BBC Micros Live On! Geordie Racer runs once more!

Today I’d like to give a special vote of thanks to Ridgeway Primary School in South Croydon, particularly to Geoff Blyth, who arranged for me to pick up some old and dusty BBC Masters, BBC ‘B’s and Cub monitors, along with software, floppy drives and manuals. It was all donated freely to Cleveratom so that we could extend and develop the rather innovative ‘BBC Micro News’ project.

The BBC Micro computer is 25 years old this year and has been the stalwart of many a school computing lab, or classroom computer. The device was always streets ahead of its time, but as with all things technology changed, development ceased, newer machines became available and life generally goes on. Many a BBC was consigned to a skip, never to be used again.

And what a shame that was, for all the wrong reasons! As a teacher in the late 80’s and early 90’s I definitely didn’t know very much about the BBC computers. I didn’t appreciate the ability they had, and apart from the excellent ‘Logo’ language and a range of associated input and output modules, including sensors and motors, I actually despised many of the programs available.

How wrong I was to think like that! Today, Ridgeway Primary School (and Geoff) helped me complete a level of understanding I have been missing for a generation. Today, in amongst all of the bits and bobs, was a copy of ‘Geordie Racer’!

I used to take a class of eager 8 year old children to the TV room at school and have them watch episodes of ‘Look and Learn’ the fabulous BBC series that brought us such greats as ‘Through the Dragon’s Eye’ and of course Geordie Racer. Children would merrily sing the opening music then sit glued to the screen as the story unfolded week by week. Once the episode was over it was back to the classroom to play the computer game. By today’s standards of Quake Engines 3D graphics and Wii consoles the games are very very dull. But back then, this was enthralling stuff as the children battled with Baz (the villain in the story) and picked up a huge number of literacy skills as they did so. As the teacher, I remember thinking that I really ought to find a way to turn down the music as it was soooo annoying, but today I went back in time and relived some classic memories.

Thanks to Geoff, we think these BBCs will be able to help us develop the innovative ‘BBC Micro News‘ website where BBC Micros read RSS feeds from the BBC web site in their very ‘Steven Hawkins’ voices, helped by a couple of more modern machines as they do so. This project started as a bit of a mental challenge and has grown into something more – quite what is not yet clear, only that we need to get this able to handle more requests soon.

There is much to do, of course, and we need to reset all of the hardware so that it will run the ‘BASIC’ program we need it to. In checking the machines today, most are in working condition with few, if any, ailments. Some keyboards are not quite fully working, one or two keys are missing, all of them are dirty and need cleaning, but even so, after years in storage, years of use in a busy school, and a bumpy ride from Croydon to Chelmsford, they ALL powered up!

So imagine my delight when we got to look at the diskettes that Geoff kindly donated – including a box of unopened 5.25″ floppies – and found Geordie Racer, and found that it still ran (no pun intended). Fabulous stuff!

As we get more done, and the service becomes more reliable, I’ll post pictures and write about the developments. We will of course be crediting Ridgeway Primary School on the web site for their very kind donation. If anyone else has got any working BBC Micros (any model, but particularly ‘B’ or ‘B Plus’) then please do get in touch – especially if you have got old software to help us relive special memories!

Essex ExCite exhibition, Charter Hall, Colchester

The Essex ‘Mini BETT’ show is running on Thursday and Friday this week at Charter Hall in Colchester, Essex. It really shouldn’t be called a ‘mini BETT’ but it is an old tag and it kind of stuck some time ago. However, lots of very good companies will be exhibiting at the show over the next two days, and Cleveratom are delighted to be part of that.

Cleveratom Display stand image

We will be showing off the personalised learning software with Edison Schools, as we were at BETT in January, but also the new and vastly improved community software for schools which we are using in Norwich college. We have several working names for it, and the one that we want to ask about when isitors appear at our stand is ‘Thought Park’ – an online space for communities, group activities, conversations and so on. It really is a seductive piece of software that is not trying to be another VLE. It would augment a VLE nicely, and it would be ideal for groups wanting to run colaborative projects. Aimed at secondary schools and primary settings, this is going to be interesting to see a response to.

If you are coming over to ExCite, do look out for us. We will be using a smaller display stand than we had at BETT, although it looks similar…

The 24th is the day of industrial action by teachers in England, and it is likely that the show will either be packed, because staff are not having to go to school, or empty, because teachers are staying at home! Either way, we’ll be there, and we’ll be keen to hear your opinions about what we are doing.

You will also be able to talk to someone from Edison Schools about PLiP – an ingenious process for introducing a personalised approach to learning, using software that we have created. The question we need an answer to is how would this need to be adapted to fit with how Primary schools like to work – after all, personalisation is not just for secondariy schools, is it?

ICT Needs Analysis

screnshot of questonnaireI was recently asked to create a training programme for staff to develop their ICT capabilities as part of a piece of work we were doing at Cleveratom. Creating a training schedule is actually quite an open-ended task, so I thought it best to do a needs analysis first to find out where everyone thought they needed help.

The analysis consists of three sections of questions related to different skill levels using ICT for learning. The first level focuses on basic skills – email, internet browsing and so on, and looks at the extent the participant is confident in using these technologies for themselves and for their pupils. It goes on to more advanced skills, looking at video and audio, interactive white boards (that perhaps should be a ‘basic’ skill by now) and other more creative activities. It completes with a look at the use of ICT to support the wider professional effectiveness.

The questions are simple, but the discussion around them is very important. Running this as a group session enabled people to talk to each other about what their fears and concerns were and really get to grips with the notion of what they need. Revealing the tensions and concerns as a group added weight to the process for sure, and rather than keeping their responses private I was pleased to see the level of openness in the group.

Developing a needs analysis questionnaire is quite interesting in itself, and strangely there are very few available using a google search. One or two very simple ones (how to hold a mouse, turn on or off the computer and similar) but nothing of real substance. This is fine, of course, and I expect there are commercially available schemes, but I wanted to create a unique tool for the occasion.

From the outset it was intended to create sections that tested people in different ways. A needs analysis for ICT is not going to be the same for a teacher as it is for a learning support assistant if a section is all about planing, assessment and delivery of a lesson (it may be, but not in the same way that it is for a teacher, perhaps). Therefore in introducing the survey it was important to explain that not all questions will apply, and where it is clearly not relevant, not to spend time worrying about what you don’t know! Ultimately, if you don’t know anything about databases or control technology, but you don’t need to know these things, then that section could be left blank. It is all about what you need to know in order to be more effective in your job, and how your work relates to the curriculum being taught, not what you don’t know about in general.

Having created the needs analysis questionnaire as a paper based exercise we are now looking at how to make it more accessible through electronic means. Trouble is, if your audience are not too familiar with a web browser to begin with, how do you get them to complete the needs analysis in the first place if it is only online?

In short, if you or your organisation (be it a school, college or company) is looking to review their skills with ICT then you should start with a questionnaire that enables the analysis to take place. We would be delighted to talk to you about how the needs analysis that has now been created could help, and how this would translate into an effective staff training or development programme for improving skills, knowledge and understanding in ICT.

Awake film review, Hayden Christensen

Picture of Jessica AlbaOh dear. This is most certainly one of those films I would rather not have seen. Not because it is particularly scary, or gory – it really isn’t – but because it is a complete load of nonsense, is confused in the script and does nothing to help improve Hayden Christensen’s reputation. I’d go so far as to say it lowers it, somewhat.

The plot is incredibly thin, and in fact has three divergent strands that fail to be adequately drawn together in any moving or empathetic way. The acting throughout the film is adequate at best, and in some parts appalling. There is an extended sequence of Jessica Alba on a beach as a memory of the main character and it is pure, unadulterated trash, designed presumably to showcase Miss Alba’s considerably attractive assets and not much more. I can only think there were a few minutes left at the end where someone thought the film was too long, and as a result added in yards of reel that by rights had no place in the editing room in the first place.

Long winded and slow paced doesn’t describe this film with nearly enough accuracy. It was too drawn out and I ended up pleading for it to do something, anything, to keep me awake. Far from the title, I found it tiring, dull, sleep inducing and numbing in ways that clearly the anaesthetic used in the film wasn’t being. The final sequence of an all too predictable plot left the audience with words along the lines of ‘he is …. awake.’ It was met with a gentle snoring sound from around the theatre as more than one viewer had already nodded off.

When leaving a film, any film, I find things to talk about – the best bit, the worst bit, the scenery – pretty much half an hour of dissection (no pun intended). On this occasion all I could think of on the way out was the fastest way to the car to get me away from there. Not since ‘Open Water’ have I seen a film as bad as this one, but once again I suspect there will be fans of this kind of film that will want to level the balance from what I am saying. My advice is that if you have need of about an hour and a half of snoozing, go and see it. If you want to spend that time more productively, watch the grass grow instead.

(image from