Personal Values

I think it’s important for anyone to be clear about what drives them, both for themselves and for others. I’ll sometimes ask about these if I am interviewing prospective employees. However, we spend too little time in education or beyond in helping individuals articulate their own values.

In my opinion, Core Values are crucial, especially to guide us when there are tough decisions to be made or in resolving difficult situations with others (I’m also thinking of the use of social media here). No one is perfect, and we cannot always live up to our values completely, but they should serve to guide our behaviours and aspirations.

They are also as important corporately as they are for individuals, but that’s a whole other topic.

Here are my Core Values – can you articulate yours?

World Class
If something is worth doing, do it at the level of the best. For me, this is also about harnessing technology for beneficial outcomes on a global scale.

This is about honesty, reliability and doing what has been promised.

I love taking problems and looking at new ways to solve them. This is also about self-renewal and continually challenging oneself to think differently and learn from others.

I like to apply what I do to in the ‘real world’. This means I am focused on applying technique, hardware, software and theory for a practical, realisable outcome – and normally with a strong sense of urgency.

There are lots of dimensions to this! I care for those I work with, for my clients and business partners. I care about the quality of the work that I do and the products I create. I care deeply about social and global issues.


2. Coding UAVs with ROS. Subscribing to FCU data.

What’s this about?

In this post we will build a ROS node on a companion computer to subscribe to data being published by the flight control unit (FCU).  This will allow us to use the many data streams available from the flight controller as inputs to our system and then be able to make decisions over how the UAV should be controlled.

Continue reading “2. Coding UAVs with ROS. Subscribing to FCU data.”

Autonomous UAV Coding Summer School – sneak peak

22 students from France will be spending the next two weeks building and coding autonomous drones as part of the UWE Bristol Summer School.  Along with Miles Isted s’Jacob, I am delighted to be leading on this activity and have produced a short sneak peek video of the challenge to share.

So six team drones racing autonomously on a single track? What’s not to like?

Code is based on that used for MAAXX Europe, so Python Dronekit, with ArduCopter on Pixhawk.  However, the final code will be posted on my github at the end of the Summer School.

MAAXX Europe 2018 DroneJam Coding MasterClass


(Nb. All resources for this post can be found on GitHub at

It’s been a while since my last post.  My research has since moved towards the use of machine learning in UAVs and so my trusty Groundhog now sports a Jetson TX2 instead of a Raspberry Pi and an Intel Realsense depthcam for ‘deep vision’ to match it’s deep learning capabilities.  But I digress… so I’ll blog more on this another time…

This post is about the DroneJam coding masterclass for autonomous UAV ‘newbies’ I ran for this year’s MAAXX Europe autonomous drone competition, held in March at the University of the West of England.

Continue reading “MAAXX Europe 2018 DroneJam Coding MasterClass”

Fuel Cells Kits

I recently came across Horizon Fuel Cells who were demonstrating educational kits at the BETT Show in London.

I have followed fuel cell developments for some time and so it was great to see affordable kits that can be used to show how hydrogen can be produced, stored safely in metal hydride canisters and subsequently used to create electricity.  These canisters appeared briefly on the market some years ago, but vanished again before I could obtain any. 

So have I purchased a great little car and a more sophisticated kit complete with a wind turbine and photvoltaic cells to produce environmentally friendly hydrogen.  The wind turbine in particular is well designed, with several different blade profiles and a variable angle of attack for experiments on efficiency.  I will use these kits to generate interest for our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) projects and also for more able and talented.

And what is even more fun is the RC car – check out the video on the website!  This uses two hydride canisters and a 30W fuel cell to boost a model RC car.  The hydride canisters will be able to be refilled from a ‘Hydrofill’ unit which I believe will be the first hydrogen generator designed for domestic use.  I wait eagerly to see this come into production.

So why not start to plan for  fuel cell projects in our schools?  We should be giving young people the opportunity to experiment with and build bikes, go-carts and whatever else (model planes?) using this exciting and suddenly accessible technology.

Hang on to your values, the technology is changing (again)

As I talk with colleagues around the country, it seems we are experiencing something of a rush of ‘situations’ arising from the use of mobile phones and social networking sites.

A school bus breaks down and children are quick to text friends and family. This may lead to a flood of enquiries at the school, taking up the time of the very people trying to manage the situation according to the contingency plan. Sometimes the enquirers are in a panic, having been given inaccurate or incomplete information. The result? More confusion, poorer communication and a harder time for the school in responding to something that is normally quite a simple job to sort out.

A minor accident happens on a school trip, say someone getting a cut whilst out walking. A friend uses a mobile phone to post the news on Facebook, perhaps with suitable embellishment. By a process of chinese and electronic whispers, the news is received by the parents of the injured child, by this time third hand, before the school is able to make direct contact. Frantic calls ensue over something quite minor.

The difficulty with both these scenarios is not the speed of the communication, but the quality and accuracy of the communication. In both cases, processes put in place to make sure parents get timely and accurate information are undermined, potentially causing unnecessary stress and confusion.

Other examples of problems ’caused’ by new technologies include images of children and teachers being posted on the internet without permission and children and adults talking about other people by name, or about sensitive issues in public social networking sites.

Of course some people blame the technology and use this as an excuse to become further entrenched as non-adopters. This is counter-productive and misses the point. Take our beloved capacity to chat: First we gossiped over the back fence, then we gossiped over the phone and now we gossip on Facebook. The problem is actually the gossip, not the technology. Whatever kind of people we are, and whatever values we hold, technology gives us more power for good or ill – that is all.

And so we need to take an urgent look at the values underpinning these difficult behaviours and perhaps a self-critical look at our collective responsibility to embed positive values which relate to on-line and mobile phone activities. Often, problems like those mentioned occur through thoughtlessness rather than ill-will. Children may not realise that Twittering over an emergency situation is unhelpful to say the least and can cause real and unnecessary distress. But in a world when even public service broadcasters are perceived to encourage the submission of such material, who can blame them?

So whilst the technologies keep changing, our core values such as consideration and respect for others do not. The challenge for us is to reinterpret these values for young people and often their parents in the context of new technologies, and to do clearly, consistently and early on. It is therefore critical that we embrace these technologies in our schools and help children understand from the earliest age that it IS what you do AND the way that you do it that gets (the right or the wrong) results.

Let’s Focus on the Individual (yes, this time, really)

It occurs to me whilst I am trawling through inspection frameworks (That’s Estyn on this side of the border) and evolving documents such as the School Effectiveness Profile that our institutional approach is going to take a long time to budge.

To many this is a statement of the blindingly obvious, but it does contrast fairly sharply with what has happened in modern business practice. If I want to buy a new car, I don’t ask “Well, who has the best car factory?” – I’m not sure there is even a best car factory league table. I ask “Who has the best car for my purposes?”. The point I am making is that my measure is the car, not the factory. And if one company has consistently good reports for cars, that must surely say something about the production facilities and the company itself.

Now that arrangement seems quite sensible – the dog wags the tail and everyone understands.

So why do we do the opposite for schools? We devise a plethora of criteria for measuring the institution (about 80 on the document I am looking at), that look at a multitude of dimensions, such as leadership, quality of teaching and learning, community engagement etc. To measure these, we understandably spend significant sums on training Inspectors to achieve rigour and consistency, and publish the results for all to see. And yes, the attainment of pupils is a significant factor. So what’s the problem?

Increasingly, I feel this is now a second best option. Education for me is about the individual child and his or her experience of learning and growing. With so much focus on the institution, it is so easy to lose sight of this, even with the best of intentions. Our success as schools or colleges should surely be reflections of the success of our young people. And yet beyond academic attainment, we measure very little about the progress they make. This is because measuring GCSEs, A levels and NVQs is relatively easy. Measuring the soft issues like self-esteem, communication skills, creativity and ingenuity is hard.

And yet it has never been so crucial to be able to do this. It is increasingly these soft skills that distinguish job applicants and empower individuals to achieve in a connected world.

So we need to put as much effort into changing the educational experience at the individual level as we do at the institutional level and measuring all the ways that children progress – including the tough ‘soft’ stuff. Then we will be able to truly measure our schools in terms of the progress of our pupils.

And remember that it takes many people lots of time, effort and money to make positive changes to an institution. But just one teacher, even one intervention can make the world of difference to one pupil. So let’s not forget that we can transform our schools one pupil at a time as well.

Towards better learning with VLEs

There is a fairly well-trodden path taken by most teachers as they grapple with learning environments.

In the first stage, a shared area is used to store resources and files that a teacher wants students to have access to.  Many of these will be existing files, presentations, spreadsheets and the like.  For those new to VLEs, this is a necessary step and in any event at least serves to introduce the concept of shared web-spaces.

A further stage relates to some sequencing of these resources, together with further descriptions and instructions.  This starts to create a learning path and often results in something akin to an electronic scheme of work.  Such sites can be made to look very inviting, illustrated with images and populated with web links, presentations, files and perhaps the odd video.  They succeed in making resources available flexibly over the internet and stringing them together to create a study path.  There are many examples of this on the internet.

But to my mind, a VLE could and should be doing much more than this.  A VLE has the potential to help us better address some of the most fundamental limitations we experience in the classroom to do with differentiation, learning styles and pedagogy.

A colleague in Monmouthshire, Nick Collins, has some powerful ideas around this theme.  Nick advocates the idea of using a VLE in a much more fluid way.  In addition to sequencing content delivery in a traditional way, the VLE could be used to provide a framework for whole activities, either for individuals or in groups.  These may be set up prior to a lesson, or even used ‘on the fly’, pointing learners to new activities as required.  Nick uses the term ‘Digital Assistants’ (not to be confused with PDAs) because the idea is that these activities become an extension of the teacher in the classroom.  They allow a teacher to respond with a wider repertoire of resources and activities than would normally be the case, or to quickly provide extension activities (say) to a group able to work under their own steam while providing closer support to others. 

Nick identifies two requirements for this to work.  Firstly, good access to the VLE in class which means notebooks or similar, space on the desk to put them and wireless access.  Secondly, suitable resources and activities that can quickly be deployed.

On the second issue, Nick believes as do I, that these resources need to be engaging and quality assured, but also easily modified by teachers to suit their needs.  The latter has been a problem in the past.  Often, highly expensive animated resources cannot be edited and so teachers have little ‘ownership’.  Nick is doing some very interesting work with Digital Workshops in Banbury, developing a version of Opus for VLEs.  This would allow for the easy development of interactive material by (non-programming) teachers, which could then beshared, altered and re-purposed as required.

I am very taken with the ‘Digital Assistant’ notion.  It begins to paint a tangible picture of how we could be using VLEs to do something much more than merely automate a scheme of work.  I can see how, with suitable preparation and resources, we could make a step change in the level of flexibility we have to truly support learners as individuals.