Thursday, 22 January 2015

So Your Students Want to Code an iOS App?

In the primary school, we're a couple of years into developing our coding provision, which, at least for now, we manage through extra curricular activities. This way rather than mandate that all kids to learn coding, we manage it in a way that provides opportunities for all students who are keen to learn how to code, after all, despite some of the rhetoric you hear these days, not EVERYONE needs to be coder. But those students who may have the potential should certainly be given the opportunity to try it out, to see if it's their 'thing'.

Control vs Coding

If you'd like to know more about our approach to coding, see my other post here, but it should be noted from the outset, that most of the experiences these days that purport to be about 'coding' are not really. What they are is a funkier version of what we taught back in the old days (The 1990s) called 'control' using a programming language developed in 60s for educators called LOGO, by none other than luminaries like Seymour Papert, with extremely laudable goals, goals that are currently resurgent, largely thanks to the renewed interest in coding. Only back then we were controlling a black and white triangle we called a 'turtle', (MS Logo) sometimes the turtle even looked like a turtle (FirstLogo), yes amazing I know.

'Coding' in the 1990's
Spot the 'turtle'.

Control is actually a much more accurate description of what 'coding' apps like Hopscotch, and Scratch teach, and sites like teach. Once the kids learn how to control, then they are more likely to be ready to learn how to code.

The ability to control builds the foundation to be able to code.

So, ostensibly, most of the activities our kids engage in at our 'coding' activities after school, and at lunch times, are actually focused on learning how to control, not code—however, inevitably, these kids aren't going to be fooled for long. They are eventually going to realise that sequencing jigsaw blocks to control a screen sprite, (that was a black and white triangle, but now is an angry bird, or a zombie, or Elsa from frozen, the list goes on, the icon changes, but the activity remains the same) is not the same as 'proper' coding.

Reality Check

The upshot of this is that it isn't long before the kids get a little irritated, even frustrated, as they realise that what they are doing isn't really 'coding', now you can delay them, and redirect them, to ever more sophisticated iterations on the block theme, but before long (and I'm talking a week or two) I can assure you that they want do REAL coding, not just sequencing blocks that represent code. But the fact is that REAL coding is HARD! Especially if you're working with primary school kids, so how do you give them an authentic experience of coding without obliterating their little egos?

Here's some suggestions:

Control then Code

Let them taste a little of how daunting real code actually is, not enough to put them off for life, but enough to realise that they really need to continue practising in the more familiar 'block' environment for longer to build the necessary thinking skills, the cognitive capacity, to be able to work directly with code later. In short, you need to convince them that they need to learn how to walk before they can run, and maybe taking them for a decent jog/run might help convince them of that.

How? Here's how, try...


Code academy have a great little exercise, which is technically scripting, rather than coding, but your kids won't complain:

Open TextEdit on a computer and type:

<h1> Write anything you want here </h1>

Then save the file as test.html, then open the file with a browser. You'll see your very own webpage, with whatever splendiferous statement you chose to use in a brief spate of verbal felicitude, right there on the screen. 


For a great introduction to Javascript its hard to beat learn/, where kids can click 'show me the code' and they can see what the Javascript code looks like that would control (see, that word again) the blocks they have been working with.  

When they're ready to actually code with Javascript, they can use Khan Academy's 'Intro to JS'. In these tutorials, they'll learn how to use the JavaScript language to create drawings and animations. 

Apps and Xcode

But what they really want (what they really, really want) is to make an App for an iOS device. Now there's just no really easy way to do this, yes there are tools like Stencyl, and App Inventor which allow you to build Apps using the same kinds of block conventions that they used in the control Apps, albeit even more complicated. But if they still want to code, really code, with code, then you can give them a taster they way 'real' App developers do, using the Swift language in the Xcode App.

To do this they'll need to download the Xcode App for the App Store (free), then there are some great tutorials online which will guide you and them through building a simple app called 'Hello World'. Two that I've used are included below, both use Swift. Inevitably App's evolve, so the instructions in the videos below are a little out of date, but nothing you can't figure out, and if you can't figure it out ... then coding probably isn't for you! Think of it as I kind of test.  ;o)

Appcoda & The Code Lady

This is the simplest I could find, click a button and it pops up with a message that says, you've guessed it, "Hello World" (or anything you feel inspired to write).

'The Code Lady' has a slightly more sophisticated version of this tutorial, clearly explained in the video below:

Swift Xcode 6 Tutorial - Hello World App

Here's mine!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Doodlecast Settings

Made with Doodlecast Pro? Who cares?

As magnificent as the Doodlecast screencasting Apps are, the 'Made with Doodlecast' and 'Made with Doodlecast Pro' messages really get annoying.

Here's how to tweak the settings on your iPads to kill this off annoying 'feature' for once and for all.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Learning Journals

Connecting Pedagogy with Digital Technology

At UWCSEA Dover Campus we are in our second year of adopting a TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) model based on the exclusive use of tablets, specifically iPads as the primary form of digital technology use in our early years grades. These mobile, multi touch screens have profoundly changed the way our youngest children interact with images, sounds, and ideas (Buckleitner, 2011). We are building a team of digitally literate educators who are grounded in child development theory and developmentally appropriate practices, and who are now becoming more and more proficient in their selection and use of digital tools and interactive media. Media that suit the ages and developmental levels of the children in their care, and, most importantly, that know when and how to integrate technology into the planned and taught curriculum effectively.

As the transformative impact of these technologies began to make themselves felt within the classrooms through the Infant School, it became more and more apparent that these technologies are uniquely suited to reshape the way they as educators share the work they do with their children’s families. The ease with which these mobile devices enable children to save, document, revisit, and share their real-life experiences through images, stories, and sounds, meant embracing a screen based medium as opposed to traditional paper portfolios. The screen allows us to capture these young learners in the modes that are most natural to them, their talk, their activity, alive with interactivity and multimodality, a far cry from the static nature of traditional paper portfolios that are virtually synonymous with early years education. When we made the shift to a digital format we changed the name, as the term 'Portfolio' implied product over process, best work over, well, work. What we really want to see is the 'journey' of learning, yes the final 'product', but arguably more importantly, the process of learning that the student/teacher captures.

[Digital] Learning Journals

Traditional portfolios tend to focus on the latest and best, but this creates what might be termed a ‘performance portfolio’, which supports summative assessment well, but tends to obscure the ‘learning journey’ (WiIliam, 2011). For an incremental view of ability, a learning journal is far more useful. When better work is done, it is added to the portfolio rather than replacing earlier work to allow students, teachers and parents to reflect on review the learning journey of the student. By looking back at earlier samples of their work, they can see what has developed, which has two immediate benefits. The first is that by seeing what has improved and thus identifying the trajectory of development, the student is likely to be able to see how further improvement might be possible. The second is that by focusing on improvement, the student and the parents are more likely to see their child’s ability as incremental rather than fixed (Dweck, 2006).

By leveraging the affordances of digital technologies, students can start developing such learning journals at a very young age. The integration of these digital tools allows these learning journals to be situated online helping educators make and strengthen home–school connections. With technology becoming more prevalent as a means of sharing information and communicating with one another, early childhood educators have an opportunity to build stronger relationships with parents and enhance family engagement. Early childhood educators always have had a responsibility to support parents and families by sharing knowledge about child development and learning. Digital tools offer new opportunities for educators to build relationships, maintain ongoing communication, and exchange information and share online resources with parents and families. Likewise, parents and families can use technology to ask questions, seek advice, share information about their child, and feel more engaged in the program and their child's experiences there (NAEYC, 2012).

Digital devices are now commonplace in homes and offer new and affordable ways for busy family members to communicate, connect to the Internet, and access information and social media tools to stay in touch with their families and their child's teachers and caregivers. These digital learning journals can support the ways educators measure and record development, document growth, plan activities, and share information with parents, families, and communities. The unique affordances of digital learning journals means they not only include photographs but audio and video recordings as well, to document, archive, and share a child's accomplishments and developmental progression with families in face-to-face conferences or through social media. Sending regular updates through social media or email helps families feel more connected to their children and their activities away from home. Most educators understand the value of writing down or recording notes that a child may want to give to parents. Using email, or other communication tools demonstrates the same concept about communication and helps to build digital literacy skills at the same time.

Digital Learning Journals model effective use of technology and interactive media for parent communication and family engagement and also creates opportunities to help parents themselves become better informed, empowering them to make responsible choices about technology use and screen time at home. This engages them as in a partnership with their child’s teachers, meaning that parents can extend classroom learning activities into the home, and encourages co-viewing, co-participation, and joint media engagement between parents and their children (Stevens & Penuel 2010; Takeuchi 2011).

For more details, with examples and a breakdown of our set up please visit this post at


Buckleitner W (2011). “Setting Up a Multi-Touch Preschool.” Children’s Technology Review 19 (3): 5–9.

Dweck C (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House LLC.

NAEYC Statement (2012). A joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent College.

Wiliam D (2011). Embedded formative assessment.