Since returning to the classroom I’ve been using micro:bits with my class of 8-11 year olds. We have had a deal of fun with them, some of this is on the class blog.

We normally use pc laptops and chrome to access the MakeCode editor. In the second year I tried using the iOS app but out of a class only one or two children managed to get their micro:bits connected. At the time I put this down to multiple micro:bits and iPads in close proximity.

I have occasionally tested new versions of the app and the most recent one seemed a lot better. It displayed the webpage code editor in app and flashing seemed simpler. Today wanting to move our micro:bit guitar project on when the PCs were in use elsewhere in the school I decided to give the app another run. I am very glad I did. Everything about the app seemed to be better. I think that coding and flashing to the micro:bit for an iPad is simpler than using a pc. We had no problems in getting code written and flashed to the micro:bits.

I’d highly recommend the app if you have both iPads and micro:bits in your classroom.

I’d also recommend the Microsoft MakeCode Guitar project. I’ve been working with a mixed age group class and the mix of tech and ‘art’ fits very well. Some of the younger children are getting their first experience with coding and the art and construction can keep them motivated when the coding concepts get tough.

A test of snapthread which has been updated to version 2. When I tried the 1.8.1 version I rather liked it. It was then an app to stitch live photos into wee videos on iOS. Version 2 adds a lot more features. I still like it.

This video should not be used to judge the quality of the output, I used ‎CloudConvert to squash the 38MB 1440 × 1080 mp4 down to 4.5MB 1.

My class used the free version, limited to 30 seconds of video, last session a bit, we had a few crashes, but I think it is a promising app. Ease of use, limited time of the free version and lack of stickers, for now 2, are useful for the classroom. My class use iMovie and Clips too, but sometimes we might not want the greater complexity of iMovie or the wacky possibilities of clips.

Unfortunately CloudConvert doesn’t work for me on the school network, I’ve tried a few apps that convert and squash video but no really found a good one for pupils to use. I would like my pupils to be able to do that, to save space on their blogs and to speed up uploading. I am not sure on the official line on posting to silos in North Lanarkshire. Social media, especially twitter, is very popular. That is staff rather than pupil posting, I’d like my pupils to be involved in the uploading of video to their e-Portfolios and the class blog without my interference.

For Glow Blogs, I’d also like the app to change the file type to mp4 or m4v as .MOV files, that are apples favourite, don’t play nicely with all browsers. We made a change to standard WordPress functionality to accept .MOV files as video, but some browsers don’t play them. Strangely, just editing the file extension, from .MOV to .m4v works, at least for Chrome. I can’t find a way to change extensions on iOS but I’ve tested on the desktop.

FWIIW Snapthread’s videos are .MP4 when exported to the camera roll, so only need squashed for my needs.

  1. Thanks to Martin Coutts for the pointer to CloudConvert
  2. Snapthreads developer has a really interesting post about the development of the app: Journey to 2.0: Market Appeal | Becky Hansmeyer

I’ve found Office Lens useful over the last few year in class. It is a good way to get some text into a document for editing. The workflow for me is a wee bit clunky, snap on phone, open app, upload. Then either open in word or switch to desktop and open from OneDrive there when it syncs.

Today I found OCR.space a free online service. I gave it a quick try on my phone.

The first attempt failed, I had to edit the photo to B&W and brighten it a little (as per screenshots above), but the results were impressively quick. There was no swapping back and forward between apps.

I’ve tried a multi-column image too using the same image I used back in 2015 with office lens. The results are just as good and fit my preference for text I can copy as opposed to a document I need to open.

Here is the docx Office Lens converted, and here is the OCR.space one, from This image, I had to shrink it a bit to get under 5mb for ocr.space, I don’t think Id need to do that iif I was going straight from the phone when the image would be a smaller png.

I hope to give ocr.space a test in the real world next term.

I’ve also found dictation on my phone a great way to get documents into text. Reading someone elses words seems to work better for me that thinking up my own as I go.

I found ocr.space via OCR Shortcut : shortcuts on reddit, butI’ve not tried the shortcut, the webpages seems quick enough.

A few children in my class need a bit of extra support in literacy. On a course at the NLC literacy base I was shown the idea of scribing sentences and then cutting them up. The result could be given to pupils to sort out on a wee board with slots and then optionally copied into a jotter.

Given my poor handwriting (unless I really slow down), difficulty in keeping resources organised and liking for digital I had a go at making a virtual version.

The first iteration just presents a field, typing a sentence and hitting return produces mixed up words to drag around. I’ve been using that for a couple of months.

I’ve then improved things a little by making a system to create links to that page that will have a particular sentence already created. Example

I’ve been sending these links out via Airdrop either directly on a few together in a note. I though I might make the page creation a little easier and also add a QR code creator: Mix Up Maker – Make a Cutup sentence or story..

I can then add the QR Codes to my pupils programs. These pupils have daily task sheets put in their jotter.

I am depending on the QR code API and the TinyURL.com API.

As usual the code in there is a bit of a mess. I always think I’ll tidy these things up, but rarely do. I need more time than I seem to have to really learn JavaScript so I continue to type and test.

The gifs above are made with LICEcap which does a great job of creating short gif ‘screencasts’.

This post has been brewing for over  three months now. I think I just need to post it.

More and more of our computer use involves networks and cloud storage. A while back I was joined on Radio Edutalk by Sarah Clark who spelt out the benefits of the cloud in the classroom.

This is great if you have the connection and bandwidth. Some folk do not. This was brought to the front of my mind by a tweet by Andrew Jewell:

Thankfully I am not in that position, but although my class are 1-2-1 iPads we don’t have the broadest band in the world. I do a few different things that mitigate against poor connectivity that I though worth sharing.

I want to cut down as much network traffic as possible so that when we use the internet we get the best possible connections.

We Don’t do iCloud

Out of the box iPads want to use iCloud for storing files. For my personal and school devices I would not be without several ‘clouds’, my phone uses dropbox, iCloud and OneDrive. I use iCloud and OneDrive on my school iPad and desktop too. As I am lucky enough to have a mac in my classroom I sync somethings with iCloud so they are available on both devices, mac and iPad. This is very handy. I can write a note on my mac in the Notes app, it syncs to the iPad and I then can drop it to a group via the Classroom. I can edit pages and keynote files on both devices seamlessly. I keep a lot of materials in OneDrive and the app keeps my home computer and school one in sync.

However I get my pupils to turn off most of the iCloud features. Since they do not use multiple devices with the same account they don’t need all their photos and documents syncing. Opening documents with the native iOS apps such as pages and keynote is a lot faster if the documents are local.

A couple of years ago I centred our document Workflow around O365, OneDrive and OneNote. OneNote especially is marvellous for this, the Class Notebooks in particular give you a tremendous amount of organisation. Unfortunately we spent a fair bit of time waiting for things to open and lost a fair amount of pupils work in OneNote 1 so don’t use it anymore. I will keep an eye on the app and out network and return to it if conditions allow.

We do do AirDrop

The answer to my handing out and gathering in of digital assets is now AirDrop and Notes. Notes has really matured over the last few years and has managed to keep its simplicity and gain features. I send out a lot of ‘tasks’ or success criteria via notes. I use it to share audio files along side text and pupils can send me notes easily. My pupils send me finished work, for example, recording of their reading alongside their self assessment2. If I had to guess the most use apps in my class would be Notes and Photos.

AirDrop is a really good way to distribute large files. A bunch of pupils watching video on the network will really slow things down. I can drop the same video to my class or a group amazingly quickly.

AirDrop avoids the cloud sending from device to device directly.

Apple Classroom

Airdrop is much enhanced by using Apple Classroom, this allows you to set up classes and groups of pupils, you can Airdrop to the whole class or a group. More importantly the teacher’s iPad can receive files from pupils without intervention.

Of course classroom does some other things but I love AirDrop the most.

What I miss from this system is the organisation that is built into multi-user cloud solutions. Reviewing pupils work and giving feedback was easier in OneNote. I may get the class to turn on iCloud for Notes at some point and see if sharing notes is practical for me. I suspect that the amount of data used by notes will be a lot less than OneNote.

A Cache in Hand

Here we are entering geekier territory, and you need a mac (there might be other ways I don’t know about). You can buy, in the mac app store, the Server App. Or if you have a newer mac than mine you can use the built in Caching Service.

The Server app can cache content locally so that if more than one device is downloading the same content the later ones can get the data from the local cache rather than going out to the internet. This seems to help installing the same app across multiple iPads. You can see from the screenshot that a lot of the data reaching our iPads comes from the local cache rather than from the internet. In my experience this seems to speed up updating a bunch of iPads or installing a bunch of apps.

A Web of One’s Own

Hand in had with the caching the server app can do it can also serve webpages locally. This is a good alternative to AirDrop to share piles of photos. Rather than send them all to all of the iPads I can set up a web gallery on the mac and pupils can visit it via their browsers. This is probably beyond what most teacher are willing to do but if you can it is a good way to distribute files where pupils can choose form a range of images. Better than giving them all 100 images to choose from and fill up their iPads.

Once you have turned on web-serving it is just a case of building a website in the same ways as you would create an external site. It would be very useful do be able to do that automatically. The local urls will not be pretty or easy to type, but the pupils don’t need to as I will AirDrop the urls to them.

I’ve briefly tested the wiki server that comes with the Server app, but I am not sure it is happy with several folk adding content at once. I believe the wiki server has been dropped from later versions of the Server app.

None of this is ideal compared to a fast connection and a cloud solution but in the meantime it lets us get the job done with the minimum of waiting for the network. When we do need the internet, and we do, we get as much goodness as possible from it.

This is temporary and experimental

For all the reasons Sarah went over, the cloud is, long term, the way to go. I hope these things help make the technology less visible in my classroom in the short term. I’d also be interested in other and better ways to improve my classroom connectiivity.

 

see: OneNote Help Wanted
Notes and Airdrop to the rescue  

I do like a gif. I like to make them in all sorts of ways. Recently I’ve been messing about with Live Photos. The mac Photos app will export gifs from these but they are huge. To my mind a gif should be as small as possible. The other problem wit Live photos is my hands tend to move. Today I tried the iOS app Motion Stills:

Motion Stills is an app from Google Research that uses advanced stabilization and rendering to turn your Live Photos and videos into GIFs

The only problem is that the files are pretty big. I took a photo of a squirrel in the botanic gardens this morning and ran it through the app. The stabilisation was great but the file size for the image was 8.7MB for a 480 × 360 image!

I decided to see if I could shrink it a little and got it down to 331kb. This is how:

  1. I opened in the Gif in FireWorks
  2. The gif had 54 frames at 3/100 of a second and one at 6/100 of a second. I deleted every second frame and doubled the length of each.
  3. The gif was set to have an exact pallet with 256 colours, i changed that to Adaptive and 128 colours.
  4. I set the loss to 20%
  5. I made a new layer which was shared across the frames. copied the first frame to that layer and cut out a space for the squirrel in the top layer. This froze most of the image except for the squirrel.

The featured image of this post is the shrunken gif.

 

Scratch is now at version 3.0. I’ve been looking forward to this as it will now support the iPads my class uses.

I gave it half an hour or so on my iPad and am delighted to say that it does what is says on the tin. The iPad I am using is an Air 1 so a good few years old. It was a little laggy now and again but nothing that I worried about.

I was especially delighted to see that old scratch embeds still word and now work on iOS too the Scratch Embed example on Glow Blog Help just worked.

I also tried exporting a Pyonkee project and then importing it into scratch 3 on the iPad that worked too. Pyonkee is an iOS app that is based on scratch 1.4 that my class have been using.

I look forward to introducing the class to scratch on iOS in the new term.

Here are a couple of useful links:

I was interested in this app when I read about it on micro.blog when the developer @becky posted about. I didn’t have a phone that took live photos at that point, so put it in my memory.

Today it popped back out and I installed it. I looks like it will be a useful app. It allows you to choose either live photos or videos and stitches then together. you can add title screens and audio, either from iTunes or some built in tracks1.

This solves the problem with how to share live photos. I have exported these as gifs from photos on a mac but the files are huge.

You can export 30 second watermarked videos for free and a £2.99 unlocks that limit 2.

I guess the app will mostly be used with live photos, to knock out a quick video and these will be short. It might be interesting to experiment with a little DIY ‘Ken Burns’ I an certainly thinking of holding the camera for longer when taking photos.

Anyway I really like the app,  the interface is great and it performs a useful task really nicely. I imagined  I’ll use it  to summarise a walk or a get my class to record a  school activity.

I think this could be an interesting classroom app, its simplicity and lack of features will, perhaps, be a better solution than the likes of clips or iMovie for a quick movie. Most of the iPads in my class are original Airs, too long in the tooth for live photos, but we have a few newer ones so I hope to give it a go.

Here is a quick video I made the morning while Christmas shopping.

  1. Most seem to be by Kevin Macleod a long time favourite of my classroom.
  2. I think 30 seconds is plenty for this sort of video, a few live photos, but I paid anyway. If we use it at school we will stick to the free version.

The new WordPress editor is now official. It comes with a new editor Gutenberg. I’ve tested Gutenberg on and off for a while, mostly worrying about iOS in particular iPads. That has improved steadily.

My concern is pupils using Glow Blogs will find the new editor more complicated.

I am somewhat relived that pasting from Apple Notes on an iPad works fine in the blocks editor, paragraphs generating new blocks. Adding images above or below a particular block seems a little footery but nothing pupils will not handle 1.

Now WordPress 5 is out I need to think about my own use. I don’t usually write in the web editor, preferring to either cut and paste from a text editor or post via micro.blog or xml-rpc. TextMate has a lovely blogging bundle, and I use drafts and shortcuts on iOS.

I’ve installed WordPress 5 on a couple of other sites, and had a quick play. Posting from TextMate, via xml-rpc put the content in a classic block if Gutenberg is enabled.

I’ve also enabled the classic editor plugin on these sites and this one. The ability to toggle back and forward between editors seems like a good idea, but on the sites I’ve tried it has mostly failed 2. This would be a good way to introduce the editor to Glow Blogs users, start with the classic editor, add in the ability to toggle to Gutenberg. I do worry that having two editors will lead to folk having problems or getting confused. I am not looking forward to updating the Glow Blogs help. This is probably a bit in the future as we should wait and see how Gutenberg is going on multi-sites before upgrading.

My other personal worry is that at the moment the indieweb post_kinds plugin is not compatible with Gutenberg. This is compounded by the fact I can’t update that plugin on this site at the moment. I am presuming that things will get shaken out and improve over the next year or two.

My plan is now to upgrade this blog to WP 5 but use the classic editor, waiting to see how the indieweb plugins evolve. I’ll continue writing in TextMate, drafts and the like while I keep half an eye on developments.

  1. I was pleasantly surprised watching a pupil happily collapsing meta-boxes to get her e-portfolio tags the other day. I had at some point shown the class how to expand them after they accidentally collapsed them, but not talked about it in any depth. I suspect pupils will adapt to new interfaces easier that I will.
  2. I will test this a bit more and try to see if it is something I can report. Update version 1.2 of the classic Editor has fixed this for me.