Coding with Poetry

As I mentioned last week, the International Hour of Code Week is coming December 6-12, and I think it is an amazing experience for students and teachers. I understand that it can be daunting for anyone who has little or no experience with coding, but the people at Code.org really make it easy for anyone to participate — even if you have no digital devices in the classroom. One of the things that may seem like an obstacle to many teachers during this year of “catching up” is trying to fit coding into the curriculum. Code.org provides many tutorials that can be used in different subjects and this week, I noticed they have released a new tutorial that would be awesome for ELA teachers in grades 4-8. Through the “Coding with Poetry” tutorial, students will learn how to animate some classic poems, and write and share their own poetry to animate. With short videos, examples, and the option to have instructions read out loud, this lesson is a wonderful step-by-step walk through that will help students to feel like accomplished authors and coders by the end. I particularly like the introductory video, where a student named Caia explains how her passions for both poetry and computer science intersect.

Learn about how Caia combines poetry with computer science in this video from Code.org.

For an example of one way my students have mingled coding and poetry, visit this post from when we used Scratch and Makey Makey to make interactive onomatopoeia poems. And, for many more coding resources once you and your students get hooked, here is my Wakelet collection.

five bulb lights

Gifts for the Gifted Teacher — Creative Acts for Curious People

I’ve been doing my “Gifts for the Gifted” series for almost 9 years. Though I freely admit that the title is a bit of a misnomer because my recommendations are not just for students who have been identified as gifted, I am about to launch another series that may also be misunderstood. At least no one can accuse me of inconsistency. With that in mind, here is the inaugural post of “Gifts for the Gifted Teacher.” While I got a lot of joy out of the books, games, and toys I’ve bought for my students over the years, there are some things that I just think are great for teachers, themselves (which will indirectly benefit their students, so win/win). And during these times when teachers are, quite frankly, getting the shaft, I would like to make some explicit recommendations for anyone who wants to show their appreciation to an educator with a thoughtful gift.

Definition of Gifted Teacher: An educator who loves to learn and to challenge, engage, and empower her/his/their students with relevant and meaningful curriculum. p. 1 of the Engage Their Minds Dictionary, 2021

My first entry for “Gifts for the Gifted Teacher” (oops, that almost became “Gifs for the Gifted Teacher” which I am now officially copyrighting for my next series…) is a book called, Creative Acts for Curious People by Sarah Stein Greenberg. The foreword is written by David M. Kelley, (not to be confused with David E. Kelley, famous writer/producer of a billion television dramas) the founder of IDEO and a professor at Stanford. David M. Kelley is someone I’ve admired ever since I’ve done my deep dive into design thinking, and Stanford’s d.school is the dream school that I would have totally applied to if it existed thirty something years ago.

The book is thick, which is always a huge plus for me. It is full of activities curated by Sarah Stein Greenberg from great design thinkers at the d.school and beyond, and includes some challenges to try out. Though I see teachers finding it to be an awesome resource, I feel like anyone who has had a problem to solve or may have one to solve in the future could use Creative Acts for Curious People. It’s not just about brainstorming new ideas, but looking at things through different lenses, team building, and working to develop empathy. Altogether, there are 81 Creative Acts in this book, and many could be used with any age group.

I took this book on a trip, and devoured it quickly. My one regret was that I forgot to bring a highlighter, so I’m now re-reading the book and highlighting suggestions that give me ideas. In other words, I am basically coloring every page. I was going to wait until I finished this task to write this review but I got so pumped while I was doing it that I stopped to type this post instead.

I am going to restrain myself from gushing about each and every activity, and just give you a couple of samples. A simple one that you could easily use with students in elementary and up is “Expert Eyes”, where you assign them a place to walk around and make observations on their own by drawing them. Then you have them walk with someone else (for school this could be a buddy from another grade level, parent, teacher, volunteer, etc…) and do the same walk and draw what the companion describes out loud. Depending on the age, do this one or two more times with different people. Then compare the drawings from each time and discuss the new insights you might have gained from looking at the same area through someone else’s eyes. Simple but powerful.

Another example I got really excited about is “The Monsoon Challenge” which would probably be better for older students. The assignment was given in a course called, Design for Extreme Affordability, and the students had to design something to collect as much “rain” as possible. The rain was a sprinkler on a ladder. With less than a week and $20 for each team, the students needed to ideate, build and (hopefully) test prototypes that could be adjusted and ready for the class day of the demonstration. I won’t give away one of the truly genius solutions one group designed, but it’s worth reading the book to find out!

If you know a teacher or leader of problem-solvers who is innovative and loves to guide others through the design process, this book would be the perfect gift for them. I know I will be incorporating a lot of the ideas in my workshops and would have enjoyed using them with my students when I was in the classroom. You can get Creative Acts for Curious People where I purchased it, Nowhere Bookshop, or your favorite independent bookstore. I’ll also be adding this recommendation to my collection of “Books for Maker Ed/Design Thinking.”

photo of young girls looking through microscope

Microbe Art

I have long been fascinated with the intersection of math, nature, and art. From Fibonacci to fractals, I find it intriguing to recognize patterns and similarities in natural objects and animals that also appear in those created by humans, and that we can imagine wildly creative innovations from very logical, patterned, or symmetrical visions. When I came across this video of the “Art of the Microcosmos” by Emily Graslie, I had a feeling that it would lead me down a rabbit hole of Fibonaccian proportions, and I was correct. Her interview with James Weiss made me wish I had him as a Biology teacher in high school, or that I had even once gotten the chance to observe the incredible microscopic animals shown in the video. Of course, I’ve known about the tardigrade (also known affectionately as “water bear”) for a few years, so I definitely have no problem imagining it or any other of the strangely beautiful creatures in this video as artistic inspiration.

Following Emily’s film, I had to look up Klaus Kemp, who creates diatomic art, and then I made the mistake of Googling “art made with microbes” and found an entirely different branch of scientific art grown in petri dishes.

After a couple of hours of being transfixed by so many things I had never seen or even known about before watching Graslie’s video, I finally had the wherewithal to drag myself away and try to do something somewhat productive (though not even minutely creative). I started a new Wakelet of “Math, Art, and Nature,” and I even used Wakelet’s new layout option of columns to attempt to organize it a bit. (You may need to scroll horizontally to see all of the columns, and scroll vertically within a column to see all of the links.) This is, of course, separate from my “Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep,” collection, but I went ahead and added a link to it in that one, too.

Just a reminder that, even though fancy microscopes might be nice, you can always get your students started with observations of that microscopic world with an inexpensive Foldscope. You might be surprised at the incredible images you can view with this simple tool.

microscopic shot of a virus
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

3d printed boat

Rob’s Tinkercad Classroom

Rob Morrill is a Innovation Lab teacher who was invited by Tinkercad this summer to write regular blog posts about projects he has done with students. You can read more about Rob’s experience and expertise in his introductory post. One way to keep track of the projects he adds is to visit this page, which is a “roundup” of all of the posts he has published so far. You can also visit Rob’s website. I’ve been wanting to try a lithophane project, and now I’m even more inspired after seeing his instructions and examples.

In case you’ve missed it, Tinkercad is one of my absolute favorite entry-level design programs (and it’s free!) that I discovered when our school got its first 3d printer. It keeps improving, and you can move from simple designs to really complex ones to accommodate all abilities. Here is a post I did at the end of last year about Tinkercad Design Slams. It’s also one of my recommended online tools to help students develop their spatial reasoning. You can integrate so many parts of your curriculum (especially math) into Tinkercad projects, as well as develop creativity and that Design Thinking mindset. Even if you don’t have a 3d printer (see my post on questions to consider if you are thinking of acquiring one), students love to show off their Tinkercad designs virtually, and they can be exported into other programs. For more ideas on using Tinkercad with Design Thinking, see this post on the City X book.

By the way, Tinkercad has a teacher dashboard that you can use, where you can add classes, students, and assignments. And, did I mention it’s free?!!! Don’t worry if you haven’t used it before. They’ve got you covered with their tutorials, and your students will help each other out. (Mine invariably discovered something I didn’t know about the program every time they used it.)

Thanks to Rob for sharing his innovative ideas!

Example of coding in Scratch by Maya German

Getting Unstuck

The Creative Computing Lab at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education has released a new (July, 2021) curriculum to use with Scratch. The curriculum is free, as is access to Scratch, the online coding platform from M.I.T. “The curriculum reimagines the classroom as a design studio: a culture of learning in which students explore, create, share, and reflect.” It is targeted toward upper elementary grades as an intermediate step after students have learned Scratch basics using their Creative Computing Curriculum. In “Getting Unstuck” there are 10 modules, each of which focuses on a particular coding concept for which students will design their own projects. All of the modules include four components: Explore, Create, Share, and Reflect. Downloadable slides are provided for each module, and suggested time spans are recommended in each “Activities Overview.” The Orientation slides will help you prepare to get started and include suggestions for differentiation as well as for use in different learning environments (online synchronous, asynchronous, physically distanced).

Coding teaches students so many important skills, most of which can translate to any field. It can be weaved into any of your core subjects while giving students the opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. I know that I sound like a broken record about it on this blog, but you do not have to be an expert to bring coding into your classroom. In fact, you may ultimately be more helpful to your students if you are learning along with them. It takes away the temptation to help them “too much” and allows you to model how to handle challenges. Advanced learners in your class would probably be more than happy to take this curriculum and run with it, though all learners would certainly benefit.

I’ll be adding this post to my new public Wakelet, “Coding Resources for Teachers.” You can see all of my public Wakelets, offering hundreds of free resources to teachers, here.

Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids

About 6 years ago, as people who are excited about learning new things can be wont to do, my colleague and I emphatically agreed to piloting a 3d printer on our elementary school campus without actually knowing a single thing about 3d printing. There was a huge learning curve just trying to figure out how to get the darn thing to print out one of its pre-programmed examples. Once we accomplished the extraordinary feat of coaxing our printer to spit out a plastic bolt that we could use for pretty much nothing, we realized that we needed to figure out what meaningful objects we could fabricate – and how to design them. Our research was frustrating. Other than mass producing keychains and other items with school logos, no one seemed to have any idea about what elementary students might be able to do with a 3d printer. (By the way, if you are thinking of purchasing a 3d printer for your classroom, or doing a Donors Choose request, here is an article I wrote on some considerations you should make before you commit.)

That’s when we stumbled across City X. And Design Thinking. And Tinkercad.

And that’s when we learned that we didn’t need a 3d printer.

Don’t get me wrong. They are nice to have, and students love holding their own designs in their hands. But the most valuable part of the learning is the Design Thinking process.

The free toolkit from City X helped us to walk our students through the design process. The premise of the program is that humans have started a new settlement called City X on another planet, and the citizens need help with different challenges they are encountering in this novel environment. You can read more about how my colleague and I used the program here.

The toolkit includes a lot of resources, and was a true blessing for the two of us, as we discovered a way to really engage children while helping them to learn about empathy, problem-solving, and multiple other lifelong skills.

Now there is a City X book (thanks for letting me know about it, Amy C!), written by one of the co-creators of the original project, Brett Schilke. Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids begins with the same idea as the original project, that the mayor of City X is asking for your help with various problems. In this book, however, there is more detail on how to embark on the design adventures as members of “The Irresistible Futures Agency.” It includes 35 challenges in the areas of transportation, environment, communication, food, health, safety, and energy. Each challenge walks students through solving problems for the fictional planet as they make connections to our own, real-world. There are still choices when it comes to who their “clients” will be and what their final solutions entail, but there are additional activities and recommended explorations in each chapter that are perfect for students new to the idea of Design Thinking.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a 3d printer. Students can prototype and test with any number of easily accessible materials such as cardboard and clay. Also keep in mind that the broad categories of each challenge make them relatively easy to integrate with science or social studies curriculum.

Once students experience the City X project, they will be ready to do “real-world” designs using the same framework.

For more of my posts on Design Thinking, click here. Also, this is one of the professional development sessions I offer, and it includes a ton of free resources.

“Foolsball”: a new game you can play in City X