Saturday, 28 November 2015

BBC Microbit Review

Ok so it was over a month ago I meant to write this, but I have actually touched a BBC microbit! The elusive device was made available for teachers to play with courtesy of the BBC, CAS and Plymouth Uni. So what did I make of it? Well I've broken my review down into two sections, 1) what I make of the actual device and the surrounding software ecosystem, and 2) how useful is it going to be in the classroom.

1) Device and software
It is genuinely small! This piece of hardware is tiny! You can see the picture below with all the parts labelled. In terms of robustness, it beats the raspberry pi, mainly due to all the components being flush with the board. Can this survive life in a classroom? Yes.


Software wise, there several different options for programming it, listed here . I tried out block and touch develop. One language is graphical the other is code, but the programming environment online is really useful. Both output a compiled file which you drag and drop onto the microbit (it appears like a memory stick when attached).

The programming environments work ok, but I wouldn't go too much past ok. I found there to be odd issues getting the right thing selected or moving to particular point in the code, causing a bit of frustration. The graphical editor was better than the text based editor. That said, they have been a whole host of updates that the BBC team have implemented since I had a play, so this maybe out of date.

I only played with the prototype, so I think it would be unfair to make any judgement about hardware function as yet!

2) Classroom
Firstly is this going to be useful in the classroom... Yes. How useful though is a different matter. I can see a year 7 group enjoying using it for the a term of so, but after that I would suspect that those that pick it up the fastest will have reached the two native language's maximum and will want to try something more advanced. The answer I would go for is to use the python option, and get it acting as a  interface for a raspberry pi, now that would be cool!

In summary, I would use for it a term, and then hand it away with a nice big competition for however goes away and makes the coolest thingy, supported by an after school club.

The BBC microbit is yet another tool in the arsenal of hardware and software available for teaching computing in schools. Its been well thought out and constant development should iron out any niggles. The fact it's free for all year 7s should help! All in all I look forward to teaching with it!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Scratch to build confidence

Long time no blog!

So I've been wanting to get my pupils using physical computing for a while now. Some have been doing it, but others have been unwilling to engage / point blank refusing. I put this down to them being anxious because they've never seen it before, and therefore the think they will fail etc etc (the joys of teaching pupils who self confidence is so low trial and error is not a valid learning technique).

Enter scratch - an easy to use, colour coded graphical programming system that works with the raspberry pi GPIO! However, whilst a lot of the scratch resources out there were good, for my pupils with low reading ages (or unable to read at all), the heavy text content meant they would be out the window in seconds. So, I set about making a series of guide, which could be followed independently or in a group, with minimal text and maximum diagrams, and here they are.

Feel free to use and adjust, like all things it's under creative commons license :)

Have they worked? Yes - all my pupils have coded GPIO in scratch. A weakness? Not enough extension for the top end pupils. See what you make of them, all comments welcome!

Update - Raspbian Jessie contains a new updated version of scratch with yet more GPIO support, for more details click here

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

First impressions last

So it's the start of the new school year! My computer room is built, the kids are back and we've started teaching. 

When I started year 10 I remember my English teacher, Mrs H-B (who was an amazing teacher), saying "first impressions last". She meant it regarding us as pupils, but what if we apply it to us as teachers?

Working in a PRU the first lesson you spend with a class can often dictate how pupils approach us as teachers and how pupils approach a subject. Now is the time to make a great impression on our pupils!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Pedagogy developing community

As previously mentioned, I'm at New Wine this week and this blog is changing. One of the big focuses at New Wine is community development, something that is pretty important in school!

Our pupils are constantly learning how to act within community. We teach that via our pedagogy and how we act in community with pupils and staff. How does our teaching influence pupils values, perceptions and interactions within community?

Our pupils are hopefully going to spend the rest of their lives in community (isolation and loneliness being toxic killers). We as teachers get to have a say as to what role they will play in community. Let's make it positive!

Let's make community key, letting pupils know they are visible and significant.

So I'm at New Wine...

and it's brilliant! Expect a lot of posts in the near future based on my week here.

For the first time, I'm going to be writing about my faith, and how I see God interacting with education. It's a bit of a big thing. They're aren't very many teachers who blog about their faith (in fact I haven't found any, so if you know any let me know).

To end this post, I have one thing I have to share-

God is interested in teachers, TAs, receptionists, reprographics teams (everyone involved in education- kids included). He says you are visible and significant. He is up for meeting you where you are.

And lastly, the café's are great :)

Sunday, 28 June 2015

BBC Make it Digital

On Saturday I had the opportunity to volunteer at the BBC Make it Digital Roadshow it Plymouth. It was brilliant! Lots of techy geekyness in one tent in the form of a collection of working antique computers (including the legendary BBC micro). Whilst in other tents there was everything from raspberry pi's to programmable Daleks.

I started the day talking about the raspberry pi and doing a spot of coding with members of the public to use them to record wind speed and rainfall. However, then I moved tents to program Lego Mindstorms based Daleks with members of the public. One observation made by one of my fellow raspberry pi-ers was that most of the interest in the raspberry pi's came from adults (guys in particular), whereas when I moved to the Dalek tent the youngest programmer was 3 years old! So in the space of 7 hours I saw everyone from aged 3-92 programming! How cool is that?!

The BBC learning team deserve special credit - their activities were superbly designed to engage all ages, and they used computing language, such as "algorithm" throughout. The BBC staff were brilliant throughout the day, I have never felt quite so welcome as a volunteer at an event, so thankyou BBC team!

The BBC Make It Digital roadshow continues, check it out here 

(all opinions are my own - not affiliated to the BBC)

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Great Tablet Debate

There is nothing that gets technicians and SLT and teachers riled up together quite like choosing the right tablet for both pupils and teachers. The market has three operating systems (in the main, with off shoots available) - iOS, windows and android/chrome. Aside from iOS, there is a plethora of manufacturers.

I've just got back from the Microsoft Showcase Classroom Roadshow, and to be honest I was blown away by what is possible on a £150 windows tablet. However, I don't wish to say one tablet is better than the other (and I, like many other teachers, have pretty strong opinions on the the matter), rather I want to suggest a few rules that might help in the decision making process.

1. Choosing tablets is rarely a department only thing, usually a whole school rolls out tablets as part of a cohesive IT kit strategy

2. Work out how you are going to use them - offline/online, one device per child/class sets, content creation/content consumption etc

3. Check you network infrastructure, particularly wifi, can handle the new devices

4. Decide how you want the tablets to interact with other digital devices in the classroom, this is probably the biggest deciding factor in OS choice

5. The golden rule- your tablets must be able to flex to accommodate changes in the future - you are going to be spending a lot of money and it better last. You don't want to discover the tablets are going to be no good 6 months down the line. If the technology doesn't help pupils learn, is there a point to using it?

Have fun!

Saturday, 6 June 2015


12 months ago when I was told I was to lead the STEM / Computing charge at school I eagerly bought 12 raspberry pi's, pibrellas and a couple of raspberry pi controlled cars, and we have used them, but not to the extent that I knew (or thought) we should be able to. It wasn't that I didn't know how to do things on a raspberry pi, it was that I needed to have the little bits of knowledge that I did have connected.

This is where Picademy comes in, I knew the Raspberry Pi foundation were running teacher training courses, and a year later (no fault of raspberry pi, just my disorganization) I was on one!

Picademy was awesome! To say it was the best CPD I have ever been on is not an overstatement by any means. There were two key components to both the days, no question is a stupid question and community is integral to innovation. This made all the difference and was created by the excellent Picademy Team.

By the end of the day my brain was melted. So much information in such a short space of time. Everything from minecraft, to physical computing, to python, to sonic pi, and then linking it all together! However, despite my brain now being a puddle on the floor, I learnt a lot, and that new knowledge was there for me to call on in day 2.

Day 2 was the best day in my opinion, after the information overload of day 1, day 2 was putting it into practice. It was the kid in a sweet shop situation all over again. The Picademy Team pointed us in the direction of various boxes of stuff (including Lego and gaffa tape!) and let us loose! It was so much fun! I was working in a group of two, other people worked individually but no one was left by themselves, unsupported. Teachers supported each other, Picademy Team supported, much Googling and looking things up happened, a true collaborative learning experience.

By the end of it all the teachers on the course became Raspberry Pi Certified Educators! I have to confess, I came home on the Friday and immediately added the Certified Educator Logo to the bottom of my work email signature. Next step is take what I've learnt, disseminate it to the rest of the STEM/Computing team at school and start to get the kids excited about innovating, creating and developing using the Raspberry Pi.

Thankyou Picademy team!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Pushing it in STEM lessons

We've had a few issues of late with engaging some of our KS4 pupils in STEM lessons. I was looking at reasons why and came up with the following-

  1. The "classic" STEM projects have become boring
  2. STEM has to be relevant or ridiculously fun to grab and engage EBD pupils
So how am I going to address the issues and get the disengaged reversed? Well I have a few ideas, here they are-

  1. Don't start a practical project the group cannot complete
  2. Use a project that pupils can relate to
  3. Only give out the required equipment/materials
I'll let you know how I get on!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Top behaviour tips

I've worked in a PRU now for 2 1/2 years, and over that time I've picked a few tips for behaviour management. As my school are running a behaviour teachmeet on Thursday (see Twitter for details), now is as good a time to post them as any.

1. Stay calm - act like you've seen it all before, knocks the wind out of their sails a bit
2. There is a time and place for shouting - with my pupils, educators have shouted at them time and time again for years. It obviously hasn't worked as they're with me. Save your voice. Shout to make a point (eg breaking up a fight)
3. Plan B - have a plan B, C, D, E.... We know our pupils home lives are turbulent. Let's make sure we can meet them where they're at when they come in to school
4. Don't rely on technology- technology will go down when you need it most, and technology such as projectors etc can easily be sabotaged by a pupil destroying a cable, tell them they've missed something cool because they broke the kit and move on (and iPads are not a magic bullet, but more on that another time)
5. Progress comes in different forms - for some pupils, it's a miracle they're in the room and in school. Now is not the time to stretch their learning. Pupils need to feel safe to learn
6. Sense of humour rules- if you can make light of something and get a change in behaviour by joking/acting like a muppet, why not? Significantly less paperwork than an issues which escalates....
7. Look for the signs - if a pupil is getting increasingly emotionally heightened (and moving towards loss of control) what's more important, them being in your lesson or his/her and your personal safety?
8. Talk - swap ideas with other members of staff, be honest with what's going wrong, someone might have found a hook for a particular child that you've missed
9. Do the work yourself, with the pupils - changes the situation from "you do this" to "we'll do this"
10. Don't give in with routines- routines work. Stick to them, though it maybe tough to get them going, and you'll see the benefit

If all else fails, and it all goes wrong, and the day goes to pieces, go home and talk to the dog :)
(Dog below isn't mine, she's a fantastic spaniel I take running that belongs to a friend)

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


ACE Behaviour Teachmeet is back! Should be great evening, great keynote speaker, lots of people sharing different ideas (why don't you sign up to present for 2 or 5min?), and free food and drink to top it off.

14th May 4:45-7pm

Sign up here -

Friday, 1 May 2015

Edubuntu and LTSP Review

So it's taken a while to get it all sorted, but the server kindly given to us is working with Edubuntu and LTSP! So now I'm in a position to give an initial review of our system.

Edubuntu is a official spin off of Ubuntu. It contains more educational packages by default, but most importantly for me, it allowed you to set up up a Linux Terminal Server Project installation at the initial setup of Edubuntu itself. This means that many users can access Edubuntu using thin clients booting over the network (in our case a host of old laptops).

How easy was it? On the whole it was very easy to get Edubuntu and LTSP installed and working. The system functioned from the first turn on. However, it has been a pain trying to configure custom menus. The pupils have limited accounts, but it would still be nice to customise the items displayed on the menus. Despite my best efforts, I haven't achieved this yet, despite using Edubuntu's own menu editor tool.

Epoptes is an excellent tool I have used before for managing computers in class. Haven't got that working yet but I'm sure it will.

In summary, would I reccomend Edubuntu and LTSP for a teacher looking to set up a low cost computing lab? Without a doubt. By recycling older hardware you can have a perfectly functional system at zero cost. For computing, the software is excellent (although it would be great to have a newer version of scratch working on it), plus you get all the benefits of the support network surrounding Ubuntu!

Thanks team Edubuntu for a great OS!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The PRU Dilemma (unplanned) Part 2

What I forgot to mention in part 1-

As a teacher in a PRU, you are able to experiment with different schemes of works/projects/teaching methods/activites etc etc etc. You have real freedom and that is fantastic! In addition, the options for career advancement are varied and numerous (mostly thanks to the excellent SLT where I work).

On a more down to earth note, whilst you may not teach your subject as much as you like or in as much depth as you like, you can make real, lasting differences to pupils lives for the better. There is nothing like teaching in a PRU, if you haven't experienced, try it for a day!

Monday, 27 April 2015

21st Century Teacher

Not sure about some of my wording, but here we go!

Click on this link or the picture for the full size version (via google drive PDF and JPG)

Saturday, 25 April 2015

The PRU dilemma

So I work in a PRU, part of what those senior to me at school calls the "SAS" of teaching, and it's an awesome job! The little successes are even greater in importance and magnitude, the freedom in the classroom for teaching the way you want is vast, and the interaction with the pupils can be absolutely brilliant! As a teacher in a PRU, you have a real chance to make a very big difference to the lives of the students around you, both as a teacher in the education delivery sense, and as a mentor, and as a professional. 

This is not forgetting the staff team, a senior member of staff once told me "the rougher the kids, the closer the staff." This is so true! It would be fair to say that my social life (what little I have as a teacher), revolves around the people I work with. It would also be fair to say that I meet most of my closest friends each morning across the photocopier.

However, there is a flip side, a darker side, and maybe the reason why mainstream teachers tend to shrink away from me at training events/teach meets/other teachery things, I don't get to teach in the conventional sense very often. Yes I get to have learning conversations all the time, however most of these concern the write way to ask for attention etc, not the function of a mitochondria or another subject related topic. This means I very rarely get to see students really fly in my subject(s) and really go for it! This is heartbreaking as a teacher passionate for his subject (biology/physics) and STEM.

Future PRU teachers beware, this conflict awaits you!

Enjoy the picture of the maths below, this took a full a 50mins to get done.... Guess how much of that was maths.....

(Blimey that was a deep post! Time to do something more cheerful!)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The need for entry level

There has been a lot of talk of late about the demise of entry level, which has been mooted but not decided upon. As someone who teaches entry level science a lot, here's a few thoughts on the matter (biased towards entry level science... naturally).

Firstly, what entry level isn't. It is not an alternative to GCSE, it doesn't carry nearly the same weight and is not nearly as rigorous in either it's content or development of scientific thinking. Personally, I view entry level as something to be taught alongside GCSE if there is a chance that pupils will not complete the GCSE course.

What entry level is, however, is a great safety net! My pupils come from unstable backgrounds and quite often school is the only consistent point of contact. Therefore, as teachers, we need to make the most of their time with us and make sure they have something to show for their work developing their subject knowledge and understanding by the close of year 11 or year 10, depending on whether pupils are moving out of area or returning to mainstream.

The drip drip of entry level assessments, married up to the appropriate place in the GCSE course, means that most pupils will have achieved a bronze qualification, if not a silver by the end of year 10. When this happens, entry level has done its job in science.

At some point I will blog about the need for entry level in computing, but that's for another time.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Radio Pi!

I volunteer at Cross Rhythms Radio Plymouth from time to time, fixing various bits of kit. I also have the privilege of working with a very talented Y10 computing student. The stage was set for some real world computing fun.....

Over a few week we have built a system that links a raspberry pi to the current Sonifex Silence Detector. Whenever either the studio feed or the backup feed go quiet, the silence detector triggers an alarm. This causes a relay to connect, joining two pins on the rear DIN connector. The pi connects to these and sends a text, stating which feed is down. Really useful real time information!

The system also sends a text once a week to say it's alive, and if a feed goes down and then comes back, reports that all is well once again. This is a bit of an oversimplification of the program to say the least.

The python program with reads the GPIO inputs on the Pi and sends texts via the USB 3G modem is a really neat bit of software (entirely written by the student). Hopefully I'll post the source code here in time, but we forgot to back it up before installing the device in a hard to access spot. For the meantime, here's a photo-

It looks a bit rough and ready but works a treat!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Why this blog?

Back when I started using twitter as a teacher, I said I would never write a blog! When my sporadic attempts at being a teacher on twitter are hardly high class, how could I deliver a regular stream of high quality content?

However, after some encouragement from other teachers (@PaulGarvey4 amongst others) here is the blog! The focus is obviously science, technology, engineering, maths and computing, but will probably branch into teaching pedagogy, particular that related to emotional and behavioural difficulties.

A bit about me-
  • I trained as a secondary science (biology) teacher at Leicester University via PGCE
  • I've just started my third year teaching at a PRU (it is my first non-supply job!)
  • Raspberry Pi's are awesome, I wish I had more time to experiment and build cool stuff using them. Their education potential is amazing too!
  • Open source software as much as I can, I experimented several times with using Linux as a teacher. However as the rest of the teaching world uses propitiatory software didn't last long!
  • Running to de-stress is great, particularly in the company of a particular crazy spaniel. Been known to do a bit of mountaineering (obviously outside of the South West)
  • A Christian