SEN Computing Day (Feb 2014) – Report Part 2

This is the second post about the SEN Computing Day held at the Sheffield South City Learning Centre on the 6th February – it is posted again here due to a change in website. You can read part 1 here.
Afternoon session – looking at the KS2 Computer Science elements

Logo Commands
“Design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, […] solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts. Use sequence, selection and repetition in programs.”
– We started off looking at Logo, part of the Purple Mash bundle of software by 2Simple. This is a simple drawing package, based on the old turtle robot.  There is a free version, FMSLogo, but the Purple Mash version is more visually appealing and has a reduced number of commands. As it is, the nature of the commands (e.g. Rt 90, Fd 10) means that it can be quite difficult for students with poor literacy to access, and it requires knowledge of angles for the turns. Therefore we used the Beebot symbols as a starting point, whereby pupils can copy the commands to draw simple lines. I think the software is limited for SEN students, but more able pupils could use it to supplement other programming packages , for treat henital herpes buy valtrex valacyclovir . I mainly used it on the day to introduce the idea of repetition. This involves repeating, or looping, commands to make a program more efficient. So to draw a square, rather than writing out a list of 8 commands, you can use Repeat 4[Fd 5 Rt 90]. Attendees had varying degrees of success in drawing a triangle, as the angle to turn is actually 120 degrees. The discussion can also be had here about precise instructions, as Logo is very fussy about spaces and brackets and will come up with an error message if not done correctly.
“Design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including […] simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts. Use sequence, selection and repetition in programs. Use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in alogrithms and programs.
– A large part of the afternoon was spent investigating Scratch, which is a free online programming language made up of blocks that fit together. Although the blocks contain words rather than symbols, it is a lovely tool to use with all pupils (although those with visual impairment will struggle as the commands are quite small – you can zoom in on the right, which helps). The main advantage is that it is relatively simple to program with Scratch, but what you create with it can be specific to topics covered in other lessons, and it is age appropriate since the images you program on the screen can be photos you have uploaded yourself, or one of a bank of ‘sprites’. Students can also design and draw their own sprites within the program.
– We began by looking at a program to create an aquarium, that works like a screen saver. For less able learners you can load an existing program and you can discuss what the program might do. So in this case the code for the fish says:

Scratch Code 1

Scratch Commands with symbol support
Students can change certain elements of programs too at the beginning, to see how that affects it, e.g. the number of steps moved. We discussed how there needed to be a loop to make the fish move continually, and so added a forever loop:
Scratch code 2

Obviously many students will struggle in terms of literacy, so I created a set of cards with the Scratch commands on one side, and the Widgit symbols on the other using Communicate: in Print. You can download these here (you will need CiP to open it). These can then be used to do some programming away from the computer in preparation for using Scratch.

– Scratch can also be used to create programs with everyday uses. I created a program to make my own music player, so that students could touch a photo of themselves, or another relevant image, to play their favourite song. Delegates created their own version of this, using the laminated commands to loosely plan their program. We also did some debugging, as the program most people created first go played the music fine, but didn’t stop when the next picture was pressed.
“Design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals,including […] simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts. Use sequence, selection and repetition in programs.”
Kodu is another nice free piece of software for simple programming. It is based around a 3D world, and students can build their own worlds and add different objects and characters without needing to know any programming elements. The actual programming is pretty straightforward, and the commands are a mix of words and images which make it more accessible to weaker readers (see images below).
Kodu program example
Example Kodu world
– This is a good program to look at selection – essentially this is the if…., then …. part of a program. So in the example above, when the arrow keys are pressed on the keyboard, the octopus moves. If it bumps into a starfish, it will eat it, and score plus or minus points depending on the colour of it. Once students have the hang of Kodu, it doesn’t take a great deal of time to create a game.
– There are some good tutorial worlds in Kodu to get you started on it.
Use sequence, selection and repetition in programs. Work with variables […]”
– Variables are used to store information in a program, and can be text (strings) or numbers. We looked at how you could write an algorithm for singing Happy Birthday to more than one person, with a variable firstName. Similarly in the song ‘N Little Monkeys’, the variable N = 5. At the end of each verse N-1 happens. There is also an element of repetition in algorithms for singing songs.
– We didn’t have time to look at iDaft, an iPad app by Daft Punk that uses elements of their hit song “Harder Better Faster”, but you can use it for students to write algorithms to make a version of the song using a 4×4 grid, and try using repeats.
– I also showed part of the Big Bang Theory episode where the character Sheldon writes a Friendship Algorithm. This is a really nice example of a flowchart type algorithm, and he finds himself in an infinite loop as he can’t find a leisure activity in common, which is solved by another character adding a variable to count the number of options, and when n = 3 he chooses the least offensive option. I don’t foresee this necessarily being used with students, but it may help with your own understanding of the concepts whilst being very entertaining.
“Design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals,including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts. Use sequence, selection and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output.”

Using the Lego Robots
– We have a number of Lego NXT Mindstorms robots in the centre. These are quite expensive, but are good for working with different kinds of sensors, and will appeal to older students.

– The sensors include colour, light, sound, ultrasonic (detecting objects) and touch. In a lesson I would show how these work using the NXT Datalog on the ‘brick’ (the brain of the robot, which can be programmed). Students can investigate what colours the robot will detect, and those it won’t; how many decibels different sounds register; how many centimetres the robot can be from an object and still sense it etc. There can then be a discussion about how sensors are used in everyday technology, e.g. automatic doors, robotic vacuum cleaners.
– We then programmed the robots, again on the brick, with a simple 5 step program to make it move backwards and forwards when it ‘hears’ a sound. The screen isn’t very big on the robot, so we planned it out using a grid and symbols on the tables first.
– The Mindstorms robots do come with some more complex programming software that works on the PC and you can use bluetooth to transfer to the robot. This would be appropriate for students working at KS3 level. There is a simpler version, called WeDo, which has a simpler interface, and some really nice models for building, e.g. crane, ferris wheel. You can also program the models and robots using Scratch.
Flowol is another alternative for looking at control type activities and sensors.
“Work with […] various forms of input and output.”
– At this point we discussed different kinds of inputs, e.g. mice, keyobard, touchscreens, and I asked the question, ‘can a slice of bread be an input?’ The answer is yes, it can if you are using a MaKey MaKey. This is an invention kit that can turn anything that conducts electricity into an input device. For example you can create a banana keyboard, or draw your own pencil joystick to control a Pacman game. You connect crocodile clips to your objects and the other ends to points on the MaKey MaKey board that correspond to the arrow keys or space bar on the keyboard. The board is then connected to the computer and you load up a program that can be controlled by those keys. In my example I created an Etcha Sketch type program using Scratch, and used a slice of bread, a bit of cucumber and some people as my arrow keys.
– Obviously this is a lot of fun, but the point is that you can create bespoke buttons for students with disabilities to access a game. These buttons can be tactile and have direct relevance to the outcome of pressing them, e.g. a set of play-doh arrows to control movement, or a drawing program controlled by coloured shapes that are replicated on the screen. The MaKey MaKey costs just £49.99. More able students can be involved in writing programs in Scratch and Kodu for other students to play using their own controllers.
This was the last things we had time for on the day. There were plans for binary search and boolean logic activities, but they will have to wait. We did have a quick look at 2Code by 2Simple (part of the Purple Mash package) and Espresso Coding (free until Oct. 2014), both of which have been developed to deliver the coding elements of the new curriculum. They both look useful, and are quite accessible as there is good use of symbols and images. There are also a large number of introductory programming tutorials at using Angry Birds and Zombies as a starting point. These are free.
What the delegates said about the day:
“Thank you for last Thursday’s Computing Day.  It was invaluable training and I really got a great deal out of it.  In fact, it was one of the best, if not the best (and I sincerely mean this) training sessions I have attended.”
A very informative, well-delivered day.”
“Very interesting, knowledgable, fun and informative.”
“Made me feel much more confident, thanks.”
“Great informative day […] Well-delivered, organised and really useful, thanks.”
“Really useful in demystifyng the computing curriculum. Loads of really good ideas to take away.”
We hope to create a Professional Learning Network of teachers teaching Computing in Special Education, and the starting point is a wiki,, where you can find and share ideas for teaching Computing. Anyone can view the wiki, but to edit it you need to be a member, contact me to apply.
If you want more information on how the Sheffield eLearning Team can work to support Computing and the use of IT across the curriculum in Special Schools, please contact

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