Geotagging a Learning Journey

On Wednesday afternoon we went for a walk around the school environment with the aim of exploring and capturing digitally features of the existing and currently changing landscape around the site. In previous posts, I have mentioned other projects involving creative partnerships, where students are logging these changes over time by digital means, as the new all through school rises in the space behind our current school building. During discussion with my class the other day, it slowly became apparent just how few of the students had actually noticed some of the more prominent features of the locality they pass everyday. It struck me as interesting how easy it is to assume and take for granted the knowledge and experiences our young cares bring to school of their locality and their place in it.

A couple of questions I have always found interesting to ask students when looking at a landscape painting are "where they think the artist was when they made the image?" and "what do they think might have been behind them, to the left, the right or above the canvas?" I pondered the other day how much I enjoyed sitting on the top deck of a bus, with the chance to see familiar settings from a different perspective, and from this came the idea for a digital landscape walk, using digital photographs to enable students to capture different views from the same location, that we could then use to focus discussion back in the classroom in relation to a map of the journey.

This map created using quikmaps, shows an aerial photograph of the route we followed with the students. Each of the small map pins, showing a staging point on the journey. The students used digital blue cameras at each staging point to capture two images, one looking out from the school into the surrounding landscape, and another after a 180 degree turn that captured the scene looking back towards the school grounds. Back in class the students were encouraged to review their images, identifying and locating on a shared map where each image had been captured, before matching the two opposing landscape perspectives, to locations on the map. To follow up, and as a table top activity, small groups of students were given copies of a blank map and challenged to mark the route they had followed, locate the staging points for themselves before finally mapping their images to their locations.

The students are currently using 2 Simple's 2create, to to develop their own interactive atlases. These are very much in the developmental stage. We have used maps downloaded from World, to create slides that begin with the world and which will progressively zoom down onto the place where we live and work, using hyperlinked buttons to enable this. I am now thinking how interesting it would be to extend the project, by encouraging the students to think about how this tool could be used to to create a textured presentation about our school in its landscape, maybe in a virtual tour type format. Using 2Create, means that the final projects can be exported in flash format for publication to the web, or on the year group blog, providing audience and purpose for the outcomes.

Post Script:

YAY! Thanks to Tom Barrett and Twitter I have now also learned how to add some of the images that the students captured to our quikmap. This is really exciting...


Learning Stories and Comic Life

I eventually got round to buying a copy of Comic Life for PC, from the good folk at TAG Learning on my recent visit to BETT, and having installed it on my laptop, am all geared up to use it as part of my Assessment For Learning toolbox.

In school we keep classroom scrapbooks, where we have begun to use digital photographs alongside written or scribed records of "snippets" from student talk to help tell learning stories. "Narratives of Learning" have been a key feature in my research work, forming the basis for data analysis, as well as acting as a vehicle to share my work with others. Classrooms are multimodal places, and context is key to using "data forms" we collect there. I have come to see learning and teaching events as acts of shared meaning making, where language is the primary mediating tool. Working with young children the ways in we share meanings and negotiate common understanding is usually through tool mediated talk and activity. Despite our knowledge that talk and effective questioning is often more revealing about the processes that students engage in when learning, than the material they record, we still seem to have a strong drive to ensure that what the students do is logged, even if as a dated sentence. What is missing from this as from previous methods of recording progress, tick lists and charts, is frequently the process that lead to the outcome, and the success of the child however small. The joy, the excitement, the disappointment, the shock so readily visible in the faces and gestures of the student, or the gusto and energy that students apply to the tasks they "do," followed perhaps by the surprise or pride in something believed to be so difficult suddenly achievable. Somehow all of this magic, the moments that bring joy not only to the class but that in my opinion, make classroom teaching so worthwhile and exciting, are rarely so transparent or the richness of the experience we shared evident when we look through our exercise books.

I have been incredibly excited by our Class Podcasts and Blog that have begun to inject a student voice literally into the recording system. Context driven activities with a sense of purpose and audience, that have begun to help both my students and myself engage with self review and evaluation, and are beginning through collaborative action to support a growing digital record of the "long Conversation" we have as teachers and learners. I am increasingly aware however that these objects, do not fit into the world of outcome driven assessment. What of the process behind these, the journey and the long conversation hidden behind and that lead to them. Well perhaps tools such as Comic Life can begin to offer me some scaffolding for this.

In PE this term we have been developing "passing and receiving" skills through the playing and designing of simple invasion games, and this week the students have been working in small groups to create their own, with the development in our next session of jigsawing to share our games with each other. The genuine learning experiences that have lead to this would be lost witho0ut the means to log or record them. Armed with digital camera, I had initially thought about creating a PowerPoint Learning story, and then as previously, using PowerPoint for Mac to change these into a video format to share with others. Instead I have opted to use Comic Life, with the students to create comic strips that tell the story behind their game and how it is played. My Numeracy Group require a great deal of practical work and consolidation, and their activities too are often transient mediated by recordings on Dry wipe whiteboards, through talk and the apparatus they use. These experiences are no less important to them as learners, than the need to show progress through written recording. As can be seen in previous posts, these processes too I have been frequently logged using digital Photographs and PowerPoint. I have pondered today, on how the practice of foundation stage colleagues might help me to log these events and processes. Using "post it" notes to record children's talk as we work, that can later be used to annotate digital photographs in Comic Life through the addition of speech and thought bubbles.

Comic Life affords a number of means of publication for the strips developed. They can either be printed out on completion, for inclusion in our scrapbook, or exported to html, for inclusion in our website community pages, adding another means of sharing our activity with carers. On interesting format, that I haven't had a go with yet, is the ability to export as movie. This will be something to play with later.


On Coat Hangers, Clothes Pegs and a Poorly Projector

On Thursday the bulb in my classroom projector, not unlike myself it seems at moments recently, announced that it had moved beyond its recommended usable life. Awaiting its replacement, my planning this week, has moved away from ITPs and Smart notebooks, to perhaps the most flexible investment I have made in recent times, in terms of classroom numeracy resources.

Not digital at all, at least in the computing sense, this tool set consists simply, of a set of plastic coat hangers and 2 sets of coloured cloths pegs, one white and one green. Thanks has to go to colleagues on a recent Y3 Strategy day for introducing these. It is amazing what these things can be used for. Indeed almost anything you can do on a 0-20 bead string, or a bead bar, you can essentially do with these. Setting up numbers of pegs that rely on counting in multiples and then remainders is my current class's favourite thing, right now.. making say 17 in multiples of 3, with the question "what can you see?" Unleashes a world of responses, around the ways in which students have come to recognise the number, and is beginning to support mental processes around multiplication and deriving number bonds to 20. It may also be a nice precursor to meeting the dreaded division including remainders. Presenting the same number on different coathangers, in different ways, eg multiples of 2 and five for example extends this, and is really helping my support group to see how "clever Counting" can help them make their informal and mental calculation processes more efficient. Commercial bead bars and strings are amazing resources to have around, but I really love the flexibility this tool offers to play with visual number patterns, counting, and number grouping. We have also been using them to support individual and paired work, around rounding and partitioning, in deriving number facts that cross ten boundaries, as well as supporting the consolidation of number bonds and their stories, to support empty number line work.

This week we are working on Fractions, and so alongside dominoes etc they will be used to look at doubling and halving among other things. Bead Strings, Bead Bars really useful tools... But sad as it may sound.... I am loving my coathangers and pegs...


Starting with Bobby: Exploring Repeating Patterns in a Mathematical Context

Meet Bobby, a tile character I initially created this morning, to accompany me as I began to explore and think through some of the mathematical possibilities in using QCA ICT Unit 4b to explore repeating patterns. In a previous post I presented some ideas around how I have used these ideas and processes to develop a Design and Technology focussed project using MS Paint. Here I wanted to take a different tack, and expand on and explore another context where I found the process useful, in exploring the language of shape and space through a mathematical context.

Why MS Paint? Well since the PCs I use in school, all run Windows, and those of my students who have computers at home generally work within this environment, paint is a tool, that we have ready access to, frequently underused and exploited, there is the possibility that if excited and motivated by the tasks we develop, the students may choose to extend ideas away from school.

In beginning projects involving repeating patterns I favour an approach where my students begin by making their own tiles, using simple shapes, copy and paste, alongside flip and rotate, to develop more complex designs, that can eventually be used to develop their patterns. Repeating patterns activities such as the one I am thinking through in this post, have it seems to me enormous mathematical potential, an affordance we may not readily associate with graphic and painting packages.

Beginning with the development and creation of a set of tiles based on irregular polygons, such as an L shape, which we can describe as an irregular hexagon or hexagonal, and others such as these examples.

The sessions might be developed from the limiting of tool use, and copy and paste to develop initial tiles exploring different polygons that can made using only 2 rectangles, perhaps expanding to explore polygons that can be made using 3 and so on, and then using these tiles to support discussion around the properties of shapes. Perhaps we might explore the number of right angles they have? Are the angles always right angles, perhaps inviting reasoning about why the students think this might be the case? What happens if we overlap rectangles? How does this alter the possibilities for polygons we can make?

In developing these relatively simple "objects" we have begun to think mathematically about the activities we are going to engage in as the process unfolds, and this can be further built upon using the flip and rotate tools as we move to develop our tiles. In MS Paint the flip and rotate dialogue box offers options to flip horizontally or vertically and to rotate an object through 90, 180 or 270 degrees. These can be compared with 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 turns, that our students may be familiar with through their use of tools such as the BeeBot floor turtle, and maybe even related to table top work related to using mirrors when exploring symmetry. Here we can begin to introduce or develop the use of numerical values for right angle turns with visual modeling and exploration of effect being developed as children create new tiles based on copy, paste and rotation of their original tiles. The idea of angle and a measurement of angles being related to rotation and turn around a point being introduced at the same time, through discussion and exploration of the effects applying these tools to the objects has.

This tile was created by copying and pasting one of my irregular polygons 4 times, rotating it each time progressively through, 90, 180 and then 270 degrees, and overlaying each newly pasted tile onto those pasted previously. From this context there is the possibility to expand on discussions begun around my Polygon activity, by exploring further, ideas around the properties of the tile and shape created. This shape possesses no line symmetry, as it was made by rotating tiles, it may be rotationally symmetrical however as all of my rotations were through right angles. We could test this together, using copy and paste, and the flip and rotate tool, with the object set as a transparent layer, and by dragging the tile over the original, to observe whether or not the tile is rotationally symetrical. We could also ask what the children notice about the angles? Again theyare all right angles, why might this be so? Using the tile, we pasted and the flip and rotate tool, we can make a tile or a shape that does possess line symmetry?

This tile was made using the "flip vertical" tool in MS Paint, by copying the tile, pasting it and then dragging to touch or tessalating the two tiles. What will happen if I copy this whole shape and join this to my other tile? How many lines of symmetry do I have? What effect will "flipping" this tile vertically have on the pasted shape and the one I make as a result of tessellating them?

Moving on from these simple tiles, the children could be challenged to make their own designs, firstly using rotation tools to make their own simple tiles and then flip tools to make symmetrical tiles, that they can tessellate, by repeated copy and paste.

Patterns are governed by rules, having produced their tesselating designs and saved, these they can then be coloured using flood fill tools, to follow either given rules or support reasoning and generalisation around visual lines of enquiry. Using save as in between each step of the activity, eg

  • Using two colours, make a pattern where no two shapes adjacent to or next to each other are the same colour,
  • Create a design where adjacent columns or rows are different colours?
  • Use three colours to create a diagonal pattern?
  • Use your design, save as and 2 different colours to investigate the different ways in which you can paint half, quarter, three quarters of your design.
  • Use a multiples of 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 pattern to colour your design.
  • Colour your design using a multiples of 3 pattern, and then a multiples of 6 pattern. What happens to your design, when the new rule is used? What about a multiples of 2 and 4 pattern, or 5 and 10? What happens to my pattern if I use three colours and paint a multiple of 2 4 and 8 pattern?
These rules would obviously be varied and increase or decrease in complexity of language use and reasoning required according to needs of the students. The students might also be encouraged to design their own rules for patterns, and to apply these, or to challenge their friends to follow them.

As a bit of an afterthought a great follow up to these tasks would be to use a tool such as MS Photostory, to enable children to use and rehearse mathematical language and reasoning by including the digital outcomes of their tasks within a presentation. Dragging the images developed into Photostory, the students might use ideas from discussions they have engaged in during tasks, to record orally their work, ideas and findings as voice overs supporting their images, describing the processes they went through, and using and applying vocabulary developed during the sessions within the production of their presentation. The completed videos would make exciting evidence of learning while also supporting student understanding in using and applying mathematics activities and puzzles, as well as acting as a vehicle for sharing their work with others. These could be published for friends in school, but could also be added to blogs or VLEs for comments by visitors.

What happened to Bobby?

Well here he is and as I have been writing this he has not been far from my mind, in fact I have had a really challenging time working with my fussy friend, while in a mathematical frame of mind, to think about how I could use him to support systematic investigational work with a year2/3 Class or group. How about the possible colour combinations he could wear...
Despite his complexity, and his inability to tessellate, in his current form he does make some interesting designs and patterns, when used on his own initially to form part of an investigation. I wonder what combinations of trousers and jumpers are possible using only two colours, and what would happen if I had three Colours to choose from to make these combinations? How many different ways could he be dressed using four different colours? This as a simple pattern design would make a really attractive wall display!

Maybe extending this to make an initial tile, and using some of the rules from our investigation, we could systematically reapply the investigation to decorate these tiles, For this pattern I had three colours, and tried to find the different combinations I could use to colour opposite characters the same while rotating the colour fills between them.

As a discussion point, there other whole class possibilities for using some of my original more complex patterns using Bobby. Using an open ended question I might be able to use some of these following student engagement with tasks like those above.......
Perhaps embedding this pattern into a smart notebook, I could use a hide and reveal techniques to explore the patterns and shapes, asking questions such as What can you see? Is there anything else you can tell me? What shapes can you see? Is their anything special about the colours I have used, and the way I have used them? Encouraging responses and answers to be given in sentences, asking why do you think that? and seeking responses that require and support students as they use not only I think.. or I can see ... statements, but require reasoned "because" type responses to be formulated, perhaps through paired discussion teacher modeling and group rehearsal.


LOGO Routines: Building Polygons

In my search log on Feedburner today I had an interesting search request, "probot hexagon instructions." I am assuming that this was from someone seeking help in writing or inputting a routine for the floor turtle that will generate a hexagon.

Creating a regular polygon with the Probot is similar to doing so with LOGO, though the tool has its own programming quirks. This post is intended to be a generic response to help with a variety of tools and I hope it pays off. To draw shapes, commands can be input to such devices either by repeatedly inputting a turn size followed by a distance (this represents a side length), or by creating a repeat [procedure].

Turns are measured in degrees, and the size of the turn inputted depends on the number of sides and turns you want the turtle to make in drawing the shape. On completion of the shape, the turtle will make one full turn of 360 degrees, so the size of the turn each time will be 360 degrees divided by the number of turns.

Lets reason for a minute and say I wanted to draw a square. What do I know about the properties of a square. Well it is a regular shape, it has 4 equal sides and 4 equal angles. To draw the shape my turtle will need to travel along the shape's perimeter, turning 4 times, after traveling the same distance between each turn. Since a square is regular every turn, angle or corner will need to be the same size.

By the time the turtle has finished its journey around the square it will have made one complete turn or rotation. A full turn is 360 degrees. each turn must be 360 divided by 4, every turn inputted will need to be 90 degrees, if each turn is to be equal.

Since my square is a regular quadrilateral all forward distances will also need to be the same, as all sides are the same length.

To make my square then I might input each step individually

fd 50 rt 90, fd 50 rt 90, fd 50 rt 90, fd 50 rt 90

pressing go or enter in between each step

or since I want to go fd 50 rt 90 four times, I could use a rpt command and enter a procedure like this

Using the Probot

Rpt 4 [
Fd 50
Rt 90


To Square
Rpt 4 [ Fd 50 Rt 90]

before pressing enter or go. End tells my turtle, that once it has done everything in the brackets 4 times I want it to stop.

Usually I need to name a procedure like this, so I might call this one square.

Changing Shape

Within a procedure if I want to change the shape I make, I need to change the size of the turn.

In order to calculate the turn size, I need to know how many turns the turtle will eventually make to complete the shape, and then to divide this by the size of a full turn ie 360.

LOGO and use of the floor turtle is a fantastic context in which to set investigations and multistep problem solving involving the properties of shape.

Equilateral Triangles need 3 turns of 120 or 360/3
Regular Pentagons 5 turns of 72 or 360/5
A Regular Hexagon 6 turns of ? or 360/?


Can you calculate the turn sizes necessary to create all of the regular polygons with angles totaling 4 to 10. (ie squares to decagons)

Insert a pen to the probot or floor turtle, or in LOGO ensure you have typed pd, or pendown before you begin

Test your predictions by substituting your turn and repeat values in your procedures?

Make and then save procedures for each shape by name, and test these do they still make the shapes you predicted?

What happens if.. I repeat 6 [hexagon rt 60] end
What happens if.. I repeat 10 [hexagon rt 36] end

Can you find other pairs of numbers, that when multiplied together make 360, try substituting these in the routine, for the repeat and turn numbers, what happens?

These activities should work equally well with floor turtles and a variety of on screen LOGO based environments, though be warned each tool and environment will have its quirks so be prepared to play with the kit first, to ensure you are familiar with these. I hope this is helpful.

Want to play with onscreen control at home, why not try MSW LOGO, a personal favourite freeware download for educational use from softronix. The processes and procedures can be practiced here and then adapted to work with other tools. There are also some really helpful guides hidden behind the scenes on the website so check these out too.


Video Clips from the BBC Learning Zone

Again from ictopus, but this time the news pages. Have you visited the BBC Learning Zone's Clip Library. Following this link will take you to a Phonics Clip called "Sophies Scrapbook," based around the the long vowel sound picture "ea." There are many others including Magic Pencil Videos, from "Words and Pictures." I only surface skimmed the library, which is divided into Primary, Secondary and College Level zones. I hope you find the space useful, and strongly recommend that if you have not done so yet, you first of all visit and then subscribe to the ictopus website.

Winged Sandals: Thinking Around Writing Myths from a Multimodal Starting Point

In this post I want to share a great website I discovered last year. From the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Winged Sandals is themed around Ancient greece, and plays host to 4 beautifully presented flash movies of Greek Myths.

Our narrative unit in literacy sessions this term is based around Myths and Legends. and so I wondered if the materials presented here, might ignite the students enthusiasm, for a genre where the language structures can be complex and difficult to understand.

During the first week of the teaching sequence we used some of the beautifully illustrated traditional texts we had available to introduce how Myths as oral stories, were created to explain natural phenomena. We chose three stories from Nordic and Greek mythology around the theme of creation. These were photographed and the resulting images used in smart notebooks as shared texts. Once in the notebook, pens and highlighters were used to annotate the texts, and to help us identify and highlight the features of the text type for charting and inclusion in our VCOP displays and writing ladders.

Another way to share texts from digital photographs, is through use of the slideshow tool, an integral part of Windows XP's fax and picture viewer. On Smartboards, though I am sure other whiteboards will allow something similar, images can be annotated, and then captured along with additions to the notebook for saving and later reference.

Despite loving the stories and the strange names and places, accessing the text itself independently was problematic for some of our students. To support this, and the key reason we chose to embed these images in a notebook for sharing, was that we began the stories with a rub and reveal activity. This was intended to develop the idea of using the images as reading prompts, and to begin introducing more complex words, such as character names before we engaged with the story itself.

"Rub and reveal," is an Interactive whiteboard technique that involves inserting objects to a notebook page, painting over them and then with students, using the eraser tool to uncover sections of the object a piece at a time. In 2 previous posts, Images from the Past 29/04/07 and Hide and Reveal Techniques 17/02/07 I expanded on this technique, which I have found particularly useful in using images to support student talk in inferential work and reasoning around texts.

Returning to Winged Sandals, this week we decided to use the story of "Perseus and Medusa" as our focus text. Our choice of this as a text was in part due to the appeal of presentation, but also the structure of the movie and how we thought it lent itself to the key objective we wanted to explore
  • To use beginning, middle and end to write narratives in which events are sequenced logically and conflicts resolved
Organised like a TV series, the movie presents this quest myth in 3 short episodes, bite size pieces that essentially divide the story into its beginning, middle and end. Over three days, the students were involved in 3 very similar tasks, where we invited them firstly to engage with and respond to the text, through paired, group and class discussion, before finally using the outcomes of these activities to develop storyboard based plans for their retelling of the tale during big write time this week.

As the shared text, we drew on multimodal analysis techniques to engage with the story. First of all episodes were engaged with minus one of their key modes,
  • Without sound
  • Without visuals

Children were encouraged between "viewings" or "listenings" to talk about and think together around key ideas, such as
  • Where the story or this episode might be taking place?
  • what clues did we have from what had been seen or heard?
  • What were the characters like? How did we know?
  • What happened as the episode progressed? How was this different to the previous episode? What might happen in the next?
  • Who did the children think was the hero and why?
  • What did we find out about the other characters?
Following this inferential process, the students watched the story again, but this time with all modes available. In talking twos and small groups the children were asked to compare what they thought, with what they had gained additionally from the whole text. Had their opinions changed? If so how had they changed? What clues were there in the story that supported their ideas?

As follow up from the reading activity, students were given storyboards, including screen captures we had made that featured key moments from the story, and encouraged to compose super sentences, that they could use later, when they came to write their own version of the myth. Openers for each new episode were of particular importance, because we wanted to be able to move our readers from one part of the quest to another, and begin to think about how we enable changes in "sequence, place and time in a way that would give coherence" to our story overall.

Explaining paragraphing can be difficult, but I think this video offers enormous possibilities for helping with this too. Each episode, as representation of a beginning, middle and end, allowed the children to see this story recount as existing in 3 parts. Each episode representing a particular part of the story, was in a sense a visual paragraph, and the sentences we developed in our storyboards, the beginning middle and end of these. The students really enjoyed this story, and the visual and auditory nature of the experience I hope, through the charting process will give us points of reference to draw back to as we move into the guided and shared creation of our own myths.

This week as we move on we want to familiarise the students with a local legend. Our school at the base of the Dundry Slopes is very close to the Stanton Drew Stone Circle, a site with a story all of its own. Building on the multimodal approach we have begun, We want to introduce not only the text, but also to begin thinking about the setting and scene. We have made a collection of photographs, at different times of the year and day, have a version of the story retold by some Y4 students a couple of years ago, and as I ponder this morning, am thinking about how music might help stimulate thought and thinking about language use, perhaps adding the use of Clannad, Enya or even well chosen Mike Oldfield tracks to support slideshows and zones of relevance activities we already have planned. Placing the students in the story, the legend tells of a wedding feast that goes wrong, so we have decided as later authors, needing to retell the tale, they should be the official wedding photographers, and as things begin to unfold, they discover they have only space for three photographs that tell the story of the day. The magical nature of events and the place opens a window that means they can move back and forward through the story to capture and revisit key events. Using a film strip story board/map, and based on freeze framing, the children will be encouraged to record pictorially key scenes from the wedding feast and so the legend, to form the beginning middle and end of our writing week next week. Drawing on these we should be able to relate back to the episode structure of "Perseus and the Medusa," to help the students see, how our story might be presented as three paragraphs, featuring a beginning middle and end. Our big write , rather than a narrative this week will be a poem, (though some students might decide to structure this as a narrative) using figurative and descriptive language or phrases collected from our engagement with images and the story, that will hopefully inspire adventurous use of language when we develop a version of the story we can publish. Interestingly when we were discussing this, we wondered about the idea of writing a picture book for younger students, however we also began to discuss whether since we wanted to challenge the student's use of language, whether we might not rather consider writing for an older year group instead. This is something I think we still have space to negotiate, and it will be interesting to see what the students themselves have to say about their preferred audience.


Object Lessons

I recieved my lessons2go mail from ICTopus today, and was inspired by the possibilities that might be afforded through images presented in the online archive today's activities were based around...

"Object Lessons
is an online display of about 200 objects from Islington Artefacts Library. The site has high quality images and information on each object."

I was just pondering how some of the ideas I presented in an earlier post entitled, "images from the past," might work alongside the activities presented within the site. Or even how these images might be used as standalone, starting with an image tasks, using the IWB to support inferential work and thinking together.

BETT 2008: More than just a toy, control highlights from the show

What was great this year, was to see some really creative new examples of environments developed to facilitate control and sensing activities through existing tools.

Go-robo, was a real surprise and a wow, I had a long chat today with colleagues at this stand, about the scripting environment they had created for desktop programming of the Robosapiens "toy," or "gadget." Like most controllable toys, the classroom or curricular application and use can be easily lost to non initiates or those who might not readily see the relevance to learning about ICT. This new software environment, currently existing as three packages, is a potentially exciting resource and development since the "toy" is something students may already have at home. Talking to a colleague recently who bought a RoboRaptor for one of his children, said he had stopped playing with it. Colleagues at the show suggested non engagement with the "toys" may stem from the complexities of learning to program them alone, and suggesting the view of these robots as toys oversimplified them. What greater motivation and relevance might there be for learning about control, monitoring and sensing than being able to bring something from home, have it placed centrally to a learning experience. For several years now the development of control and monitoring within the National Curriculum for ICT, have been highlighted as areas of national concern, here we have the potential not only to have control being developed at school, but children building personally on their experiences beyond the day. I am hoping I can persuade our LA support teachers and colleagues at CLCs to explore further and look into this tool on behalf of the city's ICT community. A couple of my students turned up on the last day of term with their RobRaptors on the last day of term, and in retrospect and after seeing the demo at the show am now quite disappointed at how they seemed to be used as large action figures. This really opened my eyes to a potential tool for learning that I had missed. Hey Simon what do you make of this?

The other control environment I really liked the look of was 2simple's 2control nxt. I will follow up on this later, as I took away a demo to play with. Last year I concentrated time on using tools we already had to develop an initial progression in control from foundation to y6. Beginning with the beebot and iBoard in the early years, moving through roamer (this year to be replaced by our class set of Probots) and LOGO in the middle years, and leading to Flowol with its onscreen mimics and flow chart based programming structure in y6.

Our current framework moves us through practical floor work using oral rehearsal and active flowcharting processes, with student recorded routines, and non pc based scripting until y3. Here floor based and practical flowcharting is extended to exploratory onscreen scripting, based on visual feedback, and driven through LOGO. Our dependence on onscreen work with LOGO and onscreen output is also heavily script driven between y4 and 5 with a return to flow chart based input processes with Flowol and its mimcs in Y6. 2Simple's 2control nxt, offers both scripting and flowcharting structures to be used alongside each other, enabling modelling through onscreen "mimics" based around LEGO NXT, and remotely through interfacing with and inputting programs to so called NXT bricks, 2Control working lego models. Within this environment a version of LOGO is used as a scripting tool alongside flowcharting to support input processes. As I said I still have a considerable amount of playing to do, and I am sure what I have said here fails to do justice to the tool. suffice to say on first glances it seems to fit nicely within and build upon the existing progression we have, as well as having obvious links to my other area of curricular responsibility DT. After further play, I am sure I will want to return to this later.

BETT 2008: Podium 2

In addition to Honeycomb, I was also interested in getting a sneak peak at the upcoming podium upgrade. Podium is already one of my suggested primary school toolbox essentials, but I am sure one of my current students J will be excited by what I saw today.

He has been asking for a while now how he can get background music into the podcasts we have been making. Up until now the solution would have been to use a tool such as Audacity. But in a couple of weeks or so we should be able to upgrade our familiar tool Podium and enable play with multi track recording, and so the addition of texture to the files he wants to produce. To enable this the interface has had an add track button added to the sound recorder. Each new track has an independent volume control enabling adjustments of sound levels to be made on each new track. Using the import tool, sound files can be added to these, as before, but where in the previous versions sound files acted rather like punctuation in a sentence, breaking up a linear soundtrack, these will allow for the addition of texture, by laying sounds over or under existng recordings. This is a really exciting development again for multimodal text development. From the initial demo, the tool again seems to look back to the object based roots of Softease Tools, with sound clips on new tracks dragable fo placement in new locations on a timeline, enabling sound effects or music to be added to coincide with particular points in the soundtrack. Can't wait to get our upgrade, and to see what the students can achieve next in writing with sound. Perhaps it really is time to have a go at creating a radio show.

Bett 2008: Softease Honeycomb

First impressions of this per pupil subscription based web 2.0 development environment for schools, led me to ask for a follow up onsite demo at school, and to discuss pricing initially for 250 user s with colleagues on the Softease stand.

What is Honeycomb? "In a nutshell, an integrated set of online creativity and collaboration tools that work through the Internet." (Softease 2008)

Based on the familiar object based functionality of other software in the softease stable, A range of web style pages can be quickly and visually compiled within a "wysiwyg" environment. Including page elements is achieved simply by dragging required components onto a page from prepared libraries, and then using familiar drag and drop techniques to place and resize the objects. Images, video and audio content, can be selected from available material within the environment or developed/downloaded and then imported for upload and use in a shared library, either by the teacher or the students. This may at first glance seem complex, but experiences with students using blogs and have shown how quickly students come to understand the idea that unlike local applications, web based material cannot be simply created by copy and paste. Text is also added to pages by drag and drop, by creating a text box object and then typing into it. Since the environment is object based, every item on the page is movable, by clicking and dragging, so items placed on the work space can be dragged and rearranged until the author is happy.

This is quite a development, in terms of the work I have previously done with students. for example, which I still think is a fabulous and powerful place to work with students is essentially modular, with each page being developed through the addition of blocks. Blogging too has a linear feel, with each new post, being added to the page in an essentially linear fashion. What I found appealing about Honeycomb, is the individual design element it begins to facilitate for the student. In some ways it reminds me of the Microsoft Publisher type approach to page design, but with direct publication of outcomes possible. In this way it is possible to bring to the environment a feel for the way you would like your page to look, and then to apply page elements to achieve this. For me viewing textual engagement multimodally requires this page design element to brought into play as a feature of writing as well as reading, and so this environment as a structure for learning about web based texts has possibilities for engaging students with available page designs on the web, allowing evaluation, and extension of work to consider how as authors in this environment we intend to engage our readers.

"Honeycomb is about pupil creativity and collaborative learning. This is at its heart, and its future direction will be founded upon this premise. This is why Honeycomb, similar to our previous release Podium, has been designed to serve specific education purposes and is suitable for pupils of all ages and differing abilities. As far as we’re aware such a development is currently unique in the market place." (Softease 2008)

The environment states an intent to enable pages to to be developed that perform a host of functions, currently these include wiki spaces to support collaborative work, the development of web pages and blogs. Although I am an enormous fan of, and have begun to extend this work through blogging, as I said above both these environments are essentially linear in there nature. That is to say the young user of these spaces have no design control over page layout and design. I have favoured the use of other environments such as PowerPoint, 2simple's 2create, MS Publisher to enable engagement with the process of page design and layout, embedding these within html pages to give web life to them later. The structure of and tools available within the Honeycomb environment may for the first time provide a context in which my students could have their first taste of real, multimodal web design.

I am by no means a company man, favouring instead and strongly committed to a multiple tool and environment approach to the teaching of ICT skills. I would not be happy providing one tool for my students to fulfill all needs. There are still some things I want to further investigate through demo.

Looking at this tool, I am interested in its possible role in content management and development. And how we might be able to use it to support student and colleague ownership over the development of publishable web based content.

Purpose and contextual use of tools for communicating is key I feel in the development of learning with and about ICT. We use a number of other tools to develop material for web publication. The power for example of flash packaging material through export from 2 simple environments, has been incredibly powerful in enabling our students to publish material to the web through a third party. I am sure an argument might be that with Honeycomb, this would not be necessary as the students can use the environment itself to communicate multimodaly, but there are affordances within tools such as this that are currently not available, and personally I like the idea of using a range of software environments to explore representations, using this common format would enable cross compatibility. I am still not clear just how possible this is within honeycomb, though a suggestion was hinted at by importing flash applications to the picture library.

Used to working in Think, I am familiar with the leaving of stickies, messages on pages, by other students. Within honeycomb students can also leave comments as with blogs in the real world, but an exciting dimension to this tool for those of us interested in assessment for learning, is because the environment is object based, special icons can be left in addition to comments on particular page elements. By dragging these and associating them with an object, perhaps a gold star, or a tick, can be used to indicate elements that are liked, with perhaps, a comment being left to suggest an area for improvement. I like this and its potential affordance to engage students in self and peer evaluation. The "two stars and a wish," strategy seem to take on a whole new dimension here.

I know that Honeycomb is not intended as a web content and management environment, though one of the possibilities it seems to potentially afford, is that of student and colleague ownership through the development of communities within school. I would be interested to see how this might or could be developed to allow closed project development, that can eventually be opened live to the web via the school website. This links closely to some ideas I have already begun to develop through blogging in class, and have experienced regarding blogging projects in other schools. I am looking forward to exploring some of these questions and ideas further with James when we meet later this term.

Me and My Mobile 2: Task List and Word for mobile

This is great, been looking forward to it all week, and at last sitting toasty on the retimed 8.15 train for Paddington, am finalising tasks for my visit to BETT today. Targets

  • To leave with as little paper as possible,
  • Pick up a few trial software samples to try out at home and with the students.
  • Review some of the new control titles especially "2Simple control nxt" and "Go-Robo," though a chance to look at flow go and Flowol 3 at first hand would also be good.
  • Get a demo of "honeycomb," from Softease, and take a look at "Podium 2" before the upgrade arrives
  • Pick up a copy of Comic Life.
  • Take another look at the Asus PC, a platform I first saw at the hhl conference, but following feeds this week seems to getting a lot of interested press from fellow bloggers.
  • Touch Base with Anthony Evans, am really looking forward to this as we have chatted through Google, and Twitter for a ages now, but really looking forward to meeting him face to face.

This year I am traveling light. a packed lunch, PDA, digital camera, mp3 player, Guardian Link E Supplement, and show badge. Preparing for the visit over the last couple of days, I copied acrobat floormaps to my PDA, and created a to do list, of personal must sees and dos based on recent press and industry releases, adding stand numbers to help find my way round. Now with Latte in hand, and the flooded landscape of the South West England flowing past the window (literally it seems, after last night's heavy rains, the River Avon now occupies fields that usually meet the railway) am Reading the guardian link e supplement, and adding to the already full day I have planned. Fortunately some of these coincide with stands I intended to visit anyway such 2Simple's proposed online tool set.

Its been a while since I used one finger typing, a process currently akin to input through the PDA touch screen. So far it has been really slow going writing this entry but hopefully as I become more familiar with the keyboard this will speed up. Mobile Word being compatible with the PC version means I can draft thoughts today, and then do revisions and editing on screen when I get home before uploading to my blog later. In addition I want to see just how portable and flexible the tool can be, by perhaps using some of the ideas raised at the Handheld Learning Conference around, "collect, store and share," capturing images as well as my ramblings in one place, to transfer and share later in another format, and so fits with my multi tool approach to teaching and learning with ICT.
Today's posts are part of a personal experiment and will form part of a series of me and my mobile posts, that I discussed previously.

In addition to the wireless keyboard, I really must look into the process of adding mobile Internet access to the tool. Reading this as I write, it seems odd that current reflections will actually be read after the fact, asynchronously and back dated. Visiting HHL and experiencing the liberating feeling of mobile access and particularly "moblogging," it seems to me that the real power of this process for students, combined with web 2.0 tools would come from publishing on the move, and the sequence of events in diary type entries if seen live as they were written. Anyway thats something for later, but is already something that has got me thinking.


Me and My Mobile 1: New Year's Resolutions

Been off Blog for a few weeks, feet up and unwinding. While browsing my feeds I came across a link to David Salaguinto's online comic "Office Offline," where I found this comic strip among many that might just suit me as a starting point, for something I have been meaning to get stuck into for quite some time.

My resolution, is easily broken, so that probably makes it a good one, and is to use my recently acquired PDA to help organise my time better. In my classroom I feel organised and in control most of the time. At home too things are usually OK, but creating a balance between the things I want to do and those things I need to do for work I often find problematic. I used to be so good at using a diary, but this has slipped ion recent times and is something I really have to do something about. Another issue is that despite being digitally driven, I still seem to have to carry around an inordinate amount of paper, that gets put down, buried or is never where I want it when I want it.

To some this entry may seem obvious, but I am a relative mobile newbie, so I hope visitors will bear with me. So far what I am liking about this process, and linked to the strip, is that as an MS Outlook user, I have tended to store contact details, my calendar and email here. As a Windows Mobile based platform the PDA I am using, allows me to synchronise it with Outlook so any additions or changes made on my PDA or PC are shared between the two devices, when I dock it to recharge, I therefore get reminders at home and at school about what is coming up, when I log on, and have access to all my contacts, or recently downloaded emails to view or follow up on when I find time.

Last weekend I visited BETT, and began to play with some ideas from previous posts around, "collect, store and share," concepts that seem key to the affordances that mobiles potentially offer to teaching and learning. For me anyway it was a liberating experience to sit on the train and in a coffee shop, using Mobile Word to draft and jot ideas for posts, without the set up ritual that would have been necessary, in lugging about and booting up my laptop. The immediacy of turning on the machine was lovely, even if for the moment anyway it has meant a return to stylus driven single finger input. A later additional and pleasant surprise from this was discovering that table based planning frameworks used in school were compatible with Mobile Word, and that I was able to open, read and edit these on the machine. Why this wouldn't be I suppose is the question I should now be asking myself, perhaps its because the interface didn't present a table tool. Anyway being able to have my "plans in my pocket" to read through and review this week has been great, with the bonus of being able to revise, edit or annotate these in response to ongoing circumstances. Does this excitement, mean I have actually found a new year's resolution that I can stick to?


Happy New Year

I've been a touch quiet on the blogging front deciding to make my Christmas this year a holiday, promising myself I would put up my feet, kick back and spend some quality time with family and friends. Although good for me this has been a little disconcerting for some friends, who find it difficult to imagine my being away from the computer for so long. I have to say that I had some help in alleviating withdrawal by taking my EDA with me, and spending the odd ten minutes here and there playing with this, familiarising myself with some of the tools, even if in the main this consisted of playing the incredibly addictive "bubble breaker."

The highlight of the break, besides going home to my native Northumberland, and time with close family, was New year visiting a colleague and friend in Cumbria who left Bristol last Summer to return to her roots. As I drove through the landscape she now calls home again, I realised why.

Maybe its an age thing, but I frequently find myself these days having pangs for the open space, fresh air and breathtaking scenery of home. Walking by Wastwater, in the rain on new years day, surrounded by the majesty of the mountains stirred thoughts in me again about returning home.

School began again last Monday, and Saturday saw my annual visit to the BETT show. Sadly I was not able to make TeachMeet, congratulations to all, I heard on the grapevine how much everyone enjoyed it. Again the day was a fantastic excuse to play with and explore my PDA and to begin thinking about the concepts of "prepare, store and share." I have a number of draft posts, waiting to be reviewed and published.

School this term has a distinctly geographical flavour, with Control being our ICT focus, though I am also currently thinking through some web 2.0 data logging activities using quikmaps and Google. The students are already asking when our next podcast will be, suggesting what it might be about, and hopefully over the next week or so I will begin publishing a few newish ideas and thoughts.

In the meantime I'll leave you with this. Britain's Favourite View, as voted on the BBC. Unfortunately when I took this photograph on New Years Day, the mist was down and it appeared the decorators were in, but beautiful nontheless.