Bitsbox

With this week’s Hour of Code very much in my mind,  an article in my Flipboard technology magazine this weekend immediately caught my attention.  TechCrunch described a new site called, “Bitsbox” that helps children to learn how to write code.

The site is one of the featured lessons in this year’s Hour of Code list of activities.  I took a little time last night to check out how Bitsbox might differ from other programming apps and games.

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The interface of Bitsbox is very simple, and simulates a tablet for which you are designing apps. (Bitsbox is browser-based, however – not an app.)  According to Scott Lininger, one of the company’s co-founders, he wanted to get away from some of the popular block-programming languages that are popular with children.  Although those (such as Scratch, Blockly, and Tynker) have value, Lininger was interested in showing children how to actually type code, not just drag and drop.

Bitsbox does teach simple text commands (so your child will need to be a good reader to work on it independently).  However, if you are lazy like me, you may find yourself doing a lot of copying and pasting. I’m not sure if that’s quite as informative as typing the text myself, but I’m not the only one who figures out that shortcut pretty quickly.

Bitsbox is free, and even provides a very helpful Teacher’s Guide. Here is the link to their Hour of Code site. Bitsbox is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for a subscription program that will include a box delivered to your door each month with new programs to try out. You can visit their website for more information.

For more ideas on Programming for Kids, check out my Pinterest Board!

Creative Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break

Full disclosure: this first week of December is going to be my busiest week this year. Therefore, I decided to cheat a bit for a few days and recycle some posts from last year.  I’ve done a bit of editing to make sure they remain current but otherwise they are the same.  Hopefully you still find them useful!

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Screen Shot from Kelly Wine’s Rube Goldberg-esque Holiday Machine Video

Let’s face it.  This month is hard.  No one – including you – is feeling very focused on academics right now.  To save everyone’s sanity, and to put smiles on all of the faces in the room, try some of these creative ideas:

Here are a couple I have mentioned before, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat.

Other posts in this series:

Logical Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break!
Physical Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break!
Telegenic Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break!

Hour of Python from Trinket

I can’t even remember what circuitous route I followed on the internet the other day that landed me on the Trinket site. Two things piqued my interest about it: that it offers some Hour of Code tutorials, and that it works on any browser with no downloads required.

You can sign up for Trinket for free.  However, you don’t even need to do that to try out one of the Hour of Code tutorials.  You can just click on the Hour of Python link and get started.  I definitely think it’s a good option for my older students.  There is a lot of reading involved, so I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone below 3rd grade – and really 4th grade and up is better, depending on the ability level of your students.  These tutorials might also be good for students who try other activities during the Hour of Code, and want to pursue coding independently. They also work well for teachers-who-know-practically-nothing-about-coding (or so I hear).

Hour of Python

If you aren’t sure what I mean by Hour of Code, here is the post I did about it last week.  If you’re looking for something that you can use with your younger students, check out yesterday’s post (and the Hour of Code site, which has ideas for all levels of age and experience – including activities that require no devices).  And, if you want to find other resources for Programming for Kids, here is my Pinterest Board with tons of links.

Scratch Jr. Tutorials for Primary Students

Last week, I encouraged you to participate in this year’s Hour of Code. I know that guiding a classroom of students through an hour of programming can sound intimidating, particularly if you aren’t experienced in it yourself.  The secret is to do as I have – admit to yourself that you know nothing and your students are smarter than you.  Trust me, it makes life easier and a lot more enjoyable 😉

Any grade level can do the Hour of Code.  Code.org makes it very easy to moderate lessons for all ages and levels of experience.  But there are other resources as well.

Take Sam Patterson (@SamPatue), for example.  He teaches coding to elementary students, and decided to try out the new iPad app, Scratch Jr., with them this year.  So far, he has provided two video tutorials on his blog, “My Paperless Classroom,” and it’s my hope he will provide some more – mostly because they are exactly on my level! The first one is, “Learning about Loops,” teaches about how to have a character (sprite, as they are called) repeat an action.  The second one, “Creating a Dialog in Scratch Jr.,” shows how to have characters interact with speech in a program.  Both are good examples of integrating other curriculum with coding, and were used with 1st graders and 2nd graders respectively.  Sam’s awesome puppet, Wokka, does the video narration, making it even more appealing for young people.

I haven’t had a chance to jump in to Scratch Jr. yet with my students this year, but watching Sam’s tutorials makes me want to try it tomorrow.  It is going to be another creation tool that my classes will be able to use, and I imagine they will think of far better ideas for its use than I ever can!

UPDATE 11/18/14: For even more Scratch Jr. activities and video tutorials, check out the “Teach” section on the Scratch Jr. website.

If you’d like to access some more resource for teaching kids to code, check out my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board!

screen shot from Sam Patterson's tutorial on creating dialog
screen shot from Sam Patterson’s tutorial on creating dialog

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!

Tried and True – Hour of Code

On this blog, I tend to post about a lot of ideas that I find, and some readers don’t always get a chance to know if I ever tried them – or if they were complete flops.  This week, I want to feature a few past ideas that I did try and that were successful – and that I definitely want to do again.

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One of my 2nd grade students using the Hopscotch app during Hour of Code

Last year, my students participated in the Hour of Code during CSEd Week 2013.  I have a pull-out GT program, and I did coding with every grade level that I had at the time (1st-5th) throughout Computer Science Education week.  The students really enjoyed it, and many of my older students continued various coding projects afterwards at home and at school.  The younger ones were always excited when I included a coding activity in one of our centers the rest of the year.

In my post on Trends for Education in the 2013-2014 School Year, I predicted that the topic of teaching coding in our schools would be popular.  There have been many articles to attest to this in recent months.  There is even a regular #kidscancode chat on Twitter in which educators participate to discuss the place of programming in our schools. (Tweet @kodable for the next one scheduled if you are interested.)  Google has offered its own material to support the resolution to introduce more young people, particularly girls, to coding.  I believe that 2013’s Hour of Code really brought the discussion to the mainstream – and this year will be even better.

In a recent e-mail advertising this year’s Hour of Code (December 8-14, 2014), Hadi Partovi promises that, by fall,  Code.org will offer :

  • 3 levels of elementary courses (K-1, 2-3, 4-5)
  • Free, one-day curriculum workshops for elementary teachers beginning in September. Sign up to be notified when a workshop is scheduled in your area.
  • Middle school programming activities for math and science classes. Learn more

Of course, that is in addition all of the wonderful tutorials and courses already being offered on their site!

The great thing about Code.org resources is that you do not have to be familiar with coding to introduce your students to the subject.  The site addresses all levels of knowledge – and even give “unplugged” activity suggestions for those without access to a computer.

I definitely intend to participate in Hour of Code again this year, and I hope many more people will, too!

For more coding links, check out my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board.