Coding in an Elementary Classroom

Is coding the new literacy? Even if you are not sure of the answer to that big question, you can begin to introduce your elementary classroom students to programming.  Some of the resources listed need technology and some just need your time to set up some centers to spark interest from your students.


Scratch Jr. as a website or an app is a great way for students to start to understand the “if you program this, then that happens” type of logic that is necessary for programming.  Some may not even catch on that they are learning actual programming due to the game atmosphere of this app.


Kids Get Coding is a series of books aimed at the K-3 grade level.  Each book explains one aspect of computer programming that will provide a foundation for students to begin to code. They also include tips about being a good digital citizen and how sites collect information about your identity to tailor sites to your needs.  It also cautions students about the importance of privacy and what information sites are looking for that you may not want to give out.  Although each book is only 24 pages long, each has a table of contents, and index and clear definitions of terms that are used in each book.  A website gives access to further content by book title to help educators further work with each subject area covered in each book.


Robot Turtles and Code Master are both board games that don’t need any technology to run them. Robot Turtles is for very beginning programmers and teaches logic as a introduction to the steps needed for good coders.  Code Master is a one player game and will challenge you students to code instructions on the board rather than into an app or website.  Both good options in a classroom to spark an interest.

Introducing the notion of coding and computer programming into your classroom is not as daunting as it may seem.  There are many books out now to challenge students to learn the rudiments of coding by playing games or working through actions of a robot or character.  Start with these resources and work through this next level thinking with your students.

App(Website) of the Week – GoNoodle

I admit it – doing the Dinosaur Stomp with a number of grade three students mid-morning is an excellent way hit the reset button on your day.  These “movement breaks” in elementary school (as in every sedentary environment) are good for bodies and brains and the body-brain connection.   Remember brain gym.

I think we are past the time to recognize that the health of our students is partly our responsibility as educators because we see them for so many of their waking hours.  Elementary school is a natural place to see the positive rewards of extra movement in your classroom.

Instead of an app this week, I would like to suggest the website A site where you can incorporate movement into your class while not skipping a beat teaching curriculum.

GoNoodle begins with a video entitled GoNoodle 101 but I don’t think you really need the guidance.  Preview a few videos and choose something to your liking.  Strategically place the video during your teaching and voila – movement and learning.


Lots of math songs and some American content but I still think you can bookmark the site for a quick change of pace in your classroom.

Old School Maker Space

Today’s post is not about old schools but about an event that the whole Maker World took note of in 2012 that changed the way people thought about at least one boy’s education.

The event is captured in two YouTube movies that capture exactly what it means to be a nine-year-old inventor. The first movie, by Nirvan Mullick, traces the cardboard arcade designed by Caine Monroy in the front part of his dad’s auto parts shop in 2012.


Here is making at its finest.  Very little adult interference and time to work away at a continuous project. Caine used what was around him, saved money for luxury add-ons like the calculators and tenaciously pursued his design ideas.

Nirvan changes Caine’s life by validating that kind of entrepreneurial spirit and creativity.  The second movie, shows the evolution of Caine’s Arcade from an event to a movement, creating a scholarship fund for Caine, a foundation for making called The Imagination Foundation and an annual Global Cardboard Challenge.

This Huffington Post article , captures some of the most important changes that came about because of Caine’s Arcade. “The impact on Caine has been profound. Caine’s dad told me that before the film, Caine was behind in reading and that his school considered him “slow” and wanted to hold him back a year. After the film, Caine became a poster child for gifted children everywhere — his grades improved and he even stopped stuttering. Caine began to refer to himself as an engineer and a game designer.” (Huffington Post, June 9, 2014)

Caine has become a hero of sorts to the underdog of learners who finds a way to exercise his potential in ways a school could not even imagine.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to present some learning opportunities like Caine’s Arcade to students in every classroom?  We may be able to unlock so much potential in so many students.

Visit Caine’s Arcade site and enjoy the experience.  By the way, Caine is 13 now and officially retired from the Arcade.  How time flies for any entrepreneur.

App of the Week – Litsy


Cost: Free

Size 26.2MB

Version: 1.4.1

Type: like Instagram for books

Litsy is an app discovered by my co-worker that is very much like Instagram for Books. A Book Riot review of the app is called, “If Goodreads and Instagram had a Perfect Baby…” And you would have to agree this app is a great combination of both of these sites.

Litsy speaks to our creative side by allowing us to pose books for photographs.  Using kits and materials in the library (or from home) we feature books in great environments.  If you would like to follow us our name is Open Sesame – Portals to Teaching Resources.  We thought it was very catchy.  Search us by Doucette_Library as well.

Users have a Litfluence score that appeals to students who are gamers to begin with.  Your litfluence score is based on how many people are following you, how much you post and if people are liking what you post.  Although we are not competitive, some students may find an appeal in this aspect of the app.

We are using the app to feature great resources we would love to see in classrooms and to talk about how we can creatively use books to connect to curriculum or to create a great classroom atmosphere.  We get to pick icons that suggest a good pick, so-so, pan or bail.  Ours are mostly picks since we want you to see the resources we really like.  We also get 451 characters to tell you everything you need to know about this book.  That is sometimes a challenge.

The app would also play well in a classroom for students to use to feature what they are reading, if they like it and if they would suggest it to classmates.  So our use of the app is showing you how you could use the app.  A win-win in my opinion.

Read some reviews about the app and join us to see what we are featuring.  The first books I posted were the ones I reviewed recently in a blog post on creating wonder in the elementary classroom. My co-worker has been busy posting back to school finds and some other great resources.

Join us or do some posting yourself or use it in your classroom.  Get the word out about what you are reading or follow us and see what you great resources to pick up for your classroom or practicum.

The app creators are responsive still to feedback on what you would like to change or see added to the app.

Join the fun and visit us on this book-loving social media app.



The Horizon Report K-12, 2016 (Preview)

2016-09-02 10.57.40

Horizon Report K-12, 2016 Preview

The Horizon Report compiled by the National Media Consortium is the report that names the trends in education that are most important to pay attention to in the coming year, 5 years and 10 years.  It will be published on September 14, 2016 in its entirety but the advance sample or preview is available today.  NMC also collects information for the coming report in a comprehensive wiki and you can join to view the background information.

This Horizon Report will focus again on the adoption of the makerspace model of learning and teaching into classrooms.  It has moved to the “one year or less” category and teaching students seem to be adopting this model through their studies.  Many workshops and ideas are introduced during their time in the teaching program.

The second trend to on-line learning also remains on track for adoption in the next year or so with the continual changes in the open-source resource market.  Many contributing trends are also affected like blended learning where students are responsible for the background work of watching videos and reading resources in non-class time.

Long term trends in education are generally accepted as more evolutionary than revolutionary, happening gradually over time in schools that are creating new spaces for students to learn in.  Because re-designing spaces takes huge budgets, “re-arranging” of learning spaces in more the norm in most school districts. Here, screen installation for collaborative learning areas, and more flexible work spaces are technology use and general group work adaptations schools can make without a large investment of cash.

Another long term trend in education is the “rethinking how schools work”  and this trend addresses the move to a more authentic, multidisciplinary environment for learning. Teacher education is also meshing with the mid-term trends focused on collaborative learning approaches  based on the four principles: “placing the learner at the center, emphasizing interaction and doing, working in groups, and developing solutions to real-world problems.” And the other mid-term student-centered trend delving into deeper learning approaches in the classroom.

It is exciting to see the acknowledgement that coding is a new literacy to be addressed by educators in the short-term and the notion that students are becoming the creators of their learning rather than consumers.  These two notions are coming to the forefront of education practice especially from a teacher education viewpoint.

The report is rich in topics that are so important to our students as they enter or continue their education to become teachers and to practicing teachers who provide mentoring for our students.  More news when the complete report is released next on September 14, 2016.

App of the Week – Osmo Coding


Cost: Free*

Size: 83.2 MB

Version: 1.1.0

Updated: August 23, 2016

*Keep in mind that because it is an OSMO product, the app is free but you must purchase the initial OSMO genius kit for $129.99Cdn with the base camera deflection equipment and the OSMO coding manipulatives for $69.99Cdn.

I am a real fan of this product.   The genius kit, as mentioned in an earlier blogpost, contains the camera deflection equipment and base for your ipad as well as the tangram, and word set.  The number set is purchased separately.

And, although I love a free app, the continually innovative products that are coming since the OSMO base kit are good value for the 5-12 age group.

For a quick how-to video, my favourite is Antonio’s World, even though the OSMO CEO has also had a kick at the can with a YouTube video on the subject.  Antonio’s script and editing is much tighter than Pramod Sharma’s video and he gets you the information you need to start using your kit fast with a “just the facts” approach.

Now for the app and manipulatives.  I’ve included pictures in order for you to see them rather than have to describe them to you.  Each magnetic instruction card directs Awbie, a strawberry munching monster, to move in a direction at the turn of a dial, walk, jump or grab and pause for second sober thought.  As your directions help him gulp up strawberries singly or from various treasure chests, you gain strength and rewards to acquire items to make the levels easier.  It is very fun to play and I’m sure most 5 year olds would concentrate on the game aspect and not the coding knowledge they are acquiring.  Once you or your students are ten and up, I think the logic of coding languages would be hard to miss.

I am considerably older than the intended audience and the play was fun and engaging even for me.  My coding age is probably six and I am no digital native.  The trial and error way of moving Awbie around is very fun.  It has a very “try again” sense about it without any negative screens  even if Awbie is going in the wrong direction.  If you allow him to step on a  lily pad he does dunk in the water and pop up, unharmed, so you can try again.

I would recommend the whole package of Osmo again as I did in this blogpost.  It is a great investment for a learning centre in your classroom.  There are lots of different processes to work through that focus on a variety of skills.  Learning coding is becoming a new literacy for students and this kit balances learning and fun, especially for the K-6 crowd.




Classrooms in Utopia

It’s late August. Even though I don’t have kids in school anymore or even work in a K-12 school, I still feel the change in the air at this time of year.  Teachers are beginning to, not just dream of what this year will look like, but to implement within their classrooms what “it” will look like.  The definition of “it” differs from teacher to teacher.

I’m hoping teachers are looking at a utopian view of the classroom as laboratory.  A place where students are free to discover learning, sometimes, on their own terms.

I see books and browsing corners to promote curiosity and discovery.  Materials and tools that allow for invention and wonder.  Spaces that honor the hard work of learning and imagination.

Here’s the more difficult part to implement: I also dream of embedded technology.  Educational technology within the classroom that is not “taught” as a separate or unique subject area but is a natural tool that students gravitate to for recording and continuing their learning.  What a great idea! Using what is within your classroom and having enough foundation skills to use an appropriate bit of technology to further each student’s learning.

Using embedded educational technology also assumes that students have enough foundation skills to make good decisions about their learning. For example, using a voice app on an iPad to record a podcast about their research or a digital story.  Creating iMovie snippets to show a process.  Creating a reflection on their learning to include as part of an eportfolio.

Embedding educational technology into a classroom means the collaboration among the whole school community to train and help teachers make good decisions about the technology in their classrooms and to model how to embed technology in their learning.

Administrators may consider some professional development time spent to support teachers or a mentoring model for those with more experience to assist those with less experience.

If you are an education student, consider learning one pivotal educational technology or a few apps that can be used by students to create or document their learning.  Take a step up from being a digital native to being a digital facilitator.

Start now to look at what this utopian classroom looks like for before the on slot in September of all kinds of students.

Picture Books that Promote Curiosity, Imagination and General Wondering

In a departure from the usual technology analysis, I will spend today looking at some new picture books that can be resources and browsers in a K-4 classroom to get kids wondering about the world around them.  These picks are from some recent arrivals in the library and are chosen for high interest and engagement.

What Do You Do With an Idea? and What Do You Do With a Problem? Both by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom.  Interesting juxtaposition of two great concepts – things you need to wonder about. An idea looks like an egg with a crown.  A problem looks like a big swirly, dark cloud.  Is an idea good? Does a problem present an opportunity?

Ideas Are All Around? by Philip C. Stead. How do you begin to write something? Taking a walk with your dog gives you many experiences. Are they worth writing about? What do you notice? Stop War – now there is a good idea.


The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Matthew Cordell.  “Know this: there is magic around but it hides.” “Be open to it.” Hone your powers of observation, around you, above you, near you.  Allow your feet to determine where you may journey and notice all there is to explore.


City Shapes by Diana Murray, illustrated by Bryan Collier.  Notice all that is around you and tie it to some of your knowledge.  Recognize shapes in your environment as a beginning understanding of your world. This book would be a great provocation for a grade 1 photography project.  A way for students to study their community through the lens of a camera or an iPad.


Secret Agent Man Goes Shopping for Shoes by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by Brian Won.  S.A.M. (get it?) has a unique view of the world and all the adventures that are to be had.  Discover a unique perspective on shoe shopping by one imaginative boy.


Use Your Imagination (but be careful what you wish for!) by Nicola O’Bryne.  A typical fairy tale re-telling becomes a whole new story with a little imagination.  Can you change other stories? What would be a more unexpected twist or turn in the stories you are reading?


Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  True to life, people in a grey neighbourhood re-imagine it with colourful murals and paintings.  The entire neighbourhood joins in and life is forever changed.  Art changes people.  One person can change a neighbourhood or their school or city or country or the world.


These are a few picks to invigorate your current classroom library and to engage students in a deeper thinking process.  Igniting curiosity is a game changer.


Explaining Empathy

In the process that is Design Thinking, students are asked, initially, to empathize with the problem at hand.  Articulate the problem.  Look at it from different angles. Gain new perspective on the problem.

Empathy is not an easy point of view to take on so, while reading the news the other day, I found an example that really stands out for me.  It so happens that my first cousin is CEO of the Ottawa Hospital and in his position feels that he is responsible to oversee 21st century medical care for those patients and families who are served by the Ottawa Hospital service.  Jack is also married to an amazing cook!  This information will be important soon.  In the Ottawa Citizen article dated July 17, 2016, the managers and CEO of the hospital announced sweeping changes to the food served.  “Interesting,” you may say, “What would prompt these changes?”


Top level managers including Jack, were given hospital food to live on for a week.  Talk about empathy.  Imagine the distress when you are regulated to eat at 8am, noon and 5pm with no snacks or other treats.  And the food is …less than palatable.  Eggs were referred to by one patient as “a yellow puck of sadness.”  Here, managers experienced exactly what patients see, smell and taste at the hospital.  Now that’s empathy.

No amount of statistical analysis of product vs. waste or photos of suggested meals would have had the same effect that this 5-day experiment had on the outcome.

In many design thinking challenges, students must put themselves in the shoes of the person experiencing the problem to really empathize with the situation at hand.  Tasks that are authentic problems encountered by students are the best fodder for each step in the design thinking process. Students who are close to the problem and can “get in touch” with the experience will have a deeper learning outcome in each phase of the design thinking process.



Pokemon Go and Students


Gotta catch ’em all! This blog post is purely an opinion piece because I feel compelled to weigh in on the number of Pokemon Go education related articles that populated my inbox this morning.  And I’m sure some of you will agree with me and some of you will not but that is the risk in having opinions on pop culture.

I, vicariously, experienced all the excitement of Pokemon Go through my son, one of the first generation Pokemon card owners when it was first introduced in North America.  This makes his access to Pokemon Go very interesting.  He owns and pays for his own Smart Phone and I no longer need to know his whereabouts and he is at the age when he can decide to stay out all night to chase Pokemon is he so chooses.  In fact, he lives several miles away in another quadrant of the city.  That makes a huge difference to my opinion.  I can enjoy seeing him search and show me where Pokemon are but I no longer have to accompany him on the journey from gym to gym.

Having said that, he did 14 levels and 18,000 steps in 24 hours during which he also held down a full time job for 8 of those hours.

Please do not make Pokemon Go into an “educational tool!” It doesn’t need to be.  Use other things to create great experiences in school like Geocaching or Nature Walk Journals but leave Pokemon Go for kids in the summer when they are off and can do (sometimes) what they want to do.  Not every app or tech innovation needs to be an educational tool.  Some need to be left to pop culture.

Now there is a public library in the States, dropping lures so that people chasing Pokemon will also enter their library and, perhaps, browse or become patrons but that is another story.

There were also Pokemon at church this weekend.  In fact the church was a Pokemon gym.

So, teachers, leave it alone.  While you are planning to work with it during the school year it is busy whooshing past you giving way to the next cool app.  Leave it for kids to enjoy and those who loved Pokemon the first time around.

As one 20-something mentioned in a news interview, “All of us 10 year old boys were thinking: if this game could be real life…”  I agree, we are all having fun with it so, teachers, don’t touch.