Picademy Glasgow

Last week, we were very excited to be able to attend Picademy Glasgow – a free two day training opportunity from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Image courtesy of Maiakaat @ Flickr

For those who haven’t encountered a Raspberry Pi, they’re tiny computers that pack a big punch. For around £30, you can plug the Pi into your TV or a spare monitor, get power via a micro USB phone charger, attach your keyboard and mouse and get going. The machines are ideal for learning to code, and come with Scratch, the SonicPi music creation software, a basic version of Minecraft, and all the tools you’ll need to get going in the Python coding language. While not designed for schools, the creators quickly realised their huge potential in education settings, and set up the Raspberry Pi Foundation to support teachers and learners who wanted to get involved.

On day one, we were handed a bag with all we needed to get started – a Pi, an SD card, and some tins with fun fiddly bits to plug into the Pi’s general purpose pins. Over the day we had the chance to attach LED lights and buzzers to the Pi and program them via Scratch, create our own music with Sonic Pi, write code in Python to affect a Minecraft world, connect, set up and use a camera, and control motors, again with the Python language. It was fun but challenging and moved at a fair pace so we would say that if you hadn’t had any previous experience of Scratch or Python, you would find the two day course pretty intense. img_20161101_152826Day one ended with an opportunity to create something using the motor and a table filled with craft materials that would put Blue Peter to shame! We each worked on our own fun projects creating moving ghosts and a marble run.

Day two was when we were expected to put the training from day one into practice. We had the majority of the day to work on a project before presenting it to the rest of the group. We wanted to create a resource that could be used by Primary or Secondary teachers to develop Python skills, so decided to work with Minecraft. We felt that our resource would be aimed at P6-S2 and that pupils coming to it would likely have had some experience of Minecraft and/or Scratch. We also recognised that without support, many teachers wouldn’t feel confident about building circuits so chose to stick with a resource which focused purely on coding, rather than using any of the physical computing options.

We challenged ourselves to build a house using code which took far longer than we thought – especially to get two windows in the right place, that were the right shape and size.

cwqzhfzwiaahwva    cwqbqyjxyaenzrv    cwqhijdwgaaphzh

Despite this, we managed a lot of what we had expected to accomplish by the end of the day and felt our presentation went well, but we have still have work to do on the resource itself.

Our intention is to create a resource where pupils will be asked to modify the house in lots of ways that increase in challenge as they go and we hope to add the ability for pupils to screenshot their progress and be able to comment on this. We envision taking this further to develop challenges which will allow pupils to create their own buildings using the skills they have developed.

Attending the Picademy was a privilege and gave us a great chance to be challenged ourselves and to start to create something that hopefully will benefit learners.


Lots of plans, lots of work but first of all we need to figure out how to make the door space the right size!

Always on (them): Digital and Social Media use in Education

On Thursday we had the pleasure of attending a conference on Digital and Social Media use in Education, a welcome chance to get some fresh ideas to play around with over the Summer and think about implementing in the year to come.

The event was held at the University of the West of Scotland and it was lovely to see lots of familiar faces both speaking and in the audience. It was also nice to see the range of organisations present all having a dialogue about how they are currently supporting young people but also having the recognition that we need to continue to do more.

There is no doubt that young people’s lives are steeped in social media and in his introduction Professor David McGillivray described how social media functions as a ‘cultural mindset’. Many of the speakers talked about the need to actively work with young people on the benefits and potential dangers of social media and how to both empower and support young people, a message we are always trying to convey.

Jim Fanning, Senior Education Officer from Education Scotland spoke about the need for schools to really engage with safety and the responsible use of the internet and that this runs throughout the Scottish curriculum in Technologies, Literacy and Health and Wellbeing. He showed a document that neither of us were familiar with: Guidance on developing policies to promote the safe and responsible use of mobile technology in schools. This seems like a key document that every school should be looking at and engaging with but we wonder how many are even aware it exists. He also suggested that schools could be using the 360 Degree Safe Self Review Tool to look at current practice and think  about whether changes need to be made to help ensure staff are equipped to support young people.

via @johnjohnston
via @johnjohnston

Two experienced teachers spoke about positive experiences of social media use in education. John Johnston from North Lanarkshire spoke about the success he’s had with young people blogging and the impact that was had from connecting with the outside world. John made the point that we should consider whether our school’s use of social media was as a broadcast system or a conversation. He also posed a perhaps discomfiting question around whether we give learners themselves enough ownership over their use of social media, or if it is curated by adults on their ‘behalf’.  He talked about the pupils learning from their mistakes and his belief that the way to approach any new technology was about ‘practice and reflection’ which Athole McLauchlan from Bearsden Primary also picked up on.

Athole discussed the success his school has had with Class Dojo and Yammer (available within Glow). Class Dojo is being used to build positive relationships with the community within the school and allow the school to instantly share effective learning with parents. Lots of classes round the world are now using Class Dojo but this was interesting as it was a whole school approach and engagement with homes was so high. As only parents can get access, it gives security to schools not wanting to put pupils’ faces on Twitter. Yammer, a free Microsoft tool on Glow which can be accessed by both pupils and teachers,  has been effectively adopted by Athole’s pupils who are using it to create surveys, chat, learn and even on occasion, do homework! We’ll return to the use of Yammer in Scottish education over the next few weeks.

alway on 1And, as usual, we listened on in envy as Malcolm Wilson from Falkirk talked about the well embedded use of social media in Falkirk. It is refreshing to hear about their ‘can do’ attitude and the collaboration that is ongoing between schools. He gave useful advice for schools getting negative feedback or challenge from parents via a Facebook page or Twitter. His advice is to never engage with it and instead always invite the concerned party into school to discuss the matter further if they wish. This invitation should be repeated as necessary in ‘broken record’ style, and avoids confrontation in the online space.  Malcolm encourages public facing (rather than locked) school Twitter accounts to encourage transparency and the ability to engage with others. Both John and Malcom made us think more deeply about Twitter use in schools and the fact that, although lots of schools around Scotland have twitter accounts, most of them are using them to spread out information: a one sided approach rather than actually discussing and collaborating with parents and the community. For more information, you can find Malcolm’s presentation here, and John’s here.

Speakers from the YMCA, Young Scot and The Aye Mind Project made it clear that this is not just a school focus – work is going on in a variety of forms to support young people and ensure their rights are met. YMCA are doing Digital Streetwork and upskilling young people who are then passing on their skills to others which is an approach advocated in HGIOS4. Young Scot are trying to educate on the rights of a child in a digital age with the 5Rights framework , while Dr Trevor Lakey from the Aye Mind  project spoke about the free resources available to support mental health and wellbeing in young people.

At the end of a really interesting day, it was clear that everyone present was a believer but that no one was without their concerns. There were many questions raised about access, equity of use,  and the uncertainty around exactly what impact social media has on young people. However, it is clear that we do need to keep trying, sharing and reflecting on this to best support Scotland’s young learners in a world where social media engagement is, without a doubt, a fact of life for most.






Redefining Learning – Microsoft Style

We had a lovely Saturday morning last week at the Microsoft supported Redefine Learning event in Glasgow.

redefi e 5 a_minshall
via @a_minshall

Held at the Rookie Oven offices in the old Fairfield Shipyards buildings and organised by the ever-inspiring Ian Stuart, the event was refreshing and informative from start to finish. The surroundings helped – the beautifully converted high-ceilinged  space was filled with light on a perfect June morning. Every windowsill and shelf held an example of past technologies, demonstrating the evolution of tech over the decades. We spotted a pristine SNES, ancient iPods, a Gamecube and some early Macs, but we didn’t spy a ZX Spectrum (although there was probably one about somewhere).


In this welcoming space, over 70 educators from around Scotland had gathered to listen to other teachers telling us how they were using different MS tools in their work. After a challenging but rousing introduction from David Cameron (no not that one) we selected our workshops from the list on offer, including Sway, Office Mix, Kodu, Skype, OneNote, and Minecraft Edu.

We opted for Office Mix, Kodu and Minecraft Edu, and we weren’t disappointed.

redefine 6 misshedgesvps
via @misshedgesvps

Gareth Surgey from Queen Anne High in Dunfermline gave us a quick tour of Office Mix. This tool, allowing you to create slick  multimedia resources from PowerPoint, makes flipped learning so much easier. As both a tool for teachers and a tool for learners it has loads of potential, and Gareth is using it to great effect with a range of classes, who have taken ownership of their own learning and along the way generated screeds of valid and high quality evidence for assessment. Our only quibble is that some local authorities’ schools don’t yet have access to the more recent versions of Office that allow Mix to be used, another symptom of the unbalanced playing field we work on when it comes to access to technology in Scottish education. It doesn’t matter if it’s free if your local authority’s managed service will charge to upgrade your systems.


We then moved on to Kodu, an early coding/computational thinking app. The friendly user interface and high quality cartoon-like graphics make this an ideal first step into coding for younger learners. The presenter, Kiersty Travers, suggested that Kodu was ideal from mid-primary onwards, but both of us can see our own children (pre-school and P2) getting a lot out of this already. With the ability to simply create attractive Minecraft-like landscapes, adding characters and programming their actions, we can immediately see the appeal of Kodu. We were both able to download it to our hybrid Windows 10 devices, and although it was a bit buggy to begin with, it’s such a fun app to play with that we’re keen to persevere – a definite winner for developing coding and logic skills in children, and, like almost all of the applications being looked at during the event, free to use.

redefine 3But if it’s skills you’re interested in, there’s not much to beat Minecraft. In a hugely inspiring session, Andrew Minshall showed us what his class has been doing with Minecraft, and gave us a tantalising glimpse of the potential of Minecraft Edu. We are hoping that this will soon be available for Scottish schools to access via the Glow login. As a conduit for creativity it’s hard to beat. Andrew talked about how his class visited and measured Paisley Abbey, used physical blocks to help plan their design, used squared paper to create a blueprint, and then recreated the Abbey in Minecraft – this engaging process develops too many skills to begin to list across so many curricular areas in a real life context – absolutely outstanding. We were also shown the class’s recreation of their own school, down to the last detail, an amazing feat of cooperation. Andrew told us about the ready made recreations of landmarks and historic structures that can be downloaded and explored in the game, such as the Titanic and the Egyptian pyramids, bringing a whole new dimension to learning about the past. We’re so excited about the possibilities in Minecraft Edu (as keen players ourselves) and we really hope whatever purchase deal is announced is accessible to all. We’d hate to see this as yet another addition to that uneven playing field.

We learned so much during this short morning and it’s always great to meet other teachers and share ideas. Events like this are good for the soul, and especially valuable at this time of year when we’re counting down to the end of another session – it’s good to have a reason to look forward. There’s a second event in Dundee tomorrow morning . We wish Ian and all the presenters the best, and for anyone attending, you’re going to have a great morning!

Apps for Good

With the wind of change definitely blowing schools towards digital learning and teaching, many schools may be feeling anxious about how to build digital skills into the curriculum and looking for some straightforward approaches and resources.  Print

During our sleuthing to identify free or low cost resources that are available to support schools, we came across Apps for Good.  Apps for Good is a charity which provides a free app design course to schools and is targeted at pupils aged 10-18 years.Their resources are used all over the UK with most interest coming from London and Scotland.

We arranged a Skype call with Emily and Natalie from Apps for Good, just to see if it was the kind of project we could recommend to schools as part of our work, and we were really impressed. The resources are mapped to the Scottish and English curricula, and teachers looking to get involved don’t need to be particularly ‘techy’, as training and support is provided.

Interested schools are asked to take on an app development project. Groups of pupils are asked to think about a problem affecting their community and have to generate an idea for an app which could help with this.  Initially this is a problem solving challenge. The pupils form a start-up company and develop a prototype of their app using coding skills.

As we mentioned above, there is a programme offering online training that supports teachers through every stage.  The training could be worked through in advance but from speaking to people, it seems that many do it as they are going along. The altruistic aspect to the project ticks so many boxes for teachers looking for a really meaningful way to introduce a technologies project to their classes, and the end products have a chance to go forward for Apps for Good awards each year, with the winning team having their app made commercially available.

We like these resources as they offer a ready made framework, with support, that still allows for a huge amount of personalisation and creativity. Any teachers interested in finding out more can sign up here at their website – we already have!


Results of the Digital Strategy Consultation

Back in November, we attended one of the face to face events for the Development of a Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland Consultation. The government was looking to canvass views on the need for a national digital strategy for education, and what should be included in such a strategy.

As well as a series of these face to face events, there was an online/written consultation, a consultation of older children via Young Scot, and a consultation of primary children aged 8-11, carried out under the auspices of the Children’s Parliament.

The results of the face to face and online consultations make for interesting reading. There is a clear feeling that investment in infrastructure is essential to ensure equity of opportunity for all learners, alongside appropriate professional learning opportunities and effective leadership. There was an identified need for a benchmark of digital competency for teachers, as at the moment many practitioners don’t know where to begin and what is expected of them as far as digital learning and teaching is concerned. This ties in to the feeling expressed by respondents that initial teacher education should outline clear expectations in this area, supporting student teachers to reach an acceptable standard, backed up with a change to the GTCS standard for full registration, making it clear that engaging with digital learning and teaching is not optional.

Of course, we agree with this wholeheartedly, but we do wonder how representative the consultation findings are of the views of the wider teaching community. Nationwide, there were 139 responses to the online/written consultation (76 groups and 63 individuals) which seems less than representative. There were 11 face to face events across the country, the Young Scot 2-part consultation gathered 358 responses in total, and the Children’s Parliament consultation only worked with 5 schools in 3 authorities. While it’s not a bad overall response, when it comes to the adults taking part we do wonder how much those who are less than engaged with digital learning and teaching would feel represented by the findings. There is the danger of an echo-chamber effect in Scottish education. The same people repeatedly talk to like-minded people and self-validate, coming to believe that what we feel must be right, because everyone around us agrees, perhaps not realising that this is because we are only engaging with others who are invested and interested in the topic in the same way we are. We don’t have a solution to the problem of how to engage those for whom this is not a main area of focus, but it does make us look on the results of consultations such as these with more than a pinch of salt. We worry that, when the strategy is published, those who weren’t involved might feel defensive, overlooked and overruled, hindering any attempts to make significant changes. We wonder if there might have been a missed opportunity somewhere to raise the profile of the consultation and gather a wider range of responses. After all, how many teachers and other practitioners even knew of the existence of the consultation?

If you haven’t read the consultation findings and would like to, you can find them here:

The proposed digital strategy itself is scheduled for release this summer, lining up nicely with the switchover from HGIOS 3 to the more digitally aligned HGIOS 4.

If the prospect of wading through a hefty document doesn’t appeal this fine Friday evening, we heartily recommend reading the responses of the 8-11 age group – you’ll especially enjoy the illustrations of the future classroom. We’ve reproduced one of our favourites below – nice to see teachers won’t be obsolete in the digital future!

teacher is human

We’ll return to the consultation responses next week, with a closer look at what the children had to say. 

One to One Devices – A Route to the Digital Future?  

Encouraging news coming out of West Dunbartonshire this week, as the council have pledged £250,000 to fund Chromebooks for every P7 learner next session – over 950 devices. The Chromebook is a lovely, versatile and cheap device, and should bring real benefits for learning and teaching. Of course, any announcement of this sort throws up a raft of questions, some more cynical than others.

After all, this is the council that in recent months saw the first teacher strike in decades over proposed management restructuring in secondary schools, which was seen by many as stealth cuts. It may be that those striking teachers will look upon this outlay of cash as a statement that resources are worth more than teachers to those in charge.

Other questions, at least from those of us outside the council (one would hope those on the inside already have the answers) might be more concerned with the logistics. Do all the schools have wi-fi? Can the kids take the devices home? How much control do they have over what goes on them? What happens if they’re lost or stolen? What happens at the end of P7 – do the devices go with them to secondary school or do they get handed back, slightly scabby, for the next year’s P7? How do the teachers feel about managing their use?

However, these aren’t the questions that really need to be asked. What we want to know is how are they going to be used. What is the pedagogy underpinning the project? The article on the council website is unsurprisingly vague. We are told learners will “use the devices to present classwork and also for research and revision”. All very well, but do teachers, schools and the authority have a planned approach to ensure the best use of the powerful wee tools, or is this a knee-jerk reaction to HGIOS 4?  The success or failure of these schemes doesn’t really have anything to do with the device itself; rather, it has everything to do with the learning and teaching. Do the teachers feel supported? Will the learners have direction and focus or, even better, opportunities for exploration and creation in a safe and gently guided environment? We really hope so.

The more successful schemes of this type we see with whole authority (or – dare we hope? – nationwide) backing and support, the weaker the arguments against incorporating technology into everyday learning and teaching become. To slightly paraphrase Madonna, we are living in a digital world, and we should we doing all we can to ensure that our children are growing up as digital girls (and boys!).


Digital Empowerers

Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at what Digital Literacies are, and the role both learners and teachers have to play in ensuring every young person has the tools they need to operate in a digital world. This week we look at the people who perhaps hold the key to letting teachers and learners make the most of the opportunities out there – the Digital Empowerers. These are the leaders, the managers and the decision makers who have so much influence over what teachers and learners can achieve.

Yes, ’empowerers’ is a clumsy word (there might be some debate about whether it’s a word at all) but we feel it sums up the role these individuals and institutions have. The alternative was Digital Enablers, which, while it’s a real word, has its own negative connotations (after all, digital literacies are hardly a bad habit.) So empowerers it is, and we’ll just ignore the wiggly red line telling us it’s not really a word as we type this.

We’ve discussed how learners need freedom to explore and create in digital contexts. We’ve examined how teachers need to become guides for their students, learning alongside them, taking calculated risks and instilling an adventurous mindset when dealing with digital learning. But this all assumes that schools have adequate resourcing and, just as importantly, that the attitude from leaders at all levels gives permission for experimentation and considered risk-taking.

Let’s take how schools use devices to start with.  Obviously this varies between schools and authorities but most learners have access to a range of tech, either via school-owned PCs, tablets, and laptops or by having a pupil ‘bring your own device’ policy (BYOD). Often iPads are purchased as they are a recognised brand but Android and Windows tablets are usually cheaper, as useful, and often have access to a wider range of apps. We are aware of many examples where schools have iPads or tablets which are woefully underused, through no fault of the teachers. In many cases, due to a lack of Wi-Fi in schools, staff have to take the device home to put apps on it (which can go against school policy on removing such equipment from the building or using personal accounts on them) and then the apps can vary from device to device depending on what was downloaded. From a teacher’s point of view this is challenging, as how can a class teacher make good use of an app if not all devices have it installed? And how do schools know which apps are good to use? Authorities should be collecting information like this and sharing with all establishments.

no-cellphones-35121_640.pngAt the moment, lots of schools are fighting the battle against mobile use. Many schools have posters on walls banning pupils from having their phones out during class time and actively discouraging pupils from bringing their phones to school at all. However, some forward thinking establishments are working with pupils’ attachment to mobile phones rather than against it. The BYOD idea appreciates that a mobile is more than a phone: it is a computer, and a powerful one at that. Harnessing that untapped potential removes the need for schools to buy in so many devices themselves and also helps educate pupils on the applications and uses of their own phones. Regarding the use of pupils’ own devices, many authorities already have policies on this that have been shared with parents, such as a policy in some East Lothian schools that phones can be on the desk at the start of the class but they can’t be turned over until the teacher says so, giving the teacher control of their use in a well-defined and mutually understood context. Inequity of access does still exist of course – many children have tablets and smartphones, but many do not.  Although it would be overly simplistic to assume that every child can bring a working, appropriate device to school every day, we must accept that allowing the use of personal devices is a positive step along the way to really effective tech use in schools. There can be creative solutions where a child is not able to bring a device for any reason. For example, one authority we are aware of has reworked their policy on musical instrument loans and applied the same logic to ‘loaning’ out devices.

304px-Wi-Fi_Logo.svgOnce we have considered the issue of hardware, we must logically move on to the problem of Wi-Fi  access. We talk about wanting to raise attainment, to give all children a fair start in education, but while Wi-Fi continues to be viewed as an option rather than a necessity then we are penalising pupils. Already in secondary schools, where the large majority of pupils have access to mobile phones, the discrepancies are visible not in the type or brand of phone the pupils have, but in the amount of data they have as part of their contracts. Pupils are being limited as their data is limited. Wi-fi for all would level the field for the young people and also be a step towards bringing schools closer to the real world. Some authorities provide Wi-Fi to all of their schools, and have carefully managed policies to allow learners to connect their own devices to filtered internet access, removing the problem of data poverty.  Some other authorities allow schools to ‘buy-in’ to Wi-fi but this throws up another issue as it relies on schools deeming it an important enough expense to spend their already stretched budgets on. It is then down to luck whether or not your head teacher prioritises it. Wi-Fi for all isn’t a magical solution to all of our digital needs but it seems like an obvious resource that authorities should be providing or insisting schools spend part of their budget on.

Then there are the training opportunities needed to ensure that teachers are a quality resource as well. To upskill staff, improve their confidence in their own digital literacy and empower them to guide our learners effectively, authorities need to provide quality training  and support time for staff. For those who know where to look for this, there are already supports available through Glow. In addition, there are countless free online courses, communities and training resources, but all staff need to be made clear about where they can find this information, and also have a clear steer on the importance of fostering digital literacy – until authority, school and departmental improvement planning recognises this as a vital area for development, there will always be other priorities.

Even if a school has a forward thinking staff and supportive head teacher, barriers can often appear at local authority level. If yours isn’t one of the authorities forging ahead with Wi-Fi and BYOD, it might feel like wading through treacle trying to get any significant changes made in council policy. Often those managing IT infrastructure are not from an educational background. This can have benefits – it’s a crucial role that requires a read head for business and strategic thinking. However, there is often a tendency to try to impose the same kinds of strictures on teachers that might be found in a corporate  environment. Yes, in most offices you don’t want staff messing about, installing programmes, making changes to browser settings, updating software and so on – but teachers aren’t office staff. When we have to jump through ever more complex hoops to make the most basic of changes, can we be blamed for eventually giving up? When it takes three layers of management and several phone calls to have a single website unblocked, how often are you going to request it? When Education Scotland add a new service to Glow but it’s blocked by default and most classroom teachers have no idea who to contact to remedy the situation, are you going to look at it again?

2adThere are so many needless barriers placed in the way of the enterprising teacher in the name of security and risk management. There is so little desire from the centre to change, to renew, to upgrade, even when the latest browser on the school network image is already obsolete by the time it’s installed. Change means cost, and more importantly risk. Each change made at the centre can have knock-on unforeseen consequences, and the thought of having to deal with these is enough to stop progress in its tracks – for those making these decisions, the possible repercussions must be pretty scary, but that doesn’t mean we can just stand still, or move at the glacial pace that’s been the norm with educational technology for so many years in so many places. IT managers must work with and be guided by educationalists, and listen to the needs of the teachers at the frontline. Risk must be part of what we do – not something to be avoided, but something to be managed. If we never take risks, we’ll never move forward, and those authorities who do make the leap into the unknown will be providing opportunities for learners that teachers in other authorities can only look upon with longing.

Until the support of digital literacy, through both pedagogy and infrastructure, becomes something that local authorities insist upon and monitor, progress is guaranteed to be limited. Teachers are massively pushed for time as it is, and money is immensely tight. There’s only so much individual teachers can do without the support of leaders at school, local authority and national level. HGIOS 4, with its explicit focus on digital competencies, is a step in the right direction, but this needs to be backed up with changes to the curriculum (in the form of an acknowledgement in the Curriculum for Excellence documentation that Digital Literacy is the responsibility of all practitioners), the publication of the new national Digital Strategy for Education, and a concerted effort from the Scottish Government to support this in the form of investment and clear guidance and expectations. We’re embarking on our journey down this road, but at the moment the route is full of potholes and shoogly bridges, with a few oases of excellent practice shining in the distance. Our Digital Empowers, those leaders who determine the direction of Scotland’s education system, need to smooth the path for all of us and pave the way for Scotland’s digital future.