Incorporating Coding Language with Book Creator

Last month, in preparing for Hour of Code 2017, I came across a post by Beth Holland titled, Teach Coding with Book Creator. Two things drew me to the article.

  1. I met Beth a few years ago while attending an EdTechTeacher conference and she is one of the most creative and knowledgeable persons I know. I ALWAYS learn so much in her sessions! Her focus is on pedagogy first; using technology ONLY if it is the correct tool to help meet the objective. So, I knew whatever she had to say would be well-worth reading!
  2. Since Book Creator is my go-to app and coding is an area I feel is important for all ages, the title certainly caught my eye!

As it turned out, I focused on a variety of coding activities using Ozobots (to the delight of all the students) and ran out of time for other options. This month, I revisited Beth’s post and incorporated it into the fourth grade lessons.

Take a look at Beth’s video, Teach Coding as a Language with Book Creator.

Following Beth’s ideas, I started with these instructions, telling students I could only speak in concise sentences:

  • Add > Shape > Rectangle
  • “i” > Color > Red
  • “i” > Border On > Color > Black
  • Add > Shape > Circle
  • “i” > Color > Purple
  • Move Circle > x=238; y=338
  • “i” > Move to Back

The next step was to ask the students to pair up and set up their iPads so that they couldn’t see the partner’s drawings. They were to alternate directions, giving one line only for each turn. They could create whatever they wanted.

Oh, my goodness! I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had EVERY SINGLE student on task for the entire class period! Talk about fully engaged!! The only complaining heard was when the bell went off for the end of class – no one wanted to stop!

Here are photos of the partners with their drawings. They did a pretty good job giving and following instructions!

Of course, the “coding” we do in the lower grades is not the same as what programmers do for a living. However, it is an excellent way to teach problem solving, perseverance, computational thinking, communication skills, and so much more.

Beth Holland says this quite well in the second paragraph of her post, “However, after speaking with computer science educator, Douglas Kiang, I learned that the real power lies in teaching computational thinking and creative problem solving – not any specific type of code.”

I was amazed at how well this activity went and how quickly the students picked up the concise “coding” language as they directed their partner what to draw.

Thank you, Beth, for sharing this valuable idea!

Coding Unplugged: Great Ways to Introduce Concepts

I found the best tool at a teacher supply store last summer – magnetic arrows!

I’m not sure what the maker had in mind for these, but they are absolutely PERFECT for practicing coding movements on the board!

One of the best and most comprehensive (and free) coding curriculum is from code.org. There are many excellent programs and apps available but I highly recommend this be a integral part of a coding program, especially for elementary ages. Besides the student activities, there are numerous resources available for teachers. One such resource is called “Happy Maps” where students tell Flurb (see below) which way to go to get the fruit.

Meet Flurb!

Last year, we used arrows to point the directions to move. The magnets I purchased have a turn arrow which is great for truly showing the sequence of steps necessary to reach the fruit.

After reviewing the vocabulary:

  • algorithm – a list of steps that you can follow to finish a task
  • program – an algorithm that has been coded into something that can be run by a machine

I ask how Flurb can get to the apple. With all the volunteers, we could spend the entire time moving arrows!

After one child has placed arrows and moved Flurb, I ask if there is another way to reach the apple. We spend a lot of time talking about being able to have several solutions to get to the same result. Of course, fixing and trying again (debugging) are extremely important parts of the computational thinking process.

 

After a few students have tried progressively harder puzzles, we move to the iPads and code.org. I encourage students to “walk out” the solution when they get stuck. We’ll hold the iPad together and walk in the directions they need to go. Some students (me included!) need that extra kinesthetic approach. I always love watching children do just that – they talk quietly as they walk the steps they should take:

one step forward > turn right > two steps forward

As we wrap up the lesson, I always ask, “Did anyone get stuck?” A few hands slowly go up, as if they are unsure that they want anyone to know. Then I tell the children, “You know what I noticed? When you got stuck, not one person complained and said they couldn’t do it; that it was too hard. You didn’t give up. You kept trying. That’s what coders do!”

And, isn’t that what we do everyday in life?!?

Rosie’s Runtime: A Homerun for 2nd Graders!

Last December, I came across Rosie’s Runtime, an unplugged coding activity created by Project Lead the Way. I was finally able to give it a try last week and, WOW! Was it a hit!? The students absolutely LOVED it!

In Rosie’s Runtime, a large grid is set up on the floor. The teacher starts out as the robotic dog who is trying to get from a fire hydrant back to the doghouse. To make it more of a challenge, there are mud puddle cards that must be avoided and there are bones that need to be collected.

There are two versions:

  • K-2nd Grades   Basic movements such as move forward, turn right/left, pick up bone are in this level’s commands.
  • 3rd – 5th Grades  More involved commands have been added to this level. In addition to the above, jump, repeat, and conditional commands are part of this more difficult level.

I worked with 2nd grade, using this as a refresher activity before students moved to code.org. Students were divided into 5 groups, each receiving a set of cards. For this level, the cards were move forward, turn right, turn left, pick up bone, and make a u-turn.

Correct or not, each time I, as Rosie the Robotic Dog, was given a command, I moved. They students were quick to make corrections! Of course, there were cheers when they guided me to the doghouse!

The students absolutely did NOT want to quit! Well, maybe I was a bit excited, too. We debriefed by discussing different routes the students could have had me travel and talking about how we had to debug a few times to get back on track.

We’ll definitely be doing this with other grades. And, I’m eager to try the harder level. I think this would be a good small group activity that students could do on their own once they’ve been introduced to it.

FYI:  I thought about using felt squares for the game board but was concerned those might stretch after being stepped on several times. I ended up buying a fabric (don’t remember what kind) that won’t fray (yea! no hemming). The fabric is the same type as what is often used in the recyclable grocery bags you can buy. I cut them into 12″ squares which turned out to be a perfect size!

The Littles LOVE Ozobots!

I love bringing out Ozobots for Hour of Code! There are so many things you can do with them – draw paths and codes on paper using markers and predetermined code combinations, make paths and insert codes using the Ozobot Draw app, and drag and drop programming with Ozoblockly. There’s something for all ages!

Until I discovered OzoEasy sticker codes, asking kinder and 1st graders to draw their own codes was just a bit tricky. As I tell the students, Ozobot is like Goldilocks – every code has to be just right! Just as Goldilocks tasted the porridge and determined one was too hot, another was too cold, but one was just right, Ozobot likes those color combinations to be close to perfect! In fact, we even started calling the little robot “Ozolocks” when something didn’t go as expected!

This year I gave each child a sheet printed off the Ozobot Educator’s page (can’t remember which lesson). It had a rectangular path printed with blank squares for coloring in the codes requiring three colors. I added additional lines in the inner part of the rectangle. For the little ones, I created a condensed version of the codes that was easier to read so they could choose a code for coloring each of the groups of squares.

Each child also received 4 stickers. These were the “special moves” like tornado, backwalk, spin. They loved those!

It was SO much fun watching the kindergartners interact with the Ozobots. The look of awe on their sweet faces was priceless! I wonder how many children requested these for Christmas!

Here are short videos from each class of the students enjoying the Ozobots.

Hour of Code: Ozobots!

What a hit! The students absolutely LOVE programming the tiny Ozobots! These are small robots that are programmable using color codes, the Ozobot app or the online Ozoblockly block-based program. What I love about these is that they can be adapted to several ages.

One first grade class entered the room, immediately noticed the Ozobots on each table, and suddenly I heard, “Oh, Oh, Oh, we get to do Ozobots!” This little boy was practically dancing with excitement; even rushing over to give me a hug.

Some of the second, third, and fourth grade classes were asked to video their paths and codes to upload to Seesaw journals while explaining what Ozobots are and what they do.

Here’s an example:

These fourth grade students did a fantastic job with their explanations. I see a future in sales! 

Ozobots are a fun and easy way to introduce computational thinking to children. It’s easy to adapt these robots to any age.

 

The Uplifting Words of Children

For the last technology lab of the year, I provided the first graders with several options:  Ozobots, Osmo Coding, and links on my website (TVS TechnoWizards).

As I walked around the room interacting with the kids, I came upon two students who were working on creating paths for their Ozobots. They were each working on their own paper so I asked, “What do you think might happen if you joined the papers?”

The reaction was great! One of those “wow” moments as they scooted their papers together! Then came the sweet words of children . . .

Child 1:  “Wow! You’re really smart!”

Child 2:  “Yeah, you are REALLY smart!”

Child 1:  “I wish I could have you as my computer teacher in college.”

Teaching doesn’t get much better than that!

Fun with TechnoWizards Club

Every year our Parents’ Club has either an auction or a gallery night to raise money for educational projects. Teachers generally submit an activity for bidding. I’ve been doing a “TechnoWizards Club” for the past few years. Last week, six students joined me as we worked with Ozobots, Ollie robots, and Little Bits magnetic circuits.

We met for an 1 1/2 hours, which is never enough! Regardless, it was loads of fun to watch the children experiment with the different activities.

Here’s a look at what we did:

Ozobots Having Fun with Dr. Seuss!

Ozobots, Ozoeasy sticker codes, and Dr. Seuss!! How much fun is that??

Ozobots are fantastic tiny robots that can be programmed by either drawing in a color code combination or by using the drag and drop Ozoblockly online program. I love these little robots because all ages can use them; they grow with the child.

However, what we’ve discovered with the younger children is that it can be difficult to draw the codes “just right” so that the Ozobot can read them. That’s why I was thrilled to discover the Ozoeasy sticker codes this year. These small round stickers were created by an 8 year old – always fun to tell students that even young children can become an entrepreneur!

Enter the Dr. Seuss theme! Using PowerPoint (Only because I wanted precise lines!), I created a couple of “hats” to go with The Cat and the Hat.

The first hat the children worked with had only one place to draw a connecting line – at the top. The students were asked to choose a color other than black to connect the lines. After demonstrating how the code stickers worked, we talked about best places to add those. For example, the codes have to have black lines on either side and they can’t be too close to a corner. Students were also encouraged to draw colored lines across the hat.

After exploring the triangular hat, we moved onto the other template. This one had breaks in the black lines. The children could draw their own code, place a code sticker on a line, or add a connecting line of a color other than black.

What fun observing as the children discovered how the Ozobot reacted to the colored lines and the codes!

As our time together drew to a close, we regrouped to talk about our observations.

What happened when Ozobot rolled over a line that was a color other than black? What did you discover about Ozobot moving in opposite directions as it traveled over a code sticker? What did you learn about drawing your own codes?

Here are the templates of the hats. There are a couple of options included for each design.

hat template

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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Fantastic Fridays

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Last week I started something new with the 4th graders – Fantastic Fridays. On the board, I wrote a list of activities. Some were things they’ve done before but never seemed to get tired of it. Others were completely new.

  • Osmo – a unique way to physically interact with the iPad
  • Ozoblockly – drag and drop programming to use with Ozobots
  • Kodable – programming curriculum for elementary students
  • Know Your States – an excellent interactive game to learn where the states are located.
  • Sugar, Sugar – a fabulous problem-solving activity

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The students were SO engaged! Yes, there is a time when you have to teach skills but choosing your learning is critical! We, as teachers, must make time for that as well. Be sure to walk around and listen in on conversations – the dialog, the problem-solving, the planning is amazing!

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The girl who was using Ozoblockly even returned after school so that she could show her sister what she’d done in class.

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She also wanted me to video her Ozobots dancing in tandem. Here they are:

The last question the students asked as they exited the lab was, “May we please do this again?”

And, yes, we most definitely will!