Category Archives: Computer Science

Think Like a Coder

TED Ed has so many great videos for the classroom.  These videos have interactive questions, which can be customized for your own students.  You can sort the videos by subject if you are just browsing, or you can search for keywords.  Many of the videos are short animations offering information about topics like coronavirus and “A Day as a Teenage Samurai.”  Other videos pose riddles for the viewers, such as the ones in this playlist. (The River Crossing Riddle is a student favorite!)

If you know young people who like to code, TED Ed also has a series of 10 short (about 6 minutes long) videos where viewers are given challenges that reinforce coding concepts such as loops and conditionals.  Think Like a Coder tells the story of a programmer named, “Ethic,” and her sidekick, “Hedge.”  It begins when Ethic awakes to find herself imprisoned, and Hedge helps her to escape her locked room.  Ethic must give Hedge specific instructions in order to discover the code to open the combination.  The animation guides the viewer through the process of developing a code with loops, which would be more efficient than creating a line of code for each potential combination.

Think Like a Coder feels like a video game, but it isn’t.  It also probably won’t appeal to students who are brand new to coding.  If I was using this in the classroom, Think Like a Coder would be the perfect supplement for a Code.org studio course, and I might use the TED Ed or EdPuzzle tools to crop the video so that students can offer answers before the solution is given.  This series would also be great to offer students who have high interest in this area, and would benefit from watching the videos independently.

Circuit Board Brain
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Girls Who Code At Home Activities

Girls Who Code at Home is the perfect way to keep your young programmer happily engaged while social distancing.   So far, I count 14 free activities that can be downloaded, and the site promises a new one will be added every Monday.  You can register to be notified each time the page is updated.

The activities range from beginner to intermediate/advanced.  Different programming languages are used.  Some are even “unplugged” activities, meaning that you do not need to use a computer to do them.  Also, although Girls Who Code is an organization that was formed to narrow the gender gap, these resources are available for anyone who wants to use them.

The downloadable worksheets include a lot of scaffolding, so don’t be worried if you and your child/student are new to coding.  From making a digital memory book to designing a simple chatbot, you are sure to find an activity that will appeal to your interest and skill level!

Children Using Technology
Image by April Bryant from Pixabay

TX Youth Code Jam

The TX Youth Code Jam is a virtual hackathon, and open to submissions from any student in the United States in grades K-12.  Entries are due on April 24, 2020.  Coding is not required for the projects, but any students who are registered can learn more about coding and other topics in the scheduled online workshops. (My wonderful friend, Michelle Amey, is presenting a workshop for parents to encourage creative thinking, and her son is doing an Advanced Scratch Workshop.)  It is free to enter the Code Jam, and creativity is highly encouraged.  The requirement for each submission is that it must be something the student (or team of students) created to solve a problem.  You can view the challenges here.

The Code Jam is offering lots of cool prizes, but the hope is that children will have fun designing, problem solving, and learning as they participate.  As our current quarantine situation has made us painfully aware, people who are solely consumers in our society find themselves to be far too dependent on others to provide sustenance and entertainment.  If your child needs some inspiration, go to the Resources page of TX Youth Code Jam, and scroll down to the section, “Kids like you innovating during the pandemic.”  It’s great to see what young people can do!

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Image by Jess Foami from Pixabay

 

Hack Your Window with Scratch

Scratch programming is one of the most versatile tools for creativity that my students have ever used.  I am constantly in awe of the ideas people come up with using this free coding platform that is available to anyone online.  One of the most recent suggestions that is perfect for those of us going a bit stir crazy during the quarantine is to “hack your window.”  Basically, you take a picture of any of the windows in your residence, use the Scratch drawing tools to delete the panes, and add what you would like to imagine seeing outside your window.  This post from Eduard Perich gives specific instructions for creating an animated scene.

Capture
image from “Futbol Per La Finestra” by UrielMR8 on Scratch

If you are not familiar with Scratch, or would like to start by just seeing what others have done along this theme, here is a link to the Scratch studio where creators are sharing their programs.  You will notice that there are submissions in many different languages, which could be fun for translation lessons!

Knowing many of my former students, they would probably enjoy the entry, “Don’t Let the Corona Get In,” which I’ve embedded below.  It’s a game where you have to try to click the images of the coronavirus before they get too large and overcome you.

One way to help students learn quickly in Scratch is to allow them to copy a program and remix it.  You can do this by clicking on any shared program, choosing, “See Inside,” and then making a copy.  You will need to be logged in to Scratch in order to do this.

There are many, many resources out there for getting started with Scratch.  This is one of the basic ones, but keep in mind that the platform has been updated since then so some of the screen shots may look different than the current version.  You can also do a search of this blog for ideas to use with Scratch and/or Scratch Jr.

Bot or Not?

Since tomorrow is “Super Tuesday”, secondary teachers may want to take advantage of the resource from PBS Learning Media called, “Bot or Not? How Fake Social Media Accounts Could Influence Voting.”  This lesson plan includes a link to a 6-minute PBS News Hour video that explains how bots have been used in the past in social media – from making someone appear more popular to generating fake accounts that spread particular political agendas.  Students are directed to a website that will analyze Twitter accounts to determine the likeliness of whether or not a user and/or their followers are bots. (I checked my own account, and discovered that I score a 0.3 out of 5 in bot-potential.)  For their final project, students research issues that are meaningful to them, and invent their own “helper bot” to advocate for their selected issues.

The majority of your students are probably not current voter, but they most likely use social media.  They may find it eye-opening to see how easy it is to purchase followers to mislead people about your popularity, and the extent to which bots are being used for propaganda.  As Artificial Intelligence becomes more ubiquitous, it will become harder and harder to distinguish between real and fake accounts.  If nothing else, this lesson will hopefully inspire your students to approach social media with a dose of cynicism.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Turtlestitch

One of the many things I didn’t know anything about when I first started teaching at Advanced Learning Academy was working with textiles.  My skills were limited to hand-sewing buttons.  Even though my in-laws had given me a sewing machine a decade ago, I still didn’t know how to thread it or why in the world I needed a bobbin.

I had seen the Turtlestitch Kickstarter page, and was intrigued by the idea of using coding to design for textiles, specifically for embroidery machines.  My colleague and I decided to order a combo sewing/embroidery machine (Brother SE600) for Zorro Astuto, and it arrived about a month before I retired.  I took it home for the Thanksgiving Break to try it out and, with the help of a lot of YouTube videos, figured out how to use the machine.  Although I was by no means an expert, I begged my family to buy me one for Christmas.  I knew I would suffer from fabrication withdrawal once I was no longer teaching in Zorro Astuto, and the Brother SE600 seemed far more practical than adding a 3d printer or laser cutter to my personal collection – though I’m certainly not ruling those out for the future 😉

I’ve made a lot of mistakes with this machine, which makes sense since I knew zero about it when I started.  For example, I didn’t know that you need to put a stabilizer behind your fabric (sometimes even on top of it, depending on the fabric), and that there are many, many different types of stabilizers.  The type of fabric, or other medium, and the types of stitches will determine your stabilizer and needle types.  This blog post was really helpful.  I have also learned quite a bit about how to service my machine as pieces of thread and fabric have gotten caught inside when I didn’t stabilize correctly or a needle broke.

You can download embroidery designs, but most of them will cost you money.  Finding just the right software for creating your own designs can be overwhelming.  That’s why Turtlestitch is such a genius idea.  Using block coding, you can create your own design and export it to a USB – for free.

To start, I decided to choose from one of the many free designs already available on the Turtlestitch site.  The project is called, “Twisty.”  Because I wanted my design to be in different colors, I decided to remix the original by randomizing the RGB colors.  Each time I run the code, the colors will come out different.  However, once I like the colors, I can export the file as a .dst, and those colors will be the set used for the embroidery file. The machine lists each corresponding Brother Thread color number as it is needed, and I was fortunate in this case, as almost every single thread color was part of my original package of threads.turtlestitchtwisty

My machine will stop for each color change, which turned out to be a bit demanding on this project, but I’m thankful for the automatic needle threader!

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Turtlestitch “Twisty” remixed, stitched on felt, using tear-away stabilizer on bottom

I love using coding with math, and there are lots of possibilities here.  There are a few fractals projects already on the site, as well as tessellations.  If you follow the @turtlestitch Twitter account, you will see examples of student projects, including jewelry (my next personal challenge).