Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Review of BeeBot Work

I finished my work with BeeBots last week (for the moment) and thought I'd share what I learnt.

First off is surprise, as always, at how different children react and are stimulated by the BeeBots. Despite having worked in a special school for nearly all my adult life, I still find myself underestimating some pupils while overlooking the needs of some others. Although I know that just because a child has little or no verbal language that doesn't mean they have little or no understanding, I still fall into the trap of over simplifying activities for them. They soon showed me!

On the other hand, there are those children who are very talkative and can seem to have a great understanding of things, but this isn't necessarily the case. Things can quickly become overwhelming for them and they can have trouble explaining where the difficulty lies, which often results in an adult confusing matters further as they try to diagnose and solve the problem. Something that’s often only possible afterwards.

So anyway, the how did these things manifest themselves with the BeeBots? Most, if not all, children were motivated by the BeeBots’ movement, sound or in some cases just the bright colour! This motivaton lasted longer for some than others, a few children soon found the slow pace of the BeeBots quite tiresome and they felt the need to give a little push which would cause the motor to strain and whir. This was very motivating for some children and keeping the BeeBot undamaged became quite a challenge. As sturdy as they are, things tend to get pushed to the limit here!

We started most of the sessions with a free play with the BeeBots to familiarise ourselves with the buttons and what BeeBot was capable of. The key button for most of the kids to learn first of was, of course, the “GO” button, as this is the one that makes things happen. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly nearly all the children grasped this even without the use of the symbols I had lovingly crafted! I guess the fact that it is green while all the other buttons are orange helps to highlight its slightly different purpose as well as draw attention to it.
So long as there were instructions programmed into the BeeBot the “GO” button gave an instant effect which is rewarding, motivating and encouraging for the children. Problems did arise whenever the “CLEAR” button was hit rendering the “GO” button suddenly useless. Children did not enjoy this! It struck me that a facility to lock a programme in would be useful, but I guess this is the entry level equipment and perhaps ProBots can do this?

The next step was going to utilise more of the symbols and the schedules I had made. The general idea being that I would lay out a set of instructions of suitable complexity that the children would follow, taking the first symbol, inputting that instruction, then moving onto the next symbol until reaching the symbol for “GO” at the end of the schedule. This worked really well, the children were indeed familiar enough with the system to carry it over for use with the BeeBots. This kept the focus on learning control of the BeeBots, rather than becoming distracted with new methods for following instructions. Problems did arise if the wrong button was pressed. In some cases it was appropriate to leave the mistake in so that we could review what went wrong afterwards. But in other cases, I felt it may have been a bit of a blow to confidence to have worked so hard to follow and input instructions then have it go wrong. In these cases, I would clear the instructions and input what had been done so far myself. While this was not ideal, I think I managed to do it quick enough so as not to give the feeling that I was taking over from the pupil.

Where it was appropriate I had some road tiles set up in a large plastic picture frame that I picked up cheap in Woolworths. This was simply to keep the tiles in place, but it’s cheapness soon shone through as it split in two leaving some nice jagged edges, so that didn’t last too long! Instead I laminated the tiles so now they can be taped together, but still be detached and rearranged. Anyway, I had a them set up in three ways. One was a single loop, this meant I could programme one forward movement and a turn and all the child had to do was press “GO” repeatedly to move around the loop. This was to reinforce the use of the “GO” button on its own. Then there was a U-Turn of sorts which required BeeBot to go forward turn round a loop and come back towards the start on a parallel road. This was designed to be slightly simpler than the third, and main, route that went right across the board. In reality, though, it was just slightly shorter!

Anyhow, I mention the road tiles as they were the third step in our BeeBot work. The idea being that we could plan BeeBot’s route by manually moving BeeBot round the course and choosing the appropriate symbol for the movement we had just made. This was Nic Hughes suggestion when I spoke to him before starting the work and it really helped the kids to foresee what BeeBot would do. We’d look at where he needed to go (BeeBot, not Nic!) and the pupils would suggest the movement, by choosing a symbol. We’d move him according to the suggestion and if it was correct place that symbol onto our schedule. Once the whole route had been planned, the children would take turns to programme BeeBot from the schedule and watch him follow the path.

The final step was to use the BeeBot software. And this is where I came a bit unstuck. I was convinced that the majority of the kids, as motivated by computers as they are, would be really into this, but not so. The vast majority of the kids showed little interest in the software and those that did either seemed to treat it as a bit of a chore and were more interested in starting up other programmes or they enjoyed spinning BeeBot and the map around using the touchscreens. My theory is that the software is a little abstract and the children would rather be guiding around a physical object that they can pick up and touch. I tried to resist having the actual BeeBots out when we we’re using the virtual ones, as I thought this would be an unnecessary distraction, but in the end, the real BeeBots were the reward for working with the software. I believe ProBot has the ability to link up with it’s virtual counterpart, if this is so, perhaps it will bridge the gap between computer software and programmable hardware. Something I’m also hoping to do in the future with Lego Mindstorms and 2Control.

Overall the kids enjoyed and worked well with the BeeBots, hopefully laying the foundations for further work in control with Mindstorms and possibly ProBot. Teachers have taken the symbols and schedules to use in class activities and will hopefully find them useful. So, in summary, quite successful I felt!

Please do share your thoughts and ideas with us!

Also, as a reward for making it all the way to the end of this post, (BeeBot doesn’t look like a word anymore, eh?) you can download PDFs of the resources I used with the BeeBots:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Crayon Physics

I thought I'd stick this up, partly because I think it's amazing and partly so I don't forget about it, which shouldn't happen anyway!

This is a game designed and made by Petri Puhro, a student games developer who aims to make prototype games within a week. I see it almost as a graphically simplified version of LittleBigPlanet which I've posted about previously. To me this would be a good introduction to modelling and I believe the final version will come with a level editor meaning game design could be worked on. While I still think LittleBigPlanet will be the ultimate tool for these things, Crayon Physics will provide a simpler and cheaper alternative.

Here is a video demonstrating what Puhro calls the "deluxe" version on a tablet pc, but picture it working on your whiteboards!

Even better though, here is a link to the kloonigames blog where you can read about it and best of all download a prototype of this game, much more basic than the video shows, but still, you can see the potential for yourself!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More on Podcasting

First off, we've added a new Podcast to our blog; HattonPodcasts.
We've recorded a few more podcasts using podium and the kids are mostly really enjoying it. Some of the children do find doing something new difficult, but that can be true of anything new, it's certainly not specific to the podcasting.

What has been very consistent is the enjoyement that all the children have got from hearing their own voices. Those children who perhaps found it rather baffling that we wanted them to talk or sing into what is little more than a stick were often surprised, pleasantly so, at hearing themselves coming out of the computer. And then there were the children who fully understood what the microphone was for and what was expected of them, who took equal pleasure out of recording and, even better, re-recording their own little hellos, songs and even 1 rap! (I'm told its based on a Lethal Bizzle track, I have no idea who or what that is! How old do I feel?!)

It's that reward of hearing their own voices that has been so motivating as to get very quiet, even non-verbal children to utter a few sounds into the microphone. Things that may not wow the typical podcast listener, but for our school and the needs of the children these recordings are very rewarding for staff, parents and, of course, the children!

We've been trialing Podium, which has been a real pleasure to use. The simple interface and ability to hide un-wanted sections, such as the episode or chapter tabs, really gives a clean and simple work space that isn't too distracting or intimidating for the kids, something which the more complex podcasting software I've been shown can seem like. Not to say there isn't a place for all those switches and dials, I'm certain that the polishing that can be done to your podcasts with these is wonderful, but here, we're after the basics. We really just want to record and very simply cut and paste different parts together. Something I've found Podium ideal for, so we should be buying the full package soon.

I don't want to seem like I'm on SoftEase's payroll mind, so I should point out that I did find the buttons a little small. The pause and stop buttons that come up while recording are just right for our touchscreens and if the initial record button, at least, was a similar size to these, that would be ideal. Sometimes it can be useful that less used buttons are smaller and less of a distraction, but I feel that such a key operation as "record" should have more prominence.

I don't want to keep banging on about them, but please do give our podcasts a listen as I hope they show how we work to give all the children access to our technologies, regardless of their apparent "ability".

Friday, November 16, 2007


This morning we made a couple of podcasts.
One is a fairly standard affair, an introduction and then a song, while the other is a few sounds we recorded one child making as he played with the microphone. He clearly recognised what it was and began to play with it. For a child who makes little or no sound in school, we're very pleased with what we've recorded.
The link will remain to the right, but for now:
Hatton Podcasts

Monday, November 12, 2007


Just a quick post to show you a website I stumbled across recently.

http://www.jacksonpollock.org/ is designed by artist Miltos Manetas. It is inspired by the work of Jackson Pollock, in case you hadn't guessed, and works very nicely as a touchscreen game or, even better, on a whiteboard. The kids I've tried it with seem to enjoy the instant and colourful effect of touching the screen. Nice and simple, but effective!

I'll leave you to play with it, but if you want to print what you've created, I suggest pressing ALT then F then V, which will take you to the print preview without adding any more paint to your work. And if you're using IE7 you can adjust the size and shape as the image tends to get stretched out when printed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


This morning I met With Anthony Evans to make plans for Podcasting work at Hatton, more of which I'll discuss in a later post. But during the morning I happened to mention a game called LittleBigPlanet.
If you're not the Playstation3 fan that I am you've probably not come across this, it's also not available till at least March '08! However, it's worth looking at as I believe it has some good potential for modelling work within ICT (If your school has those kind of resources!).
The game is essentially a platform game with small friendly looking characters who jump around collecting stuff. So far, nothing original, but the real hook of this game is it's creation element. The tagline for this game is "Play, Create, Share." which should demonstrate that the creation is a substantial part of the game.
What makes me think of this in terms of modelling within schools is the simplicity of the tools and the wonderful levels of realism generated. Real world physics combined with familiar materials mean that models can be built in the game that are extremely accurate and could be copied from or based on objects in the real world. For example, models could be built in class, using cereal boxes, cardboard tubes, yoghurt pots etc and then easily modelled in the game. They will look and act the same, but in a virtual environment. Check out the video to see the developers playing with it at the Game Developers Conference earlier this year:

When the QCA says that pupils should "understand that a computer can represent real or fantasy situations and that these do not replicate the original exactly" I guess they weren't looking that far ahead!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Using BeeBot With Symbols

Having introduced all the kids to the ICT Suite, we're going to start doing some basic control work using a BeeBot. As simple as the BeeBot is to operate in itself, the element of planning, recording and reviewing how we control it is somewhat more complex for our pupils.
So some creative thinking was called for!
I say creative, what I actually did was 'borrow' some communication and scheduling systems that we already use widely through the school.
On the communication side of things there is PECS. If you're not familiar with PECS it is the Picture Exchange Communication System and boils down to using pictures to communicate a want or need. It is more complex than that and is used to build up language skills, but for our BeeBot needs we're just using the basic set up.
The other system we use at Hatton to help show what we're doing throughout the day are Transition Schedules. These use pictures to represent activities and places that the pupil using the schedule will be doing through the day.

So somewhere between these two systems lies our BeeBot symbols. Very simply they are PECS style symbols that represent each of the buttons on BeeBots back and a schedule on which to place them to create a plan of, not just which buttons the pupil will press, but also what BeeBot will be doing. This means that BeeBot's actions can be planned ahead, followed and recorded as the action takes place, reviewed and edited as needed. The folder at the top of this image is used to keep the many symbols in.

Hopefully you can see how the symbols represent the buttons on the BeeBot!

These are the Schedule Boards that the symbols can be stuck to using velcro.

The main advantage to this system, certainly here at Hatton anyway, is that it is a familiar process for the pupils. They will hopefully be able to transfer the skills they already have from class to the BeeBot, meaning we can focus on learning control, rather than a whole new method of planning and recording.

You can download the PDF of the symbols Here and I will add the Schedule strips asap.
If I haven't, or you're having trouble just drop me an e-mail at: dan.plane@redbridge.gov.uk

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Welcome, anybody who is choosing to read this!
The idea for this blog has come from meeting with Anthony Evans and Nic Hughes early in October of this year, both of whom use blogs to communicate ideas they have had or collected in relation to ICT within education.
So I shall attempt to do something similar here, which will hopefully help others, especially when working with ICT with children with SEN.
Here at Hatton we were, as at our last Ofsted inspection (in July 06), behind in our use of ICT. Ofsted recognised this and that we were, ourselves, aware of the issues. The report stated that the school must "Ensure that there is better use of ICT to support pupils' learning, progress and achievement throughout the curriculum."
So we spent some money!
Now we have a modestly sized, but well equipped ICT Suite. It contains 6 PCs, all with touchscreens that fold away into the desks so that we need only have the machines that we wish to use up and out, the rest are out of sight and of no distraction to the pupils. We also have a colour printer and seperate scanner in the suite and, of course, one SmartBoard interactive whiteboard with built in projector.
The suite was mostly built over the summer holidays 2007 and equipment was installed within the first few weeks of September.
The pupils were introduced to the suite over the first half term and all pupils were given an opportunity to try out the room. Tasks were set at a comfortable level for each pupil and changed on the fly to suit each pupil, because the goal here was to experience the room, which for some of our pupils can be quite a challenge in itself. However, all but one of the pupils happily entered the new room, which can be dauntingly bright from the now very dim seeming corridor. I am pleased to say, though, that that one pupil did, on his second attempt, enter and thoroughly enjoy the room!
So now that everyone has tried out the room and is reasonably comfortable with the equipment next half term we will be trying out some projects, starting with control. I'll let you know how we get on!