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.

Computing for Girls

I hadn’t planned on making a post during the holidays but as it seems I’m having a quiet day in watching cartoons with my cousin (so far Over the Hedge, Cars and Ice Age 2) I’ve been able to do some reading from the BBC website. They’ve posted a news article called Girls geek out over dinner it got me thinking about an after-school program called CC4G.

It’s not something I’ve seen in any of the schools I’ve worked in and regrettably not something I’ve implemented myself although I don’t think I’d ever be the best person to talk about fashion and celebrities with them. I wonder if this is something for the universities in Scotland to be thinking about, during my time working in East Lothian I attended meetings where Strathclyde and Edinburgh Universities and they were looking for ways to get more pupils to take up computing so this could be a market for them.

The Hero of Time is coming?

If you know me you’ll know I’m a bit of a gaming fan, and if you ask anyone who knows me what my favourite game is the only answer you’d get would be Zelda.

Ever since I spent years working with a friend to complete a link to the past on the SNES (The save game somehow deleted one temple away from the last temple the first time round). I then got the N64 for one game only and that was the Ocarina of Time (This time it only took 2 weeks to complete so I was getting better). on a random visit to youtube to see the new Snow patrol video i saw a link to this on the front page.

Now I couldn’t decide if it’s a fake or if it’s real, a quick google search shows it was the cruel april fools joke from IGN this year. It’s not the only fake zelda trailer on you tube but it has got 3,379,628 people having viewed it on youtube alone.

It was because of games like Zelda that I pursued computing after high school, I always wanted to create games which has got me thinking about the Computer games course and if studying these would lead to a new generation of computer programmers / game designers. We know standard grade is on the way out as is the intermediate courses so what will become of these new courses? will the new courses include these or will we be stuck teaching Word Processing, Spreadsheets and databases for the rest of time?

Time for a change!

Well I guess I should start this post by first thanking David for giving me some encouragement to get my blogging going again, it was quite a surreal moment seeing the title of my blog as a posting on his.

For the first time in a few years I started playing about with the blogger site, gave it a new look and seen some of the new features in it. When I set the blog up I had to manually edit some of the HTML in order to get links in, the old counter and visitors map but just spending a little time playing about with it has made it look so much better.

This has got me thinking, over the last 2 years having worked with an authority that created websites using blogs with the WordPress software which platform is better.

One of the things that always annoyed me about blogger was the lack of titles in the posts, I never realised that I had to turn the option on! I had made do by posting the heading in the post and editing the HTML so that it stood out. I’m not sure where I stand, I think I’ll try and use both for a while and take it from there.

As part of the new S1 course I’ve arranged for the pupils to undertake a Digital photography day in November which is then going to lead nicely into the next weeks fashion show and I’ve thought of an addition to it in the form of comics. Ollie Bray posted yesterday about a website called comicbrush.

I played about with the site yesterday and this is what I came up with:

After showing my higher class this I think it’s now official that I’m a geek!

Desks of the future

One of the biggest tasks I’ve had since I started in the new school was getting the computers in the department up to speed. At the moment I have a very big mix of Mac computers. From the old colourful iMacs (Tray loading and slot loading) to the newer eMacs and I have been slowly getting them upgarded to OSX but when I saw this article it got me thinking about what the future may mean for computing. You can see a demo video of these desks here.

These desks look very similar to the Microsoft Surface that’s been around for a while now.

Have the days of 20 computers in a computer lab gone now, should we be looking to get in front of the technologies.

In the 2006/07 school year there was a pilot project being launched in and around Edinburgh to give pupils handheld devices to access the web to help them with their studies.

Even laptops are getting smaller, more powerful and “Lighter than air”.

I can think of some fantastic uses for the computerised desk, programming could become very interactive especially programs such as scratch which I have seen get the pupils attention in a very positive way.

My worry is that these technologies will cost so much money they will stay out of reach to state secondary schools and be a great idea lost.

The new term!

Well it’s proving to be a bit difficult to catch a breath up here, so many things going on and I’m still getting used to the new way of working but so far I’m really enjoying working in the school.

I’m slowly but surely getting the department all sorted out and am certainly enjoying working with the smaller classes at standard grade level.

I’m in the process of creating a brand new S1 course centred around the idea of the pupils being band managers. This idea came from an ex-colleague down in East Lothian. The idea is the pupils learn how to use ICT skills with a purpose as opposed to just copying out and completing exercises in a book. So far there’s been some Word Processing and even a little bit of photo editing using iPhoto which has surprised me with how easy it is to use. I’m also trying to get other departments involved as much as possible so hopefully this is heading towards the curriculum for excellence that’s waiting over the horizon.

So what’s next? Computer Games of course.
I’m attempting to run the Int1 & 2 computer games courses and as such now have a TV and 2 games consoles in my room to help with the playing of the games. if anyone has any experience of teaching this course I’d love to hear from you.

How much would I like to attend this learning conference in London and get a free Nintendo DS!!!

I like the idea of using video games in teaching (Vital problem soving skills) but for some reason I can’t imagine starting off my classes by saying “OK take out your DS and play exercise ….”

Hopefully I will get to try out some games modules soon (The SNES, N64 and PS2 are on standby). I am starting in a new job (Permanent) in Gairloch High School and have some scope in my timetable to try out individual modules and introduce new initiatives and will post details here after they are complete.

If anyone has any experience with these modules drop me a line and let me know!

The new job will be an amazing experience, it looks like a very supportive school and I’ll have very different challenges to what I’ve experienced here in East Lothian and am looking forward to gaining experience in a new authority.

I’m aiming to make a new post by the end of June but please don’t shoot me if I don’t manage it!