Monday, 25 July 2016

So I took some children to Space Apps...

Just over a week ago, I took a group of children to the Met Office, Exeter, to take part in NASA's Space Apps Challenge. It's a challenge aimed at developers, engineers, designers, scientists and other enthusiasts; most people would look at that list and come to the sensible conclusion that it is for the adults in society - I didn't.

Having been to Space Apps Exeter since 2012 (missing only one because of a family wedding,) I have come to understand it is a community of people who are creative, inspiring, intelligent and welcoming. I've collaborated with people all over the world and made friends who I'd never normally have met. I've had my eyes opened to the potentials of using code and hardware for the good of the species and was hooked by the fact that these people give their time and skills for free to achieve this. As a teacher with an interest in STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art and maths) education, it seemed very logical to expose the children I work with to this amazing experience. A careers day in the future is unlikely to show them the same levels of excitement.

Having felt slightly out of my depth at my first event, only really able to contribute to the storytelling of my team. I wanted to be able to contribute more, but my pace of learning code wasn't fast enough and I'd probably be a danger to myself if armed with a soldering iron. So now, when the challenges are released, I scroll through the challenges looking for potential to adapt one to my range of expertise - education and playing! One year I found a challenge which asked for a presentation and managed to get participants from other teams to come and play with plasticine. This year, we were asked to create prototypes for folding or inflatable structures. The site said out of paper, 3D printed or modelled virtually; clearly they had forgotten to include balloons!

Yes, the project was a bit bonkers but it was never intended to be ordinary. I wanted the children to see that completing the prototype was possible if they worked together. I planned to get them to understand that solving problems could be fun but that they had the power and imagination to create solutions even at the age of 9 and 10. But mostly, I just wanted them to see what was possible in a maximum of about 26 consecutive hours (if you didn't sleep!) how people could be motivated by finding answers rather than simply making money.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The potentials of Wikimedia and Dinosaurs

Here at Mozfest we've been discussing the potentials of using Wikimedia for children. We've looked at a few existing sites which could be linked into the project and also looked at the tools currently available within the Wikimedia community which can be used to help with the challenges associated with creating content for children.

We have looked at the possibilities for differentiation and the censoring content for age and culture suitability. We have briefly looked into the safeguarding issues linked to working with children in an online environment.

Daniel Mietchen, of the Museum für Naturkunde has talked us through the process of creating new Wikimedia platforms by submitting a proposal to the foundation and then working with the project in the incubator stage before the project finally goes live. Although, not all projects make it past each stage!

We have also looked at a few existing projects which have the potential to link into the project, such as Vikidia and Wikikids. There are also some interesting things happening with children in Sweeden. Lots to look into!

Peter Murray-Rust, of Cambridge University, shared his project where they have been collating a list of known dinosaurs from literature. We talked about the potentials of giving children random names of dinosaurs and linking them into Wikipedia articles and encouraging them to create games with their peers. For example, like football cards, they could collect the names of dinosaurs and score points for each one; if a name is a new addition, then more points could be scored!

Kentrosaurus aethiopicus from the Museum für Naturkunde

Sunday, 17 November 2013

MozFest 2013

The past weekend has rushed past in another blur... Two of the team were whisked up to London to take part in Mozilla's annual festival at Ravensbourne (a building full of bubble shaped windows and slightly confusing lifts near the O2).

The Met Office invited us along with other hack projects started at their hackathons. We went to take part in the science fair on the Friday evening, to meet new people, to share ideas and learn things; oh, and to spread our love of plasticine hacking!

During the course of the weekend we asked people to create something which they would like to find if they went exploring. This kept them at our stand for long enough for them to ask questions about the project and for us to get them to share ideas about ways in which we could go forward.

The group from Mozilla who were working on localization (making the internet relevant to more people around the world by translating and tweaking it in their native tongue - sounds familiar,) introduced us to a site which offers a more integrated way for translators to work and monitor progress. We've been using GoogleDocs coupled with a hackpad to get our translations done so far, but now we have an account on for all who would like to contribute to our localization efforts! You are able to create a new language if yours isn't shown and then start to translate the story in different levels (please make slight changes so that children with the same native language as you will be able to relate to the story.)

We spoke to the Badge The UK team, who are trying to create badges to reward people for achievements on the internet. In the near future we hope to be able to offer badges to both adults who contribute to the translation, content or development of the project and the children and teachers who share their work.

Super-Awesome Sylvia, a 12-year-old inventor and maker from the USA allowed us to borrow her WaterColor Bot to paint the Why? logo for our stand. She was full of ideas and her parents were willing to support her to make them a reality (although, we suspect that without the support she'd have the drive to get them made eventually anyway!)

A teacher from Scotland also came to the science fair and his class have produced this wonderful blog about finding their unicorns. It's great to see a fellow educator allowing their class freedom to explore a topic in their own way, I hope that the ideas planted in their science lessons will grow into a lifelong love of STEM!

The weekend was rounded off with a giant show and tell at the Demo Party. Here, people shared some of the things that were created during the weekend. You can see some of the outcomes from getting together a group of people dedicated to making the internet theirs here on the Mozilla site. 


The explorable story has come to Heidelberg, Germany to take part in the Universe Aware International Workshop 2013. The where are you from map had pins in over 50 different countries and a wide range of cultures and backgrounds were represented from Student Ambassadors from South America and university lecturers from Europe to outreach workers from observatories in Australia to name but a few!

We were welcomed by Pedro Russo and the UNAWE team to the highly appropriate venue of the Haus der Astronomie - a building designed in the exact shape (but not height) of spiral galaxy M53 (a surveyors nightmare, but an architecture fan's dream!) The central planetarium-come-lecture theatre is wrapped by a helical walkway connecting every level of the building and rooms with fantastic views into the forest of the mountain.

The first afternoon was an opportunity to share resources with other educators at a resources fair. A group of local kindergarteners joined us to try them out too. We had our plasticine ready and I spent an enjoyable time with the children as they used their models to show me what they would like to find if they went exploring. One child shared that they would like to fly using a rocket pack to Venus - perhaps by the time they are old enough to embark upon such missions the technology will be there! It is quite fascinating that neither of us could speak more than 4 words of each other's language yet we were able to have an exchange of ideas by connecting through our joint interest in science and playing.

For the rest of the mornings, UNAWE had arranged a series of talks on the key themes of early childhood development, global astronomical curricula development and the importance of evaluation. We also had the chance to see some of the work done by UNAWE across the globe.

I was particularly impressed by the work done by UNAWE with street children in Brazil - children who can only see the moon at night when they look up due to the levels of light and who probably don't get the chance because of their living situation. These children were being taught in a practical way to understand physics and as they returned regularly to the education setting they were offered the chance to move away from the streets. A science education was leading to them having more stability and safety in their lives.

In the afternoons we split into three working groups to look more closely at the three themes. I worked with the Early Childhood Development group to look at how Educational Psychology could help us understand how children learn through different activities. It was useful as a teacher to re-visit some of the theory I had learnt in university but also to see how the understanding of how children learn had changed since I was learning. It is always nice to refresh upon these things and to actually take time to reflect upon my own teaching - school is such a busy place there is rarely the time to do it properly.

On the Friday it was time for me to present to the conference about the Explorable Story project. My brief stint at the front of the lecture theatre whizzed past (it's amazing how much you can say in a short time when the audience listen - a contrast to some of my classes!) I managed to share how the project began as a hack with children from one of my schools and how it developed by collaborating with volunteers around the world. I even managed to recruit a few more translators for the project!

The week was very interesting and fantastic for meeting like-minded people. Many thanks to Pedro and the UNAWE team for organising the week.

Monday, 28 October 2013

"Shooting Stars"

Growing up in the middle of a polluted, developing city, it needs some luck to get a glimpse of a clear starry night sky. The moon and a couple of bright stars are the only celestial beauties I get to see from my home. It is only when I am somewhere in a country-side or near a huge lake, do I realize what the night skies actually hold. It is magnificent. It is truly beautiful. Dotted with a million dazzling stars, the sky on a clear cloudless night looks like a piece of heaven looking down on earth.

So, whenever I get the opportunity, I love to gaze at the night sky and admire its beauty and mystery, with awe. It is not just peaceful, but also inspiring. Last December, on a class trip to a beautiful place nestled among pine trees, on the banks of a huge lake, I did not let the chance to enjoy the clear open night sky go in vain. Three of my friends were as interested as me and so, despite the cold weather, we decided to spend at least half the night on the wide open terrace before our room so that we can just look at the big starry sky spreading all across the lake. The trees were spraying a cool wintry breeze on us. But that didn’t stop us. We got our blankets out, switched off the terrace lights, lay down together, and just gazed up at the beauty of the night. And then, it started. Shooting stars!! And not just one or two or three! We saw some more than fifteen of those, not all together though. The others found it hard to believe. But they were not to blame, because without a clear sky and some patient focus, shooting stars may be hard to find. But it is worth it. So, when you get some time, take the chance to look at the stars up there. They will surprise you, heal you, inspire you and remind you how small we are compared to the vast universe. And not just that, you might even be able to make a wish upon a shooting star! 

Friday, 4 October 2013

Exciting times!

Two exciting developments have happened today! One is that our website is ready enough for people to look at it. Check it out at! There's still lots more content to be added, of course, but hopefully what's there will give everyone a clearer picture of what we're hoping to achieve with the resource. If after seeing the website you fancy writing or translating a page, please get in touch at!

Secondly, a lady named Joanna Grace has produced a sensory story version of our story. Someone on Twitter linked me to an article about her stories thinking I might be interested - I was! Joanna says:
 "I'm very pleased with how it's worked out in the sensory translation. I've tried creating more abstract sensory stories before and you always end up compromising on the stimuli, but for this one I've begun and ended the story with the students being asked to quite literally explore, and having various items to find at the end will provide a child with profound disabilities a way of expressing what motivates them, in a way that is meaningful to them: if they pick up a sound making toy, and a furry toy and drop the first in order to explore the second more carefully with their fingers they're clearly saying "I'm motivated to find interesting things to touch", where as if they push the smell away from them and vocalise as the sound is made they're saying "I want to find ways of making noise." I was surprised and delighted at how well it worked at this level and I can see many teachers of students with profound disabilities having adventures in their classrooms using this as a basis."
 I really hope that children with PMLD enjoy their experiences and their teachers find a way of sharing this with others via our gallery. 

On Sunday, we'll be heading to Germany to share the project with people at the UNAWE workshop 2013. I'm looking forward to getting some feedback (and trying to recruit a few more content writers,) from the astronomical educators who'll be there!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Mini Hack Day September 28th 2013!

I admit it! There's far too much work in this project for just our little team to handle - we need to expand! We need more volunteers (we're all volunteers too, so it's all fair!) to get more information and more languages. Our web designer is currently programming a brand new version of the site complete with the ability to write information for a range of abilities of reader!

What do we need?
Volunteers with good knowledge to share, willing to write one or multiple pages of information on:
  •  Science, 
  • Technology, 
  • Engineering, 
  • Maths, 
  • Exploration or 
  • Space
 - a maximum of 4 paragraphs (per ability level) for each topic and all in easily understood language!
Volunteers who are bi-lingual (with English being one of the languages spoken and the other being their native language)
  •  to lead local teams of translators or page writers in their native language.
  • or to help write or translate pages.
Volunteers who are creative (with access to plasticine or other modelling clay)
  • to create artwork to complement each page and make the site more appealing to young children.
If you would like to get involved email us at
See the Hack Day Prezi for more information at:

Join us online globally for the hack day on 28th September but if you can't join us virtually during that time you can still join us at another time.