Wednesday 9 December 2015

Hour of Code Week (7th-13th December)

Just a quick post from us - did you know our Director Dr. Ahmed Kharrufa also works at Newcastle University? He is involved with many things but one, this week, is particularly relevant: SOLE CODE, a computational thinking after-school club. They have organised a brilliant event as 7th-13th December marks Hour of Code Week, organised by

From the brilliant SOLE CODE team:

"We are organising a 2-days transcontinental event, where we link 9 - 11 years old children from Amberley Primary School, Newcastle (UK) and John B Russwurm PS197, an elementary school in Harlem, New York (USA) to take part in the international Hour-of-Code.

Day 1:
On Wednesday 9 December (2pm GMT: 9am EST), the children will be taking part in the same Hour-of-Code tutorial at the same time and discussing their progress on Twitter with teachers and researchers from Newcastle University’s SOLE Central using #solehour hashtag (Anne Preston is our Twitter host).

Day 2:
On Friday 11 December (2pm GMT: 9am EST), the two schools will host a SOLE CODE session, during which the children will be connected over Skype. In the SOLE CODE session, we will challenge the children to bug the famous Flappy game. If you do not know the story behind Flappy, this Forbes piece is a good start.

Some of us discovered a possible heritage link and/ or shortcut between Newcastle and New York. They went to explore it (see photos below). They hope to join the connected classroom from the other side of the Ocean next Friday. We wish them best of luck (they need it) with homeland security officers at US borders.

To support us please follow @SOLECODE_NCL, retweet about #solehour and about our connected classroom on Friday."

Thursday 8 October 2015

Why is learning to code important?

Code Week EU  is 10th – 18th October 2015. This initiative aims to bring coding and digital literacy to everybody, in a fun and engaging way.

The question is though, why?

Well, as they mention on their website, the way we live has changed dramatically. The way we work, communicate, shop and think. Learning to code doesn’t just build a sense of how tech works, but also helps people to develop skills to adapt to living in this new era.

There are ways to get involved – we’ve summarised them from the Code Week EU website.

Organise an event
-    Toolkit for organisers
-    Add an event here

Code Week EU ambassadors are on hand to help, just click here for more information.

Join an event

-    Look for an event near you
-    Here’s a list of resources to help get you started

Can’t organise an event or join one? Then spread the word!
-    Code Week EU blog

-    Join in on Twitter with #CodeEU and @CodeWeekEU or Like and Share on Facebook

Last but not least, is our own suggestion: Get stuck in!

There is some great advice out there on coding/programming/computing. This is regardless of your level of knowledge, understanding or experience with these topics. This comes in many forms – experts’ blog posts (see ICT Evangelist for a good start), websites (Computing At School) or through exploring Twitter hashtags. You could also explore our blog – see ‘Which programming language should you choose?’ and ‘What is computational thinking?’ for some interesting ideas.

To support the initiative, we have made our computing apps 3 for the price of 1. For the whole of Code Week.

There are six apps – three for 8-11 year olds and three for 11-14s. They cover lots of different topics and ideally, they are worked on in small groups. You only need one iPad per small group though, as that’s how the apps are designed.

Each bundle of three apps is £1.49/€1.99/US$1.99 – which is the cost of ONE app on its own.

8-11 years: click here
11-14 years: click here

8-11 years

11-14 years

Friday 11 September 2015

How to teach programming logic with an app bundle

In recent times, there has been a large interest in helping children across the world develop skills related to programming. While some countries refer to it slightly differently, the concept and content remains very similar.

Computing has made its way into national curriculums, brought about lots of initiatives across the world and has also had a lot of attention in the media – it is now seen as a vital skill for young people to be learning.

While there are many great apps across different technologies for introducing students to actually writing code themselves, the question is, what is the best way to learn the ‘computational thinking’ and 'programming logic' side of coding?

For this very reason, we created some unique apps to help deliver this. They have been out for a while as individual apps but we have now made them into bundles; so you get three for the price of two.

There is one for age 8-11 year olds and one for age 11-14 year olds:

8-11 year olds:

Teaching programming logic with iPad apps - 8 to 11 year olds

11-14 year olds:

Teaching programming logic with iPad apps - 11 to 14 year olds

Let us know how you've approached this topic in your class with a comment, we're really interested in hearing your ideas.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Families and ICT

This week holds two important days – ‘International Day of Families’ on Friday 15th May and ‘Information Society Day’ on Sunday 17th May. To recognise these, we have made one of our apps (usually £1.49) free for 7 days – as it combines aspects of both.

The app is aimed at 8-11 year olds. It's all about a family who love technology – and use it for various reasons – but keep forgetting their passwords. It’s a very relevant problem, and one I think we can all relate to. The family – Bob, Barbara, Ben and Bella – come up with a way to create unique, safe and easy-to-remember passwords.

In order to do this, they think of building a simple algorithm, hence the name ‘Bob’s Algorithm’. So, through Bob and his family discussing how the algorithm works, students learn what an algorithm is by the use of variables and some simple logic. As well as this, students’ attention is also brought to digital literacy – keeping personal information private.

If you haven’t used Digital Mysteries before, then as a quick summary, it is a way of learning through collaboration. The unique technology we use allows two students to work on it at the same time, on one iPad. Throughout solving the task, the pair must discuss what they’re reading, think of names for groups (to organise their ideas) and negotiate an answer to “Can you write the algorithm in one line and show what the password would be for a different person and website?”
More information on the awareness days

International Day of Families #DayofFamilies

This day, “proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.” It has inspired awareness raising across the world and in many areas provides opportunity to highlight different areas of importance or interest.

World Telecommunication and Information Society Day #WTISD

While this day is commemortated every year, 2015 marks an important anniversary – 150 years since the International Telegraph Convention, ‘an intergovernmental treaty that established the basic principles for international telegraphy’. From these origins on which WTISD is based, the day’s purpose is to help raise awareness of the possibilities the use of the internet and ICT can bring to society.

Thursday 2 April 2015

What’s the password?!

It can be tricky thinking of engaging ways to help explain some topics on the new computing curriculum. One idea is to find a 'real life' problem and reflect it in that; so when it came to designing a task for the topic of ‘using logic reasoning to explain algorithms’, I was debating what would be best to use.

It was during this ‘thinking period’ that I tried to enter my kitchen at home, to be met with "what's the password?" My seven year old daughter does this quite often: she loves the idea of passwords. Soon after, I was allowed in when I guessed one of the usuals (the word 'purple') and I thought of the idea for our new task.

With so many login details that we as adults even struggle to remember, creating strong yet memorable passwords is important for us as well. Bob and his family were created - a family of four who struggle to remember passwords, so Bob, the father, creates an easy-to-use algorithm for his family which they can all use, yet it produces different passwords depending on what's in each 'variable'. 

It’s a ‘current’ topic and a problem of many, but also a simple and effective way of explaining how an algorithm works. It also made for a mystery which adds to the digital literacy section of the curriculum – keeping personal information private!

I personally use an algorithm for creating passwords, and it's worked great for me so far, so what's good for me is good for Bob! The main thing is it creates a memorable and strong password for any website based on a combination of input variables and some rules. These are simple inputs such as their names, a secret number and a website name. It will help with explaining a number of concepts in one go.

One of the slips
By introducing all this through a story about a person coming up with a way to help his wife and kids generate and remember passwords, it is possible to include all these ideas into a nice story thread that will not intimidate KS2 students. This can also be used to explain how the same algorithm generates different outputs based on different initialization values and input variables. It can also challenge students to come up with their own password generation algorithms.

Students need to understand that algorithms are not limited to computer programs and this task provides a good example of one that they can use any time – such as to stop unauthorized people going into kitchens.

You can find out more about this mystery by clicking here. To try it (£1.49), search 'Digital Mysteries Algorithm' on the App Store or click here. To download a trial of the Windows PC/laptop software click here.

Friday 20 March 2015

Teaching the computing curriculum with a 'whodunit' of Faydale is a unique app (FREE for limited time) in allowing pairs to work simultaneously on one iPad with a task designed to help students understand Boolean logic (KS3 computing curriculum). Try it now.

It is a ‘whodunit’ style mystery about Detective Jim who uses ‘AND’, ‘OR’ and ‘NOT’ Boolean logic operators to help him solve crimes. Students are given illustrated slips of information on the case he's currently working on and asked ‘Who do you think started the fire and why?’ They must read these, sort them into groups and then lay them out on screen to show how they came to their answer.

The task can be used to discuss the use of simple logical operators or as an assessment tool for students’ understanding of how to apply such logic. Users play the role of the detective by reading witness statements to narrow down suspects from
lots of information (just as they would use these operators to narrow down search results from a very large set of input data). Although there's no one right answer, if students combine the clues and apply simple Boolean logic, they can work out who might've been involved in different activities the night of the Faydale fire and make their own arguments.

Afterwards, students can generate a PDF report of the session which can be shared or printed, plus they can move to a Reflection Stage. This involves sitting as a group, with their teacher, or as a whole class, and playing back the app session to help them reflect on what they’ve understood, discussed or learned. While students do this, it will also help develop their problem-solving, communication and collaboration skills.

Who is this app for?
This app works well with those aged 11-14 (KS3). By having 3 difficulty levels, it supports differentiation in class and can be suited to varying abilities/levels of knowledge.

On easy, there are 16 slips; 1 witness statement for each activity (e.g. having a BBQ) is provided.

On medium, an extra 3 statements are added; 1 for each activity. These don’t actually add new information but give a different logical presentation, e.g. ‘not light hair AND not tall’ is the same as ‘dark hair AND small’. This helps students understand how the same statement can be represented differently with the ‘NOT’ operator.

On hard, 2 more witnesses are added as well as the purchasing of matches. This adds complexity to the story.

Only by considering all the information and applying the logic provided, can students form a theory as to what happened.

What is different about Digital Mysteries?
• Truly collaborative: It is unique in that more than one student can interact with it at once

• Curriculum-mapped: Tasks are directly mapped to the National Curriculum for England

• Retention: Working with information slips from two different perspectives (grouping, then fitting them into a sequence) ensures students remember more

• Higher-level thinking: The multiple discussion points, combined with the task’s open-ended nature, leads to students developing these skills

• Record of learning: Students can interact and have fun with exciting technology then generate a printable PDF report of their session which shows what they’ve done

What does a mystery consist of?
• Illustrated slips of information: Including facts on the topic alongside story-based snippets about a particular character and their experiences

• Open question: To maximise the potential of collaboration, discussion, and expression of ideas, the nature of the task is usually open ended

• Extras: Most tasks come with personalised hints for those who need them (suggestions for grouping or sequencing their slips)

• Description: This gives teachers the information they need to plan their session including the curriculum point each task links to, the advised age range and possible learning outcomes

To find out more about this mystery, click here.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

What is the world's weakest password?

In an article today on The Guardian's website, they've shared security firm SplashData's findings on the worst passwords used.

Password '123456' has been named as the worst one for 2014, and is joined in the top 10 by various other number-only passwords.

While SplashData do make password management software, they claim its "worst passwords" are based on a list of 3.3m leaked passwords last year specific to North America and western Europe.

The company do argue that evidence shows that people are still using favourite sports teams, birth years and their children's names as passwords. The article explains that this information could be found out relatively easily by cybercriminals and weak passwords are a particular security mishap when we use the same ones for multiple services.

Click here to read the full article.

With the goal of providing interesting, relevant and useful tasks for the new computing curriculum, we created a mystery called Bob's Algorithm. While the task helps students learn about how an algorithm works, they are also helped to create unique, safe and memorable passwords for all of their favourite websites. It's a concept that can be tweaked in lots of different ways to make it as secure as possible.

If you'd like to try this task free on Windows, please contact with your name, role, school name and the number of computers you'd like to try it on.

To try on the iPad, click here.


Natalie Taylor