3-12, Critical Thinking, Education, Games, Gamification, Independent Study, Motivation, Problem Solving, Research, Teaching Tools, Websites


from:  www.tynker.com
from: http://www.tynker.com

If you are interested in integrating some computer programming into your curriculum, you may want to take a look at Tynker.  Earlier this year, I mentioned Tynker in a post about programming for kids, but I hadn’t had the chance to try it.  It looked promising, so I decided to offer it as a free class for students to take online this summer.

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.

Apps, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, Games, K-12, Problem Solving, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Websites

Next Year Will Be Even Better – Programming for Kids

from www.tynker.com
from www.tynker.com

For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over.  Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year.  This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year.  Today’s post is about the benefits of teaching programming to our students.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have probably noticed that I am a huge advocate for teaching programming to kids.  You can see this trend building in a lot of the education blogs and professional publications.  Like all trends, it needs to be done right so that it will not be a colossal failure or a “flash in the pan.” Here is why it should be done, and how I plan on doing it next year in my classroom.

Why We Should Teach Programming to Kids

I think that there is a misconception that this is all about teaching kids a new “language” that is useful in the career market. While that is, perhaps, one of the benefits, I think that it should not be the main purpose.  Programming languages evolve quickly, and teaching a specific one might be likened to teaching Latin.  It can help you to decode other languages, but it is unlikely you will use it daily.

I learned Basic when I was in high school.  I haven’t used it since.  But I still remember some very important lessons that I learned in that class that can be extrapolated for real life.

The most important lesson was that, if you are not getting the results you want, you can’t keep doing the same thing.  I remember the first couple of times a program did not work the way I wanted it to, and I kept saying to the computer, “That’s not what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Once I realized that I only had myself to blame, I would set about finding out what I had done wrong.  This led to the next life lesson – find the real source of the problem or your “fix” will make things worse.  Sometimes I had to dig deep into the code to figure it out, but would not realize that until I had tried one or two simple revisions that would end in disaster.

When programming, you also advance through the Scientific Process, and learn to change one variable at a time if your conclusion is not what you expected.

And finally, programming is not all about logic.  Once you understand the code, you can use your imagination to create unusual, unique, and even beautiful programs.

What I Plan to Do Next Year

As some of my colleagues pointed out this year, Programming falls very easily into something that we already have in our curriculum for elementary gifted students – Systems Thinking.  Now that I am becoming familiar with Tynker through the online summer class I’m offering, I plan to use Tynker with my 3rd graders during our Systems Thinking unit.  If you want to start anywhere with programming (from about 7 or 8 years old and up), I would highly recommend Tynker as you can create classes and monitor student progress very easily.  Plus, it has an engaging curriculum of projects.

I want to weave programming throughout my K-5 gifted classes, so I will begin my Kinders with the iPad app Daisy the Dinosaur. For 1st, we will move on to Kodable, and for second, Hopscotch.  (I may switch these last 2 around – I need to play with them more to determine difficulty levels.)

3rd grade, as I mentioned, will do Tynker.  4th grade will work on Cargo-Bot.  And, 5th grade will work with Gamestar Mechanic (which is web-based).

If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment.  Also, for even more links for Programming for Kids, feel free to visit my Pinterest board on this topic.

Apps, Education, K-12, Parenting, Problem Solving, Teaching Tools, Websites

Hopscotch and Tynker

photo from Tynker.com
photo from Tynker.com

First of all, I have a confession to make; I know very little about programming.  What I do know is that it is wonderful for teaching problem solving skills and logic.  I also know that those skills, and programming specifically, are in high demand in our nation’s job market.

So it makes sense that we should find ways to introduce our children to programming early.  While they learn, so can we.  Hopscotch and Tynker both aim to do that.

Hopscotch is an iPod app that is free, and allows the player to create simple programs using methods similar to MIT’s Scratch (also free). I have mentioned two other apps – Daisy the Dinosaur and Cargobot – before on this blog, and I think Hopscotch fits perfectly between them.  Daisy is a fabulous introduction to young children.  Hopscotch would be the next logical stage.  And Cargobot has more complex challenges.  All of these apps are free.

Tynker is a web-based platform, and also looks similar to Scratch.  I have not tried it yet, but read about it here.  I just got my registration approved, and I am eager to try it.  I used Codeacademy earlier this year with my students, but I am looking for something a bit more kid-friendly, and Tynker looks promising.

According to this Forbes online article, Hadi Partovi of Code.org “cites estimates that 1.4 million programming jobs will be needed over the next decade while current projections are for only 400,000 graduates in the field.”

We can change this with the help of resources like Hopscotch and Tynker.

H/T to my co-worker, “D”, for forwarding me info about Hopscotch!