BlockCAD: Modelling Onscreen with "Lego" Style Blocks

I have had lots of fun playing with BlockCAD in between my other dabblings this week. This freeware tool has been pointed to for a while now by colleagues, with referals through feeds from and my colleagues on Twitter. Having seen it used in school on a Teachers TV programme this week I thought it was time to have a play for myself.

BlockCAD, is a computer aided design (CAD) environment allowing its user to build onscreen, 3d models using LEGO type bricks.

Screenshot From Anders' Corner of the Web home of BlockCAD

On opening BlockCAD the user is presented with an empty base board in the main design window onto which bricks can be laid. The dimensions of this board are not fixed and can be changed by typing the desired dimensions into text boxes to the bottom right of the window labelled base. To the right of the design window is a component gallery. To begin your creation, select your block clicking and dragging it to the baseboard. Clicking the left mouse button locks it in place. Rotating a block is achieved by right clicking the mouse before placing it. Within the gallery are a wide selection of blocks, that include many familiar components including wheels, windows, doors and so on. The colours of these components can also be changed by clicking the colour pallete above the component window.

I found that it was easiest to place bricks accurately if the baseboard was rotated to a plan view. Rotation tools on the tool bar allow the models you build to be turned through 360 degrees in both vertical and horizontal planes at any time during the construction process. There is no undo button. Deleting a brick requires the use of a mouse and del key combination. Pressing the del key before clicking on the brick in question, highlights the brick with a frame and hitting the del key again removes the brick from the model.

Throughout the making process the 3d model as a whole structure can be viewed from diffferent perspectives using the rotation tools. Using the capture tool, images of these various perspectives can also be captured and saved. Clicking the capture tool opens a dragable window that can be dragged around like a camera viewfinder to frame the image and view of the structure you want. These in turn can can be saved in a number of different image formats for use in other software environments.

I really like this tool, and as freeware students can access it and download it away from school too, opening opportunities for them to extend their creative uses and learning away from school. It uses as a model a construction kit type that we have readily available for students to use in school, and that they themselves may have at home.

The tool has obvious cross curricular applications within DT, where it could be used in the IDEAS and FPT phases to model outcomes and facilitate evaluation onscreen before students begin construction. If included as part of an onging design and make process by groups of students it could also be used through a cascade save process to track, monitor and present changes they make as a result of difficulties or considerations within their making processes. The images could be used in DTP outcomes for display or included alongside photographs in learning stories presented in Powerpoint or even photostory.

I also like the idea of the environment being used as a scaffold for onscreen instructional writing, mediated by talk. Images exported from the environment could be used to help students create and design new models, and frame instruction leaflets for others to use as reading tasks. Context, purpose and audience for their work. I'd like to add this to our modeling and simulation tool box and see what the crew make of it.

A Simple Animatic: Digital storyboard Using MS Paint and Photostory

Preparing materials to use in class next week, including a storyboard model to help my students frame their thinking as they plan a short animation about materials and change. To begin I created these four simple, sketch like images using Microsoft Paint. Using each through a copy and paste process I then compiled six further sketch like images figuratively representing the melting and freezing process to use in a smart book.

As I was working I wondered about how the images might work as as part of a simple "animatic" story. The result of my wanderings, is this video clip created using photostory and my story board images.

A similar process has been used previously to help students think about the changing seasons, by creating landscapes with PhotoFiltre and MS Paint. Through a "cascade" saving process the students were encouraged to revise and edit a template image they had prepared to show what they thought the same scene might look like at different times of the year. Completed images were then imported to photostory, chronologically sequenced and background music added before export to video for sharing. The process also supported documentary work and recount development with my class earlier in the year as they told the story of Grace Darling. and shared their feelings as we left our old school building behind. MS Photostory is a really nice tool to use with students and these simple techniques great starting points for thinking about animation and digital story telling if keen to have a try but concerned about the process and how to begin.


This week I have been mostly playing with Joomla!

Not bad I suppose its only taken 8 months to get back to this. The summer holiday was a busy time for me, one where I set out with every good intention of "getting to grips with Joomla" or at least how it works, unfortunately other deadlines kept me busy too and the project was shelved in the interests of completing my dissertation.

Why Joomla? Well essentially because this platform has been chosen to host, manage and develop our new campus web site. Having spent considerable time managing and establishing our exisiting primary school website as a resource, I was keen to engage with and learn the quirks of this new environment, in order to think about how to integrate this existing space with the projected new.

Joomla is an open source content management system. My personal experiences of building pages for the web have developed through using tools such as FrontPage or Dreamweaver to build and organise html pages before uploading work developed on my desktop to the host server by FTP. As such I might still be considered on so many levels a beginner. Joomla is a very different onion and experience for me in that it is a server based solution using a data base, among other less than familiar tools to manage and organise content created within it. I blog, code a bit when I need to, but have never really taken the plunge and dabbled too far behind the scenes so to speak. In beginning this project I therefore had some personal reservations about the experiences I was bringing to the process, how useful they would be and considerable trepidation about the gradient in the learning curve I would need to follow. I was however determined to have go. As with the students we work with I needed to start from the things I know, and a establish a frame to hang my new learning on. This post then represents my think around, and how I have tried to visualise and organise my thoughts comparing previous experiences while trying to relate these ideas to what was happening as I worked on and played with my experimental site and Joomla this week.

A Clean Slate

In beginning the project again I decided to start with a clean slate,

  • I deleted my previous installation,
  • Downloaded xampp afresh and the most recent version of Joomla.
  • And decided to devote a little more time to watching these tutorial videos than I did last time.

Working through the process outlined in the videos,

  • I set up the server and data base locally on my laptop :o),
  • Installed Joomla :0)
  • And followed the wizard like process to get the space ready to host my site:0).
A Different perspective on a familiar Viewpoint

Following the video tutorials in sequence the next part of the process was to set up sections and categories for the site. I wondered what this was all about initially, and it has taken a while for me to get my head round this.

My previous work developing our school site has been visual, each page built by hand, ocassionally using themes but usually by editing and revising templates and using these to frame and include content.

In essence, Frontpage enabled this process for me by combining the affordances of a Windows Explorer type environment with a wordprocessing like tool. A Folder pane allowing my "local server" or "site" to be managed like a hard drive. I could visualise and then create the folder tree where I wanted to store the files for each section of the site in response to the navigation structure I was physically constructing on my home page. The WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) editor (the wordprocessing element if you like) allowed me to create the hyperlink and navigation structure for the site on the index page side by side and corresponding to the folder structure for the site. Using familiar drag and drop processes I could also copy, paste, open and save files as when editing or in reorganising the space.

In trying to understand how Joomla works I have been trying to reframe my thoughts within my existing model, this is probably really obvious to everyone else, so forgive me as I say I think I've just about cracked it even if an oversimplified view.

Pages in Joomla managed sites do not exist as pages per se, but are compiled through a data base when a visitor arrives at the site and begins their navigation. Administrator defined categories and sections within the data base, allow this to happen. Approaching site set up I decided to try to visualise these categories as if they were folders in my existing tree. First of all setting up categories, broad groups that match the folders and subfolders I previously created for our existing site, but modifying some for clarity. To allocate articles to the correct pages within these categories, I created sections using first of all the category list I created enabling each broad space to have its own page before adding further sections that correspond to other pages I would like within each section of the site.

Why was this so important? I guess this was the question I was asking myself when I began the project? It all seemed a bit back to front in relation to how I was used to working. I needed a way of seeing. The menu system within Joomla drives the page creation or generation process. To compile "pages," through the data base a menu manager is used to create items by linking these to categories and then sections, (in my minds eye corresponding to a folder and a page). Clicking on a hyperlink leads to a request for the data base to behind the scenes pull all these elements together along with style sheets and such to present the content as a page in a visitor's browser.

Where Next For Me?

The next phase for me if my model works is to begin exploring with colleagues the things they would like the site to include and perhaps what they want from it, setting up formally a space based on categories and sections that arise as a result.

Creating user accounts for colleagues and classes will then enable them to log in and use a WYSIWYG editor similar to those they have used in our existing VLE and blog spaces to write, upload files and contribute directly to the content and maintenance of the site, using the sections and categories defined for them eg year4/class name, to post items to the page allocated to it.

Additional modules can be plugged into the space for example breadcrumb trails and RSS feeds to aid navigation or subscription. The addition of common themes through use of shared style sheets will enable a corporate feel for the campus site to be added providing the whole with a consistent look and theme for pages generated across the space.

What has really excited me as I played this week was the ability to add items such as Windows media video directly to a page, and how with the addition of rss feeds, pages within the site could be allocated to support podcasting, while through the use an aggregator content syndicated across the site could be drawn together as a single feed published on the front page through a latest news module.

I still have a lot of playing and exploring to do and apologise wholeheartedly if what I say here is obvious to some or even overly simplistic. I'm not entirely sure what my feelings are right now about the solution as a whole, it does not provide for all of our needs as I see them. I am still wondering how much of what is provided could be achieved through other platforms such as self hosted blogs with the tweaking of design templates. For me the process has been a useful experience, and one I am sure I will be able to draw on further as we work with and develop use of online learning tools for ourselves.


Adventures with iSpring Update: Changing the Embed Code

I was really excited when I set out to share the work I had displayed on my blog using iSpring with a colleague other day. Imagine my horror ... when in the midst of my excitement the files didn't download or play. It was easier at the time to think the firewall was preventing this and even though disapointed I thought no more about it until I got home

As it turned out it was a problem with the way the browser in question was using the page that prevented the files from rendering and this morning I have experimented using some code previously used to embed flash files to my blog, that seems to have fixed the problem. If you are interested here it is. Right clicking and choosing to view image will make it easier to read, though I have also shared a txt version of the file can be downloaded from here and edited.

A number of folk have asked about how to embed flash files created by export from tools such as 2create, and 2create a story. I am no whizz in the code department but I have found this works for this too. In order for it to work you must have the files hosted on a webspace, this could be your VLE. You will need to do some editing to meet your own needs and point your page to the file you have created and uploaded, hopefully the colourcoding in the image will help.

The blue part refers to the space where your file/s are hosted
The foldername section is the folder structure and breadcrumb trail to where the file actually is
and the red part the name of the file itelf with extension.

I hope this is useful. Now to fix my previous post:o)

ICT in the Early Years

Thanks to Anthony Evans for his recent post pointing to and sharing this inspirational web space. ICT in the Early Years is a fantastic resource, that exemplifies current practice at the Homerton Children's centre, in Cambridgeshire.

There is much to learn from a visit to this space for all of us about how ICTs can be exploited and embedded in support of daily classroom life. Throughout the space it is evident that ICTs do not stand alone here, but are viewed and used as part of a wider social and physical toolset to support and mediate the learning experiences of students and the pedagogy and practice of practitioners. Computers form part of roleplay areas, Cameras are used by students and professionals to capture activities, points of interest as well as to evidence, share and support review of learning. Software tools are carefully chosen to contextualise learning within real life situations for students, and utilised to create and share learning stories and colate and present assessment for learning materials within digital portfolios. Throughout the site materials developed are also offered for download and use in CPD.

The planning area of the site is a real boon as Early Years and Foundation Stage Principles are used to illustrate and exemplify potential uses for ICT tools. From my point of view as an ICT subject leader, with little to no foundation experience this is an extremely valuable resource. One that I can share with colleagues in school and that will help inform potential directions for ICT investment and development, support audit of current practice and aid as a starting point for planning next steps in our professional learning. Thanks to all at the Homerton Children's Centre involved in the development and sharing of this fantastic resource.


Looking Into The Past And Playing with Images

I love this idea From Jason Powell pointed out by a colleague on Twitter. In previous posts I have reflected and waxed about how we might use historical images to investigate, locate, discuss and compare modern scenes within a given location. This use of digital photography to embed the past within the modern scene however is a really interesting idea. I like the way the historical landscape is not removed from the scene, but used as integral to it and fits like a missing piece from a jigsaw puzzle. Just pondering how this type of image composition process might be used as part of a digital photography project. How practical it might be to embed it in field trips or orientering type activity.

Being a bit of a Pink Floyd fan, and ambling off track a little as usual, seeing these images and a recent tweat around using ICT to support art projects reminded me of a small scale project with some students a while back using a trial version of Serif Photoplus I picked up at a conference. The project involved creating images in the style of Magritte.

Downloaded scans of paintings from the Internet were used initialy to create template files and masks, where for example in this image the landscape was removed. The painting and window used to form a framing layer. The students used digital cameras to capture views and images from around school including landscapes and objects captured from unsual angles.

Once downloaded to the computer the children chose a frame for their image, and applied filter effects to their own images, before inserting these to the template, and exporting these as jpegs. This video presentation contains the student outcomes from this activity.

Within the National Primary Framework for Literacy there are number of references to using graphic manipulation to apply effects to images either in response to texts or in support of composition through the creation of scenes and settings. Some of these images particularly the landscapes make for strange viewing.

A number of Magritte's images make great starting points for discussion generally, but would also make brilliant talk for writing prompts in developing openers and links to the weird and wonderful in narrative units such as those associated with Fantasy and Strange World Settings. Here are a couple that set my mind a whirring.


Playing With iSpring Free

I am looking forward to a bit of time over the next couple of weeks to kick back, unwind, play, write and share some of the things I have been up to recently. I have decided to begin by exploring a tool I was introduced to and shared before Christmas but that in the midst of our move to new premises I have not had time to play with.

The tool is iSpring Free, a downloadable plugin for PowerPoint, that enables the slideshows we create to be exported, shared and displayed as flash video files. I originally came across the tool as a recommended "gadget" by a pilot partner from Netmedia, as a way for colleagues to use an environment they are familiar with to develop multimedia content for the VLE.

With iSpring we initially identified how colleagues could use the tool very simply alongside PowerPoint to create
  • photo albums
  • simple illustrated texts
  • Visual writing prompts and models etc
to support online projects.

The tool could also be used in a similar vain with students to allow multimodal texts they created in Powerpoint, to be published directly to webspaces without their reader needing to download a viewer, or as we have often done in the past, publishing their show as a web page for upload and sharing.

I have used online host spaces to publish and share simple linear shows such as learning stories and those I want to use with colleagues away from site, and either embedding these to my blog or logging on in situ to access them full screen. The functionality of PowerPoint however allows so much more than this in terms of developing content. The inclusion of hyperlinks for example allows navigation to be included, and a multidimensional or layered effect to be added to the shows we produce, allowing us and our readers to explore and move around a show in our own way by travelling directly from one slide in the show to another and back again. This feature is generally lost when we upload files to sites such as these.

iSpring while creating its flash file, maintains the hyperlinks enabling the slideshows to behave as they would in slideshow view in PowerPoint. The slideshows remain navigable. Here are a few examples that I converted today to show what I mean.

This Linear show is a learning story/Documentary developed with students as an integral part of a Creative Partnerships Animation Project a number of years ago. Clicking on each slide or using the control bar allows the reader to move from one slide to another in sequence. The show is rather long, but was presented to the students as behind the scenes look at the project and contextualised as DVD behind the scenes look at the film making process. It was later used as a kiosk show in school and at a a local conference on loop to share the process behind the project developed with students. It may be of interest in its entirity as a learning story in this context as well as a demo of this particular piece of software.

This textured or layered show includes hyperlinks. As you navigate watch out for arrow images embedded on some of the slides. These invite you as a reader to engage and interact with the content, to move to other slides that present development ideas and thinking points based in the page you have just visited and also direct you back to this with another hyperlink. The slides can either be navigated in a linear fashion by clicking the slide, or by clicking hyperlinks the reader can move between slides directly. This show created a number of years ago in PowerPoint was an early attempt on my part to create a layered text, with and for students. This has also been published previously on this blog as a swf file generated using 2create.

This file also a linear presentations, contains three poems developed by groups of students using images from the web to think about similes and set to auto run.

These files developed by students, both use hyperlinks in Powerpoint to navigate the show in different ways. The first was created as an esafety unit outcome with Y6 students scaffolded by by this great online resource from teaching ideas. The second example was created by pairs of Y 5 students as part of a challenge to create a CD ROM style book for younger students based on the Non Dialogue based Narrative Bert.

It has been great this morning while looking for files to play with to revisit earlier works, and through experimenting with iSpring to give a new lease of life to some of them, and to display them as I would have originally liked to share them. It has also been useful to begin extending thoughts about how tools such as this can open new paths for old tools, thoughts and ideas.

UK based colleague at porchester has been using iSpring as a tool to help his students publish developed content to their school's blog based web site, and says

Particular favourites of mine from the work presented here are poems such as this based around snowfalling. The power of this for me lies in the multimodal nature of the presentation. Moving beyond text and images, the animation effects applied to the text, with the addition of sound add much to the overall atmosphere and depth of the piece. Very cool.

This is a tool I think I will have to come back to some more this week.


Tracking a Learning Story: Using Powerpoint and Slideshare as Digital Floor Books

Perhaps I should now entitle this post "Tricked into a learning story." I was amazed today when I visited my Slideshare space to find one of the Powerpoint files I uploaded a while back had been viewed 100504 times.

I don't usually quote my site stats, this space for me is not about that, it is a place where I reflect and share the work I do with my students and ideas that inspire me as a result. However I recieved an email from slideshare a site I trusted as a member and set off to see what it was all about. I was really excited as you may imagine by what I saw when I visited my slidespace having not visited for a while. I didn't expect a service like this to play about with my stats, and certainly not in a public facing space. I put together the original post and published a link on twitter to celebrate. As it turns out I have been well and truly had by what has turned out to be their april fool. Thanks to members of my Twitter network, and especially NeilAdam, I found out about this, and am feeling suitably foolish as a result.... Well done slideshare!

Now feeling marginally calmer about it I have decided I should take the "prank" as a dose of medicine to remind myself of all the esafety lessons I have taught my students. Now however it seems I have to add to these sessions, that even the sites you think you can trust may not be what they say they are. I can take a joke as well as the next, but am seriously unhappy about how this has turned out, and with the availabilty of my own hosting space am now intending to move my files as a result.

Originally the show in question was created as a "digital floorbook" as part of an MSc Assignment on the potential of ICT in assessment for learning. It follows through and tracks a teaching sequence, using IWB notes and photographs as evidence, in a planned process to move my students toward the formal algorithms for addition and subtraction, drawing on and evaluating the range of mental methods and informal jottings they were using at the time.

This "floor book" has been shared a number of times, and featured in a previous post. It is now buried away but so this post does not become an entirely wasted space I am embedding it again in the hope that you may find it useful.

Thanks to everyone who really has viewed or downloaded the show, however many of you there are. Maybe Slideshare will be able to give me a more accurate view on this soon!