Bett 2016

For those who work in the IT for education sector, be they technicians, teachers, subject leads or just tech savvy teachers, Bett is the annual convention for all things new and exciting in educational IT development and releases. Held at the Excel arena in London, it’s an extremely large affair, containing suppliers and manufacturers of hardware, software, applications and web services, all specifically relating to IT in education.

This year was my first year going to Bett, and it’s clear to see where the focus of the events many displays seem to be centered around. The hardware is getting smaller, more software than ever before is free, and lots of services that once required schools to invest in their own, often expensive and sizable, hardware are becoming cloud based, managed by companies at locations completely separate from school sites, using the power of the internet.

Attending an event like this, it’s unavoidable returning with a swathe of material to wrap your head around, some useful and some really not, depending on your background and job role. Here are some of my highlights for the event and what I thought would be most useful for the education sites I help support with their IT.

1.      Code Club – Interactive Workshop using Scratch and Raspberry Pis (on Linux) - Making a ChatBot

This Code Club demonstration has drawn me to a couple of computing aspects I think would be excellent to utilize around our schools. The first is the service Code Club itself, a free bank of resources and volunteer led workshops for children ages 9-11 teaching the fundamentals of computer coding, often using familiar software such as Python or Scratch (anyone delivering the new computing curriculum already will have likely seen these before). To find out more about Code Club, visit www.codeclub.org.uk

Now owned by the Raspberry Pi company, they predictably have begun delivering these courses using the Raspberry Pi hardware. If you’re unfamiliar with Pi computers, the philosophy is a computer for everyone – a PC so bare bones a model can be bought for around £26, and contains everything needed to assembly a working computer, with operating system, internet connectivity and the ability to be used for programming. These would be an ace way to show children in schools the parts of a computer, and how they come together.

Using both of these resources together could be invaluable to schools with a minimum financial outlay. And because the Pi can run Scratch, any hardware schools already have will be compatible.

2    Lego WeDo 2.0 – Interactive Workshop on computer coding through science

Lego have always been at the forefront of using Lego with technology, famously through the Mindstorms series which are now geared at the secondary level of education. Further down the key stages, they have introduced WeDo and now WeDo 2.0, a computing program and tablet app that teachers computing fundamentals such as algorithms and consequential thinking through the medium of other subjects. For this interactive workshop, we were looking at coding through science.

The WeDo 2 pupil starter set goes for £299, with various offers and discounts for purchasing add ons and in larger scales. It uses a software program and tablet application and comes with a Bluetooth enabled motor and connection unit, which connected to our demo iPad unit in seconds, and which can be used to attach various sensors to. For this project, we were tasked with making the head of our little buddy robot rotate according to a command.

The software is incredibly intuitive and much like scratch in how you go about placing commands in a sequential order, changing variables and debugging, only it is more visual, relying on less text to explain outcomes (though there is a comprehensive definition library to help with this). What I like about the Lego sets is that, rather than seeing the outcomes of their coding and debugging on a screen, the children can relate this to the real world outcome of having their robot move, in this instance rotating.

It also promotes a higher level of debugging – not only do you have to fix the code to correct any problems, but there may be aspects of the physical model design that need altering to help the code run efficiently, for example we found we needed to reattach our robot’s head using a longer axel in order for it to move independently of the body. We also found we could start and stop the code using a light sensor, with minimal input from anyone around.

For the initial outlay then, I feel these sets would definitely contribute positively to the computing curriculum, but when you consider the sizable software package that comes along with it, not all of which have to use models, then the value for money really is terrific.

3    Hardware Encrypted Memory SticksiStorage by datashurPro

With the introduction of the cloud, it might seem strange having something as simple as a memory stick in my list of Bett highlights. However, how much do you really know about the large warehouses full of computers and storage that the big companies own, miles away in a desert somewhere? Possibly..?

For people that work frequently with sensitive information, using encrypted laptops proved troublesome, not only often requiring multiple log ons, but also the risk of losing this important information should passwords be forgotten or corrupted, or a member of staff leaves etc.

The Istorage stick is a high quality flash drive that encrypts the information before it even comes into contact with a computer. Relying on a pin code rather than a password, to unlock your device you would enter your pin before attaching it to a computer, and hey presto – secure information!
This would free up your laptop from any clunky encryption software without giving you yet another complicated paSsWOrd26 to remember – just a pin. A 4GB USB 2.0 stick starts around £30-40.

4    Active Floor – Interactive Floor Projection

Active Floor is exactly what it sounds like – an Interactive Floor. Using the witchcraft that is interactive projection, Active Floor can make a touch screen interface on any surface. An interesting way to get pupils involved and active during lessons.

Whilst possibly not suitable day to day, I could particularly envisage these projectors being utilized in SEN settings, such as breakout, inclusion and immersive rooms etc. Imagine playing a giant piano using your feet? As an interactive sensory experience this offers something innovative, and they’re bundled with an interactive floor specific software package. Visit activefloor.com for more information.

5    Story Maker (The Gruffalo edition) and ImotionPro – by Intofilm

IntoFilm, much like Code Club, are an organization helping get children and young people into the world of video editing and animation. They offer free resources on starting film clubs, such as templates on film reviews or storyboards etc. At Bett, they were showing us the newly released Gruffalo intoFilm app, which allows users to edit and create videos from genuine video and audio samples taken from the Gruffalo short film. Users are able to trim, edit, record, apply effects and save their work using iPad and Android platforms. It’s also a completely free download.

Secondly, they were also using an app called iMotionPro to teach animation. I’ve seen a lot of animation tools for tablet which have a tendency to overcomplicate things. Imotion (free) and ImotionPro (£2.99) is a simple way to capture lots of images, change the rate of play, and animate them together.

Learning how films are made this way, not only gives children great insights into the technical world of film and video editing, but also into the literary concepts of good story telling, effective review and discussion, not to mention an improved vocabulary. It also boosts many cross curricular skills, and with the help of IntoFilm’s resources could become a prominent part of a syllabus. Visit http://www.intofilm.org/ for more information.

6.    Google Education – Google Chromebooks and Google Classroom

During my time at the Google stand, I was privy to experience a few different aspects of Google’s commitment to working within the education market. Despite my love of all things Office365 at the moment for education, the Google market is nevertheless impressive.

Firstly, the hardware – Google have now lots of different technological giants pooling in to work on Google Chromebooks – essentially laptops that run on the Google Operating System. The idea behind them is that they require very little in the way of raw power to function, as the majority of Google’s OS features are used through the magic of the cloud. Now that internet in the UK is actually starting to be pretty dependable, these are now becoming a viable option, and there were many sleek designs on show. Recommended for children were the HP models, for their robust build quality, but for anyone else it really depends on personal preference. I liked the Lenovo’s myself.

Next, I was shown Google Classroom – a free web resource which allows for joint collaboration between teacher and pupil, allowing simultaneous editing of documents, as well as the ability to instantly share work with teachers and classmates, and seek support out of school time. This also works in real time, and allows for immediate feedback, including annotations, follow up tasks etc. Did I mention that this is free? For our demonstration we labelled a scientific diagram, were able to submit this to our teacher who could then view, mark and repost for us to make any follow up changes.

As well as an online Office style suite, there are also hundreds of apps available from the Google store which can be added to Google classroom for you to use. Did I mention, this is free (And will work on any computer/mac/chromebook etc). If you’re seeking out a variety of options within e-learning in your school, Google classroom definitely deserves a look in, too!

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