Using A Choice of Apps To Teach History

Today with one of our Year 5 classes, I decided to teach some cross-curricular computing with a focus on learning about the games and toys that Victorian children played with as they are studying the Victorians in history.

This particular group of children are one of our most able when it comes to computing which means I can really drive the cross-curricular aspect as they can work with a range of apps/software with confidence. They also happen to be absolutely obsessed with Minecraft.

For this particular session, I initially gathered the children’s ideas about what kind of games/toys they thought Victorian children would have played/played with. We discussed the fact that they didn’t have the technology we have today and how this would affect both the toys they played with and the games they played.

I then pointed them towards a Google Doc I had created with links to some websites about Victorian games/toys. This was saved in the school Dropbox folder for their year group which saved time typing in web addresses (which often take a few goes to get right). This meant the children were able to access the information they needed quickly and the technology would not ‘get in the way’ of the learning. Indeed it sped up their access to it.

They used whiteboards to jot down notes from the websites and saved relevant images to the iPad’s camera roll. As they were doing this, I gave them a choice of how to present what they had found out. This was because they were at a point in their knowledge of computing where they were able to make sensible choices about how to present digital content. The choices included : Vidra (a free presentation video app), Explain Everything (one of my favourite classroom apps – not free though), Adobe Voice (simple but effective presentation app) and Minecraft. I also included a couple of apps that would not be ideal for this task as I wanted to test the children’s choosing of an effective tool to do the job.

Some of the children built Victorian playgrounds on Minecraft including villagers playing some of the games they had learnt about and some of the toys. Others produced very informative Vidra presentations. Two pairs of children even took it upon themselves to produce iMovies containing screenshots of the playgrounds they had built. Below are some of the results.

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Links To IMovies and Vidra Presentation.

A Fantastic FREE Resource For Teaching Programming –

While I was preparing to teach the new Computing curriculum las August, I came across a website called It is an American website which aims to encourage people to learn to code.

The ‘Students’ section of the website has four Courses that are aimed at children of differing coding abilities and reading abilities. All of the course feature short instructional videos often featuring famous (American) people such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. The courses are divided into 20 ‘hours’ called Stages. One stage is probably enough for a single lesson.

Each stage requires the children to complete a increasingly difficult coding challenges using drag and drop coding blocks similar to Scratch. These are framed in scenarios that the children will be familiar with such as Angry Birds and Frozen. The children I teach really enjoy working through the puzzles and are making good progress with their coding abilities.

Which Course Should Your Class Do?

I would recommend Course 1 for children with little or no reading ability and probably EYFS, lower KS1 anyway. Course 2 could be attempted by Year 2 or 3 depending on whether they have done any coding before. Course 3 could be used in Year 4 and 5 although the latter stages do get quite tricky. I would save Course 4 for Year 6 or an able Year 5. There is some overlap between course but this is useful for embedding knowledge.

Although the website is American, it does cover pretty much all of the aspects of the programming part of the Computing curriculum. For example there are lessons on sequencing, loops, debugging, conditionals, ¬†binary, functions, computational thinking. Within the course there are also ‘unplugged’ lessons available.

I have found an extremely useful resource which could probably be used to deliver all my programming content and best of all, it is FREE.

App Smashing With Maps, Top Trump It and Pic Collage

Today I worked with one of our Year 3 classes. They are learning about different countries in Europe in their Geography lessons. I decided to make use of a great iPhone app (which also works on iPad) called Top Trump It. This is an app that I discovered on Lee Parkinson’s blog¬† image

The app can be used to make Top Trump cards like the ones I used to play with in the 1980s! There is a limited amount of information you can put on the cards so you have to choose carefully. We decided to include population (in millions) , number of major cities and number of bordering countries. The children used Safari to find out the population of the country they were working on.

They then went onto the Maps app to examine which countries bordered their country and how many major cities there were. This whole activity resulted in discussion of very useful geographic vocabulary as well as the children using a combination of apps to achieve a goal as required in the computing curriculum. The final stage was to import their top trump cards into Pic Collage and add extra information that wouldn’t fit on the cards in order to extend their knowledge of their chosen countries

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Using Minecraft To Design Fairground Rides

Our Year 6 children have recently started on their new Design and Technology project which is Fairground Rides. I thought that Minecraft would be a great app to use as part of the process towards building their own rides. The children had already examined existing fairground rides and designed their own in paper.

Minecraft was useful for the children to be able to build prototypes of their rides. In effect, they couldimage image image

see their designs come to life in 3D. This also helped them to decide whether they needed to make any changes to their designs.

The children has to think about the physics of their rides such as how to make a carousel turn as well as the relative dimensions of the different parts of their rides. Many of the children went on to build other rides, experimenting with their design skills.


Using Alan Peat’s Science-Fiction Story Machine and Book Creator

I have been a fan of Alan Peat’s ideas and resources for a long time. I have been to a number of his training conferences too. He is someone I admire greatly in the world of education. Along with this, the Book Creator app is one of the apps that I use most often in the classroom and is always one I would recommend to teachers starting out on their journey with iPads.

A little while ago, I downloaded the Science-Fiction Story Machine App from Alan Peat. Since then I have been waiting for an ideal chance to use it in the classroom. That chance came this half-term as the Year 4 teachers I work with asked me to do some iPad-based literacy work with their classes. I decided to work on writing longer narratives over a number of weeks.

One of the most common problems (in my experience) that children face when beginning to write a narrative is getting going usually due to a lack of ideas coming immediately to mind. This is where the Science-Fiction Story Machine comes in. It generates engaging ideas for settings, openings, characters etc so the children have something to work with from the start. Book Creator provides a fantastic medium for the children to present their stories. Today’s session (the first of a few over the coming weeks) went something like this.

1. All the children had a whiteboard in pairs. We then generated ideas for the opening, main characters, setting and other characters using the Science-Fiction story machine. The app gives you three choices for each one from a vast bank of ideas. If you don’t want to use any of the three, you can reset it to get a different set of three ideas.

2. The children discussed in their pairs which of the ideas they wanted to use in their own stories and noted these on the whiteboard. They did this for each of the first four sections from the story machine.

3. Before I set them off to work on the opening of their stories on Book Creator, we had a brief class discussion about which of Alan Peat’s sentence types we could use in these stories and noted them down on the class board as an aide memoire.

4. The children had used Book Creator several times before so they set off to work confidently, producing excellent story openings. The finished stories I am sure will be excellent and presented in a very polished way due to the versatility of the Book Creator app.

Making Game Trailers

While browsing the excellent Lee Parkinson’s blog, I came across the idea of using the iMovie trailer facility to make game trailers. This made me think that I could use this in combination with the superb free app – Pixel Press Floors. This app allows you to create games by either designing them in the app or drawing them on a special sheet and scanning them into app.

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The results were fantastic (and veryaddictive)!

The children were already familiar with Floors so I set them to work as young game designers and they quickly produced some brilliant games. Then we talked about what we might incude in a game trailer i.e. how we could promote our games. This led to ideas such as including reviews from newspapers or gaming magazines (fictional) and exaggerated claims about the games.

Next, I demonstrated how to create a trailer in iMovie. Once tis was done, the children took a variety of screenshots of their game and imported them into iMovie. When they had enough screenshots, they built the trailers adding the persuasive devices we had discussed earlier.

Here are a couple of links to the finished trailers.