Tag Archives: education

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…

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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 😉

 

Civil Rights

“We learned about a man who got killed today,” a kindergarten boy solemnly informed me Friday afternoon.  We were waiting in the cafeteria to board buses at dismissal time.  The day before, he had been all excited about his train book he had checked out from the library.  But now things had gotten serious.

I wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Martin Luther King,” the little girl next to him nodded.

“Oh,” I said, somewhat relieved.  I don’t know why that made it better – that it was a man who was killed years ago instead of hours ago.  Time shouldn’t make it less disturbing, should it?

“No one liked what he said, his speeches,” the boy went on, “so the police killed him.”

“Wait a second!” I said, as gently as I could, “The police did not kill him.  A bad man did.  And lots of people did like his speeches.”

“Okay,” the boy said.  He didn’t seem very concerned with the details.  But he patted me on the arm because he could see that I did care.

By then it was time to board the bus, so the conversation was over.

The day before, I had been talking about courage with my 5th graders.  They had to rank 5 pictures from lowest to highest on how much courage they felt was being demonstrated in each image.  There was disagreement about the ranking of a picture that showed a Selma protest march.  Before ranking, the students had set some criteria for courage, one of which was that the person chose to perform that action not knowing if the outcome would be harmful to him or her.

“I ranked it high because they were marching for their civil rights,” one student said.

“But they didn’t have a choice!” one student exclaimed.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“They weren’t getting treated right, so they had to march.  It wasn’t their choice, so it’s not courage!”

I tried to wrap my mind around this interesting logic and a few of us did our best to explain the situation – which the student admitted he didn’t know very much about.

“Well, and plus, they didn’t have to worry about being harmed because we have the right to protest, don’t we?”  he asked.

Wow, I thought.  This had obviously not been covered in his history class.

Ironically, our entire conversation had been brought about because we just finished reading The Giver, a book about a dystopian society where only one person holds all of the memories of the past – the good and the bad.  We had talked about the importance of keeping even horrible memories because we learn from them.  Yet here we were struggling to understand the importance of historical moments that are already starting to fade as newer generations tell the story with less and less detail.

I am worried.  Every time I read The Giver with a class, I try to get across the message that, even though it’s fictional, it is not entirely unrealistic.  People are willing to give up many freedoms to ensure safety – especially if they have no experience in having their rights taken away.  I don’t want to be an alarmist, and I don’t want to send my students to bed with nightmares about atrocities from the past (or even the present).  But I worry that we assume that rights that have been won can never be lost, and underestimate the incredible courage and strength it takes to capture and retain our tenuous freedom.

I’m sorry that I was relieved when I found out my student was talking about the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.  We should all be just as angry and horrified today as those who mourned when it happened.  We need to feel the pain of his death so acutely that we will not allow those circumstances to ever develop again.  I feel, especially in our country this week, that we are at an important crossroad and we desperately need the wisdom of the people who understand what it really means to live in, “The Land of the Free.”

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That Can Be My Next Tweet!

So, traditionally, Fridays are what I call Phun Phridays – when I blog about something that pretty much has no educational value.  But I’m tired of called them Phun Phridays.  So I used an online Scrabble dictionary to help me find something more realistically alliterative.  The new name is – drum roll, please!!!! – Frivolous Fridays!

For today’s Frivolous Friday Find, I am grateful to The Bloggess, whose site never fails to make me laugh but is definitely NSFW – particularly if the workplace happens to be a public elementary school.

Anyway, The Bloggess shared, “That Can Be My Next Tweet!” which gathers information from your Twitter feed to generate random tweets that could be complete nonsense or surprise you with startling depth.  The best ones are those that do both.  I included a few of the suggestions it compiled from my feed below:

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If you really have nothing better to do, you can also put in other people’s Twitter names. Like famous people.  You know.  Famous people who Tweet a lot.  Here’s a scientific study you could try: If someone always tweets nonsense, does the random tweet generator from their Twitter feed actually make sense?  I’ll let you figure that out…

Greg Tang Math Resources

Don’t tell anyone, but Greg Tang Math penetrated my incredible resistance to e-mail spam and persuaded me to visit the site out of curiosity.  I’m not really sure why the persistent e-mails that I kept trashing finally grabbed my attention, but I obviously wouldn’t be writing this post if they hadn’t eventually been successful.  (If you happen to be a spammer, please don’t think I am encouraging you to try the same strategy;  I can promise you that it was a one-time-thing…)

The good news is that I actually found some unique math materials on the site.  There are plenty of free resources that you can download, and even some interesting online math games.  For gifted students, the Kakooma and Expresso pages are great challenges. (There is also an online version of Kakooma on this page.) In addition, there are some printable math games on the resources page.

Of course, there are plenty of things you can purchase on the site.  Otherwise, what would be the purpose of the e-mail barrage?  But I think that you will agree that there is a generous dose of free materials, which makes some advertising bearable 🙂

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The Songs Birds Sing

Fans of the fabulous Kid President know that he is part of a dynamic duo.  Behind the scenes of all of the Kid President videos is his brother-in-law, Brad Montague.  Now Brad has started a YouTube channel, and his first video is just as inspirational as all of the others he has produced.  I can’t help but think that Brad’s new dad status might have been a motivating factor for this story.  Or maybe he saw Hamilton recently…

By the way, I’m adding this video to my “Inspirational Videos for Kids” Pinterest Board. Check it out for more great short films!

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Screen shot from, “The Songs That Birds Sing”

Raspberry Pi

“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.

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Raspberry Pi (the green thing) connected to a speaker, keyboard, and mouse.

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.

The Pulitzer Center

In yesterday’s blog post, I mentioned how our class has connected with experts through Skype in the Classroom.  One of the experts was a science reporter named Erik Vance, who helped my 3rd graders really understand the impact overfishing has had on ocean ecosystems. (The students are working on a Genius Hour project about protecting the coral reefs.)  Mr. Vance was matched with us after we scheduled a request for an interview on the topic on Skype in the Classroom.  Our request went to the Pulitzer Center, and a member of their staff, Fareed Mostoufi, arranged for Mr. Vance to speak with the children at our requested date and time.  You can read about the interview here.

The Pulitzer Center in its own words, “promotes in-depth engagement with global affairs through its support for quality international journalism across all media platforms and an innovative program of outreach and education.”  In addition to virtual class visits and curricular resources for all grade levels, the Pulitzer Center has a “Lesson Builder” for educators, which is free to use.  You can use the lesson plans already available in the Community, such as “Visualizing the Drone Debate,” or, “Interpreting Global Issues Through Picasso’s Guernica,” or build your own lessons with the online tool.  You will need to register and log in (free) in order to build your own lessons and save them.

If you are trying to “flatten” your classroom, and to educate your students as global citizens, The Pulitzer Center is an excellent resource to help you get started.

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Screen Shot of Some of the Model Lessons Available from The Pulitzer Center