Getting Unstuck

Example of coding in Scratch by Maya German

The Creative Computing Lab at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education has released a new (July, 2021) curriculum to use with Scratch. The curriculum is free, as is access to Scratch, the online coding platform from M.I.T. “The curriculum reimagines the classroom as a design studio: a culture of learning in which students explore, create, share, and reflect.” It is targeted toward upper elementary grades as an intermediate step after students have learned Scratch basics using their Creative Computing Curriculum. In “Getting Unstuck” there are 10 modules, each of which focuses on a particular coding concept for which students will design their own projects. All of the modules include four components: Explore, Create, Share, and Reflect. Downloadable slides are provided for each module, and suggested time spans are recommended in each “Activities Overview.” The Orientation slides will help you prepare to get started and include suggestions for differentiation as well as for use in different learning environments (online synchronous, asynchronous, physically distanced).

Coding teaches students so many important skills, most of which can translate to any field. It can be weaved into any of your core subjects while giving students the opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. I know that I sound like a broken record about it on this blog, but you do not have to be an expert to bring coding into your classroom. In fact, you may ultimately be more helpful to your students if you are learning along with them. It takes away the temptation to help them “too much” and allows you to model how to handle challenges. Advanced learners in your class would probably be more than happy to take this curriculum and run with it, though all learners would certainly benefit.

I’ll be adding this post to my new public Wakelet, “Coding Resources for Teachers.” You can see all of my public Wakelets, offering hundreds of free resources to teachers, here.

Make Code Arcade Beginner Skillmap

The Arcade Beginner Skillmap is a new resource from Microsoft’s Make Code which is perfect for students who want to learn how to design their own video games. It is free, and includes step-by-step tutorials for using block coding to make greeting cards, clicker, and collector games – all within your browser. I don’t have a minimum age suggestion, but would recommend that users have basic reading skills to help them through the tutorials. Once completing the beginner skillmap, burgeoning young game designers may want to work on one of the other skillmaps on the arcade, make their own project from scratch, or take advantage of one of the other tutorials. Then, keep their momentum going by showing them the hundreds of Hour of Code tutorials available on code.org.

Be a Game Changer!

Do you have students (or children) who are 13-18 years of age, live in the United States or Canada (except Quebec, sorry!), and who have great ideas for video games? If so, they have until July 31, 2021, to enter Google Play’s “Change the Game” Design Contest. They do not have to know how to code in order to enter, as you can see from the online form. Judges will be looking at entries as they are submitted to select 100 people to participate in an online workshop where they will learn how to make real games, and receive a certificate and Chromebook if they complete the course. You can get more information and some guiding questions to inspire participants here.

And, don’t forget, I will be live on Facebook on June 14th to talk about Design Thinking (which comes in handy for game design and lots of other subjects!). If you missed my blog post giving you the scoop on this event, you can read all about it here.

Photo by Garrett Morrow on Pexels.com

Undercover Robots Spy School Free!

This week I am offering some of my TPT resources for free in honor of all of the teachers out there who have been working so hard this year and every year. Check out Tuesday’s post and Wednesday’s, if you missed them, to see the links for S.C.A.M.P.E.R. creative thinking freebies I gave out. Today, I am making my Robot Camp packet – normally $10 – free for all. This is a 38 page packet with 10 “Missions” for robots who are learning how to be spies. With puzzles and programming challenges that were designed to use with the Dash robots from Wonder Workshop, the activities are open-ended enough that you can definitely modify them to use with other robots. You can see some examples of how I used the activities with a summer camp I did here. The students really loved when their robots “graduated” from Spy School!

Fight the Coded Gaze

In a recent episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Zoey, a software developer, learns that her company’s smart watch has a coding glitch – it doesn’t recognize Black people. What she discovers is that this is not merely a software problem but a systemic problem in her company and her industry, where there is a disproportionately low number of Black employees. Though the show is fictional, the storyline is not. As more and more products utilizing artificial intelligence enter the market, we are finding that even computers can exhibit bias.

As Joy Buolamwini explains in this TED Talk from 2016, facial recognition programs are dependent on machine learning, and that learning is dependent on training sets. If those sets are not diverse, then we end up with problems like those described by Buolamwini and others.

After realizing that she needed to be part of the solution for this problem, which Buolamwini describes as “The Coded Gaze,” she set up The Algorithmic Justice League, which aims to combat racism as well as any type of discrimination in artificial intelligence. In a recent Twitter thread for National Geographic during Black History Month, Buoloamwini gives more examples of the ways AI can fail.

As artificial intelligence becomes more ubiquitous, it is important to continue to encourage diverse groups of young people to learn how to code ethically so that future generations will not inadvertently (or deliberately) create biased programs.

To help students learn more about how artificial intelligence works, here are some new free resources from Code.org. Also, here is a post about Machine Learning for Kids that I did in 2019.

I will be adding this post to my growing collection of Anti-Racism resources. Please take a look, and feel free to offer suggestions!

Photo of Joy Buolamwini, byNiccolò Caranti, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Two More Days!

There are two more days for interested parents to sign up students for my free course using CoSpaces. There is no obligation to participate once signed up, but the deadline is January 9, 2021. It’s best for students 9-13, but students who are tech proficient at 8 years old should be fine. This course is a “beta” course for me, so it will only be 3 weeks long, with one hour a week. On the interest form you can indicate if you prefer weeknights or Saturday mornings. Click here for more info on CoSpaces, and the link to the form (near the end of the post).