Monday, 5 October 2015

PicMonkey - FREE Online Photo Editor

It's always useful to find a FREE online tool that is easy to use. This site lets you edit photos to use in documents.

PicMonkey is a FREE online editing software. It allows you to edit, crop, rotate, sharpen, resize, add text, themes and textures to personal images!
The collage maker’s flexible layouts also allows you to create photo collages. There is also an option to touch up your photos with teeth whitening tools, wrinkle remover and airbrush.You can also design your own pictures from scratch. This could be Invites, Banners or even Cards! 

Please note, the tools/effects with a crown in the left hand corner are Royale features which prompt you to a trial and to create a membership.

Royale membership gets you ads-free editing and primo effects, fonts, overlays and textures however; if you do not wish to create a membership or trial, continue using the effects without this symbol.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Do you use a classroom management tool?

These are more commonly found in Secondary Schools where the ability to take control of pupil screens at key moments in a lesson improves concentration and structures focus. However, different advantages can be derived from the software in Primary Schools. Mellors Primary School have been exploring a product called Vision Pro from a company called Netop. Click here for more details. Some of the features of this software include:

  • Lessons can be more pacey if websites and files are sent to pupils’ computers rather than waiting for them to load them. It is much easier to manage short focussed activities if the teacher can initiate them.
  • The teacher can switch on/off computers at the start of a lesson and ensure that all machines are turned off at the end of the day. The teacher can also watch what a pupil is doing on their screen remotely without their knowledge.
  • A pupil machine can be showcased to other pupils. This is an opportunity to raise self esteem and also acts as a motivational force. It also means that peer assessment is easy to manage.
  • There are a variety of other useful features: locking pupil machines when required and taking control of the screen and demonstrating some work on them.

Until recently the cost of software that would do all this has been prohibitive, however this software does not have an annual charge and is considerably cheaper than the competitors. Mellors Primary School are really pleased with it. If you are looking to put teachers in control when teaching using computers and other 1-1 devices then this may be something that you’d like to consider.  

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Thoughts on Introducing the Topic of Variables in Scratch

Variables are a key part of the new computing curriculum and probably most accessible in Scratch. During the last 2 years I’ve tried a few approaches with varying success; it is the topic that divides the class most. Some get it straight away, some do it and have success with it but are less able to reapply the knowledge and others don’t get it at all. Interestingly, this is also true for teachers!
I am interested in what we can do to help those who are less confident. A definition of a variable as having 3 qualities: a named place, where something is stored and where what is stored can be changed is a great place to start. These are some of the things that I’ve tried:
·      Referring to computer games and looking for examples is a good illustration of a variable constantly changing. Eg current score, lives left, high score, time left, time taken,…
·       Using the ASK block with questions. This can be for a text input like asking the user’s name or whether you want to play, or it can be a numeric input like what number am I thinking of. The advantage of this is that you don’t need to name the variable and can focus on using it. Referring to it as “answer” illustrates the fact that it has been saved by Scratch in a named place. Also, showing the value on screen as the program runs by ticking the box next to answer illustrates that the value is changing.  This method is really helpful in getting used to referring to what is input as the variable name but it can confuse because the variable just exists and hasn’t been named by the user.
·      Using a paper cup/box and writing the variable name on it illustrates that data is stored in a named place. I write something on a piece of paper and put it in the cup to illustrate setting the value. When the value is to be changed I write that on another piece of paper, throw the first away and replace it with the second. When you progress to multiple variables you can have multiple named cups to illustrate them.
·       Doing dummy runs pretending to be the computer is a bit old fashioned but it has the advantage of being a great debug tool. Scratch 1.4 had a single step option which helped with this but I can’t find it in Scratch 2. I use strips of paper to show the contents of a variable. When the variable value changes pupils cross out the value and replace it with the new one. This process is repeated as the program executes. However, it is important in the understanding of variables to understand that contents once replaced can’t be retrieved; crossing out the previous contents can confuse because the old values can still be read. A more effective learning tool is to fold over the strip of paper and write the new value at the top; that way the old value can’t be seen at all and is gone, though by unfolding the paper at the end there is a record of what happened.
·       Difference between setting and changing the value of a variable is not usually a problem, especially if pupils have met the need to initialise other values at the start of a script like size, position, show/hide, colour, etc. Difficulties sometimes arise if the variable value needs to be reset during execution.
·       The difference between local and global variables hasn’t been a problem yet, any pupil who has  created a script making an understanding of this necessary has understood the explanation!


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Using iPads in Primary Schools.

Does your school use iPads? There is some concern that iPads/tablets are used mainly as Internet Research tools and while they are really useful for this there is so much more that they can do.

With this in mind I’ve started to make a list of activities for each year group using apps that are either free, or so good that you wouldn’t mind paying for them! It’s been difficult; there are so many apps and deciding what to include or omit is awkward. there is no reference to QR codes yet. It’s a work in progress but often the hardest thing to do is to start so, with that in mind, I include a link to it here.
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