Robot Turtles

For today’s Gifts for the Gifted post, I wanted to keep with the Hour of Code theme for this week.  Unfortunately, this particular product may or not be available for purchase in the near future.  If you are interested in obtaining it, I recommend visiting the website to let the company know.

Because I have a different grade level each day, my Gifted and Talented students and I have been participating in the Hour of Code since Monday.  My 1st grade students are brand new to programming, (I just started meeting with them in November) so I haven’t had the chance to introduce the idea of programming to them before this week.  I decided I was going to do one of the “unplugged” activities with them to get them started.

I’m not always the best planner, but sometimes things just seem to come together nicely (although there are many times when they fall apart!). I had seen the Robot Turtles board game on Kickstarter, and backed it before the September 27th deadline.  I’m used to waiting many months for Kickstarter products to arrive in my mailbox, so it was a great surprise to receive this one the weekend before the Hour of Code.  Perfect timing!

Last week, I had introduced my 1st graders to the Rules icon from Depth and Complexity.  This dovetailed so well with talking about programming, you would almost think I had the great foresight to plan it that way…

On Tuesday, we reviewed the concept of Rules, and then I gathered my group of 11 around 2 tables pushed together to play Robot Turtles, a board game which will probably remind some of you of “Logo.”

image from Robot Turtles Kickstarter campaign (now ended)

I divided the students into four (slightly uneven) teams.  Every team gets a turtle marker and a set of programming cards.  The turtles start at the corner of the board.  The goal is to get your turtle to land on one of the 4 jewels which are placed in the middle of the board. You do not have to be the first to get a jewel.  Everyone who gets to a jewel “wins.”

When it’s your turtle’s turn, you need to choose one of the programming cards (forward, turn left, or turn right) to direct the turtle, and place it on the table.  You are not allowed to move your turtle.  Only the Turtle Mover (me, in this case) can move it.  If a player realizes that the move was a mistake, a bug card may be played to reverse a move.

We played as recommended – with no obstacles on the board.  It was the perfect way to start for the kids, who had never been exposed to programming at all.

After the first round, we added some ice cards to the board that they had to navigate around.  After they mastered that, they earned some laser cards in order to melt the ice and be able to walk over it.  You can continue to make the game more difficult with stone walls and movable crates.

It was interesting to listen to the kids discuss moves with their teams. A few them started “claiming” certain color jewels they wanted to obtain. When two groups were competing for the same color, a couple of the kids were able to think ahead – realizing that one team had one lower minimum of moves than the other.  On the other hand, there were others who optimistically continued to chase their jewel despite the lower chances.  And then there were a couple who were fortunate to have team members to consult because they had difficulty visualizing which turn cards to use.

The game was exactly what my students needed to learn the basics of programming.  It was the perfect lead-in to today’s activity, which will be getting them started on Kodable.

If you are interested in using Robot Turtles, I highly recommend you visit the website.  If there are no games currently available, you can submit your e-mail to be notified when more stock comes in.  To give you an idea of the demand for this game, the request of $25,000 for the Kickstarter project was exceeded by the deadline; $631,230 was pledged!  Hopefully, we can get more of these into circulation 🙂

(For more “Gifts for the Gifted” ideas, take a look at my Pinterest Board!)

Kids Can Code With Kodable

Have you done your Hour of Code, yet?  So far, I’ve done 8.5 hours of coding this week with my students in various grade levels – with more hours to add today and tomorrow!  We’ve used ScratchHopscotch, and a board game called Robot Turtles (which I will be describing in detail in tomorrow’s post).  For more ideas for Programming for Kids, here is my Pinterest Board.

One of my 5th grade students puzzles over a Kodable challenge

Have you done your Hour of Code, yet?  So far, I’ve done 8.5 hours of coding this week with my students in various grade levels – with more hours to add today and tomorrow!  We’ve used Scratch, Hopscotch, and a board game called Robot Turtles (which I will be describing in detail in tomorrow’s post).  For more ideas for Programming for Kids, here is my Pinterest Board.

One app that we haven’t used this week is Kodable.  The only reason we haven’t used it for the past few days is because we have been using it since October.  I thought it might be cheating to stick with what we all know well when I have been encouraging everyone else to go outside their comfort zones!

As some of you know, I introduced programming to my 3rd-5th grade classes by using Kodable’s “Unplugged” activity, which involves making a classroom obstacle course.  The students loved that, and it made the transition to the digital version of Kodable practically seamless.

There are two versions of Kodable in the App Store.  The free version allows users to play the first 30 levels (Smeeborg World) for free.  The Pro version (currently on sale for .99) offers full access, giving you a total of 4 Worlds.  And, a special bonus, Kodable is unveiling a new Fuzz next week – Holly!

Holly Fuzz – coming just in time for the “Holly”days!

Kodable scaffolds programming skills so that young children can learn how to code.  They don’t even have to know how to read.  The goal is to direct a “Fuzz” through a maze by placing the correct sequence of commands and pressing “Play.”  It begins very simply, and slowly increases in difficulty.  As students complete certain levels, they earn new “Fuzz” characters, and can choose the ones they want to use.  My personal favorite is “Shaggy Fuzz”, a brown Fuzz who makes me giggle every time he hums while he travels through the maze.  I told my students to turn their volume up on the iPads just so I could hear when they were using him 😉

One of the things that I love about Kodable is how genuinely dedicated the creators, Grechen Huebner and Jon Mattingly, are to education.  If you follow @Kodable on Twitter, you will find them involved in numerous educational Twitter chats, including the one they host, #kidscancode, every Tuesday evening at 7 PM CST.  They love connecting with and getting feedback from educators, and they are also thrilled to get involved with students through Google HangOuts, Skype, or FaceTime.

Here is a short Tellagami video from some 3rd graders in Van Meter, IA, about Kodable.

Kodable Extensions:

Kodable Maze made with non-perishable food items, tweeted on 12/11/13 by @HeatherMMcKay

 

Scratch

Well, I finally did it.  With the help of: an Hour of Code Tutorial, a 3rd grader who knows what he’s doing, and what I learned from auditing a class that my daughter took, I finally felt somewhat ready to try Scratch, the free M.I.T. programming language available on the web, with my 3rd grade class.

Full disclosure here: I teach Gifted and Talented students, and my 3rd grade class is composed of 4 students* – one of them being the aforementioned one who knows what he’s doing.  So, I probably don’t get a lot of points for risk-taking.  Plus, the Hour of Code Tutorial walked them through all of the steps for creating a holiday card – leaving me with little to do other than to provide new laptops when their batteries went dead.  I should get points, though, for observing that the batteries were about to die and urging the students to save their projects to their drives before they lost them completely 😉

After doing a Hopscotch tutorial with my 2nd graders yesterday (hey – there were 11 kids in that class!), I was prepared to take things a bit slowly with the students in this group who had never seen Hopscotch or Scratch.  Silly me.  After their classmate’s demonstration, and two steps into the tutorial, they were ready to jump into the project and CREATE.  My job was to step aside.  Here is a link to our class blog post with links to videos of their projects.

Since this was far from the typical experience that a classroom teacher would have if trying to incorporate Scratch, I know that much of my advice would not be helpful.  However, I do have a few words of wisdom for teachers new to using Scratch:

  • Scratch is free, and no longer requires a download (a mobile version is due out in the Spring).  You can use the web version just fine.  There are some added features in the downloadable version, but beginners won’t miss them.
  • You can share Scratch projects by downloading the file to a computer and then uploading it within Scratch or by joining Scratch.  I did not have my students join – as I felt that was a parental decision.  Joining does require an e-mail, but it allows you to share your projects with others in the Scratch community by uploading it to their site.
  • If you don’t have built in microphones on your computers, have some plug-in mics available.  The kids like to make their “sprites” say silly things through recording.
  • Monitor the “silly things” your students say while recording 😉
  • If your computers are somewhat unreliable, encourage your students to save frequently.
  • Be sure to build in time for exploration.  Just choosing their first sprite (object that they will program) from the Scratch library could take 5-10 minutes.
  • Ask someone who knows something about the program to assist you if you can.  If you can’t, it’s still nice to have extra hands available for basic computer trouble-shooting.

The Scratch Hour of Code tutorial is an excellent introduction.  However, here are some other Scratch resources if you interested:

If you have an iPad, Daisy the Dinosaur and Hopscotch are great lead-ins to Scratch.  But, really, the above resources take care of you.  And, as you have probably already learned with the digital natives in your classroom, our students don’t need nearly as much as much instruction as we teachers do!

*I’m trying Scratch with a class of 14 fourth graders today (11 of whom happen to be boys), so my experience will probably be a bit different!

Hopscotch

If you haven’t signed up to participate in this week’s Hour of Code, it’s not too late.  And, even if you don’t find it possible to get involved this week, I urge you to take a look at all of the wonderful resources.  Consider showing your students the basics of programming, and let them take it from there.

I heard from a few people that they were having a hard time selecting where to start.  The wealth of resources can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you do not have experience with programming.  As someone who is relatively new to it, I understand completely.  That’s why I thought I would devote today’s post to just one of the resources – Hopscotch.

Hopscotch is a free iPad app that is similar to a web-based open-source coding program developed by MIT called Scratch.  But, don’t worry if you have never used either one.  My exposure to them was pretty limited until a month ago.

I used Hopscotch with my 2nd grade GT class yesterday.  There are 11 students in the class.  They each had an iPad, but I think I probably should have had them share.  If you have a full class of students, I would definitely recommend this – for the sake of your sanity and theirs.

The students had used Daisy the Dinosaur and Kodable before – both awesome coding apps.  Daisy had kind of introduced them to using blocks to program, and I think it’s an excellent intro to Hopscotch.  (They are both produced by the same company.)

Hopscotch has a great tutorial video (embedded below) that we used, and that’s what really helped me.  I have messed around with Hopscotch, but never really knew what to do with it, or how to break it down for the students.  Hopscotch does this all for you.

One thing I wished I had done before going through the video with the students was to talk about some of the vocabulary: rotate, opacity, line width, random.

Another thing you may want to check is to make sure you have the latest version of Hopscotch on the iPad.  I thought I had done this, but then some of the menu items looked different on some iPads, causing a bit of confusion with directions.

We paused a lot during the video.  To give you an idea, the video is 25 minutes long, and we barely finished in 90 minutes.  Some of that extra time was exploration; some of it was troubleshooting (kids hitting the wrong button, iPads freezing, going ahead and missing directions, etc…).  If you can, have older kids or parents help you out with this.

Once you go through the video, if your students want to continue using Hopscotch, I highly recommend visiting Wes Fryer’s blog here, where you can find additional ideas for using this app in the classroom.  This includes a link to Wes’ ePub book of Hopscotch challenges. (If you download the ePub book, you may need to also download an ePub reader, such as Adobe Digital Editions.)  The ePub book also explains how to share Hopscotch creations once they are completed.

I see lots of ways that Hopscotch can be integrated into the curriculum – particularly math.  Discussion of angles (helpful to understand for the “Rotate” command), percent, creation of shapes or symmetrical drawings are just some of the ways it can tie in.  Because it allows you to bring in text objects, other subjects could be easily reflected by creating Hopscotch games with vocabulary.  If you search for ways to integrate Scratch into the core curriculum, as on this page, you can probably modify a lot of those ideas to work with Hopscotch.

For more ideas on using programming with kids, be sure to check out the Hour of Code link above, or my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board!

It’s About the Process, Not the Product

A couple of my 2nd graders as they play with the Kodable app.

The Hour of Code is scheduled for next week, and I can’t wait to participate.  Vicki Davis just posted an excellent resource on Edutopia for those who want to join in the fun.  Yesterday, I posted about a new iPad app that you might want to try.  And in November, I gave some awesome resources that include suggestions by grade level as well as a terrific compilation of Computer Science resources.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am a huge proponent of teaching kids how to code.  However, I am going to step way out on a limb here, and say that I do not agree that coding should be added to the required curriculum.

I know.  Where did that come from?

Generally, I don’t publicly get in the mix on controversial topics; I try to save that for Thanksgiving dinners with my family.   One reason I avoid contentious subjects is because I am well aware that I don’t know enough to weigh in heavily on either side.  That is probably the case here, as well.  But I am going to blunder my way into this one because I have been pondering it quite a bit.

The case for teaching kids to code can be found in numerous articles online.  Our nation has a far higher demand for programmers than we are producing.  Coding is an important 21st century skill.  It teaches our students about systems and how to problem solve.  I agree.  I also agree that exposing our kids to the basics of programming at an early age is a great idea.

But I worry that shoving it into our curriculum will take away its relevance.  It will become another skill to check off, another subject to be tested.  Exploration and creativity will be surrendered for efficiency and expediency.  Kids will be yawning and asking, “Why do I have to learn this?  I don’t want to be a computer programmer when I grow up.”

The truth is, despite the fact that we are careening into a future that will be even more dependent on technology than our present condition, not every person is going to need to know how to program.  I can watch T.V. just fine without knowing what a cathode tube does.  And, though I would probably have less chance of being gouged by a mechanic if I knew more about my car, I have driven for over 20 years in complete ignorance of the existence of 99% of the various parts necessary to make it run.

I teach kids to code because a.) they are interested, b.) they are not even a tiny bit interested, but then realize that it can be both challenging and fun, and c.) they learn valuable thinking skills that transfer to other lessons.

In my ideal educational world, every child would be introduced to coding by a passionate teacher who is able to integrate it with other subjects, and to guide kids to making real-world connections to programming.  The students who love it would be able to go as deeply into it as they like.  And those who have seen what it can do, but prefer to develop their computational and problem-solving skills another way can move in other directions.

The problem is, many kids today, particularly girls, don’t get to make that choice. The stereotype of pasty white, anti-social males sitting in basements surrounded by monitors and other mysterious electronic equipment as they design video games still pervades our culture. We should dispel that.  But we need to be careful.  Our goal should be to teach kids how to think, not what to think.

For my part, I will be including all of my classes, 1st-5th, in the Hour of Code next week.    I also plan to show this video to my upper grades because it eloquently expresses how coding was a vehicle to helping someone realize he matters to the world – and that the world matters to him.  They will get more programming experiences throughout the year.  They can also use Genius Hour time to pursue the topic if they like.  Or not.

In summary, I think we should teach kids how to look for patterns, systems thinking, creative problem solving skills, and even how to read and write code.  We can do that with computer programming – or knitting. Requiring either of those specific skills in every grade level will not benefit our children.

Hour of Code

Hour of Code: Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 9-15, 2013

It’s probably no secret at this point that I would like to see more students learning how to code.  There are numerous posts on this blog about the topic, including yesterday’s entry.  In addition, I have a burgeoning Pinterest board on the topic.

Code.org is gearing up for a campaign aimed towards students in K-12 .  It begins during Computer Science Week, December 9-15, 2013.  This annual celebration starts by marking the birthday of Admiral Grace Hopper, a computer science pioneer.

The purpose of “Hour of Code” is to introduce as many students as possible to the wonderful world of programming.  The hope is that educators, community leaders, and employers will join the campaign, promising to devote an hour of time to allowing those in their charge to explore coding using the tutorials provided by Code.org.

Teachers can access supporting materials here.  If you are one of the first 100,000 organizers to sign up to participate here, you will receive 10GB of Dropbox storage free.  And, if you are able to get an entire school to participate, there are many more potential prizes – like a class-set of laptops, or a web chat with one of the titans of technology: Bill Gates, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Susan Wojcicki of Google, and Gabe Newell of Valve, and others.

Check out the sample tutorial here.  If I can figure it out, anyone can!