Coding Partners for Hour of Code

Hour of Code Day 2 (17)

Each year our 2nd-5th graders in all Clarke County Schools attend a UGA basketball game.  The game is within walking distance to our school so it doesn’t take us long to venture that way.  I’m usually a chaperone on this trip. This year, the game fell during the week of Hour of Code. Our departure time kept moving up on the calendar and it started to interfere with some classes who signed up to code. With each conflict comes an opportunity.  One of the classes affected was a fourth grade class and another was a first grade class, so we just decided to combine them together.  This allowed both classes to have a full hour of coding, and it allowed the 1st graders to try some coding that they might not be able to attempt on their own.  Many thanks to these 2 teachers who worked together along with me to come up with a solution that worked for everyone!

Hour of Code Day 2 (19) Hour of Code Day 2 (18)

We started on the carpet to lay the foundation for coding and Hour of Code.  We also talked about working with a partner.  Many of the 1st grade students don’t quite have the fine motor skills to navigate the mouse and keyboard, so the 4th graders were ready to help with this barrier.  We also talked about how we are all in this together.  One person shouldn’t just sit and watch.  Instead, both partners should talk out loud about what each coding puzzle offered and share ideas for what to do.  We took a look at Made with Code as well as Code.org as possibilities for what to work on, and each buddy group had to decide which coding puzzle interested them the most.

I sent the 4th graders off into the library to find a spot, and then the 1st graders walked to find a buddy.  The teachers and I helped students who couldn’t find a buddy on their own.  Students immediately got to work, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well they worked together.  I saw numerous 4th graders encouraging 1st graders to take a turn in dragging over blocks of code.  I heard them ask the 1st graders what they thought they should do in the puzzle.  I also saw 1st graders taking the lead and telling the 4th graders exactly what they thought should be in the coding sequence.

Many of the students chose Star Wars, Minecraft, or Frozen, but a few ventured out to parts of Code.org that I didn’t show such as Flappy Bird.  I was surprised by how complex some of the coding puzzle were this year, and students loved that when they reached the final level of a puzzle, they could create their own game.

As I walked around, I listed to a lot of conversation.  I was very proud to see students not giving up and really working to find solutions to their problems.  I heard things like:  “where is our problem?” and “I think we have something wrong in the bottom part of this code” and “Let’s put this in and see what happens.”  I wanted to bottle up all of these quotes to remind students that this type of language and perseverance should spill over into all other areas of our lives.  I pondered why students were so comfortable with starting over and looking for solutions to problems in coding, even though they might get extremely frustrated with other things.  I’m not sure I have an answer, but it’s something I’ll continue to think about.

I really like the potential of partnering different grades together for projects.  I really think it could be done more often if we take a close look at the curriculum and how topics overlap or support one another.  When students work with different age groups, their leadership skills naturally start to come out and their confidence in themselves grows as well.  I’ll continue to think on this.  It’s yet another great thing that the Hour of Code surfaces in education.

 

Open Makerspace: Take Two

shrinky dinks (10)

Since our library makerspace has been available, I’ve tried as much as possible to have it open for students to use for their own tinkering and making as well as for classes to use in collaboration with me in the library.  This has not been an easy process, but I’ve tried several things and learned a lot.

A couple of months ago, Gretchen Thomas from UGA helped me get an open makerspace time started each day.  It was from 11-12:15 and an independent study student from UGA helped me facilitate students.  The problem with this time was the unpredictable nature.  We didn’t have students sign up ahead of time, so some days there would be an overwhelming number and some days there was just a few.  Also, all the students wanted to do different things which was very hard to manage.  During one of the weeks, we went through $75 worth of duct tape and students weren’t really making anything that they were happy enough to take with them.

shrinky dinks (8)

I’m not one to give up, so Gretchen and I did some talking over email and decided to try something new.  We would pull back the makerspace to Monday-Thursday.  Rather than have every day be a free for all, we decided to create a signup sheet.  We also decided that each day would have a focus so that the UGA helpers could begin to develop some expertise in specific areas and students could be more productive by focusing on one or two resources.  Again, this was all an experiment to see how it played out.

shrinky dinks (1) shrinky dinks (2)

So far, it has been working really well.  On Friday of each week, students sign up for the upcoming week.  They can only sign up for one day at the moment because we have only allowed 7-10 people per 30-minute time slot.  This number may increase as we see how manageable larger numbers of students might be.

Our schedule consists of:

  • Monday 3D design and Sphero
  • Tuesday littleBits and Sphero
  • Wednesday 3D design and Sphero
  • Thursday crafts and Sphero
  • There are also some independent projects woven in such as MaKey MaKey and Lego Robotics

We decided to put Sphero on the schedule daily because of the student demand and the fact that we  now have 13 Spheros.  It is easy to setup and cleanup quickly, and students can do it independently while the other pairings such as 3D design take a little more support.

shrinky dinks (9) shrinky dinks (6)

On Thursdays, Gretchen’s Maker Dawgs class sends a few students with a planned craft.  Duct tape was a huge hit, but as I’ve said, we found that students were using lots of duct tape without really getting anywhere.  We decided we would try different kinds of crafts with more of a focus on producing something to take away.  This focus might help students see the kinds of things they might create, which we hope leads to new ideas from students.  One week students created Origami.  This past week, the focus was Shrinky Dinks.  Many students had never experience Shrinky Dinks.  The Maker Dawgs brought in a Shrinky Dink maker, which basically looks like an Easy Bake Oven.

shrinky dinks (7)

Also, Gretchen made Shrinky Dink name tags for all of us.

The Maker Dawgs paired the Shrinky Dinks with friendship bracelet making, so some students combined Shrinky Dinks onto their frindship bracelet.  It was a very popular and productive makerspace time.

shrinky dinks (4) shrinky dinks (9)

Our newest problem is how to print all of the 3D creations that students are making.  That’s the next thing on my list to figure out.  Students want to print right away, and it’s hard for them to understand that designing can take a few minutes but printing can take a few hours.

shrinky dinks (5) shrinky dinks (3)

We take each challenge as it comes.  We expect the miraculous, and we don’t give up.

Providing Space for the Miraculous

WRAD15 Day 3 (4)

I’m a planner.  In my personal life, I like schedules, details, and wouldn’t consider myself very spontaneous.  However, in education, I’ve learned to push this part of me aside and embrace flexibility.  It isn’t always easy, but it is essential.  When I meet with teachers to plan a collaborative project, we definitely put together a strong plan, but nothing makes me happier than hearing teachers say “let’s just see where this goes”.  Phrases like that mean that we are giving ourselves permission to be flexible.  We are providing space to look for miraculous things that are taking place right before our eyes.  If we script every step of a project, then the project gets done, but at what cost?  To me, the cost is student voice.  When we structure lessons and projects too much, we miss the opportunities to listen to individual student voices and interests.  We miss opportunities that might be waiting for us out in the world with experts, other schools, developers, and more just because it doesn’t fit on our timeline.

IMG_4947

Here’s a perfect example of what can happen when space is provided for the miraculous to happen.

During our 2nd grade black history project, we made numerous changes to our plans.  I’ve written several posts about this, but to summarize, we:

  • made the project more authentic by creating our own award called the Barrow Peace Prize
  • established our own criteria for the award, which matched numerous character traits that students study in social studies
  • housed all of the student videos on Flipgrid and linked them on a Google site with our embedded voting tool
  • created a medal using our 3d printer to honor the person from black history who won the votes

When we planned this project, we knew that certain components would be there such as time to research, time to write persuasive pieces, and time to record videos.  One thing we didn’t know when we started was that we would actually create a medal on the 3D printer.  Because we allowed ourselves to be flexible, to give individual students voice, and to look for the miraculous, an individual student was able to design and create a 3d-printed Barrow Peace Prize.

Taylor, our student designer, has been so proud of his work.  This one moment where we provided space for the miraculous has given him and our school some other incredible moments.  Taylor was able to share his work with Okle Miller’s Kindergarten students in Tampa, FL via Skype and inspire them to make their own inventions.  He also shared his work with the Flipgrid team in Minneapolis during our Skype.

While Taylor was designing his work, I was of course sharing it on Twitter.  Brad Hosack, co-founder of Flipgrid, half-jokingly replied:

This one tweet made us think even more.  We originally just planned to print one medal and share it among all of the 2nd grade teachers in honor of the winner of the black history votes, but because we gave ourselves space for flexibility, other miraculous things happened.  We printed enough medals to put one in each 2nd grade class so that now students can take turns in their classroom holding or wearing the medal, and we also sent some to Flipgrid headquarters in Minneapolis, MN.

Flipgrid Barrow Peace Prize (1)

Now, Taylor’s 3D creation is hanging in Minneapolis with Flipgrid’s many other awards.  How miraculous is that?

The Flipgrid team proudly displays their Barrow Peace Prize medals along with their numerous other awards.

It is stories like these that remind me of the importance of slowing down and being flexible.  Planning is still crucial, but I’m reminded that I shouldn’t plan so much that it hinders the amazing things that can happen when we let go of control and see what happens.  I encourage you to give it a try.