Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fun On Friday #159: Christmas Game

Thanks to one of my fifth year pupils for introducing me to this game: Snowline

Though, it has to be said, the fifth years were powned by a second year pupil who managed to complete the game in a 40 minute period. (The fifth years only got as far as the second last puzzle!)

And if you finish Snowline, try Snowline 2.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Computer News

My friend Mags told me ages ago that she had started a weekly computer news spot with her classes and that the pupils enjoyed it so much that they started creating their own news spots when Mags didn't have time to prepare them herself. I always liked the idea, so I stole it... and I've been delivering a weekly news spot to my senior classes all this year.

Each week, I have put together a four slide presentation on an item of news that caught my eye, and after I've shown it to my classes, I've been printing it out and posting the pages on the wall outside my classroom. I was pleased one day to overhear a second year pupils saying to his neighbour that he'd forgotten to read the computer news.

For some time though, I've been meaning to publish the presentations online... And at last, I got around to doing so:

If you click on the Options icon (looks like a little cogwheel) and choose "Open speaker notes" you will be able to see more information about the topic.

I made the mistake, at first, of starting the lesson with the computer news but I found it was getting longer and longer each week as the pupils realised they could keep me going for ages by asking questions and making comments. So now, I end the lesson with it instead!

So far, it seems to be going well. I enjoy picking the topics and putting it together and recently, the pupils have started suggesting topics themselves.

What do you think? A worthwhile exercise or a waste of time for all concerned?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Strathclyde Christmas Lecture

Raspberry Pi and Aduino: Pioneers of Open Hardware
Duncan Smeed - University of Strathclyde

{Live capture of Christmas lecture}

Computers of Christmas Past

Duncan Smeed's first experience of computers was as an undergraduate using the university's mainframe computer but the Rapberry Pi is now powerful enough to emulate those mainframes. His first home computer was the Dragon 32 and he recommended looking at The Register's history of the Dragon 32.

Also talked about the first British laptop - The Liberator - which was designed for the Civil Service.

Christmas Present

It was suggested that Luxor Jr from Pixar was a major influence on current computing - inspiring and showing what was possible. For example, it inspired projects such as Lamp which is a physical computing student project:

This project is possible thanks to Open Source Software and Hardware.

CERN have adopted an Open Source Hardware approach, so that anything they develop can be built and developed by others. The Arduino Uno is another example of Open Hardware. Anyone can download the diagrams etc. and build their own. More generally, Open Design is building items, not just computer using open source philosophy See for example the RepRap 3D printer project and various cases for the Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi Foundation was set up by academics who re-mortgaged their homes to set up it up. It has been hugely successful and they are on track to sell over one million Raspberry Pi devices by the end of the year. The Raspberry Pi is over 3000 times more powerful than the Dragon 32 from the 1980s and is significantly cheaper: £30 compared to approximately £800 at today's prices. The increase in power puts it on the right place on the Moore's Law curve.

An aspect of Open Source projects is the communities that support them. With the Raspberry Pi, there are: the official forums; user generated wikis; the suppliers (Farnell and RSS) provide information; user generated videos; and magazines (MagPi magazine sought funding through Kickstarter and now has more than enough backers and money to produce a print run of the magazine). There are a number of user generated SD Card images that have been developed so you can use the Rasperry Pi as a media centre.

Some examples of student projects were shown. For example: a key safe that only opens if you pass a breathalyser test; T-Shirt message display system; robot laser tag game.

Christmas Future

Chris Anderson and the Maker Movement. "Hardware is the new software!" See for example, FabLab.

Open Software, Open Hardware... Open Learner - get involved!

Example video of Raspberry Pi in the MAME cabinet. University of Manchester have a Raspberry Pi Bake Off.

Various YouTube videos can be found on Raspberry Pi projects.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Not my usual style of music but I felt I had to share this:


Cross-posted to Feedback.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Fun On Friday #157: The Tache-on

This may be my last Tache related post of 2012. Rather than mess about with all that waiting for hair to grow nonsense, I think I might use the Tache-on next year. The results were quite impressive:

The donation page is still open, so it's not too late to give to male cancer charities.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Fun On Friday #156: The End Of The Mo

Thirty days... and it's time for the mo to go. Here then are the edited highlights:

It's not too late to donate to Movember. And not that I want to be grumpy... but Internet chums (with two honourable exceptions) have been conspicuous by their online giving absence, so get clicking and get giving!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fun On Friday #155: Running Out Of Music

I accept that this week's offering is fun only for a slightly bizarre definition of fun... that definition being: "stuff that I find fun". I hope that you, at least, find it interesting.

Unfortunately, the video can't be embedded, so you'll have to go off and watch Will We Ever Run Out Of New Music? on YouTube.

I like the way he entries to make the mind-bogglingly big numbers accessible. Some of the links with the video are worth a look too.

And tangentially related is this video, which I can embed!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fun On Friday #154: Stacheify

It is now more than half way through Movember and both my Mo, and money raised, are coming along nicely. But thanks to Daughter Number One, my attention was drawn to an app that provides a hint about the shape of Moes to come:

It is called Stacheify and it reminds me a bit of CrazyTalk in the way it let's you identify key features (eyes and mouth) in a still photograph and then manipulates the image to create an animation.

  • Mo-bros: your Moes should already be well established.
  • Mo-sistas: Show your support with Stacheify.

And don't forget to donate to Movember.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fun On Friday #153: Fun with Google

My Higher class were swapping Chuck Norris jokes. Most could only be described as "joke" with a very loose and technically inaccurate definition of the word "joke". But then they Googled, find Chuck Norris, and hit the I'm Feeling Lucky button and... well, follow the find Chuck Norris link, use the I'm Feeling Lucky button and see for yourself.

It amused me. Strictly speaking, it is not a Google trick. I guess the creators of the page use a Google bomb technique to make sure they are at the top of the results list but it made me start looking for Google Easter eggs. It turns out there are loads of them. Here are some of my favourites:

  1. I've already posted here on the search: answer to life the universe and everything but it bears repeating.

  2. This is a bit obscure unless you follow the Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode firm review programme or podcast. If you search for Jason Isaacs, immediately above the search results, it says, "Hello to Jason Isaacs".
  3. You may have heard of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. Search for the Bacon number of an actor and Google will work out links for you. A search for bacon number Jason Issacs reveals he has a bacon number of 2:

    • Jason Isaacs and Charlize Theron appeared in Sweet November.
    • Charlize Theron and Kevin Bacon appeared in Trapped.

     It is extraordinarily difficult to find someone who isn't a 2! And how's this for synchronicity: as I was typing up this post, what comes on the TV but an advert for a phone company:

  4. And finally, one for the geeks. Search for binary and the number of results found is displayed in binary.

Have you any favourite  Google Easter eggs?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Fun On Friday #152: Movember

Another very late Fun on Friday!

TacheBack - Day 29 by DavidDMuir
TacheBack - Day 29, a photo by DavidDMuir on Flickr.
A few years ago... 2007 to be precise, I took part in what was then called Tacheback. I was surprised to discover that, just by growing a moustache, I managed to raise £270.50. Well, to be more accurate, by growing a moustache and pestering a lot of people until they sponsored me, I managed to raise £270.50!

So, five years later, here I am growing a moustache for charity again. Tacheback has morphed into Movember but otherwise, it's much the same as the last time. I grow a moustache, grow awareness of male cancer charities and try to encourage people to donate money to cancer charities.

It would be good to raise at least £300 but things have changed since I last tried this. First, when I did it in 2007, it was still relatively unknown as an event, so I was the only person I knew who was growing a tache. That meant it was relatively easy to approach people and demand money knowing that they were unlikely to have already donated. By now though, it is much more well known, there's even another teacher in the school who is also growing a Mo for Movember. And, second, I've changed jobs. Last time I had about 600 staff and students I could extort money from. This time I am in a small school and I believe it is frowned uponto extort money with menaces from pupils.

Anyway, I've made a start. Check out:
...And a video of progress so far. (Silent at the moment - what would you suggest for a theme song?)

This time, I'm probably going to have to rely more on Internet chums for donations, so is £300 doable? I hope so. With 200 facebook "friends", over a thousand Twitter followers, and many visitors every day to this blog it's not impossible. If twelve hundred people each donate £0.25, that's £300. More realistically (perhaps) if 60 people donate £5 each, that would be £300 too. Last time though, I only managed 34 donors... so it's going to be tricky.

What do you think? Is £300 possible? Send a donation, and help me on my way.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

CASScot12: The Conjurer's Classroom

{Live capture from CASScot12 presentation.}

Convergence of Computing and conjuring. Brings together: Computational Thinking, Creativity, Confidence and CfE.

Computational Thinking
Algorithms, computer programming, testing, algebra and abstraction. You can demonstrate these things through things such as self-working card tricks. Allows learners to see that following a set of instructions carefully will always produce the magic effect. Important that the magic trick always works: cf. testing a program. We can use algebra to prove tricks and programs work which leads naturally to abstraction.

Creativity: encourage people to think laterally.

Self confidence: magic is about performance and can lead to increase confidence.

Learning intentions: might not always be revealed until after the trick. Talked about. Gave example of sleight of mind where you choose a card and then computer guesses it and destroys it. There are learning outcomes can come out of it related to salience and for example relation to HCI.

Another example was using an algorithm to develop a magic square.

Entertaining and Interesting contexts to introduce difficult concepts.

CASScot12: Steven Grier Microsoft

Partners in Learning CPD Check out the ten guys in a lift video.

News later about a competition for schools.

Showed XBox Kinect video which talked about how people took the KInect and used it in ways they just didn't expect. For example, in the video an example was shown of a boy with motor difficulties seeing the joints and muscles in his leg as he moved it to gain points depending on how far he moved it.

Dreamspark is a way that Microsoft provides free access to a range of technologies. For example Windows Phone Development Centre.

Windows Azure Educator: cloud services. Grants are available to make it available in schools.

Competition for schools: The KoduKup. (Launched January 2013?) Individuals or small teams can enter. Three different areas: recreate a classic arcade game; the environment (applications that have an environmental aspect); and the exploration of Mars.

Glow Academies: multi-vendor, industry certification; Glow Ltd. School based social enterprise focused on technology and app development; Partners in Learning - worldwide CPD network for teachers and free tools for teaching.

CASScot12: Doug Belshaw - Open Badges

{Live capture of session from CASScot12 session.}

Doug Belshaw works for Mozilla Foundation and wanted to make it clear they we a not for profit organisation.

Learning today happens everywhere and often difficult to get recognition for achievements that happen for learning that takes place out of schools. the problem is that qualifications we have live in silos and don't always connect with the rest of our lives.

Open badges are more than just images. Baked into the badge are all sorts of meta-data such as who issued it, who got it and why. Means that you can't just copy someone else's badges. They can represent hard and soft skills and work well with peer assessment. Open badges can capture all sorts of soft and hard skills.

Stealth assessment: learners can just be doing stuff and when they cover enough targets, a badge is unlocked. Can be linked to doing something often enough, or perform a set of related activities, a badge can be unlocked.

All works through a shared badge ecosystem and infrastructure (OBI - Open Badge Infrastructure) and is a universal standard. organisations issue badges. These badges are stored in an "earner's backpack". By default the earner can keep these private or chose to show them on Displayers - organisations that support the showing of such badges. The are also Endorsers - organisations that will recognise achievements.

Easiest way to get an idea of what this means and how it works is to go to the Open Badge site, earn a badge, create a backpack and then share your badges.

Question: how do teachers issue badges? You can install an issuing engine (which is tricky), there are Word Press plugin (see Doug's blog for details), or you can use third party sites such as Badg Us to create and issue badges.

Can issue badges to recognise achievement but can also be used for motivation (e.g. "Most improved behaviour" badge).

Will this take off? Various organisations on board already, e.g. Facebook, some job sites, some universities, Class Dojo, Code Academy, ... Charlie Love also mentioned that they are talking about incorporating Open Badges into SQA/Glow/ePortfolio developments.

Can third parties search for people with specific badges? Absolutely. Some site already doing this.

Special Bonus Stuff

Doug showed us a WebLiteracy curriculum at He'd be interested in feedback. Mozilla are trying to create a generation of "Web Makers" - it is a good thing that people can do more than just consume stuff that's on the web.

CASScot12 - Pi-oneering: Raspberry Pi in Education

{Live capture of session from CASScot12}

Duncan Smeed - Strathclyde University

Idea behind Raspberry Pi is to help engage pupils with Computational Thinking and the study of Computer Science. EIS survey suggested more resources and training was needed to implement the changes in the school curriculum.

Duncan thinks the Raspberry Pi will be the "text book". Special SD card images will be created with everything the students' need to do the course already installed and accessible on the Raspberry Pi.

Lots of support and a great community already active on the Raspberry Pi Foundation's forums. It has been a hugely popular device. It can be used as a media centre, the are programming competitions, Raspberry Pi Jams (where learners get to gather and develop stuff).

There are problems. It is still a work in progress: for example there is not yet a definitive SD Card image. Resources for teachers are still in development. But there is a huge amount of development work going on. So user guides being produced, CPD planned, ...

Raspberry Pi devices are now available to be ordered in bulk and so might now be feasible to start building courses around them.

One nice aspect of the Raspberry Pi is it's open source. Other development environments (Kodu, App Inventor, ...) tie you to one technology. {Not convinced by that argument... but nice that in concept.- DM}

Christmas Lecture at Strathclyde this year is on the Raspberry Pi and embedded systems. Will show computers interacting in the real world, not just moving pixels about - Computer Engineering as well as Computing Science.

Question was asked: Arduino or Raspberry Pi? Suggested they were two different beasts. Arduino is low powered (can be used with battery on Independant device) and better at real time. Raspberry Pi much more flexible and powerful. Arduino might be easier to start with.

CASScot12 - Chris Martin - Arduino

{Live capture of session at CASScot2012}

One standpoint is you need to walk before you can run.
Others think, no, you need something to run towards.

First standpoint is the importance of setting foundations and introducing the basics. The other is about inspiration.

{Curses! Lost stuff while I went and fiddled with the Arduino. I'll quickly try and type up what I remember. - DM}

Started out talking about inspiration and showed an example of an Arduino kit that used ultrasonic sensors to detect when someone walked past. Every time someone was detected, it played a bit of "Pop Goes The Weasel". At the end of the song, there's a surprise {Deliberately vague in case you ever see the same demonstaration! - DM} Talked about the inter-disciplinary nature of such a project. Showed a video of an advert students created for a physical interface to Twitter.

Went on to develop an Aduino program which started with a simple "turn on a light" program and progressed to using potentiometers, buttons and sound. Talked about making variables physical.

Really nice demonstration. An Adruino starter kit can be purchased from Proto-Pic.

Computing At Schools Conference 2012 - Opening

{Live capture of session at CASScot12}

Welcomed by Katie who then introduced Prof. Muffy Calder Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland.

The importance of Computational Thinking in the digital* age  (*or any age!)

Computational Thinking: thinking precisely and unambiguously about data and computation. Separating concerns and thinking about:
Computing At School Scotland Conference by DavidDMuir
Computing At School Scotland Conference,
a photo by DavidDMuir on Flickr.
  • What a system does and how it does it?
  • What are the right abstractions?
  • What can be left out and what must be kept in?
  • What are the best representations for those abstractions?
  • What is the power and constraints of the underlying machinery?
  • What are the interfaces (human or otherwise) - the user environment. Is the system a tool or a "friend".
  • What are the conditions for operation?
  • What are systems for similar systems or components?
  • When to use recursive or parallelism?
  • When is randomisation or approximation is appropriate?
  • When will a heuristic help?
  • When will a reformulation or reduction lead to a known solution?
  • When should you trade space for time?
  • When dealing with big data: ecological fallacy (designing for the "average" user when there is no particular individual that this fits) and fallacy of composition (going from specific to general)?
Computational Thinking is not just for Christmas, it's for life. But it is about understanding the limitations of computation. Programming is an ideal way to explore computational thinking. Computing Science is Computational Thinking and Computational Thinking is Computing Science.

Programming is everywhere! Whether or not people become programmers, they should understand software and be empowered rather than enslaved by software.

Muffy has a range of interests: from wireless network protocols to molecular biology (the body is a computational system). She is on the Board of BCS Academy of Computing. Also involved in the Royal Society report on the state of Computing in school. (They raised £50K to get the Royal Society report off the ground in three days!) There is a Computing Science: a curriculum for schools document (from Quintin) that's worth looking at.

Computer Science is a rigorous academic discipline. Every learner should be exposed to Computing Science. Scotland is in a good place to do this. Two relevant activities: the Curriculum working group looking at CPD needs of teachers; exemplification material from RSE and BCS Academy (produced by Jeremy Scott) formally launched in December.


  • Computational Thinking is about problem formulation and solving
  • Comp Sci is a rigorous discipline
  • Programming is at the heart of Comp Sci
Computing is empowering - be scientific, be rigorous and be brave!

Teaching and Learning to Program

Too much doing; not enough understanding

Quintin Cutts

Core issues:
  • Is programming learnable by all?
  • Are our typical pedagogues fit for purpose?
Mindset - attitude to learning (Carol Dweck)

Growth or fixed attitude? There is some truth in there being fixed abilities but there is in unknown potential for growth. It is easy to switch people from fixed attitude to growth attitude. (Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.) Is there something about the teaching of Computing Science that fosters a fixed mindset? Do we assume learned know too much too soon?

Increasing evidence that anyone can learn programming... but we just haven't worked out how to teach it yet. Compared to the Generation Game - do we set them to problem solving too soon? If they don't have the basic skills, they can't solve the problems. Kirschner, Sweller and Clark suggest guided examples are the way to go.

Premise 1: we want learners to have deep understanding of programming

Premise 2: we assess their understanding by looking at the artefact produced.

We use a potentially invalid assessment model. Pupils and teachers see a working program as the key thing but how did they get there? Did they just hack at it until it worked? (Monkeys and typewriters.)

Cognitive Apprenticeship model
Start with easy but meaningful tasks. Then given small tasks which set foundation skills in place. The master is constantly observing and encouraging - the quality of intermediate steps are important. All the time, the apprentice is picking up the culture as well as the tools and activities.

The culture of debugging: novice makes random changes to see what happens; expert examines and hypothesises. Can students explain what they understand.

Flip teaching model. Peer instruction. Learners have to use the language of the subject when they are forming their discussions.

What are the small but meaninful tasks we can start novice programmers on? Good questions almost always transition between English; Computing Science-speak; and Code. Used to going from English to code but do we miss out Computing Science-speak? Do we ever go from Code back to Computing Science-speak or English (important for de-bugging).

Scottish schools have new curriculum which can be good for programming. Hard stuff in there like, how do you explain what a program does. If there is no prescribed language, how do you examine it? There must be code in the exam. How do you do it? Write a language for use in exam papers? An official pseudo-code is being created to allow learners to talk about programming and respond to coding questions. (Provisionally called "Haggis")

Suggestions to try:
  • Reduce problem solving early on
  • More worked examples moving to examples with steps missed out
  • Get students to articulate understanding often and give feedback (involve AH students?)
  • Flip your classroom. (Learners do the theoretical stuff at home and then discuss in school.)
Do we believe students can get there? Are we teaching doing or thinking? Thinking as we do should become explicit in our course design.

Greenfoot and Java - Michael Kölling

{Live capture of session at CASScot12 Conference}

Michael is introducing us to Greenfoot - a language specifically written to teach the concepts of Object Oriented Programming. Started by demonstrating Wombat. showed how easy it is to invoke methods and to check properties etc. you can also look at any object and see that they have the same fields but different values and you can see the fields change as the program is executed. As well as looking at the visual side of things, you can open up the Java code and see what underlies the Greenfoot World.

Early understanding of key concepts is important. Can use the Wombats world to introduce:
  • Class
  • Object
  • State
  • Behaviour
Two views of Greenfoot: teachers have a tool to teach programming concepts; pupils have a tool that lets them write games.

Motivation is important and games development can be a good way to engage. Worth thinking about different types of games though as shoot-em-up games can bias course towards boys. Can develop multimedia tasks which give scope for group work, e.g. One pupil develops graphics, another the sound, etc. (Demonstrated Asteroid game, piano keyboard and a marble game.

Great demonstration of a way to introduce if statements: program a turtle to move only if there is enough sound being picked up by microphone - pupils cheer to make turtle move and go quiet to make it stop.

Can set up a world and then save it which creates the code which recreates the world you've set up every time the program starts. You can easily plug in a game controller to use instead of keyboard control. You can create a game easily within an hour but you then have to build understanding.

Modification and ownership. Important to let students take control. (There can be gender differences and the objects/worlds created can shape where things go.)

Use open problems. Allows for differentiation. That's why games are good as it always possible to take things further.

Projects of discovery. It can be frustrating to write solutions to artificial problems such as: "write a program to print out the first hundred prime numbers." A closed and artificial problem. But "write a simulation of ants foraging for food" creates a program that can be explored and discussed.

Use real data. For example, pull in data and display on map. Having a real world context is very powerful.

Sharing is important. Greenfoot has a share button that posts to public site where others can play your creations. "It's YouTube for Greenfoot programs.” It is really motivating to see others have used your program.

Gadgets are motivating. Can plug in games controller and Kinect sensor. Outstanding demonstration of using Kinect to detect people and then use body to paint, e.g. Draw with right hand, change colour with right foot, etc. Code is surprisingly easy to write.

Oracle Academy a offering free CPD training. Java fundamentals course taught using Alice and Greenfoot. {I think Oracle person said these courses can lead to Oracle certification.}

Question was asked, can you use it for Higher Computing? Answer: Greenfoot uses standard Java so you can goes as far as you like with it. No problem therefore in using it at pretty much any level. For example, third year university courses use it to introduce AI. Target audience is about 13/14 year olds. Younger children can understand the concepts but struggle with the syntax (matching brackets etc.). Really nice progression though from Scratch to Greenfoot. Scratch is object based but Greenfot class based.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fun On Friday #151: What the Internet thinks

Still to busy for regular posts but well overdue a new Fun on Friday post.

What does the Internet think about cats?

What about dogs?

Visit What does the Internet think?, enter a search phrase and see what the Internet thinks. Excellent.

Thanks to one of my pupils for this link.