Build, Code, Play with Lego Boost.

Does Lego Boost have a place in the classroom?

When I’m looking for a kit to recommend I have some strict criteria that it has to satisfy in order to be considered worthy of classroom use (in no particular order).

1) Is it easy to use straight out of the box?
2) Is it collaborative?
3) Is it gender balanced or age limited?
4) Does it foster creativity ? Beyond enabling a student follow instructions accurately…
5) Does it have longevity? (device agnostic)
6) Is it affordable?
7) Is it durable/classroom proof?

Looking at the list of criteria I am aware that I haven’t mentioned any curriculum mapping references, as a teacher working with the growing raft of technology, the skills I look to foster are of problem solving, resilience and communication. These are my three guiding practices.

For Lego devotees the pleasure has always been the build. Lego have introduced fantastic models with endless pieces of plastic which defy imagination or tap in to a particular brand, like Star Wars. Old favourites co-exist with the of the moment builds, keeping Lego fresh and relevant. Lego Boost is the latest offering from the engineering geniuses at Lego. For me it sits between Lego Dimensions and Lego Mindstorms. It is marketed for its coding capabilities and that’s my number one interest.

But, to be clear this is high quality fun.
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Selflessly, in order to test out my classroom criteria, I enlisted the help of my 7 year old godson, AJ. My reasoning was I would see the sets true limitations and capture a sense of how it could work in the classroom. As this is a joint road test, I have included his opinions too.

Criteria 1: Easy to use? Out of the box-ability. 8/10

Download the app 10/10 LEGO® BOOST by LEGO System A/S
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/lego-boost/id1217385613?mt=8

Multi touch and colourful, no disappointments here, but stages prior to preparing to build are required. You’ll need 6x AAA batteries from the outset. Once located it’s easy to assemble.

The packets of amazingly engineered colourful bits and blocks come in numbered bags 1-11, each matching a level of skill. As you progress through, the challenges ramp up.

Accessing the building instructions on the app is a matter of choosing the model you wish to build. AJ and I (…well mostly AJ) chose Vernie the rolling robot, by tapping on his image access the build instructions were revealed. Then the small matter of connecting the app to the motor took another few minutes and finally the firmware was installed. We were ready to build! This was the most stressful part of the build, I’ll return to this later …

Criteria 2 & 3 – is it collaborative, gender balanced or age limited? 8/10

The box states the recommended ages, but it does have applications beyond 12 years of age. It depends on the child’s experience with Lego too, AJ is a two handed Lego ninja so found the set compatible with his interests and skill level, he is only 7, the recommended age to start this kit. Gender wise it cleverly includes a robot pet, I personally can’t wait to dismantle Vernie to build the cat…
Is it collaborative? Well yes, the build experience can be a shared one. And no, the intricacies of the model lends itself to a one person build. In the classroom you could insist on taking turns but the level of focus required to ensure everything is assembled correctly is the reason for the high level of ownership & personal satisfaction felt once built.

Criteria 4 – Does it foster creativity? 9/10

Having unlocked each level through accurate building and practice, the build motivates the builder to continue to the next stage. There’s a perfect balance between building, coding and playing. Each numbered bag completed results in an inbuilt ‘treat’ – actually it’s a test that you’ve constructed the model properly – and how to apply the technology appropriately. My personal favourite was having only half constructed his body, Vernie spoke to ask for high- five and looked down with his captivating eyebrows and realising he had no hands asked the builder to continue to make them! Genius!

As far as collaborative features, the block coding is both simple and intuitive but multi layered. The initial block coding which is an intrinsic part of the build process, offers simplified instructions, although it becomes clear that these can be edited to deal with complexity during self discovery. For example, the programming of Vernie to play hockey…it comes with a mat which can be the start of a coding journey.

Criteria 5: Does it have longevity? 10/10

Most Lego is timeless and this is one such set…AJ and I would have happily continued to ‘play and code’ Vernie all day. In fact the four hours we worked together flew past. In the classroom this would have to be distilled into a club or lessons so could easily motivate a group of learners for a term, just scratching the surface of one models capabilities. Remember there are five to build in the set and each has various challenges to solve… there’s no chance of boredom. AJ’s commented that the experience was ” beyond amazing, fun and it’s on my birthday list! ”

The only limitations are the coding capabilities and with the addition of possibly using Swift in the future, the glass ceiling of coding would be smashed to pieces. Although compatible, presently only Mindstorms are available as an accessory/ additional playground in Swift playgrounds by Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/swift-playgrounds/id908519492?mt=8 for iPad.

Lego Boost should be welcomed to the party in the August 2017 update to Swift.


Criteria 6: Is it affordable? 9/10

This set cost £150 direct from the Lego Store. It is not cheap, but the quality of the product holds up Lego’s reputation and it is considerably cheaper than Mindstorms. Perhaps a contribution from the PTA makes it ‘obtainable’ for school’s with limited budgets. It shouldn’t just be for the coding club either. Train up your TA! Or how about considering this as the subject of your next staff Inset day? It would be the best way to illustrate to staff the power of coding not just as a series of abstract tasks in lessons but as life long learners that you should never stop marvelling in the incredible possibilities! When you build with Lego you tap into the child within you and by reminding oneself of how that feels, it is liberating. Refreshing staff’s attitude to and the value of play.

Criteria 7: Is it classroom proof?

I began by saying  to earn a place in my classroom it had to satisfy the three working practices of problem solving, resilience (an ability to work a problem through, debug and consider alternatives) and be an aide to communication. Lego Boost undoubtedly does this.  10/10 in that respect.

Realistically, for a class of 30+ you would need to have access to enough built models in order to utilise the excellent block coding. Once opened the numbered bags would have to be replaced with zip tied bags or similar… However, if you were forward thinking ( or if your budget allowed) & embraced technology then this is a must have. Remember earlier, I mentioned stress? The preparation process was a little more in depth than I had expected but it was absolutely necessary for me to go through this stage so that the experience moving forward was positive. Yes, you would have to be organised and ensure the set was updated prior to the lesson but it demands nothing new of the usual high level of teacher’s professionalism.

 

Lego Boost embodies why technology should be in the hands of our students. It would be a positive addition to the technology tool kit and could be incorporated into the classroom, as AJ reminded me young fertile open minds, given the opportunity to use the technology can excel and produce incredible results. Utopia should be now and a place for Lego Boost should be found in schools. Students are amazing!

Experiencing Landscapes…

Having dabbled and enjoyed the results of using iPad Pro with Apple Pencil in the comfort of my own home, I thought it was time to branch out and explore the landscape. This is a mobile device right?

With my National Trust membership card, iPad, pencil and sunglasses I headed for Nymans a beautiful garden and house. The house is romantic, the ruins cast evocative shapes against the sky. A perfect place to start to explore capturing a landscape.

Using the Procreate app I sat under the shade of a tree feeling quite smug about spending some solitary time sketching. Quite quickly however, I became increasingly frustrated by my inability to capture the essence of the place. To be honest I needed a bigger iPad! ( my Pro is the 9.7) Its majesty was too big to distill into a few marks…unperturbed I continued. Choosing different canvases on the app helped, finally settling on full screen.

I began to realise that I needed to check my ambition and focus on a smaller area, reducing the scope of my Turneresque urges. I found that my eye was seeing colour differently, sitting outside with the ever changing sunlight, I wanted to capture moments… instinctively I used the iPads camera, I began to collect still images. This helped to refer to, as I tried to resist artistic licence!

Renaming a paint palette in the app Nymans, I began adding colours as they revealed themselves so I had a fighting chance of preserving some semblance of this beguiling place. The creamy stone was actually pink as my developing artists eye became familiar with the tones. Don’t even get me started on how many hues of green there were…

Sadly, the house proved too much for my inexperienced artistic talent. The canvasses I made were consigned to delete. Replacing my pencil and iPad into its cover I decided to wander around the familiar grounds. Not one to be defeated, I happened upon the Italian Garden complete with follie. This seemed less daunting and so with the twenty minutes left before closing time…I sat and sketched. Using my bespoke Nymans palette and focusing on a smaller vista, I captured the scene. Granted, it’s flat and lacking in depth but I was pleased enough not to press delete. Progress.


Art to heart…

“Creativity takes courage” – Henri Matisse

Quite possibly, but it also takes the availability of the right tools to be creative with.

I don’t profess to be an artist, I enjoy being creative and since using iPad I know that I’m a visual learner. I was not sure however that this qualified me to announce my artistic prowess. I’ve dabbled in using the colouring in app Lake especially as it has a setting that lets you colour over the lines but makes it look perfect. A digital substitute for the endless sheets of geometric patterns that I completed for hours on end as a child. Now firmly under the banner of mindfulness.
Lake: De-Stress Therapy with Art Colouring Pages by Lake Colouring https://appsto.re/gb/ELHJgb.i

Whether the end product is ‘perfect’ or not, I think the answer lies in recognising the value of visual communication. “A picture is a poem without words” – Horace. So armed with my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, I downloaded Procreate
Procreate – Sketch, paint, create. by Savage Interactive Pty Ltd https://appsto.re/gb/ATHvz.i

My first challenge was to discover how to get started. I chose an A4 canvas from the many offered and remembered about the layers option, the “creative” in the Apple Store Covent Garden had shown me. My first attempt was a few dots that resembled an image I had in my head of fennel.

Encouraged by these marks, I painted a real flower picked from my garden, a cactus dahlia, I lost myself in experimenting with the textures, colours and lines made so precisely (and technically) but effortlessly with the Apple Pencil. I did also use my finger and a secondary stylus too to prove to myself that it was the process rather than the what I used which made the difference. Procreate has a built in facility for your work to be played back as a video, every mark made recorded and captured. A remarkable way for teachers to either assess and coach their protégés.


The end result resembled the flower in front of me, so with this in mind, I turned to portraiture. How hard can this be? Yes, hard. By this I mean it was a different type of challenge category. My dahlia could have been any one of hundreds but a face is unique, and recognisable so I was determined to set myself the task of copying the image of someone famous…and holding up my fragile skills by asking the risky Photofit question of ‘do you recognise this person?’ . Ok so I cheated by choosing someone who was really, really famous…( hint the chosen one, famous wizard who defeats he who cannot be named…) but sneakily left off the glasses!

Although this was relatively well received, ( I was pleased) I still had the nagging voice in my head saying that to be an artist you’re work needed originality. If I could actually draw the portrait of someone not famous…and capturing their likeness the essence of them, that would signal that perhaps being an artist is within my capabilities. Or at least supported and revealed by my digital paint set. The result was pleasing as those who knew the ‘sitter’ recognised him (…those who did not thought he could have been a bad attempt at Ed Sheeran as the quintessential ‘ginger’) I’m not sure whether the lack of hair or the beard was a factor in the mistaken identity.

Henri Matisse was right, creativity does take courage, especially if you are willing to hold up your brush marks for approval. Our students do this every day, we as teachers glance at their efforts and offer our judgement. Rightly or wrongly, from a position of knowledge or complete ignorance, an assessment is made. I felt proud of my work and shared it with a few friends who were kind enough to give me some positive feedback…so much so that I’m off to try my hand at a landscape!

Coding in the Playground.

IMG_3206Me, coding?

Recently I heard a statistic that opened my eyes. The average teacher is female, age 41, white British, graduated in 2001 now with 16 years experience and has just 4 days per year to evaluate the impact of her teaching at Inset. Is it any wonder that teachers feel under pressure? Expectations of what tech can do to support the teaching profession needs resetting… playgrounds are no longer uninspiring slabs of concrete but can be the areas where students can explore and learn to control  interactive immersive worlds in full colour!

Apple believe Everyone can code in fact they have developed an amazing set of resources that can support teachers to encourage and teach coding from age 5 to 16 , moving into developing apps when the students are able. Notice I say students, for teachers code is like learning another language, literally. Many teachers will run with it, the same teachers who dare to take on online course to learn Spanish in their 40’s to feel more at ease when summer finally comes! I suspect however, that most just want to know enough to support their classroom practice.

Personally, I can see how incredibly useful, in fact, essential being able to code is going to be. I cannot draw on extensive computing skills but I can teach. So this is my way of reaching out to those who are savvy enough to accept that learning changes and accepting that this change is not science fiction but reality.

First step, take some time to download the first of the teaching resources, start with this curriculum map . It frames the journey from age 5 upwards. So reader, after having researched the why? teach coding, you’ll be keen to see what this looks like in the classroom. Coding is not just restricted to computing, it is rooted in problem solving and designing systems leading ultimately to a better understanding of human behaviour. Students becoming digitally literate and more able to use and express themselves using communicating technologies. The future is now.

At this point reader, it is important that I reassure you that the resources are free. (I realise you’ll need an iOS device to actually complete the course). This is backed up by the reputation of Apple a company who has Education in their DNA. The resources are fun, engaging and have the potential to open the coding world to your students. Check out my daily digital diary which was my first steps in using Swift in the classroom. This blog reflects on the pitfalls as well as the successes of introducing coding into a primary school.
Developing skills is what teachers are about…so where next? I am very fortunate that I have access to the Apple Distinguished Educator programme where incredible teachers who work with Apple technologies around the world give their advice on what’s new and what works in the classroom…and what works is Swift Playgrounds. If you want access to this too, start to tweet. Join Twitter check out @vickiebacondpc and follow my fellow ADE’s – just searching ADE will get you started.

 

 

MEEBOT & SWIFT – a beginners guide for the classroom

Challenge based learning – the big idea!

As a Digital Genius Ambassador I view emerging technologies as the passport to new opportunities to explore and extend skills in communication, with digital storytelling and creativity. My role is to draw together a larger network of experts to offer students the chance to be amazing!

I’m a huge fan of trying out new tech, especially on a promise to code a dancing robot! But, I’m always wary…as a teacher faced with a class of students it’s got to work and I’ve got to know the pitfalls. This post shares the process I went through.

Step 1: download the app for iPhone and iPad.Jimu Robot app

Step 2: Open the box! The  colourful boxes make it straightforward to locate the parts needed.

Step 3: Build – the app opens to a clear interface which allows you to manipulate each piece by zooming and rotating to check accuracy. The handy open book icon allows the builder to check the piece they have selected is the right piece, which is invaluable.

Top Tips for students:

  • #1 when you open the plastic bags of pieces (some of which are tiny) decant them into the colourful box or have a couple of trays/bowls ready to put them in to contain them but with easy access.
  • #2 find the recharging and power adapter (yellow box), start the charging of the main control unit (blue box) to save time and avoid disappointment at the end of the build.
  • #3 if you’re building alone, fine you can spread out the components. If you’re  building in teams it’s best to build the two (symmetrical) halves. One group start at 0/18 and the other from 10/18.  It is just about possible to build the head separately too 15/18.  However, you’ll need to be certain you use the correct servos.

The build process took me 2 hours. Yes, I was extra careful and yes, I was working uninterrupted.  But with no previous knowledge of building a robot it was a satisfying  task and ended with a working robot. The building process is very rewarding. It is a tad fiddly to hold loose components when making but an expert lego devotee would still enjoy the challenge. A whole class build would be ambitious. Although, an after school club would be able to collaborate to build this characterful robot.

Once the robot is built pairing is simple, proximity features quickly connect the app to the robot (if the main control unit has been charged). Then is the fun bit. By using the pre programmed actions, the MeeBot will dance and move exuberantly to everyone’s delight!

But, where’s the learning ?

The amazing thing about the MeeBot is that the students can quickly begin to code their own movements using the block code or in Swift. The icons allow the students to locate visually the part of the robot being coded and gives them full automony to change variables…

I can feel a Dance off #can’t touch this! 

 

 

 

Day 80 – Functioning Perfectly

Working in a new language, whether French, German or for a computer is a challenge!

It takes practice and perseverance to turn an alien language into sense and finally fluency. Today, functions were the focus as the second attempt to write functions to solve problems ​consumed the class. Working in “talking partners”, with pen and paper , beanbags. Students worked from ‘abstract’ directly on to their playground.  As a teacher – the inspirational lesson ideas in the accompanying  iBook – functions are a pleasure to teach. There’s a real sense of shared challenge and almost a ‘advertising agency ‘ buzz when the smallest piece of  the puzzle is unlocked, the shared success is palpable. 

Using the blog in Seesaw as a learning journal – in conjunction with playgrounds – enables the students to capture a video from their screen withnthe code. This  can be peer-reviewed and if necessary debugged and re-edited to accomplish the task. 

The students were impressive in their forward thinking – I challenged the most able to reduce their code into the fewest possible elements. One group managed four repeats of their function ‘4gemcollectors’ – genius! 

The best part of any computing session is the peer reviews the following day when the students get to comment on the work added by a classmate.

They then use this and test it out for themselves. Spring boarding their own understanding and with it an enthusiasm for coding. Playgrounds is fast becoming the top of the pile for a task that challenges the students – choice of thinking skills, level of challenge and a fun immersive environment, makes it a winner. 

Password and memory joggers

Day 2 of the Easter break.

I set myself the task of migrating my old blogpost site to WordPress. Not the most exciting task granted, but completely necessary if I want to continue to blog easily from the classroom. 

Previously, I had enjoyed the simplicity of Blogger. I was able to add a new post to the blog quickly and easily. My progress was halted unceremoniously by ios10. From that fateful day , Blogger was unresponsive. A change was needed…Wordpress being the answer. What follows is an account of how this seemingly simple task turned into a trial. Even the most feared minds in my tech world couldn’t easily master…it is in fact a cautionary story when using tech in any situation. 

First hurdle to overcome: remembering the password.  I have two factor authentication on my accounts as it is recommended by Apple. If I am advised to do use this method of access by a ‘wiser more experienced counsel’, I generally go with it. But with no joy…three attempts and endless checking of notes and keychains later…

So that failed…that’s ok I’ll just reset the password!

 This is when the fun started, by resetting the password via email, I inadvertently made a typo in the email (the ‘j’ is right next to the ‘k’- easy mistake) but this then set up an avalanche of issues, compounded by a magical app called Clef. This app was added into the mix when it was promised that I wouldn’t have to remember any passwords just hold my phone up to the iPad to unlock my website without an added layer of encryption – I was in awe! This wonderment managed to do, quite reliably it has to be said,  exactly what it promised, right up until today.  Reader, Clef was a good idea – magical in fact. However, now I have learnt that this too is being disbanded. Leaving me with an further issue of access on my accounts. So two hours later I still have no new password or any access to my website which contains the historical blogs that I wish to migrate to my new blog site. 

After a tedious, jazz music accompanied phone call to the domain company, I was finally ‘able’ to unlock the site. Well at least that’s what I thought. Until after going through the whole process and  carefully inputting the new data, checking for typos and taking screen shots of every new action – I pressed send to update my password attached to my email details – full of  expectancy

 I got this familiar message …

Not sure whether to laugh or cry at the “Need help?” option… arrghhh. 
This frustration is exactly why technology can and does get such a bad press. It makes you feel as if it is impossible to crack. An unreachable goal.  It makes you look stupid and leaves you frustrated. This unknown and slightly ‘magical’ world of accessing technology is other worldly to me, I teach. That’s my domain. I love technology and can see the benefits of using these transformative devices to aid learning. What really concerns me is that in order to achieve membership to the club, I have to jump through a load of hoops that quite frankly trip me up! Digital Genius? Nah! 

Although no one was harmed in the making of this blog post, I’d like to thank ‘Panda’ Dan and Troy for their incredible skill and patience is retrieving the seemingly impossible. I am indebted. 

Day 79 – Functioning again

Swift Playgrounds coupled with Everyone can Code iBook is a winner.

Fab ideas for the classroom and a 360°view of how children are learning with the integration of Seesaw and Blogging direct from the classroom. This lesson was 45mins but the students were very happy to continue this in their own time – oh the joys of 1:1.

Here are the latest attempts from my Year 5 & 6 students to explain what a function does and how lops and behaviours can be simplified when creating code. Inspired to start with the Macarena – Apple Music to the rescue and impromptu dance moves in front of the class! Who knew…

Blogging direct from the lesson….charting our own success

Add caption

 

Macarena sets the scene for an fun adventure into coding, loops, behaviour  and functions.

 

Working out the finer details and protocols of naming functions…

I love the fact that the collaborative and supportive nature of this approach allows questions to be asked without fear of embarrassment. We are all learning together. The students look forward to working with new members of their class and get the feedback that really counts – from their own classmates!

Day 78 – Function-ing Brilliantly!

Halloween can always bring out the dark side of a class, usually through excitement and spirited enthusiasm. Today, with the students I tried some new approaches…

Following a really successful Inset with staff – it was clear that the integration of iPad into the curriculum is going (on the whole) well. However, there are still a few barriers to making continued progress and pushing on with the development of learning and of course teaching. One barrier is always, ‘Vickie I haven’t got time to invent new resources all the time’ (usually this means – ‘so I don’t and haven’t tried anything new as yet…’) I work part time and know I can trust this resource with it I get good results…

So, in evaluating the staff’s needs I made my timely intervention and showed the teachers Nearpod. – Yes I could have introduced this at the very start of our roll out. But truthfully, the creative aspects of iPad and workflow that were encouraged initially worked brilliantly. This is an intervention that refreshes ideas and gives ‘tired’ teachers a quick win with the impetus to keep on preparing the best learning opportunities in lessons for the students.  This targeted focus allows the teacher to use their favourite resource sites (e.g. Twinkl) but also augment the slide deck with interactive tasks which utilities the iPad and gives independence to the student. Putting the onus on the student to be responsible for their learning.

So what have I used in the classroom today?

Nearpod – inverted commas. The basic slide deck was taken from a Pdf exported from a powerpoint in Twinkl. I then added additional slides with examples of modelled exercises, quizzes and free writing opportunities. The cloze procedure is particularly effective with lower Key Stage 2.

Illustrating the rules of using inverted commas

The results of using this guided learning method were evident immediately, the students achieved well and the standard of their work was noticeably more accurate and proficient.

Day 77 – Swift Changes …

Apologies for my loyal followers, my blogs have been limited recently due to a small issue with Blogger crashing since iOS10 update…it seems a bug has been found and fixed so I’m glad to be back with you.

Today my year 5&6 class launched their adventures into the swift playground and they have become bloggers from the classroom too!

What have I been using in the classroom today? 

Seesaw, Swift playground & iBooks combine to make a new way of coding come to life…swift language has been introduced across the world and has made understanding code more easily accessible to students and teachers alike.

Apple have thought 360° about how to make Swift a usable and fun way to learn code. For teachers books available from the app store support the introduction and is backed up with tutorials and scaffolded lessons – much like the way we as teachers now encourage our students to learn.

Together we are working through he new landscape of code with Byte and friends encouraging us at every step. Meanwhile students are supporting and encouraging each other by pairing up and then blogging on the class blog in Seesaw when they have found a solution or have faced a challenge. 

Stage 1 lays down the foundations and conventions of using the swift code language. It was obvious that the students were motivated to find a solution and appreciated the added 3D’s features making the game more involving and immersive. Functions were more of a challenge but many students showed resilience skills that mean that a challenge is a blip…a not managed it yet moment.

My next hope is that the students will guide those in the younger years to try their hand at swift programming through tutorials which have the double bonus of reinforcing newly learnt skills.

Our first hour of code was a success and I look forward to the outcomes when faced with the challenges that see the students tasked with personalising code and seeing first hand how they can influence how a program runs. More importantly, when things go wrong, just how to re-trace steps and check the lines of code to see which block of code is causing the error. Debugging for a reason…