Reviving our Lego Mindstorms with Microbits

Using Microbit with Lego Mindstorms technic Lego in primary computing.

Like many schools we have equipment that was bought, well used by a couple of teachers and then they left, the focus on the curriculum changed and the equipment began to languish unloved and gather dust in a corner. We have several sets of Amusement Park Lego Mindstorms For schools (RCX1.0 controller, set number 9725) that haven’t been out of the box in at least the last three years (though the dust on the top of the boxes suggested and the fact that the sets were first released in 1998 leads me to suspect it may have been much longer!). 


Whilst the Robolab software and the drivers can be made to work with Windows 10 (the original requirements were for Windows 95 – bless), I felt it was time to try something different. 

As part of a CAS cross-curricular project to use Microbits with our year 4 children, we are building lunchbox buggies. We have some kit to build buggies but in an effort to give as many children as possible a hands-on experience, whilst not spending any money, I turned to our old Lego kits. 

The Lego motors are more powerful than the hobby motors we used from our buggy kit, but I kept the power pack (4×1.5V AA batteries) and the motorboard the same and hoped for the best! 


I cut off one end of the Lego wire connectors, split and stripped back the wires and connected them to the motorboard. 



I built a very simple frame and balanced the board, Microbit and power pack on top and switched it on and to my delight it worked!


So we will be sacrificing a set of Lego connectors but gaining a new set of resources at no cost to make more buggies. This will also allow us to offer two different ways of building buggies. Whilst the Lego one is perhaps more familiar, building the frame will be more of a challenge than using the lunch box and there is more physical dexterity and care needed to attach the wires to the motors when not using the Lego connectors. 

So if you have some old technical Lego gathering dust dig it out and give it a go!

Micro:bit lunch box buggy

My first attempt at building a simple buggy controlled by a microbit.

Next term at Rushey Mead Primary, we are trialing the Primary CAS Hub Micro Bit Project.

Aim of the project

The DfE has identified a number of ‘opportunity areas’ DfE announcement areas where there is an opportunity to create more computing support for teachers in deprived areas. This project aims to create a programme of support for primary schools in those areas (or in other areas that are classed as being deprived) focusing on a cross-curricular scheme of work which embeds the development of pupil’s computational thinking skills and which uses the micro bit with the aim of enhancing learning and motivation in KS2 pupils.

The project aims to enable a CAS Hub to provide the teachers in the project schools with the resources, skills and knowledge to confidently teach their pupils using the scheme of work and to provide ongoing support in terms of evaluating the effectiveness of the teaching and learning and to produce a case study that exemplifies the impact of project. Hubs that are able to find 2 or 3 schools that are in deprived areas and who are willing to get involved in running this project will be entitled to a free class set of micro bits, as will their project schools. These Micro Bits have been kindly sponsored by the Micro Bit

The resource pack on the CAS teacher resources site (free sign up required) includes a cross-curricular SOW based on the Ted Hughes Iron Man novel and involves the pupils building their own Iron Man model (D&T) and a micro bit controlled buggy (CS) and using their creation to retell an aspect of the Iron Man story (IT).

Building the buggy

img_3523-1
Nic Hughes’ Crumble controlled lunch-box buggy
The heart of the project is to make some simple buggy robots controlled by a microbit. Inspired by Nic Hughes’  Crumble buggy that I built in his CAS Annual conference workshop in 2016, (full instructions on his workshop slides) shown on the right, I thought we could make something similar using a microbit to control the buggy.
Kitronik have very kindly got the project started by sending us enough kit to make 7 buggies and we will have microbits provided by the Microbit foundation. So it was my job in the holidays to check that this would actually work!

 

Building the buggy was straight forward, though I made a list of helpful tips to remind me of things I will need to sort when scaling this up at school with our children:

  1. We need a supply of wire to connect motors to motor board and a system to either pre-strip the wires for the children, or a handy teaching assistant dedicated to the job in class! Attaching the wires to the motors is fiddly and it may be easier to solder them on.
  2. When we punched holes in the lunch box, the instructions recommended using an electric drill, we thought a bradawl might work but it split the plastic, so resorted to hot wire instead. Again, this will need to be done ahead of time or supervised in the classroom.
  3. It took my husband quite a while to find an appropriate slot head screw driver with parallel sides and very narrow head (3 mm) that would fit the very small screws in the connectors that hold the wires from the motor and batter packs in place on the motor board. We will need a good supply of these in the classroom!
  4. Double-sided tape to stick the ball caster to the underside of the buggy worked really well.
  5. The lunch box itself needs to be big enough for the wheels to clear the rim of the box – ours *just* made it!

Coding the microbit

The next step was getting the motors working. With some help from the wonderful Lorraine Underwood who managed via twitter to point me in the right direction whilst marooned in her car with a sleeping toddler, I succeeded in getting both motors working so the buggy can move forward.

What had perplexed me initially was that the microbit looks to have 4 main pins (the large gold ‘holes’), however, there are in fact 16 pins that can be addressed and when the microbit is popped into the motor driver board it all looks a bit more complicated! Looking closely at the motor driver board, you can see that pins P12 and P8 control Motor 1 and P6 and P0 control Motor 2. I also needed to know the right block to use – under the ‘device’ or ‘pins’ blocks – ‘digital write (0,1)’.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Finally, on Lorraine’s recommendation (and to see if I could transfer what I’d learnt in one coding environment to another one), I wrote the code again in the JavaScript blocks  PXT editor.  My very simple code (shown right)

lunchbox code forward simple
link to the code
to make the buggy move forward simply gives power to the motors when the batter pack is turned on.

 

 

 

The next steps will be to make the buggy turn left or right and to add some degree of control over it, perhaps by using the buttons.

 

 

Improving our well-being using a staff shout board 

As teachers, we look out for the morale and well-being of the children in our care everyday. However, there is a growing awareness that we neglect to look after our own well-being as teachers.

We started the year well, but pressures mount quickly, and by the time half term was approaching, we were concerned about morale within school. So, as an SLT, we took several steps to try to boost our morale and show our staff how much we value them. We had a niggle box in the staff room for a month (October became Moan-tober).  At the end of October, we addressed the niggle box concerns and put some new ideas in place.  We started to provide free tea, coffee, sugar and milk for everyone and we provided pizza or vegetarian curry (school is just at the end of the fabulous Golden Mile!) at all our twilight meetings. We started to look again at our marking policy, as this was an area of concern from a work load and expectations point of view.

We also started a Staff Shout Out board. From an idea I saw on Twitter, we transformed a large notice board that is in between our staff toilets and the staff room and isn’t seen by children (except for a few brave Eco Warriors that come to empty the staff room recycling bin!). it has several sections:

  1. We have a list of birthdays each month that includes everyone – cleaners, lunchtime supervisors, TAs, teachers and admin staff.
  2. Staff nights out, or other social activities (for example, someone has just suggested we start a book club).
  3. Funny things overheard in the playground.
  4. The main area is given over to post-it notes (a ready supply with pens is kept in a box on the board) that people can use to send a shout out to someone else.

So far, it has been very well used! I’ve had to clear post-it notes off the board every month otherwise it would be so stuffed full no-one would be able to see anything. Messages range from saying thank you for holding a door open when someone had their arms full, congratulating staff that have got engaged, count downs to the holidays and thanking people for their support when staff have returned from long term sick leave. It makes people smile as they go up to the staff room and I make sure that everyone gets to keep the post-its about them when I take them down.

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It is the little acts of kindness that remind us what a tough job we do and that we all deserve a break now and then! My next challenge is to keep it going with the enthusiasm that we begun. I’ve noticed the frequency of post-its has slowed over the last half term, so if you have any ideas about how it can become more sustainable, let me know!

Leicester University NQT Conference – Challenging the most able

Presentation at Leicester University NQT Conference, January 2017

Presentation at Leicester University NQT conference on 18 January 2017. I was asked to speak about challenging more able pupils, but of course, bent the topic around to using ICT to challenge children.

#Nurture16/17 Getting my IT mojo back and looking after my staff.

Having written two Nurture posts in one calendar year, I managed to not write one at all on 2015-2016. My last school’s year was pretty hectic, my first full year as a phase leader, we gained over 230 children from Easter 2015 to October 2016. When I joined the school there was a 7 year plan in place to grow from a 2 to 3 form entry school, but local circumstances and our Head’s strong moral purpose that all children deserve a good education meant it all happened rather more quickly than we anticipated! Needless to say, taking on a phase leader role whilst still in class full time was hard work and I was fortunate to undertake an NPQML qualification along with another colleague in Foundation who was also new to her phase leader role. This helped enormously, gave us ideas to support us and the time to support each other. 

So looking right back to Nurture 2015 post, my 5 wishes for 2015 were: 

1. Start class blogging in my new school. I can’t believe how much I have missed having an online space for my class to share their work!

2. Continue to develop our CAS regional hub. We had a super launch, but the challenge this year is to embed the network and deepen the connections we started.

3. Begin my journey to becoming a Master Teacher of Computing through CAS.

4. Finish the couch to 5K programme for running and try to join at least one Park Run. Make running part of my week and keep it as a permanent form of exercise.

5. Continue to strive for some semblance of work/life balance. I’m much better than I was, but there is always room for improvement!

Taking into account the meassive changes in priorities that happened in the past 2 years, I’m pleasantly surprised that I’ve achieved many of these. The CAS hub is going strong, and now I have two other members of staff working with me on it, I became a Master Teacher of Computing and delivered training to my own staff and other schools, I completed couch to 5 K and I definitely have improved my work life balance. 

The main wish that didn’t get a look in was class blogging but something had to give! 

Looking ahead for 2016, I liked David Roger’s areas of focus: interest, practice and purpose.

#interest

I am in the very fortunate position of being a phase leader without a class responsibility this year. Given our massive and sudden expansion, our head invested in us as middle leaders to help smooth the transition to a bigger school and develop a wider spread of leadership responsibilities. After all, as LKS2 lead,  I now manage 7 teachers and 4 TAs, which is almost the same size of staff that was in the first school I worked in! It has been a brilliant opportunity and I have now have an amazing overview of all the children and staff in my phase. I have taught every class as I provide the majority of the covered needed in the phase and mentored an NQT. The downside has been that I haven’t been able to carve out as much time as I would like for computing and in particular the use of IT across the curriculum. I feel like I’ve lost my IT mojo but over the holidays I’ve realised it’s up to me to take the opportunity and get inspired! I have re-engaged with Twitter, by changing my client back to Echofon which pushes notifications and so I’ve been pulled back in. I’ve had a good clear out and cut down he number of people I follow and consequently my interest has grown and I’ve regained some of the joy that I know Twitter can provide. 

So I aim to:

  • Engage in Twitter and blog at least once a month
  • Attend BETT, the BETT Teachmeet and #camped17 (I’m assuming there will be one – if not I’ll be making sure I connect with the fab educators and families that usually attend as they are an amazing source of wisdom, silliness and inspiration)
  • We have an opportunity to replace our ICT suite with mobile devices which has set my tech brain spinning again…

#practice

My individual teaching practice has changed radically as I cover classes rather than have my own class responsbility. However, I did prepare assessments and the data returns for one of our classes last term so I haven’t missed out on everything! I have gained a wealth of experience by teaching a wider range of classes and this is something I want to develop further. 

So I aim to

  • Mentor is the NQT in my phase and develop my modelling skills
  • Run a lesson study looking at the use of technology across the curriculum with a focus on supporting our EAL learners.

#purpose

The moral purpose of providing a broad curriculum for all children in our school is very strong. We have a strong focus on the well-being of staff and I feel that this is increasingly important when demands from changing political agendas continually move the goal posts. 

So I aim to:

  • Maintain and develop our Staff Shout Out board to encourage a culture of caring for and thanking one another in school.
  • Look after myself and remember that at the end of the day teaching is just a job.
  • Nurture my staff by leading by example – turning email off at weekends, thinking about the impact of new ideas and new work on staff before committing to them. 

I’m optimistic about the coming year after a really relaxing holiday – bring it on! 

CAS North Leicester Primary Hub meeting 28 September 2016 eSafety

Penny Patterson shares her wisdom on how to ensure your school meets the new Safeguarding requirement for online safety.

This term we decided to focus on something that many schools will be covering at this time of year, eSafety. The changes to Keeping Children Safe in Education that came into force on 5 September 2016 included more explicit duties for safeguarding with regard to online activities. We were very fortunate to have Penny Patterson (Senior Inspector Quality Assurance with responsibility for Safeguarding, Havering School Improvement Service) present by Skype for our meeting. She went well beyond the call of duty, when after discovering the M25 was closed, she had to divert and deliver the presentation using her phone from her car whilst parked at a garden centre!

Her slides highlight the new requirements succinctly and she has kindly agreed to share them:

penny-slide1
Full presentation available for download

 

Safeguarding-and-online-safety ppt file

One of the more alarming aspects of her talk was a discussion around sexting, which most of us had felt wouldn’t be an issue we would need to deal with in Primary schools. However, Penny has dealt with two cases involving children in early years and warned us to be aware of the difficulties of dealing with such cases. Unfortunately the strict legal definition of sexting includes the taking and sharing of indecent images, and if children take photographs of what is under their clothes, this can constitute sexting. Fortunately, UKIS have issued guidance on how to proceed if this happens in your school, and how it can be dealt with in a sensible and proportionate way.

Teachers were keen to know how to deal with parents on social media who were not being good role models to their children. Penny advised that they should consider if the children were involved, named or harmed by the online conversations and if they were, then to deal with this as we would with any other safeguarding incident.

We noted with interest the addition of a category of abuse of neglect for parents whose excessive use electronic devices as ‘babysitters’ and for parents who may be ignoring a child through the excessive use of technology themselves (watching their phone instead of their child crossing the road for example).

Finally, Penny gave us some good advice to make sure that we had checked that the filtering and monitoring systems we were using fulfilled the criteria recommended by the DfE (see : Guide for education settings and filtering providers about establishing ‘appropriate levels’ of filtering and monitoring)

The next meetings of the CAS North Leicester Primary hub will take place in March and May 2017. Book your free tickets online.

Everything on the Internet belongs to someone! 

It was my pleasure to run a workshop at Hampshire/ Wessex Computing Conference on 30th June 2016. Expanding on previous presentations on teaching children about Creative Commons licensing and how to be respectful online, this workshop covered attribution and how to re-use online content. 

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/159IcnZ3gf5Rt_dZAoR3t_ULblqEkIfT-YH7t1fu_A0A