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Tagged With: Coding-Programming

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

Hour of Code: How Students Can Build Their Own Apps

In my high school teacher forums, as part of the discussion on preparing kids for college and career, we talk a lot about the huge shortfall in applicants for a growing list of tech jobs. Despite robust pay, excellent work conditions, and the value they place on creativity, jobs sit open. How do we get kids excited about careers that traditionally sound boring and math-oriented? Websites like Code.org have a great approach to making coding accessible to all kids but still, too few students think they are smart enough to do these jobs.

Time to reveal a secret I learned over the years. When I let students play Minecraft, Scratch, or a handful of other top-notch games, they eagerly — even happily — complete the programming and coding parts without ever considering it “math” or “smart”. I’ve seen them spend hours building a virtual world exactly the way they want it without getting bored or distracted.

By High School, the choice between college and career is foremost with life-changing consequences based on what the student decides. Often the choice depends upon the student’s goals. This topic could fill volumes but today, I want to focus on the job of building apps. App Developer is listed as number three on ThinkAdvisor’s list of the best jobs of the future, with a projected growth of 57% through 2020 (according to the BLS). There aren’t a lot of jobs where people can make money doing what they love.

Aside from future jobs, there are great reasons why even kids who want to become doctors or lawyers (or farmers) would benefit from learning the lesson of app building:

  • Apps teach real-world skills like design, marketing, video production, project management, presentation skills, and special media use.
  • The app building process requires creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and problem-solving — all fundamental to success in lots of jobs.
  • Good app developers are collaborators, willing to work with others to ensure the app is accomplished on time and according to specs.
  • Good app developers are decision makers, not afraid to be risk-takers in building something no one has done before.

As I dug into the background of “app building” to prepare this article, I found that it doesn’t just refer to the little buttons you click to see about today’s weather or add numbers or find your friends (well, find their phones). App developers are the first ones who try out the latest trendy devices. Wouldn’t you love to experiment with 5G on your smartphone or play with Samsung’s foldable phone? Or how about wearable devices like the embedded chips intended to replace employee cards? An app developer used all of these before they ever went on sale. App developers can work for software companies, retailers, in healthcare, in the travel industry, for the entertainment industry, or in financial services. CNN Money has called “app developer” the best job in America.

Once you’ve explained to students what it really means to be on the cutting edge of the high-tech world, let them try one (or more) of these six great app creation tools:

  • App Inventor (from MIT)
  • Code HS (an app building curriculum)
  • Glide (how to create apps from spreadsheets)
  • MAD-learn (a beginning to end app development program for K-12)
  • Thunkable (a curriculum)
  • TinyTap (geared for teachers but fine for the right student group)

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Categories: High School, Problem solving, Web Tools | 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.

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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:

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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

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

Looking for a Class Robot? Try Robo Wunderkind

There are a lot of options if you want to bring programmable robots to your classroom. One I discovered this summer and have fallen in love with is Sunburst’s Robo Wunderkind. It is a build-a-robot kit designed to introduce children ages six and up to coding and robotics as well as the fun of problem-solving and creative thinking. The robot starts in about thirty pieces (there are so many, I didn’t really count them). You don’t use all of them in one robot, just pick those that will make your robot do what you want. The completed robot can move around on wheels, make sounds, light up like a flashlight, sense distance and movement, twist and turn, follow a maze, or whatever else your imagination can conjure up.

But don’t be confused. The goal of this kit is as much about building the robot as having fun exploring, experimenting, and tinkering.

What is Robo Wunderkind

Robo Wunderkind is an award-winning robotics kit that lets young children build an interactive robot and then program it to do what they want. It can be used at home, in school, or as an extracurricular tool for teaching STEAM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). The box includes a bunch of color-coded parts, a few instructions, and a whole lot of excitement. The builder’s job is to connect the pieces into the robot of their dreams, program it to do what they need, and then start over.

Fair warning: This robot doesn’t look like the famous humanoid robots of literature–C3PO or Marvin the Paranoid Android (from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), with arms, legs, and a head. It’s more like something you might construct from Lego Mindstorm though easier to set up, build, program, operate, and decode. I’ve used both and hands down would start my younger students with Robo Wunderkind. I agree with Tech Crunch when they say:

“You won’t build a robot as sophisticated as a robot built using Lego Mindstorms. But Robo Wunderkind seems more accessible and a good way to try robotics before switching to Arduino and Raspberry Pi when your kid grows up.

How to get started

If I were to rate myself with robotics, I might be closer to a 5 than a 10. I approach the task of building my own with a small degree of trepidation. I tell you this because, if I can build a robot with this system, any six-year-old (and up) can.

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Wonder Workshop’s Amazing Dash

Education has many disruptors–3D Printing, AR and VR, 1:1 technology, STEM, and STEAM–but a recent and wildly popular one is robotics. These automated humanoid bots often interact with users, require critical thinking and problem-solving, and grab the imagination of students in ways that makes everyone want to learn. One I discovered this summer is Wonder Workshop’s collection of three robotsCue, Dash, and Dot. I’d love to review all of them but that post would be way too long so today, I’ll focus on my current favorite: Dash.

Before I dig into Dash, let me tell you about his creator, Wonder Workshop.

What is Wonder Workshop?

Wonder Workshop is a STEM-based interactive early learning experience that introduces coding to K-5 learners and provides everything teachers require to teach coding and robotics (see below under How to Use Dash in Your Classroom). Every day, classrooms around the world demonstrate the collaboration and hands-on learning that the Wonder Workshop robots–Dash, Dot, and Cue–inspire in students. Through these robots, students learn what to many is intimidating and abstract and impossible to learn: coding,

What is Dash?

Dash is a squatty, friendly critter designed for ages six and up. It is a pyramid of spheres on wheels with a head that turns, a voice that responds to you, lights that flash, and sensors that interact with the environment. He is charged via USB and programmed via an app (iOS or Android) to move, spin circles, dance, sing, draw, or any number of other actions. It all depends upon what its child handler wants it to do.

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Kid-created Games That Teach

gamification of learning

It’s discouraging to all stakeholders that annually, about 1.2 million students fail to graduate from high school. And “Pathways to Prosperity” reports that just 56% of college attendees complete a degree. Fingers point all directions but nothing changes the stark truth: Something causes kids to hate learning so much that they’d rather face their future without the knowledge or skills to do so successfully.

Solutions to this problem abound but one of the most popular with K-16 educators — because it works — is to gamify learning. Wikipedia defines “gamification” as:

“an educational approach to motivate students to learn by using video game design and game elements in learning environments. The goal is to maximize enjoyment and engagement through capturing the interest of learners and inspiring them to continue learning.”

Games remind kids of days when they chose their own seats, worked at their own pace, and responded to their own interests. Through childhood games, they learned social skills, problem-solving, sequencing, and a whole bunch more while they thought they were doing a puzzle, building blocks, or playing dodgeball.

Fast forward to formal schooling. As early as Kindergarten, kids are stuck into classrooms where play is replaced with rote drills, repetition, and growing boredom. It’s taken the experts decades but finally, the value of applying gameplaying characteristics to learning is being recognized as a formidable approach. I’ve written much about the use of games and simulations but today, I want to focus on the student as maker, where they create the game, troubleshoot problems, and refine the end result — exactly the traits valued by coding and programming.

Here are some of my favorite game creation tools for students:

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Categories: Games/Simulations, Reviews | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Why Should Students Learn Computer Science? A Teacher’s Perspective

If you participated in December’s Hour of Code, you may have come to realize the importance of Computer Science to students.  Greg Beutler is the Director of Techscool.org, a school devoted to teaching kids this fundamental skill through the lens of robotics, coding, competitions, and more. The school’s tagline is Learn to code; Code to learn. Pretty pithy.

Here’s Greg’s informed perspective on this question:

Beyond job opportunities, why should all K-12 students learn about computer science?

tech educationComputer Science is an important subject for all students because it teaches you how to think. The act of writing a computer program requires you to think about how to create sequences which are step by step procedures on how to solve a given problem.  CS also teaches the student, what sequences are run, what sequences should run if that sequence fails. CS teaches the student how to present that failure or success of that operation to the user via a GUI, and how the GUI should look and what the next outcome should be of the interactions between the user, the software and the computing device. Computer Science is an integrative subject, not siloed like other subjects taught at school.

Starting children early is best. To illustrate this I’ll use my favorite analogy, which is the baseball analogy. Both the little leaguer and a major leaguer perform the same operations, they catch a ball, throw a ball and hit a ball. But the major leaguer is much more talented and skilled. They have done all of those actions thousands of times in practice and games. They have honed their skill to a very great extent with competition and practice. They have a keen understanding of the game, the rules, and the winning strategies. They know where to hit the ball against a particular team in a particular situation. They know where to throw the ball in a particular situation. They can anticipate the actions of their teammates and opponents and react accordingly. Starting children early
gives them a wide arena of problems and problem-solving skills. The same applies to computer science. At a young age we can solve simple problems such as sorting different colored beads into different cups, then when we are older we can solve more complex problems such as writing a program using sorting algorithms for all sorts of items; including colored beads., which is called abstraction.

Here are the top five skills that most successful computer science students possess.

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Categories: High School, Spotlight | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Root Robotics–Great Way to Extend Hour of Code

Now that you’ve engaged your students with awesome Hour of Code fun, I’m thrilled to introduce the incredible Root Robotics for going far beyond the hour! Root’s a versatile, engaging robotics and coding program that grows with students from pre-K up through grade 12. Root comes to us from our friends at Sunburst Digital – who provide engaging STEAM and SafeSchools programs for schools.

This holiday season, you can enter to win a $100 credit applied to a purchase of Root or ANY OTHER STEAM solution from Sunburst here! Sunburst wants to hear about the innovative ways you’ve engaged your students with Hour of Code – share a few lines about your activities, and you’ll be entered to win! Learn more and fill out your entry form here.

Created by learning and robotics experts at Harvard University, Root is a hexagonal-shaped robot that climbs whiteboards and traverses tables. Learners can program Root to move, turn, draw, erase, scan colors, play music, light up, sense touches, feel bumps, detect magnetic surfaces, perceive light, and respond to sensors in a phone or tablet.

Root’s design enables whole class instruction and project-based learning in groups. In addition to exciting, easy-to-implement lessons that teachers can deliver on the classroom whiteboard, each Root comes with a foldable whiteboard mat, perfect for groups to use anywhere.  

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Categories: Web Tools | Tags: , , | 2 Comments