We have a fantastic Parents’ Club at our school. Each year we are given the opportunity to apply for Grants for Greatness. My request this year was a class set of the Sphero SPRK+ robots.
Our third graders were the first to experience the Spheros using the Sphero EDU app. The app is block-based programming with all kinds of blocks available to challenge students. There were a few students who had their own Spheros at home so they were eager to provide help to those trying them out for the first time.
To begin, I introduced the app to the students and told them some helpful tips. For example, it’s really important to aim the Sphero. If you don’t, Sphero won’t do what you expect! We went over the tabs at the bottom of the screen. For the first session, I suggested that they focus on movement, lights & sounds, and controls only.
Then, I gave them the challenges:
Make Sphero roll in a straight line away from you.
Have Sphero roll back to you.
Add lights as Sphero rolls.
Program Sphero to roll around the perimeter of a carpet square. (We had a great discussion about right angles for this one!)
Spreading out, the challenges began. Students experimented with speed and timing as the little balls went speeding past legs. Every once in a while, we’d hear, “Watch out for my Sphero!” Getting the robots to roll back was often figured out as they rolled behind desks and the printer!
There were questions such as, “Why didn’t the lights show up as it rolled?” That led to discussions on order of blocks – it does make a difference!
No one accomplished the last challenge of driving around the carpet square but some came really close!
As we wrapped up the lesson, several of the Sphero owners said they didn’t know about the app we used; there’s another app that just drives the robot – no programming involved. They were eager to go home to download Sphero EDU.
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!
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.
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.
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!”
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!
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.”
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
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!
The girl who was using Ozoblockly even returned after school so that she could show her sister what she’d done in class.
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?”
Algorithm – a list of steps that you can follow to complete a task
Program – an algorithm that has been coded into something that can be run like a machine.
Instead of having the students work individually on paper, I drew a grid on the board and asked them to how they would move Flurb (yes, that’s its name!) to reach the apple.
This was really interesting with the first class. Two different students came up to the board and each took a very long way to reach the apple.
After discussing how there are almost always several ways to solve a problem, we talked about taking lots of steps versus taking fewer steps. Then the students realized that Flurb just needed to hop down one space to make it faster.
I think what confused the students is that there was no square between Flurb and the apple. Once they realized that it was okay to hop to another square, they understood that the move was fine.
The next challenge was to guide Flurb to the flower pot. However, some of the squares were blocked off.
By this time, the students were quickly rattling off how Flurb could move. They GOT it!
We moved to the computer, had the students log into code.org with their secret picture and off they went. Or, at least some of them – for whatever reason, we had a really difficult time accessing the site. Don’t know if the problem was on our end or theirs?? We’ll try again, though.
I know that we have an eager group of little coders ready to practice algorithms and programs!
Enjoy a short video showing the excitement of coding!
The second annual Hour of Code is here – celebrated the week of December 8 – 12! Last year, 15 million students around the world learned an hour of code.
What is Hour of Code? “A one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anyone can learn the basics.” (From Hour of Code FAQs)
Our school will be doing a variety of activities for Hour of Code. On Wednesday, the upper school students will be demonstrating coding during lunch for all K-12 children. K-3 students will be in the computer lab with me exploring the following:
Kodable: K – 2 classes will log in to the Kodable app to learn sequence, conditions, and loops by dragging and dropping commands to program a fuzzy character. The app is free with in-app purchases. A school account was purchased for our younger students so their progress is saved.
LightBot: The LightBot app ($2.99) is designed for ages 9 – 12. However, I’ve used it with younger children and it’s always a hit. Students move the character to light a square by dragging and dropping commands. There is also a LightBot, Jr. for the younger children.
CodeStudio Course 2: The third graders will begin CodeStudio’s Course 2, a free introduction to coding for elementary students. The course teaches the user to snap blocks together (it starts out with Angry Birds) and shows the lines of written code. The students have a picture log in and they are welcome to progress through the course at their own pace. The link to their class account can be found on the coding page of TVS TechnoWizards. (All K-4 students are enrolled in one of the 3 courses for elementary ages. We will work on the courses throughout the year.)
These activities are just a few of the many resources available to help students of all ages experiment with coding. Since I work with elementary children, I’ll focus on those designed for this age.
Blockly Games: A series of games designed to practice coding (Use Safari, Firefox, or Google Chrome).
Holiday Lights: Light up the White House Christmas tree by snapping coding blocks together (Use Safari, Firefox, or Google Chrome).
As you can see, there are numerous resources available to learn coding. Learning coding helps students develop computational skills and problem solving. Coding is difficult but the students LOVE the challenge! Give it a try – your children will enjoy guiding you through what they know!
Last year we participated in Hour of Code (and we’ll be joining in again this year). But one day of coding is NOT enough. This year we are starting early.
The first graders came to the lab this week and I asked them to raise their hand if they knew some Spanish and Chinese (they take both in Lower School). I then asked if anyone knew other languages. Several raised their hands. Next, I asked if they had ever heard of computer language. By the look on their faces, I could tell they had not! We discussed how computer games, programs, and apps require someone to “program” them or to write computer language so that the computer knows what to do.
I was excited to discover that Code.org has recently launched Code Studio – excellent lessons designed specifically for elementary ages. This is what I chose to introduce coding to our first graders. There are three courses for students along with a “Fun for Everybody” section that includes Play Lab, Flappy Code, and Artist. The free account allows teachers to set up classes and determine log in by use of a secret picture (perfect for younger students) or word. As students move through the levels, they snap blocks together to run each program.
The students are eager to continue working in Code Studio at their own pace!
Besides Code Studio, our younger students will be using the following apps throughout the year: