Sunday, April 21, 2019

Fischer Random Chess

Very interesting that The World Fischer Random Chess Championship is now officially recognized by FIDE. My experience with this in the past was that the top players avoided it because it undermines all their standard opening preparation. Wonderful that it is now recognised as the way forward by FIDE and the world chess champion, Magnus Carlsen.

Source: Announces FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship

It is also known as Chess960. Chess960 introduces restrictions on the randomization, "preserving the dynamic nature of the game by retaining bishops of opposite colours for each player and the right to castle for both sides".The result is 960 unique possible starting positions. Two of the possible 960 starting positions are shown below.
I don't know when, but I think we are approaching that [the end of chess] very rapidly. I think we need a change in the rules of chess. For example, I think it would be a good idea to shuffle the first row of the pieces by computer ... and this way you will get rid of all the theory. One reason that computers are strong in chess is that they have access to enormous theory [...] I think if you can turn off the computer's book, which I've done when I've played the computer, they are still rather weak, at least at the opening part of the game, so I think this would be a good improvement, and also just for humans. It is much better, I think, because chess is becoming more and more simply memorization, because the power of memorization is so tremendous in chess now. Theory is so advanced, it used to be theory to maybe 10 or 15 moves, 18 moves; now, theory is going to 30 moves, 40 moves. I think I saw one game in Informator, the Yugoslav chess publication, where they give an N [theoretical novelty] to a new move, and I recall this new move was around move 50. [...] I think it is true, we are coming to the end of the history of chess with the present rules, but I don't say we have to do away with the present rules. I mean, people can still play, but I think it's time for those who want to start playing on new rules that I think are better."
— Fischer (September 1, 1992)

Friday, April 19, 2019

Behrouz Boochani

Reading Behrouz Boochani's magnificent book, No Friend But the Mountains makes it very, very clear that the Australian Government has systematically tortured asylum seekers and refugees.

The Immigration Minister who introduced this regime was Scott Morrison (our current PM), who often refused to answer questions about the status of asylum seekers (see here for more detail)

Further reference:
Australian Government must act following damning comments by Former President of Nauru (April 18, 2019)

Nauru mental health situation equivalent to 'victims of torture', Medecins Sans Frontieres says ( 3 Dec 2018)

Australia subjected refugees to crimes against humanity, class actions allege (10 Dec 2018)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

remember space invaders?

I found this on a wall in Brown St, Alice Springs:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"justice" 1870's-1930's

The late Paddy Tucker independently stated that he believed Willoberta Jack to have been poisoned. As he explained, from the 1870's-1930's no Aboriginal or person of Aboriginal descent could expect to escape if he or she killed a white person, even though the killing might be in self defence. There were always some white people who would ensure that the Aboriginal person was killed in the name of "justice" and "keeping the niggers in line".
Footnote 5, p. 124 Man from Arltunga: Walter Smith Australian Bushman by RG Kimber
Background information: Willoberta killed Harry Henty in the late 1920s after Henty attempted to shoot Willoberta because Willoberta refused to allow Henty to rape his underage daughter. Willoberta went into hiding for years and when he emerged was found not guilty by reason of self defence. But later on a fella by the name of Jimmy Donu gave Willoberta a bag of flour in which poison was chucked in before the flour was put in.

Monday, April 15, 2019

What is AIME?

Wonderful video's here:

Welcome to AIME


AIME website

I wrote about the book earlier

Sunday, April 14, 2019


Birgitta Jonsdottir: link
Poetician. Advisor in Digital Democracy. Public Speaker. Co-creator & former MP in #Iceland for the Pirate Party, co-editor Collateral Murder, exWikiLeaks
When I was fighting my own legal battle with the US Department of Justice in relation to my WikiLeaks work back in the day, I was advised by the Icelandic state department not to travel to America.

The reason: the US establishment does not forget nor forgive.

We are seeing exactly the same play out today. Even if one could criticise Julian Assange for constantly poking his angry host, I never thought that the Ecuadorian President would actually revoke asylum status of anyone, no matter how annoying the house guest is.

The arrest of Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in the UK is not only deeply disturbing, but will set a very dangerous example and erode further the rights of political asylum seekers.

There is a clear vendetta going on, as seen in the treatment of the other person mentioned in the US indictment against Assange: Chelsea Manning. She has now been in prison for 35 days because she refused to engage in a federal grand jury. They kept her in solitary confinement for 28 days.

The only motivation is cruelty and vendetta. Her treatment before the trial was considered to amount to torture by the UN and Amnesty International.

Requests have been made for Assange not be extradited if he faces a threat to his life, via a variety of execution methods available in the land of the “free”. Hence this ridiculous hacking indictment.

It’s arguably innocent looking – just some hacking stuff – stating that Assange would get five years maximum in prison. By presenting the indictment in this way, those who promised to protect him will keep face and it will make it easier to extradite him without everyone getting motivated to fight it.

After all the defiant and often reckless manoeuvres by Assange towards US authorities, it’s obvious that he will be treated harshly and he will never get a fair and open trial. There is already speculation that the current indictment is just a pretext to get him flown over and then be indicted with various other charges of a more serious nature.

One could argue that this is a pretty good hack by US authorities. Without a doubt, the UK authorities will be happy to get rid of Assange, especially with the country currently paralysed by Brexit.

Anyone who has followed WikiLeaks for as long as I have knows that, if there ever was a time to fight for Assange, it is now.

I made a promise not only to myself but to him as well a long time ago that, if this day ever came, that I would fight against any attempts to bring him to America.

I really hope that everyone, despite what they think of him as a person, can look beyond the personality and understand what is at stake here for the future of journalism, the right to know about wrongdoing of powerful entities, such as humans, or their husks of an authority.

Everyone who cares about what WikiLeaks stood for back in the day – freedom of information, expression and the protection of whistleblowers – have to do everything in their power to stop him being extradited to the US.

Press freedom is under serious attack all over the world. The court case against Assange’s extradition will be one of the world’s most important tests if justice is to prevail for those freedoms and those who are willing to risk everything to shine a light in the dark corners of corruption, power and greed.

Birgitta Jonsdottir collaborated with WikiLeaks in 2009/2010 on various projects such as IMMI and the co-production of Collateral Murder.

my educational computing CV update

In the past couple of years I have renewed my computer ed development, building on a strong commitment earlier in my career.

I’m teaching Year 7 computing at __________. I wrote a course based on the ACARA Digital Technologies criteria but can only deliver it in part due to the limited lesson allocation (one term per class, 2 lessons a week).

For these lesson I’ve focused on computer coding using Scratch 3 and the Creative Computing Curriculum Guide (Scratch 3.0) developed by The Creative Computing Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

I’m continuing to explore new ways of making computer coding accessible to students who previously have been disenfranchised, such as the indigenous and girls, as follows:
  • developed a set of indigenous icons suitable for use in Scratch and have used these successfully in class. On my list of things to do is to develop on screen indigenous art using Turtle Art / Turtle Blocks (Brian Silverman version; Walter Bender version)
  • purchased a Lilypad Arduino Sew Electric Kit which brings together craft, electronic and programming, producing wearable products.
  • purchased a Chibitronics Love to Code kit which uses electronic circuits on paper in a storybook format.
  • continuing my research by reading online PhD theses by Tom Lauwers, Debra Bernstein and Jennifer Cross available through Bird Brain Technologies Research page
  • I've just ordered a Hummingbird bit which from my research is the best robot building tool around at this point
I completed two courses run by the Computer Science Education Research Group at The School of Computer Science, The University of Adelaide (CSER MOOCs). These were:
  • CSER F-6 Digital Technologies: Foundations course
  • Years 7 and 8 Digital Technologies: Next Steps Making Apps course
The latter course utilised MIT App Inventor and using this program I’ve written several apps for my Android phone

I have published one of my apps online (“Arrernte Language”) which improves the learning of an indigenous language (Arrernte) and could be easily modified for any other language. For me, this was a challenging app to build, my friend Paul helped a lot in a collaborative effort.

Following these courses I read more widely and wrote and published “The teaching of coding” (2,100 words) which outlines a creative and productive way to teach coding.

The latest theory and practice advocates active collaboration between students in the learning of programming. This is built into the online Scratch site (especially with the Remix feature). With this in mind I have also explored the Collabrify suite developed by Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris.

I’ve purchased a Tello drone and explored its functions

I read “Internet on the Outstation” by Ellie Rennie and co about the still unsolved problems of providing Internet to very remote locations in Australia

I explored the possibility of using RACHEL (Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning) to solve the problem of poor Internet access to very remote Australians. It's a portable plug-and-play server which stores educational websites and makes that content available over any local (offline) wireless connection

TANGIBLES and the BBC micro:bit
An important recent development in digital education has been low cost tangible devices with microcontrollers which have a beyond the screen input output functionality. I’ve spent a lot of time with the BBC micro:bit, learning MakeCode and MicroPython and have:
  • written a preliminary course outline
  • run micro:bit workshops for IndigiMOB in three Alice Springs town camps and at the Polly Farmer after school program at Centralian Middle School
  • explored micro:bit extensions into electronics with the Kitronik and Monk Makes kits.


I have:
  • been recognised as a CEGSA (Computing Education Group of South Australia) Leading Light (acknowledging contributions to ICT in Education) in both 2006 and 2007
  • designed courses at Year 11 level which integrate Scratch (Logo) into an ideas-design-evaluate-develop framework
  • run in service sessions in Scratch software for Woodville High School (South Australia) staff and at CEGSA conferences
  • written papers and presented talks at conferences about Logo philosophy and related issues: game making, Seymour Papert's constructionism and Alan Kay's educational philosophy
  • initiated blogs and wikis that evaluated the software on the One Laptop Per Child initiative, which included Scratch and Etoys, another visual drag and drop programming language
  • developed expertise with SNAP, a more high powered reimplementation of Scratch, for upper secondary and University level Computer Science.
  • experience in teaching text based programming languages, in particular, Python

I am an advocate and active user of Open Source software since it is free and often very good. I note the potential of indigenous language dictionaries being incorporated into Libre Office.

I have a long term ongoing interest in the issue of affordable / cheap, reliable computing hardware. I was an active participant in the OLPC (one laptop per child) project and pursue an interest in Raspberry Pi and tablets.

Monday, April 08, 2019

new microbit affordances

Thanks to Gary Stager's blog post (here), I've downloaded
  1. his Scratch cards for the micro:bit, and
  2. Microblocks.
Scratch project cards for the micro:bit enables one to create interdisciplinary projects that connect screen action to the physical world. By pressing the A and B buttons, shaking or tilting the micro:bit you control actions in your Scratch project such as changing colours, costumes, spinning or moving sprites, drawing lines etc. There are more ambitious project ideas on the cards too.

Microblocks. I didn't understand what was useful or new about this from the blurb on their site, since the micro:bit is autonomous. You write the code using MakeCode, view it in the simulator, download it to your micro:bit, unplug your micro:bit and run it off a battery.

But an article by John Maloney in Hello World (here) explained it clearly. The advantage is not autonomy through untethering. With Microblocks you also have live programming directly on the micro:bit. The simulator is no longer necessary.
Unfortunately, most programming systems for microcontrollers aren’t live. They require a compilation and download process that slows experimentation and interrupts the smooth flow of ideas. For example, Microsoft’s MakeCode takes 10-15 seconds to compile and download a program to the BBC micro:bit. While that may not seem like much, after a few dozen cycles, the process can feel tedious.

Tethered systems like Snap4Arduino take a different approach. They run the user’s program on the host computer and treat the microcontroller as a peripheral. While this does provide a compelling live programming experience, the microcontroller must remain tethered to the host computer that is running the program; it isn’t autonomous. This requirement to remain tethered to the host computer makes it cumbersome to embed the microcontroller in an art project, wear it on a hat, or build it into a mobile creature like our robotic rabbit.

MicroBlocks supports both live programming and autonomous operation. Users can see and test code changes immediately, yet their code continues to run when the microcontroller is untethered from the host computer. MicroBlocks gives the user the best of both worlds.

don't believe in science

Best to read the whole thing: Why I Don’t “Believe” in “Science” by Robert Tracinski. I'll quote one section below:
The problem is the word “belief.” Science isn’t about “belief.” It’s about facts, evidence, theories, experiments. You don’t say, “I believe in thermodynamics.” You understand its laws and the evidence for them, or you don’t. “Belief” doesn’t really enter into it.

So as a proper formulation, saying “I understand science” would be a start. “I understand the science on this issue” would be better. That implies that you have engaged in a first-hand study of the specific scientific questions involved in, say, global warming, which would give you the basis to support a conclusion. If you don’t understand the basis for your conclusion and instead have to accept it as a “belief,” then you don’t really know it, and you certainly are in no position to lecture others about how they must believe it, too.

Because science is about evidence, this also means that it carries no “authority.” The motto of the Royal Society is nullius in verba—”on no one’s word”—which is intended to capture the “determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.”

That’s the opposite of what “I believe in science” is intended to convey. “I believe in science” is meant to use the reputation of “science” in general to give authority to one specific scientific claim in particular, shielding it from questioning or skepticism.

“I believe in science” is almost always invoked these days in support of one particular scientific claim: catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. And in support of one particular political solution: massive government regulations to limit or ban fossil fuels.

But these two positions involve a complex series of separate scientific claims—that global temperatures are rising, that humans are primarily responsible, that the results are going to be catastrophic for human life, that rising temperatures can be halted—combined with a series of economic and political propositions. For example: that action to ban fossil fuels would be more efficacious than using the wealth made possibly by fossil fuels to help humans adapt to future climatic changes.

The purpose of the trope is to bypass any meaningful discussion of these separate questions, rolling them all into one package deal–and one political party ticket.

The trick is to make it look as though disagreement on any of these specific questions is equivalent to a rejection of the scientific method and the scientific worldview itself.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Saturday, January 19, 2019

the teaching of coding

The approach I advocate here emphasises developing of personal, meaningful digital artifacts through collaboration. I also discuss known problems in the teaching of coding and suggest remedies.

An article of this nature will never be finished. At this stage I feel it is good enough to publish. The writing and redrafting process has helped clarify my own thoughts and how to present them. It may help others. I’ll put a version up on Google Docs, here, for anyone who want to develop it further or critique it.


On day one tell the students that their main task will be to “Design and build a collaborative digital project with personal and / or social relevance”

A rich, holistic task like this will achieve many of the dry, technical points on the ACARA checklist. I’ve included the ACARA goals for Years 7-8 as an Appendix.


The teachers role is to tap into already established existing interests of the students and guide that in a direction where digital things are progressively enjoyed and mastered. If technology is seen to relate directly to personal life then this provides a tremendous incentive to learn it.

A good general theme is Children as collaborative software designers (after Idit Harel). Keeping it simple begin with Scratch and the Collabrify suite. Add in tangibles such as micro:bit if and when the time and opportunity present themselves. It depends a lot on how your school organises its computing resources. eg. in my current school Year 7s only receive 2 lessons a week for one term. I can argue for whole school reform to integrate computing into the curriculum but it probably won’t happen.


CSER has a lending library of class sets of tangibles: Beebot, Sphero, Ozobot, Makey Makey, LilyPad, Little Bits ‘Rule Your Room’, Little Bits Arduino, Dash & Dot, Bluebot, Micro:bit. They give preference to those who have completed their MOOC courses.

Kids have mobile phones and MIT App Inventor can be used to develop apps for Android phones. But given the reality that kids exposure to computer coding in Primary school has probably been patchy I suggest for Year 7s start simple with Scratch and the Collabrify suite and use programs such as App Inventor or activities with micro:bit, or whatever is available, as extension activity for those who have a strong background and can work independently.


What do kids like? Drawing and modifying pictures, music / sounds, games, socialising, building things, achieving something. The project, “Design and build a collaborative digital project with personal and / or social relevance”, taps into these already established behaviours and aims to develop them in the computer medium.

On day two introduce a Designer’s Notebook and Critique groups.

Designer’s Notebook: Preferably this should be online and public so the teacher and other students can read and comment on it.
Start of lesson: Write your plans and draw a picture of what will happen
End of lesson: Write about Progress, Problems, Solutions, Who I helped, Who helped me.

If and when social and emotional comments appear in the notebooks then this should be encouraged, not discouraged. Building a fully sharing community is just as or more important and helps to build the technical mastery of coding.

Critique groups: Projects need an audience for both appreciation and suggestions for improvement.

The metaphors have further evolved since Seymour Papert’s time. He coined the phase “objects to think with”; this has evolved into “objects to think and share with”. He coined the phrase “low floor, high ceiling”; this has evolved into “low floor, wide walls, open windows, high ceiling” (Kafai and Burke, pp. 55, 59)


If you put out a variety of project ideas then that will send the right message, that we want our students to choose something with personal meaning:
  • Add on yourself projects – eg. the initiator posts a picture of a dozen eggs and has put a face on one of them. He/she invites remixers to continue adding faces to the eggs. Kafai and Burke point out that this type of project usually has a low skill level coding requirement but they help build community involvement. Other examples include colouring in projects (with a prize for the best entry), add your icon/avatar jumping on a trampoline etc.
  • Games, including Games with a story (RPGs)
  • More complex group projects, eg. I took a copy of a poster, Know Your A-Z: Prevent violence against women – challenge gender stereotypes and promote respect, a different message for each letter of the alphabet; different characters and animals in the rooms of a castle
  • How to projects: Tutorials which explain how to achieve a certain feature in Scratch, eg. a scrolling screen of the type seen in Mario games
  • Seed project – the teacher could provide a poor version and ask students to improve it, possibilities include a rocket taking off, photosynthesis, maths drill, how to drive a car at an intersection, a vacuum cleaner which make white marks where it goes but doesn’t clean the room properly (this last one from Kafai and Burke, p.83)
  • Cross age tutoring projects – years ago I duplicated the Idit Harel cross age tutoring children designers fraction project. Here.

Blogs, wikis and Google Docs are available on many school systems. But improving on this is the Collabrify software suite (intended for Years 1 to 7) developed by Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris. This includes Writer (co­-create documents that include text, pictures, and video), KWL (Know, Want, Learn), Flipbook(drawings or “flipbook” style animations), Chart (collaboratively create a chart and graph its data) and Map (for concept maps).


The Scratch site has a remix feature where you are encouraged to take the work of others and modify it. This is something I want to encourage since it mirrors real life collaborative software development. But it does make it difficult to assess kids on the basis of the quality of their finished software since they have built on the work of others. The answer here is develop other asssessment parameters.

Kafai and Burke have a discussion in their book (p. 86), is remix a crutch or a spur?


Coding is a complex activity and initially can be overwhelming to newbies. There needs to be some clarity about known problems in teaching novices to code. These are:
Design – I don’t know what I want the computer to do
Selection – I think I know what I want the computer to do but I don’t know what to use
Co-ordination - I think I know what things to use but I don’t know how to make them work together
Use - I think I know what to use but I don’t know how to use it
Understanding - I thought I knew how to use this, but it didn’t do what I expected
Information - I think I know why it didn’t do what I expected, but I don’t know how to check

Some of these problems have been alleviated through the development of block code languages. Others need to be specifically addressed.


Scratch is now widely used in schools. This alleviates some of the above problems, as follows:

Selection – Picking a block from a pallete is far easier than remembering a word (recognition over recall)
Co-ordination – Blocks make assembling code easier by providing constrained direct manipulation of structure, eg. two incompatible concepts do not have connecting parts
Use – Coding has a high cognitive load for new programmers. Blocks reduce the cognitive load by chunking code into a smaller number of meaningful elements

What about the other three known problems (Design, Understanding, Information)?


Task: “Design and build a collaborative digital project with personal and / or social relevance”

Initially Design is approach through teacher modelling, discussion and recorded in the Designer’s Notebook.

The Designer’s Notebook includes this information:
Start of lesson: Write your plans and draw a picture of what will happen
End of lesson: Write about Progress, Problems, Solutions, Who I helped, Who helped me.

This is a record of “low level” design and collaboration activity.

Teacher modelling (the principle here is eat your own dogfood): For example, I have designed three versions of a computer game – bad pong (only a few features, boring to play), ok pong (more features such as randomisation of ball movement and scoring) and wicked pong (select backgrounds, unpredictable ball movement, high score, bat shrinks as your score increases). This provides various options for discussion with students. What are your favourite games? What are their design features? Split into groups and do a KWL (Know, Want, Learned – the learned comes later). Depending on how the class is progressing at some stage introduce some design tools (start / end, process and decision) to aid the process.

Some thoughts about the place of high level design in the learning process.

Simple projects have simple design.
eg. draw a square:
to square
pen down
repeat 4 [fd 100 rt 90]
Novices have to be carefully taken through this (tell the robot what to do, etc.) and yes, write it down. But conceptually, it is not particularly complex. With each increase of complexity the difficulty of holding it in your head increases. The complexity versus "grasping it" curve starts simple but is not linear. When you get to a game of pong which keeps score and stores and displays high score then you need to keep track somehow outside of the code itself.

Simple code can be written without formal design criteria. The Scratch course works more along the guidelines of play first, do something of personal interest, and later, when you want to build something more complex then design becomes necessary.

In the Creative Computing Curriculum Guide (Scratch 3.0) project planning is stressed more towards the end of the course (section 6).

For the sake of further discussion we could divide our students into those who are inclined to be top down planners and those who are inclined to be bottom up tinkerers. The way things are normally done in schools may disadvantage the bricoleurs / tinkerers. See the Epistemological Pluralism article in reference for more detail about this. As teachers of computing our prejudice may be to prefer the top down planning approach because it is “the way things are done” by professionals and it makes it far easier for us to keep track of what our students are doing for helping and assessment purposes.

IMHO one way to kill interest in some students is to put too much emphasis on top down planning and top down planning tools.

I think a reasonable compromise here (and one which is consistent with the Agile Programming approach) is this development sequence, as suggested in the App Inventor book:
  1. initial ideas through group work and dialogue with teacher for desired project. Who is your audience and what features do they want?
  2. build a simple prototype
  3. follow the incremental development principle – code a little, test and repeat
  4. at this stage produce a formal design

Understanding - I thought I knew how to use this, but it didn’t do what I expected
Information - I think I know why it didn’t do what I expected, but I don’t know how to check

The experts, such as Juha Sorva, are advising here that the ability to trace code at run time should be explicitly taught. They also advise that Parson’s problems help to teach coding. Parson’s problems are where the blocks are provided to achieve a given task and the student has to put them together correctly.

I couldn’t find any reference to anything called Parson’s problems in the Scratch forums but did find something similar: Debug’ems, Complete’ems and Explore’ems! See reference.

Finally, students should be required to add comments to their code.


I support whole school reform to integrate computing into the curriculum. This idea has been around for 30+ years but hasn’t happened yet.

Tangibles. I think the new tangibles on the market are important and it’s a great idea that CSER has setup a lending library. I’d like to see more work on the evaluation of these tangibles.

I haven’t used slogans like “computational thinking”, which have become very popular. Some authors (diSessa, Guzdial) have critiqued this and I agree with their critiques. I haven't talked directly about teaching abstraction, which is part of the same bag of worms.

ACARA guidelines. Remember the saying, “School is like going to the world’s finest restaurant and being fed the menu” (Murray Gell-Mann). ACARA is cardboard, like that. Our job, as teachers, is to bring the cardboard to life.

David Bau, Jeff Gray, Caitlin Kelleher, Josh Sheldon, And Franklyn Turbak. Learnable Programming: Blocks and Beyond (2017)

Beck, Kent. Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

Karen Brennan, Laura Peters, and Alexa Kutler. Creative Computing Curriculum Guide (Scratch 3.0)
Kafai, Yasmin. From Computational Thinking to Computational Participation in K-12 Education
Kafai, Yasmin and Burke, Quinn. Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming (2016)

Kerr, Bill. Educational Software: Designed By Kids For Kids (1994)

Ko, Andrew; Myers, Brad; Aung, Htet Htet. Six Learning Barriers in end user programming systems (2004)

Cathie Norris, Elliot Soloway, Jennifer Auten, Ronda Duran, Kimberly Lee, Sr. Rebecca Mierendorf, Cheryl Zuzo. We Collabrify: FREE Collabrified Apps That Support Synchronous Collaboration (2015)

Papert and Turkle. Epistemological Pluralism (1992)

Scratch Debug’ems

Jean Griffin, Quinn Burke, Elliot Kaplan. Debug'ems and other Deconstruction Kits for STEM learning (2012)

Sorva, Juha. Notional Machines and Introductory Programming Education (2013)

Wolber, David; Abelson, Hal; Spertus, Ellen & Looney, Liz App Inventor 2: Create your own Android Apps free online


Digital Technologies Knowledge and Understanding

Investigate how data is transmitted and secured in wired, wireless and mobile networks, and how the specifications affect performance (ACTDIK023)

Investigate how digital systems represent text, image and audio data in binary (ACTDIK024)

Digital Technologies Processes and Production Skills

Acquire data from a range of sources and evaluate authenticity, accuracy and timeliness (ACTDIP025)

Analyse and visualise data using a range of software to create information, and use structured data to model objects or events (ACTDIP026)

Define and decompose real-world problems taking into account functional requirements and economic, environmental, social, technical and usability constraints (ACTDIP027)

Design the user experience of a digital system, generating, evaluating and communicating alternative designs (ACTDIP028)

Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in English, and trace algorithms to predict output for a given input and to identify errors (ACTDIP029)

Implement and modify programs with user interfaces involving branching, iteration and functions in a general-purpose programming language (ACTDIP030)

Evaluate how student solutions and existing information systems meet needs, are innovative, and take account of future risks and sustainability (ACTDIP031)

Plan and manage projects that create and communicate ideas and information collaboratively online, taking safety and social contexts into account (ACTDIP032)

Thursday, January 17, 2019


In December, last year at Polly Farmer we had a visit from Jono (check out his awesome site) to show us how to do Claymation. Here are some of the results. I did the nerdy maths one and the kids did the more creative ones.




Tuesday, January 08, 2019

write your own apps

I've made a few apps which run on my Android phone recently using MIT App Inventor. These include apps you can draw with (Digital Doodle), a game (Pong), a quiz (about US Presidents) and music (xylophone).
In some of these I just followed the tutorials but for a couple I extended them further. One issue here is that I feel I'm recovering some ownership of my phone over the unsolicited junk mail and messages I receive from all the vendors who are just "here to help".

The app I want to write is one which would help Arrernte native speakers correct my poor pronunciation of their language. At this point it is proving a challenge (to save and retrieve the recorded corrections) but I will get back to it. Thanks Paul, for your help.

As a computing teacher I'm very interested in understanding how app inventor can contribute to educational computing, which I argue is normally poorly done in schools. It was very encouraging to discover that the Computer Science Education Research (CSER) Group at Adelaide University highlighted App Inventor in their Year 7-8 MOOC for upskilling teachers, or anyone interested for that matter.

The apps I have made are available on google drive. I can't work out how to make that drive general public access but if you send a request I can make them available to you that way.

More to the point, I found the App Inventor tutorials and free online book, App Inventor 2: Create your own Android Apps to be extremely helpful.

update (Jan 9):Computational action!
MIT App Inventor has begun to frame its work in a theory of computational action: the idea that youth should learn about, and create with, computing in ways that provide them the opportunity to have direct impact in their lives Co and their communities. The App Inventor team is developing new features that allow students to more easily engage with authentic problems in their own lives with computational solutions. These features- maps, real-time collaboration, and support for Internet of Things applications, are powerful tools that students can bring to bear with minimal computing background in order to solve specific, local problems.

Mark A. Sherman, Mike Tissenbaum, Joshua Sheldon, Hal Abelson. (2018) Tools for Computational Action:New Features in MIT App Inventor. Tech Spotlight at Connected Learning Summit (CLS) 2018.

Gillen's Modest Record

I'm reading Gillen's Modest Record, his journal of the Spencer-Gillen anthropological expedition across Australia in 1901-02. The Editor, Philip Jones, has done a wonderful job. From Gillen's repeating of what he learnt from aboriginal people I have learnt more about their culture (very strange from our perspective) than any other source.

There's a photo on page 93 taken by Gillen of the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, "snugly nestling in the valley of the Todd", where he "once ruled", from a hill. I tried to duplicate by climbing Trig Hill and my photo definitely does bear a resemblance. By the way, you can see a beautiful 360 degrees panorama of the MacDonnell ranges from Trig Hill.
Why is Trig Hill called Trig Hill? This is explained on a plaque at the top. Five years after the telegraph line was completed, the South Australian government sent a party of surveyors to central Australia. They arrived on 16th November 1877. Trig stations are points where latitude, longitude and height have been determined. They are used for making maps. Trig Hill was the first one, setup by Charles Winnecke.

I noticed another walking trail, named after Bradshaw, the telegraph station Postmaster who replaced Gillen in 1899. I did that walk earlier today, saw a couple of kangaroos and an amazing, hardy tree, and came out at the Todd River. Took another photo just to demonstrate that it is still not flowing!

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

books I am reading in 2019

This includes some articles too, not just books

boyd, dana. It's Complicated (2014). Learn More. epub(scroll to bottom)
diSessa, Andrea. Computational Literacy and “The Big Picture” Concerning Computers in Mathematics Education (2018)
Jones, Philip. Gillen's Modest Record: His journal of the Spencer-Gillen anthropological expedition across Australia, 1901-02 (2017)
Kafai, Yasmin B and Burke, Quinn. Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming (2014)
Livingston, Eric. Ethnographies of Reason (2016)
Smerdon, David. Smerdon's Scandanavian (2015)
Sorva, Juha. Visual Program Simulation in Introductory Programming Education. Thesis (pdf available)
Sorva, Juha. Notional Machines and Introductory Programming Education (2013) pdf available
Wolber, David; Abelson, Hal; Spertus, Ellen & Looney, Liz App Inventor 2: Create your own Android Apps free online

2018 books
2017 books
2016 books
2015 books

Friday, December 28, 2018

an old quote from Hal Abelson

"First, we want to establish the idea that a computer language is not just a way of getting a computer to perform operations but rather that it is a novel formal medium for expressing ideas about methodology. Thus, programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute."
~ Hal Abelson
Or, in the video, "a computer program is a way of expressing ideas and communicating ideas and only incidentally about getting a machine to do stuff" (at 35min 55sec)

In the new language some things can be expressed that couldn't be expressed so well, or at all, in previous languages. The technology, the code is secondary; the new way of expressing something is primary. I think that sort of motivation has the potential to push people to persevere through the technical, difficult to understand stuff. But in computer courses people often get so caught up in the code itself (because it is complex, hard) that the underlying driving force can disappear, in the way it is taught, boring technical stuff divorced from real life drama.
youtube link
See his answer to the question asked at 35 minutes, about Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, with additional insights up until 39 minutes, 20 sec. He calls this the linguistic approach by which I think he means reframing or reformulating the programming language to make it easier to understand. One huge breakthrough here since the early days of logo has been block languages. Another issues he mentions is that in solving a problem by programming we are really building a special purpose machine, within the machine.

Hal Abelson is one of the driving forces behind the amazingly good MIT App Inventor.

ps. very funny anecodote about Richard Stallman's password begins at 27 minutes.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Mparntwe Dreaming, part two: wild dog creators

In this Dreaming story much of the west side of Alice Springs has an association with a dog fight. After reading a little booklet about this I initially climbed Anzac Hill and took some photos. But, subsequently, I found I could get better shots of the features I wanted from Billy Goat Hill and Annie Meyer Hill, so I'll show you those pics.

Most of the features of the Mt Gillen ridge were formed by the activities of the wild dog.

Mt Gillen or Alhekulyele from Billy Goat Hill (Akeyulerre)
There was an extended battle between a local dog and an interloper from the west, or in some versions from the south-east. They fought over a female.

Various features of the ridge are named after the resting place of the female, dog hair released during the fight and intestines from a wounded dog. The fighting raged to Heavitree Gap, where the intruder was finally beaten and buried.

Heavitree Gap (Ntaripe) from Billy Goat Hill (Akeyulerre).
To show how things are connected this one shows Heavitree Gap (Ntaripe) from Anzac Hill with Billy Goat Hill (Akeyulerre) in the middle ground
The next one shows the relation between Mt Gillen and Heavitree Gap. I took this from Annie Meyer Hill, which you access through the Olive Pink Botanic Garden:
After defeating his antagonist at Heavitree Gap, the wild dog creator being metamorphosed into a boulder embedded near Billy Goat Hill. I looked for that boulder but couldn't find it.

At various locations nearby are rocks that represent the puppies of the adult wild dogs. Some of the puppies are at the back of Beaurepaires, which is near Anzac Hill.

Puppies outside Beaurepaires (two pics)
There is a large sacred rock in the Anzac Hill (Atnelkentyarliweke) car park
Choritja, where Charles Creek flows into the Todd River is regarded as the real central point of Mparntwe (Alice Springs)

No water today, but this is where Charles Creek flows into Todd River. They say you are not a true resident of Alice Springs until you have seen the Todd flow three times!

The stone below is associated with a great, white, dog man who came from Latrika (away to the West) and wanted to kill the dog men at Choritja (Stuart or Alice Springs).

When they saw him the local Gnoilya wild dog men sang out, wunna, mbainda erinna, numma - This is your camp, sit down

So he sat down quietly and remained there, the stone arising to mark the spot. If the stone is rubbed by old men all the camp dogs begin to growl and grow fierce. The last man to rub it was one of the old inkatos (headmen) who did so soon after the white man came in order to try to make the dogs bite them.
- from The Arunta Volume 1 by Sir Balwin Spencer and F.J. Gillen

Reference: A Town Like Mparntwe: a guide to the Dreaming tracks and sites of Alice Springs by David Brooks, illustrations by Shawn Dobson (first published in 1991)

Part one was a novice discovers the caterpillar

Saturday, December 22, 2018

a novice discovers the caterpillar

For the past week I’ve been venturing out before it gets too hot and visiting some of the traditional sites here in Alice Springs or Mparntwe in Arrente language. If you visited me in Alice, then here are some of the places I would take you. This has been part of my own self education. I hasten to add that I’m still a beginner when it comes to the local habitat and cultures.

Casual visitors or tourists will notice the Yeperenye shopping centre in the heart of town and perhaps also Yipirinya School (spellings are not standardised), which is not far from the town centre. Pronounced Yep-ah-rin-ya. Yeperenye is the most important of three caterpillars that play the major role in the local Dreaming stories.
Delving more into that we discover the caterpillar dreaming of the Arrente people. The caterpillars are the major creative ancestors of Mparntwe.

After this introduction, I might take you to the Araluen Cultural Precinct to view the giant caterpillar sculpture.
There are informative plaques inside the caterpillar. One of the caretakers writes:
“My name is Kwementyeye Rice Furber, I am one of the kwetengurles (caretakers) for the Yeperenye Dreaming. The Yeperenye Dreaming is a totem of my mother and my grandfather (that’s my mum’s dad) and her grandfather (her father’s father). In a cultural way they are the owners of the Yeperenye Dreaming.

I am very proud to see the sculpture being built here on Mparntwe land. I feel the Yeperenye story should be known and told to the locals and visitors alike, and I hope Yeperenye Dreaming will be respected in the land of its Dreaming. I am very glad and happy for the youngsters who are involved in building this Yeperenye Sculpture and I am very glad of all who took part in it and I thank you for it.”
A section of another plaque provides us with some information about the caterpillar itself and how strongly it is represented in the Arrernte language:
“The Arrernte language includes a unique name for every stage of development for yeperenye caterpillars, ie. egg, lava, pupa, emerging moth, moth etc. The name yeperenye derives from ayepe (tar vine) and arenye (belonging to).

The yeperenye are the best known of the sacred caterpillars. They encompass at least two different species and a rich diversity of colour forms. Yeperenye caterpillars burrow into soft soil to depths of about 10cm, sometimes forming a small underground chamber. The fully developed intelyaplyape (hawkmoths) emerge with 12-24 days from their pupal cases underground or beneath leaf litter to feed, mate and lay their eggs in the space of a few days.”
Next up we might take a 10 minute drive to Emily Gap (Anthwerrke).
It’s really special down there, well that is, apart from the damn flies. It is the majestic site where the caterpillar beings originated. Photos from inside the gap, where there are rock paintings illustrating the story, are not permitted. So, I guess you’ll have to come to Alice if you want to see it.
After they created Anthwerrke the caterpillars spread out towards the town area and produced the topographical features that we now see.

The Yeperenye was just one of three species of caterpillar involved. The other species were Ntyarlke and Utnerrengatye.

On the East side of the Todd River, there is a small ridge where the Ntyarlke caterpillars crossed the river.

In 1983 the government began to construct Barrett Drive in order to facilitate access to the casino. But, they had a problem: The ridge created by the Ntyarlke registered and protected under the government’s own Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act extended into the desired path of the road. There was some discussion with the Aboriginal custodians about how to protect the site. In the beginning, the government appeared to be listening.

Then at Christmas 1983 one of the custodians walked out on the site and saw that the tail of the caterpillar had been bulldozed. The government, running out of patience, had done this in the quiet of holiday time. The photo shows the ridge which represents the caterpillar, that used to extend to where the road now is. My back is to the Todd River.
Barrett Drive has since been referred to as Broken Promise Drive among the Arrernte people of Mparntwe.

Well, I still don’t know much about the caterpillars but that is a beginning. And there are more than caterpillars to this story. Next up, I’ll tell you about the wild, creator dogs.

A Town Like Mparntwe: a guide to the Dreaming tracks and sites of Alice Springs (first published in 1991) by David Brooks, illustrations by Shawn Dobson

Monday, December 17, 2018


As a non aboriginal person I won’t have access to this app. I understand why. Whenever the issue of digital connection for remote indigenous is raised there are immediately concerns raised about online safety. By restricting access to members of the indigenous mobs by a registration process this concern is allayed.

The developer group is headed by Christopher Lawrence, an indigenous PhD with very strong background in health issues assisted by other impressive experts at the University of Technology, Sydney, mainly in the fields of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Health. Details here.

The promotion floats the novel idea of digital land rights, which asserts the right of Indigenous peoples to a safe online space that they control.

Indigenous mobs are approached one by one and invited to participate. Currently the app is being tested and trialed with the the following 5 mobs:
  1. Eora – NSW
  2. Jumbunna (UTS) – NSW
  3. Bard – WA
  4. Tiwi Islands – NT
  5. Gunditjamara – VIC
Ngemba and Wankumurra man Michael Mieni, an IT honours student on the team, said actually going out to communities and employing their input has been integral to creating the app.
“The response has been quite amazing. Whenever we’ve been out to communities there's always been a sigh of relief,” he said.

“People say to us, 'we've [been] waiting for something like this!’,” he added.

“We’ve just been taking butchers' paper and markers out there and drawing up plans.

“Then we bring it back to Sydney, and translate it into coding and programming.”
In an interview with NITV, Christopher Lawrence said that the app includes an ‘Elders feature’, for users to contact Elders for advice or support. “A person may not have their Elders anymore, so we’re creating a substitute mob for people who can be Elders for others around the mob”

It is planned to soon create a ‘Deadly Mob’ as a temporary space for people who want to connect on the #thismymob app. The ‘Deadly Mob’ will be used for the mobs currently not listed.  Over the coming months in collaboration with local Indigenous communities they plan to introduce more mobs as their aim is to connect all Indigenous Australians.

Another feature is a digital portal that connects Indigenous users with government, industry and organisational information. Prof Lawrence hopes this feature helps Indigenous users overcome some of the barriers impeding access to important services

On their website, the #Thismymob team also hint at some of their longer term strategic goals, to:
  • inform the development of post-secondary curricula for Indigenous software engineering
  • create pathways towards an environment that supports Indigenous developers, entrepreneurs and start-ups to manage the development and ongoing operation of Indigenous-owned technology
#Thismymob: The first ever app connecting Indigenous people digitally
#thismymob Establishing Digital Land Rights and Reconnecting Indigenous Communities through Emerging Technologies

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Help Desk

I recently heard a story about a young student who was asked on a test the meaning of PTO. In the end he wrote Postal Transport Officer. This reminded me of one of my favourite YouTubes from years ago where a monk encounters a new technology, the book, and calls the medieval Help Desk:

Sunday, December 09, 2018

indigenous icons activity

I've uploaded some indigenous icons (mainly gifs) with transparent backgrounds, suitable for incorporation into a Scratch activity.

I prepared these icons from the original sheet using GIMP.

The activity which I set my class, which is roughly 50% indigenous, was to make up a story based on these icons. Initially I gave them a printout of the icon sheet and asked them to do the story with pencil and paper. I found that all the students preferred to draw the icons themselves rather than cutting and pasting, which is an option I provided.

The next day we went into a computer room. I had taken one of the student sheets and had begun to duplicate their icons into a Scratch page. I made the icons available in the common drive and told them to put the folder onto their Desktop, since Scratch offer an import from desktop feature.

I added a few extra icons to the folder (of kangaroo, emu and honey ants) based on reading their stories.

I asked the students to put the relevant icons onto the page, to name them (that makes it much easier to follow what you are doing) and then program an icon click that would display the name for 2 seconds. I also suggested they put a pale coloured background on the Stage. For some of the icons that were hard to click because of their transparent spaces I suggested they edit and add an unobtrusive colour.

I showed them more work I had done on my exemplar by adding an introductory page with the words of the story. This page had a button which when clicked hid the page and revealed the icons underneath. I showed the class how to hide the page when the button was clicked and how to show the page when the green flag was clicked to start the program again.

The class hadn't done much Scratch before and there were some teething problems. The main one was that some students didn't realise that they had to make a new sprite before importing each icon. They were putting multiple icons onto each sprite. This was easily fixed with some extra instruction.

I felt the indigenous students engaged strongly with this activity, just by getting on with it without any fuss.

One student on his own initiative added the waterdrop sound to the button when it was clicked.

This was a last week of school activity. If I had more time I would have shown the class how to animate one of the animals relevant to their story.

Monday, November 19, 2018

inspirational example of making a difference

"I want to make a difference" is a well worn phrase but still a good one. To make a difference you need two things: a commitment and a skill. Here is an inspirational example from Mick Ebeling, who says:
"I have a process. The process is you commit then you figure out how the heck you are going to do it"
For more inspirational information visit the Not Impossible website

Friday, October 19, 2018

tangible digital education theory

Words are important. What we call something triggers connections and perceptions. Words can connect our minds, no, our whole being to something tangible. It was the words of Seymour Papert (“Mindstorms”) that got me started in computing in the first place. Not a technocentric dialogue but a different, body syntonic, way of doing maths, which would be more engaging for those who were bored, discouraged and despairing of textbook maths.

What began as “computing” has turned into a bloated educational nomenclature: computer science, computational thinking IT, ICT, web2, web3, STEM, STEAM, maker ed, cyber ed etc. How can we inspire anyone to follow if we are all travelling down different, not clearly thought out and possibly over-hyped pathways?

The philosophical lameness of much of the commercial computing hype is flawed. Their technocentric mantra focuses on jobs, fun and money. This is activism without understanding. Recall Papert’s critique of technocentrism. Their tendency is to ignore economics (can everyone afford the new toys, some of them are very expensive?), social justice, learning theory and perhaps most importantly that the new digital medium is consuming the previously dominant print medium. McLuhan famously said, "the medium is the message". But who understood him?

There is a plethora of new tech toys from the micro:bit to Cozmo the robot to the Raspberry Pi Sense hat and much more. The CSER digital lending library (thanks, Steve Grant) helpfully allows educators to borrow and test the following kits: Beebot, Sphero, Ozobot, Makey Makey, Lilypad, two version of Little Bits, Dash & Dot, Bluebot and Micro:bit.

As well as taking time to play and learn with some of these new toys I’ve discovered some writings that begin to help me theorise what is happening. At this stage I’m just repeating extracts from the abstracts of some of these writings for anyone who wants to come along with the theoretical ride, to develop a concrete theory to inform practice. I’ve added some bolding to some points I think are important.

DiSessa, Andy. Computational Literacy and “The Big Picture” Concerning Computers in Mathematics Education (2017) download
This article develops some ideas concerning the “big picture” of how using computers might fundamentally change learning, with an emphasis on mathematics (and, more generally, STEM education). I develop the big-picture model of computation as a new literacy in some detail and with concrete examples of sixth grade students learning the mathematics of motion. The principles that define computational literacy also serve as an analytical framework to examine competitive big pictures, and I use them to consider the plausibility, power, and limitations of other important contemporary trends in computationally centered education, notably computational thinking and coding as a social movement. While both of these trends have much to recommend them, my analysis uncovers some implausible assumptions and counterproductive elements of those trends. I close my essay with some more practical and action-oriented advice to mathematics educators on how best to orient to the long-term trajectory (big picture) of improving mathematics education with computation.
The following two articles are PhD theses obtainable from BirdBrain Technologies Research page

Bernstein, Debra. Developing Technological Fluency Through Creative Robotics (2010)
Children have frequent access to technologies such as computers, game systems, and mobile phones (Sefton-Green, 2006). But it is useful to distinguish between engaging with technology as a ‘consumer’ and engaging as a ‘creator’ or designer (Resnick & Rusk, 1996). Children who engage as the former can use technology efficiently, while those who engage as the latter are creative and adaptive with technology.

The question remains of how best to encourage movement along this continuum, towards technological fluency. This study defines three habits of mind associated with fluent technology engagement [(1) approaching technology as a tool and a creative medium, (2) understanding how to engage in a design process, and (3) seeing oneself as competent to engage in technological creativity], and examines the implementation of a learning environment designed to support them.

Robot Diaries, an out-of-school workshop, encourages middle school girls to explore different ways of expressing and communicating with technology, to integrate technology with personal or fictional storytelling, and to adapt their technical knowledge to suit their own projects and ideas. Two research purposes guide this study. The first is to explore whether Robot Diaries, which blends arts and engineering curricula, can support multiple pathways to technological fluency. The second purpose is to develop and test a set of instruments to measure the development of technological fluency.
Lauwers, Tom. Aligning Capabilities of Interactive Educational Tools to Learner Goals (2010)
This thesis is about a design process for creating educationally relevant tools. I submit that the key to creating tools that are educationally relevant is to focus on ensuring a high degree of alignment between the designed tool and the broader educational context into which the tool will be integrated. The thesis presents methods and processes for creating a tool that is both well aligned and relevant.

The design domain of the thesis is described by a set of tools I refer to as “Configurable Embodied Interfaces”. Configurable embodied interfaces have a number of key features, they:
  • Can sense their local surroundings through the detection of such environmental and physical parameters as light, sound, imagery, device acceleration, etc.
  • Act on their local environment by outputting sound, light, imagery, motion of the device, etc.
  • Are configurable in such a way as to link these inputs and outputs in a nearly unlimited number of ways.
  • Contain active ways for users to either directly create new programs linking input and output, or to easily re-configure them by running different programs on them.
  • Are user focused; they assume that a human being is manipulating them in some way, through affecting input and observing output of the interface.
Spurred by the growth of cheap computation and sensing, a large number of educational programs have been built around use of configurable embodied interfaces in the last three decades … this work provides case studies and a set of guidelines that can inform technologists interested in designing educationally relevant embodied interfaces.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Bret Victor

worry dream

I wasn't aware of Bret Victor but have looked at Seymour Papert and Alan Kay in some depth previously. I've now read a few of BV articles and looked at a few videos and see that he continues and develops in that tradition. I'll be promoting his material with enthusiam.

For those not familiar with this lineage perhaps Bret Victor's article about the hand would be a good place to start since that correlates well with the Engel's essay on the hand which would be familiar to those who follow Marx: A Brief Rant On The Future Of Interaction Design

From a digital world behind a screen we are emerging into tangible, haptic or physical computing with more varied human inputs and interactions becoming available. Bret Victor's examples of a more intuitive user interface for programmers are breathtaking. eg. Inventing on Principle

(Historical aside: Seymour Papert co-authored logo programming / turtle geometry as a way to make powerful maths ideas more accessible to those who found them difficult).

Following some technical wizardry at 35:40 of that video he begins to explain his motivation to his audience of software engineers:
"Ideas are very precious to me and when I see ideas dying it hurts. I see a tragedy. It feels like a moral wrong, an injustice. If there is something I can about it then it feels like a responsibility for me to do so. Not an opportunity but a responsibility"
The computer is now emerging from being a relatively expensive, large closed box and transforming into a miniature capable of interacting with a variety of sensors to create the internet of things. BV goes beyond the predictable and usually mundane commercial hype (Apple watch etc.) and informs us how a more intuitive user interface (“One of the greatest user interface design minds in the world today.” — Alan Kay) can promote creativity. ie. he explains how creativity can be enhanced, not just uses it as a nebulous hype word. The principle he argues for is immediate connection between the creative process and its visualisation or appearance. He has the skill and knowledge to implement that principle, as part of a team, in the real world.

I've been developing a curriculum around the BBC micro:bit and was looking for a theorist who continues to develop the Papert / Kay tradition. Bret Victor may be that theorist.

I'm also impressed by the Yin / Yang sidebar of his Bio.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

mobile digital education course update

MOBILE DIGITAL EDUCATION: Micro:bit Course Outline

Digital technology has ushered in a cycle of disruption aka creative disruption. What is disrupted? Traditional businesses, for one. In the case of digital wearables the fitness and healthcare industries are reinventing themselves. Think Apple Watch or FitBit.

Are schools keeping up with these changes? There is much talk about STEM and computer coding but to bring this future to students requires a combination of hardware, software and teacher expertise that is not always apparent. Does anyone remember Seymour Papert's advice about how teachers will have to become more skilled to incorporate the new technologies into the overall educational context:
  • Skilled in modern learning theories and psychology
  • Skilled in relating to a variety of children
  • Skilled in detecting new, important elements of their student's culture
  • Skilled in cross curricular applications
  • Skilled in computing
  • Able to apply a variety of skills creatively
The BBC micro:bit is a pocket-sized codeable computer with motion detection, a built-in compass and Bluetooth technology, which was given free to every child in year 7 or equivalent across the UK in 2016.

Here are some ideas for a Middle School mobile digital course outline. It represents a small beginning towards adapting the school curriculum to preparing students for this future. A future which is already present. Please feel free to adapt and reshare these ideas but remember to acknowledge the source. Many thanks to Roland and Paul for initially suggesting these ideas to me.


Digital wearables – take home – ownership - affordable At $25 the micro:bit (cheaper with a bulk buy) could be bought by each student – real ownership of the micro:bit is empowering and invites further exploration.

Robotics introduction for everyone
The Kitronik :MOVE mini buggy, which can be controlled by the micro:bit and is a relatively low cost ($112 with accessories) introduction to robotics
Computer coding
Far more accessible these days due to block based coding (drag and drop tiles) of Microsoft Makecode, which has built on the earlier success of MIT Scratch.


Microsoft Makecode is free online or a free app download– for coding of affordable hardware such as the BBC micro: bit (wicked simulator included)

All prices from Core Electronics

BBC micro:bit $24.95 (plus $3.95 micro USB cable plus $2.41 battery holder and batteries), with the option of personal ownership.

PCs, Macs, laptops or tablets to access Makecode

Android or iOS phone runs a micro:bit app – code can be sent to micro:bit by bluetooth

The Kitronik :MOVE mini buggy kit for the BBC micro:bit is a fun introduction to the world of robotics. To get the most out of it some add ons are required:

The Kitronik :MOVE mini buggy kit $53.95
Line following add on (sensors underneath buggy) $20.95
Servo:Lite board $19.50
Bulldozer add on $15.00
Bumper add on $ 2.95
TOTAL $112.35

There are many free resources about the micro:bit for teachers on line: and at Code Club Australia

Here are some incredibly good lesson plans by Lorraine Underwood for the :MOVE buggy
  1. Movement and Lights
  2. Drawing Shapes
  3. Simple Autonomy
  4. Radio Control

32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 CPU
256KB Flash
5x5 Red LED Array
Two Programmable Buttons
Onboard Light, Compass, Accelerometer and Temp Sensors
BLE Smart Antenna
Three Digital/Analog Input/Output Rings
Two Power Rings — 3V and GND
20-pin Edge Connector
MicroUSB Connector
JST-PH Battery Connector (Not JST-XH)
Reset Button with Status LED

This course is envisaged as part of a curriculum pathway. Some suggested hardware and software features of the future path could include:

Electronics: Break out board, eg. Kitronik Inventor's Kit (for class use) $39.95

MIT app inventor – writing apps for you mobile phone

Drones – the Tello drone is programmable in Scratch

Raspberry Pi A small and affordable computer that you can use to learn programming and more … link to essentials for the Raspberry Pi

Combine the Raspberry Pi with the Sense HAT ($52.80)

Curriculum: A Raspberry Pi curriculum has been developed here

Interesting book here, Make: Sensors: Projects and Experiments to Measure the World with Arduino and Raspberry Pi (link takes you to the contents and part of Chapter one)

UPDATE (August 25th):
Microbit Evaluation Report (pdf 51pp).
"Over 1 million of the microcomputers were given free to every child aged 11 to 12 across the UK in March 2016"

This study evaluates how this initiative went. Highly recommended.

UPDATE (August 31st)
The micro:bit Matters
Gary Stager outlines the latest micro:bit related developments, including:

Scratch 3.0
micro:bit blocks may be added to the free popular web-basedScratch 3.0 by clicking on the extensions button and your projects may combine on-screen graphics with off-screen interactivity

Microblocks (Mac, Windows, Linux)
A team of quite accomplished developers, including Jens Monig (SNAP!), John Maloney (Scratch 2.0), and Bernat Romagosa (Snap4Arduino), have created Microblocks, a free new block-based platform for programming technology like the micro:bit, in a much more intuitive fashion than MakeCode, but with potentially more functionality than Scratch 3.0. Microblocks eliminates the issue of uploading/downloading code between the computer and micro:bit by running programs on the micro:bit directly. Make a change to a program on your computer and it runs live on the micro:bit.

Check the rest of Gary's article for other updates in the pipeline, coming soon.