All posts by sarah

How we created our Christmas Wordsearch program

We have become greatly interested in the rise in interest in computing lessons in schools, and as software developers we wanted to let you know how we created our Wordsearch activity.

1. Reason for creating

Why make the program? To support some of our existing activities, we wanted to offer a wordsearch containing some of the keywords for the main activity. To get it started, we thought that we would create a Christmas version for children to use, and to see how popular such an activity might be online.

2. Design

We had previously created a wordsearch program for our “Smudge Spells” program. That was written in Java – we use Javascript these days, a different language despite the similarity in names – so we could not make use of any of the code. But the way in which it worked and the screen layout defined how this wordsearch should work.

3. Starting Point

We were not starting from scratch. As we have created several activities written in Javascript before, we could use these as a basis for the wordserach activity. We had an established “framework” which contained routines that allowed the software to work within a range of screen sizes, display images, handle mouse clicks etc.

4. Plan of Action

The list of tasks that we needed to do included:
a. Draw the screen containing a Grid and Letters
b. Be able to handle mouse clicks
c. Generate grids containing words
d. Add some graphics and animation

5. Draw the screen containing a Grid and Letters

In an ideal world, we would have the skeleton of our “framework”, and we could add code to make into a new activity. In the real world, we took the last activity (Property of Materials), and bolted on the code, initially for displaying the Grid.

This brought up the key questions about whereabouts on the screen we would place the grid (and we use global variables so that we only have to set the position of things like the left margin , the top and the cell width and height once). And how we would store data about the grid – we decided on one two dimensional array storing the letter to go into each square, and another two dimensional array storing whether a square would be shown as highlighted.

Once the grid was looking ok, we could them cut out the old bits of code (and directories containing data) that would not be needed. We are always careful when doing this, in case we delete something that means the code won’t work (and it takes a long time to sort out), so we go one small (reversible step at a time)

6. Be able to handle mouse clicks

This was the trickiest part of the development. For this, we wrote some ‘pseudo code’, a half way stage between English and computer code of the form:

Writing pseudo code involves some crossings out, and rethinks, which is great, and to be encouraged. Sometimes your first idea isn’t the best, but it needs to be put down, as it lets you have a better idea – and it’s a mistake to try to stick with the original idea. The great thing about writing pseudo code, is that mistakes made at this stage can be corrected more quickly than when it’s entered into the computer. Ideally, you would dry run the code (or have someone else do that), but I must admit we didn’t do that on wordsearch.

So we were able to write this code, and test it with a basic word in the grid.

7. Generate grids containing words

This was a potentially harder piece of code to write, and involved more pseudo code. We used a simple system (maybe too simple as the grids don’t have many words that cross with each other). We were aware that the code could potentially lock-up, if it could not fit all the words into a grid, so we let the program try a word in several positions, and then give up and go onto the next word. Cheating maybe, but it worked!

A further complication was that this code needed to be re-run once all the words had been found, where the variables needed to be re-initialised.

8. Testing, testing, testing

Having broken the coding down into stages, we did test each part as we went along. But once it was finished (and we added some graphics, but the animation has been missed off for now), we started to test it.

This showed up a few things we’d forgotten (like we hadn’t got the re-initialising part right when it needed to regenerate a new grid). Once they were done, we normally write a test check list – to ensure that when we make a small change, either now, or in the future, we check everything. Then we test with some representative users (in this case with a 7 and a 9 year old), and hey presto, it was ready to go!

I hope this has shown some of the steps involved in writing a small software program, and if you have any questions, please ask me. In the meantime, the final program is here: https://stormedapps.co.uk/christmas/

Roman Kirsanow

It is with much sadness we are sharing the news that our friend and colleague, Roman Kirsanow has died in Coimbra Hospital, Portugal from lymphona. He was in his mid 40’s.

Roman was a very talented software engineer, and much more, and had been working in the area of educational software since the late 1980’s. He came from Newcastle in the North of England, and in the early days of computing, was introduced to programming by a teacher. he worked for a number of small companies in the UK at the time.

At the end of the 90’s Roman decided that he would like to live abroad, and work remotely using the power of the internet. After a spell in Wales, he spent several years in France, and had spells living in Spain, Portugal, Brazil, France again, Hungary, Romania, Sweden, and finally back to Portugal, where he loved the way of life.

We worked with Roman over a number of years. His first demo of his work was a dinosaur database on Acorn Archimedes computers, and he pursuaded us to adopt Java (so our programs would work online), and later on to produce the programs as apps! He also recently worked with the Fench company, Cabrilog.

Roman was always excited by the possibilities of computing and technology, and was very innovative with his idea, both commercially and technically. He was always interesting to talk to, he had a good sense of humour (even when in hospital), and was able to build friendships and connections wherever he went. He will be sadly missed.

Update:
A big thank you for the lovely expressions of love and sympathy for Roman. Roman’s funeral will be held on Saturday 10th November in Leiria, Portugal.

The Apollo Moon Missions

The recent biopic about Neil Armstrong brought back memories of the Apollo moon shots that happened in the late 1960’s, culminating of course in Apollo 11’s landing on the moon, and Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon’s surface.

Growing Sunflowers

in_vase

This summer, we decided to start an experiment to grow sunflowers from seeds – just like our character, Smudge the Spaniel does in our activity Seeds to Plants.

Seeds to Plants is a popular science activity for children aged 4 to 8 years old. It is currently an app for iPads, a free app, and it also runs online (fre with ads). It is designed to help children learn that in order for plants to grow, they need a source of warmth, water, and to be kept away from the cold. In Seeds to Plants, this is done by children choosing the weather on each day, and a mix of rain and sunshine works best, and avoiding choosing snow for two days running!

In our case, we started with an old packet of seeds, some plastic cups, and some soil from the garden.

The first amazing thing that happend was when, on day 2 or 3, we saw shoots appearing above the soil. What was most amazing, was that the seeds still worked, despite having been in a packet for at least ten years!

After a few days, the first leaf appeared, and the plant started to grow! In the software activity, this is also one of the first noticeable thinsg to happen

Through June, the plants continued to grow. One plant is shorter than all the others, but it does continue to grow – in the software activity, all the plants are the same height, although the details about them are slightly different.

After six weeks, no heads had started to appear, but the plants were just about ready to be moved from their plastic cups into a larger plot: in the software activity, Smudge had anticipated this, and planted them into a patch of garden!

It has been a remarkable summer – and not just for England’s performance in the soccor World Cup – but we’ve had a heatwave that has lasted, really from late April, with hardly any rain. This has meant that we have needed to keep the plants watered – in the software activity, children do have the option of using a watering can. If children don’t water, then the plants will start to wilt, but by choosing rain, or watering them, the plants will recover

And that is just what happened to our plants – they would wilt, when we forgot to water, and then recover. I do remember not being able to watch the penalty shoot out against Colombia, going out and watering the garden, with success – the plants recovered, and England got through to play Sweden!

Perseids

Last night it was clear, and we went outside after 11pm to look up at the Perseids, and hey presto, we saw lots of meteor streaks! It’s the first time I have seen multiple meteors: they happened every minute or two, some were long spectacluar streaks of light (it’s the ‘afterglow’), and some were shorter, almost like seeing a bird flying across the sky! Most of the streaks came from the North East, heading South West, but one or two came from different angles.

We also saw two satellites travelling across the night sky.

Leonid_Meteor

Over the summer, we’ve had two nice reviews from fun2tap and Appysmarts.

Fun2Tap said:
“This new app is an excellent way to make the introduction to the natural world”
“Simple and straightforward, and your kids will know their basic plant and animal parts in no time”
You can read the review in detail here

AppySmart said
“liked: the concept. Good educational value”
You can read the review in detail here

Naming Parts of Plants and Animals

This app helps children become familiar with the basic structure of plants, trees and different types of animals. As well as placing component parts and labels onto a picture, children can click to hear and read more information. It is available for iPad and Mac and on our subscription site.
thumbnail_naming_plants1b

Naming Parts of the Body

The science curriculum for early science states that as part of understanding living things and life processes, children should be able to recognise and compare the main external parts of the bodies of humans. The Parts of the Body activity is a way that children can get to know the names of the main parts of the body by putting body parts and labels onto a picture of the body. There are topics covering:

  • (external) parts of the body
  • parts of the face
  • senses
  • skeleton
  • inner organs of the body

The picture shown on the left side of the screen can be completed by dragging the component parts (ribs, skull etc.) from inside the white box on the right and placing them into position on main picture. When all of the parts have been placed, a number of labels will be shown, which can also be added onto the picture in a similar way. All of the children’s tries will be recorded, and the total number of correct and incorrect answers can be viewed.

Naming Parts of Plants and Animals

Where is the trunk on a tree? What is the name of the colourful parts of a flower? Do butterflies have legs? One of the basic starting points in early science is for children to become familiar with the basic structure of plants, trees and different types of animals, which this activity teaches in a simple and interesting way.

Naming Parts of Plants and Animals covers:

  • A flower
  • A tree
  • A wilted flower
  • A horse
  • A butterfly

For each of these topics, a picture shown on the screen is completed by dragging the different parts (petal, leaf, roots, stem etc.) from the right of the screen and placing them into the correct position. When all of the parts have been placed, labels can be added in a similar way, and children can click on the labels to hear and read more about that part of the plant or living creature.

Naming Parts of Plants and Animals works at the pace of children, so that children can stop and think, or ask questions of an adult. All of the children’s attempts will be recorded, so that a teacher or parent can view the total number of correct and incorrect answers, and it can be used in either English or Spanish

Naming Parts of Plants and Animals provides children with the foundation understanding for further investigations into the natural world.

New website

As you can see, our website has a new look to it, thanks to the hard work by Sarah Longworth. The new site shows our new science activities in our new subscription site, and available for use on tablets. Our old web pages, with details about our CD-ROM titles are still available by clicking on the CDROM tab.