Tag Archives: coding

Scratch Your Itch to Learn Programming

image from Scratch Jr. Kickstarter site
image from Scratch Jr. Kickstarter site

Yesterday I mentioned the free online course being offered by Mitch Resnick and his colleagues at the M.I.T. Media Lab called, “Learning Creative Learning.”  It starts today, so check out my post if you are interested – no registration required!

Mitch Resnick, of course, is one of the creators of Scratch, a great (and also free!) way for anyone to learn the basics of programming.  I noticed that there is a Scratch Day coming up on May 17, 2014, and I want to encourage to mark your calendars for that date.  Even if you don’t choose to host a Scratch day event, you can visit the site to find events in your area.  According to the site, “The events are for educators, parents and children 5 years and older. Beginner Scratchers are welcome!” If you haven’t done any Scratch programming before, this might be a fun opportunity for you to learn.  Last semester, I attended a Scratch class with my daughter, and I was so glad that I did!

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 4.24.59 PM

You also might be interested to know that Scratch Jr. is currently a Kickstarter project.  Scratch Jr. is designed for students 5-7 as an introduction to programming.  It uses the same concept of snapping together programming blocks on the screen to create interactive stories and games as the original version of Scratch (designed for 8 years and up).

Scratch Jr. is being developed for the iPad, but will hopefully be available eventually on multiple platforms.  The creators are determined that it will be free for everyone when it is released, so they are looking for Kickstarter backing now to pay for the cost of creating it.

I have seen how excited students get about Scratch, and about programming.  I can’t wait for Scratch Jr. to be available for my younger students.  This will be a valuable resource for educators and parents everywhere to help their children learn sequencing, logic, and the joy of creating in a new “language.”

To see more of my posts about programming for kids, type in “programming” in the search bar on this page, or visit my Pinterest Board.

 

The Return of Robot Turtles

Pre-order now from ThinkFun!
Pre-order now from ThinkFun!

This is going to be the Phunnest Phriday ever because I get to share some awesome news with you!  If you recall (though I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you don’t recall), I posted about a game called “Robot Turtles” last December during my Gifts for the Gifted Series.  I debated whether or not to write that post because I had obtained my own “Robot Turtles” game through Kickstarter, and didn’t know when (or if ) it would ever become available to the general public.

I am happy to announce that “Robot Turtles” is now available for pre-order at the great price of $24.99, and it’s being produced by one of my favorite sources of learning toys, ThinkFun!

“Robot Turtles” is a game that was designed by Dan Shapiro to teach children the basics of programming skills.  I have used it with students as young as six years old, and they love it.  You can read my detailed description of the game here.

The new version has a few modifications that will make the product even better, including improved durability and instructions.  In addition, the first 5,000 pre-orders of the game (which will start shipping this June, 2014), will get a “Special Edition Expansion Pack.”  This pack will include: more focus on the “Function Frog”,  32 fancy Gemstones, and 10 Adventure Quests.  I am particularly excited about the Adventure Quests, as these will offer some new ideas for setting up the board, and are bound to motivate the players to think of even more quests to add to their collection!

If you are a teacher, you might want to consider purchasing this game for your classroom.  Once I taught my 1st graders how to play, they quickly took over, and it can be used as a center for hours of fun.  In addition, a group of my 4th graders picked it up on their own to play during indoor recess the other day, and were very disappointed when their time ended!

Families will enjoy this too, and it will make a great, unique birthday gift for children in elementary school.

Whether or not Computer Science, including Programming, should be a part of school curriculum is a hot topic of debate in the world of education these days.(Great Britain has already decided to include it.)  But one thing you can never debate is the value of children learning and problem solving while they are having fun.

Hello Ruby!

Illustration from Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas
Illustration from Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas.  Click here to visit her Kickstarter page.

If you are a regular reader, you probably know two things about me – that I am a fan of Kickstarter, and that I am a proponent of teaching kids how to code.  One of my more recent Kickstarter acquisitions was the Robot Turtles game, which is a board game that introduces young students the basics of programming.  My first graders loved playing it during “Hour of Code” week, and it was easy to transition them to other programming games like Kodable once they had that foundation.

Kickstarter apparently knows me well, because one of their recent e-mails highlighted a new project that will also help to introduce students to programming, “Hello Ruby.”

The name of the main character of the proposed storybook, Ruby,  comes from Ruby on Rails, which is described as “an open-source web framework that’s optimized for programmer happiness and sustainable productivity.”  I must admit that, though I’ve heard it mentioned quite a bit in coding conversations, I know absolutely nothing about it.  It sounds intriguing – and completely over my head.

Linda Liukas, who co-founded “Rails Girls“, a non-profit with the goal of encouraging women to embrace technology, wants to help dispel the mystique around programming by creating a children’s book and workbook to introduce the topic.  Ruby is the main character.  According to Liukas, “Ruby’s world is an extension of the way I’ve learned to see technology. It goes far beyond the bits and bytes inside the computer. This is the story of what happens between the ones and zeros, before the arrays and the if/else statements. The book and workbook are aimed for four to seven year olds.”

The drawings are whimsical and appealing, just like Linda Liukas.  If you watch the video on her Kickstarter site, you will find it easy to understand why, even though she only requested $10,000 to back the project, over $175,000 has already been pledged – and there are still 25 more days to go.

I can’t really recommend a product that I haven’t actually used, but I will tell you that I have backed this project because it looks very promising.  For those of you who are not familiar with Kickstarter, there are various levels available for you to pledge, and the money is not taken from you until the end of the funding period (and only if it is fully funded).  Also, if the funding surpasses the original request, there are usually “stretch goals”, which allow backers to receive a bit more than they originally expected. Liukas has already listed the stretch goals for “Hello Ruby” on the site. Also, you should note that delivery of this particular product (if you pledge at a level to receive something) is expected in August of this year.

It’s exciting to back Kickstarter projects – to get in on the ground floor of the creation of something that has the potential to make a great impact.  During the process, you receive e-mail updates, and get to learn more about what has to happen in order for a dream to become a reality.  If you haven’t done it before, I encourage you to take a look at the Kickstarter site.  It’s a great feeling to contribute to helping someone to transform their ideas to tangible products that could effect the world.

Illustration from the accompanying Hello Ruby workbook by Linda Liukas
Illustration from the accompanying Hello Ruby workbook by Linda Liukas.  Click here to visit the Kickstarter page.

Kids Can Code With Kodable

Have you done your Hour of Code, yet?  So far, I’ve done 8.5 hours of coding this week with my students in various grade levels – with more hours to add today and tomorrow!  We’ve used ScratchHopscotch, and a board game called Robot Turtles (which I will be describing in detail in tomorrow’s post).  For more ideas for Programming for Kids, here is my Pinterest Board.

One of my 5th grade students puzzles over a Kodable challenge
One of my 5th grade students puzzles over a Kodable challenge

Have you done your Hour of Code, yet?  So far, I’ve done 8.5 hours of coding this week with my students in various grade levels – with more hours to add today and tomorrow!  We’ve used Scratch, Hopscotch, and a board game called Robot Turtles (which I will be describing in detail in tomorrow’s post).  For more ideas for Programming for Kids, here is my Pinterest Board.

One app that we haven’t used this week is Kodable.  The only reason we haven’t used it for the past few days is because we have been using it since October.  I thought it might be cheating to stick with what we all know well when I have been encouraging everyone else to go outside their comfort zones!

As some of you know, I introduced programming to my 3rd-5th grade classes by using Kodable’s “Unplugged” activity, which involves making a classroom obstacle course.  The students loved that, and it made the transition to the digital version of Kodable practically seamless.

There are two versions of Kodable in the App Store.  The free version allows users to play the first 30 levels (Smeeborg World) for free.  The Pro version (currently on sale for .99) offers full access, giving you a total of 4 Worlds.  And, a special bonus, Kodable is unveiling a new Fuzz next week – Holly!

Holly Fuzz - coming just in time for the "Holly"days!
Holly Fuzz – coming just in time for the “Holly”days!

Kodable scaffolds programming skills so that young children can learn how to code.  They don’t even have to know how to read.  The goal is to direct a “Fuzz” through a maze by placing the correct sequence of commands and pressing “Play.”  It begins very simply, and slowly increases in difficulty.  As students complete certain levels, they earn new “Fuzz” characters, and can choose the ones they want to use.  My personal favorite is “Shaggy Fuzz”, a brown Fuzz who makes me giggle every time he hums while he travels through the maze.  I told my students to turn their volume up on the iPads just so I could hear when they were using him 😉

One of the things that I love about Kodable is how genuinely dedicated the creators, Grechen Huebner and Jon Mattingly, are to education.  If you follow @Kodable on Twitter, you will find them involved in numerous educational Twitter chats, including the one they host, #kidscancode, every Tuesday evening at 7 PM CST.  They love connecting with and getting feedback from educators, and they are also thrilled to get involved with students through Google HangOuts, Skype, or FaceTime.

Here is a short Tellagami video from some 3rd graders in Van Meter, IA, about Kodable.

Kodable Extensions:

Tweeted on 12/11/13 by @HeatherMMcKay
Kodable Maze made with non-perishable food items, tweeted on 12/11/13 by @HeatherMMcKay

 

Scratch

Well, I finally did it.  With the help of: an Hour of Code Tutorial, a 3rd grader who knows what he’s doing, and what I learned from auditing a class that my daughter took, I finally felt somewhat ready to try Scratch, the free M.I.T. programming language available on the web, with my 3rd grade class.

Scratch

Full disclosure here: I teach Gifted and Talented students, and my 3rd grade class is composed of 4 students* – one of them being the aforementioned one who knows what he’s doing.  So, I probably don’t get a lot of points for risk-taking.  Plus, the Hour of Code Tutorial walked them through all of the steps for creating a holiday card – leaving me with little to do other than to provide new laptops when their batteries went dead.  I should get points, though, for observing that the batteries were about to die and urging the students to save their projects to their drives before they lost them completely 😉

After doing a Hopscotch tutorial with my 2nd graders yesterday (hey – there were 11 kids in that class!), I was prepared to take things a bit slowly with the students in this group who had never seen Hopscotch or Scratch.  Silly me.  After their classmate’s demonstration, and two steps into the tutorial, they were ready to jump into the project and CREATE.  My job was to step aside.  Here is a link to our class blog post with links to videos of their projects.

Since this was far from the typical experience that a classroom teacher would have if trying to incorporate Scratch, I know that much of my advice would not be helpful.  However, I do have a few words of wisdom for teachers new to using Scratch:

  • Scratch is free, and no longer requires a download (a mobile version is due out in the Spring).  You can use the web version just fine.  There are some added features in the downloadable version, but beginners won’t miss them.
  • You can share Scratch projects by downloading the file to a computer and then uploading it within Scratch or by joining Scratch.  I did not have my students join – as I felt that was a parental decision.  Joining does require an e-mail, but it allows you to share your projects with others in the Scratch community by uploading it to their site.
  • If you don’t have built in microphones on your computers, have some plug-in mics available.  The kids like to make their “sprites” say silly things through recording.
  • Monitor the “silly things” your students say while recording 😉
  • If your computers are somewhat unreliable, encourage your students to save frequently.
  • Be sure to build in time for exploration.  Just choosing their first sprite (object that they will program) from the Scratch library could take 5-10 minutes.
  • Ask someone who knows something about the program to assist you if you can.  If you can’t, it’s still nice to have extra hands available for basic computer trouble-shooting.

The Scratch Hour of Code tutorial is an excellent introduction.  However, here are some other Scratch resources if you interested:

If you have an iPad, Daisy the Dinosaur and Hopscotch are great lead-ins to Scratch.  But, really, the above resources take care of you.  And, as you have probably already learned with the digital natives in your classroom, our students don’t need nearly as much as much instruction as we teachers do!

*I’m trying Scratch with a class of 14 fourth graders today (11 of whom happen to be boys), so my experience will probably be a bit different!

Hopscotch

If you haven’t signed up to participate in this week’s Hour of Code, it’s not too late.  And, even if you don’t find it possible to get involved this week, I urge you to take a look at all of the wonderful resources.  Consider showing your students the basics of programming, and let them take it from there.

I heard from a few people that they were having a hard time selecting where to start.  The wealth of resources can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you do not have experience with programming.  As someone who is relatively new to it, I understand completely.  That’s why I thought I would devote today’s post to just one of the resources – Hopscotch.

Hopscotch is a free iPad app that is similar to a web-based open-source coding program developed by MIT called Scratch.  But, don’t worry if you have never used either one.  My exposure to them was pretty limited until a month ago.

I used Hopscotch with my 2nd grade GT class yesterday.  There are 11 students in the class.  They each had an iPad, but I think I probably should have had them share.  If you have a full class of students, I would definitely recommend this – for the sake of your sanity and theirs.

The students had used Daisy the Dinosaur and Kodable before – both awesome coding apps.  Daisy had kind of introduced them to using blocks to program, and I think it’s an excellent intro to Hopscotch.  (They are both produced by the same company.)

Hopscotch has a great tutorial video (embedded below) that we used, and that’s what really helped me.  I have messed around with Hopscotch, but never really knew what to do with it, or how to break it down for the students.  Hopscotch does this all for you.

One thing I wished I had done before going through the video with the students was to talk about some of the vocabulary: rotate, opacity, line width, random.

Another thing you may want to check is to make sure you have the latest version of Hopscotch on the iPad.  I thought I had done this, but then some of the menu items looked different on some iPads, causing a bit of confusion with directions.

We paused a lot during the video.  To give you an idea, the video is 25 minutes long, and we barely finished in 90 minutes.  Some of that extra time was exploration; some of it was troubleshooting (kids hitting the wrong button, iPads freezing, going ahead and missing directions, etc…).  If you can, have older kids or parents help you out with this.

Once you go through the video, if your students want to continue using Hopscotch, I highly recommend visiting Wes Fryer’s blog here, where you can find additional ideas for using this app in the classroom.  This includes a link to Wes’ ePub book of Hopscotch challenges. (If you download the ePub book, you may need to also download an ePub reader, such as Adobe Digital Editions.)  The ePub book also explains how to share Hopscotch creations once they are completed.

I see lots of ways that Hopscotch can be integrated into the curriculum – particularly math.  Discussion of angles (helpful to understand for the “Rotate” command), percent, creation of shapes or symmetrical drawings are just some of the ways it can tie in.  Because it allows you to bring in text objects, other subjects could be easily reflected by creating Hopscotch games with vocabulary.  If you search for ways to integrate Scratch into the core curriculum, as on this page, you can probably modify a lot of those ideas to work with Hopscotch.

For more ideas on using programming with kids, be sure to check out the Hour of Code link above, or my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board!