JamPacked Weekend

It’s been a long tiome since I’ve been here, you’re all looking well!
Last weekend we joined up with the Jam Packed team (Claire & Alan) to welcome 59 pupils from primary schools across East Lothian for our Hack to the Future Event. During the morning the pupils got to experience 4 different activities from digital storytelling using Twine, Making a plain game in scratch interesting, coding a squirrel using Python and Hacking Minecraft on the Raspberry Pi. All pupils spoke positivly of the event.
The afternoon was a voluntary session on Minecraft hacking which a number of pupils came along to, and all seemed to get right into it.
The Family Hack Jam brought in various groups of people/learners from all over the Lothians, some coming from the city centre to participate. They spent the night creating interactive stories using Twine ranging from the fate of Sherlock Holmes who was having a pint in an Edinburgh pub to a grisly ending for Justin Bieber. Just watching families sit down together to create and collaborate using Computing Science skills together was a great site – Something I hope as a community we can build on in the future!
The Raspberry Jam itself was like a whirlwind, we had Kodu workshops, loads of Pi work with Minecraft and Python. We also were able to have some people building a lego robot and program it by the end of the day. The highlight of the weekend however was the 8 year old girl who led a workshop on Sonic Pi (With a little help from Claire of course). From my point of view it was great to see what’s possible for our young people and at a very early age with a little bit of encouragement.
This video might give you some kind of idea what went on:
I have to say this has already had a positive impact on my teaching, next week I’m planning on a bit of Scratch hacking fun with my S2 pupils.

Latest happenings!

The last few weeks have been very busy. Last week during the February holiday my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world, mini-McSwan (affectionately named “little bit”) has caused a few late nights.

Workwise the rolling stone of things to do kept rolling. Higher / Int 2 courseworks, Scratch programming and Animation with S2, sharing the power of Google apps to S1s however it’s the S3 classes that are the really interesting ones this week. On Monday the pupils participated in a workshop with Andy McKechnie which gave me an idea for an impromptu lesson. 2 Computing classes were joined together to make some video or audio podcasts explaining what happened in the workshop, cue 10 groups armed with video cameras and microphones explaining their views on what happened. this let to many pupils playing about with software they hadn’t used before and some brilliant results. Hopefully we’ll be able to persuade some of the pupils to have their work posted on the school website but time will tell.

In October the revisecomputing site disappeared and I’m very pleased to have brought all the materials back with the help of a few friends and this week launched the new site http://www.passcomputing.co.uk. We hope to create a resource site usable for all computing departments in Scotland (and beyond) that covers the new courses and we’ve already made a change by introducing some revision videos for the current Higher course into the site as well as bringing back all the revision games (500+).

In other good news Runrev have reached their kickstarter target and so their LiveCode programming language will now become opensource and available for all learners. Having used this language since August I’m a big fan and looking forward to the developments that this will bring to teaching computing and with that in mind I’ll leave you all with this tasty little morsel: #csmatters

Things computing teachers want you to know

It’s very infrequently that I have the time or inclination to blog these days however I saw this and made me think of what happens in my classroom. So I thought I’d make a list of things I wish pupils knew:

  1. Check for basic mistakes – This is especially true when learning about programming. I’ve always found that 8/9 times out of 10 problems in programming come down to poor spelling. Now this is true of myself as well as pupils and the best way to solve it is to proof read the code again carefully.
  2. I don’t finish with pupils I’m working with as soon as you need help – Very often pupils who require help will repeatedly shout “Sir, Sir, SIR!!!”. Every pupil in the class is as important as each other and I will get to you as soon as I can.
  3. Don’t lie about what you did, we’ll find out anyway – Now this is the same as the list’s number 3 and this has been true when studying flash animations. Very often pupils get confused or mixed up when editing in flash (one wrong key press and suddenly there are 100 keyframes) and rather than trying to undo (see point 4) they will try lots of other things to try and “fix” what happened.
  4. Edit -> Undo / Ctrl+Z is your best friend – The first keyboard shortcut every pupil should know how to perform is to undo as soon as something goes wrong. It can save you so much time and let you get back on with the tasks you’ve been asked to complete.
  5. There will be times when I don’t know the answer to your question – I will however go away and try to find out the answer even if this means spending hours looking at how do to something. If it’s important to you it will be done!

At some point I’m going to make a simpler list of these to put up in my class and I’m sure other points will come into my head over time.

1 Year Gone

This is a quick blog post in an effort to get me blogging again.

I’m starting a project with the S1 pupils to do some video editing and so they’ve chosen some songs they’d like to make videos from and it’s quite interesting what they’ve chosen.

For those of you with Spotify you can check out the list here:

On a side note today marks the 1 year anniversary of me starting in the school, oh how time flies when you’re busy.


I attended my first Teachmeet (in person) on Friday night and I also gave a 2 minute nano presentation looking at my classroom cool wall which seems to have been well recieved.

I really enjoyed the night and feel it was well worth travelling 600 odd mile round trip to attend. One thing about working so far away from the city and in a one man department I’ve found is that it’s important to get out and network with other professionals whenever possible.

While working down in East Lothian the computing teachers would meet up regularly (and in the pub no less) for a networking session. So far this has not happened in Highland that I’m aware of but hopefully other events will come up.

However back to the point of the blog, there were lots of great ideas put forward on Friday night, wikis, Scratch and it’s many uses, Animoto, iRiddles (I still want to see more of this David – next time perhaps, some computing examples would be great as well).  Lots of great ideas that I’d love to try out in the classroom. I fear for the time being these will need to be added to the list of ideas to try in the future.

I’m now trying to figure out what to send the rest of my department budget on, Scratch boards are an option as well as Flip Minos. Anyone got any advice???

Finally a big thank you to Stuart Meldrum for organising the event and the conversation after during thr teacheat (Carpe Signum – I hope I’ve got that right)

ICT Cool Wall

I thought I would post a picture of the Cool Wall as it stands, I will post a list of all items that are on the wall soon.

Unfortunately I’ve been off sick most of this week, got quite a few websites to play about with next week.

At the start of the year I let the S1 play with vokies however some of the pupils were too young to set up an account with them. The other problem was with Safari not loading the pages properly so I’m turning to Firefox to help me out with that.

Hopefully this one will work Faceyourmanga.

ICT in my classroom

I started this weekend in a strange way, I didn’t bolt down the A9, didn’t turn on the TV or games console but instead I participated in the flash meet and watched Teachmeet09 @BETT and since then my head has been spinning.

I enjoy working with computers, I spend lots of my time in front of them, talking about them and even fixing them but all these great new technologies I haven’t really embraced in my classroom. I’ve never really seen how I could use them either.

I would now like to try and fix this. In the morning I am going to set up my class twitter account, I will then have the pupils in my senior classes do the same.

I am where possible going to use this to enable my pupils to work and discuss topics that have come up during lessons in and out of the classroom.

The idea of having a back channel up while teaching doesn’t really scare me, I know in other schools it could be an issue but with the pupils I am working with this will not be a problem.

The other thing I am going to try is to issue a quick mobile phone quiz for the pupils. I got this idea from Joe Dale’s blog and came up with a few (11) questions in order to test this out.

My aim is to test these out over the next week and see how I get on. If it proves successful I’ll continue it, if not I’ll revise it and try again.

I also have another tool to play about with – an IR pen. This along with a Wiimote will hopefully give me an interactive Wiiboard for my computer. Should this work their will be pictures.

Also – Must remember to follow up on the Cool Wall post from before with a picture of it.

To finish off I really enjoyed the Teachmeet on Friday, so much so I’m now looking forward to attending my first one in person in February down in the borders.

Digital Games Design

We’ve been back at school now for almost 3 days and I’ve shocked myself, I’ve not set up the department Wii yet. Even more shocking, I’ve not played Guitar Hero on it this year.

I’m starting to think carefully about the digital gaming course I am running with 2 classes and have been inspired again by reading some of the consolarium blogs.

One of the activities in the course is to create a level for a computer game, my first thought for this came from the compednet forums for computing teachers and that was to use Super Smash Bros Brawl for the Wii to do this but now there are other ideas coming into my head. The pupils could create their own song for Guitar Hero for others to complete, create a whole world in Little Big Planet (Thanks to Derek for that idea).

I almost shelled out for a PS3 to see if this would be a good idea, I also quite fancied playing the new call of duty but eventually came to my senses and saved my money – until I found a camera I liked but thats another story.

Can anyone think of any other games about to create levels?

My other purchase over the holidays was a Nintendo DS, Which has given me other ideas. I’m going to poll the S4 games class and try to get them to bring it in next week for a competition.

End of term fun

Well it’s nearing the end of another year and term, August doesn’t seem so long ago.

On Friday I was given a suggestion to have a charity guitar hero event which was a nice way to spend the morning. The pupils were given a choice of 5 songs to practice on and then a final song which could earn them house points. The most popular choice for the junior school was “Livin’ on a prayer”

First thing in the morning The Wii and projector was set up in the school’s main hall for the first session before moving up to the HE room.

We had 48 pupils take part during the course of the day but the best response came from the first and second years.

The winning house for S1 and 2 was Maree and the winers in S3 and 4 were Kerry.