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…
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 😉
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Osmo first made the “Gifts for the Gifted” list in 2014. Since then, the company has continued to push the envelope as it produces more interactive, educational games for children that combine physical pieces with the digital interface of an iPad. Here is what I wrote about Osmo’s “Coding” game this summer:
It seems like just yesterday when our class was asked to beta test a new product from a company called Tangible Play. It was a tangram game that integrated physical pieces with an app on your iPad using a special base and mirror. Our students even got to teleconference with the developers to give feedback on their experience.
Since then, the un-named set we tested has become Osmo, and there have been many evolutions of the tangram game as well as new additions to the suite of games available. It has been gratifying to see a company that is so interested in education to grow and continue to contribute to educational technology in such a positive way.
The latest Osmo set is, “Coding.” My students have been trying it out this summer during our robot camp, and I have been watching their play with interest. The set includes magnetics blocks that look similar to the coding blocks you might see in Scratch or Blockly. You can move them around and snap them together. My students particularly like the “play” block with an arrow button to press whenever they are ready to start the program.
On the iPad screen, players have a friendly looking creature named Awbie, who they can direct to move toward different objects in the app while using the physical blocks on the table.
One thing I love about all of the Osmo apps is that they include practically no instructions. There are some on-screen gestures showing where to move blocks at the beginning, but that’s about it. The students figure out on their own where Awbie needs to go, and quickly deduce which blocks to use as the game slowly becomes more challenging.
Students from 6-11 have enjoyed the Coding game from Osmo and there is often a crowd gathered around it as the students encourage players to try certain blocks. It has been a great warm-up activity as kids arrive for our camp each day.
Like all Tangible Play apps for Osmo, Coding is free. However, you do need to purchase the physical pieces and the set that includes the base and mirror piece if you don’t already have it. Coding is another great resource to introduce programming to young students.
The Hopscotch app (iOS only) has long been a favorite for my student coders. They have lots of tutorials, and the students who participate in a couple of those often ask if they can code their own projects after learning the basics. If you have some iPads in your classroom, you may want to let some or all of your class try the “Carve a Pumpkin with Hopscotch” tutorial.
It’s best if you can allow pairs of students work at their own pace, rather than try to keep the whole class on the same steps at the same time. Keep in mind that the app has been updated a couple of times since this tutorial was made, so some of the tools may be slightly different.
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!
My students have always been completely mesmerized by the power of Cubelets, modular robots that adhere magnetically and can be put together in a seemingly endless number of combinations. Obtaining enough Cubelets to feed the curiosity of a large group can get expensive, but we were fortunate enough to get some grant applications approved that allowed us to purchase a decent number. The combined set has definitely been one of the best investments I’ve made for my classroom.
Modular Robotics, the company behind Cubelets, has offered resources to teachers for the past few years. But they now have an updated portion of their site devoted to lesson plans. The plans are divided into grade level strands, starting with Pre-K and ending with 12th grade. Browsing through the plans I found some “meaty” material, including this “Cause and Effect” plan for 4th-6th graders. Be advised that you will need to look carefully at the required Cubelets for the plans you use as some are not included in the less expensive kits.
Cubelets are great for centers and maker spaces. With these free lesson plans, educators may feel more comfortable with integrating these versatile robots into their curriculum as well.