Teach Programming LEGO™ WeDo with iCompute

Build and Code with LEGO™ WeDo

LEGO™ WeDo This week sees the launch of iCompute’s new six week programming unit  for Year 3 and 4-5 week unit for Year 4 which uses LEGO™ WeDo to teach children how to program robots and models in primary computing lessons.

This helps schools address the controlling physical systems objective of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 2.

What is LEGO WeDo?

Lego WeDo is a fantastic opportunity for children to bring the physical world to life through code.  They build models using the bricks they know and love and then program them interact with the world around them!

Using robotics promotes interest in science and engineering, as well as computer science and helps develop motor skills through model building.  Mechanisms, built by and ultimately designed by, the pupils themselves set computer programming in a meaningful context.  Children learn more quickly when a model executes a program, physically, right before them.

The robotics elements of LEGO WeDo include motors and sensors.  Our new units do not require the full educational LEGO WeDo sets to be bought.  Schools that already have plenty of bricks and parts can simply buy the robotics parts that will enable models to move, sense and interact with the physical world.

Robotic Parts

LEGO WeDo has two versions 1.0 and 2.0.  Our units provide support for both and the principle robotic parts remain the same at their core (albeit with enhanced features for 2.0).

  • The Hub: The WeDo hub connects models to your device. You can connect up to two sensors (motor, distance sensor, or tilt sensor)
  • The Motor: When connected to the hub, the motor can be programmed to turn on/off.  It can also be programmed to adjust power, direction and duration
  • The Distance Sensor: The distance sensor can detect how far away an item is in front of it
  • The Tilt Sensor: The tilt sensor detects how far it’s tilted from left to right.

You can also connect and program LEGO Power Function lights which do not come with WeDo packs as standard but can be bought on their own and connected to the hub too.

As already mentioned, you can buy the robotic parts separately if you have plenty of LEGO bricks; however it is still possible to pick up education sets of WeDo 1.0 at a fraction of the price of WeDo 2.0.  Search online for LEGO™ Education WeDo Construction Set 9580 (make sure it’s the construction set you are buying).  I managed to buy 6 sets of WeDo 1.0 at £70 each compared to £150 each for LEGO™ Education WeDo 2.0 Core Set 45300.

Programming LEGO™ WeDo

iCompute uses MIT’s Scratch to program models.  LEGO WeDo does have it’s own software that comes as part of the kit, but I don’t feel it offers the same opportunities for enhancing physical programming through storytelling so have chosen to use Scratch instead.

There are two versions of Scratch: 1.4 and 2.0.  Scratch 1.4 is an offline editor that you download and use without the need for web access.  Scratch 2.0 is available as both an online and offline version.  Regular readers will know that I prefer 1.4 for primary aged pupils as the interface is cleaner and the debugging options are better.  Scratch 2.0 however does allow models to be connected to tablets, as well as computers.  You can use both versions of WeDo with Scratch 2.0, however you need to install a device manager and extension in Scratch 2.0 for them to work.

The teacher guides contained within the unit provide comprehensive guidance on the options and their respective setups.

Using Scratch and LEGO WeDo enables pupils to create some amazing models and stories to accompany them.

What Pupils Can Do with LEGO™ WeDo and iCompute

  • Programming, using software , designing and creating working models
  • Using the software to acquire information
  • Using feedback to adjust a programming system output
  • Working with simple machines, gears, levers, pulleys, transmission of motion
  • Measuring time and distance, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, estimating, randomness, using variables
  • Doing narrative and journalistic writing, storytelling, explaining, interviewing, interpreting
  • Design: Use STEM principles to explore Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics and design models
  • Build: Improve motor function, communicate and collaborate with others in building working models and robots
  • Program: Create animated stories, and program models to interact with the story & physical world
  • Digital Literacy: Create factual and imaginative animations and narratives that explain, interpret and tell stories
  • Test : Use physical output as feedback to to detect errors easily
  • Debug: Correct errors found when models don’t behave as expected
  • Evaluate: Critically analyse work and that of others and discuss what is good, or not so good, about them
  • Improve: Revisit models and code then cycle through this process from ‘Design’ onward to make things better

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KS1 Computing with Scratch Jr

Learning to Program with Tablets & Scratch Jr

KS1 Computing Support Card

iCompute Pupil Support Card

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.

KS1 Computing Lesson Plan

Snippet of iCompute Scratch Jr Lesson Plan

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!

Scratch Jr is a free app, with a drag and drop interface for visual programming, developed by MIT and available for tablets on the App Store, Google Play, Chrome Store and Amazon

Get it now and get creative in your KS1 computing classrooms.

 

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Editable & Printable Scratch Jr Blocks

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, and Scratch 3.0, in other posts, which you can also use.

Scratch Jr Blocks

Click/Tap to download

Published by iCompute and licensed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.

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Editable & Printable Scratch 2.0 Blocks

Scratch Classroom Display & Unplugged Activities

Scratch 'Say' block

Download images of each Scratch 2.0 block

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.

unplugged-activity

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.

Periodic Table of Scratch 2.0 Blocks

Click/Tap to download this Periodic Table + Editable, Printable Scratch 2.0 Blocks

Published by iCompute and licensed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.

Also available in the same format are Scratch Jr blocks from this post.

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Christmas Computing – Make a Santa Game with Scratch

Saving Santa with Scratch at Christmas

iCompute Xmas Plan

Click to download our free lesson plan and computing resources

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.

Scratch-Santa-Game

 

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.Pupil Support Card

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!

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iCompute and The Hour of Code

Hour of Code Lesson Plans & Resources

icompute-hour-of-code

The Hour of Code is coming…

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…

iCompute for Hour of Code iJournalist

Click to find out more

iCompute Hour of Code iMathematician

Click to find out more

iCompute Hour of Code iControl

Click to find out more

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Digital Literacy and Primary Blogging

Developing Digital Literacy by Blogging with Primary Children

primary blogging

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.

love-conversation-1

blog-comment

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.

primary blogging

Click to download

Periodic Table of Primary Computing Resources

New Year, New Tech

Computing Resources

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.

Periodic Table of Primary Computing Resources

Click to download

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.

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A Computational Thinking Puzzle

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!

Puzzle 5

To reveal the answer click/tap ‘MORE’

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Primary Computing and Digital Literacy

Digital Literacy in Primary Schools

Digital Literacy

Teaching Digital Literacy

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.

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Screencasting in the Classroom

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.

screencasting card

Click to Download

 

References:

Richards, Reshan. One Best Thing. iBooks, 2014. eBook [Available here]

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eSafety – Checking the Reliability of Websites

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.

eSafety Do's & Don'ts

Click to Download

 

Primary Computing Glossary

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.

iCompute Glossary

Click to Open/Download

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Managing iPads in Schools

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.

MDM

Click to Download MDM Guide

File Management Guide

Click to download file management guide

 

You may also find this post useful for some of my picks for iPad apps in the primary classroom.

 

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Primary Computing Curriculum Coverage

Have you got it covered?

The primary computing curriculum has now been statutory since September 2014 with the introduction of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.  All schools should now be teaching a broad and balanced computing curriculum that provides full curriculum coverage of the aims and objectives of the National Curriculum for Computing.  But are they?

computing-covered

Think you’re “doing” Computing?

There seems to be a wealth of resources available now to help teachers teach computing.  There’s lots of stuff online.  Even better, free stuff!  Gather all that; organise it (roughly) into year groups and that’s Computing sorted!

The trouble is, most of it is targeted to help schools in only one aspect of the computing curriculum: coding.  And Computing is so much more than just coding.

School’s really don’t have it covered if that’s all they’re doing. Or, even, if they’re doing some bits on eSafety too; or one lesson about networks before falling back to those old ICT units (Word processing, Spreadsheets and good-old Powerpoint) that someone – now long gone from the school – put together from the QCA ICT scheme of work back in 2000.  Or, even, if they bought a scheme adapted from an old ICT scheme with about twelve extra lessons on coding added in.  Schools are being let down. More importantly, they’re letting pupils down.

In what other subject is it okay for teachers to admit they know nothing about the subject they teach? To proffer copying answers and children teaching each other as the only pedagogical approaches?  In what other profession would teachers offer support and training whilst freely admitting you know very little?  Would it be acceptable for a maths coordinator to miss out all of the bits of maths they don’t understand? Or teach from outdated materials?  –  ‘Look, I don’t really like that the government want us to teach graphs and algebra and some other hard bits and I’ve got some really good stuff on counting with an abacus that I found on Wikipedia via the Ancient Chinese so I’m going to do that all year instead’.

I don’t care whose materials schools use or who helps teachers, as long as they’re good because what I do, passionately, care about is that children are taught computing well.  And I don’t think they are.  Most schools aren’t teaching it properly.  Schools need to give computing the status and comprehensive coverage it deserves.

The three strands of computing are:

  • Computer Science
  • Digital Literacy (incl. eSafety)
  • Information Technology
Computing Strands

Click to download iCompute’s breakdown of computing strands against NC objectives for primary computing

According to Ofsted inspection guidance for Computing:

Teaching

For Good or Better teaching, teachers have an enthusiasm and passion for computing.  Teachers use a wide variety of innovative and imaginative resources and teaching techniques.

Subject knowledge is excellent, continually up-to-date and demonstrates a high level of technical expertise.

Curriculum

The curriculum is broad and balanced and covers all three strands of computing.  It is imaginative, stimulating, progressive and set in contexts meaningful to the children.

Children use their knowledge, skills and understanding in realistic and challenging situations.  Pupils have comprehensive knowledge and understanding about how to stay safe when using new technologies.

Subject Leadership

High levels of subject expertise and vision with a strong record of innovation in computing.  CPD is well-targeted.

Access to computing equipment is outstanding and the school is likely to have promoted the use of mobile technologies.

There is an engaging, age-appropriate e-safety curriculum in place.

E-safety is a priority within the school and promoted throughout.  Staff receive regular training and rigorous policies are in place.

How are you doing?

reflecting on computing

Reflective Practitioner

Children have a statutory entitlement to a high-quality computing education.  I encourage you to reflect on the practice and provision within your school.

In doing so, here are some questions you could use as a basis for reflection:

Staff

Do all staff have:

  • good or better subject knowledge?
  • good or better subject pedagogy?
  • the ability and time to develop comprehensive, progressive, computing curricula?
  • high expectations of learning in computing?

Curriculum

Do you have a computing curriculum that:

  • provides full coverage of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 1 & 2?
  • is broad, balanced and meets the needs of all learners?
  • is engaging and inclusive?
  • uses a rich and varied range of software, tools and technologies?
  • supports teaching and learning with comprehensive assessment guidance?

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iCompute with Sphero – Free Primary Computing Lesson Resources

Teach controlling physical systems

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.  Check out my posts elsewhere on this blog for tips on teaching with physical systems and visit iCompute Free Stuff to download the free robotics resources I contributed to support The Hour of Code.

Also, check out this post which is an updated version of my teaching experiences with Sphero SPRK+ Edition.

sphero cover

Visit iCompute to find out more about primary robotics

 

 

Primary Programming – Guide to Scratch Skills Progression

Download and use as a guide to primary programming skills progression with Scratch

Please note that children progress at different rates and this is intended as a guide only.  iCompute’s whole-school primary computing scheme of work provides computing lesson plans that have built in differentiation, extension and enrichment activities to include, engage and challenge all pupils in primary computing.

Skills Progression

Primary Scratch Skills Progression – Click to download

Computational Thinking Puzzles for Primary Pupils

Develop Primary Computational Thinking Skills With Puzzles

Computational Thinking Puzzle Book

Computational Thinking Puzzle Workbooks

Computational thinking is at the heart of the statutory programme of study for Computing:

A high quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world (DfE).

Since the introduction of the National Curriculum for Computing in 2014, schools now teach computing from the age of 5 and have developed curricula to meet their statutory obligations; however many lack a focus on developing computational thinking skills favouring, instead, to concentrate on the programming, or coding, objectives. In this post, I discuss computational thinking in more detail and how teaching it helps children become problem solvers which is important not just in computing but is an essential life skill.

There has been much research into the benefits of puzzle-based learning. Puzzles help children develop general problem-solving and independent learning skills.

According to Badger et al. (2012) engaging in puzzles means that pupils:

  • take personal responsibility;
  • adopt novel and creative approaches, making choices;
  • develop modelling skills;
  • develop tenacity;
  • practice recognition of cases, reducing problem situations to exercises.

Additionally, in solving puzzles pupils use and apply a range of strategies that cross disciplines in entertaining and engaging ways.

So what does any of this have to do with computational thinking? By selecting the right variety and complexity of puzzles, children will independently practise and develop computational thinking skills.  Computational Thinking is about transforming a seemingly complex problem into a simple one that we know how to solve.  It involves taking a complex problem and breaking it down into a series of smaller, more manageable parts (decomposition). Each part can then be looked at individually, considering how similar problems have been solved in the past (pattern recognition), and focusing only on the important details whilst ignoring irrelevant information (abstraction). Next, 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?

Computational Thinking

Computational Thinking

This will enable them to find solutions and apply those already found to different problems, in different contexts. All of this helps lay the foundations for pupils to become effective problem solvers.  Skills that are increasingly important, as discussed in this post, given the digital world we live in and the need to prepare pupils to solve as yet unknown problems using tools and technologies that do not yet exist.

ERA 2017 Award

Best Educational Book

UPDATE: iCompute’s Computational Thinking Puzzle Workbooks 1-4 have been shortlisted for prestigious ERA (Education Resource Awards) 2017 for Best Educational Book.

 

 

 

 

References:

Badger, M., Sangwin, C, J., Ventura-Medina, E., Thomas, C, R.: 2012, A Guide To Puzzle-Based Learning In Stem Subjects, University of Birmingham.

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Primary Computing with Sphero

Controlling Physical Systems – Robotics

 

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:

  1. design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
  2. use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output
  3. use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs
  4. 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
sphero cover

Visit iCompute to find out more about primary robotics

iCompute Features Flowchart

iCompute – Features Flowchart

Here, I share my experiences of using Sphero 2.0 with primary pupils and give some general advice and classroom tips about how to use them effectively, engage and challenge your pupils.  See this post which details my more recent experiences of teaching using Sphero SPRK+ edition.

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

Preparation

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.  Update: Connecting Sphero to tablets is much easier and more reliable since Sphero SPRK+ edition has been released (which I now have and teach with).  Here, you simply hold Sphero close to your iPad to make a connection.

For Sphero 2.0, 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.  This isn’t necessary if using SPRK+.

Environment

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.

Sphero Nubby Cover

Sphero Cover

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.  When our school went on to buy the SPRK+ edition of Sphero, we didn’t bother buying the covers.

 Lesson Ideas

Now on to the good stuff.   My specialism is teaching primary pupils aged 3-11.  I think coding with Sphero is 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 (2.0 version) 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.  The SPRK+ edition, doesn’t have ramps but has tapes and measures instead.

Sphero App icon

Sphero App

A lesson, including step-by-step instructions for both teacher and pupil for this are available in our robotics pack.

iCompute with Sphero Lesson Plan

iCompute with Sphero

 

 

 

The following lessons progress to using the drive function of the Sphero Edu 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 Sphero Edu.

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…

Visit icompute-uk.com for primary computing lesson plans.

Primary Computing Assessment

How to Assess Primary Computing

Summary

  1. Evidence – Use e-Portfolios such as SeeSaw or maintain individual folders on the school network for each pupil to contain digital work
  2. Teacher Feedback – Face-to-face or using digital ‘marking’ strategies such as adding text comments in digital work or adding audio of your comments
  3. Self/Peer – Blogging, Vlogging or Video Screencasting provides excellent opportunities for pupils to reflect on work
  4. Diagnostic Testing – Creative online interactive quizzes (e.g. Kahoot) provide engaging opportunities to assess pupil understanding and bring a gamification aspect to assessment
  5. Assessment Projects – Using end-of-unit open-ended project tasks allow pupils to demonstrate learning
  6. Progress Tracking – Understanding where pupils are and planning next steps to meet age-related expectations

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