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Critical thinking

How to Talk to a Tech Teacher

There’s always been something mystical about people in technical professions–engineering, science, mathematics. They talk animatedly about plate tectonics, debate the structure of mathematical functions, even smile at the mention of calculus. The teaching profession has their own version of these individuals, called ‘technology teachers’. They used to be stuffed in a corner of the school where most teachers could pretend they didn’t exist, that what they did was for ‘some other educator in an alternate dimension’.

That all changed when technology swept across the academic landscape like a firestorm:

  • iPads became the device of choice in the classroom
  • Class screens became more norm than abnorm(al)
  • Technology in the classroom changed from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’
  • 1:1 became a realistic goal
  • Students researched online as often as in the library
  • Students began spending as much time in a digital neighborhood as their home town
  • Textbooks morphed into resources rather than bibles

Today, teachers who don’t use technology are an endangered species. Often, they’re too young to retire, so they get a digital map from a colleague to that place where they’ve been told they’ll find help–from a person variously called the ‘tech teacher’, ‘integration specialist’, or ‘tech coordinator’.

As they enter the room, they figure the person they’re looking for must be the one who looks up as they enter, fingers flying across the keyboard, never pausing and never slowing even as she smiles and says, ‘Hi!’.

Before you ask your question, I have a short list of signs that will help you have a more positive experience when you confront this big-brained Sheldon-look-like:

  • You can’t scare them (in fact, even Admin and politics don’t frighten them). They’re techies. Try kindness instead.
  • Patience and tech are oxymorons. Know that going in.
  • Bring food. Techies often forget to eat, or ate everything in their snack stash and need more.
  • Some days, tech looks a lot like work. Distract them with an interesting problem.
  • Start the encounter with a discussion on Dr. Who, Minecraft, or Big Bang Theory. Find a clever tie-in to your topic.
  • Understand that tech teachers often think trying to teach teachers to tech is like solving the Riemann Hypothesis (many consider it impossible). Bone up on basics before the Meeting.
  • Life after the 100th crashed computer is what Oprah might call a life-defining moment. If that just happened as you walked through the door, turn around and come back another time.
  • Understanding a techie who’s in the zone is like understanding the meaning of life. Again–leave the room; come back later.

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Categories: Critical thinking, Geeks, Humor, Teaching | 2 Comments

4 Unplugged Activities for Hour of Code

Hour of Code is a time when teachers show students why they should love-not-fear coding and students find out that these activities — often seen as geeky or impossible — aren’t. They’re actually fun.

Every year in preparation for December, I post lots of coding activities that students can complete with their computers, on the Internet, or using iPads, but this year, I want to do something different. Let’s go back to the roots of coding. The idea started as a clever way to teach students to think critically and problem-solve. The easiest way was to gamify coding, put students on a digital device they loved, and set them free. One hour, according to Hour of Code, would show them that deep thinking was fun and problem-solving was exhilarating.

I happen to agree. Some of my most gratifying moments are when I accomplish the impossible, unravel a Mobius Strip-like problem, or force myself to do what I’ve never before done. Hour of Code does that every year for oh many students. But here’s my issue: Too often, kids forget that the goal is to practice critical thinking and problem solving, not pursue a career in programming.

This year, I want to reinforce that goal by stepping away from technology. I want students to recognize that these skills — critical thinking and problem-solving — apply to any part of life, even without a computer, iPad, or smartphone in hand. All kids need is their brain which happily, every child carries with them.

Here are some of my favorite unplugged activities:

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Categories: Critical thinking | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Websites for Hour of Code by Grade

This December will again host the Hour of Code, a one-hour introduction to programming designed to demystify the subject and show that anyone can be a maker, a creator, and an innovator. Last year, almost 300,000 students (age 4-104) participated from over 180 countries and wrote almost 20 billion lines of code. The 200,000+ teachers involved came away believing that, of all their education tools, coding was the best at teaching children to think. It’s easy to see why when you look at fundamental programming concepts:

hour of code

  • abstraction and symbolism – variables are common in math, but also in education. Tools, toolbars, icons, images all represent something bigger
  • creativity – think outside the box
  • if-then thinking – actions have consequences
  • debugging – write-edit-rewrite; try, fail, try again. When you make a mistake, don’t give up or call an expert. Look at what happened and fix where it went wrong.
  • logic – go through a problem from A to Z
  • sequencing – know what happens when

If you’re planning to participate in Hour of Code, here are a series of activities — broken down by grade — that will kickstart your effort. They can be done individually or in small groups.

(more…)

Categories: Critical thinking, Problem solving | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Hour of Code 101

December 9-15th, 2019, Computer Science Education will host the Hour Of Code–a one-hour introduction to students on coding, programming, and why they should love it, designed to demystify “code” and show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, and an innovator. This year’s theme:

Computer Science for Good #CSforGood

Coding–that mystical geeky subject that confounds students and teachers alike.  It feels like:

When it should feel like:

(more…)

Categories: Critical thinking, Problem solving | Tags: , | Leave a comment

10 Unusual Projects for Hour of Code

Coding–that geeky subject that confounds students and frightens teachers. Yet, kids who can code are better at logical thinking and problem solving, more independent and self-assured, and more likely to find a job when they graduate. In fact, according to Computer Science Educationby 2020, there will be 1.4 million coding jobs and only 400,000 applicants.

December 3-9, 2018, Computer Science Education will host the Hour Of Code–a one-hour introduction to coding, programming, and why students should love it. It’s designed to show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, and an innovator. Here are ten unusual projects (each, about one hour in length) you can use in your classroom to participate in this wildly popular event:

  1. Alt Codes
  2. Animation
  3. Coding with pixel art
  4. Human robot
  5. Human algorithm
  6. IFTTT
  7. Macros
  8. QR codes
  9. Shortkeys
  10. Wolfram Alpha widgets

(more…)

Categories: Critical thinking | Tags: , | Leave a comment

What to do when you lose a digital document

can't find my fileWith classwork and homework now heavily digital, the days of “the dog ate my homework” are gone. It’s simple to track, isn’t it? It’s right on the student’s LMS account or in their digital portfolio, somewhere in the cloud.

Maybe. But the latest excuses are even more frightening — “Someone stole it from my digital file” or “The cloud ate it”. Every adult I know (myself included) has lost a critical, time-sucking digital file. It was saved wrong or got corrupted or simply vanished. The reason doesn’t matter. All that matters is that a week’s worth of work is now forever-gone.

Saving work correctly on a digital device isn’t as easy as it sounds. There’s a learning curve to knowing where to save, how to do that correctly, and then ultimately how to retrieve it. It can be especially complicated for students who use a different digital device at home than the one they use at school. Sure, it’s pretty easy if saved to a school-centric cloud account (like Google or One Drive) but that’s not always the case. If students use an online webtool, their work could be saved in that webtool’s server or as a link rather than a file.

Most kids learn how to properly save/retrieve digital files by suffering a painful experience. Before that happens, teach them this first place to look when save fails and they must search for it:

  • Go to the digital device’s general Search field. This will find the file if it’s on that digital device or any drive connected to it.
  • Search for the exact name or whatever part of the name is known. If you’ve taught students to always include their last name in a filename, they will now thank you!
  • If they don’t know the file name but do know the file extension (maybe it was created in Google Docs or Excel), search for that using the general search term: *.[extension]. In this case, * is a general search term and replaces the file name. If they don’t even have that much information, look down this page under “When did you create the file?” for help.

I start students saving their own files and understanding what that means as soon as they create work on a digital device they want to be able to find at a later date. I start very (very) simply and scaffold year to year. When they can’t find a project, here are six questions they can ask themselves:

A note before starting: Don’t answer these for students. Let them experience the thrill of critically thinking through how to solve this problem successfully.

Where did you save it?

Most programs have a default location where files are saved. This may be preset by the school (or parents) or it may be the system default. Where is that? If the student doesn’t know, this is a good time to have them ask that question.

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Categories: Critical thinking, Tech tips | Leave a comment

Fake News or Fact? How do you tell?

fake newsKeeping up with national and international events was a lot easier when all the news came from one of three major TV news outlets and a few newspapers like The New York Times. Now, there are dozens of channels, hundreds of newspapers, thousands of bloggers, and tens of thousands of social media journalists — all trying to get your attention with the latest apocalyptic news flash. Stories based on gossip as much as fact used to be designated Yellow Journalism. Now, in what has been called a post-truth society (defined by Oxford Dictionary as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”), it is the reader’s responsibility to differentiate between fact and fake news.

What is fake news?

Here are two definitions of fake news:

“false stories that appear to be news, spread on the Internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke” — Cambridge English Dictionary

“a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.” — Wikipedia

In layspeak:

“Fake news is information reported as fact without reliable evidence, trustworthy sources, and/or proper vetting” — Jacqui Murray

Sounds like something every thinking person would want to avoid but a recent Stanford Graduate School of Education report shows that 80-90% of high school students had difficulty judging the credibility of news. So how do we teach students to know the difference?

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Categories: Critical thinking, News | 1 Comment

Hour of Code Lesson Plans by Grade

hour of codeThis December will again host the Hour of Code, a one-hour introduction to programming designed to demystify the subject and show that anyone can be a maker, a creator, and an innovator. Last year, almost 300,000 students (age 4-104) participated from over 180 countries and wrote almost 20 billion lines of code. The 200,000+ teachers involved came away believing that, of all their education tools, coding was the best at teaching children to think. It’s easy to see why when you look at fundamental programming concepts:

  • abstraction and symbolism – variables are common in math, but also in education. Tools, toolbars, icons, images all represent something bigger
  • creativity – think outside the box
  • if-then thinking – actions have consequences
  • debugging – write-edit-rewrite; try, fail, try again. When you make a mistake, don’t give up or call an expert. Fix it.
  • logic – go through a problem from A to Z
  • sequencing – know what happens when

If you’re planning to participate in Hour of Code, here are activities by grade that will kickstart your effort. They can be done individually or in small groups.

(more…)

Categories: 1st, 2nd, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, Critical thinking, High School, Lesson plans, Problem solving | Tags: | Leave a comment

10 Unusual Projects for Hour of Code

Coding–that geeky subject that confounds students and frightens teachers. Yet, kids who can code are better at logical thinking and problem solving, more independent and self-assured, and more likely to find a job when they graduate. In fact, according to Computer Science Educationby 2020, there will be 1.4 million coding jobs and only 400,000 applicants.

December 3-9, 2018, Computer Science Education will host the Hour Of Code–a one-hour introduction to coding, programming, and why students should love it. It’s designed to show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, and an innovator. Here are ten unusual projects (each, about one hour in length) you can use in your classroom to participate in this wildly popular event:

  1. Alt Codes
  2. Animation
  3. Coding with pixel art
  4. Human robot
  5. Human algorithm
  6. IFTTT
  7. Macros
  8. QR codes
  9. Shortkeys
  10. Wolfram Alpha widgets

(more…)

Categories: Critical thinking | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Hour of Code 101

December 3-9th, 2018, Computer Science Education will host the Hour Of Code–a one-hour introduction to students on coding, programming, and why they should love it, designed to demystify “code” and show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, and an innovator. Throughout participating websites, you’ll find a variety of self-guided tutorials that say “anybody can do, on a browser, tablet, or smartphone”. You’ll even find unplugged tutorials for classrooms without computers. No experience needed.

Coding–that mystical geeky subject that confounds students and teachers alike. Confess, when you think of coding, you see:

coding

 

…when you should see

coding

It feels like:

When it should feel like:

Computer Science Education will host the Hour Of Code–a one-hour introduction to coding, programming, and why students should love it. It’s designed to demystify “code” and show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, and an innovator. If you’re not sold 100% on the importance of computer science in a student’s future, watch this video:

(more…)

Categories: Critical thinking, Problem solving | Tags: , | Leave a comment