College Leader project – Final Report

Tony Tompkins, ICT Strategy Coordinator, has lead on the DigiLit Leicester supported College Leader project for The City of Leicester College. The project makes use of the DigiLit Leicester framework to support staff development and embed digital literacy across the college. The project established a new educational technologist post (College Leader – New Technology), and provided training sessions focusing on the digital literacy strands to develop the use of technology to support practice. Tony provides a final project report, outlining the approach he has taken to supporting digital literacy across the college (project resources are shared at the end of the post):

The College Leader project consists of four distinct strands:
• Continuation of the post for College Leader – New Technology for two further terms.
• Delivery of six x two hour training sessions on each of the Digilit Leicester strands.
• Support for a number of staff to run small innovation projects, making better use of existing technology.
• The development of a viable whole school 1-to-1 scheme.

College Leader post

In 2012, The City of Leicester College (TCOLC) created a four term secondment role to the College Leadership Team. The post of “College Leader – New Technology” was tasked with developing the strategic vision for the college within new technologies, and to help deliver on this vision as part of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) process.

The role has been critical in helping the college further develop its long term vision, devising a sustainable approach to 1-to-1 ICT provision, and to lead on staff development in digital literacy. The extra time to focus on staff development in relation to technology has meant the college has been better able to support the bedding-in process of the new build and new ICT solution.
During the extra two terms, the college took the decision to create a new permanent post of “ICT Strategy Coordinator” at leadership level, and have now successfully appointed to this role. The post directly derives from the College Leader role supported by this project, and holds overall responsibility for the strategic direction and development of new technologies within the college and also leads on Continual Professional Development (CPD) aimed at boosting the skills of our staff team.
Since appointment, the ICT Strategy Coordinator has overseen the introduction of fortnightly whole school CPD sessions developing staff competency and confidence in using new technologies in the classroom. The Coordinator has also developed and delivered the first stage of the TCOLC 1-to-1 iPad scheme for year 9 students and will continue rolling this out to the rest of the school over the next 18 months.

Raising Capacity & Confidence in ICT

Part of the College Leader – New Technology project was to develop staff capability and confidence in using new technologies. As part of this drive, the college developed a number training sessions based around the DigiLit Leicester strands, aiming to develop skills in using the new systems and software delivered through BSF to better support teaching and learning.
We have delivered three out of the six training sessions aimed at moving staff on to the next level of competency within each DigiLit Leicester strand. Twilight sessions proved extremely popular, and were fully booked. We gave priority to staff who identified as currently working at the lower levels of the framework, at “entry” or “core”, in order to raise the baseline of staff confidence in their professional use of technology across the college.

The sessions were created and delivered by our own Pioneer (advanced) level staff, and tailored to suit the technology and software available within school. In terms of technologies, we focused predominantly on SharePoint and the use of iPads, as these are key components of our ICT provision, and as newly introduced technologies, least familiar to our staff.

The three sessions run were on the following DigiLit Leicester strands:
• Creating and Sharing
• Communication, Collaboration and Participation
• Technology supported Professional Development
Below is a synopsis of the three sessions and the main objectives:

Session 1 – Creating & Sharing
Synopsis: An overview of how to use SharePoint to quickly and easily create, edit and share documents with students using OneDrive, and how to use the very powerful Sites tool to create a central bank of resources for staff and students to use for years to come. This includes looking at basic word, PowerPoint and Excel documents, as well as sharing rich media content such as images and videos with students. We will also spend some time looking at different approaches to sharing, and how to effectively draw students’ attention to important documents and information easily.
• Be confident in creating documents within OneDrive
• Be able to share documents in OneDrive with other members of the college
• Be able to add resources to a SharePoint Site
• Understand how to use Newsfeed to draw attention to SharePoint content

Session 2 – Communication, Collaboration and Participation
Synopsis: A look at collaborative learning tools on the laptops and iPads. During this session staff learnt how to create a documents and presentations via SharePoint that groups of students can work on simultaneously. On the iPads, Socrative was introduced for whole class polling, and Evernote create shared notebooks. Work was displayed to the rest of the group via Apple TV.
• Create documents and presentations for groups of students to work on at the same time.
• Use Sharepoint Newsfeed to guide students to your content.
• Learn how to create a quiz in Socrative and play along with one that someone else has made.
• Understand how Evernote can be used by students to share their work with you.
• Know how to use Padlet for a quick evaluation, feedback or brain-storm.

Session 3 – Technology supported Professional Development
Synopsis: A practical training session using TES Resources and Twitter to make, develop and share teaching and learning resources including lesson plans, presentations, assemblies, and games, to save time and enhance the effectiveness of planning and teaching time, as well as providing opportunities to build personal learning networks (PLNs).
• Create/develop a twitter account to source, share and promote teaching resources.
• Use hashtags to join or start discussions about education, training or CPD.
• Create/develop a Times Educational Supplement (TES) account to source and share teaching resources online.
• Start to look at teacher/educational blogs to follow and/or make your own.

Evaluation of all 3 sessions was extremely positive, with most staff rating the sessions as outstanding and all staff rating them good or better. Where sessions were criticised, it was mainly around the fast pace and the desire to fit a lot into each session! I have appended all the resources created for the three sessions are accessible from this post. We intend to run a further three sessions (covering additional DigiLit Leicester strands), and re-run the existing three sessions to allow more staff the opportunity of improving their skills.

Trialling and Disseminating Innovative Practice

The Digilit surveys had revealed that there is a pool of pioneer (advanced) level staff within the college whom we could draw on to share their digital literacy skills and help move the college practice forward. We felt it was important to harness the skills of these staff to ensure we made proper use of and got good value from the new ICT equipment made available to the College through BSF investment.

The idea behind the small innovation projects was to allow staff to pursue an identified project which aimed to improve teaching and learning in their area through the use of technology.
We invited applications from our staff team through a competitive process, and agreed to support six individual innovation projects across the College. The six agreed projects and their main objectives were:

1. Technology – Develop the use of the Laser Cutter
To develop the use of the Laser Cutter for use with Key Stage 4 & 5 students, including:
• Learn how to use Coral Draw software.
• Learn how to use the Laser Cutter & experiment with a variety of materials including leather and denim.
• Support learning of Key Stage 4 & 5 students to incorporate the use of new technologies in their coursework, and to develop knowledge and understanding of industrial practice.

2. Art & Design – Video Resource Bank
To develop a ‘Video Resources Bank’ which can be used to:
• Support progression for different abilities in lessons.
• Demonstrate health and safety with machinery/tools.
• Recap practical tasks – (play on loop as a visual aid).
• Support learning during cover lessons when the class teacher cannot be present.

3. Business – Content for the Learning Platform
To increase awareness, and then use of the new learning platform that the college is developing – SharePoint- for the business education area, with a view to expanding this to the Business/Art Design & Technology Hub.

4. English/Modern Foreign Languages – Developing use of ShowMe app
Develop the use of audio/visual feedback/marking – the use of Show Me app to produce marking that students can respond to:
• A trial of using Show Me to mark books in a way where students then respond to feedback in English and Modern Foreign Languages.
• Developing an area where students can access their feedback through the school network.
• Evaluating use of Show Me and whether it could be used more widely in the school.

5. Social Sciences – Use of Interactive Whiteboard
To develop the use of eBeam so that all teachers are confident with all its features and capabilities so that they can save lesson plans, annotated and voice recorded power points and email them out to students.

6. Inclusion – Using New Technology to support students with Special Educational Needs (SEN)
As we are working towards dyslexia friendly school status, one of the recommendations for dyslexic students is the use of a laptop or similar device in the classroom. Many of these students have difficulties with handwriting and spelling skills that affect the speed of hand written work. Pupils can become frustrated and behaviour can become an issue. This can also slow progress, especially in subject with heavy coursework workloads. In particular:
• A number of dyslexic students were provided with a personal iPad mini which included the Dragon Dictation App. They used it very successfully to take notes in the classroom and to produce independent work. Dragon dictation has now been added to the list of recommended apps for all students on our 1:1 scheme, and the use of iPads to support dyslexic students has become part of the College offer.
• 2 students were provided with a laptop. This was less successful due to the long bootup times, short battery life and less portable than the iPad mini.
• Paid software was explored, including WordShark and CVC Word Builder, but we were disappointed with these and found that the additional functionality did not warrant the cost.
Information around the use of technology to support dyslexia was reviewed and updated on the College website.

Staff have been working on these projects over the past year and have been provided up to 10 hours release time on request to help develop their projects and prepare resources for their classes.
Overall I think that the small innovation projects has been a positive initiative. All staff made some progress on their projects, and there have been some very effective results for individual staff concerned. However, a minority projects produced less results than hoped, due to the staff concerned not taking sufficient time out of teaching to devote to developing their project over the course of the year. This is partly their own reluctance to leave exam classes, and partly constraints made by the College due to the large amount of cover already taken across the school this year.

Developing a whole school 1-to-1 Model

The College had previously run a very successful “Bring your own Device” (BYOD) trial and were looking to build on the ideas and successes generated by this to create a whole school 1-to-1 scheme based around the iPad mini.

The TCOLC 1-to-1 iPad mini Scheme commenced in November 2014. It costs £170 to join, which parents can pay all at once or as a £50 deposit followed by 6 monthly payments of £20. Students who join the scheme receive an iPad-mini pre-installed with all the apps required for the classroom, a case and one year’s insurance against accidental damage and theft. It has proved extremely popular with our Year 9 parents and we will be inviting other year groups to join the scheme over the coming months.

Once the £170 has been paid, there will be no further payments required, other than a renewal fee of around £10 if parents would like to extend the insurance policy for a further year. The devices remain school property whilst the student remains at the College. However, when they graduate or leave to join another school, they can purchase the device for £1, and full ownership will be transferred from the College to the parents/guardians. Our Mobile Device Mangement (MDM) software will be removed and students are free to use the device as they wish.
The scheme is currently optional and only devices purchased through this scheme will be allowed in school. The devices have Lightspeed MDM software pre-installed, and all traffic will pass through our College web-filtering.

Parents are offered the choice to either restrict their child’s device to our pre-selected apps for learning, or opt for a more open setup where students are able to install their own age-appropriate apps, allowing both educational and leisure use. Currently, only one set of parents have asked us to place restrictions on the device, due to concerns that their child was on the device too often at home playing games.

All students joining the scheme need to sign an Acceptable Use Policy, along with their parents. This policy only applies to devices provided through the 1-to-1 scheme, and the College retains its existing mobile device policy, which covers all other devices. We have created some specific codes in our behaviour system to track iPad misuse. The College reserves the right to remove certain apps, features or content or to restrict devices in the case of inappropriate use within the College. So far we have had a few issues with inappropriate use of iMessage, and this feature has been temporarily withdrawn for 5 students, initially for two weeks.

The College is very pleased with the initial take-up. Over 110 of our year 9 signed up on the first offer, which is around two-thirds of the year group. Students in this year group will have a second opportunity to join the scheme. We are looking to push membership levels of existing students up from the initial 70% take-up rate to above 90%.

We do have a backup plan for parents who do not wish to join the scheme. The College currently has around 200 iPad-minis in class sets distributed around the building, and once all year groups have had the opportunity to join the scheme, these devices will be repurposed for these students. Students who are unable to or do not want to join the scheme, but who require a device for lessons, will be able to borrow a device on a per-lesson or per-day basis. As long as take up is reasonably high, then this should be manageable.

Additionally, the College has employed an additional technician, whose role is specifically to help with device rollout and to support the students. This is initially on a temporary contract whilst we evaluate this role. Successfully setting up and managing so many devices requires time and considerable expertise. The College has also invested in a local internet filtering solution. This means that no matter where the students iPads are, their internet traffic always routes through the College filtering system. It is difficult to apply parental controls to tablets, and we felt that this, along with the age restrictions enforced through our MDM, would provide a level of safety for our students that parents would find it difficult to achieve themselves.I am confident that the current scheme will continue to grow in popularity as it is rolled out across the school. We are proud to be one of the first schools in the area to be offering this exciting opportunity to our students.


• Creating and sharing (handout) SharePoint How To Guides 10-10-2015 (Word) SharePoint How To Guides 10-10-2015 (PDF)
•  Creating and sharing (presentation) Creating and Sharing with SharePoint presentation 10-10-2015 (PowerPoint)
• Technology Supported Professional Development (handout) Signing up for your Twitter account 10-10-2015 (Word) Signing up for your Twitter account 10-10-2015
• Technology Supported Professional Development (presentation) Twitter for school staff CPD 10-10-2015 (PowerPoint)
• DigiLit – Communication Collaboration Participation (presentation) Communication Collaboration Participation 10-10-2015 PowerPoint
• 1-to-1 Scheme – Acceptable Use Policy 1-to-1 Scheme – Acceptable Use Policy 10-10-2015 (Word) 1-to-1 Scheme – Acceptable Use Policy 10-10-2015 (PDF)
• 1-to-1 Scheme – Loan Agreement 1-to-1 Scheme – Loan Agreement 10-10-2015 (Word) 1-to-1 Scheme – Loan Agreement 10-10-2015

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Keyham Lodge & Millgate School e-Safety Project – first thoughts

Keyham Lodge and Millgate School are currently working together on an ambitious project which will establish the school federation as a national e-safety centre of excellence for  schools that support learners with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD). The project aims to increase student, staff and parental awareness. The project will create and share a range of high quality cross-curricular resources that can be used to support SEBD learners. A bespoke training package for staff and learners is being created with the help of experts, specifically focusing on e-safety in relation to mobile technologies. An e-safety questionnaire is also being designed to find out what pupils, parents, carers and staff know, and identify areas where more support may be needed. Survey findings will inform the direction of the project and the resources created.

Project lead Darren John (Learning Technology Lead for the two schools) writes:

Keyham Lodge and Millgate are Federated schools supporting children with Social, emotional and Mental Health needs. We deal with some of the most vulnerable children in Leicester City and see e-safety education and work as vital in terms of supporting their personal safety.

We have teamed up with James Diamond,  because of his role as Safeguarding Officer for Leicester City Council, as well as his interest in e-safety and the recognised contacts he has made in this field, including Ken Corish and Professor Andy Phippen of South West Grid for Learning (who agreed to provide advice on the student survey). James is currently employed as the Leader of Digital Learning at Abbotsholme School in Staffordshire, but continues to provide online safety guidance to schools and organisations.

James Diamond and I met in order to lay down our plans.

The three main initial areas were:

  1. Laying out a road map to see how we could complete the project.
  2. Producing the initial questionnaire to give to stakeholders.
  3. Buying and setting up the equipment requested under the bid.

Laying out a road map to see how we could complete the project

James and I have now had five meetings and a number of conversations by phone and email, focusing primarily on the initial questionnaire and the planning for what we will do with the gathered data. We have also visited Warning Zone in Frog Island, to see if their new e-learning zone can be utilised for the training programme.

Producing the initial questionnaire to give to stakeholders

The survey is based on previous student online experience surveys produced by Andy Phippen at the University of Plymouth, and is designed to elicit honest opinions from the young people completing it. The aim is to gather as true a reflection as possible about their online experiences.

Our discussion focused on how easy the questionnaire would be to complete, based on literacy levels of the young people across the two schools. We decided the questionnaire should be completed with careful help from staff on each point, whilst ensuring the answers aren’t elicited through poor guidance.

Once implemented, the questionnaires went out to all pupils in September. The questionnaire for parents and staff have been delayed slightly in order to allow for any changes that become highlighted by the pupil answers, particularly by those about getting round rules and who pupils are prepared to go to with issues that concern them. The results will then be used as the foundation for the training program, to be implemented later in the academic year.

Buying and setting up the equipment requested under the bid

We have invested in 32 tablets (16 at each site). This was in order to move away from the traditional PC/Laptop approach and give the staff and pupils more of an opportunity to use ICT flexibly. We also have plans to change the wireless SSIDs to allow for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) for pupils in the future. We had never used Apple Configurator or any form of MDM before, so some research has been required. Due to cost, we’ve opted for Configurator, as it is free, and we don’t as yet have more than 35 Apple devices.

Planning for the training will be completed when all the questionnaires are returned, the analysis done, and the staff/parent questionnaires have gone out.

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Resources for French Phonics – project round up

Jane Bland is Assistant Headteacher at Rushey Mead School, and has lead on a DigiLit Leicester innovation project. Her project has developed guidance to support Modern Foreign Language (MFL) staff in the use of technology to support the teaching of French phonics. You can read Jane’s initial project post, creating and sharing resources to teach French phonics and here interim project post – both c0me with ideas and resources. Here, Jane reflects on the experience of the project:

It is almost 12 months since I learned that my DigiLit Leicester project bid had been successful and this blog post is an account of my journey; creating the phonics schemes of work, sharing the resources and using tablets to enhance my teaching.

The phonics schemes of work came from an idea in how to support our primary colleagues in transition from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3. I wanted our feeder schools to focus on phonics and pronunciation, rather than a variety of vocabulary at a superficial level. The idea for the ‘Phonic Friends’ came from Jane Somerville who created them initially as part of a LinkedUp project:

I wanted to create a scheme of work that was progressive and cumulative, adding in one new phonic at a time, ensuring that the words learned only included phonemes that had already been introduced.

Introducing French Phonics – Scheme of Work (word)

For each of the 25 phonemes we created a Phonic Friend, a French person with the phoneme in their name, and we made posters to accompany each sound which are displayed in all classrooms:

phonics classroom display


Click here for a copy of all the posters: Phonics Posters (PowerPoint)

I then made a powerpoint for each sound that introduced words containing that individual phoneme (or others that had already been introduced so they were cumulative).

phoneme picturesClip art images used available under public domain via

phoneme words

Each slidedeck also contains a variety of activities; a song, a rhyme, a tongue twister, a story, a dictation. I wanted this to fit in with the new programmes of study so that a primary school could meet all the new criteria by using this scheme of work.

Cache-Cashe CochonsCover image of Cache-cache cochons, copyright Arlene Dubanevich, 1984

Polisson pour attaper les sons!


Click here for example of a slide deck: 4 ch LeTS introduce phonics (PowerPoint)

As we had never taught French phonics in our secondary school before I decided we should trial it with our year 7 students. I hadn’t anticipated quite how successful this would be, and we have now rolled this out to all year groups throughout Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4.

The impact on students’ speaking skills has been huge, and we continue to see an increase in their confidence and their French accents. We have embedded the phonics into our year 7 scheme of work, and we have now created more resources to reinforce the phonics throughout year 8 and year 9. We revise the phonics on a regular basis with all year groups, they have access to phonics place mats in class, and they now read new words with accuracy and ease.

phonics placematPhonics placemat

Click here for an example PowerPoint to revise the first 12 sounds: Can you remember sounds 1-12 (PowerPoint)

All year groups have benefited from the phonics, and also from the ipads. These are used on a very regular basis throughout the faculty, for French, Spanish and Italian. To read about the key apps we use with students please refer to my previous blog:

Whilst we still have our old favourites we continue to develop our own knowledge and skills and discover new teaching and learning strategies all the time. This week one of the year 11 groups have been practising for their oral assessment using ‘Notes’ to write an example sentence and listen to the correct pronunciation. By the end of one lesson I had begun to see an improvement in their pronunciation and intonation, and they remained engaged and on task for the whole hour.

Year 11

I have been delighted with the positive impact we have seen in our faculty with our students, but it has also been great to hear from colleagues in other schools who have contacted me to say they are using these resources in their classroom and starting to see an impact on their children.

If you would like more information about our phonics scheme of work, or other MFL support that is available, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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Blog 2! Using voice activated software

Ruth Fairley is a Special Education Needs (SEN) teacher at The Lancaster School – an all boys secondary (ages 11-16) school in Leicester. Ruth’s innovation project explores the use of iPad accessibility features and apps to support students with learning disabilities, and you can read her initial post here. The project enables her to develop her own skills, and represents a new approach to working with SEN learners in the school. Ruth updates us with her progress to date:

As writers often say, ‘many months passed reader!’ (no I didn’t marry him!)

My project to use tablets (iPads) with voice activated software for my six dyslexic and disaffected students has gathered momentum and speed! My participants were identified, my iPads set up and we were good to go.

I had done some preliminary research on the boys taking part and for this update I am going to focus on three boys who were very responsive to the project.

Firstly I reviewed staff comments on the boys’ behaviour which the school records on our Learning Management System. This provided a rough and ready bench mark to check any positive impact of the new approach against. I also took record of the boys working at levels at the beginning of the project to see if it could help them improve their grades.

The training for the boys to use the technology was very simple and straightforward, so much so that I could do it in less than a minute and that’s amazing considering my luddite ways!

I also informed the boys’ class teachers and in particular in any subjects that had a strong literacy based focus. The response from staff was generally positive, in particular from Heads of Year who often had to sort out the fallout from the boys’ lack of engagement.

I also made it clear to the boys that if they abused the usage of the devices in class then they would be withdrawn for a two week period. I had spoken to all parents involved and all were very keen to support their sons’ use of the iPads.

I started small!! As I taught a lot of the boys either for English or on one to one support basis for their learning disabilities, it was easy to find a starting point to roll out the devices. The boys, who were previously reluctant to start work in English and write, took to them like ducks to water.

I ran the project for a full term then looked at a quick assessment of impact, at this point I will focus on the three boys who have taken part in the project from the start. Two other boys who were selected to take part weren’t keen originally, but have subsequently joined in.

So, some small case studies:

Boy 1

By the end of term 2 his effort grades have improved, they have gone from 3 and 4 to 2 and 3.
His behaviour points in term 1 were 213, in term 2 they reduced to 86.
His NC levels for literacy based subjects where he has used the tablet made expected progress, one sub level per term. Whilst this may not seem much this was from a boy who had made little or no progress since he had started at the school.
On a purely selfish note, he now wants to come to English!

 Boy 2

His level of engagement in English has improved dramatically. His achievement in literacy based subjects improved by one sub level in one term and his effort grades improved in all areas.

Boy 3

His behaviour points were 112 in term 1 and this reduced to 55 in term 2. His SEN review was very positive and it noted improvement in his willingness to engage.
His NC levels had gone up in all subjects.

Based on this quick measure of improvement the initial introduction of the tablets has been positive for the three learners. There were and are some issues to be resolved, such as the boys using the tablets to access games and occasionally being off task playing them.

I wish I had a tablet with voice activated software for every boy who needed it!

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Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum

Post by Rob Manger – English Martyrs’ Catholic School, Leicester

Rob Manger is a Geography teacher at English Martyrs Catholic School in Leicester, which supports learners between age 11 and 18. Rob’s ICT innovation project focused on developing his own skills in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), with the aim of increasing the effective use of technology use across his department. You can read about the projects initial phase here: Incorporating GIS into the Geography Curriculum. In the course of the project, he has also developed and shared a range of teaching resources for use across key stages 3-5. The final project report which follows, along with resources, can be downloaded here:

Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum (Word)

Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum (PDF)

Are there any land use patterns in Leicester? (PowerPoint)

Planning a coastal walk using Digimaps (PowerPoint)

This work was supported by Leicester City Council’s DigiLit Leicester project.

At the beginning of my BSF ICT Innovation project I identified the key reasons I wasn’t using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in my teaching as:

  • I didn’t have time to learn how to use and implement GIS.
  • I didn’t have access to reliable computers.
  • I didn’t know what the best software for me to use with my learners might be.
  • I didn’t know if I would have to pay for subscriptions to sites, or if it would be possible to use GIS for free.
  • I didn’t know which data I could use and where it could be sourced from.
  • I didn’t know what support might be is available should it all go wrong!

I feel I am now in a much better position in which to comment on these barriers and perhaps remove a few.

I didn’t have time to learn how to use and implement GIS

Time is always the enemy and there are never enough hours in the day. I have been lucky enough to have been allowed to attend two courses. The first of which was useful in widening my experience of Google Earth, the second was an introduction to using the ESRI ArcGIS Online mapping platform. This inspired me to take the time to experiment and learn. The time invested has been worth it and I’m pleased with my progress and the outcomes.

There is no denying learning to use GIS requires a significant amount of time. It is important to feel confident in the concepts underpinning the GIS, it’s applications and confident to cope with any problems and misconceptions that may arise. A lot of these only become obvious through taking the risk to try things out both personally and with a class. The time and risk will only benefit the students in being able to analyse, question and interpret large amounts of spatial data, quickly. Therefore, the initial time learning to use the GIS is time well spent in order to deliver a high quality geography curriculum, with less time spent on lower order skills of creating the presentations and more time spent on the high order thinking skills of interpretation, analysis, and evaluation.

I didn’t have access to reliable computers

We now have improved access to computer rooms and devices, thanks to the investment made in the school by BSF. These are working well and our IT support work incredibly hard to fix any problems we encounter.

I didn’t know the best software to use.

The best software to use will depend on the task and the age group of learners. Below I’ve included a table of my comparison and evaluation of different Geographical Information Systems. I have reviewed Google Earth, Digimaps for Schools, and the free and subscription versions of ESRI ArcGIS Online,

In my opinion, Google Earth and the subscription version of ArcGIS online offer the most flexibility. ArcGIS online is the only GIS I have reviewed that gives the user the ability to filter, query and perform analysis on geo spatial data within the software, allowing the user to identify more detailed patterns and solve more advanced problems. I found Digimaps to be more useful in terms of introducing younger students to the concept of GIS and digital map skills.

Google Earth

Google Earth is probably the programme that the majority of staff and students are most familiar with. I discussed Google Earth at length in my first project blog post. It remains a main stay of my teaching when describing the location of a place due to the ease of navigation and visual appeal. I have created a piece of virtual fieldwork using Google Earth based on a fieldtrip to the Field Studies Council (FSC) Blencathra Centre. Whilst I think this has been a useful learning experience for me and is a useful teaching tool for revision and those students whom were unable to attend the fieldtrip, the creation of the virtual fieldtrip was time consuming and I think it is a bit clumsy.


Google Earth


In the future I would use the ArcGIS online Story Map application to create the virtual fieldtrip in half the time with a better outcome, and allowing for greater geographical analysis.

I have also begun to use GE Graph to display data directly on to Google Earth. This requires a free piece of software to be uploaded onto your computer. Points or Polygons can be drawn and saved as a KML file. These are then uploaded to the GE Graph progamme and the data added to the point or polygon. This is then uploaded back onto Google Earth. See below for examples of work by Vicki Johnson of Rushey Mead School and myself. Some experimentation is required to get the desired presentational results, however this is very intuitive and easy.

Bar chart to show the self-reported health as bad or very bad

Enviromental Quality Survey of Bede Island

For me, the most powerful use of Google Earth is to support learners in exploring concepts of place and space – for example, using the platform to create a tour of their local area, England, or beyond.

Edina’s Digimaps for Schools

Digimaps for Schools is very useful for interpreting OS maps in a digital format. The package is much more visually appealing and less daunting than other GIS software packages. My favourite part of Digimaps for Schools is the fact that it uses the same OS maps and symbology that students are expected to use in paper format in examinations thus increasing their familiarity with them. This has been more appealing to many students particularly boys and more practical to many geography departments as they will no longer be required to store many paper copies of OS maps. It offers a different format to interact with OS maps, interpreting relief, symbols and land use, however, students will still need to be able to demonstrate the skills of grid referencing, measuring distance, and area manually for examination purposes.
Digimaps for Schools allows learners to interact with digital mapping with the inclusion of a number of tools to identify points, draw polygons, measure distance and area and create buffers. These could be used in order to explore enquiry questions posed by a teacher, for example, which land uses will be affected should the cliff at X retreat by 10m. (It is possible to develop this enquiry question much further in ArcGISonline by adding further demographic and socioeconomic layers of data to the map.)
Apart from the appeal of digital OS maps and the basic analysis tools, another useful function is the ability to view a historical map layer from 1890. (An update in September 2015 will also include 1950s mapping in full colour which will enable students to further analyse change over time) I have enjoyed using this to illustrate the growth of settlement both with year 7 students and year 13 students. This would be of value to history departments as well and I will be sharing this accordingly.
Alan Parkinson has created a number of free resources for Digimaps to introduce the skills required. I have created two lesson plans to help students to continue to explore the uses of Digimaps. One of these explores a piece of coastline to create an information board for tourists with year 8 learners:

Digimaps for schools


An example of a students work using Digimaps for Schools

An example of a students work using Digimaps for Schools

An example of a students work using Digimaps for Schools

An example of a students work using Digimaps for Schools

The second resource I created with Digimaps for schools is designed to for Year 7 learners to investigate land uses with in settlements and urban morphology:

Digimaps - settlements and urban morphology

These have been well received by the students. However, I have identified a number of issues:

  • When using the grid line function of Digimaps the grid lines overlay the photographs. Either deselect the grid line function or suffer poor presentation quality (I wanted to use the work for a grid referencing activity at a later date so chose to keep the grid lines layer).
  • Be aware of issues with numeracy when comparing area as the units change at different scales m2 to km2.
  • Objects cannot be ‘sent to the back’. Choose the order that objects are added to the map carefully.

Overall, the students have reacted well to Digimaps; they enjoy investigating the variety of maps, including historical maps, and have enjoyed the tasks given to them. As a teacher, the software is fairly intuitive and has not been time consuming to get to grips. It is important to become familiar with the software in order to warn the students of some of its limitations. The lack of an undo button (students regularly confused the start again button for an undo button, leading to much frustration) and the limit of 30 characters when labelling features for example. The ability to save and print the students work on high quality OS maps is also a huge bonus. It is now up to me to develop more relevant and useful tasks to engage the students with map work. I plan to use Digimaps for Schools with years 7 and 8 in order to introduce them to GIS and interact with OS maps in a more student friendly and contemporary format.

Digimaps has recently been updated to include a number of different functions, including a limited ability to upload data in the form of a csv file and Grid reference tool. Please see this blog post for the updates.

Digimaps for Schools new upload CSV tool now allows a similar work flow to that of ArcGISonline with regards to the collection of primary data. Students can collect data for identified points using longitude and latitude, eastings and northings or postcodes and add a piece of data to that point. The fact that this is the same workflow as ArcGISonline only with fewer data fields will further differentiate the analysis required nicely for Keystage 2 and 3 by asking them to look for highest and lowest figures only rather than requiring students to analyse lots of different data all at once. I believe it may also be possible to create a Google Document which will allow for the collection of primary data in the same way as the Geoform technique does for ArcGISonline as described below.

This new function makes Digimaps for Schools an excellent starting point for younger students to get to grips with the concepts of GIS before moving on to the more advanced analytical tools in GIS software platforms such as Esri’s ArcGISonline.

ESRI ArcGIS online

ESRI’s ArcGIS online is the best GIS I have used in terms of flexibility and the powerful analytical tools it provides. Whilst it is the software that has required the greatest amount of time from me and definitely caused the most frustration, it has also inspired me to use more geospatial data and introduce this to my students. I can think of many more applications for ArcGIS online in our curriculum than the other programmes I reviewed.

My experience is with the free version and we have recently purchased a subscription for an organisational account. I would still say I was a beginner with using ArcGISonline, however I have been inspired to learn more and I am making good progress in spite of a few tantrums.

One of the main advantages of using ArcGISonline is the function to upload geospatial data either from your own fieldwork, ready-made layers from ArcGISonline and Esri or from geospatial data contained in websites such as This data is automatically plotted for you which allows more time to focus on analysis and problem solving.

My initial questions were: what geospatial data can be uploaded to ArcGIS online? Where can it be sourced? Why isn’t the data being plotted in the way I was expecting it to be?

Any data that has been linked to a specific location can be mapped in ArcGIS; however, some data sets will require more work than others. The easiest data to plot is data that is linked to latitude, longitude and post codes. I’ve had issues when attempting to plot data using place names and country names due to variations in the spellings of place names. These can be overcome with a little effort and investigation.

Student work - data plotting

@RHSB_Geography – Work completed by Raphael Heath demonstrating plotting data using middle layer super output areas (MSOA)

Sourcing the data: primary data or secondary data can be used. I’m excited about the ease with which students will be able to collect their own data in the field, locate that data with a longitude and latitude, and then upload it to the computer to be analysed. This can be done by using ESRI’s ArcGIS Collector or by using predefined data collection points with known longitude and latitude, or by manually identifying the longitude and latitude of the data collection point using a smart phone and entering it onto a piloted data collection sheet or spreadsheet and uploading the data at a later date for analysis. The creation of a Geoform is a further technique with which to collect primary data. I aim to use this in September to collect data about tourist destinations to further analyse in ArcGISonline.



Link to Geoform

Secondary data can be found all over the internet. The first place to search for information should be ArcGISonline itself. There is a wealth of data already mapped in ready made layers. A further interesting source I have found is the Gapminder website. It has a library of data that it uses for its visualisations and has collated these making it easy to use them.

When using secondary data it is very important to make sure that the spreadsheet is saved as a .csv file and is as ‘clean’ as possible. By clean I mean it is highly likely that you will have to spend some time editing the file to ensure the data is unambiguous for ArcGIS online to interpret it accurately. This is easier said than done sometimes!

The work we have completed using ArcGIS online has been as simple as measuring the area and coastlines of continents with year 7 students. We have taken part in Raphael Heaths GIS world record attempt inputting data about quality of life and then analysing the results and year 9 have analysed the location of instances of graffiti using the density mapping function to identify which areas would benefit most from a graffiti wall.

Student work - index of deprivation

Years 12 and 13 have explored the Index of Multiple Deprivation for Leicester.

I have also attempted to create a Story Map of a piece of fieldwork we completed, evaluating the success of the City Challenge in Leicester. I attempted to create the story map as an afterthought and didn’t have the detail or information in a format I required. I now understand that this requires better planning prior to the trip in order to achieve the best results and be of the most use to the students. StoryMaps are an interesting tool provided by Esri that require further investigation on my part.

The EcoMartyrs, our school eco group, have used ArcGISonline to analyse the modes of transport students use to travel to school. From our investigations we have discovered students of English Martyrs’ Catholic School are driven almost 3,000km to and from school each day. That is the same as travelling to Warsaw, Poland and back, every day. The average distance a student is driven to school is just 4.4km. The total amount of time English Martyrs’ students spend travelling in a car each day is over 80 hours. The average car journey lasts just 7.4 minutes. These statistics were calculated using the analysis tools within ArcGISonline. The numeracy required to interpret these statistics begins to highlight the cross curricular links that GIS can open to us. We plan to use this information to inform students and parents, SLT and school governors and possibly the City Council in order to encourage more students to use sustainable modes of transport.


Since subscribing to ArcGISonline I have really learned to appreciate how to use geospatial data within the classroom. My mind is a buzz with applications and as someone more intelligent than I once said, “the only limit is our imagination.” I have begun to write a list of all of the areas of our existing curriculum I can embed GIS to supplement the learning that takes place and also develop further resources for our ever changing curriculum and geography.


The report includes comparisons of Google Earth, Digimaps for Schools, Esri ArcGISOnline (free version), and Esri ArcGISOnline (paid version). Download the full report here:

Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum (Word)

Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum 150813

Project conclusions

The ability to analyse geospatial data is an increasingly important skill. We are exposed to more geospatial data in web applications, smart phone apps and in the media. It is therefore extremely important that we can interpret it, analyse it and evaluate it ourselves. Our students are also expected to have experience of GIS throughout the key stages.

Primary and secondary geospatial data can be collected or downloaded from many different sources. The core issue is the flexibility of the platform used. It is more helpful if the platform is compatible with wide a range of geospatial data, and provides a range of ways to interpret and analyse this data.

When deciding on a subscription to a piece of GIS software, it is important to assess the requirements of your learners and the amount of time in which you are willing to invest in order to learn how the different software packages work and how to use them in order to help your learners achieve your learning intentions and beyond. In my opinion, ArcGIS online offers the most opportunities for teachers to use geospatial data efficiently with students, and to incorporate work with data into the curriculum providing they are willing to invest the time and effort required to become confident in its use. Otherwise Google Earth (free) and Digimaps for Schools both put a tick in the box for using GIS with in the curriculum and allow learners to analyse data spatially with less time commitment required from teachers to learn how to use the software.

Overall, Esri’s ArcGIS online is the one for me. Although, as stated in the subjective comparison above, it does require a substantial amount of time and effort (I’m a bit of a geek like that and my wife is very understanding) – however, the long term gains for the students’ geographical understanding are worth the investment. The fact that it is widely used in business and government is an added bonus which would give students worthwhile experience for their future academic studies and employment.

Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum by Rob Manger / English Martyrs’ Catholic School

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Introducing the Open Schools Network

OER schools iconsAt the end of the 2014/2015 school year, the DigiLit Leicester project put out an open call to all schools in the Leicester City Council’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) Programme to participate in a new collaborative open schools network. Network members will support their schools in developing staff digital literacy in relation to copyright and the creation and use of electronic resources, building on the council’s work on open educational resources (OER). They will also provide support for other BSF and primary schools across the city who want to develop their work around the use, creation and sharing digital resources.

Last year, the council became the first in Europe to provide school employees with formal permission to openly licence educational resources created in the line of their work. Providing this permission helps raise awareness about OER and open educational practice, and sends a clear message of encouragement for staff to find out about, and make best use of, openly licensed resources. You can read more about our work in relation to this here, and access and download resources to support your local authority and school implement their own OER policies.

We also provided schools across the city with OER guidance, resources, activities and information, which are also shared openly.

The newly formed group currently consists of ten network leads and two network coordinators, representing 12 city secondary and special schools.

You can find out more about their work and download the resources they are sharing at the project blog:

The network is made up of school support staff, teachers and leaders from a wide range of different types of schools:

Open School Network Coordinators

Coordinators will help facilitate network activities, and ensure everyone gets to hear about what is achieved.

Suzanne Lavelle, Researcher, Children’s Hospital School Leicester

Nora Ward, Assistant Headteacher, St Pauls Catholic School

Open School Network Leads

Antoinette Bouwens, Business Manager, St Pauls Catholic School

Harjit Kaur, ICT Network Manager, Keyham Lodge and Millgate School

Pearl King, Assistant Headteacher, Rushey Mead School

Sharon Malley, Head of Mathematics, Crown Hills Community College

Michael Richardson, e-Safety and Communications Officer, Ellesmere College

Sera Shortland, Citizenship Coordinator, Hamilton College

Lucy Stone, Computing Teacher, Sir Jonathan North Community College

Mark Sutton, Assistant Curriculum Leader for Design and Technology, Soar Valley Community College

Christine Turner, Science Teacher, English Martyrs’ Catholic School

Peter Williams, Maths Teacher, The City Of Leicester College

The network will be taking part in a range of activities over the next academic year, including:

  • Developing their own knowledge of open educational practice, open educational resources and open licences
  • Support school governing bodies in implementing school based OER policies
  • Promoting school staff understanding and awareness of what open educational resources are, how to find them, and how to reference them
  • Promoting the use, creation and sharing of OER across schools
  • Supporting Leicester primary schools and other BSF schools in relation to staff awareness and use of open educational resources
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Technology to support English as an Additional Language

Post by Simon Newman, EAL Coordinator, The Lancaster School:

Simon previously reported on the professional development innovation project he undertook this year, exploring the use of iPad features and apps to support students working with staff in the school’s English as an Additional Language (EAL) Department. Here he provides an update, along with recommendations from and tips for teaching assistants.

One of my aims for the project was to introduce the use of tablet computers in the English as an Additional Language classroom environment, and to explore the impact on pupil learning – with the aim of supporting better progress.

The pupils found the iPads useful as it gave them some independence and allowed them to have greater control over their learning. Pupils identified the following resources as particularly useful when they were working independently:

  • Google Translate and iTranslate. They allow instant translation for many languages and it is easy to switch between languages. The ability to hear the words spoken in some languages was very useful, especially if the pupils were not literate in their own language. Longer sentences are translated less accurately however, and meaning could be lost. The pupils preferred the iPads over normal dictionaries because of the speed of translation, and felt this enabled them to focus on the lesson more effectively.
  • Google images. This was especially useful to get an understanding of the keywords for the lesson.

The iPads have been used by about 8 different staff members. The staff liked the pupils using the iPads because it gave them independence and improved their ability to access the lesson. I think we are still at an early stage of iPad classroom use. Some staff appear unsure how they can be useful, so more input is required on my behalf to make the benefits clear to them.

It is also clear that making effective use of the iPads needs to be planned –  effective use doesn’t happen by just having devices in the classroom. EAL pupils made most progress from those teachers who put careful thought to how they were to be used.

The iPads have also been used by my EAL teaching assistants and also other teaching assistants within the school. These staff members were very positive about iPad classroom use and about the way the devices have helped support EAL pupil progress.

In addition to translate and image search, the teaching assistants identified these resources as particularly useful:

  •  BBC Bitesize – staff and learners used this in Science, English and Geography. The teaching assistants liked the use of the images available and the simple language. For EAL pupils the KS2 Bitesize was most appropriate (free).
  • Dropbox – This allowed instant access to lesson worksheet and presentations so the TA’s could revisit ideas to support understanding. Dropbox’s terms and conditions specify that the service is only for use by people 13 years old and over (free).
  • Clicker Sentences (link to Apple App Store) – Clicker Sentences is an app that supports sentence construction and can be used to build tailored resources for specific lessons. The sentence construction can be supported by images allowing better pupil understanding. It also has the ability for resources to be saved to Dropbox. Once saved the resources can be shared easily between other iPads (£19.99)

Clicker Sentences

  • Nearpod – This is a resource for creating presentations which include a range of interactive elements including multi-choice and open-ended questions, audio, video and quizzes. The presentation plays on all iPads at the same time and the pace is controlled by the teaching assistant or teacher (basic version free).

Our English teaching assistant recommended the following apps for grammar work:

Teaching assistants using iPads in the classroom

The use of iPads by teaching assistants can have significant benefits for EAL pupils in the classroom – we believe they have enabled EAL pupils to make more progress than they would have made without them.  EAL pupils can often struggle with the use of vocabulary or key words in lessons. The iPads allow the teaching assistant to revisit words or pictures used by the teacher to allow for clarification or can use images or translation to ensure the EAL pupils are clear in their understanding.

Understanding does not come about just by knowing the meaning of the key words. They need to see them in context and then have a chance to use them in context to ensure the learning is secure.

Tips for teaching assistance using iPads to support EAL learners in lessons

  • Use pictures to illustrate key language where possible so pupils have a visual image to allow them to link with own language.
  • Maps can be very useful where appropriate.
  • Translate the words into the pupils own language.
  • Show learners the words in context in English so they can see the word in use.
  • Ask learners to explain the meaning of any language used and model language as appropriate for them to practice.
  • Help students practice using the words in context by using an app like Clicker Sentences (or with the words written on a mini whiteboard.)

Clicker Sentences

  • Ask pupils to use the same words in a sentence of their own.
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Arduino for Art, Design & Technology

Post by Paul Wilby, Head of Art, Design and Technology, English Martyrs Catholic School

For a while I’ve been seeing references to Raspberry Pi and Arduino computer programmable boards, and a while ago I decided to invest £30 or so in buying a couple of the Arduino boards. I also had a raspberry pi given to me. I talked with a few students in the sixth form and year 11 who I knew liked computers and tinkering around, to see if they would like to try out the boards. They looked at them and politely declined the offer, and the boards went back into the drawer to gather some more dust. I kept promising myself that I would try and learn to use them myself. Anyway I had marking to do, lessons to prepare, forms to fill in and all the thousand and one jobs that a faculty head has to do. The boards remained in the drawer occasionally being seen when I needed an LED and reminding me of my promise to learn how to programme and use them.

When the design and technology programmes of study were published in September 2013 I realised that I had to do something to fulfil the new requirements, particularly:

  • understand how more advanced electrical and electronic systems can be powered and used in their products (for example, circuits with heat, light, sound and movement as inputs and outputs)
  • apply computing and use electronics to embed intelligence in products that respond to inputs (for example, sensors) and control outputs (for example, actuators) using programmable components (for example, microcontrollers)

I had previous experience of using BBC computers (remember them?) in control and having taught a bit of ICT (or computing) over recent years I recognised the need to update my programming skills. I had a Chip Factory PIC programmer and could write some interesting and fun programs to program PIC chips (essentially small microchips that can be programmed to read sensors and to output signals to control electrical devices). There are a lot of these systems on the market such as PICAXE and GENIE and there is a reasonable amount of support for them in education but it is becoming clear that more ubiquitous systems like the Arduino are becoming industry standard for off-the-shelf programming and control. The programming also uses C which is a common language for a lot more than just programming Arduinos. I felt that if I could master this and teach it I would be introducing the students to a widely used standard language.

With the help of a Leicester DigiLit staff development award I bought an Arduino starter kit and an Arduino robot buggy and started working my way through the examples in the pack.

The hard copy project guide that comes with the kit is well laid out and clear in how to construct the projects and write the programs in C. The choice of using a small print font, metallic inks on some pale backgrounds causes problems in reading the text in some light conditions was annoying (a sentiment shared by others when I went on to the Arduino web forum to see if there was a PDF version available). It also makes photocopying pages for class use difficult. This is a shame as the materials are meant to be freely shareable under a creative commons licence. Scroll down to see my notes on the project guide.

Having said this the book is a useful start and the explanation of each command and the structure of C programming is well laid out and explained. However I think there is scope for deeper explanation particularly where a teacher is explaining what is happening in the program. The operation of the electronic components is reasonably done and is at a level that could be managed by an able student in year 9. The kit comes with a wide range of electronic components including LED, servo motors, DC motors, sounders, a liquid crystal display and temperature sensor. The kit comes with plenty of spares which is useful considering the small nature of many of the parts. The kit comes as a nice package but once opened and assembled it is impossible to put everything back. I transferred the content to a small divided tray to store and organise the parts.

Having worked my way through the projects in the starter kit I have become very aware of the power of the Arduino as a control system and I can see why it is taking off and encouraging a wide range of people to learn to program and construct electronic circuits. As the boards and the programming are all open source it is not too surprising to see others imitating the system. It is possible to buy well-made clones of the Arduino Uno for around £4 compared to a “real” Arduino Uno for around £25 from Maplins. It is also interesting to see companies such as Intel producing their own versions of the system using the same pin configuration and providing a faster speed and a greater range of functions. The Bare Conductive company have launched their own version for small electronics using their conductive paint system. It is a low profile board that would be easy to fit into textile projects.

On the downside it is fiddly to make connections and the programming language is wordy and has to be accurately typed in. This is an advantage once used to the language as the program has very little waste of memory space and it does use ‘C’, so can be used to introduce learners to “real” programming.

There is a wealth of support on the web, both in the form of projects and tutorials. Artists use the system to incorporate interactivity into their art.

There are plug-in “shields” available to allow connections to be more robustly made but these add an additional complication to making circuits.

I’m now more confident in using the Arduino but I’m not so sure that I could use it in its natural form with a class. It is more suited to a club activity where there is the time and space to get over the inevitable problems with electronics and coding.

I think it would be better to create some shields where some of the projects are permanently soldered in so can plug straight into the Arduino and then the students can concentrate on the coding rather than the electronics. I would use the breadboard method for more able and interested students who may want to develop their skills and knowledge using the raw connections and components.

My next step then is to construct a few soldered projects that simply plug into the board. My favourite projects so far are the servo motor controller, the keyboard, the light Theremin and the Zoetrope.

Teaching Notes on the “Arduino Projects Book”

You can read the notes below, or download in PDF: Arduino for Art, Design & Technology – Project Book Notes (2015)

or Word: Arduino for Art, Design & Technology – Project Book Notes (2015)

This book comes (in hard copy) with the starter pack and provides a useful introduction to a wide range of applications for the Arduino in projects. However as I worked my way through the circuit construction and the programs I noted a number of pitfalls that could cause someone new to programming in C (like me) to give up.

General points – Punctuation

An important part of programming in C is the use of brackets.

Curly brackets { }

denote a loop function. If you click on a { the corresponding } will be highlighted by a box around it. I found it useful to go through a program clicking on each bracket and looking for the corresponding one to be highlighted. This helped me to make sure that I hadn’t missed out any brackets.

Plain brackets ( ) denotes where information needed by the program could be found for example whether a pin is an input or an output or what the state of the pin is (high or low). They are also used for comparisons such as less than, more than or equal to arguments. Again it was useful to click on each bracket and make sure that the corresponding open or close bracket had been included.

Square brackets [ ] are used to denote an array of numbers or information where the program looks up the position of the number in the array rather than the number itself. Project 07 – The Keyboard Instrument uses this function to denote musical frequencies and rather than having to keep entering the frequency each time the program looks at the position number of the array to obtain the required value. Similarly, as with other brackets each one can be clicked on to discover the corresponding bracket.

The semicolon ; is used after values or plain brackets the only exception being if the bracket is before a curly bracket. I have found it is very easy to miss out the semi colon and the program, frustratingly, will refuse to compile and will give you an error message telling you are missing one.

The use of the decimal point . caused an issue in the case of the ‘float’ instruction. This refers to a floating decimal point number rather than an integer (given by the ‘int’ instruction). When using the ‘float’ instruction any numbers, even if they are integers, must include the decimal point (for an example look at Project 3 – Love-O-Meter on page 49)

Speech marks “ “ are used along with the Serial.print instruction to print on screen the state of inputs, outputs or values.

The use of !=   means not equal to.

Notes on the projects

As I worked my way through each of the projects in the starter pack I came across some issues and things that I needed to do in order to get the circuit to work. I think it might be worth sharing these.

On a general note, while the book covers a fair amount of basic electronics and circuits I would advise a little caution. Some information is over generalised and some misleading. For example, on page 30 Ohm’s law is introduced and used to calculate the value of the bias resistor for the LED. The calculation ignores the voltage drop across the LED itself and so with higher voltages may give a false value for the resistor that could end up damaging the LED. The use of the term “amperage” for current is annoying.

Project 03 The Love-O-Meter

This project introduces the TMP36 temperature sensor. This component produces a linear output temperature reading unlike many thermistors, 10mV change of output represents a temperature change of 1C. Note the need for the offset to read from 0C. The device can measure from -50C and will start from this temperature if the offset is not included in line 20.

Notice in line 15 of the code the ‘float’ instruction needs the decimal point included. This line results in voltage changes of around 5mV to be detected and acted upon this means that the device measures 0.5C steps.

The project uses analogue to digital conversion (ADC)

Note the need for a short delay when using ADC.

Project 04 Colour Mixing Lamp

This project introduces light dependant resistors and multicolour LED. It also includes the use of pulse width modulation (PWM). Output on the board marked with symbol ~ can produce a PWM output. This function is useful for motor speed control and light dimming.

Project 05 Mood Cue

This project introduces a variable resistor used as a potentiometer (ie all three pins connected) and a servo motor (a motor that uses gearing to move its axle through an angle of rotation up to a maximum of 180 degrees)

The project introduces ‘libraries’ or pre-set information that someone has compiled to convert output voltages to servo output angle.

The servo included in the pack has a three pin female plug attached to the lead. In order to connect this to the breadboard it comes supplied with a strip of header pins, I found this solution doesn’t work so used some jump leads to make the connection. A better solution is to cut off the plug and solder header pins directly to the three wires from the servo motor.

I was very impressed by the accuracy and control of the servo. One turn of the potentiometer moved the servo almost 180 degrees and half a turn of the potentiometer produced a 90 degree turn.

For the fun of it I replaced the variable resistor with a light dependant resistor and a 10K resistor as a potential divider. The top of a bic biro with its small hole at the top acted as a good mask and allowed for slight changes in shadow to operate the servo.

Project 06 Light Theremin

This project introduces the ‘tone’ function and discusses the difference between the constant 50% duty cycle of the tone function and the variable duty cycle produced by the ‘analogWrite’ function. The calibration routine used to identify the most to least shadow and modify the program to accommodate different depths of shadow is an interesting and clever part of the program.

This program worked well and again the bic pen top worked well to give a good variation of shadow to obtain a full sound range.

Project 07 Keyboard Instrument

This project is a good example of an array. The frequencies of four musical notes is given in the array and the array uses the position of the notes in the array to identify the note rather than having to keep entering the note frequency in the ‘tone’ instruction. A resistor ladder is used to produce differing voltages that are converted to frequencies when the buttons are pressed.

In figure 1 the resistors are connected in series, pressing more than one button doesn’t change the resistance the analogue port “sees” the voltage over the resistor nearest the junction to the analogue port.

The layout of the breadboard shown in figure 2 is the circuit shown in figure 3. This circuit does change the voltage “seen” by the analogue port when more than one button is pressed. However the values of the resistance chosen don’t make significant changes. It is worth using the resistors in parallel formula to work out the voltages when a combination of buttons is pressed.

In the example array on page 83 line 2 generates a conflict error. It isn’t needed so leave these two lines out.

Project 08 Digital Hourglass

In this project the timing function “millis” is introduced. This tracks how long the Arduino has been running in milliseconds. It makes the distinction between the “millis” function and the delay function. The delay function freezes the board’s state until the delay is over, this means it can’t take in information while the delay is going on.

The project describes how to extend the information storage to a 32 bit number by using the “long” function.

The code shows how to compare time and give an accurate time interval for timing events. The time interval for 10 minutes (600 000 milliseconds) is given in line 6. I got bored waiting the 10 minutes so changed it to 10 seconds (10 000 milliseconds)

The circuit uses a tilt switch.

Project 09 Motorized pinwheel

This project is good as it shows how to control motors using an external power source by using transistors, in this case a MOSFET. It also shows the need for a diode to remove damaging voltages caused by back emf from the motor.

Project 10 Zoetrope

This project takes some building. It builds on the pinwheel in project 09. It is a nice project to build and try out. The motor supplied is good quality and it can really spin the wheel. On a safety note it can easily fly off. The wheel can also launch cd’s so be careful if using with students, good fun but may need safety specs just in case.

The potentiometer supplied keeps popping off the breadboard and then the speed increases. When held down it does have a good range of speed. The circuit does use a very useful IC called a H Bridge this makes it easier to reverse the motor direction and removes the need for including additional diodes to eliminate the back emf from the motor.

The code doesn’t introduce any new functions and is fairly easy to follow. There are though a lot of lines of code and it easy to miss appropriate brackets, semicolons and capital letters (if used). It took me four attempts to fill in or correct code.

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Digital Art for Schools

Digital arts - lights in jarsOn Friday 12 June, a group of art teachers from six city secondary schools met at Interact Labs (based in Leicester’s Phoenix Arts Center) to find out more about digital art.

From work with low-resolution computer screens and black-and-white pen plotters in the 1950s and 1960s, to the photo-realistic renderings of modern video games, artists have often been at the forefront of innovation in computing. For over 50 years artists have been exploring how modern art can be made with the latest digital technology. Indeed, it’s amazing to think that something as seemingly new as “digital art” is actually as old as acrylic paint. However, digital art does not always get the recognition it deserves in arts education.

The workshop introduced school staff to the history and development of digital art, and looked at practical ways staff might develop digital arts practice in schools.  The event also provided an opportunity for staff from schools across the city to network, and find out about local digital artists and digital arts organisations and events in Leicester.

The workshop was led by  Sean Clark, a Leicester-based practicing digital artist. Sean collated a bank of useful resources to introduce and get staff started in digital arts, covering the history of digital art, key exhibitions, artists and art works, and teaching resources.


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