coding

KidsCollege is a Go!

After a 5 day weekend thanks to snow days, the district finally returns to school. Based on how things look outside, you wouldn’t have ever guessed we were just off for inclement weather. First it was snow, but then it was all the leftover ice. Warm weather came through and now there’s really nothing but random piles of dirty snow.

One thing I did accomplish though was a phone conversation with PVCC about KidsCollege. It’s a program offered in the area for students. It does cost, but they attend either an AM or PM academy to learn a new skill. They are also free to attend both if their parents so choose. The activities are hands-on and in a workshop format. Instructors suggest the classes they would like to teach, and they are able to earn $487 per Academy, a little more than 16 hours a week.

I will admit, I loved the idea of being paid for teaching on a topic I loved. With a wedding coming up, I want to be able to pay off some of my bills and so I am working all 4 Academies, as long as students register for them. I don’t usually do a summer job of any kind, but this is more like being able to have fun with groups of students.

I will be doing my 4 sessions on:

  • Minecraft Makershop – Rising 6th-9th Graders. This will be very similar to the Makershop I ran last summer, except now I have things to change and take out based on how the first one went.
  • Coding Through Minecraft – Rising 6th-9th Graders. This will use the LearntoMod software. Students will learn some of the basics of blockly coding and how this code can be used to create mods for Minecraft.
  • Game Design 101 – Rising 6th – 9th Graders. This will utilize Gamestar Mechanic and incorporate many of the same elements that we have completed in the Fluco Game Designers club that I run for this age group.
  • Lil’ Minecrafters: Making and Building Exploration – Rising 1st-2nd Graders. This will be similar to my Makershop for the older students, but scaled down to meet the needs of 1st and 2nd grade students. We will do a lot more focus on building, shapes, placing shapes together, and textures.

Right now, the titles for all of the sessions are temporary and not final. I know Minecraft Makershop will stay the same, but not sure about the others. I’ll need to spend time hashing out my activity guides for each day, and I want each class to have a final project as well, since they have to have something to share on the very last day of the Academy. It will definitely be a challenge, but worth it in the end.

I am pretty excited to see how it turns out though, and depending on how I feel, may use some of the sessions for a presentation idea at WVSTC. I’m not entirely sure yet though.

 

Playing Around with Bee-Bot

Playing Around With Bee-Bot

One of my posts last year focused on a neat little robot called Bee-Bot. I had originally seen him during the local library’s STEM night and knew I wanted him for unplugged coding activities. Bee-Bot is exactly what he sounds like: a robot that looks like a bee. Bee-Bot has buttons on his back to create his programming- forward, backward, turn right, turn left, clear, pause, and go. He’s best suited for younger students in K-4, though older students could participate by designing challenges. Bee-Bot was developed by Terrapin Software.

image

Many options are available for purchasing Bee-Bot. Some are necessary, others, not so much. The basic order includes only Bee-Bot for $90. He includes a USB charger. Of course, there are options to purchase multiple Bee-Bot kits, and even an option to get a large charging base for multiple Bee-Bots. However, unless a lot of funding is available, this isn’t something to consider for quite some time.

A purchase that I consider to be necessary for Bee-Bot is the Problem-Solving with Bee-Bot curriculum. This is a great tool to utilize in addition to whatever curriculum is being
used to teach computer science basics. Young students get the hands-on experience necessary to complement their work on the computer. The curriculum includes a CD with PDF files. The PDF files are challenges for Bee-Bot users to complete. They range in difficulty levels, and each level has a variety of options to solve. This curriculum is $100, but worth the cost to the teacher, as it includes over 140 different challenges that can be printed and utilized.

Another purchase that I found necessary, though others may not, was the Bee-Bot Card Mat. It too can be pricey, and does cost another $70. One of the big reasons I recommend it is because it lays out the grid with the correct length that Bee-Bot must move forward. It’s also sturdy, and has a plastic film that any designed mats can be placed under to use.

The other options for purchase on the website I wouldn’t consider necessary, but they are useful to have. There are many different mat options already created for classroom use. There is also another curriculum created that is geared toward K-2 subject areas. Command cards were also designed for the teacher who decides that they need to utilize them. If one gets tired of Bee-Bot’s yellow and black bee design, there are Bee-signer Jackets available to purchase that can be decorated with markers or stickers.

I was lucky enough last fall to receive a small grant from a community foundation to purchase Bee-Bot, the Problem-Solving with Bee-Bot curriculum, and a card mat. I was unable to actually use Bee-Bot until this spring, however. I wanted to have my SES Coder Kids try something different, and for them to make connections between plugged and unplugged coding. I completed all of the activities with my K-4 students, as my 5th graders were wanting to continue working on their Code.org course. Some of them were close to finishing.

Our first meeting with Bee-Bot involving talking about what it was and what it could do. Students in each group were introduced to the robot, and we spent some time discussing the buttons on its back as well. I demonstrated how Bee-Bot worked, and then each Coder had a chance to program him as they wished to see what he would do. Once every Coder had had a chance, then it was time to complete some challenges on the fly. Basically, I would select a starting point for Bee-Bot, and then have two students select points- one to be an end point, and the other to be a point that Bee-Bot had to go through on the way. Coders in each group had to get him through both points, but the path they made Bee-Bot take didn’t matter. When some of the older groups got the hang of that, another through point was added to the challenge.

Our next meeting with Bee-Bot introduced the challenges from the Problem Solving with Bee-Bot curriculum. I printed off the range of Difficulty 1 challenges, and made extra copies. I then sat down with each group and we worked through the challenges. We always
completed one challenge together as a group before splitting off and working in smaller groups. Each group would work together to solve the challenge, and then report back to the mat to try out their solution. Every group was required to write their program on the challenge paper. Many times, the groups learned that their code wasn’t correct in some way, and had to return to the drawing board.

I still have one more meeting with each coding group this year before the school year ends. With the exception of my kindergarteners, the rest will most likely move on to Difficulty 2 challenges in their groups.

I’ve learned quite a few things about Bee-Bot and the students I have worked with on the challenges. There’s definitely a large developmental difference between kindergarten and the other groups. While this is an obvious thought, it’s interesting to see in action. With my kindergarteners, we did the challenges together as a group. It was very hard
for the students to distinguish left and right still, and there were some issues working out how to write down the program correctly. With some guidance, these students were able to complete the challenges set before them.

First and second grade students may still have trouble with left and right from time to time. However, they are capable of working together in small groups without the teacher providing 100% support. With these students, we would complete one of the challenges together after going over the programming code and how to write the code on the challenge paper. The students would then go off into small groups and write down how they thought the program should function. They would return to the mat when they felt their code was correct and we would test it out. If the challenge failed, then we would
discuss what went wrong, and the students would go off to their groups to see how to fix it. They would return to try again. Once a challenge was successfully completed, they would receive a new challenge to complete.

Third and fourth grade students typically did not have an issue with the beginning challenges. After reviewing similar directions with these groups, we simply went over one of the challenges pages I had kept from my kindergarten group’s meeting. We reviewed how it was solved, and how any challenge should be solved. Once finished, these students then received their challenge papers, split into groups, and off they went. Just like the first and second grade groups, they solved their challenge and then returned to the mat to try it out. If the program didn’t work correctly, then they returned to their group and redesigned the program so that it did.

Here are some ideas for using Bee-Bot:

Design a challenge: Students use the challenge layout to create their own challenges for other students. They must be able to correctly solve their own puzzle before letting other students use it. Students can trade challenges and complete.

Design a mat challenge: This is similar to the above, but slightly different. Students must design their own mat for use with Bee-Bot. It might be a mat that tells a story, or provides an obstacle course for Bee-Bot. Students must design the rules or challenges to be used with the mat.

Reverse challenge: Instead of writing the code for a design, as presented by the original challenges, students must write a program to create a particular design. Once they are certain that their program and finished design work, they give only the program code to another group. The group must input the code, and draw the resulting design.

Overall, Bee-Bot is a refreshing change of pace for students who have been working with coding on the computer. It gives them a chance to experience coding in a new way, and build problem-solving skills that will come in handy later on as they move through the grade.

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!

Proposals for WVSTC 2016

WVSTC, or the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference, is a yearly technology conference held in Morgantown, WV at the Waterfront Place Hotel. It typically happens during July. This year, it’ll be taking place July 19-21st. This so happens to be one of my favorite conferences, and thanks to Twitter, I have made many contacts with fellow colleagues in the state. The first year I attended was 2014, when I was part of the TIS Cohort. It was one of our required activities, and it was during that conference that I wondered why I’d never heard of the conference before then. For me, it was one big vacation and a chance to learn so much. In 2015, I again attended and opted to present two different sessions. One was on blogging as an educator and the other was on building a PLN.

I have been eagerly awaiting the call for proposals for 2016, and a few weeks ago the announcement was made. As soon as I saw the email, I sent in the two items I wanted to present on: Twitter and Coding.

Session Proposal #1: Twitter 101 Getting Started on Twitter as an Educator
Abstract: 

Twitter is a powerful social media tool for educators looking to expand their personal learning networks. Educators have learned to use this tool to build connections and participate with others in discussions taking place around the world. If you’re looking for a new way to connect and get involved in the world of education, this session is for you! Come join this session for a hands-on approach to joining in and changing the way you learn. Attendees will learn the basic Twitter lingo, set up their Twitter account, create their first tweets, explore hashtags, discover educator resources, edchats, and more. All attendees will leave with the resources and connections to help them jump start their educational foray into the world of Twitter. A laptop or other mobile device is required for this session.

One thing that some of my fellow Twitter colleagues and I have noticed is that there seems to be a lack of educators on Twitter in WV. When we have our biweekly #wvedchats, we often see the same faces, and our biggest participation turnout has been 31. We want to see that number grow, and that would hopefully allow for chats to be held more often like other states do. Of course, we’re always encouraging educators to think outside of the box when it comes to professional development. We want to see more involved WV educators on Twitter, and this session would be one way to do that.

This session, if accepted, will also be a feeder session for the proposal submitted by another fellow #wvedchat member. Once we get folks set up and interested in Twitter, we want to do a live session and promote more of the benefits of using Twitter as an educator. We’re hoping it’s successful in gaining the attention of other fellow WV educators, but only time will tell.

Session Proposal #2: Coding Clubs – Anyone Can Start One!
Abstract: 

Getting coding into the classroom is being encouraged more and more these days. If you don’t know much about coding though, you might feel daunted by the task. Not anymore! This session will guide you through getting a coding club started at the elementary or middle school levels. Explore coding programs for students of all ages, program a Bee-Bot, and test some coding board games meant for students from preschool to adult. You’ll leave this hands-on, interactive session with plenty of ideas and a Getting Started packet perfect for starting coding clubs at your own school. Make sure you bring a laptop or other mobile device to participate!

This particular session is one I have had in mind since before last year’s conference. In April of 2015, I attended a professional development session by Code.org on getting started with coding in the classroom. I was hooked on the idea, and had plans to begin coding clubs at both SES and CBMS the following school year. This session is going to allow me to present on how to get clubs started at other schools, and what potential materials work really well with the Code.org curriculum. I would really love to get enough space to do some hands-on demonstrations with the extra materials. I really do not want this session to be a lecture session. Coding is fun, easy to get started with, and it’s best to just jump right in and play around!

If you would like to submit a proposal for the conference, be sure to do so by April 29. The call for vendors is also up. Interested persons should go to http://wvstc.com. Currently, signups for attending the convention, as well as conference hotel fees, are unavailable. I hope to see other friendly faces there though!

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?

Coding

I’ve been preparing to set up coding clubs next year at the elementary and middle schools where I work. I’ve taken an interest in coding throughout all of my research and preparation. It’s reminded me of the time in college where I briefly wondered if I should have majored in computer science instead of education. At the time, it was just a random thought, and not one I entertained seriously. It’s been more on my mind lately though.

I know that to teach coding to the students who join the clubs that I’m going to need to know some basics. I have curriculum for both Code.org and Scratch, but that’s not going to cover me when students ask questions. I’m going to need to know some basics, as my passion for getting these students interested in coding and programming isn’t going to cut it. I need more. I need to learn myself. The surprising part of this is how much the thought excites me. Part of me wonders if this could lead to a new career path down the road, or even just some freelance work. I don’t plan on leaving the education field soon, as I need to be in the public service sector until the last of my loans are paid off in 2023. I fall under the loan forgiveness program, so all I hope is that Congress doesn’t do anything to change that particular program between now and then.

But I digress.

As I have completed more and more research, I keep thinking that this is something I want to learn myself. I want to try it out and see what I can do with it. There’s nothing to stop me from learning except myself and whatever fears I could come up with. Last year I took guitar for the first time in my life. Before that, I had never played an instrument in my life, not even recorder as a kid in music class. I knew nothing about reading music (still don’t, since my teacher uses a modified Suzuki method). It was an interesting year. Learning guitar wasn’t easy, and yet, I kept at it. At first, it seemed like I’d never learn Amazing Grace or Country Roads. Yet, I did. Or at least, decently learned to play them both. I love playing, though I don’t always practice enough. It’s a slow skill to acquire, and I keep working at it. Now I’m finally able to start learning the songs I want to learn instead of the beginner ones that were set up to get me started.

I feel that coding will be the same way in a sense. It’s going to be harder at first. There’s a lot to learn and read over. There’s a lot of beginner stuff to move through before I can hope to do anything more difficult. On top of all that, there are so many languages to choose from, each with their own difficulties. I’m gonna struggle and it’s gonna feel like failure at times, but I can do it.

I know I’ll be working on basic Java when I’m with the students, and I’ll be doing the Code.org curriculum this summer to begin preparing for using it with them. Even my middle schoolers will start with that curriculum before we move onto Scratch. I wanted to do something different for myself though. I don’t know why. I may have just wanted a different challenge. At any rate though, I decided to learn Python. It’s supposed to be pretty easy to learn overall, and a bit easier than other programming languages.

I’ve picked up the book Python for Kids and have started studying that. I understand the first bits of it with the order of operations. I want to work through this book, and I’m also considering taking a course on Python through Coursera. The one I was looking at gets good reviews, and I think it would be a fun course to take. Hey, it’s free, and if I want to get better, I can use all the help I can get. It’s exciting to think about learning how to code and program. It’s scary too, but it’s good to keep on pushing forward and learning something new. I never want to feel as though I’m stagnating as an adult. Just because I have my degrees does not mean I’m ever done learning, nor am I too old. I just have to keep pushing forward.