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.
With two posts in a row related to Wonder Workshop it might appear that I work for them or get a commission. I don’t! The Undercover Robots Camp curriculum I wrote about yesterday could technically be used with a variety of robots, but I do like to use the Dash robots because they are so engaging and user-friendly for younger students. Today I wanted to review one of the newest products from Wonder Workshop, which is customized for their Dash and Cue robots – Sketch Kit.
Students love to program their robots to write/draw, but anyone who has tried to rig contraptions for this purpose knows what a nightmare this can be. It’s a good problem-solving experience, but not the best use of time if programming is your main goal. Wonder Workshop has solved this issue by designing a unique harness to attach to Dash or Cue. This harness allows the robot to lift a marker up and put it down – and the free app updates include these accessory options for coding.
The $39.99 Sketch Kit includes the harness, 6 dry-erase markers, and 6 project cards. The markers are customized to fit the harness, as you will note in the picture. Marker Refill Kits (6 markers) are $14.99. We haven’t had our kit long enough for me to tell you the typical number of uses you will get out of a marker.
As nice as it is to have the Sketch Kit, the whiteboard mat that I purchased for $99.99 is even more worthwhile to me. Mats for robots are expensive, unless you DIY, and this one screams out versatility. It rolls up fairly easily, but it is definitely durable. With measuring guides on the side (100 cm x 200 cm), there is plenty of programming potential. The marker erases nicely without leaving residual color on the mat. Knowing I will be using it with several groups of students, I feel that it was definitely a good investment.
Programming the robot to draw what they wanted proved to be more challenging than my students expected. I put my 5th graders in pairs and they had about 7-10 minutes in each group to create a program in Blockly. Before we ran the programs, we projected each one on the board so the students could try to predict what the robot would draw. This was great visual/spatial practice, and it was funny to hear the opposing ideas that were thrown out at the beginning. No one’s program was perfect the first time, so I also gave them time to “debug” after each initial run.