Both Halloween and the Hour of Code have been on my mind lately, so I was excited to find this post on “5 Ideas for a Spooky Scratch-o-ween.” Since I teach gifted students from K-5 in my school, many of my older students have used Scratch. Some of them like to use it to create presentations or make games. However, my newer students need an introduction on how use this block coding tool. I particularly like the suggestion to animate some appropriate Halloween jokes using Scratch (or Scratch Jr. on the iPads). Here is a link to some goofy Halloween jokes that are good for elementary students. Rosemary Slattery shows some brief examples of animated Scratch Halloween jokes here. Robots are also fun to program for joke-telling. We’ve used the Dash robot as a comedian in the past, and it is a new challenge for the students to find a way to code it so the timing works between the joke and the punchline.
Speaking of punchlines, what kind of roads do ghosts haunt? Dead ends, of course. (You’ll find that in the list of jokes linked above.)
For today’s ISTE post, I thought I would cover a couple of the sessions I attended that were related to coding and makered.
Leah LaCrosse (@llacrosse) and Jon Jarc (@trendingedtech) spoke about the ways they have used the design process with their classes as the students worked with digital modeling for 3d printers. They included a great diagram from nngroup.com that my colleague and I like because it uses arrows to show that the design process is often not linear, with many steps repeating. We are also hoping to, as they have, find more “problems” that students can try to solve with design thinking. (They gave an example of 3d printing a piece for the school’s long-broken water fountain.)
An interesting suggestion for introducing 3d modeling to students was to have them begin by making something fairly simple with Legos, and to then ask them to duplicate the design using a program like Tinkercad. One workflow tip is to have a Google Form for students to enter the links to their print files to put them in a queue (after they have been critiqued) for the 3d printer.
The 3d printing project that really caught my attention was one in which the students designed vehicles that had to fit the following parameters: multiple parts, multiple colors, no glue, and able to roll across a table. As Jarc described it, this project took nearly an entire semester, but the students were taking precise measurements, iterating repeatedly as they learned more from mistakes, and putting their own creative spins on the designs – making this a deep learning activity that they will never forget. Another fun idea? Fitting the vehicles on top of Spheros to propel them across the room!
Another makered session I attended was sponsored by Microsoft. I know very little about the hardware featured on their “Make Code” website, so I was curious to learn more about at least one of the pieces, the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express. This little kit is actual hardware that you can connect to your computer with a usb cord, and use block coding or java script to program. Even if you don’t have the physical hardware (only $24.95, but it seems to be out of stock), you can use the simulator on the site to code this fun product to do all sorts of things – such as play sounds and light up. Here is some advice on getting started. I had to leave the session early, so I missed out on the awesome magic wands they were making once everyone programmed their Circuit Playgrounds. However, I loved some of the features of the website – including that you can easily transition between block coding and java, the site can be used on practically any device (though you do need USB for the hardware), and you can even use it offline. As you can see from the pictures below, there are lots of things you can do with the Circuit Playground. Since it has a battery pack, you can program it and “wear” it without being wired to the computer.
Of course, these two sessions were only a small sample of all of the makered possibilities showcased at ISTE this year. It’s amazing to recall the years when makered was relatively new to the incredible impact it is having on educational technology now!
Monday at ISTE began with me frantically trying to find my first session in the San Antonio Convention Center (not an easy place to navigate – especially for those of us who are spatially challenged), only to discover that I needed a ticket to enter. Fortunately, it was the one Apple morning session that wasn’t full, so I boomeranged between the usher at the entrance and the ticket stand with admirable speed and found myself one of the last people to be welcomed into a hands-on session centered on Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app.
I still stand by my original assertion that students need to be pretty adept readers to take advantage of the app, and I wouldn’t use it with students with lower than a 4th grade reading level. However, the new “Accessories” tab that allows it to be used to control multiple hardware devices may be a game-changer. For example, my students could now control Lego EV3, Dash Robots, and Sphero, among other robots, using Swift Playgrounds. The advantage of this over other apps, such as Tickle, is that students will be switching from introductory block programming to more widely used line/text programming. There are plenty of tutorials within the app to ease this transition.
Another feature that I like about Swift Playgrounds is that it offers a recording function, so students can work on a tutorial and submit recordings of their solutions to the teacher as a reflection. You can also take pictures of your screen within the app, and export the code to PDF. There are hints within the tutorials, but later levels require that you put a little effort into solving the coding puzzles before you can receive any help. The app is definitely worth looking into if you are an educator working with students who already have some programming experience and are looking for the next step. Curriculum resources are available here.
My second session also happened to be sponsored by Apple (no ticket required for this one). In this session, we learned about Apple Clips, which is a video editing app that may eventually replace iMovie. This app is optimized for mobile use, as well as social media, and it is clear there was a lot of thought put into its development. Just like iMovie, Clips allows you to take video, edit it, and add music. But Clips has taken a lot of the manual labor out of video creation. Music is automatically edited with intros and outros to fit your clips. Cropping and “Ken Burns-ing” easily become seamless portions of your video, and you can add layers, effects, and titles with taps of the finger. One of my favorite features is the “live titles.” This basically allows you to create a closed-captions for your video – adding text to the video as you record in real time. The text is aligned to the actual timing of your speech, so if you pause, so does the text. You can also easily edit the text if your words aren’t interpreted the way you intended.
Clips looks great. Designed for this generation of “on-the-fly” videographers, it could be the ideal tool. However, I have heard from a few people and read in some reviews that it can be glitchy. I have not experienced any issues myself, but I was disappointed when my somewhat older classroom iPad was deemed too ancient to be “compatible with this app.” Like many new products, Clips may need to age a bit (but maybe not as much as my unfortunate iPad) before it takes off, but I’m ready to give it a try.
For some examples of ways that Clips has been used in schools, check out #classroomclips on Twitter.
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.