code.org

Getting Started with Coding and Code.org

Coding is one of the popular buzzwords these days in education. I got started with it last year in April. I’m slowly starting to find other teachers interested in coding in my current district. Some of them have found articles in newspapers or online, and they ask me about what I do with my coding clubs. I explain each club, and what the groups do. The biggest
question I get is “What is the easiest way to get started?”

For the majority of teachers, coding is a brand new concept, and a bit scary to think about. Very few have any kind of background knowledge in the field, and yet, they are discovering that it’s starting to become integrated into education, and in some cases, even becoming law. Terms, languages, programs, where to begin?

My goal is to get teachers started without scaring them, and so my recommendation is for them to begin with Code.org, especially if they are an elementary or middle school teacher. Of course, Code.org isn’t the only program out there, but it has been the easiest for teachers use with students, and it’s free. It also has the capability to set up multiple classrooms. The big seller is the self-guided course. Teachers don’t have to come up with the curriculum, and they don’t have to know anything about coding when starting students on the self-guided course. In addition, the self-guided course also tracks all student data, and provides an answer key in case students and teachers are stumped. The courses are geared at students from kindergarten on up, so even the youngest of students can get started without having to be ableto read.

Before we get too deep into the subject, let’s look at what Code.org offers teachers. There are many Hour of Code activities. Theseactivities are meant to jump start students’ passion with coding, and can be completed in an hour or less. Code.org is even so kind as to link to other websites for Hour of Code. There are 20 hour courses to be completed, from
kindergarten on up. If you’re looking for stats on computer science and the field of computer science, you’ll find that there as well.

To get started, I do highly recommend that teachers see if a Code.org training is available in their area soon. This training gives teachers experience with both the course work and the unplugged activities that students will complete while using Code.org. The all-day training is hands-on and interactive. At the very end, you’ll go home with a bag of goodies, including a paper copy of the curriculum. Within the coming weeks, you’ll also receive a box of supplies to help with one of the courses in the program. Check here to see if there is a program available in your area!

If a training session isn’t available, teachers will need to rely on the information provided by the website. The first step then is to create an account. The sign-up process is relatively simple, and once the teacher has signed up, they have access to all of the course work and the ability to create classes and student accounts. The teacher can also work through each of the courses on their own, which I recommend, as it helps teachers help students problem solve when they are stuck.

Let’s start with what is available. For students in K-5, there are Courses 1-4, plus an Accelerated Course option. Course 1 is meant for students ages 4-6 years old, and requires very little reading experience. Courses 2-4 are meant for all other elementary students. Students begin with Course 2 and progress through to the next courses. The Accelerated Course is a combination of all of the courses, and actually the one I begin my middle school students with. Each course is estimated to take about 20 hours a piece, but this also depends on the student. I’ve had some students fly through their coursework, and others struggle.

Middle school students can complete the Accelerated Course, but their teachers have the option to use the Computer Science in Algebra or the Computer Science in Science courses. In order to do so, however, teachers are required to attend professional development first. This is where it’s tricky because if your district is not partnered with Code.org, you’ll have to have your district apply. Applications are not available year round, and applications for the 2016-2017 year are already full. CS in Algebra is made possible by Code.org and Bootstrap. Students learn algebraic and geometric concepts during the program, and work on some basic video game design in the process. Computer Science in Science is made possible by Code.org and Project GUTS. During this program, students learn about computer science with a focus on modeling and simulation. Even if your district is not yet partnered, Code.org allows anyone to check out the coursework once an account is created.

For high school teachers, two more course options are available. Once again, however, a district must be partnered with Code.org in order for teachers to attend professional development training. As with the middle school courses, teachers can explore the course work once they have an account on the website. The two courses are Exploring Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles. Each of these courses are meant to last the entire year. Both courses do require intensive training in order to get started. If your district is wanting to implement either of these courses, then begin planning the steps to become partnered with Code.org first. Once that’s done, then you can figure out your next course of action.

Code.org certainly isn’t the end all when it comes to coding in the classroom. However, if you’re an elementary or middle school teacher looking to get started quickly, have ways to track student data, and have solutions to every lesson at your fingertips, then it’s a great place to start. Once teachers are comfortable, and they feel students are ready for more
challenges, it’s very easy to branch out and seek other options. With so many being available online these days, teachers are certain to not run out of options any time soon!

PD Reflection: Coding in the Classroom

As a TIS, I do try to offer professional development to staff when I am able to do so. I do love doing technology training. What I dislike about it is the low response to technology trainings. I rarely have more than a couple people attend, and sometimes no one signs up, which is what happened with my Twitter training. It can be very discouraging. I want to share my knowledge with my district, but it is hard when others don’t feel the same. It’s why I take to the internet to “promote my brand” so to speak. Even if I cannot share my work with my district, I CAN share it with others who are seeking edtech training.

With all of that said, that brings me to today’s training. I had written the agenda to include multiple grade levels for coding, but the two people that had signed up were both kindergarten teachers. One of them couldn’t come in the end, as she’d caught the flu bug from her children. I then called the other person just to make sure they were coming, as the training was to be held at a different school, and I didn’t want to drive to the site, only to have no one show up. I normally don’t do trainings on a Friday, but for some reason, I thought the 11th was a Thursday when I filled out the paperwork for the training proposal, and by the time I realized my mistake, I already had folks signed up, so I opted to leave it be. I was actually impressed that someone wanted to come to training on a Friday!

Here is the agenda I wrote up for today’s training: Agenda

As you can see, I planned to introduce Code.org, Scratch and ScratchJr., Tynker, Lightbot, CodeAcademy, Robot Turtles, and Code Monkey Island. I did narrow it down once we got started, as I wanted to gear my training toward the needs of the kindergarten teacher attending. We spent a good amount of time on Code.org, and we browsed ScratchJr. as well. She would love to have that on the iPads whenever they do get some for the classroom. We briefly explored Tynker, which wasn’t something she was into due to the cost for anything beyond free. Lightbot was another favorite, both the website version and the app versions. We did skip Code Monkey Island and went straight to Robot Turtles. I had to refresh myself on how to play the game, but she loved the concept behind it and wanted to make sure she knew where to purchase a copy.

After we went over the training, she asked me what the easiest option from the above would be to get started with in her classroom. That was easy. Code.org has my favorite program for kindergarten students as it’s mostly self-guided, and requires just a small amount of reading. She showed me an email she’d received about a Code.org training session next month in VA, and I encouraged her to go. It’s been nearly a year since I went to one, and I loved it.

After the session, we did spend some time talking, and she lamented how she had tried to bring up coding in the classroom at a faculty meeting, but the faculty hadn’t really listened, so she didn’t even finish. I told her that I believe it’s something in the county. I’ve found that very few want to attend trainings, or share their knowledge. I can only imagine what the district would be like if more teachers presented staff development training. I know there are many teachers out there with great things to share.

Even with only one person, the session as a whole ran smoothly, and I was able to cover all of my information. I did a hands-on presentation for the most part, which I do plan to adopt into the state technology conference presentation later this year if I am accepted.

Oh and remember how I said I mistakenly made the training on a Friday? It was a blessing for that teacher because she teaches a class at the wellness center on Thursdays, and would not have been able to make it had I not messed up. Who knew?

Hour of Code

*blows the dust off of her tumblr blog*

Okay so I have really slacked once again here. It’s my own fault. I haven’t felt much of an urge to write these past few months, and I’ve been busy, too. I really just need to write a few posts at a time if I’m motivated and go that route, but then again, I’ve not been as motivated. Let’s start this first post of the new year, and the first post in many months, on a good note.

Last month was Hour of Code. I had wanted to make sure I participated in it this year, and kept an eye out for sign-up dates. I was actually able to get my entire elementary school involved, and none of the teachers had a problem jumping on board, as long as I was going to be doing most of the running the show. We decided to apply for the $10,000 technology
grant, and though we didn’t win, I was happy to see that I could get the entire staff on board. We had set up a schedule for every teacher, and I set about putting up posters in the school, getting the local newspaper involved, and setting up the activities for students.

I had really wanted a guest speaker. Unfortunately, the speakers listed on the Code.org website for our area were few and far between. If they had widened the distance search, it would have been better. However, being in a rural area is very difficult, especially when it comes to getting volunteers in this particular field. I did end up trying to contact one, but
never heard back. Thankfully, a parent, whose child I already had in my SES Coder Kids and Lego League, worked for IBM and was able to get the day off to come and speak at a whole school assembly.

Our kick-off day was on December 9th. Immediately I had issues. Our computer lab, which is a virtual lab, was down once again. I really loathe the lab for many reasons, and this is one of them. We have so many issues with these computers, and my principal is to her breaking point with them. I’m sure if she had her way she’d take them out into Rt. 50 and run them over, ha! Anyway, thankfully we had the iPad carts so I was able to commandeer both of them for use during our Hour of Code event. I alerted the teachers, and we were set to go.

At promptly 9, our kick-off begin. We got all K-5 students into the cafeteria for the presentation. I began by discussing computer science and its importance, and then our guest speaker, Michael Haines, took over. He talked about his job at IBM and some of the things IBM was currently doing to help make a difference in the world. The kids loved him, and were ready to get started.

All of my older students in 2nd – 5th grade could choose from one of 4 of the different activities on the Code.org website- Minecraft, Star Wars, Frozen, or Flappy Bird. Many students were able to complete one of the activities and start another. My kindergarten and first grade students actually did the Course 1 work instead, since it required very
little reading, and was more intuitive for them. I was very impressed with some students who took to coding like it was no big deal. So many students laterwould come up to me and tell me how much fun they had, and could they join SES Coder Kids?

I was definitely hoping to hear the latter, as I wanted to grow the club numbers some more. I had figured that many kids hadn’t joined because they weren’t really sure what SES Coder Kids was really about. Now that they’d had an hour to try their hand at coding, they wanted more. I decided that after the event I would hand out more forms.

The local paper did show up in the end, though they didn’t get back to me until the day of the event. The reporter asked me to send him some information and answer some of his questions, and then he came out to take pictures when I was working with a third grade group. It ended up being a half page article the very next week, and it was a wonderful read. You can check it out below:

Oh and remember how I said I was going to pass out forms for new members? Well I did a week after the Hour of Code event. Before I left for winter break, I had 28 students turn in forms the day after I passed them out. I was shocked and impressed. However, I was unprepared for what I’d find today when I returned to the same school. I ended up with 52 new member forms overall. I was floored. That brought our membership total to 90 students out of about 225 or so. I’m getting closer to having half of the school, and it’s
wonderful. I even had to go from having 4 groups to having 6 groups. Now I have one group per grade level. My biggest growth happened to be in the K-2nd area, which is wonderful since they’ll get to try out coding at such a young age.

I can’t wait to see what happens with my numbers up. I just hope that we don’t have too many snow days or computer outages though. I only get to go to this school 2 times a week, so I see each group once a month. I’m trying to get a parent volunteer to do at least 1 of the days I’m not there, but I’m not sure if anyone will take the bait. Fingers crossed though!

Last Friday I attended Family Science Night at the local library in town. I’d offered to help out a mom with her two boys. Since I don’t have kids of my own, I really wanted to go. Carnegie had sent a representative to set up various hands-on stations for families based around robotics. Since I’m starting a coding club at the elementary level, I was looking for any ideas that I could use with my younger kids.

I definitely found my idea.

Pictured above is Bee-Bot (found here: https://www.bee-bot.us/bee-bot/bee-bot/beebot.html). Bee-Bot is a robot that you can program to follow a particular path. Basically, input the instructions first, then press the “Go” button. Let’s say I wanted Bee-Bot to go forward and backward 2 times. I’d press the up button, then the down button, then the up button, and finally the down button. Once I was certain my code was input correctly, I’d press “Go” and watch him in action. In order to give Bee-Bot new directions, I’d press “Clear” and start again.

Bee-Bot would make a perfect addition to the board games I already have for unplugged coding. I already have Robot Turtles, Code Monkey Island, and RoboRally. Since I’m also using the Code.org curriculum with my students, there are many unplugged activities in addition to the lessons on the computer. I can see myself using Bee-Bot to teach students how solve challenges or obstacles that they face. The website does sell mats, but I can have my students design their own paths for the Bee-Bot and then see if they can input the directions for Bee-Bot to follow. They’d get quick feedback since Bee-Bot wouldn’t do the course or challenge correctly if his instructions were wrong.

Each Bee-Bot is $89.95 plus shipping, so I’m going to run a DonorsChoose campaign after school is in session. With the amount of feedback that I have gotten on beginning a coding club in the elementary school, I’m sure I can acquire the funding easily. I’m going to get two of these little guys. I have always been able to get my projects funded in the first week, and I don’t see a problem doing that again this time around, as I’ll need to collect about $125 and have that matched. I’ve already gotten PTO on board with helping as well.

If you already use Bee-Bot to teach coding skills, what are your suggestions for incorporating it into a K-5 coding club?

Code.org Training

Over the weekend I had the privilege to attend a Code.org training in Morgantown, WV. I was eager to go, as this is the curriculum I want to use with my elementary coding club next year. I’m still undecided as to whether or not I’ll use it as a starter with my middle school students. I still need to think that part through…

Anyway, it was a 9-4 training, and we covered a lot during that time. We went over the courses, and I indeed learned that they are working on some courses for middle school, and they do have some computer science programs for middle schoolers already.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the activity was the section where we did hands on unplugged activities. The unplugged activities require no computer, yet are crucial for understanding the next stages in a course that follow them. They lay the foundation for the skills that will be taught on the computer. One of the games we played had students using paper and movement to program a robot arm to move. I loved this activity because I knew I could reinforce it with my RoboRally and Robot Turtles games that I received.

I also found myself fortunate enough to run into a fellow educator from my county. She had heard about my coding club at the elementary school next year, and was eager to help me out with it if she were available. I welcomed her aboard and will utilize her help next year if she is free.

Overall, I think I’m ready to begin coding courses. The only thing left to do is to work on teaching myself to code. I’m going to start with the same programs that the students are using on Code.org, and then move on to other things. It’s something I can do off and on in my free time, and I’m glad for that!