HourOfCode

As in previous years, I decided to take part in the Code.org #HourOfCode with my classes this year. If you’ve not heard of the HourOfCode before have a look at the video below.

Through Twitter I got in touch with the Faculty Head of ICT at St Louis School of Milan who had ambitious plans to link international classrooms together during the HourOfCode week. After a few Google Hangouts to discuss the plans we were ready to go. We all made introduction videos which were to be played to the other classrooms at the beginning of the period, after this we had a live link up between the classes.

The students at my school were definitely a bit on the shy side compared with those in Milan, however they enjoyed answering questions from the pupils at St Louis, and were really interested to hear about the multi-national classes in Milan.

Our Google Hangout with Milan
Our Google Hangout with Milan

Having seen how seamless the Hangout was, I’ve now got big plans to extend the use of Google Hangouts in the school. My first step is to get the school signed up to a Google Apps for Education account and issue all pupils & staff with a Google Account. Once that’s done I’d love to have regular hangouts with classrooms around the world as well as experts in various curricular areas.

International Education

I recently came across this tweet from Ian Simpson, Head of Computer Science and ICT at the St. Louis School of Milan.

#HourOfCode is an initiave that I’d heard of, but never really paid any great attention to, partly due to the fact that programming is already pretty embeded into the Scottish Computing curriculum. It launched in 2013 and asked teachers, schools, even full districts to pledge to do a 1 hour long session of coding through a variety of different activities. You can find out more by watching the video below.

I decided that this year I’d give it a go with a couple of classes and contacted Ian; it seems like a nice way to push our International Education links – we already have existing links with schools in Tianjin, China and Donkorkrom, Ghana. You can read Ian’s blog post about the event over on his blog.

The classes that I’ve picked out seem really interested in the project, particularly with the chance to link up with a classroom in another country.

I’ll be sharing my experience of the event here after the live link up on the 11th of December and (fingers crossed) provided it all goes to plan I’ll be on the look out for other opportunities to link up with classes in other cities & countries.

Making IT Accessible to All

Following recent work with our Local Authority IT and Inclusion teams I presented at an ASN Inservice event on Making IT Accessible to All where I talked about the need to adapt out ICT provision to ensure that pupils with Additional Support Needs were not hampered by technology in the classroom.

An adapted version of the slides that I presented is available as a gallery below. Please feel free to comment if you have any questions about the presentation or suggestions for things which I can incorporate into future presentations.

Collaborating in O365

I’m a bit of a self-confessed geek, I love trying new things particularly when those things are technology related. Sometimes I love them and stick with it – for example my Pebble Smart Watch, other times I ditch them – for example using my iPad for handwritten notes. I’ve never been one for persevering for too long, the change needs to be seamless for me to stick with it.

Since Glow moved to an O365 tenancy I’ve been tinkering with it to work out how it can make a difference in my classes. I’ve been using my OneDrive to replace a growing number of Pen Drives and OneNote to keep track of my various to-do lists.

I decided that it was time to introduce a class to O365 and see how easily they took to the web-based Office Suite (our school is still using Office 2007 so it doesn’t tie into O365 yet). As part of our S1 ICT course we complete a research task called African Adventures where the pupils research a country in Africa and complete a group presentation. Traditionally we’ve used PowerPoint 2007 and each group member has independently complete 2 or 3 slides before e-mailing them to the group leader who was tasked with collating them and adding transitions etc. The downfall of this method is that the various pupils always overlapped on some of their slides leading to duplicate information and when the group leader was collating the final presentation the rest of the group was left twiddling their thumbs (or most likely playing games online!). There had to be a better way to do this…

Thankfully I’ve previously mail-merged the usernames and passwords to all of our pupils so that they could take advantage of the Microsoft Student Advantage program, so everyone was able to log into Glow with very little hassle. Next was how to get into O365, create a presentation and share it with the others in their group which again was very simple. The only issue that we encountered was a delay in shared presentations appearing in the Shared with me section of OneDrive. I later discovered that a link is e-mailed to all contributers almost instantly so I’ll be showing my classes how to use this method in future.

I was impressed at how quickly the pupils took to using O365 and how my workflow changed throughout the project. Around 2 weeks into the unit of work I had to attend an SQA Understanding Standards event so the night before I logged into each of their presentations and added comments to give them tips on how they could be improved.

During their ICT period the class logged into O365 and began working before the cover teacher even arrived, and at the end of the SQA course I was able to log in and check on the work that had been completed.

From the pupils’ point of view they were able to easily work on their presentations outwith the class during their free time in a way that wasn’t possible before. Several of the group arrange to ‘Meet Up’ online to work on their presentations and gave each other advice using the comments section of the presentation.

The resulting presentations were invaluable when it came to assessing each of the pupils. I was able to look at the presentations as they developed rather than just seeing the finished product. Through version history and comments I was able see which group members contributed to the presentation most and crucially for me, through the comments I was able to offer discrete, targeted support to the pupils who needed it most.

Following on from my trial with this class, I’m planning to introduce O365 to all of my own classes in session 2015-2016 and we’re planning to trial the same project again with every S1 class in faculty.

OneDrive for Business Mac Sync Client

It’s finally coming!

Any area which has been discussed on the Glow National Newsfeed and support forums is the lack of a OneDrive Sync Client for Mac…this has been the only missing piece of the puzzle for a while following the release of iOS and Android apps which complimented the original Windows Sync Client.

The good news is that Microsoft appear to be almost ready for a public release of the Mac client, infact the beta has now been released, but unlike the Office 2016 preview my advice for now would be to avoid it. The installation was fairly smooth and choosing a Sync folder was simple. The app created a folder in the location I specified called ‘OneDriveBusiness’ and pulled down all of my existing documents. However I quickly noticed that my battery was draining quicker than normal and the fan on my MacBook Air was on almost constantly (which is very unusual!) so it seems the app isn’t quite as efficient as it’s Windows counterpart yet…hopefully they get it sorted soon and I can finally have the same funcitonality on OS X as I have in Windows 7!

If you do want to give the app a try you can download it here.

O365, Glow Scotland and Mac OS X

One area that I’ve always felt is lacking on Macs is Microsoft Office. Don’t get me wrong I love Keynote, but for school work I need fully fledged Office, particularly for developing resources for the pupils and until now that’s meant keeping an old laptop with Windows on it for screen dumps or, my preferred solution, a virtual machine…that’s all about to change. Microsoft have just released their Office 2016 for Mac preview, you can read more and download it from the Microsoft Blog here.

My initial impressions are good, download and installation was very quick and it automatically picked up my O365 sign in details from OneNote and I had the option of creating a new document, opening one from my Mac or opening one stored in Glow.

The user interface is very familiar, infact it’s almost identical to Office 2013 for PC – see the screenshots below PC followed by Mac.


Powerpoint and Excel both have a equally similar layout and saving into Glow is the default option, there’s no other settings to mess around with which is great.

A quick word of warning though, the software is still a preview. There is some features that may not be there or that don’t work as expected, for example I’ve been unable to get Outlook to launch at all. For that reason I’ve kept Office 2011 installed to allow me to swap between them if necessary.


Adding Content to Xibo

After the technical set up it was time to customise Xibo to suit our requirements.

xibo templateFirst I designed a simple background image with the school badge and sections for news, weather and bulletin updates. I wasn’t looking for anything too fancy, so I put it together in Keynote and exported the slide as an image. It’s important to export as a JPEG rather than a PNG. While the quality is better with a PNG file, the transparent sections used for BBC News and Weather don’t display correctly unless a JPEG is used.

In the Xibo web app, I selected Layouts then Design (I just used the default 4:3 layout that was pre made in Xibo), uploaded the background image and removed all existing regions.

Adding new regions was really simple (right click, add a region and resize to suit) and soon I had a Layout with 3 separate content regions that we could edit. First up was the RSS Feeds for live BBC News Headlines and Weather updates. The RSS feeds can be found on the BBC website for my favourite price…free! Just look out for the orange logo shown below.

BBC RSS

Clicking on the RSS logo will give you the feed URL which you have to pop into Xibo. Just edit the region that will contain the news, add a ticker and paste the feed url into the Link box. The rest of the settings can be changed to suit your requirements. Ours is set up to pull live news every 20 minutes, and loop for 600 seconds (10 minutes) at a time.

RSS settings

Finally it was time to add in our existing bulletin messages. These are simply created in PowerPoint and exported as images (again JPEGs) and then added to the bulletin messages region of the layout; by default our images are displayed for 10 seconds.

Media TypesThe great thing about Xibo is it can display loads of different data types including videos or flash animations. As we add more up to date bulletin messages, I’m beginning to experiment with videos, flash animations and even live webpages (the school calendar from our website for example).

It’s early days for our installation, however I’m already planning to move to a web based installation that will allow me to update the content on the screens from any workstation in the school, or indeed any computer connected to the internet.

Digital Signage

Our school is set up with 3 large LCD screens in our social areas to provide information to pupils and up until now we’ve had the screens running with a PowerPoint of our bulletin running on a loop. However I’ve always liked the idea of BBC News 24 or Sky Sports News with a ticker along the bottom of the screen and news displaying to the side.

So over the Christmas holidays I tasked myself with investigating new Digital Signage Solutions for the school. The 2 biggest requirements were ease of setup/use and a low cost (read free!). Most of the solutions that I looked at required a cloud based server and a local client, however I wasn’t entirely convinced that these solutions would work on our Managed Wireless. So after a long search I settled on 3 solutions that might suit the bill Acquire Digital SOLO, Xibo and Digital Signage.

After downloading and installing Acquire I spent around an hour attempting to get the local server application talking to the local client application with no luck; Acquire was out.

XAMPPNext up was Xibo. The server documentation showed states that a web server with PHP5 and MySQL installed was all that was needed; ideal as I’ve used XAMPP on a few occasions before so I knew that it would do the job. After installing XAMPP I started up Apache and MySQL as services and created a database and user for the Xibo installation.

Xibo LogoNext up I copied the server files into the htdocs folder of XAMPP and ran through the (fairly) simple installation wizard. Finally I installed the local client application which is (sadly) only available for Windows or Linux, plugged in the details that I provided during the server setup.

All in all it took me around 25 minutes to download and install everything. After a further 15 minutes of tinkering I decided that Xibo was the solution for me so unfortunately I can’t comment on Digital Signage which may or may not have done the job.

In my next post I’ll show how I setup our Layouts, added existing bulletin content and added live news and weather updates to the bottom and side of our bulletin messages.

Refresh

In my new post of ICT Co-ordinator for the school I have responsibility for our annual computer refresh. We’re very fortunate with our managed service provider and have our stations refreshed every 4 years.

This year was obviously my first experience of going through the refresh process and it was…interesting!

Planning began around the beginning of September when I received our assets register which listed the equipment that we had in the school along with a rough estimate of the number of new stations that we would receive in November. The first task was to identify the oldest station numbers in the school and where they were located. This was relatively painless (except pinpointing the location of the laptops that were due to come off of the network!) After this was completed and I knew how many stations we were replacing the order for our new computers was placed.

The hard work began around 2 weeks before the delivery of the new stations; I had to plan the order that the old stations would be removed in, as well as arrange cover for the classes that I would miss and complete my S5 reports (also due during the refresh!).

IMG_1529

Finally D-Day was upon is, thankfully the new stations were arriving on an inservice day, therefore no classes were affected and I could ask the rest of the members of my faculty for support in unloading 9 pallets of boxes. It was no mean feat and involved unwrapping, moving, stacking and counting 258 boxes of computers and monitors.

 

The next week was spent moving the boxes into the correct rooms and removing the old stations ready for uplift, every single department in the school had at least 1 station to be replaced so there was a lot of disruption teachers’ routines. Thankfully I was given cover for 2 days to allow me to do the move and everything went smoothly.

refreshold

After 5 exhaustingly long days I was done! 119 stations removed and into the store cupboard ready for uplift, and 129 new stations placed in their departments ready for installation. Thanks goodness I have a year until I have to do it all again!!

Welcome

Hello! Let me introduce myself.

My name’s Paul, I’m a Secondary Computing teacher based in the West of Scotland. I’ve tried blogging several times before and never managed to keep it up to date, third time’s a charm!

My class contact is made up with a mix of Mainstream and ASN classes and in my non-contact time I’m the ICT Co-ordinator for the school.

So far this term I’ve led an exchange trip to Ghana, designed a new school website, launched a Twitter account to help the school keep in touch with parents, began to roll out a limited number of iPads in the school…oh and started the implementation of the new Scottish National Qualifications!

My first few posts here will be retrospective posts covering some of the things I’ve been up to so far this year!