Hour of Code in the Library

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For the past 3 years, our library has participated in Hour of Code during Computer Science in Education Week.  This movement of setting aside an hour to tinker with coding was started by Hadi Partovi.  When we started back in 2014, there was only a handful of options of coding resources for students to try on code.org and many of them crashed due to the number of students using the site around the world. Fast forward to 2016 and students now have 172 reliable options in the Hour of Code portion of code.org and numerous other lessons that take them beyond the hour of code.

hour-of-code-5

When we first started participating, classes came to the library to try out an hour of code. This year, many classes still came, but some classrooms also tried out the hour in their own rooms.  It was fun to see something that started in the library spread into general classrooms.

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This year we had classes from every grade participate in Hour of Code in the library (including PreK next week).  We started each session by exploring the word “code” and connecting it to our own experiences. Many students talked about passcodes on phones or tablets.    We then related this to the language that a computer speaks.

I had students think about their favorite video game or app and explained that every tap or press of a button was coded with instructions for the computer to know what to do. I also had students imagine if their favorite game or app never existed.  What if the coders gave up while developing the game?  This question brought the most gasps.  We talked about the importance of mindset and not giving up. I loved that code.org had this great video that setup the idea of a growth mindset.

This year, I let students have a lot of choice in grades 3-5 because many of them had experienced hour of code or a coding project before.  Some needed to try something more advanced while others needed to start with the basics.  My big rule was that once they chose a coding activity, they were supposed to stick with it.  With 172 options, it would be really easy to jump from one thing to another without really pushing yourself through the hard parts. I loved that code.org had a filter to filter by grade level or coding experience.

For grades K-2, we used an app on the iPad called Box Island, but we also had the flexibility to move to code.org if students were ready to move on to something else.  I thought it was easier to stick with one tool for these grade levels since coding was so new to most of the students.

2nd grade coders using Box Island #kidscancode #hourofcode

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Students worked on coding all over the library. Some grouped themselves on cushions or tables. Others worked alone.  Collaboration between students started to happen whether they were using the same app or something different.  It’s something I see in makerspace as well.  There’s something about this kind of experience that facilitates natural collaboration. Students want to help one another. It isn’t forced or required. It just happens.

Students persevere. They celebrate their success enthusiastically, and sometimes yell when something doesn’t work right.

Team coding with Osmo #hourofcode #kidscancode

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It isn’t always perfect, though. Sometimes students give up.  They say it’s too hard.  Those moments are frustrating for me, but I like to talk with students about why they gave up.  I can’t pretend that I don’t ever give up either…because I do.  However, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge the importance of persevering even when things are hard because it’s a goal we should strive for.

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At the end of each session, I brought students back together to talk about the experience. They started to crowdsource a list of tips to pass on to the class that came after them. Looking at their list you will see so many tips that could be applied to multiple situations, not just coding.

We also looked at subject areas like reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.  I asked students to consider whether or not they used any of these subjects or skills while coding. They of course gave brilliant responses.

  • Reading code is like reading another language
  • We read instructions to know what to do
  • I revised my code just like I revise my writing
  • I had to use strategy just like solving a math problem

I invited them to think about how we might continue to explore coding as we create projects in class.  Many of the students went home excited about coding and shared with families. I got messages from family members about their child’s eagerness to code.  I even got a few pictures of coders in action while at home.

I love doing hour of code in the library because it’s a source of professional learning for teachers and a chance for students to try something they enjoy.  We can take a risk together trying something new and then explore how to connect this with what we are already doing. Teachers see how engaged the students are and ponder how to continue that engagement.  It’s also a very public space, so anyone who walks into our library during hour of code also starts to consider the power of coding in school. I’m still figuring out how we can weave this into more of our year. The students love it. They are engaged. How can we use this excitement to connect to what we are learning together each day?

 

Connecting Voices through Robotics: An EdCamp Global Event

This year, our library is fortunate to have a robotics loan from Birdbrain Technologies. We have 12 Finch robots that we are using throughout the year for coding experiences for our students. Currently, a group of 2nd-5th graders are meeting every Friday for one hour to learn to code these robots and create projects with them.

Donna MacDonald (Vermont) and Jenny Lussier (Connecticut) are two wonderful friends who inspire me through my professional learning network, and they also have these robots on loan.  Jenny and Donna wrote their robotics loan application with plans to collaborate with one another, and they have invited my students to jump in to their learning. We recently started talking on Twitter about how our kids could collaborate both synchronously and asynchronously, and we were looped in to a conversation about EdCamp Global.

I wish I had clued in to EdCamp Global sooner because it was an amazing opportunity.  Across 24 hours over 51 countries and more than 800 classrooms empowered students’ and teachers’ voices in multiple online formats. Not only did voices from around the globe come together but there was also a true global audience to watch the work happen. I definitely want to do more with this the next time around.

Thanks to Donna and Jenny’s enthusiastic energy, we pulled together a session on the EdCamp Global schedule to allow our students to share.  Jenny got the application in, setup the Google Hangout, and got everything up and running for us. Donna created a Google doc of resources for the session and started advertising our session on social media.

On the morning of the hangout, I was able to pull a couple of my Friday students from their classrooms to join the hangout and Jenny & Donna both had classes of students rotate through their libraries.  Across the 1-hour session, we talked about the Finch loan program and how we got started. We also talked about other robotics tools that we are using in our schools such as Sphero, BB-8, Dash and Dot, and Ollie.

My favorite part was when students took turns sharing their experience with robotics.  My two students showed programs that they were working on within Level 1 of Snap!  Donna and Jenny’s students also told stories of challenges they had faced with the robots, things they had figured out, and plans for what they hoped to do over the next few weeks.

 

Tweets during:

Toward the end of our time, Jenny had her students start experimenting with Scratch and Finch. They had just enough time to come over and demonstrate what they figured out during the hangout.  I can’t wait to share what we learned with the rest of our 2nd-5th graders so we can continue to explore programming the Finch.

Donna created a Padlet where we can post challenges to one another.

Jenny created a Flipgrid where students can share video challenges or tips about the Finch robots.

I think it is just incredible how students in multiple locations can come together to collaborate in real time when our schedule allows, and that we can continue to collaborate even when we aren’t meeting together at the same time.  My group is just getting started, so I can’t wait to see what we learn from Jenny and Donna’s students and what we are able to contribute along the way too!

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.

 

Hour of Code 2015 is Here!

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We have been participating in Hour of Code since it started 3 years ago, and it is an event that inspires so many things within our school.  This week-long event coincides with Computer Science in Education week each December.  Code.org partner with numerous organizations to offer one-hour tutorials that are appropriate for multiple age groups.  When we first started Hour of Code, I tried to get students to all try specific tutorials, but many of our students have gained some confidence with coding and problem solving over the years.  I wanted to offer more choice this year and continue to focus on perseverance, problem solving, and collaboration in addition to learning some pieces of what it means to code.

On day 1 of Hour of Code, our 3rd grade came 2 classes at a time.  This meant 45-50 students in the library with their computers.  It’s a big group with lots of energy, but it amazes me how they settle in, don’t give up, and support one another.  I also had a 5th grade group and a second grade group during the day.

We started by sharing some things we know about coding.  We also talked about how many of us love video games or apps.  Pretty much all hands went up, and we pondered the questions: “What if the people who invented Minecraft (or insert any app or game here) gave up before they finished the game?”  We also pondered how many games are currently being invented out there that we don’t even know about and how many of the developers will persevere or give up.  It was an interesting way to set the stage for our work for the day.

We watched the official Hour of Code video.

Then, I showed students the Hour of Code website and the 4 main tutorials that were featured: Star Wars, Minecraft, Frozen, and Angry Birds.

I offered these as a starting place, but students were allowed to go to any tutorial they wanted to attempt.  My main rule was that I wanted them to really stick with whatever they picked and give their best try.

Students spread out around the library and got to work.  It took a few minutes to settle in, but all students stayed focused on the Code.org site.  I loved how they very naturally got up and helped one another when they got stuck.  A few students reached a point of frustration where they needed a break, so I pulled all of our coding books from the library as a place to go and take a break to just read about coding until they were ready to go back to work.  At some point, they all went back to their computer.

Hour of Code Day 1 (1)

I also loved that some students who speak other languages saw that they could switch the language on the Code.org tutorials.  Rather than flipping back and forth to Google Translate, they could read the site right on their screen, and these students were over the moon with excitement and were extremely successful in their coding.

The Code.org site was very reliable on our first day.  In the previous 2 years, we’ve had problems with the site crashing or being slow, but day one went really well.  I had some backup plans though.  One of the other activities that students were able to do in small groups was visit our Finch robots, which are on loan from Birdbrain Technologies.  Students worked alone to use Snap to program the robot to maneuver around the floor.  There wasn’t a specific task other than to explore what the robots could do and what each block of code meant.  Some students had the robots congregating together on the floor or even doing a dance together.  It was fun to see what they came up with in such a short amount of time.

As usual, teachers observed students who struggled in academic areas suddenly find a spark with coding.  I hope that seeing some of these students’ excitement will spark ideas for all of us in how we might use this momentum to connect to curriculum content.  We can’t dismiss the tools that get students excited about learning.  We need to embrace tools like Minecraft and the expertise that our students hold in these tools and consider how these might enrich the work we are doing together in school.

I can’t wait to see what else the Hour of Code week holds for us.

Finch Robots are Coming to Our Library Makerspace in Fall 2015

It is officially summer in the Barrow Media Center, so things will be a bit more quiet here on the blog for a few weeks.  Summer is a time for recharging, reflecting, and dreaming up ideas for the upcoming school year.  I’m excited to announce one of a few summer announcements that will be coming your way.  Our library makerspace will feature 12 Finch Robots by BirdBrain Technologies during the 2015-2016 school year.  The robots are on loan to us for the entire school year, and this loan comes with the possibility of these robots being a permanent donation to our space.

A few months ago BirdBrain Technologies announced an expansion of their Finch Robot loan program to include libraries.  I immediately contacted them to see if school libraries were included in this opportunity or only public libraries.  They encouraged me to apply, so it didn’t take me long to put together a proposal for these robots to become a part of our makerspace for use within the curriculum as well as our exploration time.  I’m also dreaming up some fun events for hour of code in December that will involve students, teachers, and families.  These robots will of course be a part of that as well.

We are excited to start exploring suggestions for using the Finch on their site.

What exactly is a Finch?  This video explains it best in three minutes.

I can’t wait to see what students are able to accomplish with this new addition to our makerspace.  For now, here’s the official press release from BirdBrain Technologies.  I’ll share what we do when the robots arrive in August.

Finches Land at David C. Barrow Elementary

David C. Barrow Elementary has been selected to participate in the 2015­2016 Finch robot loan program. The program will provide the school free access to 12 Finch robots for the 2015-­2016 school year, allowing over 600 students, teachers, and families exposure to an engrossing and interactive tool for learning computational thinking. BirdBrain Technologies, creator of the Finch, offers the loans to inspire young coders across the country, especially those who might not ordinarily have the opportunity to program a robot. The Finch robot is a product of Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE lab. The Finch is designed to support an engaging approach to the art of computer science from preschool to college, with support for more than a dozen age­appropriate programming languages and environments. During 2014 Birdbrain Technologies loaned out hundreds of Finch robots to school districts across the country, and reached over 15,000 students.

1936 Fifth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

P: 888­371­6161 | F: 412­283­9134

info@birdbraintechnologies.com

Celebrating Our Explorer Project with the Flipgrid Team

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Today our 4th graders had the chance to Skype with Charlie Miller and the rest of the Flipgrid team in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  This was the conclusion of the explorers project that 4th grade students have worked on for the past few weeks.  As part of the project, we encouraged people around the world to watch our Flipgrid videos and vote on whether explorers were heroes or villains.

The team congratulated our students on their hard work on this project and also took questions and suggestions from students.  Several 4th graders stepped to the microphone and shared suggestions such as:

  • Extending the 90 second time limit by offering a choice of time limits
  • Allowing you to categorize your video with tags

Other students shared what they liked about Flipgrid such as:

  • the ability to watch other people’s videos before making your own
  • the like button
  • being able to film your video again if you weren’t happy with it

Since this Skype came the week after our hour of code lessons, it was also a great time to hear about how an app was developed.  It sounded like developing an app is a much longer process that developing a website because in one of the student questions we learned that the app took about 6 months to create while the website took 2 really long weekends.  We also heard how an app is never really done because you are always trying to make it better.  I loved how this connected both with our hour of code sessions but also to other areas such as writing instruction.  Students also learned about how the name Flipgrid was chosen since the videos are on a grid and they flip when you play them, but they also heard other considerations that go into a name such as web domain registration and what is actually available.

Flipgrid Skype (11)

One of the most fun parts of the Skype was the announcement of awards.  Several students received awards for Excellence in Writing, Shout-outs from authors, and Global Persuader awards.  I sent these names to the Flipgrid team and they took turns calling out student names as I handed out the certificates.  Students had fun giving silent cheers for their classmates as awards were handed out.

I also took time to share with the students the results of all of the voting that had taken place for their project.  It was interesting to see their reactions as they heard that Christopher Columbus was the only explorer voted to be a villain.

Just for fun, we closed out our Skype with a Christmas singalong of Rudolph.  Luke performed on the guitar and we belted out our best Rudolph even through the time delay on Skype.  It may not have sounded like it was together, but it was still fun.

Thank you to the entire Flipgrid team for creating a tool that has helped our student voices to reach a global audience, and thank you for taking time to celebrate with us.

Hour of Code 2014: Scenes from Day 5

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Today has been filled with 3rd grade coding.  Ms. Hicks brought her Spectrum class to start the day off, and then those same students returned with their own class later in the day.  This gave these particular students 2 hours of code, so they were able to do both the Made with Code site and then launch into making Scratch projects by following the tutorials and then branching off on their own.  I love the structure of the Made with Code site and how it builds up to the openness of a tool like Scratch.  Students seem to better understand the concept of block coding after using the structure of Made with Code.

I know that the Made with Code site was made with girls in mind, but my own wish is that the site didn’t specifically talk about girls.  So many of our boys loved the site as well, but they were a little turned off when they saw the text on the site that specifically labeled the site for girls.  As long as they didn’t read the text, they were happily coding together.

Something else happened during today’s coding sessions.  Some of the teachers gave themselves permission to sit down and code with students.  All week, teachers have walked around and had great conversations with students about perseverance, coding, failure, and innovation.  However, very few have allowed themselves to code.

Sparkly Tree

Ms. Spurgeon was bubbling with excitement today as she coded the White House Christmas tree in her favorite color of pink.  Her excitement spilled over into the students at her table as they tried some of the things she was trying and watched her try different pieces of code.

It reminded me of the importance of learning along with our students and really showed me that I probably need to explicitly invite teachers to sit and code with their classes.  I can do all of the running around, talking, and nudging, but teachers should learn along with their students and consider how coding comes into their own curriculum.

Another new thing that happened today was that some students really stuck to the Scratch tutorials without trying to branch off on their own too early.  The ones that stuck with the tutorials really got some functioning projects off the ground during their hour of work.

Several of the 3rd graders branched off from the 3 holiday projects on Made with Code and tried some of the other projects.  They loved the beat creator.

As students made beats, they were naturally starting to think about lyrics or dances to go with their beats.  Their teacher happened to be standing nearby when I observed this so I suggested that they might write a rap that connected with some of their classwork.  Then, the teacher got excited and suggested a rap about habitats in science.  It will be interesting to see if this takes off in class or not, but students were certainly interested in creating beats and putting in some work to write a song.

4th grade closed out our day with all kinds of coding.  The experience with coding was the most varied in this grade because several students had used coding in projects last year.  I showed several resources and turned them loose to see what they could do.

This year’s hour of code has been so much fun and was a big improvement over last year.  Next year, I hope to do even more.  I would love to involve families at some point.  I’ve seen several schools hosting parent coding nights, so perhaps we will look at that for next year.