Digital Leaders

I first came across the whole idea of digital leaders at the Rethinking ICT Conference organised by Chris Leach digital leadersat Winchester House School in Brackley way back in 2012.  Sheli Blackburn, the ICT co-ordinator from Roydon Primary School in Norfolk was inspirational when she explained how she had given her Year 5 and 6 children the opportunity to become digital leaders – to help other children in their learning, support adults in ICT lessons, and to build on their own computing skills at the same time.  Over a year later, when I look back at my notes from that day I see that I have highlighted Digital Leaders in red with the note – must do this next year.

For me, there was no question as to whom I should invite to become the first group of digital leaders in our school.  I had a group of boys who had been coming to my computing Zing! club for several years and who were continually challenging me to stretch them.  I had been using many things – Scratch, Minecraft, Dance eJay, Kodu, etc – to keep them interested, but I knew that it would take their knowledge and enthusiasm to another level if I started to develop them as digital leaders.

digital leader badgeAs you can imagine, they were delighted, and asked if I could get them badges (like the school council reps and house captains), which a year on they wear with pride.  I set up a timetable for three afternoons a week where teachers in other year groups were interested and willing to trial student teachers in their ICT lessons.  These sessions could not have been more successful, with the digital leaders helping Year 1s to log on to the school’s learning platform independently, assisting Year 2 with different Purple Mash activities and supporting the Year 6s when they were creating animations using ZU3D.  I, for one, could not have managed to teach Kodu to Year 5s without their support and occasional group teaching.  As a teacher, I not only benefitted from several experts who could help the Year 5 children but I also learnt how Kodu works much faster than I could ever have picked it up by myself.

For the digital leaders, these sessions became a highlight of their week, and fed their enthusiasm for computing in general, but also, and surprisingly in some cases, their keenness to help other children.  I saw children transformed in their learning relationships with others.  Collaboration between small groups of children became the norm, and across age gaps;  listening skills improved; as did the ability and confidence of the children involved to hold meaningful conversations with adults throughout the school.

After the initial term when the buzz had died down and digital leaders had become the norm in school, I became concerned that the group was all male.  As there had been no Year 6 girls attending my club the criteria I had used to appoint the boys was irrelevant.  However there was a group of children (mostly girls) who had been operating the audio visual mobile unit during assemblies and plays and 2 of them had shown themselves to be very adept at this, punctual and helpful to the staff using it.  I decided that they should join the group, and it has been interesting to see the effect that they have had on the other digital leaders.  The girls have proved to be highly motivated, especially when it has come to presenting their work to school assemblies, and creating and maintaining the Digital Leaders’ room on our learning platform.

With the implementation of a new school curriculum (see my last post) it was important that the ICT department spread knowledge and expertise of both our existing software and new freebie stuff  around the staff.   The digital leaders were excellent in facilitating this – they learned new software or genned up on existing during their club sessions and then in class they could spread their knowledge and help the teacher.  Other opportunities presented themselves during the year, including helping me conduct a survey, and then create a presentation showing the results for an e- safety parents’ evening, and also to help me run the weekly Zing! Club where they have become the main go-to source of information for much of the finer details of Scratch and ZU3D that the younger children are learning.  For the end of the year, after their SATS tests, I asked them to complete their own projects where they could showcase their own skills in a certain area, whilst at the same time creating a useful resource that can be used in school as their legacy.

So for next year, I am currently looking for a new set of leaders, because, my goodness, I will miss this lot, but also the staff, pupils and the digital leaders themselves have gained so much from the experience.  We are holding a Year 5 taster session next Tuesday to see who is interested for next year.  The best bit about it all has been that all I’ve had to do is book the date – my digital leaders have done the rest.

 

Our New ICT Curriculum

It’s been a year now since Michael Gove scrapped the ICT curriculum in English schools, and whilst I do not know of any statistics that shed light on what has been going on in other schools, during this time ICT teaching and learning has prospered at my own school.

Key to this achievement has been the creation of a brand new curriculum which I wrote over the summer holidays with the help of other like-minded individuals and organisations*, plus a little tweaking to fit our school.  I presented the new document to colleagues at the beginning of the autumn term with the assurance that it was a work in progress which I hoped they, as practitioners, could add to across the terms, but that hopefully it would provide a helpful and structured guide to teaching ICT with levelled objectives for planning and assessment, and suggestions for learning activities. 

The teachers were surprisingly keen to take it on board and have a go.  I am blessed at my school with a staff who, on the whole, enjoy a challenge and who love to ‘mix it up’ in the classroom.  The general consensus was that the strands made sense, the levelled ‘I Can’ objectives were helpful both for planning and assessment, and that the software/hardware progression that I included was relevant to our school.

After a term using it from Year 1 to Year 6, I have put out a curriculum audit asking teachers to comment briefly on which strands they have used and how they have applied the taught skills, whilst also monitoring some of their planning.  It seems to be going down a storm with teachers really thinking about how to teach ICT and in which context to apply new skills.  The children are excited because they are experiencing a wider breadth of ICT with the whole area of ‘Control’ opened up as that particular subject area has become demystified for teachers who are realising exactly what it entails and that they are capable of teaching it.  For far too long parts of ICT have foundered in the jargon used by specialists, making much of it impenetrable for busy teachers.  We are also lucky in having an established Learning Platform www.fronter.com/surreymle and 2Simple software www.2simple.co.uk , both of which I would say have been essential for this to succeed.

During this time I have also introduced Digital Leaders into the school – this year, 7 lads from Year 6 who have attended my after school Zing! (computer) club for the last 2 years, and 2 girls who operate seamless AV technology at assemblies and other meetings.  At strategic points during the week they are on hand to assist class teachers with anything from helping Year 2 children log on to the Learning Platform, to guiding a harassed ICT Co-ordinator (me!) through teaching Kodu to a bunch of Year 5s.  Finally, none of this could even have begun to happen if it were not for my wonderful ICT Technician.  She is unfailing in her knowledge, energy and enthusiasm in all things ICT, and her work on sorting out printers, investigating new broadband agreements and tinkering with our new Raspberry Pi frees me up to think about how to teach what is no longer a simple subject.

If you are interested in our new curriculum I have added links at the bottom of this post.  Please feel free to check it out, download it, tweak it a bit and use it for your own school.  If you like it, or are interested in how we use ICT in Early Years please leave a comment here on this blog.  If you have any questions or ideas on how to make it even better you can contact me at sfine@wray-common.surrey.sch.uk.

Happy days!

* A big thank you must go out to the marvellous Ian Addison whose wiki site www.ictplanning.co.uk  I have mulled over at length, and whose ‘I Can’ Statements have been very helpful.  I have also included some materials from Babcock who are ICT consultants to Surrey schools.

Overview of Strands - How it fits together         

 

 

 

 

Year 1 ICT curriculum               

Year 2 ICT curriculum                

Year 3 ICT curriculum

Year 4 ICT curriculum

 Year 5 ICT curriculum

 Year 6 ICT curriculum 

ICT I Can Statements

Software Progression

Inter School Challenges

Ryan is delighted.

Now Year 6 have finished their SATS, they are working hard on the end of year production – Macbeth – and learning all about William Shakespeare, including storyboarding, writing and creating stop-frame animations of scenes from the play.

However, it’s not entirely Ryan’s cup of tea.  He is a true sportsman, coming first in his races at district sports, playing football whenever he can lay his hands on a ball, and thoroughly enjoying any activities that get him in his PE kit and outdoors.  So why is he so happy?

As part of an Olympic collaboration between Surrey primary schools, a project was set up to devise some inter school challenges which would be created by children to be played by children, all hosted on our schools’ joint Fronter Learning Platform.  Having spoken to the Year 6 teachers, there was no question as to which student would lead our school’s entries.  Ryan only had to be asked once and, within a day he had rounded up a few like-minded Year 5s and 6s to help him come up with some games.  Over the next week, the group, ably led by Ryan, decided on the rules, tested out the games and then photographed each other modelling the different stages of the various games.

When his teachers had first sounded him out about the project I had also spoken to him to let him know that I would be able to help him upload his games onto the Learning Platform.  We had a brief discussion about the best way to show the games to other children – explaining the rules and so on – and we decided that Photostory would be a good way to achieve this.  The brilliant thing about Photostory (apart from the fact it is a free download http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=11132 on Microsoft PCs) is its multimedia functionality and ease of use.  As well as streaming still images with a range of different transitions, it allows the user to type text against each slide and add audio – vocally or from an mp3 file.  Using the audio network website (schools can sign up also for free on https://audionetwork.lgfl.org.uk/terms.aspx), Ryan was able to pick some appropriate music and set it against his series of slides showing exactly how his first game – Gate Relay – should be played.

The end result is a great little piece of work, albeit with some spelling mistakes that Ryan noticed only when the video was uploaded and played on the Learning Platform, which explains exactly how you should play Gate Relay.  Ryan is already at work on his next game and has made a mental note to change up the spellings in the first video soon – something he has never particularly been bothered by before.

So, as I say, Ryan is delighted.  With sport, with his videos, with his new found leadership qualities and most of all, with himself.  And I expect you’ve already guessed what would make him even happier?  That’s right, giving Ryan’s game a go in your own school (click here for Gate Relay).  Please try it out and if you are a Surrey School log into Fronter (https://surreymle.org/) and visit the Olympic Room’s Inter School Challenges (Running Games).

The Surrey Fronter Olympics Project

As part of the Fronter Leading Practitioners’ Group in Surrey, I was asked to devise a project that used Fronter to enhance and progress children’s learning.

I decided to use the 2012 Olympics as the context in which various Fronter tools could be utilised collaboratively, amongst Surrey teachers and pupils.

Initially, my idea was to create a room where all the countries and sports of the Olympics could be represented, and also where we could use the Elluminate tool to host a video conference Question and Answer session with an Olympian.  I shared my ideas with a small group of interested teachers from Surrey primary schools who were enthusiastic, and the project kicked off with an email to the entire list of Surrey Fronter primary school contacts asking them if they would like to participate.  I asked all schools to create a country page in the Olympic room, including information on different aspects of that country, such as its geography, history, language, culture and so on. In doing this, I felt that each school had a stake in the room and the project, using Fronter tools with which they were already familiar, whilst at the same time building up a useful resource for all to use.

My hunch was right, and lots of schools signed up to join in.  To date, we have 19 countries represented in the room, and as this project does not have an actual end date, I can see more country pages being added over the new few years.  At this stage, I must also mention 4S Babcock whose support in maintaining the room has been invaluable, and without whose help in raising the room’s Fronter hierarchical location so that all schools can see it, and also in providing some of the content for the room and general technical help, the project could and would not become the success it currently is.

The first video conference Question and Answer session was organised in November at Wray Common Primary School.  In preparation for the day, in addition to ensuring that the athlete was booked and paid for, I also had to find out how Elluminate worked.  As in many new endeavours, it is often the technological aspects that are tricky. I tried it out myself initially and wrote some notes detailing how to set the computer up to use it successfully which I posted in the Olympic room.  Then I arranged a trial run of the software, and invited interested schools to join in.  (As an aside, it is worth noting that Fronter agreed  to ‘unlock’ Elluminate’s multi-user video facility for both the trials and the actual Q & A session, and were happy to do so for the rest of the year to enable the project to continue.)

Our first trial run at video conferencing was interesting, with many aspects of the software becoming immediately obvious during use, and as a result, a number of us collaborated on a set of procedures to be followed when using Elluminate in this way.  These procedures were added to the Olympics room, providing a useful resource for new schools entering the project.

We also used the room as a showcase for the athlete – Adam Whitehead, a Commonwealth medal winning swimmer – and provided a forum where the schools could post several questions for the session.  In most schools, 3 or 4 questions were picked from the children’s suggestions.   I also included a forum where teachers could register their school’s participation.  The day before the video conference I made a running order of the questions and emailed it out to all participating schools.  On the day itself, Adam presented an assembly to our whole school and led some sporting activities with several year groups, before being interviewed in front of our Year 3 and Year 4 children for the video conference.  http://sandrafine.edublogs.org/2011/12/13/our-first-olympian/

Although this was our first attempt and fairly nerve racking to run, the session passed smoothly enough, and the children, Adam and the teachers at Wray Common thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  The other schools who had managed to link in, also found it a positive experience with the children picked to ask the questions delighted to see and hear themselves on the big screen, and even more delighted to get their questions answered on the spot.

After the session ended, Adam stayed behind to answer all the questions that didn’t not get asked on air, and these were posted into the Olympic room for everyone to see.

Valuable technical lessons that were learned during the conference, largely to do with audio and video feeds, and running orders, were added to the growing set of procedures that we had been building up in the trial runs.  In particular, in the weeks following the conference we were also able to sort out why some schools had had problems accessing the session.  At this end of the year, I am reasonably confident that the vast majority of schools would now be able to set up their computers to use the Elluminate tool to video conference with other schools.  An extra educational feature of Elluminate, not found on Skype (an obvious alternative) is the presence of a whiteboard which can be used as in class and instantaneously shared with all other participants.

Following on from Adam’s Q & A we had several more athletes hosted by different schools  – Rachel Ennis, rhythmic gymnastics, Vicki Hansford, adaptive rowing, Amanda Parker, synchronised trampolining and Andy Turner, 110m hurdles.  Each athlete was a great success, both in their host school and in conference with other schools.  All in all, 24 schools have taken part in the conferencing, with between 5 and 11 schools attending each sessions.  In terms of numbers of children who experienced the sessions, it is more difficult to pin down.  However, most teachers have been displaying the video and audio feeds to at least 2 classes, with some running the session in the school hall with all the children in the school taking part.  It has also been a success across the year groups with all children in the primary age range attending, from Reception up to Year 6 classes.

Although our question and answer sessions have slowed down in the second half of the summer term, the Olympics room is still going strong with two further focuses – the Inter School Challenges, and Olympic Celebrations.  Continuing with the collaboration theme, the inter school challenges were a suggestion from St Dunstans School.  As part of the Olympics project, they are games that can be played by any age group in any primary school, and are set up by Year 6 children in different schools – with the rules described via a photostory or a video – and posted into the room.  Attached to each game is a score sheet.  The idea is that a school chooses a game to play, follows the published rules and fills out the scores on the score sheet and resubmits the sheet back into the room to build up a raw data resource for use in the future when teaching data handling and so on.  A second focus, the Olympic Celebration part of the room, is an area we want to develop with pictures and videos of events, stunts and activities that the different schools undertake in the run up to the Olympics.  We will publish these in the room along with a marker locating the school on a collaborative Google map of Surrey Schools, and hopefully build up a picture of who did what, where.

So far, so amazing!  However, it isn’t over yet.  In fact, at one of our meetings (which by the way are open to all interested Surrey schools with access to Fronter) one enthusiastic teacher was wondering what we could do next year to keep the momentum going…

Looking back over the year, there have been many successes, not least the very real opportunity for the children to meet and listen to the dreams, aspirations and sheer determination of the some of the best athletes in the country, and, of course, we have found interesting and rewarding ways in which to use our joint Learning Platform.  For me, however, the best aspect about the project has been, and continues to be, the enthusiasm and creativity of the teachers involved.  It has been my extreme privilege to work with these people and to learn from them, and I really hope that we can make the project continue in the new academic year.

The Dragon’s Story

When I saw Julia’s latest 100WCGU I just had to have a go.  We have been writing rhyming couplets in Year 4, based on the poem “Do not stand at my grave and weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye.  It is included in a DVD version of The Snow Queen which we have been studying in English, and it inspired the children to write some lovely poems of their own.  They enjoyed having the strict structure of rhyming each pair of lines and rose to the challenge magnificently as you can see below.

I have to go by Tom

My journey is slow by Jenni

My journey has begun by Rosie

 

So I thought, if my children can write a poem armed with a handful of rules, then so can their teacher.  Here is my attempt at telling the other side of the tale of George and the Dragon, using the comforting scaffold of Shakespeare’s sonnets – 14 lines, 10 syllables each rhyming alternately through the first 3 sets of four lines, and finishing with a rhyming couplet.  Hope it makes you laugh.

 

 

 

The Dragon’s Story

With thanks to Toby Forward and Ishar Cohen, some of whose prose I have borrowed.

No please, look at me, would I lie to you?

Hungry, far from home, I needed food.  Bad.

Those ‘sheep’ looked juicy, though not much to chew,

How was I to know it made the folk sad?

(My eyesight was never good, all those bones

Tasted like heaven.  Dresses of satin

Slipped down a treat, amidst the many groans.)

When out of the blue, a horse gallopin’

Arrived by my side. A bright ‘fox’ leapt off –

All right, I know, I’m labouring the point –

And brandished his twig.  I tried not to scoff.

Down in a minute, did not disappoint.

As for me?  Off to pastures new and green,

My glasses you say?  Don’t know what you mean.

We are blogging!

I had been interested in blogging for a while, mainly as a means of documenting some of the ICT related things we have been doing at school, which don’t get celebrated or even noted in the fast pace of life that is most primary schools these days.

It quickly became apparent, that there was a huge community of bloggers out there, adults and students alike, and that many of the children posting were of primary school age.  To investigate further I visited the bMoble conference last June, hosted by a group of Bradford educationalists, where one of the breakouts was ‘Sprogs with Blogs’ which had an interesting write up in the conference leaflet http://prezi.com/sk5bgrblu6bm/bmoble-2011-sprogs-with-blogs/.

David Mitchell (@DeputyMitchell) was an inspiration, taking the conference through the journey his Year 5 and 6 children had travelled to get to where they currently were – which was 63% level 5 writing from 9% in 12 months.  I also think I heard him say that no child achieved less that level 4.  This was heady stuff, especially when he brought in some of his class who told their own stories very eloquently.  As we all now know, but what was news to me then, was that it is the comments made on a blog that make the difference.  And not just the teacher’s comments, nor even the parents, but other children and other people in other places.  Well, I suppose it shouldn’t have been news – after all, all adult bloggers know what it is to receive (positive!) comments.

I drove back to Surrey deep in thought as to how I could implement this in my school. I am lucky in that in my workplace there are two or three other teachers who are keen to further the use of ICT in all lessons and it was to these colleagues that I turned, and, as we began to plan a way to incorporate blogging into class, what should pop up but the http://feb29th.net  blog.

This provided the perfect opportunity to get both the children and the adults involved.  We decided  to jump straight in with a big splash and set up enough laptops and computers on Feb 29th so that every child in keystage 2 had the opportunity to post their own blog on the site, whilst the children in keystage 1 could take part in a class blog.  A trial run at midnight proved a god send when I realised that we had to tag our posts in order to find them easily later, and so every post from our school went by the tag 2032, as we had suggested to the children that they write about what they thought they would be doing in 20 year s time on 29th February 2032 http://feb29th.net/?s=2032.

And, just as Mr Mitchell and his year 6s had said, it was the comments that had the most impact.  We encouraged the children to comment on other people’s blogs once they had completed their own, and the delight with which they encountered not only their writing online, but also any remarks was wonderful to behold. As those of you who took part will know, there were so many participants that the posts came through in batches over the next few days, but our children still looked for their post, and bit by bit other people commented on them, sometimes from overseas – wow!

Since then, our Year 4s have been blogging about their visit to Hampton Court and the Year 3 children have been commenting.  The children are beginning to understand how to comment positively and the Year 3s are looking forward to posting their own blogs next term.

The really exciting news is that this Easter holiday we have been running a Tanzanian blog http://wraycommon.primaryblogger.co.uk while two of our teachers have been visiting our partner school in Bunda, a town near Lake Victoria.  Mr S and Miss C have been posting  all their stories and adventures, and lots of our children, staff and parents have been commenting – it feels like a real community and is wonderful to see learning extending outside of school.  The icing on the cake has been that we have been able to set up a blog for the Tanzanian school http://ligamba.primaryblogger.co.uk which they have started to use, posting news up once a week – what a wonderful way to forge relationships across the globe.

So to next term and beyond.  I am interested in getting involved in Julia Skinner’s (@TheHeadsOffice) 100 Word Challenge http://www.theheadsoffice.co.uk/category/100-word-challenge/, having had a go already myself on the 100WCGU http://jfb57.wordpress.com/100-word-challenge-for-grown-ups/  .  (I really recommend this if you are a closet creative writer – if you are interested you can see my efforts in earlier posts on this blog.)  I think the 100WC might be just what we need to get our children interested in writing for its own sake, and now they are more familiar with blogs I want to see if we can succeed in enthusing young writers whilst also raising their writing levels.

feb29th.net

(If you like this please follow me on Twitter @sandra_fine)

 

The Secret

Week 35 – a topical subject after yesterday’s budget.  They said it was to be a Robin Hood affair, stealing from the rich to give to the poor…  Whilst I am not an overtly political person, I do read the Guardian, and hey, this is a Conservative led coalition, so no surprises then.  Why do we ever think there will be?

So back to Julia Skinner and “The Red Box”.

It had lain there for years, as long as she could remember, resting quietly at the back of her parents’ old dressing table. 

Now, with the solicitor’s words still ringing in her ear, and the memory of her mother’s loving touch on its  soft red leather, she lifted the little box to finally discover its secret.

She sat down suddenly as she realised  that she would be mourning for two.

Why oh why had such a poignant truth been kept from her? At least she was left with a photo to remind her of the twin she had never known.

And, just as a way to keep tabs on the different pieces I also include a link here to feb29th.net and my entry for ‘A Leap of Faith’, week 33’s title.  http://feb29th.net/2012/02/29/a-reason-to-write/

 

How Music Mirrors Food

I thought that I would try out Julia Skinner’s rather wonderful idea – a bi-monthly 100 word challenge for grown ups.

Grown ups.

It was definitely that last bit that got me interested.  Of course, in our efforts to get blogging going at our school, we want to try out her 100 word challenge for children http://100wc.net/ and are looking forward to joining Team 100WC.  However I just couldn’t leave that ‘grown up’ thing alone, and it made me think of things that only other grown ups, at least as old as I, would empathise with.

The subject for Week#31 was …the flip side.., topical as Julia puts it what with Shrove Tuesday being about now.

And so I came up with ‘How Music Mirrors Food’.

“Leafing through my records I’m delighted that my pile of 45s sounds as delicious as the stack of pancakes sitting warming in my oven.  

Strawberry Fields Forever tops the charts for yummyness, closely followed by Sugar Sugar and the Stranglers Golden Brown.  Luckily the heavy hits of Cream are countered by the super cool Blueberry Hill, immortalised by Fats Domino, which finds a place in my heart for its all round feel good factor. 

However the flavour I’m really craving is proving elusive… oh, hang on… here it is, on the flip side of Led Zeppelin’s album, The Lemon Song.”

Oh, so hard to get it to only 100 words. But definitely worthwhile. Thank you Julia.  I’m looking forward to the next one.

        

Our First Olympian

120 fidgety children sitting cross-legged on the carpet; as word gets around the school, a steadily growing group of excited teachers perched on the tables dotted around the edge of a very crowded room; three nervous ‘ICT experts’ (haha that’s me and my teacher colleagues) sitting hunched over our laptops wondering what we’ve got ourselves into; and, most important of all, our first Olympian, gold medal winning swimmer, Adam Whitehead. Yes.  This was the first of, hopefully many more, video conferenced question and answer sessions hosted by Surrey primary schools in the run up to the 2012 Olympics.

The idea had been some months in the making and was born from a desire to promote collaboration amongst both children and staff in schools in the county.  With the upcoming Olympics providing an ideal context to unite and enthuse schools, it only remained to find a tool on our learning platform that would enable us to work together,  Elluminate, offered as part of the Surrey Fronter package, provided such a facility.  Audio and video links are supported, enabling a potentially unlimited number of schools to work together in virtual real time.  A few of us got together and, booking a date for the actual event, decided to give it a go.

From that moment on, the clock began to tick, and a number of challenges presented themselves.    Had a large scale video conference been held between primary schools before?  No, not to our knowledge.  Were enough schools interested in taking part?  Yes, definitely.  Was the software up to the job?  In theory, yes, in practice, well…?

As is often true in these situations where the initial big idea is eagerly embraced by all concerned, the cool calm voice of reason is can be overlooked in the excitement of being a part of something new.  In this case, it took a few sleepless nights spent on a weekend break in Devon and a subsequent ‘panic’ visit to talk to the LEA consultant during half term to crystallise exactly what recipe was needed to make the venture the success it deserved to be.  The magic ingredients were – slim it down a bit; hold a trial run.

The trial run was an experience – seeing yourself on a video feed 2 seconds after you’ve just said or done something is strange to say the least, and seeing up to 6 other teachers looking puzzled as they try to work out the controls is funny to the point where the hilarity explodes, everybody has a good old laugh and you finally get down to the business of working out a plan.

So, back to the day itself.  The children, over 1000 of them in 12 different primary schools, thoroughly enjoyed their encounter with our Olympian, who was a gift.  Adam was an inspirational speaker and gauged the tone of the event just right, giving wonderful answers to the children’s questions, whether they were sitting in front of him or were in a school miles away and visible only on the feed.  The children were fascinated to see themselves and others on the video link, and were talking about it for many days to come, The technical stuff worked (thank goodness) and the feedback from all the schools concerned was enthusiastic.

We are determined to do more of these question and answer sessions now we know how the technology works, and how popular and inspiring the experience is for both children and adults alike.  What is getting us really excited though is the other uses to which we can put this little collaborative gem of software.  Through using Elluminate, I have met so many teachers in other schools with whom I know I can work, and the ideas for what else we can do are coming in thick and fast.

So thank you to our first Olympian who enabled us to trail blaze – you have given us far more to think about than you know.

Guilty Pleasures?

Yes.  I admit it.  2DIY is my absolute favourite piece of school software and I don’t care who knows it.

Simply, it is the most versatile programming language that most school children (and let’s face it, teachers) will come across in their primary school years.  OK, so we have Logo and Coco, and they are great packages with which to teach basic computer programming skills.  However, times move on and today’s children are brought up on a diet of Sponge Bob Square Pants, Dr Who and Super Mario 3D Land.  With the best will in the world it is hard to inspire a child of the 21st century with a talking clown.

This is where 2DIY comes in.  It offers a range of skeleton games which the children can make their own, whether they are platform games, mazes or jigsaw puzzles.  The software provides a platform where the children can be as creative as their imaginations will let them and where they are manipulating sophisticated programming language without necessarily being aware of it.  At our school, word is spreading from Zing! Club where 2DIY is king, and children are getting the bug to create their own games.  Currently we have several “The Hardest Game Ever!!!!!” loaded up onto our Learning Platform, and a challenge to complete “The Henry VIII Maze” in the fastest time is currently in pre-production. It has to be said that platform games hold an enormous fascination for the pre-pubescent (often masculine) mind, and it is gratifying to see so many boys putting so much effort in to achieve their goals, mindful that a lot of people can see their work.

And what about the parents involvement in all this?  We have started offering parent workshops which is a new endeavour for our school, and one which we hope will entice our parents in to dance classes, art lessons, phonics overviews and, inevitably, ICT sessions.  Our ICT team decided to teach the parents who booked up for our session how to use 2DIY.  At one point in the afternoon I counted up to 4 different games in creation – a multi-level game being taught to an intrigued mum by a pair of innovative twins; an interactive farmyard scene being designed by 4 year old Kaja and her parents, a maths pairing game being shared by a year 6 child and his mother, getting to grips with the grid method of multiplication; and a wonderfully retro ‘Space Invaders’ game in construction by a father and son team with huge grins on their faces.

“So that’s all well and good,” I hear you say.  “2DIY is fantastic for many of the children in my school, and for teachers making resources.  But what’s next?  What really extends the more skilful children?”  Kodu and Scratch I reckon.  The good thing about these game creation packages is that they are available free to download from the internet, a definite plus compared to 2DIY which is priced.  Obviously, both need checking out by the teacher who’s going to let the children loose on them, but for creativity and versatility I would certainly recommend these web freebies as the natural next steps for the comfortable 2DIY user.

And I would hazard a guess that they are about to be my future guilty pleasures.