Why Grades Work

This is probably slightly controversial and may be seen as outdated thinking, but I have to set the context of the title of this blog post first. In FE (Further Education) Colleges in Scotland, we generally have only two outcomes for each unit students undertake, PASS or FAIL. I’m not really sure the historical reason for this (it’s been that way as long as I can remember and I’ve been teaching in FE for 18+ years), I think it was to do with making all students feel they have achieved. On our HNC (Higher National Certificates) and HND (Higher National Diploma) courses we do have a single Graded Unit in which they do receive an A, B or C, but that is only one unit out of the 15 or so units they do a year.

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The problem with the PASS or FAIL system with no grading, is there is little motivation for excellence, apart those who are internally motivated to do their best anyway, but a lot of students we get at college are ones who didn’t achieve their full potential at school and have disengaged with education to a degree. So a student who submits work on time to a very high standard receives a PASS, the same result as a student who submits the bare minimum work 4 weeks late.

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Now we could just fail students who submit work late and that would certainly work as a motivating factor, however it would also mean less students would pass and achieve courses and we are judging in Scotland in colleges on our pass rates (that might not be an official line, but it is effectively the case). It also wouldn’t help with encouraging students to do their best. In the past I have tackled this by running internal competitions, such as the best 3D Animation receives a prize. That certainly did help encourage some of the highly motivated students to do better work, but it only really worked with a small percentage of them.

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So this block at college I introduced on my HNC and NC games courses grades for all units. I taught 42 HNC students in our block 1 between August and November and at the end of block 1, less than 10 students had submitted their work on time and complete. A few of my better students said to me, “How come we get the same results as those guys who submitted late and did the bare minimum?”. My answer was that I totally agreed with them and it wasn’t fair at all. So I decided I would try something. I did speak to SQA about introducing grades and it did get a positive response, but it was obvious nothing was going to happen soon.

rocketman jump

So this block I told my students that for every subject (unit) they completed they would get an A, B or C for attainment based on the quality of their work and on it being submitted on time. I told them they would also receive a mark for effort (also A, B or C). Effort would take into account how they worked in class as well as their time keeping and attendance (something FE students are notoriously bad for). I did explain it was only an internal thing, equivalent to a school report, but that we would give them their results at the end of the year on a college certificate and we would also use it as a basis for selecting who would progress onto our HNC and HND courses the following year. I setup a gradebook for each student on their college OneNote (as shown below).

onenote gradebook

As I write this, it is now the day after the submission date for my 2D Animation class, with the same 42 students I had in block 1. I have now 30 out of 42 complete, the vast majority of whom did submit on time. That is 71% complete within a day of the submission date, compared with around 20% at best in block 1. The standard of work is also the best I have seen for this unit, with some really nice animations, some of which I have included in this blog post. All the ones I have included are to a better standard that I could have produced myself (as I am not an artist) and I am pleased with that. I don’t think my job as an educator is to always be superior to the students, but it is to encourage them and engage with them so that they fulfil their full potential.  The way I approached this unit was I wanted to show them the tools and then let them run with it and produce their own work & take ownership of it. When the student becomes better than the master, I think that is job done.

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Out of the 30 who have now passed I have assigned 9 As, 15 Bs and 6 Cs, although the remaining 12 students now will get a C at best, so the number of Cs will rise. I personally think this is a resounding success, although it’s early days and it will be interesting to see how the other lecturers on the course find the improvement within the subjects they teach. It seems to me then, that applying grades (even unofficial ones) to all units seems to work. It’s not perfect and I still have 12 students who have not passed, 7 of the 12 having not submitted at all as of yet. However getting 70% of them completed on time for me is a win.

chunk jumping

The negative is that it is certainly was more work for teachers/lecturers and they all need to buy into it. I had to grade every student and I gave each one of them personal feedback in their grade-book as to why they got the grade they did. This is certainly more work than just assigning PASS or FAIL. However providing quality feedback is something that is encouraged by SQA and Education Scotland and is something educators should all be doing anyway.

My conclusion is GRADES WORK!

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Training Teachers to Code

There is a massive need amongst both primary and secondary teachers in the UK for training in coding. Throughout industry in the UK and the USA there is a shortage of programmers, with not enough graduates in Computer science related subjects coming out of University to fill those roles.


The importance of Computer Science was recognised in the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, first implemented in Scottish Schools in 2010, with skills like games development embedded as an experience and outcome that school children as young as age 9 should experience. More recently English schools have also recognised that computational thinking and coding are vital 21st century skills for all school children. This is a move towards Computer Science and away from Computing being all about the use word processors and spread sheets.

There is now a massive need throughout the UK for training in approaches to teaching computational thinking and coding, as well as training in the various development tools available, since many ICT / Computing teachers can’t program or haven’t done so in years. This means that around the UK, teachers are struggling to find the time to learn about the tools and new skills they need. That is why I think it’s important for FE colleges and HE institutions to look at how they can get involved in providing CPD for teachers in these areas. That is why I have been pushing the idea that West College Scotland should offer CPD on tools like Kodu, TouchDevelop and Scratch.

As part of this I recently hosted a stand at the Scottish Learning Festival (25-26th September 2013), along with other staff from my college, to tell schools leaders and teachers about some of the great tools available for coding and about the training we are offering. SLF is a 2 day event for all types of teachers, it originally started life as a technology show for teachers, but over the years it has grown into a show on everything to do with teaching. There were many stands still to do with various technologies for use in the classroom, but there were also other stands like the very popular zoo in a box and the Tree of knowledge. Overall there were over 150 of the best educational suppliers covering all levels of education, including various councils and the SQA represented.

Bill Gallacher, Martin Barrett, David Renton & Fiona Rushton at SLF2013
Bill Gallacher, Martin Barrett, David Renton & Fiona Rushton at SLF2013

Both days at SLF were busy, but day two was especially busy at it was an in service day for many local teachers. We enjoyed the 2 days of talking to teachers, pupils, councils, HMIe representatives and other educationalists about Kodu, TouchDevelop and our various CPD offerings. We made a number of good contacts who we hope to follow up on, by offering them training.

About a week after SLF I got a surprise e-mail from Microsoft in the USA, presenting me with the 2013 Microsoft MVP Award for Kinect! This award is given to exceptional technical community leaders who actively share their high quality, real world expertise with others. I was awarded it for outstanding contributions in Kinect for Windows technical communities during the past year, which largely revolved around my Kinect educational games which I have released free via my blog. I was particularly pleased with the MVP award as it’s not an education award and as I understand, it is quite rare for an educationalist to win one. I did work in the computing sector for a number of years before moving into teaching, but I am now full time in education and have been for the past 10 years, so my work on Kinect has been largely in my spare time. Although my college have been very supportive of my Kinect work and have given me time to go around local schools demonstrating it to teachers and school pupils.

MVP Award for Kinect
MVP Award for Kinect

As part of becoming an MVP I was invited to the MVP Global Summit in Bellevue & Redmond in Washington State USA from the 18th to 21st of November 2013. I didn’t expect to go to this, but my college have been very supportive and have paid for me to fly out to Seattle for the summit, as well as giving me time off from teaching that week to attend. At it I will get to see first-hand some of the latest technology from Microsoft, including the latest advances in Kinect technology, so I am thrilled to be attending this. Plus getting to go see Microsoft HQ in the states is, I reckon, a computer geeks’ pilgrimage, especially for someone who remembers Windows 3.11 very well. I will blog about my visit to Seattle where I also plan to meet with the TouchDevelop, Kodu and Project Spark development teams.

On Saturday the 26th of October 2013, I continued promoting TouchDevelop by presenting on it at the CAS Scotland Annual conference at the University of Glasgow. TouchDevelop is a great tool for getting high school pupils into coding as its easy enough to be accessible to them, but it still teaches them the basics of programming. It also engages them as they can very quickly and easily see an app they have created running on a mobile phone or tablet. I was amazed at the great turnout at this event, considering it started at 9am on a Saturday. There were around 250 teachers from both the Primary and High School sectors in attendance. My TouchDevelop workshop was full to the brim with 40 to 50 teachers in attendance. I gave them an overview of TouchDevelop and the benefits of using it to teach coding. I did a live demonstration of creating a simple game app in approximately 5 minutes and then let them have a go at creating an app. I actually ran out of my TouchDevelop games based curriculum to hand out, but luckily you can download it for free from the TouchDevelop website.

CAS Scotland Annual Conference 2013
CAS Scotland Annual Conference 2013

After promoting training in coding at SLF and CAS in Scotland, the first training sessions that I was booked for was perhaps surprisingly in Norway. The link with Norway was thanks to the brilliant Microsoft Partners in Learning network, which gave me the opportunity in January this year to attend a 24 hour appathon at Microsoft’s London offices. At it I met a couple of amazing teachers from Norway who were using MineCraft in the classroom to teach Viking history. I really clicked with them and we kept in touch throughout the year. We even ran a joint Scotland / Norway project later in the year, in conjunction with Scotland’s Colleges, which involved students from both countries working in teams to create their ideal learning environment within a shared virtual world inside Minecraft. The Norwegian guys (Øystein Imsen and Bjørn Sør-Reime Erga) wanted me to come over and train teachers in TouchDevelop. They have started their own think tank / teacher training company called PedSmia and with backing from Microsoft in Norway, they paid to get me over for 3 days of training. I travelled over on Sunday the 3rd of November 2013 and stayed with my friend Øystein at his house in Oslo.

TouchDevelop Teacher Training in Kongsberg, Norway
TouchDevelop Teacher Training in Kongsberg, Norway

On the Monday we travelled to Kongsberg where we met up with a group of teachers for TouchDevelop training. The plan is to train a small group who will then go out to Schools in Norway and spread the word about TouchDevelop. I spent the morning session going over TouchDevelop and giving a live demonstration of it and then in the afternoon the teachers worked in pairs to produce apps. Given the amount of time they had, they came up with some great concepts and created the beginnings of some really nice apps. One of the big advantages of TouchDevelop is that you can actually develop and test apps, that you create, instantly on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets, all that is required is a device with an HTML5 browser. Two of the teachers tried this out at the end of the day and they had their apps running on an iPad and an iPhone, which really excited them. This is something I think will get students really excited about programming using TouchDevelop, because apps they create in School or College can be saved to the cloud and they can continue working on them at home on their tablets or smartphones, as well as being able to show off their apps to their friends on their own device.

TouchDevelop Apps created by Teachers
TouchDevelop Apps created by Teachers

On Tuesday we continued with the same group of teachers and this time we did a day of training on Kodu. Kodu is something most of them were already familiar with, but we looked at some of the more advanced features of Kodu and the Norwegian guys went over approaches to using Kodu in the classroom and their plans for getting Kodu & TouchDevelop out to Schools in Norway.

Kodu Training
Kodu Training

On Tuesday evening, I presented on TouchDevelop and demonstrated my xGames & Kinect Games in Oslo, at an open evening to teachers, parents and school children. The following day I visited Microsoft HQ in Oslo and repeated the same presentation to a group of Microsoft technical staff and technical evangelists. Ivar Berg (Microsoft Partners in Learning Manager Norway) gave me a tour of Microsoft Offices in Oslo, where I got the chance to try out a nap pod ;).

Microsoft HQ in Oslo Norway
Microsoft HQ in Oslo Norway

Before I went home Øystein took me to the Viking museum in Oslo, which was an amazing experience. It contains Viking Longboats and other artefacts, some of which were around 1300 years old. Many of the boats are deteriorating badly and this may be the last generation of Norwegians who get to see them. Overall I had a great experience in Norway and I hope to return again soon. It’s always great to work with the highly motivated and inspirational teachers who form Microsoft’s Partners in Learning.

Viking Longboat
Viking Longboat
Expert Educator
Expert Educator

I got back to Glasgow about 10pm on Wednesday night and I was teaching at 9am the following morning. However it was all worthwhile as I got an email from Microsoft on Thursday saying I had been selected to be part of the very first class of Microsoft Innovative Expert Educators. The email said I had been selected to be one of 250 educators selected from 23,000 applicants from 150 countries. Microsoft’s Innovative Educator Expert is an exclusive one year program that celebrates educators across the world who use technology to transform education. I am one of a ten strong team from the United Kingdom, however I am the only Scot in the group, although Ollie Bray teaches in Scotland and so perhaps counts as an honorary Scot J. I am also the only FE lecturer in the group, with the rest being High School teachers. As part of the award I will get a trip to the Microsoft in Education Global Forum on March 11th to 14th 2014 in Barcelona, where I will get to network, share ideas and work with the other Expert Educators from around the globe. Again I would never have known about this program was it not for my involvement with Microsoft’s Partners in Learning network.

To round off the week, on Friday the 8th of November, I got to attend the extremely fancy and glittering awards ceremony which is the 2013 Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) Star Awards. The ceremony is to reward and recognise inspirational achievements and commitment from individuals, schools, colleges and training organisations across Scotland. We had applied before the summer for this award, when we were still Reid Kerr College, but I only found out recently that we had been shortlisted in the top 3 in the innovation category for my work on and use of xGames, Kinect Games and our use of TouchDevelop in the classroom to teach mobile app creation.

The ceremony was hosted by media personality Kaye Adams of Loose Women fame and I had no idea what our chances were. The evening consisted of a lovely 3 course meal and some fantastic entertainment from some amazing School pupils from across Scotland, which including dancers, singers and musicians.

We were half way through the awards and our category was up next, at which point they took a musical interlude, which although was very nice, it upped the tension :-). However we shouldn’t have worried as following the break, West College Scotland was announced as the winners for innovation. Bill Gallacher (Head of Computing Paisley Campus) and I collected the award and posed for photos. It was also great to see our principal Audrey Cumberford in attendance to witness us collect the award.

SQA Star Awards 2013
SQA Star Awards 2013

No rest though, this weekend I am learning Project Spark, a great new development tool which is about to launch on XBOX1, XBOX360 and Windows 8. I am presenting on Project Spark at the Skills Show at the Birmingham NEC next week with Lee Stott from Microsoft, before flying out to Seattle on Saturday for the MVP summit.

West College Scotland will start offering CPD in coding with a series of 3 twilight courses on Kodu, running at our Paisley Campus from 4pm to 6pm on 20/1/2014, 17/2/2014 and 17/3/2014. Email me at david.renton@wcs.ac.uk if you are interested in attending. If you teach in Renfrewshire it will also be on the CPD catalogue for Renfrewshire very soon.

Kinect Games, xGames and TouchDevelop

The main reason for this blog entry is to have a single place for teachers to grab the best of my resources. I’m doing a stand at the Scottish Learning Festival next week, where I will be promoting the CPD training my college (West College Scotland) can provide in coding using tools like Kodu, TouchDevelop and Scratch. However I will also be demonstrating my educational games as well and I will be directing teachers to this blog if they are interested, so again a single place to get everything will be beneficial. My games were just shortlisted for the SQA Star Awards in the category of Innovation and I will find out in November if they win first place.

Kinect Games and xGames in action
Kinect Games and xGames in action

Downloads

xGames
Click here to download xGames v2.2 installer which will run on Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8 (135MB). You require 2 to 4 wireless XBOX360 controllers which you connect to your PC with a USB wireless receiver.

Kinect Games v4.1
If you are using the Kinect for Windows sensor with your Windows7/8 PC then click here to download the Kinect for Windows runtime v1.7 (110mb) and then install it.

If you are using the XBOX 360 Kinect sensor with your Windows7/8 PC for evaluation purposes then click here to download the full Kinect SDK v1.7 (222mb) and then install it.

Finally click here to download Kinect Games v4.1 installer (160MB) and install it.

Alternatively click here to download Kinect Games v4.1 all in one installer (383MB) which includes the SDK and install it.

If you have any problems either of the installers then click here to download the XNA4 runtime installer (6.72MB) and try installing it first before running the installers.
TouchDevelop

TouchInvaders created using TouchDevelop
TouchInvaders created using TouchDevelop

Click here to download my games development curriculum for teaching coding using Microsoft’s free HTML5 browser based free development platform TouchDevelop.

Click here to visit my YouTube channel for my free tutorials on creating games using TouchDevelop. These videos tie in directly with my games dev curriculum. Keep on eye on this channel as I plan to add a PacMan tutorial soon.

Click here to download the free official TouchDevelop book from Microsoft.

Click here to visit the TouchDevelop challenge blog, which contains more tutorials for teaching coding as well as a forum for students to share their games and blog about their experiences.

Click here to visit Ray Chambers blog and have a look at his scheme of work for teaching coding using TouchDevelop.

Kinect Games Version 4

I have updated all my Kinect games to use the new Kinect SDK v1.7 and with it I have added some significant changes.
Math Mage & Word Mage
Math Mage & Word Mage now feature a fully immersive, interactive Augmented Reality experience, where the player actually appears in the game world wearing a Mage hat nonetheless :-). This works for both 1 player and 2 player modes. You can also now press number keys 1 or 2 to toggle player 1 or 2 between Right-Handed and Left-Handed modes. You can also take extra snapshots of the players in the game by pressing the SPACEBAR on the keyboard.

Math Mage with Augmented Reality
Math Mage with Augmented Reality

In Math Mage you swipe through the correct numbers using your right hand or left hand in the style of “Fruit Ninja” and you must avoid swiping the wrong numbers. It can be used to revise times tables, odd numbers, even numbers and prime numbers. Word Mage uses the same principal, but with Nouns, Adjectives, Verbs and Adverbs, where you must swipe through the target words and ignore the words outwith the target category. You can edit the word lists and there is even a miscellaneous category where you can make up your own word lists based on anything like countries, capitals, foods etc.


NoNeed4Green
Kinect Games version 4 also features my new NoNeed4Green, the Green screen without a green screen, which you can read more about in my recent posts, but it bascially lets you create scenes using background pictures and foreground objects of your own choosing, while people who stand in front of Kinect are cut out and placed in the layer between the background and foreground to produce images which can be saved. Watch the video below recorded using FRAPS and you will get the idea.

Kinect Magic Cursor
My magic cursor, which lets you control Windows using your hands, now works with press and grip gestures for doing the left mouse button. To simulate a left-click you simply PRESS with your left hand. If you GRIP (make a fist) with your right-hand it simulates holding the left button down. If you RELEASE (stop making a fist) it releases the left mouse button. To move the mouse cursor you simply move your right-hand in front of Kinect.

Kinect Angles, Kinect Time and Kinect Pong remain pretty much as they were, but are updated to use Kinect SDK v1.7.  Read my earlier blog posts for details of those games.
Click here to download the full stand-alone installer for the latest version of Kinect Games which includes Kinect SDK v1.7.

Click here to download the latest installer for Kinect Games without Kinect SDK v1.7 (for those of you already have the SDK this download is significantly smaller).

The games require a Kinect for Windows or Kinect for XBOX360 device connected to a Windows 7 or 8 pc.

Please download the games and use them with your students. I’d love feedback from teachers who are using the games on their experiences with playing the games in their classrooms. Please email me at david.renton@wcs.ac.uk with comments and feedback.

Kinect NoNeed4Green v2

I’ve already made some changes to my NoNeed4Green, so here is version 2. The main addition being the facility to add foreground pictures. The foreground pictures have their own sub-folder called foreground and they use PNG files only, as you need images with transparent backgrounds for it to work. This allows you to put objects in front of the live cut-outs of people as well as having a background behind them. This lets you do things like putting someone behind the desk of the oval office or behind the desk of the BBC newsroom or on the bow of the Titanic. You can also now resize and move all 3 layers. Layer 1 is the background, layer 2 is the live cut-outs of people, while layer 3 are the foreground objects.

NoNeed4Green new interface
NoNeed4Green new interface

There is a few new keyboard controls as well :-

H toggles between hiding all on-screen buttons and revealing them.
Keys 1,2,3 select layers 1,2 and 3 to allow you to move and resize them.

Here is a video demonstrating how it works.

Download it from the link below, unzip it and double-click on the .EXE file to run it. You require Windows 7 or Windows 8, XNA4 runtime and Kinect SDK 1.7 installed.

Click here to download No Need 4 Green version 2 in zip format.

Click here to download No Need 4 Green version 2 with C# source code in zip format.

Kinect No Need 4 Green – The Green Screen without a Green Screen

This little piece of software allows you to produce easily, quickly and cheaply the type of picture that you would normally need a proper green screen setup to create. The software uses a Kinect for Windows or Kinect for XBOX360 device connected to a Windows 7 or 8 pc.

All you need to do is stand in front of the device and it will cut you out. You can choose between different backdrops, which you can add to by copying your own pictures (JPEG or PNG) into the PICTURES sub-folder. You can zoom in & out and move the cut out image using the keyboard or by on-screen controls.  You can take snapshot pictures of what is displayed in the window and these pictures are saved into the SNAPSHOTS sub-folder.

Kinect No Need 4 Green The Green Screen without a Green Screen
Kinect No Need 4 Green
The Green Screen without a Green Screen

The keyboard controls are as below:-
SPACE bar takes a snapshot photo
W,A,S,D keys move the cut-out image left, right, up and down
+ and – keys zoom the cut-out image in and out
UP and DOWN keys allow you to adjust the viewing angle of the Kinect Device
LEFT and RIGHT keys allow you to choose the backdrop picture
M toggles mirroring mode on and off
F11 toggles full screen mode on and off
C toggles depth cut off mode on and off. This mode changes the way Kinect cuts the image out, by cutting out based on the distance from Kinect, rather than trying to cut out individual people. When in this mode the < key and the > key allow you to adjust the cut off distance.

Download it from the link below, unzip it and double-click on the .EXE file to run it. You require Windows 7 or Windows 8, XNA4 runtime and Kinect SDK 1.7 installed.

Click here to download No Need 4 Green version 2 in zip format.

I created it using Visual C# 2010 with XNA4 & Kinect SDK v1.7.

Click here to download No Need 4 Green version 2 with C# source code in zip format.

I must give a shout out to my friend Jimmy Edwards who did a similar thing earlier this year, you can have a look at his project here.

Kinect Magic Cursor version 1.7 with Gesture support

I am releasing a new version of Kinect Magic Cursor which works much like the last version except it now uses gestures to simulate the left mouse button, instead of raising your left hand. So now your right hand controls the mouse pointer and you can PRESS with your left hand to simulate a single left mouse button click. You can also GRIP (make a fist) with your right hand to simulate holding down the left mouse button for dragging, selecting etc. To stop holding it down you simply RELEASE (stop making a fist). I went with the LEFT hand for PRESS rather than the right hand as I found pressing with the RIGHT hand tending to move the cursor and made it hard to click on small buttons.

Download it from the links below, unzip it and double-click on the .EXE file to run it. You require Windows 7 or Windows 8, XNA4 runtime and Kinect SDK 1.7 installed.

Click here to download Kinect Magic Cursor V1.7 in zip format.

Click here to download Kinect Magic Cursor v1.7 with C# source code in zip format. I wrote it using Visual C# 2010 and XNA4.