Binary Numbers #SENcomputing

When looking through the specification for the Entry Level Computing course, one area stuck out for me – how was I go to get a group of SEN students operating at Level 1-3 for Numeracy and Literacy to understand how to convert binary numbers to decimal numbers. Now the group I have does consist a wide range of needs on top of their learning difficulties and the reason they have chosen Computing is because they have a real flair with using ICT and computers but I still was worried about this.

What I want to share here is the excellent resources over at Computing Science Unplugged and in particular the use of dot cards to teach binary numbers. I knew about the resources from various sources and it was always at the back of my mind when thinking about how I was going to teach this. However, I was blown away at how quickly the students got the concept.

BInary cards

It involves using cards that have dots on one side and each card increases in the number of dots by multiplying the previous card by 2. With binary numbers there are only two numbers used 1/0 and this represent on and off. If the number is 1 then the corresponding card needs to turned to show the dots. The number of dots shown represents what the binary number is in denery. So for example 1010 = 10

binary answer

I decided to start with just 4 cards to represent 4 bit numbers (each card represents a bit of data). I used large cards first and got the students up to hold the cards and talked through a few examples. Then then went to work on converting binary numbers to decimal by themselves using smaller cards for support. What was great was by the end of the lesson, the majority of students were able to convert from binary to decimal without the the support of the cards, just using their mental arithmetic to solve the answers. This was particularly impressive considering that many of the students at our school struggle with retaining information in their working memory.

The following lesson, I decided to increase the binary numbers to 5 – bit numbers and they once again they were able to convert the sums in their heads and were quick to be able to tell me the largest number they could make and we soon increased the number of bits to 6,7 then 8. They did struggle with 8 bit numbers but the fact that they pick this up so quickly with the use of such simple resource was great.

So have a look at the resources over at CS Unplugged as the are really great at explaining computer science concepts in a simple way that allows you to include all learners.

Gartner Hype Cycle – New Technologies – Fad or the real thing?

This week, I had the pleasure to attend the GestureSEN PLC – (more info here) where discussions were based upon how we use video evidence in purposeful way to aid our reflections of progress made by students operating at the P-levels. My write up from the day will come soon but it was during Andrew Walker’s (@andtomac) excellent presentation that the Gartner Hype Cycle was presented.

The Gartner Hype Cycle provides a graphical representation of the maturity and adoption of new technologies and is presented below:


The graph shows the cycle that all technology goes through from the moment the idea is conceived to mainstream adoption. This was the first time I had seen this graph and as someone who is interested in the use of technology in education, this got me thinking about the education technology we use in the classroom and where different technologies would sit on the graph. Would we say tablet computers are moving towards the Plauteau of Productivity? Virtual reality in education is certainly an area which I believe has reach the Peak of Inflated Expectations and is possibly about to hit the trough. Some technologies will never get pass the Trough of Disillusionment and will disappear into obscurity. .

For SEN, where would Eyegaze technology sit? Leap-motion? KInect? Switches?

Everyone will have their own opinions on where technologies would sit on the graph depending on their experiences. Being presented with this graph has allowed me to reflect on the implementation of technology in the class and the importance to evaluate the technology thoroughly to ensure impact on teaching and learning.

For more information on the Gartner Hype Cycle – click on the link -

Innovative Learning using Technology in a Sensory Way

Recently I was asked to run an INSET workshop on the use of technology to promote engagement and create opportunities for learners with complex learning difficulties and disabilities (CLDD). The focus of the presentation was to look how technology can enable students to have a positive impact on their learning, the reasons for using technology, tools that are available and assessment systems that could be used.

Big thanks to Ian Bean(@SENICT) and Anthony Rhys (@trinityfieldsit) as they have some great resources that are shared freely and have added links to their sites below – these were really appreciated by those who attended.  Also the link to the Youtube video in  the Prezi is from Anthony’s school Trinity Fields who are a real leader in using gesture based technology with their students and this impact has led them to be awarded the 3rd Millennium Award from Naace – certainly a school that we use as a benchmark for what we do.

Below is the link to the Prezi and links to the documents that I shared with colleagues:

Link to Prezi

Useful Links

Switch Progression Roadmap – via Ian Bean’s site

Link to PDF on using a Timer to limit students time on iPads via Ian Bean

IpadSEN – Wiki run by Anthony Rhys


SEN Computing – exploring how to teach the new curriculum to SEN

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to be ask to present at the SEN Computing day run and organise by Catherine Elliott(@catherinelliott) who is part of the Sheffield ILS eLearning team. So after making the long journey up North, I arrived at the venue and was taken aback with the excellent organisation and thoughts that had gone into the day (on arrival there were tables full of resources) and was looking forward to learning more about how to adapt the computing curriculum for SEN.

Over the last year, we have started to add elements of programming/coding to our curriculum. This has led to us discovering and adapting different resources to enable our students to be able to access and succeed with these elements of the new curriculum. I have written previously about some of the challenges that present themselves for students with SEN and my presentation revolved around this but also emphasised the importance of the Computing curriculum and the focus on moving students away from being consumers of ICT to creators of content. I then touch on the different elements of the KS1/2 curriculum and gave some ideas of what resources could be used to teach our students. What I wanted to emphasise further, is that it is important to remember that the computer science element of the new curriculum is only part of it and the currant elements of ICT, digital literacy and e-safety are still parts of it and are very important skills for our learners. Have attached the slides to my presentation below.

After my presentation, we moved onto looking more closely at how the basic programming/computational thinking could be taught to P6-NC2 students. We also touch on how the PoS can be taught through other areas of the curriculum and it was great to highlight the cross currciucular links. Some of the highlights included-

Switches with directional arrows

Really simple idea – use of switches to enable users learn the different arrow symbols for Logo and also enable to direct others to program control toys.

Sequencing parts of a story – not only literacy links but teaches students the importance of putting things in the right order for the story to make sense. This is a important element of coding and programming and gives them an idea that computers will follow instructions logically, so important that this makes sense.

Teaching students simple sequencing through life skills

Debugging link to life skills – creating an algorithm for getting dressed – important to put pants on before trousers (unless you are superman!!)

Sorting objects – what are the criteria and the use of a bubble sort activity to give students the understanding of how a computer would sort objects out by comparing items one at a time. Use of different weights of bottles and a balance scale to determine the lightest/heaviest.

Use of real life objects to help them come up with a sequence of instructions to solve a problem – lots of examples here marble run, train track etc. however the one I really like was the water drainage track and students would have to select what height each of the track should be to allow the water to flow down successfully. They could then write the instruction down for someone else to follow.












After lunch, we then started to look at the elements of the KS2 PoS and what resources could be used to enable our students to have access and be successful. This was a very practical session and we looked at tools that lots of practitioners have written about and are using like Logo, Scratch and Kodu.

Scratch is great program for teaching students how to design,write and debug programs and I have used this successfully with students at my school. Some students do struggle with their reading and distinguishing between the different blocks due to their low levels of literacy. To help with this I have used laminated version of the blocks for them to use to make up their codes on whiteboard first through discussion and then can use these as prompts when entering code onto the computer. On the day they also had versions of blocks with symbols on the back to aid students in recognising what each of the blocks do.

We also touched on Kodu as well and how this resource can be used to meet the KS2 PoS. For me Kodu is the most useful tool for many of our students especially as it uses pictorial symbols when writing blocks of code so that students can quickly make simple lines of instructions to control the on-screen characters. Also in addition the use of the Xbox controller to make their inputs is great because it provides a familiar mode of input for many students and the engagement created by the use of to is an additional bonus.

Unfortunately I had to leave after this session though Catherine has written some extensive blog posts on what covered throughout the day and these can be accessed here.

I was really pleased to have been part of the day and it was very informative and great to make connections with other schools. As part of the conclusions of the day, it was felt that there should be an online community of Special Needs Schools to work together to share and collaborate on resources to be used for teaching the new Computing Curriculum. The wiki-space has been set up here – If you want to become a member contact Catherine, via the email address on the site.

Westminster Education Forum – Preparing for the Computing Curriculum

I was invited up to London to present about the challenges that are raised for students with SEN with the introduction of the new computing curriculum. I felt honoured that I was asked to do this, as I feel there are lots of great SEN practioners out there doing some great stuff in thier classrooms and schools and to be asked to represent the SEN field made me feel very humble. I also felt that it was at least nice to recognise SEN in this forum though still believe that when it comes to SEN we are very much an afterthought. (Nothing new there!)

Anyway the day was great and it nice to here from very inspring professionals like Simon Humphreys who coordinates Computing at School and Claire Lotriet (@OhLottie) who both gave excellent presentations about the content of he new computing curriculum. Across the day, it was said lots and lots of time that the new commuting curriculum is not all about coding and that in encompasses digital literacy/e-safety and ICT as well and that the focus should not be all about computer science.

I talked about the challenges that students with SEND face and how we could overcome them. I also talked the about how it was important for the content providers to consider adding the ability to change fonts, think about different modes of access etc to enable our learners to be successful in demonstrating their knowledge and not be blocked by these barriers. I also touch on the importance of teaching computational thinking away from computers and link it to other areas of the curriculum. Have attached a copy of my slides here.

What was nice about the day was the opportunity to speak to other practitioners from special schools who had come (I did wonder if I was the only one in the room) and make links with them. I feel that as a special needs community we need to work together to produce resources and collaborate on what works well for our students. In the end of the day it will be what we do in the classroom that’s makes the difference and if we wait around for Government and other people to produce content to match mainstream it could be a long wait.  

I have mentioned in another blog post about a wikispace set up specifically with the aim of sharing and collaborating on SEN and Computing the link is here. Sign up and help us make this resource even better, it would be great to work with other special schools and share what I know is fantastic work being done by schools.


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