Sunday, April 24, 2022

Whittlesea Tech School

I don't know this school from the inside but have looked at their programs and see them as exemplary. Different educational pathways are always possible so it's important to identify those who get it right. For that reason I want to spell out some of their programs on my blog in some detail.

Whittlesea Tech School Programs
Note: This school is not a one off but part of a well thought out initiative by the Victorian government. See notes at the end for proof of this.


In partnership with Ecosystem by Farmwall
This innovative company have developed an urban farming solution for the home, allowing users to grow healthy microgreen crops in a fun and convenient way. Students will learn about zero waste growing, aquaponic and hydroponic care, using manufacturing techniques to develop prototypes that automate parts of the Farmwall Home system.

Steampunk Gears and Cogs
The objective of this program is to engage students in collaborative design and construction of props and costumes for an imaginary Steampunk-themed film titled Gears & Cogs…
... students will understand the key characteristics of the Steampunk aesthetic, explore the role of props and costumes in film and set design, and their importance for character development.

Students will be introduced to a range of prototyping technologies and techniques such as digital sketching, digital drawing for laser cutting, microcomputers and coding, carboard prototyping and wearable technology. The program concludes with students pitching their design solution to a wider audience and receiving valuable feedback on their product and process.

Note: The online resources for this program are freely available to all teachers via the Victorian Department of Education and Training portal, Fuse (link to teacher booklet, 48pp)
Tech Skill Ups:
Tech would be dependent on the availability at the host school. However, at the Tech School, we offered 3D modelling (TinkerCAD), digital design (Adobe Illustrator CC) and coding with microcontrollers (micro:bit) as well as low-tech options.

The Epping Lab
The Lab is a technology club for young people aged 10 to 18 who identify as being on the autism spectrum and enjoy working with computers. Participants are paired with mentors who have technical expertise in a mutual interest, such as programming, 3D modelling, digital design and gaming. At each weekly two-hour session, mentors work with attendees to develop their social, personal and technology skills. These sessions take an unstructured approach so every session can be different. We want participants to undertake activities because it interests them, not because they have to. The Lab is designed to be a supportive place to visit, hang out and learn whilst having fun.

Design Club
An introductory workshop series using industry-standard design software, Adobe Illustrator. Over six weeks, participants will be introduced to a different topic and tools each week, including basic drawing, tracing perspective, gradient and collage.

Wednesdays 3:30-6 pm, Weeks 1-10 of Terms 1-4 (except Weeks 1 and 2 of Term 1)
STEAMengine is our makerspace for secondary school students, teachers, and community members to undertake self-directed learning in line with their own technology interests. During this designated weekly time slot, attendees have access to the advanced manufacturing equipment and resources available at the Tech School. With the guidance of Tech School staff and qualified makerspace members, anyone can learn to use the tools they require for their own personal projects.

The main objective of the sessions is for people to follow their own interests and as such, no specific program content is provided. However, for those new to making and tinkering with tech, we run a 1-hour introductory session that focuses on a different piece of tech each week.

At no fee, these times are also available for small businesses to come in and use the Tech School facilities to test their new ideas, prototype their new products, or consult with Tech School staff about manufacturing processes. Places are limited so make sure to register!

Smart Cities
In collaboration with the City of Whittlesea Council
Who: Years 7-12 from Banyule Nillumbik and Whittlesea Local Government Areas
When: Tuesdays 4-5:30 pm; Weeks 3-10 of Terms 1-4
Where: Online
This multi-level Internet of Things (IoT) Design Course is in collaboration with the City of Whittlesea council and will show students how to build sensors that will make cities both smart and eco-sensitive.

The course focuses on learning how to use a tiny computer called the Raspberry Pi to display sensor data on a web server that the students build and code at home. Students will build and program their own sensor for their backyard and finally help to deploy real-world sensors using The Things Network (TTN) to help solve problems such as flooding, water for River Red Gum tree health, local food production, stormwater pollution and smart rainwater tanks.

STEM Arcade
Term: 1-4
Program Type: Remote Learning Program (Design Challenge)
Duration: Approx. 10 hours
Year Level: 7-12

Learning through gaming or play can be a powerful method for understanding difficult concepts. In this design challenge, students will create an arcade game that demonstrates a STEM principle for a younger audience. Students will program custom games, design unique controllers and build cabinets that create an engaging experience for primary school students.

During this program, students unpack STEM concepts and consider the importance of good scientific literacy. Students will also investigate the expansion of the video game industry and its STEM careers. Class discussions and participation in learning activities will provide insight into the fundamentals of good game design – game loops, core mechanics, immersion, challenge and interaction.​ Students will then have the opportunity to create their own prototypes using a range of emerging technologies, including programming using MakeCode Arcade, 3D modelling, microcontrollers and digital design. 

Note: Although this program is a remote offering, partner school teachers have the option to book their class into our Online Tech Skill-Up sessions that are facilitated by Tech School staff. Get in touch for more information.

6 programs for teachers
TECH SKILL UPS (90 minutes)
Game Design
Microsoft MakeCode Arcade

Intro to coding and microcontrollers

Intermediate programming and microcontrollers
The Grove Inventor Extension Kit comes packed with four additional inputs (gesture, ultrasonic and light sensors as well as a potentiometer) and four additional output methods (speaker, 4 digit display, LED light strip and single LED module) plus an extension board to dock the micro:bit and open up additional pins for all these new gadgets!

Introduction to App Design
MIT App Inventor

Introduction to 3D modelling

Digital Product Design
Adobe Illustrator

Related: 21st Century Curriculum Combine my 13 curriculum innovation ideas with those above and how many do you get altogether? I haven't done that sum yet.

Whittlesea Tech is part of the Melbourne Polytechnic cluster. As is Banyule Nillumbik Tech, which has similar programs. They both use the facilities of the STEAMengine Fab Lab.

Whittlesea Tech Facebook
Whittlesea Tech twitter
Whittlesea Tech Instagram

I also notice links to other Tech schools which appear to have similar programs:
Geelong Tech School
Casey Tech School

UPDATE 10th May 2022:
Section 1, pp. 4-19 of this teacher booklet is an invaluable overview of the vision, rationale, curriculum design and program suite offered at Banyule Nillumbik and Whittlesea Tech Schools. They are not schools in the traditional sense but offer a range of services to schools in northern Melbourne.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

activity or CV update

This is an update of my maker ed or constructionist activities since I’ve arrived in Alice Springs over five years ago (and some earlier activities too). I developed this while upgrading my CV. If you want to read one of the articles labelled blog then either search this site or follow the link at the bottom of the page.

  • RoboCup committee: Following on from my participation in the RoboCup last year this year I was asked to go onto the committee this year. My role there is mainly to provide cut down outlines of the rules and guidelines for the different events
  • Yipirinya experience: I introduced Scratch coding to Yipirinya School
  • Darrell Wakelam Art Shaped: I found this resource on the web and have been completing some of the builds myself and advocating it to others
  • NextGen Youth Symposium April 27 2023: I participated in this conference and subsequently have joined the new Business Innovation group in Alice Springs
  • As part of my year 8 Digital Technology class I developed a Microbit robotics curriculum based on this book: Maas, Pauline & Heldens, Peter. The Invent to Learn Guide to the micro:bit.(2023)
  • I introduce an AI unit to my year 8 Digital Technology class and am completing research into the various implications of AI
  • My schools 3D print group helped students build Prusa printers last year. Following this success we are running the group again this year.
  • I initiated selling 3D prints in the school library. This was highly successful beginning with fidgets and then continuing with mainly articulated animals
  • I found the ELECFREAKS site on the web and purchased their Nezha kit. The Polly Farmer group wants me to run workshops about this kit in Semester 2.
  • I’m developing a new course for an Inventiveness year 8 class in Semester 2. This will include Josh Burker’s Turtle Art Tiles Activity which combines Turtle Art, Tinkercad & Prusa slicer software proceeding from software to 3D prints to painted clay products.
  • Bits and Atoms article (in process)
  • bought and demonstrated the 3Doodler pen to staff at my school
  • developed new Scratch cloning and list processing activities for a year 8 Digital Technology class
  • 3D printed some Halloween masks requested by indigenous Bridging students
  • one of our teams won the rebooted Alice Springs RoboCup competition (LEGO robotics). I wrote an article for the school newsletter about this.
  • visited and had discussions with expert Digital Technology teachers in Melbourne (Veena Nair, Carlin Greaves)
  • have been teaching myself Spike LEGO in preparation for use with a Year 8 Digital Technology class
  • Wrote an innovative 21stC maker ed pathway (part one and two)
  • wrote Innovation meets resistance: the war between ancients and moderns (blog)
  • participated in LEGO EV3 workshops (Alice Springs RoboCup preparation LEGO group)
  • two articles were published in the schools newsletter about the 3D printer build activity (both initiated and one written by me)
  • led 3D printer building and development Ex Activity
  • wrote Own your own factory, that makes more factories (3D print philosophy statement, blog)
  • developed Snap course for year 8 Dig Tech class
  • participated in the Snap online forum
  • my article, The Wider Walls was published in 20 Things to do with a Computer: Future Visions of Education Inspired by Seymour Papert & Cynthia Solomon's Seminal Work (2021) edited by Gary Stager
  • initiated and developed a 3D printer build course (families buy kits and students build the printers at school)
  • researched 3D printers – found and talked to expert teachers (Veena Nair, Kirsten Hebden) and decided on (a) best buy (b) how to make it work in a school
  • wrote The 3 game changers: high level overview of the possibilities (blog)
  • wrote 21st C curriculum, a description of 13 possible emergent subjects (blog)
  • wrote Thoughts on reading Paulo Blikstein, the founder of the Fab Learn school movement (blog)
  • pursued a Community Fab Lab initiative by approaching a variety of people in Alice Springs to discuss the concept
  • used Turtle Art, browser variation with a Year 7 Bridging maths class
  • developed a musical glove for the Circuit Playground Express
  • wrote Maker space and middle school curriculum reform, the vision, the possibilities, outcomes and required equipment (blog)
  • ran a Circuit Playground Express robotics course for Bridging students (based on Rob Morrill’s course which I found on the web)
  • ran sessions about Makey makey with Scratch to develop musical instruments at Polly Farmer
  • wrote don’t separate the what from the how (blog): documented Mitch Resnick’s insights into the criteria to use in teaching digital technology
  • used Leah Buechley’s Lilypad Arduino Sew Electric Kit to design and make a monster who sings and twinkles when you squeeze its paws
  • completed a variety of Circuit Playground Express tutorials and developed worksheets (about the pins, neopixel strips, sensors, examples, projects and games)
  • developed activities to show that the Circuit Playground Express is a viable curriculum alternative to the microbit
  • further upgraded my year 7 Scratch course so that each introductory project is a mini story
  • bought the Adeept sensor kit for the microbit and completed their 34 tutorials in both MakeCode and Python
  • developed Course outlines in 2 new areas: artbotics and digital wearables
  • initiated discussion with Performing Arts faculty about the potential for digital enhancement using microcontrollers (wearables) – not successful
  • received an Innovation Award from my school
  • received a $15,000 budget to help develop an innovative course (Artbotics) at my school
  • presented ideas for a new course in Artbotics to school leadership
  • ran sessions in microbits for indigenous students at Polly Farmer
  • organised Tape Blocks sessions for a Downs Syndrome student to help her understand electrical circuits
  • outlined how 75% of the maths curriculum could be taught using Scratch, SNAP and Excel
  • ran a Round Square Scratch coding competition for Year 7s
  • developed the 3 game changers idea through reading books Stager / Martinez and the three Gershenfelds.
  • wrote a course based on ACARA Digital Technologies criteria. 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
  • developed a set of indigenous icons suitable for use in Scratch and have used these successfully in class.
  • purchased a Chibitronics Love to Code kit which uses electronic circuits on paper in a storybook format.
  • continued my research by reading online PhD theses by Tom Lauwers, Debra Bernstein and Jennifer Cross available through the Bird Brain Technologies Research page
  • wrote Culturally Situated Design Tools: Dotted Circles Exemplar (this blog contained some original theory as well as examples!)

  • 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 & 8 Digital Technologies: Next Steps Making Apps course
  • the latter course utilised MIT App Inventor and using this program I wrote several apps for my Android phone
  • 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.
  • wrote and published “The teaching of coding” (2,100 words) which outlines a creative and productive way to teach coding.
  • explored the Collabrify suite developed by Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris, with a view to improving collaboration between students
  • purchased a Tello drone and explored its functions
  • read “Internet on the Outstation” by Ellie Rennie and co about the still unsolved problems of providing Internet to very remote locations in Australia. Followed up later by talking to Ellie Rennie in Melbourne
  • explored the possibility of using RACHEL (Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education & 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
  • wrote a preliminary course outline for the microbit
  • ran 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.

In 2008-09 I designed courses for students to evaluate the software on the One Laptop Per Child project and published the results on the web.

I was a leading member of the Computer Game Design, Programming, Multimedia and Mathematics cluster (2005-07) which won funding from the Australian School Innovation in Science, Technology and Mathematics (ASISTM) Project. I was recognised as a CEGSA (Computing Education Group of South Australia) Leading Light (acknowledging contributions to ICT in Education) in both 2006 and 2007. I have presented papers to teachers at state and national conferences about Logo philosophy and related issues: game making, Seymour Papert's constructionism and Alan Kay's educational philosophy

I am an advocate and active user of Open Source software since it is free and often great software. 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.

My "big picture" publications about the 3 game changers of 21st Century learning

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

40 shapes challenge sheet

I've made the sheet available as a pdf here
This is a great challenge for any version of logo (Scratch, Snap! etc.). Snap is better since you can make blocks to avoid screen clutter.

This comes from Barry Newell's book "Turtle Confusion: Logo Puzzles and Riddles" (1988). It can be used as a series of challenges. Depending on the class I've usually found that some scaffolding for some of the shapes is required for some students.

I have developed other worksheets which either
  •  provide scaffold or tips for some of the shapes, eg. with shapes 6 and 7 it is best if the turtle starts and finishes in the centre; then a genuine shape 38 is not too hard (there are 36 vertices in shape 38)
  • enrichment, eg. develop block code with variables for shapes 1, 2 and 5 (rather fiddly for shapes 3 and 4 so I left them out for this part)

My "big picture" publications about the 3 game changers of 21st Century learning

These are my more substantial, big picture, publications, gathered in one place (there are many other more detailed descriptions of particular apps or hardware toys I have made not listed here):

an innovative 21stC maker ed pathway (part two)

an innovative 21stC maker ed pathway (part one)

Whittlesea Tech School (April 2022)

innovation meets resistance: the war between ancients and moderns (April 2022)

Own your own factory, that makes more factories (March 2022)

Organising a 3D printer building activity (January 2022)

the 3 game changers: high level overview of the possibilities (September 2021)

21st Century Curriculum (September 2021)

Thoughts on reading Paulo Blikstein, the founder of the Fab Learn Schools Movement (August 2021)

dotted circles revisited (July 2021)

The Wider Walls in a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the seminal paper by Cynthia Solomon and Seymour Papert, “Twenty Things to Do with a Computer.” (April 2021)

Your town need a community Fab Lab (July 2021)

Maker Space and Middle School Curriculum Reform (June 2021)

don't separate the what from the how (January 2021)

Culturally Situated Design Tools: Dotted Circles Exemplar (December 2019)

The three game changers and disadvantaged youth (Nov 2019): presented to and discussed with Leon Tripp, Regional Youth Programs Coordinator, Southern Region, Department of the Chief Minister and Cabinet

integrating the digital technology curriculum with indigenous knowledge systems (October 2019)

how to evaluate construction kits: ten design principles (July 2019)

my evolving mangle -> ethnocomputing (July 2019)

Digital Innovation in Secondary Schools (July 2019) Submission to The Education and Health Standing Committee (a committee of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly) inquiry into Digital Innovation in Secondary Education

The teaching of coding (Jan 2019)

an old quote from Hal Abelson (December 2018)

technology as trickster, revisited (April 2018)

why software might be superior knowledge (April 2018)

Monday, April 11, 2022

Nested sprites in Snap!

There is a Swimmer in Snap Examples which features 13 sprites attached to each other but I wanted a simpler example to teach to new Snap learners.

Read page 10 of the Snap! Manual for an overview of Sprite Nesting: Anchor and Parts:
Sometimes it’s desirable to make a sort of “super-sprite” composed of pieces that can move together but can also be separately articulated

I asked in the Snap Forum and cymplecy made a few suggestions: a car spinning its wheels, a Ferris wheel or a face blinking its eyes or moving its mouth.



Cymplecy observed that it's easier to do this in Snap! than Scratch.

Set the car pivot point half way between the 2 wheels and horizontal with the centres of the wheels. Otherwise, the wheels will spin out when you bounce off the wall.

I made the wheel by duplicating the car and rubbing out everything except one wheel. Set the pivot point of the wheels in the centre of the wheel, of course.

I reset the spin direction of the wheels to correlate with the car direction. It also works fine if you change the size of the car.



If teaching this to beginners I'd give them the wheel and carriage to start with and teach the sprite nesting technique. The parts have a synchronous / dangling flag. The dangling option works well here, as the wheel rotates.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Scratch chimney smoke clones

I got this idea from a project by njasia (How to Clone) on the Scratch site. The main changes I made were using a timer to vary the wind.
My chimney smoke clone project is here

The smoke particles were made with a ball filled with a black colour

The size and brightness of those particles was set to realistic values
Smoke clones were created
A wind variable was made and the value randomised every 3 seconds by resetting the timer every 4 seconds
Realistic smoke effects were achieved by increasing y (to make it rise) and adding the changing wind to another random x (to achieve some spread of smoke). When the smoke clones touched the top edge they were destroyed
This could be varied to make fireworks, snow or mouse trails, not to mention games. as suggested in the Scratch wiki here

Update (15/4/22): Animating a visual poem by Joan Brossa with Scratch
A how to article with a link to a great project. This one is more work because you need images of the whole alphabet.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

innovation meets resistance: the war between ancients and moderns

Innovation meets resistance. Let’s assume that there is an innovation or a raft of innovations that would significantly enhance a community or education system. But the bearer discovers that they can’t get them implemented. What are the factors at play preventing this happening?

  1. Those in power (ie. those with more opportunity and influence) don’t fully understand the innovation or it’s importance (and are reluctant to admit this). Although there is often some understanding in my honest opinion it is usually shallow, not deep. Innovation is often complex and requires deep understanding of a variety of factors. If you don’t understand it then how can you really help to implement it?
  2. There might be some partial understanding but a lack of will or energy to solve all the problems that will arise in implementing the innovation. Innovation does require energy, determination and ability to solve problems. Innovation is usually not easy.
  3. Innovation often requires special infrastructure, organisational factors and new technology, which in turn require money. If these are not put in place then the chances of success are significantly reduced. New ideas will not succeed by magic, their implementation requires careful planning and foresight.

All three are required for innovation to be successful. If understanding of any one of the three is shallow then success will be less likely than it could be.

I have been trying to introduce a variety of innovations into Alice Springs: block coding (Snap as well as Scratch), app inventor, the Fab Lab, microcontrollers, Maker Education, 3D printers. The focus here is on what Stager and Martinez have called the 3 game changers. One goal here is to bring education into the 21st Century. Although I have had a little success it is frustrating how slowly things are progressing.

What is happening here? That is what I am trying to understand. Australian education is a huge, centralised system (eg. ACARA). This system is so preoccupied with reproducing itself that it doesn't seem able to recognise or evaluate a good innovation. The responses I get vary from being ignored completely or someone might initially show interest but then forget about it (and then change their story) or if I press I might get some comical bureauspeak in reply. What I have learnt is that it is really, really hard to introduce a good innovation. See the quote from the article below, about the war between the ancients and moderns:
It's been proven time and again that any institution that makes it the responsibility of the general manager to be in charge of both the ongoing business and the innovative efforts for creating tomorrow's new and different business usually ends without significant innovation
the 3 game changers: high level overview
21st Century Curriculum
maker space and middle school curriculum reform
your town needs a community Fab lab
Organising a 3D printer activity
Scratch course new upgrade
the teaching of coding
Martinez, Sylvia and Stager, Gary. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom. 2nd Edition (2019)
Ridley, Matt How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom (2020)
Why Real Innovation Is Always Met With Fierce Resistance … and What To Do About It
extract from the last one:

Today, many universities and colleges are entering the field of web-based degree granting and certification programs. The savvy schools such as Cornell and Penn State have created completely separate, autonomous units to deliver, market and grow online training. Others are following their example.

If this isn't done, it's almost guaranteed that "a war of the ancients against the moderns" will erupt and threaten the internal upstart web-based learning organization–and deprive it of the resources needed to innovate successfully.

To repeat: It's been proven time and again that any institution that makes it the responsibility of the general manager to be in charge of both the ongoing business and the innovative efforts for creating tomorrow's new and different business usually ends without significant innovation.

And the traditional blame game inevitably occurs. Everyone becomes frustrated, demoralized and (many times) embittered.