Category Archives: 3-6

Apple Swift Playgrounds

About a month ago, I downloaded a beta version of Apple’s newest iOS on to my iPad so I could try out the widely advertised Swift Playgrounds app that would be installed along with the new operating system.  I’ve been a supporter of teaching kids how to code for a few years, and I was curious to see how this app might be different from the many my students have been using.

Swift is a type of programming language that was developed by Apple.  A quick Wikipedia browse will bury you in daunting technical language if you are, like me, more educator than coder.  So, I will tell you that the biggest difference between this app and many of the ones that are already out there for kids is that Swift programming uses words and symbols, not blocks.

My sense is that most “real-life” programming languages don’t use drag and drop blocks like Scratch or Hopscotch.  So, in that respect, Playgrounds (which is what the app shows up as on your device) stands out from the crowd.  However, I wouldn’t disregard block programming apps completely.  They are excellent for teaching students the logic of programming – particularly non-readers.

Playgrounds is definitely not for non-readers.  Reading is essential for anyone using the app, and I would guess it is at least a 4th grade reading level.  I would not, therefore, recommend Playgrounds for younger students unless they are paired up with a capable partner.

The graphics in the app are okay, but nothing ground-breaking.  As with many coding apps, the user is trying to direct a cute creature around paths and obstacles.

The main advantages of the app are that it is free, offers many levels and challenges, and gives users an opportunity to see how a professional programming language works.  I would recommend the app for elementary/middle school students who have demonstrated understanding of key coding concepts and seem to be ready for something a bit more advanced.

Playgrounds should be available today with the download of the newest iOS.  I’ll be curious to hear what you think!

image from Apple
image from Apple
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Undercover Robots Camp – Spy School

My students have loved using the Dash robots from Wonder Workshop so much that I thought they might enjoy some extra time with them over the summer.  So, earlier this year, I devised a plan for an Undercover Robots Camp to be held at my house.  Last week was the first session, “Spy School.”

Using 4 Dash robots, the campers were divided into teams of 3 for the week.  Dash received a letter that he was invited to train to be a secret agent at spy school, and each team took their robot through the different spy courses, such as speaking in Morse code and surveillance.  At the end of the week, their robots “graduated” from Spy School.

I’ve never done this before, so I wasn’t sure how it would go. Fortunately, I had a great group of campers who were willing to experiment along with me.  Throughout the week, I sprinkled puzzles and crafts (such as creating undercover disguises for the robots) along with the programming challenges, so there were lots of opportunities for every team member to shine and get involved.

My favorite part of the week was the graduation ceremony.  The students got so creative with my box of random stuff as they made graduation hats and gowns for their robots!  And one of the teams leapt for joy when they finally were able to program their robot to join the graduation procession at the precise time and spot.  (Sorry that the video below got prematurely cut when I ran out of space on my phone.  Oh, and one robot got replaced right before the final ceremony due to low battery power!)

This week is our second session, where Dash has his first assignment as a bona-fide secret agent looking for the saboteur of a robot pageant.  I’ll let you know next week how our undercover spies do in foiling the plot!

UPDATE 9/3/17: My Spy School curriculum is now available for purchase here!

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Thanksgiving Special

Last year, Colossal did a story on artist Hannah Rothstein’s “Thanksgiving Special” series.  Rothstein imagined the Thanksgiving plates of 10 famous artists.  It would be fun to show students one or two examples, and then have them choose an artist to represent in their own Thanksgiving plate art.  This activity would not only amp up creativity, but also be a lesson in art history and in seeing things from another perspective.  You could also use it to teach about parody.

My favorite piece is the Mondrian.  But, you should definitely check out the others on Colossal or Hannah Rothstein’s website.

Thanksgiving Special Mondrian by Hannah Rothstein
Thanksgiving Special Mondrian by Hannah Rothstein

AR Basketball Math Fun

In one of the sessions I attended during this weekend’s Tech Field Day SA, Cori Coburn-Shiflett spoke about using technology games in the classroom.  As she pointed out, even sites and apps that were not designed for education can be used for learning.  AR Basketball is a good example.  Even though I posted about this app awhile ago, I did not have it listed on my AR Resources page because I felt that some teachers might question its educational value.  However, Cori directed us to a great resource from Charlotte Dolat (one of the fabulous Tech Field Day organizers) that provides free printable worksheets for math integration with this app.  By changing the activity to one that teaches mean, median, and mode, AR Basketball becomes a win/win for the teacher and the students.

Screen Shot from AR Basketball app
Screen Shot from AR Basketball app

CodeArt

CodeArt is an iOS app by Pentaquistic Solutions.  (According to their website, they are working on an Android version.)  For free, you can try to solve 16 puzzles.  An extra 99 cents will get you the premium version with 40 challenges.

According to Pentaquistic’s site, CodeArt was designed for children aged 8-10.  I agree with that – though I am an adult who enjoyed playing the game.  The game could probably be used with younger students fairly easily as long as they are provided guidance.

CodeArt teaches the logic of programming by giving you a design that you must try to replicate with the “code” you are allotted. In the example below (the first puzzle), the target design is on the left.  In the orange box, the user must place the commands to make the oval create the same design on the right.

screen shot from CodeArt app
screen shot from CodeArt app

Of course, the designs get increasingly difficult as you proceed through the game, but I feel like CodeArt scaffolds extremely well.

You might want to add CodeArt to your “Intro to Coding” toolbox for students.  If you would like to see more suggestions, check out my “Programming for Kids” Pinterest Board.

You Have Failed Me for the Last Time!

Two librarians in our district had me laughing so hard this week that grumpy cat would have spontaneously combusted if he was within hearing distance.

The librarians assigned their students to create memes for the library.  The results were so clever that I asked to share them for this week’s Phun Phriday post.

Student Created Library Meme courtesy of Sara Romine
Student Created Library Meme courtesy of Sara Romine

Sara Romine, otherwise known as @laffinglibrary, did a fabulous job explaining the whole process and giving examples in her most recent blog post.  My favorite library meme from her school is the last one; I’m pretty sure I look like that whenever I enjoy a good book!

Wendy Howk, @whowk, had her students add their memes to a Google Slides presentation.  Here is a link to the “highlights.” This is one of my favorites:

Student Created Library Meme via Wendy Howk

For more ideas on using memes, check out this post.

Week of Inspirational Math (Reminder)

I blogged about this in June, but as more schools start back for the new school year, I thought I should repeat it.

Stanford University’s Jo Boaler over at YouCubed.org has released a set of free lesson plans that can be used for 5 days with any grade level from 3rd through 12th.  This “Week of Inspirational Math” includes videos, handouts, and Powerpoints.  As they progress through the activities, students develop a Growth Mindset when thinking about math, and are encouraged to think in multiple ways about problems. The first lesson even includes an activity that fosters collaboration amongst their peers.

Week of Inspirational Math” would be great to use at the beginning of the year, as it will set a tone for learning in class that can be applied to all subjects.  To access the plans, you will need to register for free with YouCubed.  However, it’s a small price to pay for an excellent set of activities that will start your year right.

Week of Inspirational Math at YouCubed.org
Week of Inspirational Math at YouCubed.org