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 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 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. 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. 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!

Pencil Code Gym and Code Studio

I’ve just added two new resources to my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board: Pencil Code Gym and Code Studio.  I haven’t played with either one of them, yet – but they look like they are worth exploring.

The "Draw" interface from Pencil Code Gym
The “Draw” interface from Pencil Code Gym

Pencil Code Gym gives you the opportunity to code your own art, music, or fiction.  It looks fairly elementary, but definitely best used by good readers if they are to work independently.

Code Studio from
Code Studio from

Code Studio is a new offering from, who sponsors the annual Hour of Code.  It allows for teachers to sign up and to monitor classes of students as they work through coding lessons.  You can read more about this new, ambitious project here.

I have many coding resources for students on my blog and Pinterest board.  If you are interested in participating in a Twitter chat about the topic, join in on #kidscancode every Tuesday night, 8 PM EST, hosted by @kodable.  It’s a great group of educators with many fabulous ideas!


Build Your Own Computer

Last year, our school’s art teacher asked the students to fill out forms about their teachers which she then compiled into books for each teacher. I laughed as I was reading my book.  For the sentence, “For fun, she likes to…” one student completed it with, “go on Kickstarter and get more things for our class.” (She also wrote that on weekends, “she works on her blog.”)

That child really gets me;)

It’s quite true that I’ve helped to fund a few Kickstarter projects that have ended up in my classroom – most notably the 3Doodler and Robot Turtles.

One of my contributions in the last few months went towards a charming children’s book that teaches programming.  It’s called, Hello Ruby. (Ruby is a programming language, but also the main character of the book by Linda Liukas.)  I haven’t received the book yet, but that’s okay; the author’s updates about the project have already proven my money is well-invested.

a portion of the Build Your Own Computer handout provided by Linda Liukas
a portion of the Build Your Own Computer handout provided by Linda Liukas

The most recent update invites everyone to try out some materials Liukas created for building an imaginary computer.  She provides a printout and instructions.  Her details of the playtesting that she has done already can be found in the post.  This is what she said about what she has learned so far, “One of the big things was realizing that most of the younger kids hadn’t even used a keyboard before. They didn’t necessarily realise an iPad was a computer. Computers were associated with work: little girls imagined using the paper computer as a part of playing house and dad/mom going to work. One of the kids, a young boy, had a great story of how he plays astronaut with his father and how the computer could be a part of that.”

Liukas would love to receive feedback if you try the activity.  Be sure to follow the link on her update to let her know what you think or submit pictures of a “Build Your Own Computer” session in action.


UPDATE 11/13/14: Here is a link to a post about Scratch Jr tutorials for primary students that you might find helpful.

I have been eagerly waiting the release of the ScratchJr app for the iPad this summer.  It became available on Tuesday, and I spent part of Wednesday playing around with it.

ScratchJr is a free iPad app that is designed to introduce programming to kids ages 5-7.  It is, of course, intended to acquaint students with the Scratch programming language – a block type programming that was developed by M.I.T. and is available for free at this link. (You can use it online or download the software.)

As school hasn’t started for me yet, I haven’t been able to put this app in the hands of students to see their reaction.  I am curious to watch my younger students who have not been exposed to Scratch explore the app.  Many of them have used Hopscotch, Daisy the DinosaurKodable, and Robot Turtles, so the concept of programming won’t be completely foreign to them.  However, my plan is to give them as little information as possible to see what they discover on their own.

The interface seems fairly simple.  The question mark allows you to find sample projects and watch an introductory video.  In my opinion, the intro video should be broken into parts.  Even though it’s less than 4 minutes, I think young students will find it too overwhelming to watch the entire video in one sitting – particularly if they have never done any type of block programming.

Clicking on the house icon will take you to the project screen, where you can add new projects or edit others you have saved.  The book icon (back on the home screen) gives you information about the program, including guides to the different icons in the program.

ScratchJr screen shot

For more information, you can visit the ScratchJr website.  There are a few materials available for teachers at the moment, and I’m sure more will be added as the project gains momentum.

So far, there does not seem to be a way to share projects created in ScratchJr with an online community as there is with Scratch and Hopscotch.  However, projects can be viewed full screen, and I am sure that you can project them if you have AirPlay or other means of iPad projection in your classroom.

If you are new to programming, I highly recommend the tutorials on the Hour of Code website.  However, do not let your lack of knowledge keep you from bringing it into the classroom.  I promise you that I know very little, and that is actually a benefit.  It keeps me from helping my students too quickly, and they learn from struggling and solving problems on their own.

Also, even if programming is not in your curriculum, apps like ScratchJr are great as a creation tool.  Students can use it to tell stories, explain math problems, etc…  Not every student will embrace ScratchJr, but once you have introduced it to your class, it could be one of many choices for assessment that allows them to use their creativity.

Here are some more resources for Programming for Kids if you are interested.