This summer, some other GT teachers and I got together to host some free online classes through Edmodo for our 3rd-5th graders. My class is called, “Make a Theme Park.” Each week, the students are invited to make something for a theme park that they have imagined. For the 1st week, the challenge was to build a model of a theme park ride, and the fantabulous Joey Hudy judged. You can see the post I did on the winners here.During the second week, the students created theme park mascots, and Braeden the Master of Puppetry was our judge. Here is the link to that post.
Our third week of our online “Make a Theme Park” class invited the students to create songs for their theme parks. Michael Medvinsky (@mwmedvinsky), who is an amazing music teacher and Master of Making I connected with through Twitter, was our judge for the week. As usual, the creativity and variety in the submissions thoroughly impressed me! Our judge was dazzled as well, and had a very difficult time choosing the winner. There were songs created with Garage Band, piano, Scratch, and even a muffin tin with wrenches! My daughter and I tried to create one with Incredibox and iMovie – but somehow lost the sound 😦 In the end, Mr. Medvinsky chose the Kittyana Jones Theme Song that was created with Scratch. You can see and hear all of the songs submitted, as well as Mr. Medvinsky’s wonderful comments by going to our Padlet.
Yesterday I mentioned the free online course being offered by Mitch Resnick and his colleagues at the M.I.T. Media Lab called, “Learning Creative Learning.” It starts today, so check out my post if you are interested – no registration required!
Mitch Resnick, of course, is one of the creators of Scratch, a great (and also free!) way for anyone to learn the basics of programming. I noticed that there is a Scratch Day coming up on May 17, 2014, and I want to encourage to mark your calendars for that date. Even if you don’t choose to host a Scratch day event, you can visit the site to find events in your area. According to the site, “The events are for educators, parents and children 5 years and older. Beginner Scratchers are welcome!” If you haven’t done any Scratch programming before, this might be a fun opportunity for you to learn. Last semester, I attended a Scratch class with my daughter, and I was so glad that I did!
You also might be interested to know that Scratch Jr. is currently a Kickstarter project. Scratch Jr. is designed for students 5-7 as an introduction to programming. It uses the same concept of snapping together programming blocks on the screen to create interactive stories and games as the original version of Scratch (designed for 8 years and up).
Scratch Jr. is being developed for the iPad, but will hopefully be available eventually on multiple platforms. The creators are determined that it will be free for everyone when it is released, so they are looking for Kickstarter backing now to pay for the cost of creating it.
I have seen how excited students get about Scratch, and about programming. I can’t wait for Scratch Jr. to be available for my younger students. This will be a valuable resource for educators and parents everywhere to help their children learn sequencing, logic, and the joy of creating in a new “language.”
To see more of my posts about programming for kids, type in “programming” in the search bar on this page, or visit my Pinterest Board.
You might be familiar with Mitch Resnick, one of the co-creators of the Scratch programming language, and a professor at the M.I.T. Media Lab. I’ve talked about teaching kids how to program quite a bit on this blog, and featured a T.E.D. talk presented by Mitch Resnick on this topic in one of my posts. You can find out more about Dr. Resnick and his numerous accomplishments here.
Dr. Resnick – along with two of his colleagues, Natalie Rusk and Philipp Schmidt – is giving all of us a unique opportunity beginning tomorrow, March 18th, 2014. They are presenting a 6-week course for free called, “Learning Creative Learning.” The target students for this course are educators, designers, and researchers. Here is a brief summary of the course from their website: “LCL will focus on key aspects of the Media Lab approach to learning: Projects, Peers, Passion, and Play. We invite you to apply these ideas to your own teaching and learning experiences. Together, we can reimagine and reinvent education.”
There will be online sessions every Tuesday from 1-2 PM EST, but these sessions will be recorded for those of us who can’t attend. You can take a look at the syllabus for the course here, although they do give the disclaimer that it is a work in progress. Discussion forums have been set up, and there is an FAQ section.
You do not have to register for the course to be involved, although you can provide an e-mail address to receive updates. As I mentioned earlier, the course is free. You will receive no certification for participating, so getting involved is based purely on your intrinsic motivation to learn from some distinguished educators at a top-rated university.
This is the 2nd year for the course to be offered in this format, but it’s still a work-in-progress. As Dr. Resnick says, “The best learning experiences happen when you take risks and try new things and learn from your mistakes.”
For those of you who choose to join the class, I hope to see you in the discussion forums or following @medialabcourse on Twitter! It should be an interesting adventure!
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!
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.
This weekend I had the great opportunity to attend an event hosted by SparkFun at a local venue called Geekdom. The event was a class for young students to learn how to use the free programming language, Scratch, developed by M.I.T. The students also learned how to use Scratch with a PicoBoard, which connects to your computer with a USB cord, and has different sensors that can interact with your program.
Parents were allowed to “audit” the class. That was great for me for several reasons. One was that I got to see 7 of my current and former students (including my daughter) participate in the class. Watching them learn and problem-solve was wonderful. Another reason was that I have been meaning to learn Scratch, but hadn’t had the opportunity.
SparkFun is a retailer, but they also have a “Department of Education.” This department includes online tutorials and curriculum. But they also recently went on a national tour, and our weekend class was included in their stops. Unfortunately, their tour ends today (11/18/13). Hopefully, they will schedule another one really soon. I would love to see more events like this, particularly ones that would include educators. Being able to witness the students learning programming from people who know what they are doing was very helpful for me. I now feel braver about tackling it in my own classroom.
I would also like to see more girls at events like these. There were 30 students in this class. 7 of them were girls. At the end of the course (which lasted from 9-3, and completely kept the attention of all of the kids the entire time), the students could volunteer to share their programs with the group. The audience then voted on the best ones. There was a tie – between two girls. One of the winners happened to be one of my former students. (Her dad teaches Computer Science, so I take no credit for her expertise at all!) Her program was so amazing, the SparkFun folks jokingly asked if she wanted a job.
I want to thank SparkFun for this awesome opportunity, and plead with them, and other companies, to provide more of this for our young people. There is definitely an interest and great demand, I believe. More importantly, this type of learning provides 21st century skills in technology, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration.
You may have read yesterday’s post about Gamestar Mechanic, another site that teaches programming to kids. Tynker is similar to Gamestar Mechanic in that it offers a free version and a premium version. However, Tynker’s free version has a lot of features – including the ability to add classes and projects. It includes a basic curriculum for elementary and middle school that already has lesson plans with projects. Or, as a teacher, you can create your own. Another thing that I like about Tynker is that my students were able to use their Google I.D.’s to register, and did not need e-mail addresses.
Tynker is similar to Scratch. In fact, you can import lessons and projects from Scratch. I, however, am a beginner. So, I stuck with Tynker’s package of lessons, and studiously watched the provided videos before I assigned each week’s lesson. (Tynker allows you to choose “Student View” so you can see what the students will see when they get each lesson.)
It is web-based, but the site states that there will be a mobile version available in the future.
When students complete a project, they can submit it, and you can approve it or send it back. You can quickly see, by glancing at each lesson in the “Grading” tab, who has submitted and completed each project. The students can send you messages through Tynker if they have questions or comments. There is also a Class Showcase area where you can approve exemplary projects to be shared with everyone in the class. This is all FREE!
There were a couple of glitches in the Tynker lessons. For example the “Driving Lesson” appeared to already have the code done in it before the students even had a chance to do the project. At one point, I got locked out of assigning lessons with the note that they were now “Premium”, but Tynker’s excellent Customer Service quickly fixed that.
I spoke to a Tynker rep at ISTE, and he mentioned that they will soon be offering “puzzles” where the students will have to rearrange the code to achieve certain goals. I look forward to that, and hope it will also be in the free version.
I definitely plan to use Tynker again – probably as a “Level Up” motivator in my Genius Hour. Now that I am more familiar with it, I might create some of my own projects and lessons to “jazz” things up a bit.