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Hour of Code

The first week of December was Computer Science Week. An excellent opportunity to recognize how programming and programmers have changed our lives. Part of CSW was Hour of Code, created to expose students to coding and computer science concepts. Last year a few classrooms in our building participated in Hour of Code. This year my co-worker and I worked to schedule Hour of Code sessions with every student in SK through 7th grade. It was a busy couple of weeks for us, but we were excited to plan out such a range of activities.

Due to the number of actual classes and the various division-wide activities, we had to split it over two weeks. So, what did we do? Below are descriptions of what we did with each grade level, followed by a link to resources we shared with families. If you haven’t participated in Hour of Code these ideas are a great way to get started!

SK (Senior Kindergarten…think Kindergarten): SK students participated in two different activities that revolved around BeeBots. BeeBots are small, simple robots that young children can program. SK students learned about the BeeBots through the BeeBot app and followed that up with using the actual BeeBots to travel to the various planets SKers had learned about during their Solar System unit.

1st Grade: 1st grade students engaged in an hour of code by being PeopleBots. PeopleBots are a people representation of the BeeBots used in SK and perviously by 1st grade. As peopleBots the 1st graders proacticed giving and receiving directions to make their way around obstacles. Following their PeopleBot activity, students learned about Kodable, an app and website that teaches elementary progamming.

2nd Grade: 2nd graders began with the PeopleBot activity to review how to give and receive directions. After that, the 2nd graders used Scratch Jr. to complete an introductory activity and create their own animated story.

During each SK through 2nd grade classes I began with a staged situation in which I had missed lunch or ate lunch so long ago and needed help making a snack. I had soy nut butter, jelly, bread, a napkin, plate and knife. I asked each class to direct me in making a soy nut butter and jelly snadwich. Needless to say, by the end of the week the bread was stale and I had my fill of soy nut butter sandwiches. Kudos to all my kiddos, because most of them did a really good job of walking me through making my sandwich.

3rd Grade: 3rd graders completed an non-tech programming activity called Graph Paper Programming. In this activity students paired off; one being the programmer and one being a “robot.” The programmer wrote a programm designed to guide the “robot” through coloring in squares on a graph. Once completed, the “robot” followed the program to recreate the drawing. Following the non-tech activity, 3rd graders worked their way through the BotLogic website.

4th Grade: Like the 3rd graders, 4th graders started with Graph Paper Programming. Following that, students were introduced to Code Monkey, a website that asks students to type lines of code to complete challenges.

5th through 7th Grade: In each class we had discussions about what coding/programming is and why someone would learn to program. Most revolved around the idea that the students wouldn’t be able to do much of what they do now without someone to create the program. Following our discussions, students were introduced to the site Code Combat, which teaches Python or Java Script through a game. Students must type the code to battle ogers or protect villagers.

Code Combat was my favorite coding activity. Before I could engage my students I had to know what they would be doing. So, I had to spend time working through the challenges. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Overall, our Hour of Code went really well, engaged students, and opened their eyes to the joy of programming. You can see some of the resources we share with families HERE.


Green With Envy

by Briana in iPads, Science Comments: 0

photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc

photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc

In early April I met with my 3rd grade team and they mentioned doing a green screen project in Science. Well, well, well! Little did they know I had just ordered a green screen! I’m a mind reader, in case you didn’t know. 🙂

So, they give me the rundown on the project. The kiddos were studying weather and climate and the teachers decided to have students take their research, data and graphs and turn it into a weather forecast. Love it! Let’s get started!

So I said. But, if you know anything about technology things don’t always go as planned. It started with the arrival of the green screen kit. It is a great kit with two lights, light boxes, stands, a green backdrop, and backdrop stand. Awesome! I was SO excited to open the box and break out the setup. I unzipped the case and gave it a once over…whoo hoo! We’re ready to go.

A day later I’m showing my colleague the setup and…screech of breaks…THERE’S NO GREEN SCREEN! AND NO STAND! Clearly I wasn’t paying attention when I opened the box! So, I email the company and wait. I hear back from them a day and a half later…they’re sending the green screen and stand and apologized for the inconvenience.


Great! We have everything; green screen, lights, the DoInk Green Screen App! Let’s roll! What is that I hear? Screeching breaks? AGAIN! Ever have one of those ideas that fights back? Well, this is one of them! I bought the Green Screen app, but our iPads do not have the most up to date iOS! No go with the app. On top of that, it’s the beginning of Passover Break…7 days off!

And we’re back! Time to update the iPads; one of my favorite tasks!

Eventually, we’ll get to the project. Until next time!


Stuck in the Mud

Photo by Paul Harrop

Photo by Paul Harrop

Bottom line…without mistakes, risks, or errors we wouldn’t be where we are today. Why, then, does the educational system discourage this in our students?

I wrote that back in 2009 (!) after reading this blog post, by Liz B. Davis: Putting Gladwell’s Compensatory Model into Practice or NECC 09 Keynote Part 2. In my post A Compensatory Model of Education I wrote about my frustration with education’s focus on students getting the right answers rather than learning from the process and continually improving.

Here it is, 2014. For the last couple of years the theories behind game design and design thinking have been filtering into educational thought, but not having a direct impact in the mainstream classroom. The Maker movement is popular again causing innovative schools to rethink their space in order to create tinkering labs or innovation spaces. I think this is great. My school is currently considering its own innovation lab. The problem? These movements do not address what Gladwell, Liz Davis and I wrote about years ago: failure; specifically embracing a culture of failure throughout education. Yes, these ideas encourage and even require failure, but the ideas seem to be relegated to special “labs” or a particular unit rather than day to day classroom practice.

Design thinking, game design and tinkering all require failure and learning from that failure. They involve ideating, iteration, prototyping, testing; a messy process that can send you back to any point in the process at any time. When do you do this in the classroom? Do you assess your students on how they have improved? On the steps they took to get to a product? The persistance they showed in completing a task? Or are you simply looking to see that the student got the answer you were looking for or created a project that looked like a replica of the example?

This is where we are stuck in the mud. High stakes testing, comparison to other students, the pressure to get into a good high school, let alone good college, all put teachers in a situation that discourages do overs and failure. Sure, maybe a student can correct mistakes on a test to improve a grade, but the grade is still based on getting the correct answer on the test.

Here we are, amlost five years later, and I’m still asking the same question: Why do schools discuourage failure? I know it’s improving and I do what I can to encourage students to take risks, make mistakes and try again. The issue isn’t simply a personal  decision to cultivate failure, but a cultural mindset. All we can do is keep encouraging failure in our classrooms, educating policy makers about the importantance of process over product and reassure parents that their child will survive, thrive even, if they fail.