Friday, 28 November 2014

Choosing a Language for KS3

1. Have you picked a language that your department has some existing knowledge and expertise in or can you get help and training

If it is a language that your team already know, then that gives you a big advantage or if that is not possible choose a language that you are able to get good quality support and resources for.  Don't be afraid to reach out to your local Computing At Schools group for help or even to local industry and parents. They may not be willing to teach students, but they might help the teachers. 

2. What are the teaching resources available for this language?

A good idea to check and the various book that are available for the language

3. Is the graphical and text language capable of allowing the students to model algorithmic solutions, teach concepts and principles you need to cover?

Visual Language

Scratch is a good choice, but also consider Kodu if you are in a Windows environment. If you want it to be possible to edit on an iPad Snap is a good cross platform alternative. Touchdevelop also looks interesting and resources are in development. For lower ability users the Hopscotch is becoming quite a fully featured package. Gamefroot and Blockly also provide possibilities.

Text-based language

The main choices for text based options are SmallBasic and its bigger cousin Visual Basic for Windows. (Or another version of Basic)  Python is also popular and is good if you are planning to use the RaspberryPi. A language from MIT is Processing and it's got a lot of libraries and helpful resources. If you are in an Apple school, consider using Swift. You may also be able to use Javascript for a part of the curriculum. 

4. Can pupils easily access the language at home and around school?

Think about access from home, cross platform languages are likely to be more accessible and web access is even better.

5. Will you be able to install the language on your network?

You will need the cooperation of your network managers to install most languages and there could be security risks to the network if improperly handled. So you can understand that there may be reservations. If not possible Web-based languages or Raspberry Pis provide possible workarounds.

6. What will you be teaching in Key Stage 4 and 5, is there progression?

It makes sense to teach a language that will develop into a useful language beyond Key Stage 3. Check your exam boards carefully to see which languages are suited and even where they say they accept a variety of languages, remember that the functionality of the language can make tasks easier or more difficult.

7. What have they learnt in Key Stage 2? 

Certainly makes sense to use the visual language that is being taught in primary.  (Or at least they are preparing to teach.)

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Kano Gamifies the Raspberry Pi experience

I had mixed feelings about installing Kano on a Raspberry Pi. I'd read mixed reviews and wasn't sure how well it would work.  However let me cast away those initial misgivings.  Kano is awesome! Kano is built largely upon the excellent Open Source software that has gone before it, but what it does is to Gamify the whole experience.

When you start Kano it plays a game in DOS reminiscent of the Matrix.  It's a great way to get children in and then when you press StartX it all comes to life.  Naturally it doesn't matter what you put on a menu, when a 10 year old sees Minecraft, that's what they are going for!  What is especially nice about it, is that it presents Minecraft with a Scratch like interface and so children can make their own sculptures and in-game commands via the interface.

For parents who are not technical, this is probably as simple as a Raspberry Pi gets. The gamified experience takes you through the steps and it is not long before children are coding!   As a teacher, this provides the introductory point that 8 to 12 year olds need to get started and get interested in the Pi.   A fantastic job all-round and what is especially nice is that for existing Raspberry Pi users, the whole kit is free.

I have a few reservations as a teacher, I feel the choice of videos is a little inappropriate. Yes, we want to encourage children to get inside PCs but a monkey destroying a Macbook isn't the best way to go about it and something I know a lot of teachers will strongly object to, we're not here to replace Tablets and Computers, but to provide another tool.  I hope that the kit will include a WIFI module, because without it the inability to complete levels feels unfair. These are minor points that I hope will be taken on-board before final production.

I would stress this is not a kit for hobbyists, who have already found a 1,000 ways to use the Pi, GCSE or A-level students who've already cracked the basics of Computer Science.  This is about giving children their first taster and getting them into CS!