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.

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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!

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.

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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

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