As some of you know, I have a slightly scary addiction to Kickstarter. However, I feel like I’ve been pretty good at choosing some winning products to back, which makes my addiction a bit less scary – though not less impactful on my wallet. The Turing Tumble was one Kickstarter product that lived up to its promise, and I even recommended it for Gifts for the Gifted in 2018. You can read more about it here. I have used Turing Tumble with various age groups, and the kids who love it often don’t want to let anyone else try. Put that together with, well, Covid-19, where you don’t exactly want to encourage people to share their toys, and you might have a bit of a challenge playing this game. This is where the recently launched site, Tumble Together, can help out. Tumble Together is a Turing Tumble simulator (say that 10 times fast). You can mesmerize yourself by moving the pieces and dropping the marbles to your heart’s content. You can even click on the menu to do 30 different challenges. But the best part is that you can open your own shared room and invite your friends to work on it with you! Without worrying about germs!
Turing Tumble – it’s a game, it’s an education, it’s a plethora of conundrums. Check it out. And, don’t forget that Turing Tumble offers Educator Resources here, including discounts on the physical game which is a delight.
Girls Who Code at Home is the perfect way to keep your young programmer happily engaged while social distancing. So far, I count 14 free activities that can be downloaded, and the site promises a new one will be added every Monday. You can register to be notified each time the page is updated.
The activities range from beginner to intermediate/advanced. Different programming languages are used. Some are even “unplugged” activities, meaning that you do not need to use a computer to do them. Also, although Girls Who Code is an organization that was formed to narrow the gender gap, these resources are available for anyone who wants to use them.
The downloadable worksheets include a lot of scaffolding, so don’t be worried if you and your child/student are new to coding. From making a digital memory book to designing a simple chatbot, you are sure to find an activity that will appeal to your interest and skill level!
Scratch programming is one of the most versatile tools for creativity that my students have ever used. I am constantly in awe of the ideas people come up with using this free coding platform that is available to anyone online. One of the most recent suggestions that is perfect for those of us going a bit stir crazy during the quarantine is to “hack your window.” Basically, you take a picture of any of the windows in your residence, use the Scratch drawing tools to delete the panes, and add what you would like to imagine seeing outside your window. This post from Eduard Perich gives specific instructions for creating an animated scene.
If you are not familiar with Scratch, or would like to start by just seeing what others have done along this theme, here is a link to the Scratch studio where creators are sharing their programs. You will notice that there are submissions in many different languages, which could be fun for translation lessons!
Knowing many of my former students, they would probably enjoy the entry, “Don’t Let the Corona Get In,” which I’ve embedded below. It’s a game where you have to try to click the images of the coronavirus before they get too large and overcome you.
One way to help students learn quickly in Scratch is to allow them to copy a program and remix it. You can do this by clicking on any shared program, choosing, “See Inside,” and then making a copy. You will need to be logged in to Scratch in order to do this.
There are many, many resources out there for getting started with Scratch. This is one of the basic ones, but keep in mind that the platform has been updated since then so some of the screen shots may look different than the current version. You can also do a search of this blog for ideas to use with Scratch and/or Scratch Jr.
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.
This year, I have decided to do my annual “Gifts for the Gifted” posts all in one week. This should give anyone who likes to shop ahead of time a good start! For this year’s suggestions so far, click here.
The Make Code site allows users to simulate what will happen on the physical Circuit Playground Express. Once satisfied, creators can download the program to the Circuit Playground, and remove it. The Base Kit is a good buy, as it includes a battery pack with batteries, USB cord, and a container. This makes the Circuit Playground Express a portable electronic device that doesn’t need soldering, breadboarding, or any kind of advanced electrical knowledge.
With lights, music, and multiple inputs, the Circuit Playground Express would be the next step up the ladder from the Makey Makey. Suggested “makeable” products are listed on the Adafruit product pages for the Express, as well as on the Make Code website. Because of it’s size and portability, the Circuit Playground Express also makes it a fun choice for wearable inventions.
UPDATE 12/3/18: Rob Merrill has published an e-book course for Circuit Playground Express with great ideas here.
(It should be noted that several other beginner products can be programmed on Make Code – most notably the Microbit, which is used extensively in the UK. I have not used it, so I can’t review it, but it has extensive coverage online with multiple projects and tutorials.)
Colleen Graves (@gravescolleen) shared some pictures on Twitter a few days ago that showed prototypes she was making of a library data tracker and a classroom exit ticket tracker. Both use the Makey Makey along with some minimal Scratch programming. I begged for some more details, and she has released the instructions here. (That sentence makes it sound like she only published the directions because I asked, but I’m pretty sure the two events just happened in chronological order because Colleen planned it that way – not because I have the power to demand anyone to explain things in detail just so I can copy their ideas.)
One of the funniest writing professional developments I ever attended included a live demonstration of the teacher following written instructions for making a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich. By following only the instructions on the paper, the teacher ended up making a huge mess. The point was to show that we often forget some important specifics when writing a “How To” paper. YouTube’s Josh Darnit has a video you can show your students to get the point across without having to stick your own hand in a jar of Jiffy. He assigns his children the task of creating “exact instructions” for making a PB&J sandwich, and chaos ensues.
I showed the video to my students in Robot Camp, and they immediately understood the connection – that programmers can’t assume the robot or computer knows what they are thinking, and if something goes wrong you need to go back and fix your mistake instead of blaming it on the device.
You should note that this particular video is labeled, “Classroom Friendly,” and I can attest that it is appropriate. I can’t vouch for any other Josh Darnit videos or “Exact Instructions” on YouTube.