Abzu as a Stimulus for Writing

At our school we have been using the game Abzu as a stimulus for writing. I've spoken before on numerous occasions about how video games can be used as a contextual hub for learning and in the past we have used some games to help on the learning journey.

I have played and completed Abzu in my own time and I enjoyed the experience, the fact that the story line and its meaning were ambiguous, its visual style abstract and its music soothing and dramatic made me feel that this would be a good game with which to engage the pupils. At its core Abzu is a diving game but this is incredibly reductive as in the game most of the time is spentswimming with the myriad of underwater creatures, but it's distinctive visual style of flatter shapes, flowing lines and an expressive use of light and colour make it stand apart from the more uniform style of games like Endless Ocean, another diving game which I have used previously.

In Abzu you play a silent diver and explore a strange, underwater realm. In terms of gameplay, it's fairly simple as you swim and interact with a few mysterious objects. Because the game itself has minimal HUD on screen all you see are the gorgeous visuals with the natural environments in lush bright colours giving way to mysterious sunken ruins with strange hieroglyphs, which seem readable but for the need of a Rosetta stone equivalent.

But there are no question marks about Abzu's beauty. It's not so much that the individual elements are all that astonishing, but the way they're orchestrated, with the shoals of beautifully animated fish, the slowly undulating vegetation, the areas of coloured light and shadow, regularly takes your breath away. At its best the union of music and visuals can be absolutely magical.

In our lesson we used Abzu to write a descriptive piece of writing. The children were presented with an image of the cover and had to predict what the game was about.

Then we started the game where the diver is seen to be floating on top of the ocean, motionless and with its eyes closed. With the click of a button the eyes opened and the children gasped in delight as I ascended to the top of the sea, all around there was ocean and glimmers of seaweed in the distance.

We dove down into the waters and children started to note down describing words on their image proforma; azure waters, crystal clear sea, shimmering sparkling waters, refracted light etc. We then gently swam towards a shoal of brightly coloured fish and described their movements and how they reacted when our diver moved near; ruby red fish swam carefree, swishing their tail from side to side, the fish quickly darted away startled as the stranger came near etc We then got the diver to hold onto a giant fish and glided through an opening in the rocks and the children gasped in delight as the dark cave gave way to a bright green seascape full of wonderful creatures; verdant undulating seaweed gently swayed from side to side, shoals of fish swam in tight circles to protect each other etc

Having played just the first 15 minutes of the game the children were entranced and engaged. They produced wonderful wordbanks of phrases and ideas which they shared made improvements upon. After I showed the children the scuba diver poetry scene from Bridge to Terabithia and we discussed why this short poem was so effective in conveying the emotion of what it is like to be underwater.

The children were inspired and then spent the next 30 minutes working in pairs writing and refining their descriptive sentences on their whiteboards and transferring into their paper. The children shared what they had done and constructive feedback was provided by their peers.

For a short sequence of lessons this was a great way to engage the children but I know that this could be part of a much longer teaching sequence and next year I hope to plan it in for our underwater themed topic using the plans I used with the book Dougal's Deep Sea Diary and the old Wii game Endless Ocean but updating it for this current generation software.

Nightlights for Electricity Science Unit

The Electricity unit for Science is always exciting for the pupils but when it came to making a product to show their understanding of circuits and conductors and insulators we decided to make nightlights. The project was part of a sequence of Science lessons and the nightlights themselves took a whole morning, the complexities arose when trying to ensure that the circuit was working and wouldn't come loose once fixed into place, however as you can see below the results have been marvellous! For the link to the lesson plans and resources click on the link below and it will take you to TES where you can download it for free.

The nightlights were used in the school corridor for all to see and the step by step process of their creation was shown.

Perfect PSVR as a Stimulus for Descriptive Writing

Video games have the ability to engage pupils like no other medium and that is why I was delighted when as part of our work on Kensuke's Kingdom, the adventure novel by Michael Morpurgo, I was able to persuade my colleagues to use the PlayStation VR to use the game Perfect to immerse them in detailed rendered representation of a tropical beach. We used the PSVR and connected it onto a projector and sound system. I was controlling the VR headset as it is not recommended for anyone under the age of 12. I held the VR headset in my hand and controlled it in this way so I could still speak to the pupils. I recorded the gameplay using the recording option and uploaded it onto YouTube.com so the children could refer to it whilst they were writing their piece. 

The children all had whiteboards and pens and wrote adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and figurative language on their boards and then they wrote their first paragraph in their books using the notes they had made. The sequence of work is still continuing but currently this is what we have produced. I have included our working wall as this will be added to over the coming week.

Perfect PSVR to help in Kensuke's Kingdom Writing

As an interactive medium, video games can be an amazing teaching tool off which to hang learning. They have the ability to engage pupils in a way that other mediums like books and films can't as the games can simulate and adapt to the decisions of the individuals, if we want to go left we can go left! However being an enthusiastic early adopter of technology and being able to convince other teachers of its application is another thing altogether. So I was delighted when as part of our unit of work on Kensuke's Kingdom, the adventure novel by Michael Morpurgo, I was able to persuade my colleagues to use the PlayStation VR we had purchased at school to help us engage and immerse our pupils.  We thought that the most appropriate use of the technology would be to describe the setting when the protagonist, a young boy called Michael, wakes up on the shore of a beach after falling overboard his family's yacht after a storm.

We purchased Perfect for the Playstation VR, which aims to immerse you in detailed rendered worlds. It is described as a transportative, meditative experience which mentally teleports you somewhere different; be it a mountain cabin, a tropical beach or a tundra landscape. The three different maps each have a day and night variation and the scenes are pretty detailed and immersive but there are some shortcomings. For all the locations you only have 3 views from which to stand and see the views, this is not a walking simulator but more like a 360 degree digital wallpaper. As a gamer this is a huge problem but as an educator this is not so much of a problem as Perfect provides more than enough material to stimulate the pupils.

We will be using Perfect later this week and I will share the work produced here. In the meantime, check out the videos and images I've recorded below as they could be used as a stimulus for writing for your class if you don't have access to the PlayStation or PSVR.

I have created videos of all the settings with no commentary and these can be used to engage the pupils but there is nothing like wearing the VR headset and feeling like being 'there'. For the use of a whole class I would recommend connecting the VR headset to the interactive whiteboard and recording the session using the PlayStation 'SHARE' button, which is how these videos were made.

Shadow of the Colossus as a Story Starter

As a teacher and an avid gamer I like to have my children be excited and in awe of what I teach. There are many tools out there but video games are a great way to immerse children. So in this spirit I used one of my favourite games, Shadow of the Colossus, which has an exciting and intriguing introduction as a story writing stimulus I planned a sequence of lessons with the intention of getting the children to develop their vocabulary, specifically their use of adjectives. The lessons took place over the course of a week and a half. To get us into the right frame of mind we listened to the ambient soundtrack, watched my play-through of the first few minutes of the game (using careful editing I avoided any inappropriate material) and wrote the story in draft and then types and illustrated it. I converted the finished file into a pdf. and will be placing them onto our school website so that parents could put it on their Kindle, ipads, iphones etc. Here are samples of some of the work we have produced.

BAE Fighter Pilot Helmet Competition... And We're In The Final!

Edit: We won the competition!

British Aerospace organised a nationwide competition inviting children to take part in their Design and Technology challenge to create a fighter pilot helmet of the future. The project would require teams, up to a maximum of 4, to produce a fighter pilot helmet of the future which could handle the practicalities of day-to-day use as well as consider technological advancements that might provide the wearer with an edge over their competitors.

The deadline for the project was 27th October but our school broke up the week before for half-term so we had a tight deadline of just 3 weeks to get everything done. Over the course of the weeks we used the lunchtimes to research, plan and create our helmets. We had 3 teams and they were in competition with each other as only the finest presentation and ideas would be chosen to take part in the final where other schools across the country would take part in a live final.

Luckily one of our teams was chosen and so on the 30th November they will represent our school and present their work to a panel of judges where they will be asked questions and their work will be scrutinised.

Fingers crossed we win!

Mobile Phone Projector

A few days ago I got a few of my students together to create a smartphone projector. I'd seen a video of it online and it seemed pretty easy so I'd ordered the parts required and over the course of a lunchtime we created our projectors. The process was cheap and simple. To make the shoebox projector all we needed were:

Scissors
Tape
Shoebox
Cardboard
Magnifying Glass
A smart phone

The most difficult aspect of the whole process was the cutting out the circular shape for the magnifying glass as the shoe boxes were quite thick. However it was worth the effort as the results were excellent. It required a bit of tweaking to get the image clear but overall the result was well worth the 45 or so minutes it took to create a final piece. I'd recommend you use a very strong magnifying glass as this will dictate the quality of the image. If you have a spare hour or so why not try it yourself?

Miniature Figure Competition Entries Are In

So I mentioned before how I organised a competition for the children in my school to take a miniature figure on their holidays and compose a creative photograph. I was interested in seeing the types of images created by the pupils and the teachers. Well, the entries are in and they are suitably awesome. Have a look and see what you think!

Tiny Figures Photography

The summer holidays are a time to relax and spend time with family and friends, however 6 weeks is a long time for some so at my school I created a fun project for the children and teachers to take part in. The idea is to place miniature figurines in a the real world.

This project requires a special type of photography where playful scenes are created with the use of tiny people. It requires an interesting use of skills including forced perspective photography, setting up of the scenes and even miniature figure painting. Here are a few of the images I created to show to my school to get them inspired.

Now that we are back from the holidays the pupils are bringing in their compositions and I look forward to seeing their entries. I will be sharing a few of their best entries when the competition ends next week.

Bring Virtual Reality into the Classroom

I've spoken before about Virtual Reality, about how it was set to be the next 'big' thing, the next piece of must have technology... but much like 3D TV it's moment never came, until now maybe (for VR not 3D TV, no-ones interested in that!).

Whether VR takes this time around remains to be seen but I feel it is important to introduce children to the world of VR as it is an example of a future technology, something that could change the world by challenging the status quo. Often the future technology builds on what has gone before but often it can replace it entirely. Recent examples of this are:

  • —The iPod changed the way we consume music.
  • —YouTube has changed the way we distribute content.
  • —Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have changed the way we watch films and television shows. These services are now producers themselvese.g. Daredevil, The Man in the High Castle etc
  • —Steam, an online video game purchasing platform, has changed the way millions of gamers play their video game.

We must prepare the children for the changing face of the world by preparing them for things that haven’t even been thought of yet. I feel strongly that VR could change the education system. As teachers and educators we like to immerse our children in topics to interest and excite them. With certain topics this is easy as we have to facilities and resources nearby to engage them, however with certain topics like history this can be difficult as the places we are discussing are often not within reach.

How much more thrilling would it be to stand in the place we are learning about? We can't take our classes on an educational visit to Egypt for example when we are learning about the Pharaohs but what if we could take them there virtually. Well, with the power of VR we can.

In this spirit of embracing the future (and past) the pupils in my school made their own Google Card VR headsets. It may not look like much, a simple unassuming little cardboard box but through the use of magnetometers, accelerometers, gyroscopes and external head cameras, which come as standard in most mobile phones, we have the opportunity to transport our children to amazing places.

We made the kits ourselves by using the Brother ScanNCut machine to cut out the Google Cardboard template, and lenses I bought on amazon.co.uk for 80p a pair and a large pack of magnets which cost just 30p each. The whole cost was less than £1.50 but for this low price the children had a complete VR headset! For those not used to crafting their own kit for about £10 you can buy cardboard housing for a smartphone running Google's Android mobile OS, a lens kit, some magnets, some velcro and a rubber band and an easily programmable Near-Field Communication sticker tag for launching the companion mobile app.

The cardboard app comes with 7 “experiences”;

  • YouTube lets you watch a selection of Youtube videos on a simulated theater screen.
  • Street Vue lets you wander around in a VR version of street view.
  • Exhibit lets you look at a few 3D recreations of objects.
  • Earth Flyover lets you zoom around a city in Google Earth. Push the “button” to start flying forward, push it again to stop.
  • Photo Sphere Viewer lets you look around in pictures you’ve taken using Android’s built-in 360º panoramic feature.
  • Windy Day is a cute, cartoony environment where you can watch animals sneak around as leaves fall.
  • Tour Guide has you explore the Palace of Versailles.

The children loved making their headsets and took it into their classes to show their peers, there was a great buzz as pupils had a chance to immerse themselves in a roller coaster ride. Teachers were excited about the prospect of VR and what implications it could have for their practice.

As with any new technology there needs to be discussion about its implications upon the world. In Japan, there are hundreds of thousands of young men who do not engage in society but rather seclude themselves at home, living through the virtual world. This is such a phenomenon that they even have a name for it, hakikomori. With the emergence of VR there is a real fear that people may become plugged in but may not plug out.

We need to ensure we talk to our children about being plugged in all the time- it is a real danger.

I hope to create a class set of VR headsets and with the use of iPod touches download many useful apps which could be used across the curriculum. As usual any work done will be shared here but I am excited by what the future could hold with VR in the classroom.

LINK- Egypt 360

LINK- Egypt Round Me.

Glitch Art

Glitchy media appeals to so many people as it is so unpredictable, in a world of mundane and clean visuals it tickles the nostalgia bone or looks aesthetically pleasing to have something unexpected occur in a visual medium. We live in an electronic age where things are locked and so when they break they are broken for good, often repairs are prohibitively priced. However old technology is different, when things are 'broken' it's not really broken... just jankily working! Lovingly used old VHS tapes develop scan lines or tracking problems and CD's skip and stutter after being scratched, they work but in unpredictable ways and this is what makes Glitch Art so interesting.

The human and broken electronic medium work well to create something new from something 'broken' and it's not just a human imposing its will, the electronic medium contributes something to the process in its unpredictability. Even though there is a desired result the outcome is always a pleasant surprise as it is unknown and unknowable.

I'm not sure as to why there has been an explosion in Glitch Art but it might have something to do with the fact that we live in a time where we can capture moments in precise detail using HD video, cameras, audio recording equipment and so on. To break from this idea of perfection and beauty artists are harnessing the broken to show that beauty can be seen in the broken. In a way it is similar to the ancient art of sculpture in Greece. For many years in the Archaic Greek Era the statues were stylised but during the Greek Classical Era the statues grew more accurate and precise to the human form. The Hellenistic Period saw the sculpture form reach its zenith with perfection and after that where do you go? The abstract.

The heavily stylised kouros statue

Maybe people are fighting the idea of perfection and creating beauty from the broken by taking code of an image file and editing tiny portions of the data to create errors in the image. I did this datablending with a few images I liked and the results are below. I am hoping to do this Glitch Art with my pupils very soon and will share my lesson plans and practise here.

Mangatar

Manga is a Japanese art form and is a popular form of comics and animation. Many children may watch manga without knowing it such as Pokemon, Naruto, One Piece and Dragonball- these are all manga. Manga is a distinctive art style which is usually characterised by big eyes, crazy hair and tiny mouths and noses.

Working with a group of pupils from years 2, 3 and 4 we used faceyourmanga.com to create a mangatar, a manga style avatar of themselves.

Once the children had created the mangatar we print screened the image and pasted it onto Word and enlarge it so that it fitted onto an A4 page. Once we had done that we used small canvases and the children traced around the eye of their character by using the projector as a guide. We then painted the image in bright colours to give it a comic/ Pop Art style. To finish off the work we went over the lines in a thick black pen and this made the art really stand out. We then worked very hard to put the display in place and these are the results.

Why don’t you have some fun and make your own mangatar? But a word of advice... don't let your pupils use masks, gadgets or tattoos as they feature smoking and other inappropriate options. Otherwise have fun!

OhBots

We've just bought an OhBot at my school and are underway in using it to help teach programming. For the uninitiated the Ohbot is a robot head that uses a derivative of Scratch. Priced at just over 100 pounds (about $150) it really is a good investment to teach the children coding. The OhBot allows children to generate programs quickly and encourages them to experiment and use their imagination. The OhBot is flexible in that additional sensors can be used to allow for more complex coding. We have yet to fully get to grips with it but will be sharing our work here.

They Call Me Corgi

As part of the Queen's 90th birthday celebrations I got my class to design and decorate their own corgis. Some of my pupils created designs based on British iconography but others went all out and created designs based on pop culture including comic characters. Here are their designs:

Britto Art Makes Queen Pop

Romero Britto is a Brazilian artist who is famed for his use of bright vibrant colours and bold patterns in his work. His work often represents hope and joy and he has been influenced by a wide range of art including cubism, pop art and graffiti. I first came across his work whilst in Brugges, Belgium, where I saw a Disney themed shop selling characters in wacky colours. I purchased a Mickey Mouse from The Sorcerers Apprentice and it sits on my shelf proudly.

Mickey sits proudly on my shelf amongst my comics.

When looking at celebrating the Queen's 90th birthday one of the members at my school had the idea of doing a piece of pop art in his style and I thought it was a great idea, so thanks Rachel! Here are some of the pieces my class produced and I'm sure you'll agree, they definitely stand out!

Inspirational Book Corner

Reading is a wonderful past time but we all know that getting children interested in reading can be a difficult task. To help engage them I worked with the pupils to create an inspirational book corner based on the Tove Jansson characters of the Moomins. The characters are enduring, iconic and whimsical enough to brighten any book corner. I have placed a few comics and graphic novels to engage reluctant readers and hope this wonderful space offer them a chance to engage with a whole universe of possibilities and wonder. 

Promoting Healthy Eating

Over the last few years there have been many campaigns highlighting the issue of junk and processed foods. Jamie Oliver led a successful campaign to highlight the poor choice of food available in many school canteens and as a result nutritional guidelines were brought in to tackle the growing child obesity levels in the UK.

Healthy eating is high on the priory of the new curriculum;

As part of their work with food, pupils should be taught how to cook and apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating. Instilling a love of cooking in pupils will also open a door to one of the great expressions of human creativity. Learning how to cook is a crucial life skill that enables pupils to feed themselves and others affordably and well, now and in later life.

There are many resources available onlineand here I want to share a few that I have done in my school. Chipotle created a powerful video showing how food is processed, this is a powerful talking point about practise of battery farming versus free range.

Tesco also run From Farm To Fork workshops across the country where children can visit Tesco stores and learn that fruit and vegetables are healthy foods and that they should aim to eat at least five portions a day. They also learn where sugar comes from, as well as how to read nutritional charts to avoid eating more sugar than the recommended allowance. The class get a chance to taste and find out about healthy snacks and even make fruit kebabs. The sessions are free and a great way to engage all the pupils.

Tesco's Farm To Fork is a great initiative which allows children to find out where food comes from and its nutritional content.

Fooducate is a great app which lets you scan barcodes for its nutritional content.

Fooducate is a free app that allows you to scan the barcode of food items and it breaks down the nutritional content of it in an easy to understand interface. This was particularly great when the children were asked to investigate the amount of sugar food contained. We discussed the concept of hidden sugars and it opened their eyes to the fact that a lot of the food they thought healthy, were in fact anything but. We live in a fortunate time where there is a wealth of information about healthy eating, as educators we should ensure that the children are informed and can make their own choices wisely.

LINK- From Farm to Fork (Tesco)

LINK- D and T Healthy Eating Lesson plans (Healthy Indian Meal)

LINK- Food: A Fact of Life

LINK- Fooducate

Electronic Orchestra

 A musical trend has growing exponentially throughout Europe and that is the Chiptune. This musical movement reuses old videogames hardware like Nintendo’s GameBoy, NES, Atari ST, Amiga and the Commodore 64 to turn them into a tool capable of creating a new sound, a modern tempo and an innovative musical style. This is a new way of interpreting music performed by a great many artists who show their skills in turning these “limited” machines designed for leisure in the 80’s into surprising musical instruments and graphical tools.

Jumping on this is the new wave of people creating electronic orchestra's using old technologies to create a cohesive whole. I have been experimenting on this by using some of the technology in my cupboard. I did this by using a 5 way splitter, a Nintendo DS and the game Electroplankton, the PSP with the game Beaterator and a variety of free music app on the ipad. I then used a phono cable to connect all this to external speakers and my laptop which contained Audacity, a free to use recording software. I have embedded the result below. Now I don't pretend to be the next Mike Oldfield or Jean Michel Jarre but the fun of doing this as a class to produce a final piece of electronic music is too exciting. I have a group in my class who don't all get on- what better way to promote teamwork and harmony then by producing... well, harmonies. I'll let you know how it goes!

Low Poly Art

This term our learning journey has been about the Romans and part of that journey has included the story of Pompeii. Working with my class we have been creating poems and collages on our topic of volcanos.

For some of the pupils I gave an extension task of creating a low poly volcano scene. I was inspired to create low poly art by the recent wave of games which use this aesthetic to create beautiful stylised pieces. Low poly first gained real prominence with the first wave of polygon games on the Playstation (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year), looking at the image below you can see that the art was in it's early stages but there was a cubist beauty to its angles and contours. I've written in detail about the return of low poly art here.

One of the best examples of polygons in the Playstation era- Spyro was loved by millions.

To create the low poly art we used the software Polygen, a free app on iOS which was very simple and quick to use. The children selected picture of a volcano and then tapped the vertices, once this was done they finalised their work and these are the results

We do not have Photoshop at my school yet but there is a great guide on how to use this piece of software to make more detailed and striking low poly art. Low poly is here and it's the new wave in retro gaming inspired art.

LINK- Low Poly Art Photoshop Tutorial

Infographics

Information graphics or infographics are visual representations of information, data or knowledge. The purpose of infographics is to present information quickly and clearly. The three parts of all infographics are the visual, the content, and the knowledge. In this fast-paced world where there is so much information and data flooding your senses infographics offer a pretty neat way to present data in a simplistic and very visual way. We have been creating infographics over the past year in my class to present what we have leaernt and here are some examples. Use it in your classroom, it's really cool!