3-5, 5-8, Computer Science, Creative Thinking, Writing

Coding with Poetry

As I mentioned last week, the International Hour of Code Week is coming December 6-12, and I think it is an amazing experience for students and teachers. I understand that it can be daunting for anyone who has little or no experience with coding, but the people at Code.org really make it easy for anyone to participate — even if you have no digital devices in the classroom. One of the things that may seem like an obstacle to many teachers during this year of “catching up” is trying to fit coding into the curriculum. Code.org provides many tutorials that can be used in different subjects and this week, I noticed they have released a new tutorial that would be awesome for ELA teachers in grades 4-8. Through the “Coding with Poetry” tutorial, students will learn how to animate some classic poems, and write and share their own poetry to animate. With short videos, examples, and the option to have instructions read out loud, this lesson is a wonderful step-by-step walk through that will help students to feel like accomplished authors and coders by the end. I particularly like the introductory video, where a student named Caia explains how her passions for both poetry and computer science intersect.

Learn about how Caia combines poetry with computer science in this video from Code.org.

For an example of one way my students have mingled coding and poetry, visit this post from when we used Scratch and Makey Makey to make interactive onomatopoeia poems. And, for many more coding resources once you and your students get hooked, here is my Wakelet collection.

Computer Science, K-12, Problem Solving

Hour of Code 2021

I don’t know about you, but December was always a difficult month for me the 29 years that I was in the classroom. In the States, many students come back from a Thanksgiving break at the end of November and have a hard time turning off Vacation-Mode as they eagerly anticipate the Winter Break less than a month later. So, when opportunities like Hour of Code come along to introduce some novelty and help students practice their logic and problem-solving skills in a different way, it can really make the month more fun for everyone.

Hour of Code is annually celebrated all over the world in December, and it’s planned by Code.org for the week of December 6-12 (Also Computer Science Education Week) this year. The goal is to get your class to spend at least one hour coding so they can see that coding is not a mysterious and unattainable skill. It can be done as a class, school, district, after-school, or even by yourself if you just want to take baby steps because it’s your first time. You don’t even have to use a digital device if you are tired of screens.

I gushed about the benefits I observed in my own classroom in last year’s post, and wanted to make sure I gave you plenty of time to consider participating this year. The tutorials on this page make it so easy for you to search for the grade level, type of technology (or none), and even by subject. And, there is absolutely no requirement for the teacher to know how to code (though it’s certainly fun to learn). In fact, I often argue that it’s better that you don’t know a lot, so you won’t be tempted to help the students too much.

I do have a bunch of Coding Resources in this collection (check out the Creative Computing Curriculum from Harvard for Beginners, which is great and not overwhelming), and if your school, group, or district ever wants to learn more about how coding, specifically with Scratch, can be used in the curriculum, I have a “Step Up Your Game Design” PD ready to present. Email me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com for more info!

PS. Want to try an Add-On to make your own Scratch Blocks? This is what I used to add the blocks in my image below.

Learn more about this PD here!

Computer Science, K-12, Problem Solving

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
Apps, Computer Science, K-5

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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Apps, Computer Science, K-5, Student Products, Teaching Tools

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.

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image from Wes Fryer on Flickr

3-12, Computer Science, Education, Videos

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.