Happy Belated Scratch Day

I woke up this morning to find that I’d missed Scratch Day. I’m not too worried by this, as every year I have a whole pile of Scratch Days at work, and I love all of them. However, I thought that it was worth jotting down one reason why I love Scratch so much. So, here is my tribute to Scratch.

Is it a pig? Is it a duck?

This morning my daughter and I worked on her fine motor skills. Of course she didn’t know that we were doing that, she thought we were playing with plasticine, but I knew that there was a good reason for us to devote an hour to building snails, aliens, ice-creams and goat/wolves. And while I tinkered with a plasticine pig, it struck me that this is what’s so great about Scratch. You can’t fail at playing with plasticine. My pig may have looked more like a duck, but I didn’t fail at it. It was just not quite what I expected. I’m sure if I made a plasticine pig again I would do it better. But the point is that at the end of the process I had a model.

It’s much the same when you play with Scratch. You always end up with something. It might not be exactly what you expected, but you will end up with a program that does something. This is thanks to the absence of any possibility of a syntax error in Scratch. While programming generally forces you to focus on the tiniest little bits of syntax, Scratch allows you to focus on the big ideas of programming and to seriously play. There’s nothing more frustrating than not understanding why the 10 lines of javascript that you’ve just copied (as far as you can tell) doesn’t do anything. If it did something at least you’d know you were getting somewhere. Scratch always does something and this is why it’s great.

At the end of our plasticine session my daughter had improved her fine motor skills, though she wasn’t aware of that. She’d just had some fun. Likewise with Scratch, at the end of a unit my students have improved their understanding of sequencing, variables, iteration, events and conditionals. They’ve also developed their logical thinking and problem solving skills, though they think they’ve made Penguin Soccer.

Our Snails

There are many more reasons why Scratch is great, but there are also many more blogs out there detailing them. I just wanted to add my voice to the many out there saying “Happy Scratch Day”.

What I’ve Been Doing

It’s been about 12 months since the start of the TL21C program last year. Here’s what I’ve been doing, in no particular order.



At the end of last year we set up our GAFE domain. That bit was pretty straightforward. Then we had to populate it with our staff and students. The easiest way to do this would have been via a series of CSV files (one for each org unit), but my rule is that if you have to do something twice (such as upload a csv file) then there has to be a better way. So, one of our wonderful techs spent considerable time setting up Google Active Directory Sync (GADS) and Google Password Sync Tool.

GADS worked with limited success. It imported all our students and staff, but not in their OUs. I’ve manually (and there was a quick way of doing this, thanks to our naming protocols) moved all staff into their own OU and all students into their own OU, but the Students OU is pretty unwieldy, and there is no way of differentiating students in year 7 from students in year 12. So, Google + will be staying off for students until we can sort this out. Hopefully this will happen before the end of the year, as I don’t relish the idea of manually removing all this year’s year 12s.

We’ve started slowly with actual use of GAFE. I’m basically letting people discover it fot themselves and steering people towards it when they come to me with a problem. For example, our VET hospitality students needed a way for people to pre-order coffee from our cafe.  As of a few weeks ago, a Google form gets sent out a few days before each coffee shop sitting, staff fill it in, and the students have coffee waiting for them at the start of recess. This makes everyone happy, and I’m not sure anyone realises that they’re using GAFE. The upshot of it is, though, that they’re all required to log in with their GAFE email address and password, which is one of the things I want people to get used to. We’ll do the same thing for the functions later in the year, with the addition of a Google Site promoting each function. (Also see this little post).

Additionally I have the administration all sharing their calendars, something that we could never get happening with the Edumail system. My next step is to get the school calendar onto  a Google calendar and get staff used to using it. One step at a time, though.


I’m writing this while sitting on a bus between Canberrra and the NSW South Coast (see GAFE Summit) on a Chromebook. I’ve fallen completely for my Chromebook. It’s light and fast, has a great battery life and as long as it connects occasionally everything is synced up and I have access to whatever I need. What’s more, it was cheap. We are rapidly approaching a BYOD rollout and have yet to decide exactly how it should run. I strongly believe that it should be a Chromebook program, but I’ve yet to convince everyone that needs convincing. My next step is to try to get a class set of Chromebooks to run a trial program. The success of this depends largely on the willingness of the technicians to set them up correctly. Fingers crossed. 

I’ve also purchased one Chromebox, along with a management licence. My plan is to replace the PCs in the library with Chromeboxes. The cost will be less than half and they’re just much more efficient. I’ll let write more about how this is going once it’s happened.

GAFE Summit

I missed last year’s GAFE Summit in Melbourne, and so was determined to make it to one this year. So this weekend I’ve been to the Canberra GAFE Summit. The whole ACT government school system has “gone Google” so I suspect that every government school had sent a few people along. I was envious of the ACT teachers who didn’t need to think about any of the (admittedly relatively minor) headaches of setting up and administering their own domain. But also quietly smug about my access to my own admin panel where I could control absolutely everything.

GAFE Summit was also a great chance to meet some people whose work I’ve adminred for years. Jenny Luca and Chris Betcher in particluar. They both ran excellent sessions and were incredibly generous with their time and expertise outside sessions as well. With everything that Chris demonstrated I was tempted to call out “that’s not amazing” except it generally was.

Having travelled to Canberra, I now find that there is likely to be a Melbourne Summit in September. Oh well.

3D Printing

We have two 3D printers. They were both suffering from what we’ve dubbed “Sauce Bottle Syndrome”, where the printing nozzle gets clogged up with old filament and the new filament squirts out sideways and curls up like Shirley Temple’s hair. The solution to this is to replace the nozzle, which costs about $30. You can then drill the old nozzle out and reuse it, if you’re up to that.

My (literally) hot tip for this process is this: Heat the printhead before trying to remove the nozzle. Not doing this changes the process from replacing the nozzle ($30) to replacing the printhead ($380).  I encourage my students to make mistakes if it helps them learn, but I’m not overjoyed with myself for not learning this particular lesson in a cheaper way, such as actually reading the note on the webpage when I bought the damned thing.


We started using Compass School Manager last year. I love it but part of my job is administering it, which I love a little less. As more and more aspects of education move online, the role of someone who understands (and I use this term very loosely in my own case) how the systems work becomes bigger and more varied. I’m our college’s eLearning coordinator, but this year a part of my job has been to set up all the instrumental music classes so that their rolls can be marked. Is this eLearning? Certainly not. But it is something that I find easy and others find more difficult. I don’t mind doing it at all, except that I think there are probably better things I could be doing with the time that the college has given me (I stress that this is not “my time”).

The great thing about helping to administer Compass is that I’m learning a lot about the intricacies of how the college actually operates. I’m interested in just about everything, so learning about the processes that help the school run is sort of fun.

Losing Sight

So, has getting caught up in the minutiae of administering ICT and Technology at a school meant that I’m losing sight of the bigger picture? I certainly am. Am I making that 10% change that Will Richardson talked about at the start of TL21C? Probably not. When I step back from what I’m doing (as I am now) it’s easy to see what I’m doing as simply computerising (and isn’t that a quaint term these days) “the way we’ve always done things”.  Hopefully what I’m actually doing is laying the foundation for a very different way of doing things, but I’m not sure.

The keynotes at last weekend’s GAFE Summit have helped me to refocus on that bigger picture and I’ll go into term 2 with a refreshed vision of what it is that I’m actually trying to achieve with the things I’m doing.