Tag Archives: kids code

Help Kids Code

It hasn’t been that long since I started collecting resources for teaching kids how to program on my Pinterest Board, but it seems like I already have enough links to keep any interested child occupied from Kindergarten to Adulthood. helpkidscode-logo-100x100 I recently ran across an online magazine, Help Kids Code, that offers even more support for anyone that has a passion for learning how to program. According to the “About” page for the site, the people behind it are well aware that there are many kids who may be introduced to coding and find that it isn’t their niche: “If you find coding fun, learning a programming language is only a start. You also need to know how to debug code, choose technology, define and solve problems, and many other skills and concepts. Help Kids Code provides a high level view of what new coders need to know to become great coders. With links to learn more. If coding bores you, Help Kids Code can help you dive into computer science concepts, problems, and challenges in a friendly way. You can learn the limits of technology, as well as what makes technology so amazing.” The magazine is published monthly, and an annual subscription costs $12.  From what I can tell, you can access the current issues for free.   The June/July 2014 issue has tons of intriguing articles that I’m still investigating – including a treasure trove of “unplugged” activities for learning about computer science.  I’m particularly interested in the problem called, “Santa’s Dirty Socks.” I am impressed by the sophistication and the depth of this site, and think that those of you who are looking for ways to satisfy the curiosity of young people with a passion for computer science will find many valuable links and articles here.

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Tried and True – Robot Turtles

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.

robotturtles

For this week’s Phun Phriday post, I want to revisit a game that I’ve already mentioned a couple of times on this blog – Robot Turtles.  Robot Turtles was another Kickstarter project that I backed, but the product is now available through ThinkFun, Amazon, and Target.  I used it during Hour of Code last year with my younger students to introduce the whole concept of programming.  After that, my 1st graders loved having it in a center during the year.  When my Kindergartners started class in the spring, they also got to try it.  They thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

The great thing about Robot Turtles is that it can be used for various levels of play, and there is a lot of room for imagination and creativity.  Older students and families find it fun to play, too.  If you have some room in your budget for an educational classroom game that is a great value, then I highly recommend Robot Turtles.

UPDATE 12/9/14: Check out this great top ten list based on research done with Robot Turtles!

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.

PixelPress Floors

PixelPress first came to my attention when I discovered its Kickstarter campaign last year.  Unfortunately, I came across it after it was too late for me to back it.  Then, a couple of months ago, Drew Minock (Two Guys and Some iPads) mentioned that the Floors app was available for a free download on the iPad.  I immediately went to the PixelPress site and found the free Sketch Guide and Blank Sketch Sheet.

PixelPress Floors
PixelPress Floors app (now available on iPhone, too!)

“What?” you may ask, “Why do you need a sheet of paper for an app?”

Well, my friends, that is the beauty of the PixelPress Floors app.  If you have an iPad 3 or above, then you can take advantage of the drawing option.  You can actually draw a video game on the piece of paper provided, scan it with the app, and then play the game.  No programming necessary.

Don’t fear if you do not have the iPad 3 or above.  PixelPress just released an iPhone version of Floors which, along with the earlier iPads, works with a “Draw In-App” feature.

I introduced Floors to my students a few weeks before the end of school.  It became the new go-to favorite app for creating in my class.  The students loved using the Sketch Guide to create their games, and were eager to play each other’s to give constructive feedback.  As they wrote their games and edited them, I could hear a lot of mumbling and discussion about why things weren’t working and how to solve the problem.

PixelPress is very interested in coordinating with the Education community.  They have several posts on their blog that show the use of Floors in classrooms.  Teachers and parents can sign up for an education mailing list, and can also visit the Education Portal.  You can view a recent interview that Drew Minock and Brad Waid from Two Guys and Some iPads did with Katie Burke from PixelPress here. One intriguing use of the game in a classroom setting is to create a graphic novel using ComicLife and screen shots of the game, as you can see on this blog post from Porchester Junior School.  (You can see the comic here.

Download Floors while it’s still free (there are some in-app purchases, but there are plenty of things you can do in the free version).  Playing video games can be fun – but making them is even more entertaining!

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.

Scratch

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!

Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory App

What do you do when you have 24 students on their way to a Robotics Club meeting and you find out from a technician that your laptop hard drives have mutinied and need to be re-imaged?  If you are like me, you consider asking the technician if he would like to switch jobs for the afternoon.  The kids have spent three meetings building the robots and are eager to start programming.  I had kind of promised that the laptops would be ready for action yesterday, so I wasn’t looking forward to breaking the news that it would be at least two more weeks before the students could start.

Screen shot from Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory app (this level was HARD for me!)
Screen shot from Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory app (this level was HARD for me!)

But then I remembered something.

During a recent Twitter chat (#kidscancode – 8 PM EST on Tuesdays), @reesegans mentioned a Lego programming app.  I’m not embarrassed to admit that I immediately downloaded it, and spent two hours trying to climb through the levels. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I almost tweeted @reesegans at one point to ask her how in the world to solve one of the levels (and it was not a very high one).  I am really proud to admit that I made it through 23 levels. On. My. Own.

I’m waiting for just the right moment to conquer the last level, 24.

Anyway – back to 24 students about to be disappointed…

I have enough iPads so groups of 3 could share.  Thankfully, Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory is free, so it was a quick download.

As soon as I demonstrated the first level, one of the students asked for a piece of paper so he could write down the name of the app to play it at home.

Fix the Factory fixed my problem.  The students still got to practice programming a Lego robot.  They were helping each other, engaged, and using creative problem solving skills.  Thank you, @reesegans!!!!!

It’s not the perfect app for a school setting, as you can’t set it up for different players on the same device.  But you might want to consider it for next week’s Hour of Code if you are planning to participate.  I would recommend Fix the Factory for 4th grade and up.  There are a few jumps in the scaffolding of skills, so you really need to guide the kids through thinking things out and persevering.  It’s similar to Cargo-Bot, but has the added bonus of an actual robot to program.

Speaking of the Hour of Code, check in tomorrow for a last-minute round-up of resources!