Powerful Tool for Developing Digital Literacy
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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…
Computational Thinking is a life skill for everyone. It’s analytical problem solving: finding solutions to ‘problems’ using logical reasoning and systematic approaches. By ‘problem’ I mean something you want to achieve. This could be anything from designing and building a physical structure to creating a piece of art.
Click to download the poster
Fundamentally, Computational Thinking is about transforming a seemingly complex problem into a simple one that we know how to solve.
This involves the use of abstraction,decomposition and generalisation when approaching tasks to remove unnecessary detail, split it into manageable parts and build on solutions we have used before.
Finding solutions involves spotting patterns and using logical reasoning – applying rules to find solutions, eg. if this happens then I need to do that, otherwise I need to do this… 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 Liane O’Kane marks Ada Lovelace Day with #iLookLikeAnEngineer
I’m not cut out to be a participant in online social media campaigns. I’m a Computer Scientist and a teacher. Case in point: I’m having a touch of angst about a selfie I posted on Twitter yesterday to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day. I’m now wondering whether I’ve addressed sexism in the technology industry or perpetuated it?
Being a graduate of computing science in the 90’s where I was one only one of three women in my year and now as a teacher of computing, I was thrilled to see that #AdaLovelaceDay was trending on Twitter yesterday. I had just written a computing unit for primary pupils featuring her contribution to history as the worlds first computer programmer as part of my primary computing scheme of work. I then saw that it was being celebrated by thousands of women around the world in technology/science/engineering/maths posting photographs of themselves at work with the hashtag #iLookLikeAnEngineer. I joined the many women keen to dispel the stereotype of what constitutes an engineer – in my case a software engineer – by adding my photo.
All good. Except that I then spotted the BBC headline “‘Too hot to be an engineer’ – Women mark Ada Lovelace day”. The connotations of that headline and my contribution marking Ada Lovelace Day did not sit at all comfortably. Some posts on Twitter, by women, added to my unease: asking whether women posting images of themselves inevitably focused the conversation towards looks, thus perpetuating perceptions of women in technology. True, if that’s what is is about. But it’s not. Note the quotes in the headline – ‘Too hot to be an engineer’. That is a comment made by male colleagues to a female software engineer after she took part in a promotional campaign for her company. To put it diplomatically, they questioned whether her image fit that of a ‘typical’ engineer and suggested that people would find it unlikely that she was one. The Twitter campaign, #iLookLikeAnEngineer, has taken flight because women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) want the world to see that women are engineers – in my case a software engineer.
I’m not interested in showing men that I’m an engineer because I have never, in all my many years in the computing industry, encountered what I would call sexism. I’ve never missed out on a job, had my contributions dismissed nor been promoted because I’m a women. I’ve been mistaken for the tea lady in meetings but I didn’t get hysterical about it – I simply spoke with some authority on my subject and they no longer expected a milk with two sugars. I’ve also been asked, when taking notes, if I was writing a shopping list for making my husband’s dinner. That was a joke and I laughed. We women need to lose the silicone chip on our shoulders. They’re not out to get us and we’re not posting pictures of ourselves to look good.
I participated in the campaign because I’m a teacher and I want more girls to take STEM subjects. I want girls to know that they won’t be the first woman in technology (thank you Ada Lovelace) and that there are lots of us out there continuing to make a contribution. A contribution that we’d love them to be a part of. So girls, here is what an engineer looks like:
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!
iCompute, the digital computing scheme of work for primary schools, is proud to announce the launch of its iPad app on the App Store this week.
iCompute for iPad is a digital primary computing scheme of work matched to the algorithms and programming objectives of the 2014 National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Designed and authored by a computer scientist and primary computer science master teacher, it provides step-by-step lesson plans and all the materials schools needs to teach primary computing creatively and with confidence from Year 1 to Year 6 using iPads. iCompute has been specifically designed to teach the teacher, as well as the pupils, with innovative and engaging activities that use the very latest tools and technologies.
Liane O’Kane, founder and author of iCompute comments: “We are so pleased that our iPad app is now available on the App Store. As a leader in providing innovative digital educational curricula and materials, it’s fantastic that teaching primary computing using iPads just got easier for schools. We were the first UK company to provide a primary computing scheme of work and lead the way in providing innovative, engaging and challenging teaching materials and resources that improve teaching and learning in computing. Our iPad app is the first of many to come. Watch this space for our forthcoming, fab, programming app for Key Stage 1!”
With the introduction of the new primary computing curriculum in September 2014 and Ofsted inspection guidance emphasising the need to use mobile technologies in classrooms, more primary schools than ever now have iPads.
The list is by no means exhaustive and will be ever changing, but I’ve put together a document you can download and use outlining what I consider to be some of the best iPad apps around the moment that offer potential for enhancing and enriching teaching and learning in primary computing and embedding it throughout the curriculum.
I’ve also cross-referenced the apps against the three areas of primary computing – Digital Literacy, Information Technology and Computing and highlighted which our iPad Pack use explicitly for structured half-termly units of work with step-by-step lesson plans and pupil worksheets/support materials.
Click to download
I’m developing new schemes at the moment aimed at enhancing teaching and learning using iPads across other subject areas.
Coming soon will be the first in a series, iInvestigate, providing units for engaging, practical, primary science investigations that also use iPads and some brilliant iPad apps.
iCompute, the digital computing scheme of work for primary schools, is proud to announce being shortlisted for the ‘Primary Digital Content’ and ‘Best Whole Course Subject Curriculum Resource’ BETT Awards 2015 for its whole-school and iPad computing scheme of work.