Hmming and Hahing round a Spreadsheet Modelling Project for Phase Three.

I have been a largely passive participant, observing the adoption process and use of Google Docs in the classroom.  Several colleagues have written at length about how they are introducing and using Google Docs in sessions with students, and it has been interesting recently to see how the tools presented within the Google for Educators bundle are being adapted by some to support development of school learning platforms.

I have been desperate to have a go myself but did not want to use the tool just because it was there.  Recently I worked with a number of phase three groups to develop tasks around modeling with spreadsheets.  We have introduced the tool's basics and explored the insertion of formula building simple models from the ground up, now we are approaching that point where we need to use and apply the skills we have been working on to begin developing a model of our own.

So her goes with the hmming and hahing... I have been thinking about the idea of collaboratively planning a party.  Quite a common project you might say, but have wondered about taking the tack because of the student's ages of planning an evening out, perhaps beginning at the cinema, going bowling, skating as examples and following this with a visit to for example McDonalds.

In pondering this project I have several assumption
  • We will be including everyone in the group,
  • We will have to prebook and order because of numbers
  • We will need to make sure that the event is affordable.

Surveying and collecting ideas for the pre-meal event seems a little easier to manage with a simple vote being possible, while choosing food from the menu presents more of a challenge with so many potential variables to consider.  In my mind I have images of the chaos that could ensue from students collecting and collating a common data set, so my big question here is how to engage everyone in the process while quickly putting all the information in one place for everyone to access quickly.  Here is where my first real collaborative adventure with Google Docs would come into play, using Google Forms to collect the initial data we would need to begin the project.

Step one suggesting and voting on a pre meal event

Setting the scene with a brief to provide the big picture would be my starting point.

We have been asked to plan and prepare an after school activity to celebrate...............?  The activity will involve us all meeting up to do something for example watching a film, going bowling etc that will be followed by something to eat before we all return to school and go our separate ways.

a However we must agree as a group on the something that I was thinking that we could create a class Google form based simply on suggested venues from the students accepting and adding all suggestions.  Having saved this we might distribute the link to the whole class by email or through the VLE with their votes being added to the associated spreadsheet.  With all votes in the top three venues could be highlighted, and web based research carried out to identify the possible costs of a visit to each venue.

Step Two choosing our menu

Choosing MacDonalds as an after event venue, we could use a second prepared form, again accessed through a link from the VLE, where students could select first and second choices of Sandwich, sides, drink and dessert for their meal orders.  Completion and submission of this form would provide additional  data  we could use as the basis for modelling cost options for our visit/party. This second spreadsheet, once all "orders" were in could be downloaded to the student shared space, or added for download from the VLE.

Step three Collating information

Using data collected the students could begin to use it compile frequency tables tallying and recording first and second choice meals, that they would then be used to populate a prepared template that would form the basis for the final spreadsheet model.

Step four:  Inserting variables to the spreadsheet model

The Excel template provided for this activity would include prepared worksheets
a menu showing current McDonalds' prices
an order form
  • a cost calculator for each set of choices
  • A comparison book that we could use to compare each meal option cost with the inclusion of the pre meal event included
  • A final cost calculator that would help us to decide how we want to divi up the cost of the event and that I hope would allow the students to see the value of using a tool like this when considering and planning events such as this.

The students would be encouraged initialy to enter the variables, the data we had collected together into the relevant worksheets eg
  • food items
  • cost of one unit
  • number of orders

This would be repeated for first and second choice meals

Step Four:  Modeling the creation of rules

The application of formulae to the table for meal choice one would be modelled and then carried out as a class.  Asking the children to describe firstly to each other and then to the class the calculation we would need to use to if we wanted to work out the cost of say 15 cheeseburgers at a cost of £0.99 each

The calculatiuon would look something like this
15 x £0.99 =

To allow the spreadsheet to do this calculation we would expect to...
input =15*0.99

However we want to be able to change our variables and allow the spreadsheet to be able to update automatically, or without us having to input each change individually so.. how have we done this previously?  By using cell references to help

This process was remodeled eg =cref1*cref2 and students asked to complete the task for the remainder of the total cost cells, reminding after three or four cells that we could auto-complete using drag and fill.

Finally a rule would be added to find the total cost of the meal using autosum.

With this aspect of the model complete the students would then repeat the process independently with the second choice meal.

Stage 5: Comparing costs.

Using copy and paste the contents of the two options sheets can be moved to the comparison sheet, and a new set of cells added to calculate the meals combined with the pre meal event.  Suggestions could be sought as to the calculation and formulae we would need to use in order to find the total cost of our meal and the cost of our visit.

the cost of the meal + the cost of the event = total

Using cell references a formula would be added to support rules allow each  table to factor in and compare possibilities that included the new variable, the cost of the pre meal activity.


With this complete we could begin identifying not only the cheapest meal option but also begin thinking about the effect that choices of venue for the pre meal event would have.

Stage 6:  Using the Model to Support Making Choices

Just how good a model is this?
How robust, fair and useful is it in helping us to plan and make decisions?
Are there any changes we need to make to the model's design and what might these be if we are to make the cost of the event fair to all of the participants?

In making choices about the event as a whole I have made a number of assumptions that we need to consider as a group that should ultimately lead us back to thinking about the design of the model itself and how it works and how effective it has been in supporting our decision making process.

The most contentious I hope is that everyone should pay the same amount on the night regardless of choices they made in the vote in order that the collection of monies be made easier.  It will be interesting to see what the students have to say about this in terms of fairness, however as a starting point it opens a number of interesting discussion points around the validity of the model in relation to an outcome and purpose not shared at the beginning and how this might impact on our starting point.  The concept of fairness, also gives a personalised in for students to to begin thinking about and suggesting how the essentially sound principles of the model itself might be adapted inorder to make cost distribution fairer. Eg should we have surveyed at the beginning the most popular meal choices, and then limited the order around these to balance the costs.This has been an interesting thought experiment...  Any thoughts?


Zondle Update: Sound out and Read Throughs Using Soundclips created on my mobile

The developers at Zondle have been fantastic responding quickly and enthusiastically to a query/request I had about the ability to provide readthroughs to followand support sounding out in the Phonics games I had begun to make at the beginning of the holidays.

Thanks to the Zondle team I have been able to update these games by uploading additional soundfiles I have created that correspond to each of the words used in the quiz behind them.  This may be a new notion to some readers, recording sound using the computer, so I have chalked this on my to do list, a post  to explain how to do this and some of the options available.  Recording on the computer is not as complex a process as it may seem, in fact being away from my desk as it were for month or so I was forced to improvise and experiment with the equipment I had to hand. My Microphone and recording software tools were in Bristol and I was in the North East. The result was that the recordings for these games were made not on the computr at all but on my mobile phone.  (I am accompanied for short bursts on one or two of the clips by my nephew who was "helping" me and playing the games as we went, so please excuse the far from studio quality sound).

The Phone in question was an HTC windows phone, and I used the Audio Recorder to create each short sound clip.  For each of the words in my quiz I made separate sound clips by pressing the record button, speaking as clearly as possible the word into my handset before pressing the stop button.  As I finished each sound clip, it was renamed from the default filke name with the word it held.

I used my USB cable to connect the phone to my Netbook, though I could have removed the Micro SD card from the phone and used a card reader to access the files I had made.  Navigating to the "My Voices" Folder I located the sound clips and copied them to my Netbook for editing.  Unfortunately the AMR  format files on my phone were not compatable with the games platform at Zondle, which required MP3 files.

Not to be discouraged I searched for a tool that would convert my AMR files to the correct format and found a piece of freeware called  AMR to MP3 Converter.  I downloaded and installed this before following instructions on the website to convert the soundfiles.  Once converted to MP3 format I logged into zondle, navigated to my quize, chose to edit my quiz and thn added each of the sound files to the appropriate word in my quiz.

Now I have done this with my phone and netbook once I have a clear path/process to follow.
1. Create my word list or quiz in Zondle.
2. Using my audio recorder on the phone, create my sound files.
3. Import my sound files from the phone to my PC
4.Using AMR toMP3 converter, change my sound fle to the MP3 format.
5. Upload my soundfiles to my quiz at Zondle
6.   Publish my chosen games to an online space for the students to access.

You can try out the updated games that use these files on my previous post Phonic Games and Zondle

Wondering now  whether I could use this or a similar process with my Key Stage 3 and 4 students  to create podcasts and talking heads activities thruogh their mobiles.... Hmmmm.... ;0)  We have Blackberries and iPhones, I have micro SD card readers... what do you reckon!


E Safety: How to choose a strong password

Great video from Sophos Labs and a very Enthusiastic sounding fella Graham Clulely. How to choose a strong Password. Thinking this might be a nice tool to support discussion during our introductory Phase Three sessions.

Phonic Games and Zondle

From Zondle Newbie, to.. Big Smiles!
Really enjoying exploring Zondle and the more time I spend with it the more treasures I uncover.  Last year I had that rare treat of working across Key Stages 1 to 3, spending one day a week with students in a Year2/3 class.  One of the groups I worked with during the day had a Phonics and Spelling focussed session, if only I had known about Zondle then how much time I might have saved.

I am going to spend most of this post making a topic using Phase 1 and 2 phoneme/grapheme groups. I have made a number of resources already to support work with this cluster, both with students and as support material and template files to share with colleagues.  So forgive me as I play, think through a few aspects I want to share back at school and a few thoughts around CPD that might be needed to utilise this tool set or how they might be embedded not just as web based resources but also within classroom and IWB supported sessions.

Delving into the Quiz Builder

This morning I decided to investigate the more tab in the quiz builder tool, having watched some of the excellent video tutorials recommended by @ wayneholmes.  Amid the tools mentioned in the videos was "Zondle Builder," a tool that I thought Foundation and KS1 colleagues might find particularly exciting.  Zondle Builder currently in Beta, is a filtering tool to help quickly build phonic games and resources from an already populated database.  In the Builder, wordlists are organised initially, under these scheme headings as the first filter option, Jolly Phonics, Letters and Sounds, and High Frequency Words  (Dear Zondle would it be possible to include a filter for the so called "tricky words?").  This is the first time saver being able to identify with existing phonic programs in common use.  Items can be further filtered within each scheme by Phase (letters and Sounds), Word Set (High Frequency Words and Jolly Phonics).  So in two clicks I have been able to refine items very quickly,with further focus possible by refining word sets through other more specific filters, eg consonant and vowel sequencing.  Once filtered down to the specific word groups required, further tightening of the selection is possible by deselecting words from presented lists that I can exclude from my final quiz list.

On Getting Lost, and Learning from my Mistakes

I have to admit to getting a bit lost while trying to find the "Zondle Builder," but this was more to do with my "IKEA Man overzealousness" than Zondle itself...  Yet another if only... indeed if only I had rewatched the video, or waited another 30 seconds, the mist would have been cleared away.  Anyway, time wasn't wasted indeed I spent time exploring the contents of the more tab and created my first phonics quiz and games, in the process identifying a developmental task and key process I will need to revisit with colleagues, namely recording and saving audio for upload.  Anyway on with the post.

Here is my first game Phonic game SATPIN Quick Sand Bunny. 

zondle - games to support learning
This was created using an item from the more tab, the "Phonics- drag the letters to create graphemes that make up a word" question type

With the more tab open and my phoneme group "SATPIN" decided upon, I set about entering a list of all the Vowel consonant (VC) and consonant vowel consonant (CVC) words that I could think of using these phonemes.  These make up the question list to the left in the above screenshot.

Entering each word was achieved a phoneme at a time, selecting and clicking the phoneme keyboard (1), dragging the grapheme I needed from those listed in blue (2), before sequencing these on the "hangman type" space (3) by drag and drop.  On completing each word pressing the save question link added it to the quiz.  By repeating this process I created the word list for my quiz in between 10 and 15 minutes.  On returning to my topics, I was able to click on my quiz and select the game I wanted to use.

Sharing My Game

To share my game here I clicked the "embed this game in your site" link in the top right of the game window. There is a great video from Zondle explaining the process here.  However for class/school bloggers or VLE users rather than creating a web page, you will need to create the post or add a page element to house your game first.  After copying the code from the site as in the video, returning to your blog space or page element, you will need to view the page's HTML source.  Tools to do this are usually provided as a button option on the tool bar or as in blogger a tab.  With the HTML source/editor visible click into the text box, right click and select paste or holding down the control key and pressing the V key should paste the code where you chose to put it.

All VLEs and Blogging platforms are slightly different, so explanations here as within the video beyond the generic is difficult.  A little playing and mouse hovering will be necessary, perhaps even a delve into the help files might be useful in enabling you to find the tools you need.

Zondle Builder a Real Jewel

Moving on then it transpires that what I missed earlier was the floating "Zondle Builder" Button that appeared after I had clicked the More Tab.

Not quite as observant or sharp as I used to be maybe!

 Anyway clicking the Zondle Builder opens a page offering a 3 step process to making your phnonic or spelling game question.

In Step 1:  Select your quiestion type (how you would like the students to engage with your words.)
In Step 2: Use the filters to find and narrow down the word groups you would like to use and generate your word list.
Step 3: Press the add questions to topic button, a one step task that adds all words selected to the quiz/topic under creation.

Having explored the interface and with familiarity this was really quick to achieve.  From this again a number of games are now available to be played and shared.  As a treat for following my wittering this far, here is one of the game generated from the list above.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Thinking about using these activities, I can't see myself simply wanting to embed these phonic zondles in a web page, blog post or VLE and hoping the students will want to visit them.  As games they will stand alone for consolidation and practice, but would be even even more effective used as integral parts of Phonic sessions.

I had my word list prepared and in class will no doubt have a range of activities and tasks to use with the students.  Some of these will be whole class, small group or individual tasks.  Some will be practial, physical and because we are talking about sounds... heavily based in speaking and listening.  The tasks could involve physical objects, use of worksheets, the use of look and say with flash cards but having a particular personal vent towards embedding and using ICTs, I would also include the use of "multimodal" tasks, using dry wipe whiteboards as we work as a class around our IWB.  These activities would include
  • Phonic photosets and slideshows using images from the web, to represent words and phonemes.  
  • Odd one out shows using powerpoint slides and photograph, or present my phonemes in a variety of font styles to encourage recognition of the letter shape in a variety of forms.  
  • Rub and reveal and white on white activities having students predict which of our words letters will appear.  How do we know?
  • Using a set of "flash based" editable dice set up in my Notebook, to randomly generate graphemes, challenging students to spell words using them before collecting ideas sounding them out and reading these through using sound buttons.  
My Zondles would be interspersed among other tasks in support of these activities, accessed by opening live via links from my notebook or slideshows via the Zondle site, school VLE or class blog, spaces where the students (and parents/carers) know they can be visited for follow up at home, and hopefully building on the students enthusiasm from my class sessions. Zondle games can also be set as "competitions," so perhaps I could differentiate between the games I want to use in class and those I want the students to engage with outside of classroom time.  Throughout the phase or unit of work my quiz is developed around I could have a number of games visible using the "competition" perhaps offering prizes rewards to encourage engagement.


Create Your Own embeddable Games and Interactivities Support and Consolidate Learning

Well half an hour has passed and I have made a start on my first 100 and odd games to use in the DTP Unit next term.  Well,  I haven't personally made a ton of games but I have finally logged into my  Zondle account for a play, and yes in less than 30 minutes input a few trial questions, before the site using my quiz created a selection of games that I can embed into or link to from my VLE.

These games are based on use of Microsoft Publisher, the tool we will be using but could be edited to make them more generic, or developed around any topic or theme I am working on from across the subject base of the curriculum.  I do need to give some more thought to the questions I have created as they were quite rushed, but I am able because I own the underlying quiz to go back and edit these.  Once I am happy with the quiz I am able to share my games with others in the Zondle Community too, so if you register and log in, there are a growing number of games already in existence.

The First Game here Zondles R Us presents my topic quesions in a straight forward quiz format.

... while this game Fish Nosh, challenges the students to engage with the quiz while being rewarded with the opportunity to earn extra points within a platform game type environment.

I still need to work on my quiz, and will probably add a few more questions to challenge my players as my planning progresses allowing more opportunities for game play.  What is great however is the possibility down the road to use these activities alongside other embeddables as plenary and homework follow ups to help develop and consolidate of vocabulary, key concepts and ideas from within the units of work my students engage with.

Additionally, two other tools I have used alot are jigsaw puzzles created at Jigsaw Planet and Wordsearches made at The Ultimate Wordsearch Maker.  The students have not only enjoyed using the embedables I have created at these sites, but also creating their own topic based versions, which we have shared by email, and through shared spaces within the VLE.  Here are two examples I created and also on a DTP theme.

Jigsaw:  Click to open jigsaw in same window.
preview48 piecePublisher Doc

Wordsearch:  Click on the first and last letter in each word you find.
Make Your Own Word Search

I am looking forward to sharing Zondle with colleagues at school and exploring the how or wheher we can use it aongside I Am Learning a games based learning platform we have subscribed to use next year to support homework. I have already shared wordsearch maker and jigsaw planet with a number of colleagues who have enjoyed using these to create material for use with their students.

Note To Self
Wonder if Zondle could be used with students to help support and develop validation processes during research and Independent Enquiry.  Having worked with exemplar Zondles, students could be challenged individually or in pairs to research and create quizes around particular topics or themes using the multiple choice, true false or free text formats.  They would need to  validate and check the accuracy of their answers before these could be used.. Something to ponder... A pebble in the pond. 


Google Forms, Calc, Bar Charts and Excel: Data Handling Gets Creative

In the process of doing housekeeping on the PC and at my blog, I have come across a number of partially completed posts waiting for an audience.  So to work, this post outlines a series of activities I used with students in Phase 2 while introducing Spreadsheets for data handling last April. 

Communal Data Collection Using Google Docs

The unit began in class using our Asus netbooks and a Google form I had prepared entitled " A Few of Our Favourite Things."  The form was set up as an online questionaire, with free entry text boxes.  The students accessed the web and followed a prepared link from the VLE to the data entry form.  In pairs the students were encouraged to talk about and then respond individually to a collection of questions around the subject of our favourite things, such as what is your favourite colour/song/football team/subject at school?  Completing the form and pressing submit, automatically updated a Google spreadsheet, that was displayed on screen.  The live data collection was a real draw, as they watched each other's data arrive and the spreadsheet update in real time. Pace in this part of the session was generated by the sense of urgency to submit their information and see it appear before others.  We knew how many students were in class, and so the size of the sample we expected to see.  We could check quickly that everyone had submitted their data by counting the number of rows completed, before closing the "poll" and exporting the data sheets for use table top based activities. When all the data was in the spreadsheet was exported and saved as a pdf file, this was then printed and distributed to groups of students to use as the basis for tallying and data entry.

As a primary teacher, I am familiar with the amount of time that can be taken up with student data collection, as individual students navigate the room, collecting responses by tally.  I like the idea that using this method a range of data was collected relatively quickly, and as a communal act was then available to all following submission.  One of our key questions before engaging with our data sets, must be has everyone responded.  Placing the google spreadsheet centrally to the IWB, the students could see the sheet being updated as data came in,  since the form had been set up so all fields were compulsory, no one could submit until they had completed each field, and then simply counting or tallying the number of respondants visible we could identify who we were waiting for.  Having a range of data available allowed us to use real information in our initial skills teaching activities, and then for students themselves to select from data sets they were interested in to develop their own individual data sets for further exploration.

Rerepresenting our Samples as Frequency Tables

With  the downloaded "spreadsheets" distributed to pairs of students, we worked together on our Netbooks as I modelled, using a projected image of the screen how to create a frequence table using Open Office's Calc spreadsheet. We did this using the same data set.... Our Favourite colours.  The students were shown how to enter text labels in one column, elimnating duplicates as they went, before in the parallel column counting/tallying and recording the frequency of voters for each colour.  These tables were then given a group constructed title, and the cells into which data had been entered were adjsuted for fit, and then formatted with borders. Each student pair then saved their file.

Next the students were asked to choose two data sets from those on the spreadsheet printout and to create frequency tables for these independently, saving their work periodically so the data would not be lost. 

From Frequency Tables to Pictorial Representation

With our data enterd to the Spreadsheet and the tables formatted, we moved on together using the data set we had set up together as our starting point.  Using the chart wizard students were guided through the creation of a bar chart.  As we worked students discussed and were encouraged to add appropriate chart titles, and also axis labels.  We identified which axis was the x and which the y, we discussed what was special about the data represented on these, and appropriate titles and labels for them.  The students were also, shown how to change formatting and how to recolour the columns and bars in the chart.

Students were then left to practice this process creating a set of bar charts for each of the three other data sets they had created.
  • Applying really clear and thorough titles for their charts that would help their readers.
  • Producing Axis Labels that would inform their readers of exactly what was shown there
  • Recolouring the data plots and bars, choosing appropriate colour fills and effects to match the data.
The charts we had created were used to raise questions and respond to them, extending these to look at more than and less than, by comparing frequencies represented using difference models of subtraction to seek out answers.  Drawing on the dynamic functions of the spreadsheet, we also asked, what would happen if... we used the spreadsheet to order data sets, highest to lowest and vice versa, predicting and then comparing our thoughts to the visual representations created as a result on screen.

This process took approximately 3 sessions of an hour each.   Once completed files and charts were upoaded to the VLE, from where they could be accessed for printing out and display.

Moving On: Presenting Pictograms in a Garden

In class the students had been introduced to Calc and Google Spreadsheets, and they had experienced using these tools as part of a collaborative task, to input and collect data remotely and to tally, enter, present and rerepresent data locally. In the final stage of this project however I wanted the students to get creative, considering other elements in chart creation with a spreadsheet environment, that might make our maths more appealing interesting and accessible to a reader.  To do this I used another prepared data set, but this time based on a set of survey data I had available to me around songbird populations in the UK.  For this series of activities the students were given access to Excel, rather than calc which they had been using on the netbook.  We began the session by discussing Excel and comparing it to the other tools they had used. What did they notice about the environment?  What was the same about it and what was different?  For all intents and purposes the tools were largely the same, they were visually a grid, made up of cells arranged in rows and columns.  We formatted the cells, rows and columns in a very similar way.  With these identified, the students were then provided with data sets to enter, and format as before.  We identified the chart wizard tool, and then set to work creating charts based on the data, adding appropriate axis labels and a clear title, with the students recolouring and reformatting the chart.

The students were then asked about the data itself.  How many of these birds had they ever seen?  Where would they expect to see them?  Did the students think it would be possible to create a bar chart that would really draw in their audience, or even wow passers by as they were working?  Could we create a chart that included images of the birds, and set the birds in their natural habitats.  Viewing charts as part of the Multimodal world this would add an additional layer of meaning making to the outcomes.

The students were now engaged in a collect and store task, using an image search to locate individual images of each of the birds in question and one final image of a garden.... A bar chart in a garden...

The students were then encouraged to further explore the formatting tools for their charts, and to apply the skills tha already had from work with Calc.  We made a second version and this time instead of colour formatting bars, used the fill effects button and picture tab to insert individual bird images to our chart columns.  These were then scaled by 1, to create a pictogram type effect. Highlighting the chart area the garden image they had found was then applied as a background to the chart plot area itself.  Very pretty.  However with the images inserted the axis labels and values as well as the chart title were less readable, requiring some further formatting effects to be applied, changing font colours and backrounds became a necessity to make them readable.

The outcomes are very attractive, as well as introducing for me a key aspect to the purpose of data handling the idea that we produce charts and graphs to be read and interpretted.  Like other visual text sources, they are created to help an audience access and interpret them, the more relavant our content to context the more likely we are to portray the meaning we set out to share.  Persuading students to use formatting devices for other reasons than because we can, is a key aspect to helping them understand the roll of such devices, and ICTs offer incredibly powerful and creative ways to do this. In this unit I wanted students to engage with Spreadsheets as a mathematical tool, not only for its pace and dynamic nature in presenting and representing information, but also as a way of managing the process and engaging with charts and graphs as a form of visual literacy.

Game Maker: A Summer Time Project 1

In September I have decided to run game making workshops as after school enrichment sessions for Phase 3 and 4 students.  My absolute first choice for this would have been Kodu (site currently offline),as inschool sessions could have been extended if students chose to develop their games for use on xboxes (check out part one of this video tutorial by Stuart Ridout for a flavour).  After some pondering background checks and discussion with our network manager we realised that in order to run the platform we would also need to upgrade our DirectX and .Net Framework installations before deployment, so Kodu sadly was placed on hold, at least for the time being anyway.

Having played around ocassionally withYoYo Games's Gamemaker Lite and built one or two simple multi level platform games quite painlessly, this is now the tool of choice for the two term project based sessions. The lite version is a free download, and allows games made to be exported as .exe files.  My target over the next few weeks is to improve my familiarity with the tool and generate some support materials that will help students use the tool to clone some familiar games.  I have identified one or two great places to start
  • Firstly the tutorials on Margaret Meijers fabulous website ICT Mindtools, This space is well worth a visit, if you haven't already I would highly recommend you do.
  • Secondly I have bought a copy of David Waller's Basic Projects:Gamemaker
  • And of course the introductory tutorial included with the software itself.
Hoping to share my progress with you here as I go. 


Digital Music Boxes: Random Music Or Simple Synthesizers Using Scratch

Last term we worked with our phase three students to Design and Make computer games using Scratch.  One of the Focussed Practical tasks I used emerged from a music session I taught with some of our younger students exploring pitch and composing musical phrases using the pentatonic scale. 

I knew that Scratch could be used to create music, and had used the pentatonic scale during impovisation and composition activities with students in my primary classes to great effect.  I wondered how it would pan out if I involved my Phase 3 students in programming a simple random music generator.

To begin two sprites were created.
  • A Musical Note: that was programmed to bounce around the screen randomlyish!
  • The second a musician sprite programmed as above but also to play a single musical note from the chosen scale, when it touched the note.

The Musical Note.
This was created using the paint a new sprite tool, and in my case looked like this.

Behind the musical note sprite I added the following pair of scripts.

When we set up the task the "when green flag is clicked" header block was was added from the control block to both scripts.  However before running the program the header block from one of the scripts was removed.

The first script, Script one in the image, allows some user control, with the musical note following the mouse pointer, in effect allowing the user to play notes in the order they choose.  A simple musical instrument or synthesiser.

The second script in the image. Script two has a very different effect setting the note moving under its own steam, when the gren flag is clicked, playing any note it comes into contact with in the order it meets it...  But not quite yet, as we don't have any musician sprites.

Musician Sprites
The first musician sprite and its scripts were created by choosing a character through the "insert sprite from file" option. and then adding the following script.  The musical elements of this coming in the form of elements from the "sound" blocks.

Completing My Digital Musical Box
So far I have one musical note and one musician.  I need 5 musicians and each need to be tuned to play one note from the pentatonic scale.  To achieve this I created 4 duplicates of my first musician sprite, by right clicking and selecting duplicate from the menu.

Next I changed the Sound script elements of each sprite.  I kept the instrument and duration or beat the same in each case but changed the note value, and renamed the sprite accordingly so

Musician Sprite 1 was renamed playc        Plays note number 60
Musician Sprite 2 was renamed playd        Plays note number 62
Musician Sprite 3 was renamed playe        Plays note number 64

Musician Sprite 4 was renamed playg        Plays note number 67
Musician Sprite 5 was renamed playa        Plays note number 69

Each Musician Sprite was also given a change of costume to uniquely identify them onscreen

Now on pressing the green flag each of the musician sprites begin moving randomlyish around the screen, as does the musical note.  Each time a musician meets the note it contributes its sound to the tune.

I have to say at this point each individual student loved this a lot more than those around them.  With the programming in place, I found now that the learning began through play and creativity.  The students extended this task for themselves, experimenting and asking what would happen if they
  • added more musical notes?
  • changed the speed of the sprites?
  • Altered the instruments being played?
What I like about this activity is that from very simple programing we have two possible outcomes.
  1. The random music generator
  2. A very simple synthesiser
The random music generator, digital windchime or music box, allowed the students space to experiment and explore the effects of editing scripts on output.  The Synthesiser option provided a possible extension opportunity, where using static musician sprites and mouse control they could create a simple game or activity to help younger students create music, with additional outcomes being possible use of graphical scoring.  I intend to use this activity again myself perhaps as part of our moving on moving up week with new intake students, or in involving our students in preparing sessions to work with younger students on the campus.  I would be interested to hear from anyone who tries out this task with students and what they made of it too. :o)

PLTS Wall Posters Draft Version 1

Have spent this morning compiling these draft A3 versions of student speak generic PLTS posters.  Wondering if anyone has any thoughts.

Thanks in advance :0)


Pondering Bird Boxes and monitoring

It seems most of my recent posts have begun with an apology for not having written for sometime, or presented themselves as "false starts".  The last year has seen my output diminish considerably, not because I have nothing to say, or share or because I have ceased working with young people,  but rather the steep personal professional learning curve presented by new challenges.  Working cross curricularly with older students has required more time focussing on the day to day, learning to adapt to life in a secondary classroom. But hey!
The Summer is here, and its time to unwind, reflect, review, refocus and reconnect.

To start the ball rolling I thought I'd share the Bird Box design created by a group of Phase 3 students for me during STEM Week.  As members of a small company know only to us as "Avian Abodes" quality "Builders of Bespoke Billets for Birds," the students were challenged to  research available bird box designs, identify and discuss the pros and cons of particular features of bird boxes, construct birdbox kits, identify the types of creatures that might be atrracted to or use their paricular kit, and to present ideas using their prototypes about how the kit might be customised using materials avalable around the home of a prospective customer.

Using ICTs to research and present our ideas and briefs, lead to discussions around how ICT might be included in the design, since several students had encountered camera kits.  They were stunned by the cost, especially when we discovered the cost of building our box was around £3.  One kit the students found including camera, and not disimilar to our own came to around £180, "thats way too dear," came one chirpy response. "What does it cost without the camera?" I asked.  Around £60 was the reply.  We couldn't identify how the box differed so enormously as to warrant this, and began wondering whether we could adapt our boxes, to use cheaper WebCams?  How would we install them so that we wouldn't disturb the nesting birds and how would/could we establish a link between the box and a computer? Where would we need to site the box?  How could we site the box to enable this? I really enjoyed the conversation, largely because it began engaging the students naturally with functional skills, as they created a possible new purpose for the kit, identified by them the audience.  No conclusions were drawn from this but it was exciting to hear discussions as they began thinking outside of the box.  The idea didn't fade, like so many often do, and periodically raised its head thoroughout the day.  The opportunity to talk about monitoring systems, came and went, though I thought about a call out on Twitter. This is blocked in school, mentioning this as a shame, we again wended off the track, puns were raised about broadband links and how our feathered friends might atually like the opportunity to tweat with their mates...  A half hour or so later and this bespoke billet of a slightly different kind appeared from beneath the pen of a group of Y7s, A bespoke twitter box for tweat clients of a different kind, and especially presented for a Geaky Teach to surf among his feathered friends.

Just pondering the possible mileage in considering how this discussion might be extended into a control and monitoring project for phase 3 any thoughts gratefully received :o)


Thank You South 4

This post is by way of a thank you to the colleagues who attended my workshops at the South 4 Shared INSET Day at Bridge Learning Campus last Friday.    The blog set up for these session is available at where you can access the starting points and template files shared at the session.


Comic Strip Creator Applet

I have been preparing steadily for a workshop on using Video and Comic Strips as storytelling tools and devices.  Although I had intended to focus on using a range of familiar tools such as Publisher and Powerpoint as the vehicles for this I recently encountered a really useful little tool  created by

Comic Strip Creator is simple to use and does exactly what it says on the tin, but as with so many tools of its type, its apparent simplicity hides beneath some quite powerful possibilities for cross curricular use.  To download the application you first of all must register, but then you are a click or two away from a handy little piece of freeware.

Once downloaded and installed clicking the shortcut leads to your first choice whether to create a 1 or 2 row comic strip.  The interface has a tabbed panel to the left, from where
  • You can choose to add or remove frames
  •  Import and insert images as backgrounds
  • Import clipart (some can be downloaded from the site, while others may need to be prepared or sought from other sources)
  • Add balloons (speech and thought bubbles are available but not captions, though this could be solve in later uses of the images created)
Unfortunately the environment does not support saving of draft comic strips but only allows export of completed strips in jpg format.  However this can also be a strength, with students and teachers being able to engage with drafting tasks in desktop activities before using the tool to create digital outcomes for use in other applications for printing or web based environments such as blogs and wikis.  The image outputs could also be cropped or edited for use in video presentations through PhotoStory or MovieMaker, perhaps even allowing additional text support in background images for animated storylines using products such as Pivot. 

It could also support assessment for learning activities, planning tasks in support of talking for writing and enable differentiation through the use of images captured during sessions, or prepared in advance to support digital literacy outcomes.  These images could be shared through network and online spaces for inclusion in comic strips to support and enhance this work.

I'm sure that a few minutes play with the tool will open up a host of other posibilities to you.  I hope to come back to again sometime in the near future, with more time to assimilate it for myself, but also I hope with some insight from the colleagues I share it with.  Any suggestions or ideas that spring to mind, please feel free to share through commenting here.


Animals Save The Planet

Loving these animated shorts from Discovery's Animal Planet.  Each clip depicts a diferent aspect of how we can engage with the three R's
  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle
Great discussion points, lots of fun but how might they work as starting points for creating your own animated shorts?  How about using Fuzzy Felt or paper cut outs and backgrounds to tell a similar story during a themed persuasive writing unit?  If animals can recycle...