Sunday, 25 February 2018

London CAS Conference 24th Feb

So yesterday was the 3rd CAS London Conference.
I attended a number of sessions and ran one. I am going to just review some of the sessions I attended and give my thoughts

It started with a talk from John Nixon, Ofsted National Lead for Computing.

His presentation definitely had a number of things that was food for thought, it's worth pointing out here so that everything he said could be applied to any subject within schools.

From a computing point of view though he mentioned that although Ofsted don't have a preference for the type of technology that are being used in school the key things are looking for is the impact and implementation of that technology. So they will be asking Leadership questions about how well does it work and if it doesn't what are you doing about it.

He made it very clear that even though Computer Science was a large component of the new curriculum we should not be losing sight of other aspects of ICT.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Bett Day 2...

So yesterday was another long day, i'm finally I'm home after an excellent Teachmeet and Teachmeet Social. So these are some of the things that caught my eye yesterday.

Once again micro:bit featured heavily in what I noticed around the show. I went back to some of the stands to look again at the adaptor boards. I noticed a real shift, that products that where, last year, using Arduino and Raspberry Pi has now added a micro:bit adaptor.

I noticed more micro:bit models by a couple of companies today. These were great little wooden models that had been laser cut. You build them add the motors and micro:bit and away you go. I liked a kit that made a teabag dipper. There where also a couple of nice games.

Lots of companies seem to be getting in the idea of the micro:bit as a driver behind a number a little projects. I think if nothing else these tiny products that are fairly inexpensive to buy. Schools could be buying a couple of these and then using them as inspiration for kids and making their own out of cardboard. It is the fact that there's lots more ideas suddenly out there, more accessible to the normal class teacher. Check out

Continuing again on the maker theme, I was impressed by a lot of the STEM and creative sections on a number of the largest stands. In particular Microsoft had a really really nice section on hacking STEM, which currently is all based on Arduino but the projects themselves are fully adaptable and you could probably easily get them working with microbo:bit. There are loads of resources and lessons plans to make projects. They did suggest that micro:bit guides where going to be coming soon, anyway.

Linking that back to some of the stuff yesterday with birdbrain technologies and all the great stuff in the micro:bit stand it just provides more materials that teachers and children could use to try and link computing and design.

I loved the dragon... :o) 

I talked a bit about the VR yesterday and today managed to pop on to the Lenovo stand and have a go their headset which is an amazing piece of kit. Sadly probably too expensive for schools to access at £500 but if you get a chance, do have a look at it because it's that next level of VR beyond the ClassVR headsets.

I popped back to the Google stand to have a look at Science Journal, an app on chromebooks, android and apple devices. I saw this yesterday very briefly but didn't have time to have it run through for me. This is an app that basically turns your iPad or iPhone or Android device into a data logger. It simply allows you to use all the sensors that are in the device. So if you strap iPad onto a car and roll it down a ramp you will get acceleration data from the accelerometer. Which you then get as a graph that you can export to sheets to further analyse. Unfortunately it currently doesn't support Google Classroom but he said that he's coming soon.

I had a very quick look at Coding with Chrome which is a Blockly application. It has some ner functions that allow you to plug into the Google Photos API so it can do image recognition. So in an image the webcam takes it can recognise what the picture is about. If you have never tried it go you your own google photos and type in dog or park or screen and it will have analyses all your photos bring you photos it thinks contain them. It like it automatically add tags to your photos. Now the code probably is far too complicated for Primary children but it is a really nice example you could show too children and perhaps get them to think about how it works. It is a great example of AI. I'll definitely use it with my children once it launches in a few weeks.

Yesterday I mentioned a small robot, which I didn't name, it is called True True. I went back today and had a closer look at it and it's a really, really interesting little robot. It is similar to an Ozobot to be fair but it one looks cuter and I was just impressed by build and manufacture. What I like is that for KS1 it can be programmed via feeding it cards, but what I discovered today is that it can programmed using scratch, which opens it up to KS2. It also have the ability to plug in extra sensors. So it's a cute but truly could be a robot that you can use in every key stage, so I think it's worth keeping an eye on. It currently isn't available to buy in the UK and has no distributors but it's something definitely to come back to.


In the same area I saw another app programming game that had a really interesting extra component I've never seen before. The basic app game was one where you choose the icons and a little character moves long a level and you solve the puzzle. Very standard game are there are lots of games out there like it. It also though has a physical board with blocks that you moved around to program the characters on screen, so had nice physical/tactile elements. But the thing that really struck me as really interesting was there was a cardboard board that allowed you to plan out your ideas before using the app. I've never seen an add on to an app game quite like. Every level has a piece of cardboard which shows the whole level and all the platforms and elements on the level. You had a character pieces and small cards of the actions. So the children can plan, discuss and test, by moving the character piece on the board and 'running' the actions. Once they are happy the can put the program into the app and see it it responds how they predicted. But if there is an issue you can go back to the physical board to help debug there program. I genuinely never seen anything like it. It is called Cubico.

On to TTS they had a really nice progression of programming hardware that I hadn't seen before which is definitely worth a look. 

There was a number of new products that they were showing off, somewhere really interesting and you should go and check them out to see if they are for you. 

Cubelets are of these little Blocks that all have different functions and depending on how you put them together the machine does different things. I quite liked the idea. 

But they did show off a new remote control cat that I just don't get. It is a one button remote control toy. I don't understand why this product exists because in my brain a button on a remote control toy should do one thing. This toys one button does two things, moves or turns. So I why doesn't the controller doesn't have two buttons. I'd love to talk to the designers to explain why. When you push then button once it goes forwards and when you push the button again it turns. So depending on when you pick up the toy's remote you actually don't know what it's going to do, when you push then button. Oh well.

I did go and check out the EDBOT Dream which is a new product from the company that makes the Edbot. It's a LEGO like kit that you program using Scratch and it's got sensors and motors and you can build various model and make them move and react. I think the kit built 24 models. It reminds me a lot of Lego Wedo, to be honest but with a lot more models and and sensors but at a higher price. It is definitely worth a look though. Just like the larger robot it has a capability where you get alway with only buying a few kits, as you can give over control of the model to each computer in the lesson, without the need to move the model around or transfer the programs to one machine. It's a nice solution to only being able to buy two or three kits but still allowing most of the class to access the kit and control. It is still a unique solution to that issue of having enough kit, but I would like to see in practice.

Though I saw a lot of robots yesterday, I came back one called Marty which I've seen before on crowdfunding platforms and sort of dismissed out of hand, I think I was supporting another similar robot that in the end never delivered. But in person had a look and actually think it is a fun robot and kits would get a kick out of it, So I have bought one and so I will blog further about it when I have built it and had a play.

So overall day to there was some interesting things which grabbed my attention. That little robot is still something, the True True, that has struck me as really interesting and I'm going to go back today and see about trying to get one.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Bett 2018 Day 1 (at least for me)

So today as normal there was a lot to look at and after a day I feel like I barely scratched the surface. There is defo more to go back and see tomorrow. 

There where some highlights for me but not oddly not for computing...

If you get a chance you need to check out BirdBrain Technologies Stand, they are behind Micro:bit. They have a board that interfaces with the Micro:Bit and make it very easy to add sensors, servos and motors. The applications for DT amd making are endless. They have a great robot zoo, full of programmed creations... I hope to talk more about this in the future. I spent last Sat working with then all day being inspired.

Continuing on that theme of models that you can build and program I came across this stall called Smart Paper RC. It produces a kit that has come predesigned models, perhaps something for the less confident to start with. It works with a tablet but can also work with a Micro:Bit. The models themselves looked amazing. 

Continuing on the theme on Micro:Bit... There seemed to be an explosion of add on boards this year, that further extend what you can do with the Micro:Bit. The MeArm is something that I have had for ages and wanted to use with a Raspberry Pi, but this new board that uses the Micro:Bit opens up the accessibility for this fun kit. 

Go and check out the Micro:Bit stand to see what else is out. Kitronik is another stop tomorrow. 

The Micro:Bit provides a low cost entry into physical computing and these new low cost add on board help to ensure that there will always be a new project to try out. 

Binary Bots had a new kits that you build and then control using a Micro:Bit.

Last night at A Teachmeet at The Machine Rooms I saw in person the Micro:Bit Racing Unicorns from Helen Leigh (@helenleigh)

Invent! I saw again which is a kit based in the Crumble Controller. It has modules that you can quickly add to a board... This also will soon have a Micro:Bit adaptor. 

Pobble was a bit of a surprise, It is a system where you can quickly share and promote children's writing. On one level it is just a blogging tool with commenting ability. But I think the power is in  that you can search for children's writing on topics and styles. This is a growing archive, this could be very useful to give children and teachers real examples of writing, it would be very useful for modeling and perhaps with time moderation. It also allows for work to be stored, so you can make a digital portfolio of work. I will take back to school to show to my English lead. It is worth a look. It is over in the Bett Futures Area,

Following on the English theme Mrs Wordsmith was an interesting project that used machine learning to search and select the words that were then checked. It is basically a vocabulary building program, but the thing I really like waas this 'dictionary' where all the words are stored in themed sections, such as characters, weather, actions, etc... It is work a look. 

Skype Education is something that anyone who is interested in Video Conferencing should look at, I didn't realise how much it now offers. I really liked the Mystery Skype idea where you have to guess where your caller is from just by asking yes/no questions. 

This small A4 Vac Forming Machine, from Mayku, maybe the best thing I saw at the show. Small and portabile. It can be used to form shapes. So lovely examples with KS1 and creating chocolate moulds. 

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak on the Microsoft Stand about the work I have been doing in school with Minecraft. It was great fun. 

I really like the new Chemistry Update which allows you to craft in different ways, you can make elements. The helium balloons that you can now create, make even make cows fly. :)

VR has a clear presence this year. It was mentioned in a few talks and Lenovo where leading a lot of the conversations. The asked at an earlier talks, is it just a fad? I think that is an important question to ask but based on their, Microsofts' and ClassVR's presence, it looks like many think it will be.

I feel that it is clear that engagement will of course improve, kids are gonna like having the experience. It is a way of giving children experiences that would not be able to get any other way. There was some research discussed, to support some of this, though was funded by Lenovo. They admitted that we are still early days for the technology.

Content is a key issue for all these platfroms and I was pleased to discover that Google has just announced tools to create their own content for . Class VR mentioned and partnership with CoSpaces as well.

A few robots that grabbed my attention was this small guy, who you program by 'feeding' it instruction cards. Very similar to an Ozobot, but does more. Much cuter. Still $120 though.

The Kubo I really like still, I supported it on IndyGoGo. A robot that 'reads' the tiles underneath it. Could be a nice alternative for KS1, also has a spelling game now as well. 

Google where showing their app Science Journal, that basically turns a tablet/phone into a data logger. It can store and record all the data from the many sensors built into devices today. Could be great for science experiments. Look on the various app stores.  

Thats all for today, more tomorrow....

Thursday, 26 January 2017

BETT 2017 Day 1

So its that time of year where we descend on east london and worship at the altar of BETT.

I always enjoy the show and consider it an important event to head to if you are interested in Ed tech. Yes there is lots of selling to avoid, but there are always loads of good opportunities to sample something new, get some free CPD and most importantly talk to people. It is always a great time catching up with people who you perhaps only ever interact with on twitter.

So after a long day has anything perked my interest?

Well yes it has. As always I'm always looking for the next robot. I headed straight to BETT Futures and within the first 5 minutes I'd only seen a few robots that looked quite interesting. 

One is from a company called invent! Which is a crumble based robot and uses the same software as a crumble board. The basic kit seems to be about £50 but have a very  low barrier to entry as it is modular and simple to clip together, together no croc clips. So you can make a robot with sensors or a room guard. For some teachers this could be an ideal kit to start playing around with physical computing, while they get more confident. There was an Arduino version as well that used the same components. 

Simple Robot with switches.

Motion sensor.
I also saw a small robot called a ChickBot which is a low cost robot kit, there were also two versions of this one was a micro:bit based and the other used an Arduino. They are low cost around £17 and are a kit soe has some nice links with DT. The micro:bit one interests me a lot, i'll be getting one.

The InO-Bot from TTS has finally come out, I saw an early version last year. It is a programmable robot that uses a version of Scratch, so is block based so easy to program. It has a large range of sensors and includes slot for a pen that will raise and lower, which for some reason I was very impressed with. The price point is around £100 per unit but if you buy 6 you can get them for about £500 with a charging station. It's an impressive little robot with a large array of sensors. It's a good alternative to an mBot. These already have at school and use successfully with my children. The InO-Bot is more expensive but does have a larger array of sensors. It is definitely worth a look if you are interested in buying a robot for your class,  but I would still look at the mBot first and decide whether the extra sensors are worth the cost.

The mBot is not exactly a new robot but there are a number of new innovations that I spotted for use with Makeblocks mBot. I saw on Google stand, Chosing with Chrome, a web-based interface that will let you program a bluetooth mBot, ( without installing any other software. This is great for schools that have Chromebooks because suddenly is possible for a school to use mBots. Coding with Chrome also works with Sphero and Lego EV3.

 Something else new is that there is a Microsoft Azure plugin for mBlock, which is the software used with an mBot. This gives you access to facial recognition and speech recognition which could be really interesting to use in class. This I need to play with more,

Microsoft Azure and mBlock.

So did I see anything else that caught my interest?

I saw a nice science resource that encourages you to create animations. It has very high quality cardboard cutouts of a variety of scientific processes such as the water cycle, an engine pistons and the earth and moon. The cost of the kits where quite high, and you could make something yourself but they are high quality and it does give a nice context for using animation within science.

Throughout the show one of the big new things was VR. It was all over the show most where using mobile phones with some sort of variation on Google cardboard whether it being a plastic holder or a cardboard one. One stand Avantis had their own solution which was an all-in-one VR headset more similar to a HTC Vive or an Oculus than anything else. It's an android based product and as such has a lot of Android VR experiences. I did query about compatibility with Google Expeditions but they couldn't really give me a clear answer. It works using the Learnpad framework so it deployment of apps and management is fairly easy to use. At £2,000 for 8 headsets, it is a lot but the hardware is impressive. It's definitely worth booking a demo if you're curious about VR technology.

Finally a shout out to PiTop for winning the BETT awards for EdTech Start-Up :o)

Tomorrow I'll be checking out Chromebooks, seeing if there's any more robots I've missed and checking out some more of the CPD.