Celebrating Hour of Code 2016

We work on age-appropriate coding activities throughout the year. What I love about Hour of Code is that it’s an excellent way to bring in new and/or different ideas that the students and their teachers haven’t experienced before. Unfortunately, Hour of Code always falls during the week our students are practicing for the annual Holiday Program. That means I have to get rather creative in scheduling times for classes to visit the lab. This year I tried something different – I set up a signup sheet using SignUpGenius. Since we have teachers with a large span of technology skills, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I’d get. It worked great! Out of 15 K-4 classes, all but 3 signed up for at least one 20 minute slot. Most signed up for two or more sessions!

Thanks to fantastic Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, I was thrilled to add 4 Ollie robots and 3 additional Osmo Coding games to the mix this year!

Here’s a quick peek at some of our activities:

Osmo Coding – First and second grade classes started with this. Having only 5 Osmos, I was a bit concerned that students would have a hard time taking turns. No problem at all! I loved walking around, listening to the children talk through how to guide Awbie through mazes to eat strawberries! One of the best comments came from a teacher as she logged into SignUpGenius, “Okay, this is SO much fun. Can I please sign up for another time?” YES!! Exactly what I wanted to hear!

Tickle App – This is what I used for the third graders’ first lesson (hoping that their teachers would sign up for an additional time – they did!). Students used the time to explore how to make the Swimming Orca move in different directions, change looks, make sounds, etc. This was all in preparation for using this app to code Ollie’s movements.

Ollie – The challenge presented to the third graders was to program the Tickle app to move around the perimeter of the table by traveling on the floor. This was harder than it seems and 20 minutes is most definitely NOT a lot of time to find a solution! After one session, one of the teachers remarked, “We didn’t have anyone achieve this but I know the kids can figure it out. May we please come back again?” Another comment came from a second grade teacher. “I want to sign up again and I want my class to do whatever you’re doing with those cylinder things.”

Looking back, I wish I’d ordered Sphero or SPRK+ because they move slower and that makes them easier to control. Ollie is FAST! Unfortunately, the other two were too expensive for my budget – another time! I did put a speed limit on Ollie of 50%. Most groups actually found that a 30% or slower speed worked even better. That was certainly better than having 4 Ollies zooming around the room running into walls, chairs, tables, and people! It wasn’t quiet but there was much problem-solving occurring as students tested, adjusted, and retested to make Ollie go completely around a table.

The group above was thrilled to receive a response from the Tickle app creators regarding their success with getting Ollie all the way around the table!

Ozobots – A first grade class came to the lab, ready to do Osmo coding. Wouldn’t you know it? The internet went down as soon as the students tried to get onto Osmo! The Ozobots were quickly pulled out as I explained how they worked. I’d already made copies of Ozobot Basic Training 1 so we were ready to go! For a quick switch in plans, the little ones did great and quickly learned how to combine color combinations to program their Ozobot.

A third grade class, returning for their third time, worked with Ozobot Basic Training 2 where they learned how to control Ozobot with directional commands. I love this photo of the girl taking a picture of the Ozobot codes so that she and her friend could continue working on the challenge at home!

Code.org – I love this site; such a helpful curriculum for all ages! I have all K-4 students signed up in Code Studio so that I can keep track of their progress. For younger students, we stayed with Code Studio; starting with an off-line activity where students were introduced to vocabulary and then moved figures from one block to another using the white board. Older students had their choice of some of Code.org’s activities specifically designed for Hour of Code.

Scratch Programming – Fourth graders were set up in Scratch and presented with a Nine Block Challenge. Although some of the students use Scratch at home, we hadn’t done anything with it at school. Basically, this lesson was designed to expose students to the program and allow them time to experiment with a few blocks at a time.

This is not the end of our coding experiences; just the beginning. It was rewarding to watch the excitement exhibited by students as they worked through challenges. Was it easy? No!! And, we discussed how people who create programs for the computer rarely “get it right” the very first time. Failing, not getting it is JUST FINE! We still learn from what doesn’t work! That’s the power of coding/computational thinking activities!

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Loving Our Heritage!

As our second graders learn about the Thanksgiving story, they read Molly’s Pilgrim, a wonderful story that illustrates a pilgrim is anyone who emigrates from another country. The students even dress paper dolls in the native costume of the country from which they came, whether it be recently or years past.

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In addition, students bring in photos of relatives to create a wonderful Heritage video/ePub book complete with narration of their family history!

We use Book Creator, which is a user-friendly app that allows students to add text, photos, narration, background, and so much more. And, the final product can be saved as an ePub book to be read in iBooks or as a video that can be viewed on any device. This is our second year using Book Creator for this project and I am SO glad we changed! Prior to this, students did a tiny part of the project but the teacher had to do the majority of the work. I’m a firm believer that students need to “own” their work and Book Creator does just that!

The children brought in photos and they used their iPads to take “photos of the photos” (they thought that was quite funny!). In this step, they learned how to make sure there was no glare, the image was in focus, and how to crop.

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The next step was to add the photos to their book. I set up the books in Book Creator prior to this only to save time but students could certainly do this step. We added title and conclusion pages. Selfies were taken for the cover. Background colors were added. Fonts were changed.

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Next step: importing the photos. The students used their scripts and actual photos to help with this process. A huge help was that parents labeled the backs of photos which made it much easier for the children to place their images. Remember, many of these photos are of great-great-great grandparents and students don’t tend to recognize relatives that far back! I love how the two girls in the photo below worked together to make sure each image was on the correct page; one checked the script while the other added the picture!

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We had a wonderful group of parents who volunteered to help students record. Since we were trying to have as little background noise as possible, finding a quiet place in a school can be a challenge! These parents worked tirelessly to accomplish that.

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The students then listened to their project, making sure every aspect was just how they wanted it. The project was saved two ways: as an ePub book to be read in iBooks and as a video.

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I then uploaded everything and linked them on my teaching website, TVS TechnoWizards. Since last names are mentioned, these are behind a password-protected page. Here are a couple of samples pages in the book:

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The students even blogged about what they had learned about their heritage.

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We can’t wait to share our projects this Friday for Grandparents’ Day!

Making Predictions!

drawing-pad-appDrawing apps, literature, and predicting are a fantastic combination! The first graders were introduced to the Drawing Pad app ($1.99 but any drawing app would work) in an earlier meeting so that they had time to experiment with all the tools.

fullsizerenderThis week we added a new component: predicting what will happen in a story using the clues the author/illustrator provides. The book we read is an old one but the children really enjoy it – The Dark at the Top of the Stairs by Sam McBratney. The story is about three young mice, living in a cellar, who want to explore what is at the top of the stairs.

To begin the lesson, I reviewed the tools in the app; including how to save. Then I read the first couple of pages to grab their interest. As I continued to read, the children were asked to open their iPad and start drawing what they predicted the mice would find at the top of the stairs. Just as the we reached the point where the door to the cellar opened, revealing what was at the top, I closed the book and let the students complete their drawings. You could have heard a pin drop!

The children were asked to write their name along with their prediction (most remembered!) and then they saved their work to the camera roll. The first ones finished were shown how to air drop the images to my iPad and then they were to help others. We had quite a workflow going with lots of fabulous helpers!

Here’s a peek at their predictions!

Blogging with a Twist

img_6687Although our students have been blogging since first grade, I always like to have the fourth graders start off with a paper blogging activity. After working with this age over a number of years, I’ve discovered that many become lax in their posts and comments; submitting writing that isn’t their best!

The paper blogging idea is not my own but comes from a post entitled, Workshop Activity: Paper Blogs, by Leonard Low. He used it with teachers to show that blogging is a “powerful strategy for empowering and engaging learners.”

Usually, the paper blogging takes two 40-minute sessions but I only had the students for one 30 minute class so it was a challenge to fit everything in, but we did it! We began with a quick review of what is okay to share and what should be kept private.

From the time we began blogging in first grade, I’ve discussed penny vs dollar comments/posts so the children can quickly tell me that just as a penny is worth hardly anything, penny writing is just as worthless. A penny comment might be only one word. Or it could be something like “great” or “wow” – words that don’t really tell anything to the writer. Penny posts lack detail or don’t make sense. Dollar posts paint a picture for the reader; adding details that help the reader make connections. Dollar comments ask questions, make specific compliments, keep the conversation going.

Using the food idea from Mr. Low’s post, I asked the students to think about their favorite food. What was it? Where was the best place to get it (home, restaurant)? What made it so special? I gave them 10 minutes to write and most were able to finish.

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We then discussed tags. Everyone could tag this as “food” and then they could add additional tags.

The next step was commenting. Each student had 3 sticky notes. They were to move around the room till I told them to stop. Once at that spot, they were to read the post then write a comment on the sticky note.

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Normally, we’d have time for 4 or 5 comments but with our shortened class period, two was the limit. The third sticky note was for each student to return to their post to respond to one of their comments.

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An important part of the lesson is to discuss the quality of comments. I asked for volunteers to share what they considered to be “dollar” comments. And, there were many! We then moved on to “penny” comments with the rule that no names should be shared. As this was discussed, we also brainstormed how to transform a penny comment to a dollar one.

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I’m eager to see if the quality seen in the paper blogging transfers to our online blogs next week!

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“Just Right” Sites

The Common Sense Media Education website has a wealth of information for teachers (and parents) from digital citizenship to app evaluation and much more.

Our first graders recently discussed Going Places Safely on the Internet. The lesson includes a short video designed for grades K-2 along with a detailed lesson plan.

When the students arrived, I asked what they would do if they wanted to go some place. “We would ask our parents or our teacher!”  I next asked what they would do if they wanted to go on the internet. Most said they would need to ask permission to do that.

We watched the video then I told the students we would be taking some “field trips” to visit  online places far away from our school.

I chose to make some changes from the suggested sites in the lesson plan. Here are the ones used for this year.

These are linked here on my teaching website.

The children were asked to explore the sites for a few minutes. Then they would need to decide what their favorite “field trip” was so that they could illustrate it. The students enjoyed visiting the faraway places but the takeaway was the importance of always being safe online. This lesson is an excellent way to make connections in that, just as we practice safety in the real world, we also need to do so when we are online.

Safety Rules to Follow When Going Online:

  • Always ask your parent or teacher first.
  • Only talk to people you know.
  • Stick to places that are just right for you!

Here’s a quick look at the students exploring the sites and choosing their favorite place to visit. 

Design Thinking + Dot Day = Thoughtful Creation

After attending a Design Thinking workshop this summer (see previous post), I thought a perfect way to weave this into the curriculum would be an International Dot Day activity.

the dotBased on the book, The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds, the story tells about a young girl (Vashti) who thinks she can’t draw. Her art teacher tells her to “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.” Vashti jabs the paper with a dot and then signs her name as requested by her teacher. As the story moves on, Vashti discovered that she really can be creative. And, as a little boy looks at all her paintings, she encourages him just as her teacher encouraged her. International Dot Day, celebrated September 15th-ish, is a day to help children (and adults) focus on how to “make their mark.”

Enter Design Thinking! The empathy part of the process is what grabbed me so here is what we did.

design-thinking-dot-activityEach student received a design-thinking-dot-activity sheet with a large circle drawn on it. The dot is drawn off-center to allow for jotting notes. The children were told to choose a partner who was not their best friend – I wanted them to learn something new about someone they didn’t know quite as well.

final-version-alternateHaving recently read Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring out the Maker in Every Student, by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani, I decided to use the posters provided at their website. The authors have taken the design thinking process and made it into an easy-to-understand format for younger children.

I started the lesson by telling students that I’d taken care of the “L” for them.

  • L – Look, Listen, and Learn:  This is looking for a something to create, fix, make better . . . The problem the students had to solve was to create a dot that told about their partner.
  • A – Ask tons of questions: We brainstormed a few questions that students could ask their partner such as, “What are your favorite foods, colors, sports? What places to you like to visit?” Students were given 2 minutes each to ask questions. They were to jot down answers in the space next to their circle. What was funny is that every time the timer went off, you could hear the groans – “That was too fast!” “I’m not finished!” I assured them they would get another chance.

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  • U – Understand the problem or process: This is where students had the chance to ask additional questions of their partner. If they couldn’t think of anymore to ask, they could always say, “What else would you like to tell me?” For this, I gave the students 1 minute each to wrap it up.

  • N – Navigate ideas:  We discussed what navigate means; for example, making connections to a phone’s navigation system. I told the students they had to navigate through all they had learned and then decide how they would decorate the dot in a way that told about their partner. This was the hardest part because it was 1-2 minutes (depending on age) of quiet thinking time! They could sketch ideas outside of the circle but no questions were allowed and they couldn’t start drawing inside the dot! I was amazed at how focused the students were as they just sat there and thought! As I walked around during a 1st grade class, I heard a gasp from a little girl. I leaned over and asked if she had suddenly had an idea. “Yes!” she said, as she grinned and excitedly nodded her head.

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  • C – Create:  Only after going through the above steps were the students ready to draw. I reminded them that they were NOT to draw something they liked; it had to be for and about their partner. No using the designer’s favorite colors! A comment from a first grader confirmed that she “got it” – as I announced it was now time to start creating, I heard a voice call out, “But, I’m still on the U. I’m not ready for C yet!”

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  • H – Highlight and fix: After 10 minutes or so, I asked everyone to stop where they were because we needed to move to the “H” step. This involved checking with the partner to get their opinion. Was the designer drawing what the partner had in mind? Was there anything else the designer needed to add? I absolutely LOVED listening in on these conversations! These were some of the most thoughtful discussions I’ve ever heard from entire groups of students. Not one person said anything negative! I heard conversations like, “Are you going to add the food I like?” “Yes, I was planning to do that next.” The video below shows a 4th grade teacher working with a student. The audio isn’t good but you can still see how they are talking through what changes they can make and what they like.
  • LAUNCH!  Our launch was a simple one; the students shared their dots by describing what their partner liked. Then they were placed on the bulletin board.

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I was amazed at how well this lesson went – for every single age group (1st – 4th)! All I did was guide the process and the students took off! It was great to see the teachers involved. Design thinking is new to them, too, but they eagerly joined in. Some of their comments:

  • “You know, this design thinking can be used in other areas, too. I’m thinking writing for sure and maybe even math.”
  • “Today’s lesson was so therapeutic.”
  • Another teacher told me, “I was a bit stressed about drawing. Who’s going to see this? What if it’s not good enough?”

Sometimes it’s hard for teachers to “let go” but when we do, the work students produce is incredible! I almost decided not to do this with first graders; just wasn’t sure if they could grasp the concept. Wow! Was I ever wrong!! It didn’t matter one bit that they couldn’t spell what their partner told them. These little ones were able to jot down symbols, pictures, whatever it took to remember their partner’s answers.

img_6128I am so excited to continue my journey of learning about implementing design thinking into the curriculum!

 

Going on a Dot Hunt!

To celebrate International Dot Day, Mrs. Crumley’s first graders searched for dots in our courtyard. The students were divided into groups of three and given these instructions:

  • Each person takes a photo of something shaped like a dot.
  • Take a selfie or get someone else to take a photo of the members of the group.

After a couple of photography pointers to avoid blurry images, we headed out to our courtyard.

Within just a few seconds, we heard excited voices getting their team’s attention by calling out such things as:

“Look! A snail! That’s shaped like a dot.” “Look at that pipe. It has round holes that look like dots!”

After all photos were collected, we returned to the lab where the pictures were added to Pic Collage for Kids (love this version because there are no ads). Collages were printed for everyone (you know how important it is for children to take something home!).

Here’s a short video of the activity.