Hour of Code 2020

I cannot express enough how participating in the first Hour of Code several years ago changed my life, and hopefully made a positive difference in the lives of my students. We were all new to coding in my classroom back then, and learned together. From that time on, coding has been part of my life and integrated into my classes. I am still not an expert by any means – which has been a great benefit to me as a teacher. It allows me to encourage productive struggle and for all of us to celebrate when problems are solved.

This year’s Hour of Code will be from December 7-11, 2020. One way you can participate is by finding activities on this page, which allows you to filter for grade level, ability level, and device. You can even do “unplugged” activities. Another option is to use one of the Choice Boards created by Shannon Miller for this occasion.

Code.org also just announced a new series that they are providing on Artificial Intelligence. Dive into these lesson plans, videos, and a live panel discussion on AI designed for upper grades.

If you want to delve deeper after Hour of Code, I highly, highly recommend the free Code.org courses, which are very engaging for students and provide a dashboard and lesson plans to teachers. I taught this as an elective for 6th graders last year, and they really took it to the next level.

I’m going to be creating a Wakelet of coding resources that I will share next week. Also, if you are interested in having me present to your staff on Coding for beginners and how to integrate it into your curriculum, please contact me at @engagetheirminds.com

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com

Make it Snow in the Classroom with Scratch Jr.

I was invited to help a couple of first grade classes with Hour of Code activities last week, and thought that we would try using Scratch Jr.  I had a different lesson planned for our Friday morning (“Can I Make the Sun Set?”) – but then it snowed in San Antonio Thursday night.

For those of you in northern climes, snow may be somewhat unexceptional, but in San Antonio snow is pretty close to miraculous.  Many of my younger students had never seen snow in their entire lives, so it seemed only fair to change our Scratch Jr. lesson the morning following our unusual weather phenomena.

Most of the students in the class were as new to Scratch Jr. and programming as they were to snow.  I started the class with the BrainPop Jr. video I mentioned in last week’s post.  Then I used Reflector to demonstrate the Scratch Jr. interface on the classroom screen.  I talked about the meaning of “character” in Scratch Jr., and how it could be any object that you want to program to move in some way.  I showed them how to add a background.  I also demonstrated that they would need a “trigger” for their character such as the green flag, and how to program characters to move.  Then I gave them some time to explore.

After they played around a bit in pairs on the iPads, I asked for their attention so I could show them how to add a camera shot as a background.  This was something new I had learned last week, and it takes a bit of practice.  This video explains it well. (She is using the tool to make a character, but you can use it for a background as well.)

The students worked on taking pictures for the background.  Some chose the classroom for photos, and some chose themselves.  Their homeroom teachers and I definitely needed to give support to many students – especially when we realized the camera tool wasn’t enabled for Scratch Jr. on all of the iPads.

Once most of the students had backgrounds, I showed them how to add snow as a character.  They clicked on the + sign to add a character, and then the paintbrush icon to make their own.  After choosing the color white, I told them to make white dots all over with the tip of their finger.  It’s difficult to see the white dots on the white canvas, but after they click the checkmark at the top, the dots should show up on their background.

Students can move the white dots to the top of the background, and then program their snow “character” to move down when the green flag is triggered.  I showed them how to add higher numbers under the down arrow so the snow would reappear at the top and come down again if they wanted.

To make it look a bit more realistic, the students can add snow as characters several times, positioning them at different spots on the top to fill the screen with snow falling once the flag is tapped.

Another extension would be to teach the students the “bump” trigger so that when the snow hits another character, such as the Scratch cat, the character can say something, such as, “It’s snowing!”  You could also ask them if they can figure out a way to make the snow accumulate at the bottom of the screen.

There were various rates of success in the classroom for this project.  Some students got confused and added snow to the background instead of making it a character, and the camera tool required patience and practice.  However, there was a lot of learning going on, and great engagement.

This lesson could be another way to connect to the Snow Globe lesson that I have posted about in the past. . Hopefully, the students will now think of other ways to use Scratch Jr. for storytelling and creating in their classrooms and at home.

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Scratch Jr., BrainPop, and PBS

When participating in Hour of Code in our GT classroom this week, the 2nd graders were introduced to the free Scratch Jr. app on our iPads (also available on Android and on the Chrome Web Store ).  Before we started exploring the app, I thought it would be good for them to learn a little bit about computer programming.  BrainPop Jr.  has a great free video that explains computer programming and some of the terminology.  As an added bonus, the sample screen in the video looks very similar to the Scratch Jr. interface, so this particular video was an excellent introduction to our lesson.

You can find Hour of Code lessons for Scratch Jr. here.  Additional lesson ideas can be found on the “Teach” tab of the Scratch Jr. site.  As I was looking up resources to use with my students, I also found this PBS site that includes lessons integrated with some of the popular PBS kid shows, as well as printable task cards.

Scratch Jr. works very well as a starting point for block coding for primary students.  My 2nd graders quickly found many “cool” things that they could do after about 10 minutes of exploration on their own.  Familiarizing themselves with this app will make the transition to Scratch (a web based program for computers that does not currently work on mobile) almost seamless.

image from Wes Fryer on Flickr

Flocabulary Videos for Hour of Code

Yes, my friends, it is Computer Science Education Week 2017.  Time to celebrate Hour of Code.  In honor of this year’s HOC, Flocabulary has chosen to offer some of its STEM videos for free.  The videos are appropriate for 3rd grade and up, and cover topics from “What is the Internet?” to “Coding: Conditionals.”  If you’ve never tried out Flocabulary, you are in for a treat.  With its catchy raps and fun graphics, Flocabulary can entertain and educate at the same time.  Be sure to take advantage of this great resource between now and December 10th when the videos will once again become subscription-only offerings.


Rock the Lab with Hour of Code

I love Rock the Lab, an incredible resource from @learnmoorestuff.  She has recently updated her Hour of Code page, and the layout is awesome.  It includes links to the basic computer science lessons for each grade level, the activities that have been especially developed for Hour of Code, an Hour of Code Hyperdoc, and a link to the newest Flipgrid Explorer series, which is all about coding!

Be sure to get involved with the 2017 Hour of Code, which is happening next week from December 4-8.  This has been one of my favorite annual events, and I’ve seen incredible student learning ever since my classes started participating the very first year.  Trust me, you don’t have to be knowledgeable about programming to facilitate a great Hour of Code experience!

Image from Pasco County Schools on Flickr

Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – Rover Control

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. Also, you can see last week’s recommendation here.


Rover Control is a part of a series of three coding games released by Thinkfun this year.  Like the other two games, Rover Control is “unplugged,” which means that no digital devices are required.  My students enjoy all three games, but they seem particularly drawn to Rover Control – possibly because it is the only one that involves using dry-erase markers 😉

The purpose of Rover Control is to color paths on the included Terrain Maps so that the Mars Rovers can find their way.  According to the storyline, the original paths were covered by a giant dust storm, and it is the player’s job to re-discover those paths.  The 40 challenges are in a booklet, and increase in difficulty as you turn each page.

All three of the coding games in this series have extensive instructions that include explanations of numerous rules and symbols.  We learned that it is easier to start playing and look new symbols or rules up as we encounter them than it is to read all of the instructions before beginning to play.  We also learned that kids are much better at deciphering instructions than Mrs. Eichholz…

As with many Thinkfun products, Rover Control is designed so that it can be played independently or collaboratively.  I have found that it works perfectly in my classroom with groups of three students.  They each get a dry-erase marker, and seem to benefit from group discussions as they plan their solutions. It’s important to remind players to stick with the sequence of the challenge booklet.  Though beginning challenges may seem too easy, the puzzles are scaffolded in a way that slowly introduces new difficulties; skipping straight to the back of the book will only result in frustration.Photo Oct 19, 11 15 16 AM

With this year’s Hour of Code just around the corner (Dec. 4-10, 2017), you may want to consider adding “Rover Control” to your classroom as a center or to your home as a fun family night activity.  For my students in 3rd-5th grades, the game seems to have just right amount of challenge and entertainment. If you are buying this game to be played at home, I recommend that parents play along with the children.  It is a good opportunity to model problem-solving and perseverance, since adults can find the puzzles difficult as well.

You can find Rover Control and its two siblings at Target. For more great thinking games, check out my Pinterest Board.rovercontrol.jpg

Disclaimer: Every once in awhile, Thinkfun will send a product or two for me to review. These products are used in my classroom, but it is my decision whether or not to post a review on this blog.  All opinions in these reviews are based on my honest observations.