Friday, 30 May 2014

Future Plans - What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

As I come to the end of the DTTLs course that I am doing we have a final assignment that is a piece of action research.
I wanted something that was relevant to my subject area  (computing - I am not an ICT teacher -  full stop and no offence to those that are. But I am a programmer, and my qualifications are those of a programmer, and I teach programming, game design and production).
One of the things I witness students struggle with in the four years of teaching (yeah I'm that new to the education sector) is learning to program. There are several reasons for this, which I will maybe look at in a future post - or my theories anyway. So I am in a constant search for how I can change my teaching to help make the journey easier for my students.
One thing I have noticed in this search is the lack of literature (ie on Amazon) that I can get my hands on that deals with teaching programming or computer science. I think in total I have found 3 books on the subject. So I have them and I am working my way through them slowly.
So with this bit of action research I have to do I thought well I have a couple of books on Flipped Learning that I have been dipping in and out of, why don't I look into this a bit more for my assignment. But I don't just want this to be for the assignment I want this to be something I can use and hopefully make that journey of learning to code a bit easier for the students.
So the plan is to take this bit of action research and use it to prepare myself for trying out flipped learning with the new crop of level 3 software students in September on the Unit 14 Event Driven Programming unit. This is the unit that we use to teach students the basics of C# in the first year of the course. Over the summer I will be using Camtasia on the dirty side (that's the Windows side) of my Macbook Pro to record some screencasts covering the content of the unit, and the basics of C#. If you have read my previous post (here) where I did a mind map of the stuff that I try and cover with my students on the level 3, there is a hell of a lot that I will have to record.
The hope is that having these materials available for the students and not just relying on tutorials already out there will give them relevant stuff to refer to through the course that I know covers not just the stuff they need to know for the unit but also what I consider to be essential knowledge.
With this being the case (hopefully, fingers crossed) this will then free up lesson time to spend on practical workshops that I can spend time focusing more on helping students with specific problems, clarifying any misunderstanding, challenging more able students etc. Which then if this works out makes the students learning to program easier.
Well that's the plan. I'd love to hear from anyone in the comments below from anyone that has tried flipped learning with learning to program. Or any tips on flipped learning, or just say hi would love to hear from you.
I do have a stage two planned already, and that involves the solo taxonomy. But that is further down the road at the moment. Stage 1 is the flipped learning which I will write about here inbetween the various other ramblings.
Anyway that's enough of me for now, have a great weekend.

Monday, 26 May 2014

OCR We Need To Talk

This year has been a bit of a steep learning curve for us at work because it is the first time we have been with OCR for our Level 2 offering.

The unit I have been teaching across our four level 2 groups has been Unit 22 Developing Computer Games. Now those of you out there who know me know my passion for this subject. Heck I teach the game design and game production units on our a level 3 software dev stream.

For this unit for creating the games I have taught the students Game Maker. Game Maker is perfect for this unit, students can create games without knowing how to code, but more advanced students can using the scripting language. But even without programming students still get exposed to terminology and concepts from programming. So they learn about objects, events and actions, decision making etc.

I've enjoyed teaching the unit for the first time at this level, but I do have a couple of things that I think OCR need to change about the spec for this unit.

My first complaint about the unit is that you can pass this unit without creating a video game! Actually creating a video game (a playable level) is a merit criteria. This needs changing big time, it's a developing computer games unit, one of the pass criteria should be to create a game.

Next up is the P3 criteria - produce a design specification for a computer game. Now I have no qualms with the criteria it's the actual advice that they give those teaching it and moderators. They suggest "storyboards, pseudo code, narratives, concept art" and their guidance section (used by moderators) says "The design should show initial ideas which could be in the form of annotated drawings, spider diagrams and then show a storyboard and pseudo code of their final design".

What OCR are asking moderators to look for are for me not a design specification but more the out put of a brainstorming session, and why they want pseudo code in a design document I don't know. The activity I have students do before writing their game design documents is brainstorm ideas for their game. In this they create a mind map of ideas, moodboards, research notes, concept art, storyboards or combination of.

For me what should be provided here is possible a one pager, definitely a ten pager and a beat chart as detailed in the rather excellent book by Scott Rogers Level Up! The beauty of these three documents is that they work very nicely with level 2 and level 3 students. At both levels it is unreasonable to ask students to produce larger design documents. But these three documents are easy for the students to do at a reasonable level of quality and they capture more than enough information to document a game design at these levels. I usually specify that on the beat chart students cover a minimum of 3 levels.

I can't even think why they want pseudo code, as far as I'm concerned it has no place in a game design document. The game design document is there to communicate the design of the game, how that is implemented is down to the coders and they have their own documention that detail that sort of detail.

So this advice OCR are giving to teachers and moderators is wrong at worst and messed up at the best.

For me the distinction D1 - using design software, create objects/characters for a specified computer game is not needed and could be replaced with something else. If you have evidence that you have created a working level of a game then you also have the evidence for this criteria. At worst tack on a brief description of the software used.

In the suggested scenarios for assessing the work there is the suggestion of reports and presentations. I wish whoever wrote this would suggest better ways of presenting the evidence.

For the P1 about describing video game genres I get my students to produce mind maps, and a leaflet (which I'm not happy about) on the social impacts.

So by my count we have an extra pass criteria and are down a merit criteria and distinction criteria. What would I replace these with and what would I get rid of on the pass criteria?

I'm not a fan of the genres and social impacts criteria so I'd ditch those two pass criteria also. What would I replace them with? A single one looking at the different game engines that can be used.

I'd also alter the create working level for a game pass criteria (remember I moved it to a pass) I'd also specify that the game would also have to have a menu screen and a help screen. I think that also for the new merit criteria students that go above and beyond on their game and produce multiple levels should be rewarded for their hard work.

For the new distinction I'd like to see some evaluation of the students game. Comparing what they ended up with, with their design document. Explaining the differences and why they made them. We all know what sounds good on paper may not when implemented be fun.

So there are my changes I hope OCR stumble across this post, and if they want I am happy to consult with them on a much needed rewrite of this unit.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Trying some crowd sourcing

Today I came up with a mindmap that tries to cover what I think should be covered on Unit 14 Event Driven Programming and Unit 15 Object Oriented Programming on the BTEC National Extended Diploma that we run.

The way we teach them at my place is we teach Unit 14 in the first year, and then in the second year we teach Unit 15. The idea is that we use Unit 14 to teach the basics of C# and programming to our students before throwing the concepts of OOP into the mix.

Basically in the mind map the orange area is Unit 15 while the blue and green are Unit 14. I tried to show where some of the ideas are linked in some way with the dashed lines.

I think I've covered all the main stuff that needs to be covered. But as we all know that isn't enough. What I want is a mind map that shows not just what needs to be covered on the unit specs, but stuff that should be covered so that the students have a basic knowledge that they can build on if they then went on to university or into industry (via an apprenticeship).

So I would love some feedback from those teaching and those in industry. Hopefully at the end of this there will be a mind map that people can use as a reference for these two units. I know that the BTEC National syllabus for IT/computing is under review with the aim of being ready for 2015. But I don't think what is in this mind map will be superseded, if anything they should include my extra stuff.

PS Mindmap created in iThoughts on the iPad

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Game Camp 7

One way I judge CPD is whether I come away with something that will be useful in my teaching practice. For example at the Cambridge Teachmeet I went to in February I came away with "relevant registers" to use with my students. At Pedagoo London the following month it was foldables and the judging the temperature of your classroom.

Today I was in London for Game Camp 7 being hosted at London South Bank University. In away this was CPD for me, working on my subject knowledge. But in reality it was just a fun day. We had left Peterborough at 7 after picking up the mini bus, and 7 of our second year Level 3 students.

After arriving at LSBU at 9:30 we were given a a program for the days Game Camp and a Kinder Egg. "Score" free cholocate is always good. But there was a catch. The Kinder Egg was part of a mini game jam that was detailed in the program. One of the events rooms there were resources to use in creating your game.

Now I really liked this and could instantly see the practical use of this for me in the game design class I teach and also in open days. So going by the guidelines I mentioned at the start of this post, before the event had properly started I had already made the day a success.

Game Camp runs likes an unconference. So now predetermined speakers, just those putting their name up on a voluntary basis on a board saying what they want to discuss, and people showing up if they are interested. So while all these talks are going on there are also demos of games tabletop/physical and video being given around the place, an area to play games and chill out, multiplayer games. Just a totally inspiring and creative environment.

So I attended some talks one on narrative, a couple of education ones. Got some great ideas for games to play with students in induction week. Needed something to get away from the build a bridge from paper activity.

I met some friends, made some knew (these events are great for networking), got inspired, came away with a few ideas (noted in my CPD book). But just as important the students that I took along had a great time, and where exposed to new ideas and experiences around games.

If you get a chance to go to Game Camp you should definitely go. I can't recommend it enough.


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Witness My Train Wreck From The Weekend

So here it is for all to see the recording of the 20 minute (was just short of 19 minutes to be precise, but seems a lot longer) talk at last Saturdays CamJam on the Pibrella in the Classroom. From my point of view this seemed like a train wreck but your mileage may vary from it.

You can see the rest of the Pi in Education track from Saturdays CamJam here

Saturday, 10 May 2014

CamJam May 2014

First post of the day and a look at some of the show and tell stuff.

That's right folks an Oculus Rift working with a Raspberry Pi. Will get some video later I think.

Also might have to get a dev kit myself now to try this, bugger more money.

The old fan favourite of the Maplin USB robotic arm.

Above and below more staples of show and tell pi controlled robots.

Above a plant watering system controlled by a pi.

Less suppliers this time due to the heavier focus on workshops, and the education track. However one or two new faces displaying goods.

Such as The Little British Robot Company

Or Fuze


Seven Segments of Pi guy had a couple of new toys to show


PiHut were also here

Above Clive (Raspberry Pi boss type person for their education team) and Alan (@teknoteacher) waiting for the education track to start and give their talks.

Above from the show and tell, a student had made this. When he moves his arm it moves the robotic arm. Uses accelerometers which is pretty cool. I like this idea a lot, and really impressed that the student came up with this. A great idea love it.

My bit of CamJam

Well I did the talk, which ended up being more live demo of the Pibrella. Not my best moment, I hope the teachers in the room at least found it informative and could see how easy it is to program using the official python library. I know my talk was not as entertaining or interesting as the sonic pi guy. Boy was that well presented.

The workshop I was a lot happier with and that went well. There was just enough in the worksheet for people to get through, plus enough time for some to play around with the pibrella, extending what they had been shown in the worksheet. Sadly for one student after the workshop they went off to buy a pibrella and they had all been sold! I even got to meet Phil Howard who wrote the pibrella python library. Have I said how much I like the pibrella python library? No! Well it's rather good. Except for one thing and this is sooooo nit picky, the yellow LED in the library is referred as Amber! I'm not the only one to notice this one of the students tried to use the yellow LED and it failed as it wasn't defined. Luckily I had come across this and was able to point out in the library it's Amber.

It was nice afterwards that some people come up to me and thanked me for the workshop and said they enjoyed it.

So on the whole between the talk and the workshop they evened each other out to average I think.

The rest of the jam

The Educational thread was kicked off with a keynote by Clive Beale of the Raspberry Pi organisation. Clive for a long time was their only education person but now he heads a small team. Clive had the message of "Don't panic" about the new curriculum, and gave a brief rundown how the Pi fitted in and embodied some of aims and principles behind the new curriculum. There was also news that the Raspberry Pi org was launching a £1 million fund to promote computing and applications would be open soon. He also pointed out that the PiAcademy was adding two new CPD sessions in June and July with applications being taken at the moment. Once again applications are only for teachers in schools, and those of us in FE teaching in colleges are ruled out. Apparently there will sessions opened out to the rest of us in other education institutes in the future. This is a big bug bear of mine. So often those of us in FE are treated as second class citizens in the academic world. Everything is aimed at teachers these days it seems, with scraps going to FE. I wouldn't mind but it seems a slap in the face of my students. That they aren't as important as those still at school. Well that's not true, they are equally as important. And it's time they are treated as such. Wow where did that come from? Rant over.

Next up was a talk about STEM Ambassadores by Elizabeth Crilly and David Whale. It would of been nice if they had also plugged the Video Game Ambassador program too but hey that's me being hypercritical. Of note is two upcoming events of a STEM Fair Duxford on the 11/12 June this year, and and Engineering Festival on 14/10/15.

After this was a bloody brilliant demonstration of Sonic Pi by Samuel Aaron. It was a very engaging, passionate talk. I can see the use of Sonic Pi and how students get engaged with it. But as soon as he said there was a Mac/PC version (not supported at the moment) I thought why use it on a Pi then? And also that it was limited and would be fun for teaching some core principles for a few lessons but then something else would have to be used.

Next Sophie Dee talked about Code Club Pro and Code Club. The take home from this talk for me was that although the materials on their site were aimed at primary school they were being used in secondary as well.

The final talk before mine was Gordon Henderson and Fuze Basic and the case/keyboard. I like the look of the keyboard/case they sell. It looks very solid and I can see this being a good addition for the classroom. The Fuze basic looked interesting and a good alternative to Python as the text based programming language for KS3. I would of liked to have seen them demo the GPIO interface, but they did one better and showed that they were able to connect to Minecraft on the Pi. I'd love to see how the Fuze basic holds up/compares to the BBC basic that is on RISC OS (why no port to Raspbian?)

Then it was me up with my train wreck. You can see how much of a train wreck if you look at the recordings of the live stream.

I missed what was by all reports a very entertaining and inspiration talk by Alan O'Donohoe. Sadly it clashed with the Pibrella workshop I was running.

But I did catch the last three talks of the day. The Seven Segments of Pi talk was ok. While the CAS talk by Master Teacher James Robinson was good, although it did give the impression that the CAS Master teachers were rather focused on Cambridge and surrounding area. Cambridgeshire is more than Cambridge. Finally the day ended with a panel made up of PiAcademy students from the first ever PiAcademy last Easter.

Sadly my agenda of getting bits for my robot, like a chassis, maybe some sensors didn't happen, even though there were some kits there, I didn't want a pre-made kit. And some how I didn't get to learn how to solder either!

I did get to see the Kano Pi stuff that was on kickstarter. I love the keyboard they are making for it. I'd love to have that for use in class. Bluetooth, not too large but larger than the small Bluetooth one I have already. A nice usable size.

Today was an awesome day, there were some great talks, great workshops and it was great to meet up with familiar faces, and meet new ones. Did I say I met Alan O'Donohoe and how awesome he is? Alan is @teknoteacher on twitter and does an amazing podcast on teaching GCSE computing.


Thursday, 8 May 2014

It's CamJam this Saturday

It's time for another CamJam this Saturday. Wow hasn't the time flown by?
This one is of particular interest to those in education because there is a "Focus on Education" track in the main lecture hall. You can get the full list of talks going on here. If you have popped over there to see what the talks are then you may recognise a name or two on the list. Amongst the great and the good list there is a fraud. Yep you will see my name there giving a talk on the Pibrella. When you have the likes of Alan O'Donohoe, Clive Beale, Craig Richardson there giving talks, I can't help thinking blooming heck! Maybe I'm there to help them look even more awesome! 
At the moment I have about 20 minutes to fill talking and if I feel brave enough demoing the Pibrella on the Pi. Then at ten past three I'm running a hands on workshop on the Pibrella (you can see the full list of sold out workshops here). 
Yes, I am feeling rather nervous about the weekend. I want to do my best and help people, give them something they will find useful. 
Please if you are attending and you see me, say "Hi". I will be very nervous in the run up to the talk, and then totally down afterwards that it wasn't good enough. So it would be great to meet new folks.
Oh and as usual during and after wifi etc permitting there will be a massive post on the day.
So hopefully see some of you Saturday.

UPDATE #1: Was just thinking being on such an esteemed list of speakers kind of takes me back to the time that I tried stand up comedy. I had been doing a few open mic spots at my local pub at the time. There wasn't much competition there, I was the only one trying stand up the rest were doing poetry readings. But after some success (i.e. I was getting the odd laugh with my material) I decided to try doing open mic spots elsewhere. To cut a longish story short meant I managed to get myself one of the in much demand open spots at the Comedy Store in London. In fact the date I had for my open spot was a day or two before my birthday, so friends and family came along with me to the Comedy Store for my big moment. Boy what a moment that was. The compare for the evening was Jeff Green, the opening act was Mark Thomas, I can't remember the rest of the line up for the night, the place was packed. The front row was taken up by drunk policemen if I remember correctly, they were definitely drunk that was for sure. My spot was in the second half of the show. I died big time that night, I remember my legs shaking so much, I was heckled by the drunk lot at the front. The heat of the lamps on the stage is still vivid in my memory, I can still feel the heat now as I write this. When the red light camp on to tell you to wrap up it seemed a relief from the slaughter. Afterwards comforted by friends and family I was very emotional (there may have been leaky eyes). Probably one of the bravest things I've ever done. As you read the above you probably are thinking that it wasn't a very enjoyable experience, and maybe at the time it didn't feel that way. But looking back I am so glad that I did it. I gave it ago. Not many people can say that they tried what I had done.
The only link is between the two experiences (one not happened yet) is the strong line ups with little ol' me stuck in the middle. This I suppose is my geeky version of the Comedy Store this weekend at CamJam.