Apps to Support the Teaching of Computing

From September 2014, computing will be a part of the National Curriculum and will replace ICT. It is now considered to be an essential part of a child’s learning process because of the ever growing use of technology in everyday situations. It is important teaching is taught in a fun way that is accessible for children’s understanding, as computing can be a hard concept to understand. With technology being such an essential part of everyday society, more hardware such as iPads are being used widely in the classroom environment. Therefore, apps are made to aid the children’s understanding and development. There are a wide range of apps all suited to different ages and targeting different elements of computing. Recently, in our digital literacy sessions we have been looking at a range of apps that would help children to understand computer coding. This enabled us to see how wide a variety of apps there are, all based around different things, aiding different key stages. After looking at these 8 apps in greater detail, I now think that I have the knowledge to be able to assess and evaluate the apps and how they would benefit children within the classroom.

Daisy the Dino: Available to download free from iTunes

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Daisy the Dino is a basic computing program aimed at KS1, this enables children to use 2 modes, either play or challenge mode. Play enables them to use all the tools from the beginning, the command menu is along the left hand side and these are then dragged across to be the program. This then moves the dinosaur along the bottom. The challenge mode, teaches children the very basic steps to just getting the dinosaur to move,onto more complicated things. This app would be great for introducing the concept of computing, but would not be appropriate for children who already have prior knowledge of computing. The app gives children an understanding of sequencing and looping events.

The advantages of this app are that it is very simple and gives children a tutorial as well as the chance to get stuck in straight away. It looks very appealing and colourful which will therefore catch young children’s attention. It also encourages children to download a kit to help program their own games once completing this app.

The disadvantages of the app are that it is very simple so once the children have an idea of how to program the dinosaur there isn’t a great deal of development work the children can do afterwards. Also, there is a limited amount of things that the dinosaur can actually do, if it was able to do more things then it may engage children for a longer period of time.

 

Cargo Bot: Available to download free from iTunes

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Cargo Bot has the objective of getting the user to move the crates from one position to another, this is a great puzzle for children that requires logical thinking as well as a fun introduction to programming for children, because of the level of logical thinking this game requires, it would ideally be aimed at children in KS2.

The main advantage of this app is that the layout is excellent and the introductions are simple, enough for children of all ages to be able to understand, which makes the app accessible to a wide variety of people. The app also encourages children to use logical thinking patterns and as they progress in the app, it gradually gets more complex.

The main disadvantage of this application, is similarly to some of the other applications that I have looked at, like Bee Bot, there are only arrows used instead of technical vocabulary and as the app, in my opinion, is aimed at KS2 then key terms should be used in order for the children to become familiar with the vocabulary.

 

Bee Bot: Available to download free from iTunes

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This app would be great for children of all ages, however, the levels get significantly harder so it may be something that KS1 children will struggle with, as it is about memorising just as much as programming, although, given the right instructions the children could be encouraged to use their fingers to follow where they are on the screen which may help with the complexity of the game.

The advantages of this game is that it is bright and colourful which would automatically attract the children’s attention, it is also easy to navigate and is straight forward to use, as all the buttons are clearly labeled and once completing it you just click the ‘go’ button to ensure that the bee has made it’s destination. The app is also cross curricular as it can bring in elements of maths when teaching children about direction and acts as an opportunity to bring in key mathematical terms such as 90 degrees.

The disadvantages for me are that because the game solely relys on children understanding their lefts and rights there are some issues around SEN as children who have dyslexia often get confused, therefore making this game inaccessible to them. The app also only has 12 levels, so depending on how quickly children grasp the concept of the app could depend how quickly they get bored of it. Additionally, no coding language is used, only arrows which when using with younger children to introduce the concept of coding is fine, but when progressing the children on it is important that key terms are used.

 

Light Bot Lite: Available to download free from iTunes

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Light Bot Lite is a programming puzzle that can typically be used with older KS1 children and younger KS2, this helps the children to understand programming concepts as well as having fun. The app has many different levels to it which enable children to develop and extend their knowledge when going through and can also help the teacher to identify who is struggling.

The advantages of this app are that it has simple instructions that can be understood by children and the levels gradually increase complexity, once introducing the overall concept of programming. The app is also fairly easy to navigate.

Similarly to Bee Bot, the app may have some SEN issues as again it uses the arrows to represent left and right which can confuse children with dyslexia. Another disadvantage is that the game isn’t brightly coloured so therefore it wouldn’t be appealing to children.

 

Kodable: Available to download free from iTunes

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Kodable is a great app for introducing children of a young age to computer coding and programming. This app would be particularly beneficial in KS1 as it allows the children to create their own characters using their gender and name, therefore it directly addresses the child. The app uses arrows to direct the character.

The advantages to this app are that it encourages young children to have a logical approach to solving problems using sequencing and introduces the idea of loops. The app has many different levels, increasing in complexity, which enable the child to use prior knowledge to be able to reach the end objective.

The main disadvantage for me is that no key terms are mentioned, just the use of arrows however if this app is used appropriately, for example just to introduce the theory of coding and then progress onto something that incorporates key terms the app would be very effective.

 

Cato’s Hike: Available to download free from iTunes for the Lite version, or £2.99 for the full version.

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Cato’s Hike is used to teach children basic programming skills. It would be best suited to KS2 as the app is considerably more complex than some of the other apps I have looked at in detail, as there are many different symbols used and children could easily forget which each of them mean.

The advantages of this app are that it is very eye catching and appealing for young children and the instructions are clear and bold. The app also includes a variety of different levels and clear tutorials which enable the app to be accessible to a range of ages and can act as a motivational technique to children as they want to reach a higher level than their peers.

The disadvantages of this app are that although the instructions are fairly clear, there is a lot to read which may put the children off, and will often skip by, because they think they would be able to work it out for themselves. The app also uses symbols to direct the character around, which again doesn’t give children the key terms that will benefit them when extending their knowledge.

Apps are used when teaching children computing for many different reasons. The first being that because the children can see them as being games, they become very addictive, this then makes the children more interested and engaged in their learning and also can get a sense of achievement from playing them. Another benefit of using apps is that if the child has a piece of technology that can access the app from home then it encourages them to take their learning beyond the classroom environment and gain a greater knowledge.

However, with this in mind, the children still need to understand what the purpose is of using the applications and don’t purely think that it is just a game. This therefore means that the classroom teacher needs to use reinforcement to explain to the children what they are learning and the processes they are going through. When using an app it is important that at the end of the lesson the classroom teacher reflects upon the app and encourages children to think about what they have just done and have a recognition of why they are looking at it. As well, as doing all this it is important that key terms are also used in order to help develop the childs knowledge. E.g, Algorithms.

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Digital Literacy so far

Before starting our course, we were asked to read The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies written by Doug Belshaw. This theory suggests that there are 8 essential elements to digital literacies that can be linked to the understanding and teaching that we give to children. This therefore allowed me to understand and recognise what these factors are and therefore link them to my practical teaching itself, in order to allow me to recognise these in my own work and improve them where appropriate. Additionally, this term I have read the article NESTA: Decoding Learning, this report looks at the impact that technology has on the classroom and allows me to reflect upon when the use of technology would be beneficial to a child’s learning and when not. This article also shows evidence that technology in the classroom does support effective learning but it depends on how it is used and delivered by the teacher.

Back in September, last year, our first experience as a whole digital literacy group in the classroom was to take iPads into a reception and year 1 class and find out what they knew about the internet, how they use it and what they knew about staying safe on the internet. The children were also asked to name devices they recognised from images. I was really surprised at how much such young children knew about technology. I found out a lot from this experience, and to be able to go into the classroom and gather this information so early on was such a good experience.

Our second experience as a group, particularly focusing on digital literacy was an animation project. Before taking our project into the classroom we were able to have hands on experience with creating our own animations to see any problems that children may encounter, we also got the opportunity to compare and contrast iPads and laptops to see which device we thought worked best. In the end, I choose the iPad to take into schools as I thought it would be easier for the children to handle and there is a tool called ‘onion skinning’ which would show the children were the last image was taken from so it would all line up. The project was aimed at a group of year 1’s and 5’s, this was done so we could see the clear differences and similarities in what children of different ages knew about technology and what they could create. The project was initially designed to see what children knew about animation, but also enabled us to see how well they worked together with the use of technology to create an animation. Both groups managed to successfully produce an animation, the year 1’s had a topic of super heroes and the year 5’s had a topic of the water cycle. Both groups came across the same problems of managing to line their animations up to run smoothly and although the onion skinning was there, it didn’t work to their advantage. Therefore the laptop may have worked better as the camera would have stayed in a fixed place.

During the end of term we started looking at the SMART whiteboard and the effectiveness of it. Discussing how in the classrooms we had been in, the SMART whiteboard wasn’t always used to the best of it’s ability, so were given a lesson to find our way around the programme and then asked to produce a lesson plan, to allow us to use a variety of tools in order to be able to produce an interactive and fun lesson that the children would be engaged in. We then reviewed each others and were given the opportunity to explain and discuss the tools we used. This was therefore beneficial as not only were we allowed to explore the programme ourselves, but could also see what each other had managed to produce and we all took very different approaches and used different tools, this enabled me to see the effectiveness of the programme.

In our seminars we have also looked into teaching animation to children through different types of software. The ones that we then looked more closely into are PowerPoint and Scratch. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Although, overall I prefer PowerPoint as it is simpler and is easier to get around in order to be able to produce the most effective animation. When teaching animation to children, I think it would be beneficial to start with PowerPoint as it teaches children the basics and enables them to be able to fully understand the purpose of what they are expected to produce and then progress onto Scratch, as it is more complex.

After reviewing all of this, it has made me realise how much I have learnt in such a short space of time and I have enjoyed and found all aspects so interesting. I am thoroughly looking forward to what the next 2 and a half years of digital literacy has in store for me!

My Observations of Technology in the Classroom

Whilst on placement in a Primary School I observed how technology was used in the classroom and what were the benefits and drawbacks to the impact it had on their learning. In some circumstances, the technology used was very effective and had a positive impact on their learning and because of the instant feedback and high level of interactivity the children sustained a positive attitude throughout. However, there were also some circumstances were children were demotivated because the technology wasn’t working in the way they wanted it to or their peers understood it better than they did.

During my time on school placement, I observed the use of technology in a year 3/4 classroom which I was placed in for the 2 weeks. In my opinion, the use of technology was fairly limited and was used to assist the learning instead of embracing the technology and giving the children the resources to go on and explore and enhance their own learning.

The SMART whiteboard was used almost every lesson. With the teacher showing children a variety of different materials, such as videos, images as well as using it as a whiteboard itself. Although, the SMART whiteboard was used frequently, I don’t believe that it was used to the best of it’s ability. As although a lot of material was being delivered through it, the children weren’t getting involved as much as they could and I think an SMART whiteboard is sometimes seen as an ‘update’ to an ordinary whiteboard instead of using it as a piece of technology and because of this all the features go unseen.

During a seminar, with my digital literacy group we got a chance to have a go at exploring the SMART whiteboard by fully analysing all of the special features that came with it. We were then given a lesson to come up with a plan that allowed the children to interact with the whiteboard as well as a fun way of learning. I produced an activity for KS1 which was based on mathematical equations; such as 2 x _ = 16 and the answers were down the side of the page. These could be based on the timetables the children are learning currently in class. I thought it would be a good idea, for all children to be able to fully participate so the children would all be given their own individual whiteboards to write down the answer and then one child was nominated to come and drag the correct number into the box. This activity would therefore allow for all children to be able to think for themselves before sharing it with the class and therefore improve their knowledge and encourage them that taking part is important. This showed us, how simple it was to create a quick activity, incorporating different features the SMART whiteboard has to offer us and that the activity would benefit the children as they would be engaged and motivated to participate.

As the school was a fairly small village school only consisting of 4 classes, I predicted that technology wouldn’t be as widespread as an urban school. However, I didn’t expect the school to have such a lack of technology. There was just one computer suite between all 4 classes and it was often time consuming for the children to turn the computers on, log on and fully load etc. The children had an ICT lesson once a week, however this timetabled lesson acted as a cross curriculum activity. Whilst I was there, both times the children went onto a particular site to research into world war 2. So although this gave children the opportunity to use the computers, they were lead into what site they should get the research off and then to type what they found into their own words onto a word document. This therefore wasn’t embracing the technology the best they could have and wasn’t allowing the children to fully explore and research for themselves.

The children also used a programme called Education City to follow up a numeracy topic, this allowed the teacher to be able to give children set activities to do and the children were able to go onto their profile and complete them the best they could. This allowed the teacher to be able to see how well each child had got on and any weaknesses in a child’s knowledge. In my opinion, this is the type of activities using technology that I think works especially well as the children enjoy the cartoon-like activities as it is brightly coloured and fun worded questions using objects such as cake that children can clearly imagine and therefore motivates them to work. It also has a strong purpose to it as after all the results can then be analysed.

Overall, I think that although technology was used in the school, it is a shame that some schools don’t seem to be embracing technology as much as they should. As technology is increasingly becoming a large part of everyday society and children need to be able to know how to use it, as well as understanding it.