Coding – Where Do I Start?

 

Well I actually know where I started coding and it was the Daisy the Dinosaur App. Although I know that I should be ashamed to say it, I’m not. For my age, I think any kind of coding is a bonus. Something I never, ever thought I would be learning and, yet, here I am.

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And, because the focus in the Doucette Library is to take this educational technology out to the K-12 environment, I think walking the walk and talking the talk is where it is at.

Moving forward was a tougher decision. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be options to learn coding at the next level. Python seemed a bit of a stretch, like speaking Greek before learning Greek. Thanks to a couple of robots, though, my decision became more evident. Ozobot and Dash and Dot both use Blockly (and there is also a Blockly Jr.) So I learned some great terms like looping and moving of robots with simpler click and drag commands.

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Alas, there are larger programming needs on my horizon. For the wearable workshop that we are working on, I would like to, also, invest some time with Scratch. This language also calls upon the click and drag method to watch what happens and that suits me fine.

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My experience with Arduino taught me that I was trying to gallop before I knew how to walk. Much of the coding for arduinos is open source but I am not yet able to predict what the outcome of downloading much of the code will be or how to make minor changes to affect the downloaded code. And, yet, I keep at it, learning step-by-step. I also know that I am not an intuitive coder.

I’ve collected a few good websites, apps and resources to help you begin to bring coding into your classroom or to try something to connect with other coders out there in the world. Take a look here to see where to start.

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It’s January – Stop Procrastinating!

App for January

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30/30 App by Binary Hammer

Cost: Free

Version: 2.1.7

Size: 19.0 MB

In-App Purchases

Do you, or the students you work with, have focus issues?  Do you find it hard to complete or substantially take a bite out of a task at one sitting?  This app is for you.  It takes the guess work out of how much time you have to spend on a task and how often you should be checking your phone.  It was recently reported that the average person looks at their phone 115 times a day.  How does anyone get anything done?

And it is not just checking a smartphone that takes attention away from the task at hand.  It would seem society at large is determined to interrupt you often enough to seriously change how focused you can be.

Here is an app that can help with keeping you or your students on task for a stated amount of time.  Use that smartphone to outsmart the interrupters.

“The app allows you to pre-set a list of tasks and allocate the length of time that you want to spend on each activity. The app makes a sound when it is time to move on to the next task. But most impressive about this app is the visual component. You can color code each task, watch the timer count down, and see the list of tasks coming up next.” Jennifer Sullivan and Ron Samul, eSchoolNews, December 6, 2017

All true and waiting for you to download for free.  You can use all the features effectively without any of the in-app purchases.

Hmmm.  I wonder if this would work for my backlog of work.  I seem to remember a saying  about an old dog and a new trick.

 

 

Speak Mohawk and Tsuut’ina Apps

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An article in the Huffington Post (Canada) led me to investigate the Speak Mohawk app for Apple iPads and iPhones.  The Six Nations Polytechnic launched the app to further protect and teach a language that is in danger of being lost. Statistics are showing about 2,350 people in Ontario and Quebec knowing the language.  Speak Mohawk has broken down words and phrases into 42 categories including “Days of the Week” and “Feelings” for easy access.

Now I realize Mohawk would not be a language that would be picked up in Alberta to any large degree but by accessing the information about Speak Mohawk, it led me to a app developer called Thornton Media, Inc.   that designs a variety of  indigenous language apps.

The Tsuut’ina people, who live west of Calgary, have also developed an app to preserve their language and this one may be of more interest.  Teachers may have students in their classrooms who are learning the Tsuut’ina language at home.

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This app would be a great way to have students in your classroom learn more about the root language and culture.  It is a free app that can be added to iPads or other tablets easily and referenced by students from this culture and other interested students.

It seems that young people in schools and post-secondary settings are expressing an interest in keeping these languages alive and finding a digital way to preserve the language and culture from these communities.  It is a good start.

 

Hour of Code – 2017

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How about spending an hour with your class coding during your practicum?  The Hour of Code for 2017  is set to go the week of December 4th to the 10th to align with Computer Science Education Week.

A quick introduction to coding is a great way to appeal to students and have them learn logic and the step-by-step process that leads to great coding. Laying a foundation of skills needed to code can be done using games like Robot Turtles  or an app like Daisy the Dinosaur.

Do you need to know how to code? No not really.  You need to have a general knowledge of the outcomes that you see for your students.  You will want them to have an awareness of coding, what it looks like, the cause and effect of click and drop coding like SCRATCH and SCRATCH Jr.  Overall, you will want them to have a positive experience getting to know how the computer “knows” how to do things.

Of course, the Doucette Library has your back on this one.  Visit the Research Guide about Coding in the Classroom to find links and resources to help you out.

No tech in your classroom?  Start with a simple writing exercise.  Challenge your students to write down all the steps it takes to do something.   Or build low tech robots and have students record individual movements needed to make the robot walk.

Look to include coding in your classroom as you head out on practicum. Many students and your peers will be happy that you did.

 

Hopscotch: Learn to Code

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ONLY for iOS 9.0 and later

Version: 3.21.1

Size: 119 MB

Cost: Free

Target Audience: Ages 9-13

Create, Play, Learn.

The Hopscotch: Learn to Code app is a great addition to the technology (apps and websites) used to teach coding in the elementary and middle school classroom.

Students can sample what other kids are designing and play, from the screen, games that are designed by other app users.

Given the short video tutorials that appear in the upper right hand corner of the screen, allowing students to follow the step-by-step directions to create their own games or pause the video and catch up, designing games is really only a video away.

Students can also save their games so others have a chance to play.

Hopscotch follows from Daisy the Dinosaur, as another step in the coding process by Hopscotch Technologies.

The iTunes link says this app has been downloaded over 10 million times and I can see why.  Download the free app and see how many games your students can design.

 

Campus Collisions-Beakerhead

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How much fun can a banana-piano be?  Well if you are in the right place with the right people – it can be amazing.

The TFDL (Taylor Family Digital Library) on the campus of the University of Calgary hosted “Campus Collisions” as part of the 2017 edition of Beakerhead.  It was suggested I join in the fun with a table in the front foyer of the main library.  And join in the fun I did!

First, the banana piano with the help of the Makey-Makey kit, attracted many, many students who were, clearly, trying to get from one place to another through the foyer.  The same as it is an attraction for K-12 students, the visual presentation of having a dozen bananas attached by alligator clips to a Makey-Makey in turn hooked up to a MacBook was irresistible for most passersby.

There were people waiting patiently for their chance to play the banana piano.  It was wonderful to see the reaction of students of all ages.  Many had me SnapChat a video for them to send to friends.  “Look what I did at university today!”

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I also introduced many students to the blue-tooth enabled robot, Sphero 2.0   that rolled on the floor, controlled by various people using my ipad.

Just goes to show, science can be fun and interactive.  One student went away and came back later to tell me that he had figured out that the bananas were not really the most important part of the banana-piano.

Pull out some fun makerspace activities and have students experience and talk about the magic.  Look for great Beakerhead events around Calgary.

Apps of Interest – June 2017

anxietyhelper and Verena by Amanda Southworth

I’ve discontinued App of the Week because, let’s face it, although I look at apps every week, actually reviewing one put a ton of pressure on this blogger.

Now, apps of interest will be reviewed and connected to curriculum when possible.  Overall, reader, you will get a sense of what is out there with a focus on uses in the classroom.

Having said that, the two apps in the article today are here because of a few unique qualities they possess.  The designer and creator of anxietyhelper and Verena is 15-year-old Amanda Southworth.  She came to the attention of Apple and recently attended her first developer conference.

Both of these apps are aimed at the middle and high school grade range and do not, in fact, address specific curriculum outcomes.   They are very timely in that they address the health and well being of this age group.  anxietyhelper addresses mental health including depression and anxiety disorders and how to access help for these illnesses.  Verena focuses on resources for the LGBTQ community.

A recent article in Mashable features Amanda’s story and her amazing capacity to code. As various school boards put an emphasis on coding in the classroom, Amanda is an example of how individuals come to coding on their own and follow their own path. While it is a great skill to introduce to all students, some will excel and some with be satisfied with the basic skills.

Take a look at these apps.  While they are not as sophisticated as some, they have an amazing capacity to reach out to students the same age as Amanda, trying to get guidance and answers to some difficult questions.

Google Expeditions

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Here we go – into the world of Virtual Reality. The  Google Expeditions app and website is getting great press lately in education circles by partnering with various corporations like National Geographic, the National Parks Service and the American Museum of Natural History to collect more than 500 virtual field trips (including the National Space Station, so not your average field trip) in one place.

The app is free and field trips appear in 3D as long as you provide a pair of 3D goggles like these to your students to view the field trip on and a Smartphone or Android in a recent generation.  This would cost about $400 for a class set of 20 goggles and you can ask parents to donate used iphones and androids, add the app and use with the class.

Or, you can invest in the Google Expedition Best Buy set of goggles, devices and a hand held teacher device for more money.  The Canadian prices are available upon request from BestBuy.ca but the American pricing is in the $3,000 to $9,000 range.

Yes, it is all in one place and can be used for a class of 10 or 20 students and it is hardware that will be obsolete over time.  The concern is that it will be obsolete in a very short time.

The idea is wonderful.  Have your students stay in class and experience other geographical or historical places without actually going there.  Consider what you want to invest in this idea.  Ask yourself some pretty thought provoking questions like:

  1. How many times a term will we use this technology?
  2. Will the field trips be “embedded” in the curriculum?
  3. Is this technology an add on?
  4. How do I see this technology increasing the engagement and learning in my students?

Once you honestly answer these questions then decide on a plan of action and consider looking for blogposts from teachers who have successfully used the technology.

And make a decision about how much you would like to invest in the technology and how far into the future before another shiny new technology catches your eye.

The expensive kit would be a wonderful addition to any school edtech collection but not all schools are ready to commit thousands of dollars to one technology.  Look for a way to try it out without a big price tag.

 

App of the Week: Bedtime Math

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Cost: Free

Updated: January 23, 2017

Version: 3.2

Size: 95.5 MB

Language:  English (or Spanish)

Rated: Age 4+

Bedtime Math would appeal to kids, parents and educators that love fun facts and are interested in doing some mental math in the meantime.  For example, today’s Bedtime Math question begins with a picture of a Platypus and some weird and wacky facts about the animal.  Did you know: The platypus is so weird-looking that when English scientists first found it in Australia, they had to bring a few back to England because no one believed any animal could look like that?  That is a very cool fact that many, say, 3rd graders could work into a conversation easily.

Once a student or a family has read the interesting introduction to the day’s math problem, users can pick from a variety of leveled math questions: Wee Ones, Little Kids, Big Kids and the Sky’s the Limit.  Today’s Little Kids problem was “a platypus eats 1/2 its own weight every night! If it weighs 4 pounds, how much does it eat?”  Okay there is a problem with the measurement use of the imperial system but that could be another conversation with your child or student.  It is evident that the development of the app’s content is done mainly in the United States.

Explore the app and the website to find a very fun way to engage students in real world math problems and funky facts.  Recommended for students up to grade 6.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.