Inventors Day: the importance of tinkering and play.

Working with Shonette Bason-Wood, and being a Spread The Happiness Teacher, has taught me one thing… stop waiting to be happy!

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The Spread The Happiness diary and calendars make everyday an exciting day for you and your class. What’s best about the diary is that you are never quite sure if the days in the diary are real or not! But that’s the point, don’t wait for a day to do something new, exciting, daring or different. The diary gives you permission to be the teacher you want to be, and the teach in ways you’ve always wanted to. Which brings me to Inventors Day.

Thursday 17th January was marked as Inventors Day on the Spread The Happiness calendar. I hadn’t seen any of the usual posts on social media about an international day for inventors but it motivated me to observe play in the Maker Space that I set up and developed since 2016. So I spent the afternoon tinkering with the robot kits we have and it made me remember all of the fun we’ve had working with different robotic toys over the years …. and I’ve never shared them!

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Unplugged to Debugged: coding in the early years.

Bringing coding to the early years seems like a big step as the Early Learning Goal for technology narrowly states that young children should use technology for a particular purpose. It’s one strand of the curriculum where practitioners may be less confident in working that cross-curricular, linked-learning best practice that we are the true experts of.

To bring coding to the early years we need to better understand what coding is and how the skills of a good coder are related to the skills we are developing across the areas of learning.

The Cornerstones of Coding

Being good at coding is more than inputing commands in sequence. Good coders are actually good problem solvers. Coding is a process underpinned by the skills of:

  • Pattern Spotting and Sequencing
  • Breaking larger problems down in to small steps (Decomposition)
  • Looking for mistakes and correcting them (debugging)
  • Making predications based on prior knowledge (Logical Reasoning)
  • Testing out ideas (Evaluating)
  • Playing around (Tinkering – yes that’s a technical term too!)

Looking at this list of skills and the definitions, I immediately see a link to The Characteristics of Effective Learning.

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For readers who are new to the Early Years Foundation Stage in England, you can view the 2019 profile handbook here and read about The Characteristics of Effective Learning which underpin all learning for birth to 5 year olds here (page 22).

 

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Don’t Touch The iPads!

There has been a flurry of articles published recently about tablets, and general technology use, and how overuse at home may be having a detrimental impact on early childhood development. These articles often highlight a practitioner’s viewpoint that physical development is the lowest it has ever been, that children can’t hold paintbrushes and there are no mouse or keyboard skills these days. As with most good things in life, good health and well-being comes with careful balance and always in moderation; it’s not often that a total ban is a necessary solution.

I was going to write about this, and why I think a complete ban or avoidance of technology in early years will not close the gap in physical development and social skills. I would have written something along these points:

  • We are supposed to find out what children bring to their learning, what skills they have, and develop them.
  • Technology is 1 area of learning where children’s home skills do not match the skills we want to see in learning.
  • Children are consuming content at home (watch video, play games, listen to music) and we need to teach them to create with technology (make films, code games and create music).

My point would be, if we are recognising children have an unbalanced diet with technology, that they are consuming too much content, then we should be planning for our children to learn how to create. If they learn how to create with technology, their characteristics of effective learning are enhanced. We would give them another way to express themselves, in a medium they are interested in. Then, what if, they go away and download these apps at home? Suddenly, the gaps could start to close. That children are making stunning photographs, meaningful films, collaborating and sharing their work with a real audience. Their learning becomes focused on the idea and the task… and not the device.

But I decided not to write about that.

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Instead, I want to share apps to use on 1 iPad, that require no touch at all and we can put the iPad down and make it respond to us using all of our physical skills. Those skills that we need to develop now more than ever.

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Getting Started with Code

“Early Learning Goal: Technology. Children recognise that a range of technology is used in places such as homes and schools. They select and use technology for particular purposes.”

Early Years Outcomes, 2016

The Early Learning Goal for Technology is limited in Early Years Outcomes and often practitioners feel lost at developing this area of learning. What we forget when reading the Early Learning Goal for technology, is that our curriculum is best taught cross-curricularly. The technology goal is a prompt to make us consider how best to teach technology skills through other areas of learning; just like we do with English and Maths!

The real problem is, what are these links to other areas?

First, you need to decide which part of the Early Learning Goal we are trying to teach. Do you want children to use technology to enhance other skills (by using video, animation, photography, audio recording etc.) or do you want to teach computational thinking skills which will lead in to programming, problem solving and algorithms? Most likely, we sway towards multi-media skills because we are more confident with that than we are with code! But we really should put more emphasis on coding across our curriculum as the Technology strand will lead in to this area in Key Stage 1.

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MakerSpaces: Foundation Stage Best Practice in Key Stage 2

What is a MakerSpace.

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I was interested in MakerSpaces because of their strong links to Foundation Stage best practise. It’s a place in school where children use sets of resources to work on projects related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic skills. Children design on their own projects or respond to challenges. I wanted to see how best practises and resources from Foundation can be extended to support learning further up school. For the Year 4 teachers, they wanted to see how our new range of iPad compatible robots can be used in their coding curriculum.

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For this MakerSpace I was joined by Jason Milner. Jason is an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) from Sydney, Australia. Throughout July he visited other ADE schools across Europe and today we collaborated on this project at my school. Jason wanted to gain experience using iPad compatible robots and also observe the impact that wrapping code around the curriculum may improve the way in which children apply mathematic skills.

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The MakerSpace: A Foundation Stage Challenge

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Monday 4th July was the day I had been waiting for since February. Apple Distinguished Educator, Jason Milner a Year 4 teacher from Sydney, visited my school to work with me on a MakerSpace project we had been planning for months.

 

 

What is a MakerSpace?

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I was particularly interested in this concept of MakerSpaces because of the strong links to Foundation Stage style practice. It’s a place in your school or setting where children use open-ended resources or work on projects related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic skills. Children work on their own projects or respond to challenges set. I wanted to see how best practices and resources from Foundation can be extended to support learning in computing and programming skills. Jason also wanted to gain experience using our Dash robots with Foundation Stage children.

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Story & Coding with Dash and Path.

Coding in the Early Years is something that I have been tinkering with since the new primary curriculum became statutory. I’ve planned unplugged computing strategies which support the later use of BeeBots and practised skills on a suite of iPad apps designed to apply this skill of coding.

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This year I’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on Dash robots that connect to our class iPads via Bluetooth. This robots have a suite of apps which progress from early control skills (like a remote controlled car) through to Scratch-like coding blocks that support the Year 6 objectives.

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Invent! – apps to support an early years robots and machines topic. #EYTalking #UKEdChat

Over the summer it’s time for us teachers to prepare for our new class and the year ahead. Over the next few weeks I’m going to put spotlights on particular topics or themes, highlighting some apps which can support learning.

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I’ve made a few searches on the AppStore  and picked out a few apps which look like good fun for early years and ones which can develop knowledge and understanding in this topic.

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My Top 5 Take Away Moments from the ADE Institute 2015 #ADE2015

Yesterday I wrote about my experience at Institute, reflecting on the ADE community as a whole, the theme of the week and how I benefit from being a part of this group. Today I want to share 5 of my greatest learning moments.

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Start Unplugged! Coding in Early Years.

This Spring Term I was invited to work with staff at Heymann School, Nottinghamshire, who were preparing for Science Technology project. My role was to share and support in ways their early years pupils could engage with coding and control skills.

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I champion a place for unplugged computing in the curriculum as it secures language, vocabulary, children’s internal decision making, recording and visualising their own inner-computing.

To read more about computational thinking, coding and how it supports you to plan for The Characteristics of Effective Learning and thinking skills, you can also read this more recent post of mine. 

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