Tag Archives: computer science

Turing Tumble

It has been awhile since I’ve succumbed to my Kickstarter addiction, but felt the need to place a pledge last night for “Turing Tumble: Gaming on a Mechanical Computer.”     The good news is that the project has already far surpassed its funding goal, and there are still 27 days to go in the campaign.  The bad news is that the projected date I will receive it is not until January of next year.  Turing Tumble looks like it will be a great addition to my classroom.  Because marbles!!!!  And logic puzzles in a comic book!!!!  And learning the basics of how computers work!!!

If I haven’t convinced you yet, check out their Kickstarter page, which gives a very thorough explanation (better than mine) and video of the Turing Tumble in action.

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 7.56.17 PM.png
Check out the Turing Tumble, invented by Paul Boswell (above) on Kickstarter!

A.I. Duet

Today’s Frivolous Friday post is in honor of my colleague, Angela Leonhardt, who is a music educator extraordinaire.  She just made it to the finals for our district’s Teacher of the Year.  That honor and many more are well-deserved by this wonderful teacher, who enriches our community with her dedication.  If I had any music composition skills, I would play her a magnificent fanfare with this A.I. Duet experiment from Google.  Unfortunately, even A.I. can’t mask my ineptitude, but I’m sure that someone with Angela’s talent can find a way to make beautiful music with this fun tool.

H/T to Mental Floss for sharing A.I. Duet with its readers.

image from Raphael Love on Flickr


Barclays Coding Playground

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 😉


Hour of Code 2015

I feel that this post is probably superfluous.  Code.org has done a wonderful job already of promoting this year’s Hour of Code, scheduled for 12/7-12/13.    However, it doesn’t hurt to give this great event more publicity (with the hope that Code.org’s servers can handle all of the extra traffic).

The concept is simple – make sure every student at every level gets to experience an hour of coding next week.  If you’ve never participated in Hour of Code, this may seem to be a daunting task.   Code.org makes it super simple, though.  The Hour of Code site provides step-by-step tutorials for all age levels, many of them with high-interest themes, such as Minecraft, Star Wars, and Frozen, and most of them can be done on any device.  No devices?  No problem. There are “unplugged” activities that can be used for Hour of Code as well.

Why should educators give all students – even elementary students – this experience?  The videos on this page can explain the importance of computer science for our future.  You may have potential Mark Zuckerbergs in your room – or not.  But you definitely have future problem-solvers, collaborators, and innovators.  Coding develops all of these skills, with the added bonus that students have fun while they learn them.

I urge you to give it a try.  I hesitantly took the risk a few years ago, and I’ve been glad I did ever since.  If you still feel reluctant – primarily because you may not feel like you have enough experience – then you might want to look at my Code Dread post from a few weeks ago.  I promise that you don’t have to be Bill Gates to guide students through the Hour of Code.  In fact, inexperienced people have an advantage in this situation because they will avoid the pitfall of helping too much!

Need more Hour of Code ideas?  Check this out.

For some more programming resources for kids, here is a Pinterest Board of links to websites and products that will help children learn to code.

Hour of Code 2015

Code Dread

Last week I gave a presentation called, “Code Dread,” at a tech conference.  I’m not sure who had more dread at the time – the attendees who hadn’t tried coding before, or me, the teacher who can only speak publicly in front of people 10 and younger.

My target audience was people who are interested in using coding in the classroom but have some reservations like:

  • I don’t know how to do this.
  • I don’t have time to learn how to do this.
  • I can’t fit this into my curriculum.

Here are my recommended solutions:

  • Pretend you’re pretending you don’t know how to do this because that’s what’s best for your students; it will make them better problem solvers.  This has the added benefit of being true. (Not the pretending part – the better problem solver part.)  If you don’t know how to do it, you won’t feel tempted to rescue them too quickly.
  • Learn along with your students.  You don’t have to spend time during the weekend learning it.  Just put it in your lesson plans and jump in.  It will be messy and chaotic, but learning will happen.  You’re modeling a growth mindset, and showing students that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.
  • Once students know the basics, there are all kinds of ways coding can be used as part of your everyday curriculum.  For example, Sphero provides lessons that connect to math.  With Scratch Jr. you can teach Kinders how to program while they learn their sight words. And I taught my 1st graders geography with Dash and Dot.

Here is the link to my presentation – though it may not make a whole lot of sense without my narration.

Hour of Code will be here soon (12-7 thru 12-13).  The Code.org site provides extremely user-friendly resources and tutorials.  They just announced their newest tutorial yesterday – Star Wars!  This is a great way to dip your toes into coding and find out that it really isn’t that intimidating.  Here is a simplified scope and sequence I offered to our faculty last year (with a few updates for 2015).

But don’t stop there!  Your students will love being able to code on a regular basis – especially when they are able to create games or art with their programming.  You can find many resources in my Code Dread presentation.  I also have a “Programming for Kids” Pinterest board.

So, jump on in.  Who cares if you don’t know what you’re doing?

I certainly don’t.  Know what I’m doing, I mean 🙂

Take a risk, and get rid of your

Code Dread

Bitsbox Subscriptions

“Are we going to do Share Time today?”




5 minutes later…

“When can I share?”

This 5th grader was super-excited, and completely determined to make sure I didn’t forget to give him his 5-minute sharing opportunity.  In my GT classroom, students can earn different privileges for certain achievements, and this was a privilege for which this student had worked particularly hard.

Finally, it was time.

The student came to the front of the room with a box in his hand.  It turned out the box was his first package from Bitsbox.  It included cards, a magazine, stickers, and a surprise toy.

image from Bitsbox
image from Bitsbox

I last posted about Bitsbox in December.  The site is free, and allows students to learn how to code programs.  Once the students log in online, students can write and test programs on a virtual tablet. When users create something they like, it can actually be shared and played on mobile devices.  You can access the Teacher Guide here.

My student’s parents had gone one step further, and gotten a Bitsbox subscription.  Depending on the subscription level that is chosen, either a PDF or an actual box is delivered to subscribers monthly. My student obviously received the box, and he could not wait to share its contents with the class. The students were in awe as he demonstrated how you could actually write a program online, and then play it on your mobile device.

I was thrilled to receive my own Bitsbox in the mail for review.  So was my 12-year-old daughter, especially when she saw the “surprise toy” – a Slinky.

The current Bitsbox magazine is great quality (nice paper, color pages), has 22 apps to try, and includes an inventory of some of the songs, stamps, fills, and sounds that you can use to “remix” the apps. It also has a link to a Grownup Guide – one of the best features in my opinion – which allows you to type in a code number for any of the programs. Parents then have access to a helpful “translation” of the programming involved, as well as extension suggestions.  LOVE!

My daughter enjoyed the “Who’s My BFF?” code, which randomly chooses a friend’s name from the ones that you input.  My students like things that explode, so “Fido’s Lunch” (one of the included programming cards) made quite an impression.

The difficulty of the apps varies.  Some are very short and simple. Others have quite a few lines of code, but obviously allow for more fun when playing the completed games. Content-wise, the target ages seem to be about 7-12 years old, though I must admit that I certainly enjoyed trying them out even though I’m nowhere near that age bracket 😉

So, the big question is, “Is a Bitsbox subscription worth it?”  One thing you should do to help yourself make this decision is try the website activities first.  If your child enjoys those – to the point that he or she is modifying them and begging for more – then you should consider a subscription.  My 5th grader obviously did!  Personally, I think the $20 PDF would not be that exciting.  Kids like to get packages.  That being said, I’m not sure the $40 month-to-month is a very good value.  I think I would try the $35/month for 3 months or the $30/month for 12.  My advice to Bitsbox would be to offer 6 months for $30 each, and the 12 months for $25/month.  I think that would be ideal.


Hour of Code 2014

It’s not too early to start planning for this year’s Hour of Code!  It’s December 8-14, and you know that November is going to fly by quickly.

Hour of Code is an initiative from Code.org with the purpose of getting students around the world exposed to programming skills.  All of my GT students, 1st through 5th, participated last year (and even my Kinder students learned some programming when they started classes with me in the spring).  Every student enjoyed it, and many took it into their own hands to learn more during Genius Hour projects and their own time at home.

Teachers, tap into your growth mindset and try Hour of Code!
Teachers, tap into your growth mindset and try Hour of Code!

Before you click on the “x” in the top right corner or hop to another website, hear me out.  I am not a programmer, and knew very little about computer science before jumping into Hour of Code.  I promise you that you do not need to be an expert in order to participate. Code.org provides very easy tutorials that walk you through programming activities.  In fact, you can participate without using any kind of device at all by doing an “unplugged” activity.  This is the perfect opportunity for your students to see your willingness to take risks and try things that are a little beyond your comfort level.  The great thing is watching them rise to the occasion and solve their own problems when you truly don’t know the answer!

If you participated last year, it looks like you’re in luck.  Code.org is promising new tutorials for this year.  And, you may want to check out their Code Studio that was launched earlier this year.

Here are the resources on How to Get Started.  Need some inspirational videos or posters?  Check these out.

Just in case you aren’t convinced, try one of these iPad apps to see how quickly you can learn coding yourself: Kodable, Scratch Jr., Hopscotch, Daisy the Dinosaur, Lego Fix the Factory, Cargo-Bot, Pixel Press.

Or, try a browser based program: Scratch, Made with Code, Pencil Gym.

Want to go “unplugged”?  Try Robot Turtles or this free activity from Kodable.

I have over 100 pins on my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board if you need more resources.  Also, join the #kidscancode chat every Tuesday at 7 PM CST for tons of ideas and advice!