Alexa Blueprints

UPDATE 1/11/2021: Here is a list of great Alexa skills for kids from Commonsense Media!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I want to share a few things I learned at ISTE 2020 last week. One of the sessions I “attended” virtually was about Artificial Intelligence, presented by Hall Davidson. Among the great resources he shared, Davidson mentioned that you can customize some of the Amazon Alexa responses using “Skill Blueprints.” I know that many classrooms can’t have an Alexa due to district and privacy issues, but if you do have one – or have one at home – this site should definitely be of interest to you. Using the Alexa Blueprints, you can customize stories, games, celebrations, and even taking turns. In addition, there are 5 different “Learning and Knowledge” templates. Davidson mentioned that he had worked with schools where the students had filled out the templates, giving them a bit of education on some of the uses of Artificial Intelligence.

For some other AI resources, don’t forget this new site from Code.org, which includes a video on the ethics of AI. (And, a friendly reminder that it’s Hour of Code week right now!) My post on “Machine Learning for Kids” also has some great links, and some fun Scratch projects for this topic.

Photo by Fabian Hurnaus on Pexels.com

Hour of Code 2020

I cannot express enough how participating in the first Hour of Code several years ago changed my life, and hopefully made a positive difference in the lives of my students. We were all new to coding in my classroom back then, and learned together. From that time on, coding has been part of my life and integrated into my classes. I am still not an expert by any means – which has been a great benefit to me as a teacher. It allows me to encourage productive struggle and for all of us to celebrate when problems are solved.

This year’s Hour of Code will be from December 7-11, 2020. One way you can participate is by finding activities on this page, which allows you to filter for grade level, ability level, and device. You can even do “unplugged” activities. Another option is to use one of the Choice Boards created by Shannon Miller for this occasion.

Code.org also just announced a new series that they are providing on Artificial Intelligence. Dive into these lesson plans, videos, and a live panel discussion on AI designed for upper grades.

If you want to delve deeper after Hour of Code, I highly, highly recommend the free Code.org courses, which are very engaging for students and provide a dashboard and lesson plans to teachers. I taught this as an elective for 6th graders last year, and they really took it to the next level.

I’m going to be creating a Wakelet of coding resources that I will share next week. Also, if you are interested in having me present to your staff on Coding for beginners and how to integrate it into your curriculum, please contact me at @engagetheirminds.com

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com

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.