I’ve been using this blog and Pinterest to promote the importance of teaching programming to students for awhile now. One of the benefits that I see is how coding makes natural connections to Systems Thinking.
While these are definitely fun apps, they can also help our students to learn some valuable life lessons. I sat down this weekend to come up with some task cards that would help my students (K-5) relate Daisy the Dinosaur to some of the Systems Thinking tenets that we cover in class. Depending on the level of the student, these can be done as a class, independently, at a station, or in groups. I thought it might be fun to show them on the big screen, and use Socrative for some of their responses.
These are designed to be activities done after the students have had a chance to play Daisy the Dinosaur in “Challenge” mode, and some time to experiment with “Freeplay.” They do not have to have access to the iPad at the time they are doing the activities below, however.
Systems Thinking Tenet #1 – If you want different results, you can’t keep doing the same exact thing. (PPT, PDF)
Systems Thinking Tenet #2 – You can do things differently (sometimes more efficiently) and still get the same results. (PPT, PDF)
Systems Thinking Tenet #3 – When you have a problem, find the true source, or your “fix” could make things worse. (PPT, PDF)
Systems Thinking Tenet #4 – The objects within a system are interdependent. (PPT, PDF)
Systems Thinking Tenet #5 – There are often systems nested within systems. (PPT, PDF)
You can learn more about Alexandra in this article at Tech Crunch. She recently appeared at the Disrupt Hackathon, and sat down with Colleen Taylor for an interview about her achievement, which also appears in the article. When asked what she liked about programming, Alexandra responded, “I think it’s really calming and a great way to develop thought.”
You can see in the comments on the Tech Crunch article that there are some doubters out there who question Alexandra’s actual contribution to the app development.
Does it really matter? She is in 4th grade and simultaneously attempting to solve a problem and pursue an interest by learning something new and useful on her own time.
A curious, engaged, problem-solving, 9-year-old who finds it soothing to write code and enjoys developing her thinking skills.
BotLogic is a new web-based game that teaches programming to kids. It reminds me a bit of the iPad apps , “Daisy the Dinosaur,” “Kodable,” and “Cargo-Bot.” The main difference is, of course, that you can play BotLogic on any device with an internet browser, and are not restricted to a certain operating system. What also makes it more available to students is that you do not have to register to play BotLogic, and you can skip to different levels of difficulty – so you do not always have to begin on the first level if you switch your playing device.
Programming for Kids is a trending topic in Education, and BotLogic is one of many resources for teaching this. (You can view my Pinterest board to see even more.) Some of the features that set BotLogic apart is that it actually shows the window of code as you create your line of icon instructions and it gives the extra challenge of trying to maintain “battery life” by using as short a set of instructions as possible. You can compete with your friends to get the highest score, and you can share your scores on pretty much any social network.
BotLogic offers a short tutorial, and I think any child who can read could probably use the site independently. It’s a good introduction to programming for any age level, as it slowly scaffolds from the very simple to the more complex. This also allows for differentiation, as students can work at their own pace, and even skip levels.
Why should your child and/or students play BotLogic, or any other programming game? Because it teaches logic, problem-solving, systems thinking, and, in some cases, collaboration. Once a child learns the foundations of programming, the potential for creativity and design thinking becomes even greater. Aren’t these skills we would like to develop in every child?
You may have read yesterday’s post about Gamestar Mechanic, another site that teaches programming to kids. Tynker is similar to Gamestar Mechanic in that it offers a free version and a premium version. However, Tynker’s free version has a lot of features – including the ability to add classes and projects. It includes a basic curriculum for elementary and middle school that already has lesson plans with projects. Or, as a teacher, you can create your own. Another thing that I like about Tynker is that my students were able to use their Google I.D.’s to register, and did not need e-mail addresses.
Tynker is similar to Scratch. In fact, you can import lessons and projects from Scratch. I, however, am a beginner. So, I stuck with Tynker’s package of lessons, and studiously watched the provided videos before I assigned each week’s lesson. (Tynker allows you to choose “Student View” so you can see what the students will see when they get each lesson.)
It is web-based, but the site states that there will be a mobile version available in the future.
When students complete a project, they can submit it, and you can approve it or send it back. You can quickly see, by glancing at each lesson in the “Grading” tab, who has submitted and completed each project. The students can send you messages through Tynker if they have questions or comments. There is also a Class Showcase area where you can approve exemplary projects to be shared with everyone in the class. This is all FREE!
There were a couple of glitches in the Tynker lessons. For example the “Driving Lesson” appeared to already have the code done in it before the students even had a chance to do the project. At one point, I got locked out of assigning lessons with the note that they were now “Premium”, but Tynker’s excellent Customer Service quickly fixed that.
I spoke to a Tynker rep at ISTE, and he mentioned that they will soon be offering “puzzles” where the students will have to rearrange the code to achieve certain goals. I look forward to that, and hope it will also be in the free version.
I definitely plan to use Tynker again – probably as a “Level Up” motivator in my Genius Hour. Now that I am more familiar with it, I might create some of my own projects and lessons to “jazz” things up a bit.
I know this is a topic that is getting a bit repetitious on my blog, but I really can’t emphasize enough how important I think it is that we offer programming to our students at an early age. This article from MindShift, explains how learning programming has far-reaching effects, and should not be reserved for only those who aspire to careers in technology. “Why Programming Teaches So Much More Than Technical Skills”, by Ian Quillen, explains 4 specific benefits of receiving an education in this area: Subject Mastery, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, and Passion.
First of all, I have a confession to make; I know very little about programming. What I do know is that it is wonderful for teaching problem solving skills and logic. I also know that those skills, and programming specifically, are in high demand in our nation’s job market.
So it makes sense that we should find ways to introduce our children to programming early. While they learn, so can we. Hopscotch and Tynker both aim to do that.
Hopscotch is an iPod app that is free, and allows the player to create simple programs using methods similar to MIT’s Scratch (also free). I have mentioned two other apps – Daisy the Dinosaur and Cargobot – before on this blog, and I think Hopscotch fits perfectly between them. Daisy is a fabulous introduction to young children. Hopscotch would be the next logical stage. And Cargobot has more complex challenges. All of these apps are free.
Tynker is a web-based platform, and also looks similar to Scratch. I have not tried it yet, but read about it here. I just got my registration approved, and I am eager to try it. I used Codeacademy earlier this year with my students, but I am looking for something a bit more kid-friendly, and Tynker looks promising.