BAFTA Be Very Afraid 5, Trackstick Geomapping, 3D Maker

On Monday Matthew and I worked with City College Norwich RUGRoom students at the ‘Be Very Afraid‘ event at Bafta in Picadilly, London. This annual extravaganza of digital talent showcases to a wide spectrum of visitors some of the many excellent things happening in schools and colleges around the UK. This year was no different with a superb range of digital technologies being used in a variety of creative ways.

City College Norwich have been working with Geo Mapping – using a GPS enabled device (called a ‘Trackstick‘) to log locations every few seconds and enable the user to download the data which can then be added to Google Earth. The result is a path that shows as a line across the map, and which, with careful planning, can be made into all kinds of shapes!

The students from City College Norwich had to plan their routes using maps of the area around Picadilly, and make sure that they created an interesting shape. They then stepped out on the town to walk the walk, returning to download their data. Once they had it in Google Earth they didn’t stop there! They took screen grabs and manipulated the images using ‘3D Maker‘, a small app that makes a number of 3D files, some of which require a pair of 3D glasses to see – you remember the kind, one red lens, one cyan lens…?

The result was a lot of walks in the shape of cup cakes, boats, shoes, geometric designs and all kinds of interesting images. However, of far greater importance was the ability of the students to undertake a considerably complex task (which they did with ease) but also to communicate it to the many visitors who were intrigued as to what was going on. The highly demanding environment of a show such as this really tests the nerve of people who are normally reluctant to talk to people, and I am delighted to say that each of the young people at the event from Norwich were excellent ambassadors for the college.

A quick word about ‘3D Maker’ – it is a superbly simple application and needs no real tuition to use. You simply take your image, scale it to fit on the screen when at 100%, then select the items in the image that are to become foreground in the 3D output. You trace around them and adjust a single slider and the app does the rest! You can set foreground, middle ground and background items pretty easily, adjusting the extent of the ‘3D’ effect. Wearing a pair of 3D glasses really brings the images to life. If you are even remotely interested in tis kind of artistic imagery, go and buy a copy of 3D maker!

A quick word also about Tracksticks – wonderful little devices that just work as you expect. Turn them on, let them acquire a satellite signal, and go for a walk! When you get back to your computer you’ll need the Trackstick Manager application to download the data to, and then export in the appropriate format. Google ‘.kmz’ files are a snap, and loading them in to Google Earth is a double click away. One slight reservation about the Tracksticks and that is with the software which is PC only right now. A nice and friendly mac version would be the icing on the cake, and really help make the trackstick experience very good indeed.

TES Conference, Olympia

On Friday I had the great pleasure of speaking at the TES conference at Olympia, to a group of primary headteachers and practitioners about implementing personalised learning in their settings. All too often, personalised learning is considered as appropriate for secondary schools when in fact it is applicable to all phases of education. My turn at the podium was an opportunity to consider this in more detail.

The points I raised were the background of the personalised learning debate in England, how personalised learning fits with other systems and structures in schools and what tools are available to support the introduction and embedding of personalised learning in primary settings.

I drew from the work of David Hopkins’s 2007 book ‘Every school a great school’ (Open University Press) which clearly discusses the processes that have been happening in educational reform and offers suggestions for how the process of change can be taken further. Building in examples from around the world, during my time at Ultralab, and adding in a fair smattering of my own opinion about how virtual learning environments, as they currently stand, are not going to support personalised learning without a great deal of effort on bealf of the teachers who use them.

Far from being pessimistic, the situation couldn’t be more full of opportunity, but dismissing some of the myths and dispelling rumours is necessary before schools will be able to move towards implementing systems rigorously enough to really embedd the processes required.

Sainsbury’s Plastic Bags, Supermarket Sized Hypocrisy?

sainsbury bag
sainsbury bag

Today I went to the local supermarket and did the usual rounds of the aisles, loading the trolley with packets of food all wrapped in excessive amounts of cardboard and plastic. Today I picked up less than I usually do, but even so it was more than would fit into one or two bags.

On 1st October, Sainsbury’s took the decision to move the plastic bags off the end of the checkout, but to make them available if asked for. Not realising this, I stopped and asked. The conversation with the enthusiastic (over zealous?) 17yr old lad went along these lines:

“Could I please have some bags?”

“Yes, how many would you like?”

“I think six should do it, thanks.”

“Six? For that little lot? You don’t need six, you could get all of that into just four…”

“Do you think so? I don’t, which is why I have asked for six. If it turns out I can manage with less then I’ll leave some on the end of the checkout. Please pass me six bags.”

Now I wasn’t in a very good mood at that point in the day, and could possibly have been a little less ‘sharp’, but I really do object to being told I can do with less by someone who hasn’t done as much shopping as I have done, who chooses not to question the reason why he has been told to restrict the bags in the first place.

Apparently, it’s to save the planet, some environmental excuse like that. Which is fine – I’m the first to complain if I see something not being done, but I was told that it was the scourge of plastic bags which is most damaging to the environment, and made to feel as I was somehow to blame for the multiple thousands that are strewn along our highways and byways. I was the culprit, obviously.

I pointed out that plastic bags form less than 1% of all landfill, and that plastic packaging, such as that used for ready meals, forms a massive component. What really made me cross was that the supermarkets themselves promoted the use of plastic bags back in the late seventies to replace the humble cardboard box. Does anyone else remember hunting for a decent box under the checkouts and using those to pack the groceries in? When home, the box would be unpacked and crushed to go into the bin… or these days into the recycling. So what happened to boxes then? They were untidy components at the tills, polythene seemed far cheaper, more accessible, maybe. The humble cardboard box was cast out as inefficient and unwanted. Yet what is more environmentally suitable?

To my mind, the supermarkets drive the need for plastic packaging, by demanding foodstuffs that can be kept on the shelves longer, and are responsible for a huge proportion of the environmental damage we have got by importing foods from all over the planet (apparently we consumers demand that they do so) by using less than environmentally friendly processes. They introduce bags that do not degrade, and refuse to absorb far better alternatives, such as alternative plastics because they cost a bit more (and goodness knows, we can’t have a supermarket giant like Sainsbury reducing its profit margin by giving away better bags). They remove the cardboard boxes which were fine, actually, and then employ some spotty 17 year old child who is told to peddle the environmental angle to those of us who can remember what it was like to shop in small greengrocers that have long since been put out of business by supermarkets.

So the supermarket that employs the young man who doesn’t actually question any of what he has been told is the very same one that has been driving the need for the plastic packaging which forms the vast majority of household waste, and then turns on the guilt for the consumer by telling them how wasteful it is to use too many bags… the very bags which make up so very little of the content of land fill sites.

I just don’t get it.

Are we consumers now somehow responsible for the decisions that were taken at corporate level years ago? Decisions that were driven by efficiency demands, cost savings, commercial directions? Are we now going to just sit back and let Sainsbury and Tesco and every other large supermarket hoodwink us all into believing that we are all to blame for this? Maybe we should stop eating lychees and guavas, or tomatoes from Holland, and stick to the foods we can produce in our own country? Actually, I’m quite in favour of that.

Give me back the cardboard box and I’ll take it to a recycling plant. Give me a paper bag to pack the products into.  Start putting milk back in to glass bottles, which are made from a pretty abundant raw material, after all and can be recycled. Start spending some of your enormous profits on envinronmentally friendly, alternative plastics for your bags (if you are going to provide any) and start putting meals for one into packaging that isn’t going to take three barrels of oil to make. But whatever else you do, never ever tell your staff to advise me that I don’t need six bags, particularly when they have no idea about what my needs really are, and when you have spent so much of this planet’s resources lining your pockets with cash for far too long.