Thursday, 30 October 2014

Is it an Algorithm?

If the new primary computing curriculum has achieved anything,  it is introducing the word algorithm into the vocabulary of most teachers. We now all know that algorithms are just a set of instructions to get something done and range from knitting patterns to recipes, from lego instructions to programs written in logo. 

This term we have introduced the word algorithm to pupils EYFS. The children pretended to be a pirate, the gruffalo, even the Queen when saying the word. They have also enjoyed singing the algorithm round.


There are key features to algorithm that we can use to identify if something is an algorithm. They must have a outcome: something has to be achieved. They need to be sequenced into a set of steps: if these steps are not followed in order the end product will not be reached. So a no parking sign is not an algorithm but instructions on how to use a parking meter are.

Using this criteria,  pupils can sort images into algorithms or advice. This can be started in class, using this presentation, and continued at home with pupils collecting images of everyday algorithms. Before attempting to understand what a program is, pupils' need a sound understanding of what an algorithm is and isn't.

Celebrity Spelling Tests

I have been using the free iOS app photospeak for sometime, primarily as an alternative way of recording. For those who haven't used the app, photospeak allows you to record a voice over an animated face. This face can be one within the app or an imported image. In class we have created animations of Isaac Newton explaining why the Jenga tower collapsed, Winston Churchill persuading people to enlist and vegetables explaining what nutrients they contain and how these are used by the human body.
Photospeak a free iOS app

Recently a pupil asked if we could get Simon Cowell, whose animation we were using as a stimulus for our writing, to do our weekly spelling test. So that Friday the X-Factor judge obliged and read out the spellings. 

The interface for recording animated voice-overs
Since then this idea has grown and we now have a celebrity spelling test every Friday conducted by a celebrity of the children's choosing. Spellings are given out on Friday allowing children the option of writing sentences, including these words, for use in the next spelling test. It has definitely made the weekly spelling test fun and the children are motivated not just to learn the spellings, but to use the words in the correct context.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Programming with Thomas Trackmaster

Programming with Thomas Trackmaster

After spending a few hours the previous day developing a long term plan for the new computing curriculum, I started using my five year old as a guinea pig for many of the KS1 resources that had been suggested. He found the bee-bot app easy and a bit boring,  loved light-bot and within 15 minutes was able to create and use simple procedures (he even attempted to use the word). However, before I was able to trick him into testing Kandu, he announced that he wanted to play and so we built, with the help of a 3 year old, a train track using Thomas Trackmaster which involved several junctions where the trains could switch tracks and areas where they could be

As the track was still assembled the following morning, we started playing with the track again. It was at this point that I realised that it could be used as a way to introduce some concepts of programming - an idea taken from Phil Bagge’s (@baggiepr) online course Evolving ICT into Computing. I started setting challenges: can you get Thomas to go through the coal pit then the dieselworks; can you move Thomas to let Diesel past. I then used post-it notes to create a language and instructions for each component.

The challenge was then to get Thomas to the dieselworks. To do this another train had to move to another area of the track, which involved changing the direction of gates and then resetting these gates to allow the other train to get to its destination. After a spot of trial and improvement , which I now refer to as debugging, we used the post it notes to scribe a set of instructions using the specific language.

Through this activity the following aspects of the Key Stage 1 computing curriculum were addressed
  • understand what algorithms are
  • create and debug simple programs
  • use logical reasoning to predict behaviour of simple programs

I am not claiming that through this activity he has mastered the aforementioned areas, but he has developed an understanding of the concepts and this knowledge is ready to be deepened.