computer science

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!