Cross Curricular Control, BeeBot Games, Home Mades.i Board and Y1

There are a large number of ready made BeeBot Resources available from TTS, these include floormats, sequencing cards and a host of other accesories. We have purchased a number of these to support topic and theme based activity in class, and they go down really well with the students. The Focus on BeeBot Software is something I also recommend strongly, it not only enables on screen work to be developed from floor work with the students, but also has proven really useful, in beginning to enable colleagues to see the value of turtle work as a cross curricular tool. A 30 day trial download of the software can be made from the site above. Included in the package are a number of the floor mats as onscreen mazes, which we have used with the IWB during Numeracy and Literacy Sessions, to promote discussion about the properties of common shapes and to develop phonological awareness. What is also interesting is how the students react to being able to switch views to see the board as the BeeBot sees it. I have recently bought a site licence for this and am looking forward through coaching activities to further developing the use of this tool in Foundation and KS 1 classes.

In addition to the commercially available materials however I have also begun to introduce the idea of using resources we have available already to support BeeBot work in class. Did you know for example that BeeBots like to count. Creating Bus Stop type journeys (as in the Suffolk Empty Number Line Project) for the BeeBot, has enabled group activities to be developed around the use of number lines, and to begin seeing the forward movement of the turtle as addition and the backward movement as subtraction. The BeeBot and Number line have also been used to develop problem solving within the difference model and through for example, our Beebot is thinking of/ is on or at a number, if he counts on, adds, count's back, subtracts X he stops on Y, what number is he thinking of, or where is he? As seen in earlier posts it is also possible to make sequencing and theme based games quite easily, not only as a staff, but also with the students themselves taking an active role in the process.

Estimating, predicting and measuring using non standard units is also a useful mathematical role for the BeeBot, and with our year 1 students I used again the BeeBot Boogie mats we had developed for Y2, but this time to encourage turn taking, social play, prediction and testing within Ma 1. Ma 1 (Using and Applying Mathematics) is central to the New Primary Framework for Mathematics, and the ability to develop concrete visualisation and problem solving strategies, particularly in the context of shape space and measures can be supported through engagement of the students in practical activities supported by this versatile tool. Ideas such as right and left, linear measure, simple fractions, compass direction can all be introduced, or become inherent concepts within activities supported by beebot activity.

At the beginning of this term I used iBoard Purple activities to introduce our overall control unit in Y1, and to conclude we revisited and spent time working with the age specific tools in the iBoard red set, which require a focus on navigating mazes with greater accuracy, and introduce eighths of a turn. It was fascinating to see the students applying floor based work to their onscreen activity, and using taught strategies to think about and identify right and left turns. In other posts I have mentioned the use of gesture, as an indicator, and during these sessions I was really aware of this as evidence of learning, transferring physical whole and part body movements to thoughts about the inputs required to move the mouse, spaceship, bee, and frog about the screen. My Learning Support Assistant and had a great deal of fun engaging with the students with their games, and listening to the cheers, whoops and celebrations, (which attracted some attention from neighbouring classrooms too, OOPS!) Collecting fuel tanks, feeding the hungry frog before his food flew away, and the disappointment when he fell off the lily pads and into the pond were more than visibly evident around the room. If you have no idea what I am talking about, then I strongly recommend you check out the "Which Way, and "Control It" resources in the online trials of the software, which can be found following this link.


Puppets and Animation II: Completing Our Movies

This week I wanted to build on the storyboardng activity from last week, and for each group to develop their own short movies based on the Ramayana. Time was an enormous issue, and concerned that we would not finish on time, I reorganised the activity.

I decided to set the scenario of the class being a film company, where each group would focus on a particular section of the story instead of working to make five individual films. We delegated scenes from the storyboards we had made, dividing the plot into sections, each group filming self styled stories, based around their particular episode.

Using the puppets made in previous weeks, and the digi blues, the students made short animated clips, which on completion were exported to a shared folder.

Coming together as a class we used Microsoft Movie Maker, to import, organise and sequence the clips. Using the Interactive Whiteboard as an editing space, we were able to organise and discuss the sequences of events, as a shared class experience. Drawing parallels between Movie Maker's timeline and the storyboard structure we had used to plan the scenes, we were able quickly to sequence the clips we had developed together, and to add a title frame, and rolling credits.

All that was missing at the end of the session, and I have to blame myself for this, was the popcorn. However with all mobile phones switched off, media player set to full screen, and the lights dimmed much discussion arose from the final outcomes we had created. These have been recorded on thought bubbles, for display with photographs taken, puppets made and storyboards developed over the course of the unit of work.

What has excited me most during the development of this sequence of activities, is how much was gained from the process of engaging with the media as a storytelling device. The students were immersed in the text as they created it, and the story that evolved went through a constant process of revision and review, as they discussed, negotiated and considered how the characters might physically respond to events, or how the actions of the characters could be used to support the narrative they were trying to present. This approach to deconstructing traditional texts is definitely something I will revisit again.


The Journey of a Banana

It was food week, Year 2 were exploring how they navigate internet pages, and comparing life in their current location with that on St Lucia. It can be very easy for students to begin seeing the internet as a play space and not an information source, so from the very beginning of this unit, simple web quests had been built in to our sessions together. The sites we were to use had also been preselected, and linked to our school community pages. Initially they involved students in locating pictures or key words in simplified online texts such as those to be found at schooltrain, but later involved labelling maps from online and CD based atlases, which share many of the features with a web page.

Learning how to navigate and locate information on the web is fine but the next stage is actually learning that we can do stuff with it. In this case we began with the Oxfam Cool Planet Website,
and their Bonkers about Bananas pages. Using these as a starting point, we discussed the origins of Bananas and the processes involved in harvesting them and transporting them from the Windward Islands to the Supermarket and how all this had to happen before the tasty yellow fruit ends up in our lunchbox. The photographs on the site are excellent, and break the process down, as well as providing a map which locates the islands and texts which support discussions about Fair Trade and the lives of banana farmers.

In this session we opened 2 create a Story, and using the teacher options I enabled the full toolset view. With the children at the Interactive whiteboard, we set up a writing frame, by copying the images of the process from the approriate web pages, and pasting them to the image box at the top of each page in the writing frame we were creating. On completion of the process we watched the slideshow, and discussed what text we might add to support our readers in understanding the journey of a banana. We saved the file to the shared space on the network and the children were asked to work in pairs to find, open and begin writing their story of the journey of the banana.

As mentioned in a previous post I introduced pictorial folders to our network in September, and these 6 and 7 year olds have learned through regular practice, how to log on, and how to find their work independently. One or two students still find this a bit of a problem, but most can not only open files they have saved, but are beginning to cascade save their work, adding numbers to redrafts and edits. This has obvious benefits for assessment for learning practices, and in enabling them to go back to previous work, if they make mistakes. The outcomes of the activity was developed over two sessions, the pictorial support structure within the texts enabling them to develop continuity in their work from one session to the next, and in some cases to go back and reread, check and make simple revisions to the texts they had input previously. In the final stages before publication the students were encouraged to recolour their slides, and fonts to make them readable, and to input animation and slide transition effects from the menu. Discussing this first, and the effects we might choose, the students were very choosy about which would bring about the effects they wanted. For example, swinging bananas in trees were given a rocking animation, bananas from the supermarket, were sent spinning or exploding into the shpopping basket, and processes were often faded in or faded out of the frame. Review during the plenary session of the purposes of the animation effects chosen, yielded good reasons for the effects the pairs had chosen. These documents were so exciting, that over the next couple of weeks, I will be including them in Flash format in a gallery on the school website. In the mean time the students have moved a long way from September when they required everything they produced to be printed out, and instead were really excited at the possibility of sharing their work with their class teachers in class on the IWB or through the website, realising the animation effects they had chosen would be missing from any paper based work. This has very exciting possibilities for the view of publishing that these students are beginning to develop. It will be interesting, with the introduction of class Blogs, developments of the school website and the introduction of a VLE, to see just how much of the "textual" work these students develop in the future will be promoted and displayed by them in digital format.

Thinking About Email

Our LA are about to begin a VLE Pilot, and some time over the next two terms some of my younger students will be required to engage with that QCA or LA unit on E mail, as part of our schools' scheme of work. I have often thought about why we teach this unit where we do, and why E mail, a device with such powerful potential seems to be used so little as a learning tool in the classroom.

We use e mail with students in schools largely it seems as an ICT only resource, a device where skills based teaching takes priority over context, meaning and purpose. Yet without purpose and context there is no meaning to learning about or with E mail. In literacy sessions we work with our students to develop their letter writing skills, hopefully in situations where they have a particular audience and purpose for the final outcomes. Within an email environment then we should be expecting the same thing. For sure there are skills specific to emailing which need to be taught and learned, but why are we sending an attachment, what is it's purpose, who am I writing to and why.

I do not feel, that students should only encounter e mail as a subject in the context of ICT. Students and teachers alike would find E mail as a tool more exciting, if units were regularly planned, to include email as part of simulation activities within theme based and topic work. For this to happen we need to see email as more than a unit we teach at year 3, but as a supporting structure for wider curricular activity, which could start through the use of email simulation software in Key Stage one, and develop through shared class work as a starting point or stimulus for ongoing classroom activities with the real thing. I have published a bright ideas page to my website today, what a fantastic christmas present this was, to share some of my thoughts. How about an online interview with Henry VIII at, or keeping in touch with that roving reporter Barnaby as he trots around the globe? What if we could talk to Katie Morag, as a pen pal? Recieve a mysterious time warped message from a Saxon Villager or Roman Soldier stationed at Hadrian's Wall or Caerleon?

A favourite session we ran with Key Stage 2 students a number of years ago, involved a simulated hot air balloon flight. Set up by colleagues from a local secondary school, the students used simulated data, collected by a local ballooner to track his mystery journey from Bristol, until he landed. Within the simulation they were required to keep in contact with him, imaginary flight controllers, the local police and to write and submit press releases for a newspaper we published later to a set deadline in school for parents and other students. It was great fun.

All of these things obviously take time to set up, but as with most ICT resources, once collected, made and saved, sample texts and materials are there to be developed, changed and extended for later reuse. With a view to developing creative curricular and the new longer unit formats for the Primary Literacy Framework, perhaps their is a place for email as a learning tool within these areas, acting as stimuli as well as the ICT tool it is often considered solely to be.


From Floor To Screen: Imaginary Journeys and LOGO

In a previous post I talked about using BeeBots with year 3s to develop floor compasses and promote discussion around the cardinal compass points. Since then we have used Roamers, borrowed from the Local CLC to explore and develop these compasses, introducing numerical values for the measurement of turn, and helping to establish and consolidate the language associated with rotation. We have introduced the idea of right angles, quarter, half, three quarter and full turns as multiples of these right angles, applied 90 degrees as a value of turn in a right angle, and introduced the idea that we can turn easterly and westerly, clockwise and anticlockwise as well as good old right and left. We have also introduced and consolidated the eight points of the compass and derived through our knowledge of halving and doubling, that the turns in between must be 45 degrees more or less than the compass directions we, or our turtle are currently facing. The hardware used for these floor based activities may be quite expensive to buy, but there is no doubt that the concrete and physical experiences they have provided, have made acces to the on screen turtle in LOGO smoother and less painful. They have also informed my intention to buy a class set of floor turtles. Currently my first choice for this is likely to be the Probot, from TTS.

Extending these experiences from floor to screen, the LOGO environment I have chosen to use in school is an open source tool called MSW LOGO . It has none of the bells and whistles of some of the commercially available packages, but with an uncluttered interface, it does exactly what it says on the tin, for this reason I think it is easy to use, with fewer distractions, and is more accesible than many of its counterparts. The turtle is a simple triangle, the apex it's head and the base it's tail. Transferring experiences from the BeeBot (as I didn't use or have access to Probots this time), forward is always towards the head end, back towards the tail. East and clockwise equate with right, and west and anticlockwise the left. A common problem children seem to find with the onscreen turtle is wanting to input up and down for forward and back, encouraging the children to visualise the BeeBot in it's place, helped them to understand what inputs needed to be given, and that head directional movements would be forward, while tail inputs would be back.
Why develop this unit? Well I felt we needed a unit of work for Year 3 which would bridge concrete floor work in key stage one, with the onscreen environment, and that this should incorporate an element of play and familiarisation. The suggested use of LOGO in Year four is quite heavy going, and a steep learning curve for the uninitiated. A nice feature, of MSW LOGO is the ability to import and use background images. Building on previous floor work where we had made treasure trails for the Roamer to follow, and written mystery tours, I decided to extend this on screen. I could have used Roamer World or a host of other similar tools, but was interested in the skills progression and familiarity students could build on later. Besides, with this software, making backgrounds for the turtle to move in is quite straightforward, and good fun too.

Opening MSW LOGO, you can export the workspace as a bitmap, or graphics file. I began by inputting a procedure to draw a very small square at the home position of the turtle, eg repeat 4 [fd 5 rt 90], then saved this as a background. This was then opened in Microsoft Paint, and the background created. The image at the top of the post is what I eventually produced. The icons and compass rose, were made from clipart, which was copied, pasted and resized before placing around the map. This was all done before the land and sea were floodfilled.
Using MSW Logo, the students used the bitmap menu to find and Load the map, and following the main teaching session were left to explore the island, inputting commands to travel to different locations. It was a fascinating to watch the interchanges as children made decisions about whether to turn right and left, by how much, and as they estimated and refined decisions about the distances the turtle would need to travel, adjusting inputs in response to on screen feedback. The physical gesturing and body movement of the students also reflected their thought processes, turning hands, and whole body movements seemed help with their predictive processes. For the remainder of these sessions we will be continuing to build on the outcomes of this session, by writing mystery tours for our friends, consolidating the ideas of the eight points of the compass, before in the the final session using storyboards to record the views on the island, we would see at various stopping off points planned for us by our friends.


Playing With Our Website

I guess as with many of us I have been flooded recently with a plethora of flyers and adverts from people offering to set up Learning Platforms and School Websites, indeed one company recently contacted me to tell me about the fantastic website they had built for a local school, and it was, but I have to admit to being more than a little upset that they had done so without even looking at the one we already had, one which I had spent many hours lovingly tending to. It would have been nice for them to say, how they could offer their services in managing and maintaining our site, rather than assuming we did not have one or offering the editable template structure approach.

As a school we have had a website since 1998, and in that time it has not lead a static existence, but has gone through several incarnations, from my early experiments with visual development tools, through a class based project with my students that was later adapted to become an LA scheme of work unit, having stopped off on its way to form the basis of a local school's network project. Our site's current incarnation began in June last year when I began to reorganise and restructure it with an eye to supporting school based and extended learning within the wider local and educational communities. I recently discovered an article about Learning Platforms which expressed sentiments, I feel that any school website designed for learning should share. Unfortunately since then I have lost this article, but the description was inspirational. Learning platforms were likened to "Railway Stations," places where learners came with a view to travelling to "new destinations," embarking from here to widen their learning horizons. As a community school, with a long commitment to extending and supporting the learning not only of our students, but all stakeholders, this metaphor and vision of a learning platform shares much with my own views on the role school websites.

A website is little more than a navigable filing system, and can be much more than a shop window. It too can act as a portal, somewhere that not only potential clients, but existing stakeholders want to visit, to celebrate and share all that is good about us as a learning community, and a place to share tools and resources that we, our students and wider community can draw on to engage in and extend our learning opportunities.

This weekend I have uploaded the latest version of our website, it has a new look, but still contains all of the previously developed content, reorganised and filed as it had become a little tatty (behind the scenes). It builds on the work that has gone before by including links to new content too, some of which exist outside of the site, with the Teyfant Site acting as a portal, platform or starting point where all of this is pulled together. Some of the new content represents trials and experiments currently going on in school, with emerging technologies. I am pleased to include this time some experimental class blogs, which will grow out of class community pages and community ICT projects and which hopefully will enable delegation of some of the sites maintenance and upkeep tasks. Can't wait to see how these develop. I was intent at the beginning of the year that any learning platform we did adopt should meet our needs and not be bought into solely to meet someone else's agenda. After Easter we will be participating in a pilot scheme, for a commercial VLE, but I would like this to become part of our school's wider web strategy, and meet with our learning agenda. Using the school web site to frame our thoughts about what a learning platform is, and the potential affordances they bring to a school such as ours has already been a beneficial process, but will help us further when we consider what we truly want from the VLE. I feel that our school website has the potential to form the basis of our "learning platform," and that tools such as a VLE, should plug into this, in order to expand it's functionality. Lets just see how things pan out.. What do others think?

Puppets and Animation

Last week as part of their introduction to stop motion animation, my year 4 students worked with potato heads, this week in class they had been sharing the Ramayana as part of their topic work on India. They had made some beautiful articulated stick puppets in class, with jointed limbs, and I felt these would lend themselves beautifully to the work they were developing in the suite.

It was interesting this week with puppets and a familiar story, how the focus of the group's work changed, from ICT skill development, to story telling, and how much better the students became at working together, as they retold the story to each other, and began negotiating next steps, for their work. Previous points of group disagreement found their resolutions in the decisions which had to be made if the story, however short they were trying to tell, was to be achieved. The tasks which evolved were also much more student lead, and the outcomes demonstrated the benefits of structured play activities in previous weeks. At the beginning of this week's session we reviewed some of our previous work as a starting point highlighting some of the diffficulties we had had, including staying out of shot, our excitement to shoot frames before we were ready, and the problems some of us has had in taking turns and working together. Looking at the visual evidence through the films we had made in previous shoots the effects of these were inherent and evident, as moved cameras, or shadows, or hands in shot. Discussing these we decided that the animation, direction and camera activity might work better as a "carousel activity," where everyone had to take turns and would have the chance to take on every group role during this "shoot."

The favourite scene was a battle scene between Rama and Ravana, as you might imagine, with Martial Arts type moves being devised during the short 150 to 200 frame films that were made, rather than the flight of Rama's golden arrow. Some groups also devised a dance scene with Rama and Sita, while one group thinking about how they might tell the whole story in 10 seconds, introduced ideas drawn from experiences of Silent movies and cartoon strips, and added written captions, and speech bubbles.

In our plenary this week we shared the shorts we had created, and it was interesting to see how far the groups had developed in such a short time, and what they had learned about the film making process and use of the camera. The children had used boxes to raise their cameras so that they could shoot down onto the desktop stages we had created. Some characters began their action out of shot and moved into the frame as the action developed, the students had clearly used the onscreen viewfinder to frame shots, as their was little evidence this session of student body parts or shadows in shot, and the quality of movement of characters was smoother. To compile evidence of learning for this unit, as a result of this session I am considering using Movie Maker to pull together the progression of files into one place.

Our next session will be classroom based, building on the work from this session, and developed through a literacy session. The students will work in their groups to plan a retelling of the story, using a storyboard. In the sessions to follow, the group will be encouraged to use the six planned scenes from the story, to shoot six short animated scenes using the puppets they have created, with additional scenery props if needed, made during this time. Building on community ideas developed this week I will also suggest that they might like to consider and create additional support prompts for their story such as captions and speech bubbles. During the final session I am intending that the students be introduced to Movie Maker to compile the clips they have created, and add a title frame and credits.

A common concern I find expressed regarding the introduction of techniques such as this within the classroom is the time element involved, or understanding of the wider curricular potential and relevance such activities can offer. My experiences tell me that often much of the learning which takes place in ICT mediated learning situations, is not readilly evidenced within the outcomes created, though can often be inferred from what has been developed in the process. I am beginning to think that perhaps some of our problems relate to trying to fit too much in, and as a result of this repeating similar things in different formats. What maybe we could consider is how we might be able to do less in order to achieve more. The longer unit format of the New Literacy Framework may help with this. A unit of work on for example playscripts, might see not a traditional written outcome as evidence, but performance of the script through the development of a podcast, video news programme or an animation. Focussed written and practical tasks in the class leading to the eventual perfromance and publishing of this text, for further evaluation of the final outcome, by a wider and real audience. Animation could be linked to a host of traditional text genre, including visual documentary style approaches to the explanation of processes (a sequence describing digestion or the factors necessary for plant growth), journeys (using real or imaginary maps and icons to document an imaginary journey to a remote location), recounts and recording of visual or oral tellings of familiar tales through for example puppets. The final multimodal outcome seen as integral to and emerging from a wider planned engagement with similar text types in other formats, could challenge ours and student perceptions of what texts are, what they are for and how we portray meanings for remote audiences? Literacy activities would also be set in the context of wider subject learning taking place around the unit as it develops, and make use of such tools as the digi blue, more relevant. This is certainly an area I will be reflecting on more widely as I extend my views of what multimodality may mean for ICT and the wider curriculum through the new literacy framework.


2Create a Story: Making Flash Files

Having read Keith's Post about 2 create a Story (2cs), I was reminded of some minor issues I encountered when I first tried to export to flash from the software. I love 2cs as a tool , and am not sure if my issue was a bug within the software at the time or whether it was a by-product of the way it had been installed on our system.

What would happen is when I exported as .swf, the software would create a .2cs file instead. This file could not subsequently be opened in 2 create a story or in flash player, I tried renaming it's file extension to .swf, and this then solved the problem enabling the file to be played in flash player, and to be inserted in my web pages. If you encounter this problem, and feel comfortable with trying out this process, then the Fix I used goes like this.

  1. Follow the save process from 2cs as usual, in the file types box selecting export as flash.
  2. Close 2cs and open windows explorer. Browse for the location where you saved the file.
  3. In the tools menu select folder options and then the view tab.
  4. Scroll down and ensure the hide extensions for known file types box is unticked. Press the apply button, and then ok. All files should appear with their name followed by their extension (eg .htm or .2cs)
  5. Select the file you have just saved, and then right click to rename.
  6. replace the .2cs extension with .swf.
  7. Double click to open the file in flash player.

If this doesn't work, then rename the file with the .2cs extension, and seek advice from 2 simple.

In more recent versions of the software this problem doesn't seem to happen, 2simple I have found are a very approachable company, and having visited their website the other day before writing this, you might rather prefer to call them if you encounter this difficulty, to seek a version upgrade. In the meantime I hope this might be a helpful stop gap.


Thank You

Wanted to say thank you to the ICT Subject Leaders at The I this afternoon, for the opportunity to share some of the things we have been doing in school. I really enjoyed the session, and hope you gained as much as I did from the experience.


Even Potatoes Have Feelings: Introducing Stop Motion Animation Using Digi Blues

A couple of years ago we invested in a set of Digi Blues. This term I have begun to adapt one of our LA units of work for Y4 an introduction to animation. This week being a whole school food week I really wanted to link our session to the work students were doing in class. I had considered, making simple stop motion films using pulses and stuff, but couldn't quite map out what I wanted the students to achieve. Then I remembered Toy Story and the scene where Mr Potato Head having rearranged the parts of his face announces "Hey look! I'm Picasso."
Introducing the session to the students, we explored a colection of characatures I had collected from the web that showed how the shapes of our facial features change, to express our moods. Using a Manga style outline, we began to explore how the character's face might appear according to their moods or feelings.

The children had been previously organised into groups, and roles had been decided on, one child would control the camera, a second would direct and monitor scenes, calling the shots as it were when the scene was clear, while the other's would act as animators, making the small movements neccesary in between each shot.

Each group was given a potato, and a few cocktail sticks. The facial features for our potato head were to be formed from plasticene. The cocktail sticks would act as anchors on the potato while the students manipulated the plasticene shapes to gradually change mood of the forlorn vegetable.

As an introduction to the principles of short film making and stop motion animation the activity was good fun, and the students gained a great deal from the experience. The biggest challenge for them was understanding that the movements of material had to be very small in order that the movements of the character would appear smooth. They also soon discovered on playback that being in shot, meant appearing in the monitor image on screen and not just stepping back, which challenged the director and cameraman.

One problem with the digi blue is the file format that the video is saved in. I have struggled for a while with how we get the files made on these cameras to play on PCs that done't have the softwarw package that comes with them installed, and the solution had been starring me in the face for some time. Importing the .avi files into copies of Microsoft Movie Maker on the same machines, allows them to be exported as Window's Media Video Files, which then can be played in Media Player. It seems that not only the children gained from this experience.


New School Project

This week we began a project with our students, supported by colleagues and friends from Calling the Shots and Creative Partnerships. Our current school will eventually become part of a new school, developed within the DfES "Building Schools for the Future" programme. This will result in the development of a through school campus due to open in 2008-9, the disappearence of our current school buildings and a complete reshaping of the landscape around us.

This Cross Curricular, Living History Project seeks to embed the use of digital technologies in logging and documenting the processes of change and transition during the building of the new school complex. It will provide students with the opportunity to develop their skills in using and editing digital photographs, film making and sound recording while they develop a new area of our school website dedicated to the documentary making process. Within this project we are also taking our first, embryonic steps into blogging, and will as the project develops, begin exploring podcasting as a communications medium.