Category Archives: Computer Science

Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – beanz

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. Also, you can see last week’s recommendation here.  And, if you want to see the more than 100 games and toys I’ve recommended over the years on my blog, check out my Pinterest board.

Despite the popularity of mobile devices and computers, I think that children still get a thrill out of getting something from a physical mailbox.  If your child is interested in making video games, reading about new technologies, and learning different programming languages, you may want to consider getting her/him a subscription to beanz, a monthly magazine about “kids, code, and computer science.”

beanz would probably appeal the most to children between 8 and 13 who are avid fans of reading and technology.  However, if you are a parent or teacher who wants to develop a child’s desire to create, this magazine could also be a huge resource for you.  This monthly periodical explains technical topics, such as coding with Python, in a way that any layperson can understand.  It gives a lot of examples, great graphics, and many suggestions for projects that children can do.

To me, it’s not just important for children to learn how to use technology responsibly but also to learn how to maximize technology’s potential for creativity and innovation.  beanz helps to inspire kids to use technology for making things – not just for consuming entertainment.

beanz is available online and as a print magazine.  You can view the latest issue here, but some articles are only available to subscribers. For $29.99/year, you can receive the print magazine and online access.  I think this is a great deal, but if you want to spend a little less you can opt for the $15/year online subscription.

For a unique gift that will delight any creatively “geeky” parent or child, you should definitely consider beanz!

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Scratch Jr., BrainPop, and PBS

When participating in Hour of Code in our GT classroom this week, the 2nd graders were introduced to the free Scratch Jr. app on our iPads (also available on Android and on the Chrome Web Store ).  Before we started exploring the app, I thought it would be good for them to learn a little bit about computer programming.  BrainPop Jr.  has a great free video that explains computer programming and some of the terminology.  As an added bonus, the sample screen in the video looks very similar to the Scratch Jr. interface, so this particular video was an excellent introduction to our lesson.

You can find Hour of Code lessons for Scratch Jr. here.  Additional lesson ideas can be found on the “Teach” tab of the Scratch Jr. site.  As I was looking up resources to use with my students, I also found this PBS site that includes lessons integrated with some of the popular PBS kid shows, as well as printable task cards.

Scratch Jr. works very well as a starting point for block coding for primary students.  My 2nd graders quickly found many “cool” things that they could do after about 10 minutes of exploration on their own.  Familiarizing themselves with this app will make the transition to Scratch (a web based program for computers that does not currently work on mobile) almost seamless.

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image from Wes Fryer on Flickr

Flocabulary Videos for Hour of Code

Yes, my friends, it is Computer Science Education Week 2017.  Time to celebrate Hour of Code.  In honor of this year’s HOC, Flocabulary has chosen to offer some of its STEM videos for free.  The videos are appropriate for 3rd grade and up, and cover topics from “What is the Internet?” to “Coding: Conditionals.”  If you’ve never tried out Flocabulary, you are in for a treat.  With its catchy raps and fun graphics, Flocabulary can entertain and educate at the same time.  Be sure to take advantage of this great resource between now and December 10th when the videos will once again become subscription-only offerings.

 

Rock the Lab with Hour of Code

I love Rock the Lab, an incredible resource from @learnmoorestuff.  She has recently updated her Hour of Code page, and the layout is awesome.  It includes links to the basic computer science lessons for each grade level, the activities that have been especially developed for Hour of Code, an Hour of Code Hyperdoc, and a link to the newest Flipgrid Explorer series, which is all about coding!

Be sure to get involved with the 2017 Hour of Code, which is happening next week from December 4-8.  This has been one of my favorite annual events, and I’ve seen incredible student learning ever since my classes started participating the very first year.  Trust me, you don’t have to be knowledgeable about programming to facilitate a great Hour of Code experience!

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Image from Pasco County Schools on Flickr

Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – Rover Control

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. Also, you can see last week’s recommendation here.

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Rover Control is a part of a series of three coding games released by Thinkfun this year.  Like the other two games, Rover Control is “unplugged,” which means that no digital devices are required.  My students enjoy all three games, but they seem particularly drawn to Rover Control – possibly because it is the only one that involves using dry-erase markers 😉

The purpose of Rover Control is to color paths on the included Terrain Maps so that the Mars Rovers can find their way.  According to the storyline, the original paths were covered by a giant dust storm, and it is the player’s job to re-discover those paths.  The 40 challenges are in a booklet, and increase in difficulty as you turn each page.

All three of the coding games in this series have extensive instructions that include explanations of numerous rules and symbols.  We learned that it is easier to start playing and look new symbols or rules up as we encounter them than it is to read all of the instructions before beginning to play.  We also learned that kids are much better at deciphering instructions than Mrs. Eichholz…

As with many Thinkfun products, Rover Control is designed so that it can be played independently or collaboratively.  I have found that it works perfectly in my classroom with groups of three students.  They each get a dry-erase marker, and seem to benefit from group discussions as they plan their solutions. It’s important to remind players to stick with the sequence of the challenge booklet.  Though beginning challenges may seem too easy, the puzzles are scaffolded in a way that slowly introduces new difficulties; skipping straight to the back of the book will only result in frustration.Photo Oct 19, 11 15 16 AM

With this year’s Hour of Code just around the corner (Dec. 4-10, 2017), you may want to consider adding “Rover Control” to your classroom as a center or to your home as a fun family night activity.  For my students in 3rd-5th grades, the game seems to have just right amount of challenge and entertainment. If you are buying this game to be played at home, I recommend that parents play along with the children.  It is a good opportunity to model problem-solving and perseverance, since adults can find the puzzles difficult as well.

You can find Rover Control and its two siblings at Target. For more great thinking games, check out my Pinterest Board.rovercontrol.jpg

Disclaimer: Every once in awhile, Thinkfun will send a product or two for me to review. These products are used in my classroom, but it is my decision whether or not to post a review on this blog.  All opinions in these reviews are based on my honest observations.

 

Wonder Workshop

It has been amazing to watch Wonder Workshop evolve since the days of Bo and Yana  (the original names of the Dash and Dot robots) 4 years ago.  The robots are incredibly engaging for elementary students, and the company has been extremely supportive of educators.  Dash and Dot appeal to students because it is easy to apply personalities to them.  Programming the robots becomes an exercise in imagination as well as logic.  The ability to augment the robots with bricks, such as Legos, increases the potential for storytelling and problem-solving.  In addition to all of this, there is flexibility in programming (in addition to the free Wonder Workshop apps, 3rd party apps like Tickle and Apple’s Swift Playground can be used), which means students from beginners to advanced can code these robots on pretty much any mobile device.

Wonder Workshop is constantly expanding its offerings.  I was excited to visit their booth at ISTE to see some of their new products.

The first thing I got to check out was their idea for using Dash to develop spatial reasoning. Using foam core cut-outs, a course had been laid out for Dash to navigate with a pattern of bricks attached to its head.  With careful programming, students can send Dash under each piece of foam core successfully by making sure its head is turned correctly at the right time.  Wonder Workshop hopes to provide the instructions for creating this course on its website soon.

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Some of the most exciting products that has just been added to the store are the challenge cards and curriculum subscription.  The curriculum offers 22 NGSS & Common Core aligned lessons for classroom integration.  The challenge cards are colorful, leveled activities that match Code.org’s Computer Science Fundamentals.  I personally think the best deal is the Getting Started Curriculum Pack for $99. (By the way, I do not work for Wonder Workshop, but have received some free products for review in the past.)

Wonder Workshop will be sponsoring another Wonder League Robotics Competition this year, but the structure will be different than previous years.  You can learn more here.

I’ve been told that Wonder Workshop has more surprises coming up in the fall, so you will definitely want to keep up with their announcements on Facebook or on Twitter (@WonderWorkshop).

Makered at ISTE

For today’s ISTE post, I thought I would cover a couple of the sessions I attended that were related to coding and makered.

Leah LaCrosse (@llacrosse) and Jon Jarc (@trendingedtech) spoke about the ways they have used the design process with their classes as the students worked with digital modeling for 3d printers.  They included a great diagram from nngroup.com that my colleague and I like because it uses arrows to show that the design process is often not linear, with many steps repeating.  We are also hoping to, as they have, find more “problems” that students can try to solve with design thinking.  (They gave an example of 3d printing a piece for the school’s long-broken water fountain.)

An interesting suggestion for introducing 3d modeling to students was to have them begin by making something fairly simple with Legos, and to then ask them to duplicate the design using a program like Tinkercad.  One workflow tip is to have a Google Form for students to enter the links to their print files to put them in a queue (after they have been critiqued) for the 3d printer.

The 3d printing project that really caught my attention was one in which the students designed vehicles that had to fit the following parameters: multiple parts, multiple colors, no glue, and able to roll across a table.  As Jarc described it, this project took nearly an entire semester, but the students were taking precise measurements, iterating repeatedly as they learned more from mistakes, and putting their own creative spins on the designs – making this a deep learning activity that they will never forget.  Another fun idea?  Fitting the vehicles on top of Spheros to propel them across the room!

Another makered session I attended was sponsored by Microsoft.  I know very little about the hardware featured on their “Make Code” website, so I was curious to learn more about at least one of the pieces, the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express.  This little kit is actual hardware that you can connect to your computer with a usb cord, and use block coding or java script to program.  Even if you don’t have the physical hardware (only $24.95, but it seems to be out of stock), you can use the simulator on the site to code this fun product to do all sorts of things – such as play sounds and light up.  Here is some advice on getting started.  I had to leave the session early, so I missed out on the awesome magic wands they were making once everyone programmed their Circuit Playgrounds.  However, I loved some of the features of the website – including that you can easily transition between block coding and java, the site can be used on practically any device (though you do need USB for the hardware), and you can even use it offline.  As you can see from the pictures below, there are lots of things you can do with the Circuit Playground.  Since it has a battery pack, you can program it and “wear” it without being wired to the computer.

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Sample Projects from Microsoft that can be made with Circuit Playground Express and MakeCode

Of course, these two sessions were only a small sample of all of the makered possibilities showcased at ISTE this year.  It’s amazing to recall the years when makered was relatively new to the incredible impact it is having on educational technology now!