Category Archives: Computer Science

EV3 Vending Machine

I just had to share this Lego/EV3 vending machine created by one of my 5th grade students.  He is in my GT class as well as our campus Robotics Club.  He owns an EV3, and spent his spare time last week making this contraption to dispense Starburst candies every time you deposit a quarter.  There are other versions on the internet, where he got the idea, but he apparently created his machine using his own design.  Super cool!

A.I. Duet

Today’s Frivolous Friday post is in honor of my colleague, Angela Leonhardt, who is a music educator extraordinaire.  She just made it to the finals for our district’s Teacher of the Year.  That honor and many more are well-deserved by this wonderful teacher, who enriches our community with her dedication.  If I had any music composition skills, I would play her a magnificent fanfare with this A.I. Duet experiment from Google.  Unfortunately, even A.I. can’t mask my ineptitude, but I’m sure that someone with Angela’s talent can find a way to make beautiful music with this fun tool.

H/T to Mental Floss for sharing A.I. Duet with its readers.

withoutmusic
image from Raphael Love on Flickr

 

Visit Me at TCEA 2017!

This week, I will be at TCEA in Austin with my fabulous colleague, Angelique Lackey.  We will be presenting together on Tuesday.  Our session is called, “10 Sure-Fire Ways to Light Up Your Curriculum.”  The hour-long session starts at 1:15 in Room 19B.  It is about using the Project Ignite website to introduce your students to 3d modeling with Tinkercad.

On Wednesday, I’ll be solo.  I’ll be presenting, “Code Dread” at 2:30 in Room 13AB.  This session is for anyone who has been intrigued by the thought of using coding in the classroom, but has little experience with programming.

FYI – despite having done numerous presentations I always sound nervous.  Weirdly, the only thing that makes me nervous is knowing that I will sound nervous which, as you can imagine, develops into a nice little self-fulfilling prophecy.  Fortunately, the size of the audience doesn’t seem to impact this, as I am equally as nervous with 2 people or 50.  Unfortunately, medication either makes it worse or makes me slur my words so I’ve learned to just tune out my own voice and never listen to recordings.  Of course, if you attend either session you won’t have those choices – but I promise not to be offended if you walk out 😉

You may not want to walk out, though, because we just found out that we get to use the Qball (wireless, throwable microphone) during our sessions.  So, walking out would mean you not only lose the opportunity of listening to my unique voice, but you would also lose the opportunity to see how horrible I am at throwing microphone balls – a feat I have never attempted, but I am quite certain will bring back flashbacks of the one time I tried to play softball when I was in 5th grade and managed to bonk myself in the forehead.  I will try not to bonk you in the forehead, but there is no guarantee.

In conclusion, you may or may not want to attend my two sessions at TCEA and you may or may not want to take out extra insurance before volunteering to be in the audience.  If you do decide to brave all of these potential hazards I have mentioned, then please come up and say, “Hi!  I am one of the courageous people who read your TCEA post and still decided to come to your session.”  That way I will know not to aim for you when I throw the Qball 😉

project-ignite
Full Disclosure – I don’t look anything like my Bitmoji. Except for the brown eyes and hair. And I do sometimes smile. Oh, and my hair is usually parted on the side. Angelique looks exactly like her Bitmoji. (Don’t tell her she looks like a cartoon, though. She finds that offensive for some strange reason.)
code-dread
I forget where that QR code takes you, so don’t be upset if it’s a dead end. I should probably check that before I present, but I have plenty of time – right?

Barclays Coding Playground

It’s been awhile since I stepped foot in my bank. With online resources and apps, I don’t even have to go there to deposit my checks.  But I didn’t realize banks had increased their lobby services to teaching kids how to code…

Okay, not all banks do this.  But Barclays, a bank in the UK, has made it a mission to “demystify” coding, and has even trained some of its staff (Barclays Digital Eagles) to provide tw0-hour coding sessions for ages 7-17 in branches across the UK.

Well, that’s great, you think to yourself, but I’m not in the UK.  No worries, Barclays has you covered, too.  Head on over to Barclays Coding Playground, and you too can practice the basics of coding.  Select any of the objects roaming around the screen and you will be directed to change some of its features using lines of code.  For example, see the giraffe below?  I know.  It doesn’t look like a giraffe.  That’s because I coded it to have a particularly short neck.  Because I could.  And because when I made the neck its maximum size the head went off my browser page which made the image a bit more difficult to capture…

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-5-38-24-pm

The Playground isn’t going to make your child into a coding rockstar, but it is fun and would probably entice anyone who hasn’t programmed before to take a few more steps toward learning more.

If you want more resources for coding, here is my Pinterest page.  Also, I will be doing a presentation at TCEA in Austin, Texas, called, “Code Dread,” for those of you who find all of this talk of teaching kids to code slightly disturbing because Barclays wasn’t kind enough to demystify it for you when you were a child 😉

 

Raspberry Pi

“That’s it?! But that’s so little!” one of my students said, incredulously, when I showed him the Raspberry Pi.  I nodded.  Another student explained, “That’s what a computer looks like.  A lot of people think this [he pointed to the television monitor] is the computer, but it’s just a screen.” The other students, who mostly lived in a world of tablets and laptops, stared solemnly at the small device.

I had just returned from Picademy in Austin.  Whenever I am absent for any kind of staff development, my students demand justification for abandoning them.  They knew, before I left, that Raspberry Pi was a computer, not a dessert.  But just like me before the 2-day intense training, that was about all most of them knew.  It was time for me now to show them that my absence had been worth it.

“You said there was Minecraft,” one student prompted.  I pulled up the Python program we coded at Picademy and asked the students to guess what would happen when I initiated it in Minecraft.  They weren’t quite sure.  Then I showed them how my Minecraft character could walk, leaving a path of gold behind me.

“Cool!” was the general consensus.  I was proud because, before Picademy, I had never played Minecraft or coded with Python.  In fact, I was still awed by the fact that I had hooked up the tiny computer to an old television monitor from home, and that it actually worked.

I had applied to Picademy in Austin with great apprehension.  Raspberry Pi seemed to appear on many of the educational sites I regularly visited and I felt like I needed to to have one in my classroom.  But I didn’t want to have the school invest money on something that couldn’t be used.  When I saw that Picademy was being offered an hour and a half from where I lived, it seemed like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  But I was worried it would be way over my head.  The problem is that I am constantly telling my students to take risks, so I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t even try.

Fortunately, the organizers of Picademy have a lot of experience differentiating for a room full of educators with multiple skill levels.  On the first day, they led us through several hand-on sessions, guiding us to “Hack Minecraft,” light up L.E.D.’s, compose music, and make ridiculous selfies.  We were given lots of free “stuff” (including a Raspberry Pi, keyboard, and mouse), introduced to new vocabulary (Sense Hat?), and tons of support from a group of experienced educators.

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Raspberry Pi (the green thing) connected to a speaker, keyboard, and mouse.

On the second day, we were tasked with creating our own Raspberry Pi projects with partners.  We were given 4 hours and extra supplies.  My partner and I decided to program our Pi with Python to allow students to take pictures of their work with the touch of a button, also sending out a random tweet with the picture and a phrase such as, “Look what we did in class today!”  There was a lot of trial and error and frustration.  (Spelling and punctuation are extremely vital in Python, as we learned.) However, we finally got it to work, and got to experience the exuberance our students feel whenever they work through tough problems.

If what I just described to you sounds ridiculously impossible for your skill level, remember that I was (and still am) an amateur.  The key to programming Raspberry Pi is taking other programs offered freely on the internet and adjusting them to do what you want.  Once you get used to the syntax of Python, it isn’t that difficult to “steal” and remix. Also, you are not limited to using Python. Scratch, for example, now works with Raspberry Pi.

If you can attend a Picademy, I highly recommend you apply.  The 2-day workshop is free, and you do receive free breakfast and lunches, a free Raspberry Pi, and other accessories. However, there may not be a Picademy coming to your area anytime soon, so you may want to check out the new online courses.  All training information can be found here.

An incredible number of resources are available on the Raspberry Pi website.  I suggest that you go to this page if you are brand new to using Raspberry Pi.  The site is extremely user-friendly.  However, I think the training is what has made my experience so enjoyable.

Hour of Code 2016

I think it was three years ago that I signed my classes up for the first time to participate in the Hour of Code.   I was determined that year that every grade level I met with during the week (gifted students, 1st-5th) would participate.  I’m one of those people who jumps into things without knowing enough to be scared – which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the occasion.  In this situation it worked out great.  We tried all kinds of programming I have never done before, and we have experimented with many more ever since. There were lots of moments of frustration, but many more moments of excitement.

I don’t have enough knowledge to claim that I am an expert on any of the programming languages.  But I am known in some circles as a “techie,” so no one believes me when I say that you can participate in Hour of Code even if you have never coded in your life.  When our entire school took the plunge a couple of years ago, there was a lot of trepidation.  After that one experience, however, few people blinked an eye about doing it the following year.  In fact, many teachers waved off any offers of help from the community or skilled students because they knew that Code.org does an excellent job providing resources for all ability levels.

One of my students once said, “Mrs. Eichholz doesn’t let us use technology.  She lets us create with it.”  And that is why I love giving students the opportunity to learn how to code.  Coding incorporates everything I believe in: collaboration, problem-solving, communication, perseverance, growth mindset, and creativity.  Not every student loves it, but every student learns from it and feels empowered with the knowledge.

If you have never participated in Hour of Code before, I am asking you to try it this year.  As I often say during presentations, your students are actually at an advantage if you don’t know a lot – because you won’t help them too much.  From classrooms equipped with 1-to-1 technology to those that have zero computers, Code.org has you covered with tutorials and resources.  And, if you have participated before, note that Code.org has been busy adding new activities so your students can build on what they have already learned.

Computer Science Education Week, December 5-11, 2016, is next week.  Hopefully, you can participate in your Hour of Code then.  If not, the resources are always available and great to use any time of the year.

Here is a link to my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board for more ideas to bring coding into your classroom.

from Hour of Code
from Hour of Code

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