When participating in Hour of Code in our GT classroom this week, the 2nd graders were introduced to the free Scratch Jr. app on our iPads (also available on Android and on the Chrome Web Store ). Before we started exploring the app, I thought it would be good for them to learn a little bit about computer programming. BrainPop Jr. has a great free video that explains computer programming and some of the terminology. As an added bonus, the sample screen in the video looks very similar to the Scratch Jr. interface, so this particular video was an excellent introduction to our lesson.
You can find Hour of Code lessons for Scratch Jr. here. Additional lesson ideas can be found on the “Teach” tab of the Scratch Jr. site. As I was looking up resources to use with my students, I also found this PBS site that includes lessons integrated with some of the popular PBS kid shows, as well as printable task cards.
Scratch Jr. works very well as a starting point for block coding for primary students. My 2nd graders quickly found many “cool” things that they could do after about 10 minutes of exploration on their own. Familiarizing themselves with this app will make the transition to Scratch (a web based program for computers that does not currently work on mobile) almost seamless.
It has been amazing to watch Wonder Workshop evolve since the days of Bo and Yana (the original names of the Dash and Dot robots) 4 years ago. The robots are incredibly engaging for elementary students, and the company has been extremely supportive of educators. Dash and Dot appeal to students because it is easy to apply personalities to them. Programming the robots becomes an exercise in imagination as well as logic. The ability to augment the robots with bricks, such as Legos, increases the potential for storytelling and problem-solving. In addition to all of this, there is flexibility in programming (in addition to the free Wonder Workshop apps, 3rd party apps like Tickle and Apple’s Swift Playground can be used), which means students from beginners to advanced can code these robots on pretty much any mobile device.
Wonder Workshop is constantly expanding its offerings. I was excited to visit their booth at ISTE to see some of their new products.
The first thing I got to check out was their idea for using Dash to develop spatial reasoning. Using foam core cut-outs, a course had been laid out for Dash to navigate with a pattern of bricks attached to its head. With careful programming, students can send Dash under each piece of foam core successfully by making sure its head is turned correctly at the right time. Wonder Workshop hopes to provide the instructions for creating this course on its website soon.
Some of the most exciting products that has just been added to the store are the challenge cards and curriculum subscription. The curriculum offers 22 NGSS & Common Core aligned lessons for classroom integration. The challenge cards are colorful, leveled activities that match Code.org’s Computer Science Fundamentals. I personally think the best deal is the Getting Started Curriculum Pack for $99. (By the way, I do not work for Wonder Workshop, but have received some free products for review in the past.)
Wonder Workshop will be sponsoring another Wonder League Robotics Competition this year, but the structure will be different than previous years. You can learn more here.
I’ve been told that Wonder Workshop has more surprises coming up in the fall, so you will definitely want to keep up with their announcements on Facebook or on Twitter (@WonderWorkshop).
For today’s ISTE post, I thought I would cover a couple of the sessions I attended that were related to coding and makered.
Leah LaCrosse (@llacrosse) and Jon Jarc (@trendingedtech) spoke about the ways they have used the design process with their classes as the students worked with digital modeling for 3d printers. They included a great diagram from nngroup.com that my colleague and I like because it uses arrows to show that the design process is often not linear, with many steps repeating. We are also hoping to, as they have, find more “problems” that students can try to solve with design thinking. (They gave an example of 3d printing a piece for the school’s long-broken water fountain.)
An interesting suggestion for introducing 3d modeling to students was to have them begin by making something fairly simple with Legos, and to then ask them to duplicate the design using a program like Tinkercad. One workflow tip is to have a Google Form for students to enter the links to their print files to put them in a queue (after they have been critiqued) for the 3d printer.
The 3d printing project that really caught my attention was one in which the students designed vehicles that had to fit the following parameters: multiple parts, multiple colors, no glue, and able to roll across a table. As Jarc described it, this project took nearly an entire semester, but the students were taking precise measurements, iterating repeatedly as they learned more from mistakes, and putting their own creative spins on the designs – making this a deep learning activity that they will never forget. Another fun idea? Fitting the vehicles on top of Spheros to propel them across the room!
Another makered session I attended was sponsored by Microsoft. I know very little about the hardware featured on their “Make Code” website, so I was curious to learn more about at least one of the pieces, the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express. This little kit is actual hardware that you can connect to your computer with a usb cord, and use block coding or java script to program. Even if you don’t have the physical hardware (only $24.95, but it seems to be out of stock), you can use the simulator on the site to code this fun product to do all sorts of things – such as play sounds and light up. Here is some advice on getting started. I had to leave the session early, so I missed out on the awesome magic wands they were making once everyone programmed their Circuit Playgrounds. However, I loved some of the features of the website – including that you can easily transition between block coding and java, the site can be used on practically any device (though you do need USB for the hardware), and you can even use it offline. As you can see from the pictures below, there are lots of things you can do with the Circuit Playground. Since it has a battery pack, you can program it and “wear” it without being wired to the computer.
Of course, these two sessions were only a small sample of all of the makered possibilities showcased at ISTE this year. It’s amazing to recall the years when makered was relatively new to the incredible impact it is having on educational technology now!
Do you live in the San Antonio, TX area? Do you have a child aged 7-11? Then this is the camp for you! I am offering an Undercover Robots Camp this June, 2017. We will be using the fabulous Dash robots from Wonder Workshop. (Robot purchase is not required, but bringing your own can result in a camp discount.) Here is the link to the registration page.
You can see highlights from last year’s camp sessions here and here. We will be doing the “Spy School” session again this year (with modifications for students who previously participated) as well as a brand new “Circus” edition during our second week.
For more information, click here. It’s going to be great fun!!!
This week, I will be at TCEA in Austin with my fabulous colleague, Angelique Lackey. We will be presenting together on Tuesday. Our session is called, “10 Sure-Fire Ways to Light Up Your Curriculum.” The hour-long session starts at 1:15 in Room 19B. It is about using the Project Ignite website to introduce your students to 3d modeling with Tinkercad.
On Wednesday, I’ll be solo. I’ll be presenting, “Code Dread” at 2:30 in Room 13AB. This session is for anyone who has been intrigued by the thought of using coding in the classroom, but has little experience with programming.
FYI – despite having done numerous presentations I always sound nervous. Weirdly, the only thing that makes me nervous is knowing that I will sound nervous which, as you can imagine, develops into a nice little self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately, the size of the audience doesn’t seem to impact this, as I am equally as nervous with 2 people or 50. Unfortunately, medication either makes it worse or makes me slur my words so I’ve learned to just tune out my own voice and never listen to recordings. Of course, if you attend either session you won’t have those choices – but I promise not to be offended if you walk out 😉
You may not want to walk out, though, because we just found out that we get to use the Qball (wireless, throwable microphone) during our sessions. So, walking out would mean you not only lose the opportunity of listening to my unique voice, but you would also lose the opportunity to see how horrible I am at throwing microphone balls – a feat I have never attempted, but I am quite certain will bring back flashbacks of the one time I tried to play softball when I was in 5th grade and managed to bonk myself in the forehead. I will try not to bonk you in the forehead, but there is no guarantee.
In conclusion, you may or may not want to attend my two sessions at TCEA and you may or may not want to take out extra insurance before volunteering to be in the audience. If you do decide to brave all of these potential hazards I have mentioned, then please come up and say, “Hi! I am one of the courageous people who read your TCEA post and still decided to come to your session.” That way I will know not to aim for you when I throw the Qball 😉
It’s been awhile since I stepped foot in my bank. With online resources and apps, I don’t even have to go there to deposit my checks. But I didn’t realize banks had increased their lobby services to teaching kids how to code…
Okay, not all banks do this. But Barclays, a bank in the UK, has made it a mission to “demystify” coding, and has even trained some of its staff (Barclays Digital Eagles) to provide tw0-hour coding sessions for ages 7-17 in branches across the UK.
Well, that’s great, you think to yourself, but I’m not in the UK. No worries, Barclays has you covered, too. Head on over to Barclays Coding Playground, and you too can practice the basics of coding. Select any of the objects roaming around the screen and you will be directed to change some of its features using lines of code. For example, see the giraffe below? I know. It doesn’t look like a giraffe. That’s because I coded it to have a particularly short neck. Because I could. And because when I made the neck its maximum size the head went off my browser page which made the image a bit more difficult to capture…
The Playground isn’t going to make your child into a coding rockstar, but it is fun and would probably entice anyone who hasn’t programmed before to take a few more steps toward learning more.
If you want more resources for coding, here is my Pinterest page. Also, I will be doing a presentation at TCEA in Austin, Texas, called, “Code Dread,” for those of you who find all of this talk of teaching kids to code slightly disturbing because Barclays wasn’t kind enough to demystify it for you when you were a child 😉
“That’s it?! But that’s so little!” one of my students said, incredulously, when I showed him the Raspberry Pi. I nodded. Another student explained, “That’s what a computer looks like. A lot of people think this [he pointed to the television monitor] is the computer, but it’s just a screen.” The other students, who mostly lived in a world of tablets and laptops, stared solemnly at the small device.
I had just returned from Picademy in Austin. Whenever I am absent for any kind of staff development, my students demand justification for abandoning them. They knew, before I left, that Raspberry Pi was a computer, not a dessert. But just like me before the 2-day intense training, that was about all most of them knew. It was time for me now to show them that my absence had been worth it.
“You said there was Minecraft,” one student prompted. I pulled up the Python program we coded at Picademy and asked the students to guess what would happen when I initiated it in Minecraft. They weren’t quite sure. Then I showed them how my Minecraft character could walk, leaving a path of gold behind me.
“Cool!” was the general consensus. I was proud because, before Picademy, I had never played Minecraft or coded with Python. In fact, I was still awed by the fact that I had hooked up the tiny computer to an old television monitor from home, and that it actually worked.
I had applied to Picademy in Austin with great apprehension. Raspberry Pi seemed to appear on many of the educational sites I regularly visited and I felt like I needed to to have one in my classroom. But I didn’t want to have the school invest money on something that couldn’t be used. When I saw that Picademy was being offered an hour and a half from where I lived, it seemed like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. But I was worried it would be way over my head. The problem is that I am constantly telling my students to take risks, so I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t even try.
Fortunately, the organizers of Picademy have a lot of experience differentiating for a room full of educators with multiple skill levels. On the first day, they led us through several hand-on sessions, guiding us to “Hack Minecraft,” light up L.E.D.’s, compose music, and make ridiculous selfies. We were given lots of free “stuff” (including a Raspberry Pi, keyboard, and mouse), introduced to new vocabulary (Sense Hat?), and tons of support from a group of experienced educators.
On the second day, we were tasked with creating our own Raspberry Pi projects with partners. We were given 4 hours and extra supplies. My partner and I decided to program our Pi with Python to allow students to take pictures of their work with the touch of a button, also sending out a random tweet with the picture and a phrase such as, “Look what we did in class today!” There was a lot of trial and error and frustration. (Spelling and punctuation are extremely vital in Python, as we learned.) However, we finally got it to work, and got to experience the exuberance our students feel whenever they work through tough problems.
If what I just described to you sounds ridiculously impossible for your skill level, remember that I was (and still am) an amateur. The key to programming Raspberry Pi is taking other programs offered freely on the internet and adjusting them to do what you want. Once you get used to the syntax of Python, it isn’t that difficult to “steal” and remix. Also, you are not limited to using Python. Scratch, for example, now works with Raspberry Pi.
If you can attend a Picademy, I highly recommend you apply. The 2-day workshop is free, and you do receive free breakfast and lunches, a free Raspberry Pi, and other accessories. However, there may not be a Picademy coming to your area anytime soon, so you may want to check out the new online courses. All training information can be found here.
An incredible number of resources are available on the Raspberry Pi website. I suggest that you go to this page if you are brand new to using Raspberry Pi. The site is extremely user-friendly. However, I think the training is what has made my experience so enjoyable.