Swift Playgrounds

Swift Playgrounds is a great new app that bridges the gap between visual block-based coding and syntax code while maintaining interest for students, as it is fun and engaging. There has been a gap in the market between block-based code such as Scratch, Tickle and Hopscotch and the more complex syntax code, particularly with teaching students in the middle school years. It bridges the gap by introducing blocks of code, but the blocks are the actual syntax code – like choosing ingredients in a recipe while teaching the syntax language.


The game-style lessons and challenges with cute characters (tap on Byte to find two more characters to choose from),  will appeal to students and is engaging, while teaching concepts and terminology such as commandsloops, conditional code and boolean. Terminology is introduced and you can tap on red text for definitions. You choose your character and guide the character through the goals and challenges with Swift, collecting gems, toggling switches and navigating portals. You can zoom in and spin the 3D world around when the path becomes more complex. You can also record a video of your solution to hand in or add to a digital learning journal.

The playground is just one way to use Swift Playgrounds, and encourages computational thinking with problem-solving by breaking down the problem into manageable parts, recognising and identifying patterns and looking for loops for more efficient code. The keyboard is also clever – coders have found typing code on an iPad can be difficult with the iPad keyboard, but the keyboard in Swift Playgrounds allows you to easily access numbers and symbols by dragging the keys down or across to select other options.

Swift is a coding language that is said to be easier to learn, as common English language words are used in the syntax, it is a little less reliant on complex punctuation and the power of the language requires less lines of codes than some languages. While it is mostly used to create Apple apps, it  can be now used for cloud-based web projects and Android apps.

There are excellent teacher resources with the Teacher Guide which help guide teachers through the process of teaching with Swift Playgrounds and encourage student reflection. There is also an excellent Learn to Code iTunes U course, that is also FREE.  Swift Playgrounds is FREE and only available with iOS10, which means it does not work on iPad 2s and earlier. While it is suggested to start Swift Playgrounds with Grade 6, I would certainly think Grade 4 students would cope with at least the first few modules. Learn to Code 1 teaches the fundamentals and will keep students going beyond Primary School age, and Learn to Code 2 goes beyond the basics into building your own worlds.

Book Creator Ambassador

I am pleased to say I have recently been recognised as a Book Creator Ambassador.

Book Creator Ambassador badge

I love sharing the potential of this app in the classroom both for students to create their own work and show evidence of their learning, and also for teachers to create iBooks and learning resources to sue in he classroom.

One great idea, that I have done with Kindergarten, is having students make an Alphabet Sounds book, using text, pencil, sound and adding images and/or videos. They can work on this over some time and record themselves saying the sounds and words.


The comic style is also excellent to add some fun and can be great for students demonstrating orders and processes, such as recipes. Combine with other apps for some ‘App Smashing’ to get really creative!


Book Creator is a versatile app that can be used with all ages.

Bloxels – design thinking

I was excited to receive my package with Bloxels so I could get started playing designing. Bloxels is another resource to add to teaching digital skills with students, and while not so much technically ‘coding’, it still involves many of the same principles and has an emphasis on creation and design. It is the mix of the tactile use of blocks with the iPad app that I find particularly interesting and students will love.



It requires logic, creative thinking and strategic planning and encourages students to design their own games not just play them. The ability to test their own designs immediately and to also see how other users interact with their games, allows students to gain a deeper understanding of game design and design thinking.

There are sample games and beginner challenges, and for teachers there are lesson plans and resources on the Bloxels Edu website.

Is Bloxels coding? It is not technically ‘code’ in the sense of creating algorithms, but the colour-coded blocks essentially are a block of code that commands the app to create the element to match the block, so in a way it is ‘block coding’ in design. In addition, it develops skills that are important in coding if you are designing games or any user interface, as it encourages you to think about design and how users interact with your product. The addition of the Codeboard feature allows you to create behaviour for certain blocks, which also adds more complexity and is more like ‘coding’.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 1.34.55 PMYou can also design straight from the app without the blocks, or make corrections, but the hands-on interface with the blocks appeals to students. The first task I gave was to create a character. The feature I love here is the ability to see the animation of the character in the bottom left when you create different character poses.

This is another great tool to add to ICT resources for teaching coding and programming design in schools, with some great educational resources for teachers and an emphasis on creation and design.


Copyright and schools

I thought I would share a few links, given questions have come up frequently in staff development I have been delivering.

Ensure you are informed and have the correct information. I highlight this point: “No audio or audio-visual recording made under this licence may be shared by way of the Internet.”

There is some great information here about APRA licences and using music in schools.





Nearpod Certified Educator

I am pleased to announce I am now a Nearpod Certified Educator.


Many teachers who have attended my courses and training have experienced Nearpod with me – a versatile and engaging app that can be used in all curriculum areas to deliver information to students, generate discussion and to assess for understanding.  With interactivity, multi-media capabilities and instant results, Nearpod synchronises devices, helping to make the most out of classroom iPads and devices. While Nearpod works seamlessly with iPads, it is also web-based, which means Nearpod is cross-platform, so can be used in the mixed BYOD environment.

I have learned even more advanced techniques, which I look forward to sharing in my next sessions! Or contact me for a demonstration.

Demystifying Teaching Coding in K-6

From a few Professional Development workshops on Coding I have run recently, I have found most teachers to be relieved after my sessions, realising that teaching the beginnings of coding and computer programming to K-6 students is not as daunting as they first thought, and there is a lot of help and support materials available. They have also had a lot of fun trying the apps and robotics themselves, and realise if they are having so much fun, that the kids will love it too!


Coding Principals

When you break down coding into the principals, I show teachers that they are already teaching some of these things, such as Decomposition when they talk about breaking down story writing into sections or Pattern Recognition, which is taught in maths and even finding rhymes in poetry. Some of the terminology can seem daunting at first, but the much of essence of the thought process is already being taught.

‘Unplugged’ coding is also a great exercise in the classroom, teaching the skills and thought processes. One of my favourites is this teacher being a Jam Sandwich Robot, showing how precise instructions need to be,  but not using any technology at all. Listen to how much fun the students are having, but they are learning valuable lessons about coding.

Trial and error

I think this is one of the greatest lessons in teaching coding and robotics, that when it doesn’t work, you keep trying until you get it right. It is not a devastating ‘failure’ when your character goes too far off the screen or your robot runs into something, you just adjust the code and try again until you get it right. Just as teachers in my workshops learn from trial and error, so do the students. In coding and programming, you hardly ever get it right first time, it is a process.

Games and Robotics

By showing teachers game-style apps such as Lightbot, which teach planning and coding concepts, they learn that learning about coding is not all about confusing-looking syntax but can be fun and educational. Teachers enjoy these games, and feel the same sense of achievement (and sometimes frustration when stuck on a level!) that students do. It is gamification and fun while learning.

Robotics such as Sphero and Lego WeDo 2.0 are fun and bring coding to life. The trial and error can become quite entertaining in the classroom!

Learning Support

Many of the coding and robotic resources aimed at education have fantastic lesson plans and instructions that can guide teachers inexperienced with coding and offer scaffolded structure and support. Many of these are free. Sphero, Scratch and Lego WeDo 2.0 are just some examples. Sometimes it is knowing where to look. Lessons such as this, are great to get started with. Apps such as Hopscotch, with demonstration videos playing in the corner of the screen, also allow students to work at their own levels in the classroom.

Cross-curricular activities 

Rather than always teaching stand alone coding lessons, tie it in with lessons you are already teaching. Coding has obvious links to Maths and Science but consider Literacy. For instance, after a creative writing task, have the students create an animation of the story in Scratch or Scratch Junior or then design a game based on the story with Hopscotch or Pixel Press Floors. Ot alternatively, after the coding activities have the students write a creative story based on the game, or interview one of the characters. Link with a unit on the environment by having students create games on recycling or having to tap on the animals that don’t belong in an environment to make them disappear.

Feeling like a ‘newbie’ 

Teachers often have a fear of the students knowing more than they do when teaching technology, feeling that as a teacher you should be the fount of all knowledge. Despite the fact I trial apps for weeks (or months) before trying them in the classroom, I have still seen a Grade 1 student do something and said, “how did you do that?”. Rather than feel unworthy, I stopped the class to have the student share what they had showed me, and then we had all learned something new. As digital natives, students know to ‘tap on things’. Some of us are from the generation when if you pressed the wrong button on a computer you could wipe it! iPads and computers these days are more forgiving, and this can be why students discover things; because they try.

I don’t always have the answers: sometimes a students has asked me how to do something and I do not know, so I say “I don’t know, great question, let’s try …” and I Google it or try and work it out with them. And again, then we are both learning.

When students go beyond my ability in what I have taught, I feel that I have taught them well as the facilitator. Good on them! You can have these students work as leaders and mentors in your classroom.


  • start simple!
  • gradually build up your skills
  • keep trying!
  • look at other codes online to get ideas and make adjustments

GarageBand in Book Creator

Great new feature in Book Creator – add songs from GarageBand!

Select the song in GarageBand, choose ‘Open in…’ and select Book Creator. Then in Book Creator with the + menu, select shared, and you have the option of using song as soundtrack or a button.


This makes an already fabulously versatile all even better. Students can create their own original backing tracks, music and sound effects to use in their own original books.

Enquiry-based learning in action

Practical lessons and technology provide a great opportunity for Enquiry-Based Learning (EBL). We don’t realise how often as teachers we are doing the instruction and teaching the content rather than letting students find their own way. EBL is where the teacher becomes a facilitator and the students lead their own learning. While it can be a whole unit approach, you can also use the elements for lessons or parts of a lesson.

I saw this in action when I took MaKeyMaKey into my Year 7 and 8 Music classrooms. It is a simple circuitry set that over-rides keyboard keys so you can control a computer via other objects. So we played bongo drums with a banana and celery and then played a keyboard with fruit, lollies and people!


Will a lolly banana work? Will chips work? What if I hold it in my teeth? Does it work if we touch hair? What about clothes? What if I am touching someone else? How far will it work? My standard answer was “I don’t know, let’s try!”, and they did. Some things worked and others didn’t, then I would ask why, and it would set them on another experiment to find the answer.

Occasionally I would pose a question to get them thinking, but for the most part they came up with questions I had not even considered!

I deliberately mixed up the pitch sounds, rather than have them ordered. When students wanted to start playing songs we had been learning in class, they realised it was hard remembering which note was which, so a student took on the leadership role and moved them all into position by hearing the sounds and working out which was higher or lower. Not only were they taking control of their own learning but they were meeting learning outcomes in Music and Science while being fully engaged and in awe. They were learning through play, enquiry and experimentation.

When someone asked “What if I am touching someone else?”, we tried and it still worked. Then another student asked “How many will it work for?”. Again, I said “I don’t know, let’s try!” and in a very orderly fashion the students organised themselves to add one more in a circle, then another and checked the experiment each time before adding another person. We ended up with a ring of over 15 students and they knew the circuit had to remain closed to work. If someone let go, they would say “you have to be connected”.

Students were learning, having fun, engaged, asking pertinent questions, using their imagination, being creative, experimenting, collaborating and working in teams. I had given no directions in any of this, other than a simple demonstration and started off with posing, “Why?”. This was fantastic to watch and made me wonder why, as teachers, we don’t do it more often. Do we feel we need to always have the answers? Do we fear lack of control? I was still facilitating the learning and overseeing everything in the classroom, but giving them the flexibility to head in their own directions to find answers to their own questions. And I was a very proud observer.

Fun with Lego WeDo 2.0 Robotics

What fun we had at the training workshop and Australian launch for the new Lego WeDo 2.0 Robotics at The Cube, QUT, Brisbane.

WeDo 2.0 is a cute Lego robotics kit, programmed via iPad or computer software with simple drag & drop, icon-based coding. It is a fun introduction to robotics, aimed at Primary School aged students, and is great preparation for Lego Mindstorms EV3, aimed at High Schools or students 10 years+. It also includes a motion sensor and tilt sensor.

The training was led by the dynamic Rob Widger and all attendees were abuzz with creativity, design and excitement. We began with making a fan then progressed to making a very cute pulling robot, experimenting with friction, pulling and balance. We were all learning while having a lot of fun and then had a robot tug-of-war to see whose team won!


The exciting part about WeDo 2.0 is it is specifically aimed at Primary school aged students but even better, the Curriculum Pack resources and Teacher Guides are mapped to the Australian National Curriculum in Science and Digital Technologies! This is designed to guide teachers through the activities, without the need for a lot of expert knowledge beforehand, and even includes question ideas for discussion and assessment rubrics. With projects such as ‘Pulling’, ‘Frog’s Metamorphosis’ and ‘Drop and Rescue’, there is a lot of variety and links to different sciences.


I can see students (and teachers) having lots of fun learning with STEM, designing, creating and experimenting with WeDo 2.0 in the classroom.

ICTENSW Conference highlights

A fantastic weekend spent at the ICTENSW Conference in Sydney with like-minded teachers enthusiastic about technology in education, and some inspirational keynote speakers and workshops. Highlights included:

Is doing IT enough? Get IT, do IT, go for IT. Everyone uses IT, but empower students with the knowledge and drive to get beyond just using IT, and get them creating and making.

Rube Goldberg Machines – use this idea of inventions and contraptions to encourage creativity and a little craziness! What fun watching students create with a deliberately over-engineered contraption to perform a simple task. The possibilities are endless!


Computational thinking – it is about the processes of decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithm.

Students as entrepeneurs – empower students to lead by having them run technology teams and IT support within your school.

Machine versus robot –  a machine can perform repetitive tasks but a robot will adjust performance of tasks according to the environment, using sensors to gather information about the envirnonment.

Creativity is education is no longer an option, but an absolute necessity! Adobe has some wonderful apps for storytelling and creating multimodal texts. My favourites were Adobe Slate and Adobe Voice. I was really impressed that the music is royalty free and if you search for photos or images online, it searches for Creative Commons material and credits them automatically at the end! Responsible use of ICT in action!

Always end with prac! – What fun we had with Makey Makey playing music with vegetables and marshmallows! So much fun putting STEAM into action.