Coding, Ed Tech and Making: Some new reads

 

Even though I work fulltime in a library, it seems the minutes I get to spend with new books must be intentional and sometimes a bit rushed.  I would love to curl up in a chair with a cart of books beside me to savour new samplings for the collection.

As things are unusually quiet on the desk today, I can take a moment to look at what is new and cool in the areas that I spend the most time with.

My favourite book of the new batch is The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague, written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley.  The subject of this nonfiction picture book is Raye Montague, one of the many hidden figures whose innovation changed the way navy ships are built.  She overcame exceptional odds being a black woman in the 1950s to design, in 1971, the FFG-7 Frigate.  Using her own computer programs, she completed the design of the frigate in 18 hours and 26 minutes.  The accompanying notes, bibliography and time line, all contribute to the wealth of information in this book.  The big problem I have with it is that it is written in verse.  What a shame.  The story would stand better is some well-written prose to showcase the power of her accomplishments.  This book can be included in classrooms up to grade 6 as students learn how to write biographical information, consider time lines of famous people, and collect biographic research about historical figures and just for students to ponder the strength and tenaciousness of this intelligent woman.

Doll-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey would be a great book to have in your classroom.  From grades K-3, girls will recognize the pressure (sometimes from parents) to play with dolls but our main character, Charlotte, incorporates her “making” into traditional play.  Charlotte is a maker and a tinkerer.  Although her house seems full of opportunities for her to indulge her maker imagination, Charlotte’s mother gives her a doll.  Just a doll.  It says “mama.”  As Charlotte puts her mind to it, knowing that a doll who talks must also have a power supply, she unleashes her “making” and inventions and innovations ensue.

Two books have recently come in that would be great “browsers” to have in your classroom to spur students on to learn about innovative ideas.  Engineered! Engineering Design at Work: A fun exploration of nine amazing feats by Shannon Hunt and James Gulliver Hancock looks at 9 different amazing feats of engineering from the following fields: aerospace, biomedical, chemical, mechanical, electrical, civil, geomatics, computer and environmental engineering.  Examples like the Millau Viaduct, a traffic problem solving bridge that was built on time and on budget and solved a major traffic issue in France.  The innovative design is an engineering feat and a work of art.  Innovation Nation: How Canadian innovators made the world …smarter, smaller, kinder, safer, healthier, wealthier, happier by David Johnston and Tom Jenkins, illustrated by Josh Holinaty would also provide a great browsing experience in any classroom.  Pages 124-125 give a two page spread on “How you can be an innovator,”  listing ways to inquire, ideate, incubate and implement ideas and what steps to take within each action to be the best innovator ever.  I also loved reading about the invention and pick up of JAVA script and the plastic garbage bad and something known as the “shrouded tuyere,” a way to stir steel invented by Robert Lee who came up with the idea after tooting in the bathtub.  Innovation is everywhere.  Both these books would be valuable in middle grades.

And now about that edict to have your students coding from k-12.  There are some easy ways to get students coding in your classroom but what if one of the ways was to read a picture book.  How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk, illustrated by Sara Palacios is not an excellent picture book but does present the ideas and vocabulary that are foundational in coding and anchors it to a familiar activity, building a sandcastle.  Look for working definitions of sequence, loops, and “if-then-else” statements.  Having one of these books in your collection is plenty and this one does the job.  Keep this one to the early grades.

Get Coding! Learn HTML, CSS, and JAVAscript and build a website, app and game by Young Rewired State is an attractive sort of book of challenges where you work through various coding recipes to make a website, app and a game.  This book would be great in a classroom where every year now you will be able to reach some of your students through these coding challenges.  Now, keep in mind, that coding books like this are awesome usually for a short time so buy it now and use it.  In September Get Coding2 is coming out and will be full of new challenges. I would say to start kids in grade 3 with these tasks and use this book through grade 9 or 10.

Sometimes when I am looking for a new approach to educational technology I fall back on an old library habit.  See what the new books look like and how can they be used to engage students in new ed tech challenges.  This list has a little something for everyone.  They will be included in the Doucette collection later this week for your use.  And I do feel a sense of renewal now that I have touched a few new books.

 

 

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Coding and Computational Thinking

It would seem that the rush to teach coding throughout the K-12 student population might be tempered by a slower, more realistic approach to overall problem solving by teaching computational thinking.

Although pre-service teachers are taught ways to bring coding into their classrooms using LEGO Mindstorms kits and various apps and websites, a single outcome coding lesson pales in comparison to the wide open skill set of computational thinking.

A BBC site defines computational thinking this way: “Before computers can be used to solve a problem, the problem itself and the ways it could be resolved must be understood.  Computational thinking techniques help with this task.”

Problem solving through computational thinking breaks down the problem into manageable parts that a computer or human can understand.  The coding may be part or all of the solution or may not be necessary at all.  But as a sustainable skill, students who are practiced in computational thinking will be able to take on coding in an informed mindset.

Most general resources that I have been reading all agree on four main components of computational thinking:

  • Decomposition – what are the component parts of the problem
  • Pattern Recognition – are there repetitive actions or ideas
  • Abstraction – given this breakdown what now?
  • Algorithms – what can we tell the computer to do?

 

More posts once I learn more.  I would like to investigate the four main components and look at how computational thinking can fit with curriculum outcomes.

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.

 

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.

App of the Week – Osmo Coding

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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.

 

 

 

App of the Week – Lightbot Jr.

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Name: Lightbot Jr.

Price: $3.99

Size: 51.8 MB

Version: 1.6.7

Age: 6-8

Although I am not in the age group suggested for this coding app, I must admit I did enjoy it.  I am also not a gamer but a technology user for education, work and social purposes.  I never thought I really needed to know how to code and I’m not sure Lightbot Jr. will get me coding in any real sense but it does have value.

It is a very highly recommended app for introducing early grade levels to the logic of coding.  It took me a little more than an hour to work through the first of 5 levels of lighting up various squares with increasing complexity and I will admit that my only coding experience is with Daisy the Dinosaur. Lightbot Jr. seemed to be easier. Not as much reading was necessary and trial and error was the name of the game.

In a classroom, this app would be a great addition for all students but I can see it especially attracting the student who is very logical and can whip through each stage successfully.  The kind of student (more like me) that is not all about linear thinking and logic would also enjoy this game. There are no wrong answers just chances to try again.  And the logic of coding is built into the fun.

Download and try it on your own and share it with your class.  Make it a Friday afternoon option for some of your students to work in groups.  It would be a fun activity and it will build the capacity for the logical thinking so critical in coding.

Also included in a more expensive app package is Lightbot.  I’ll let you know how I do…

 

Sphero Sprk and Coding

Okay, Sphero Sprk is a ton of fun, just on its own, without the learning and coding part.

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So my advice is when you get one (or 25) for your classroom is to just let the students experiment with the various apps and the robot for a couple of days.  It will settle down after a week or two.  Maybe.

Initializing the Sprk with your ipad is the first step and I started by pairing my Sprk to someone else’s MacBook who happened to be in the library so my advice for pairing is to read ALL the instructions.

There are 5 apps that I downloaded to facilitate the use of the Sphero Sprk. The SPRK app helps to initialize the robot, pairing it to your ipad, and learning some simple coding information.  Use this one for the coding part.  Try some pre-written code in the sample programs and then try coding and adding some new programs. “Jump” was my favourite.

The SpheroCam app is very fun.  Using a “joystick” type controller on screen you can “drive” your robot and control its movement.

The Sphero app contains the game type format for Sphero Sprk but, while not being terribly educational, is so much fun.  For example, by Level 10, your Sphero Sprk has mastered the Hokey Pokey.

Sphero Draw&Drive and SpheroGolf also have many game-like qualities but are fun for the very young to learn how to manipulate the robot.

With the emphasis on having students experience some kind of code writing in elementary school, this robot affords this opportunity for a fairly reasonable price.  All in all, the total price for one would be about $200 Cdn.  Did I mention it flashes patterns of colours?  That is another programming part of the app.  Have fun.

LEGO Mindstorms Robots

LEGO Mindstorms robot kits were the focus of the workshop last evening.  Although our robots had already been constructed by another class, we enjoyed the programming aspect of the kits.images

The programming software that accompanies the robots is fairly straight forward, especially if you have been experimenting with Scratch Jr. or any of the other beginning programming apps that I recently suggested.  The touch sensor and colour senor gave us an idea of how we could program directions for the robot in case of hitting a wall or following a path on a mat.

Our instructor had patience to allow us to experiment with changing many of the programming variables and testing out the results.

I am convinced that these robots, although costly, would be a great addition to any middle or high school setting.  As students watch the immediate effects of their programming changes, they are learning programming logic and design.

I will also learn how to build the robots and send them on various tasks to develop an idea of how far the robots and their programming goes but for now, it looks like they are a great investment. It was totally engaging and hands-on. I was absorbed by the learning and never looked at the clock.

I can imagine the excitement in a grade 5 or 6 class when these kits are introduced. It would be hard to concentrate on anything else.  I would suggest setting aside time each day to work on the building and equipping of the robots before the programming ever starts and having LEGO mentors from among your class to help facilitate those who are less familiar with the steps to build LEGO.

The kits offered amazing engagement for all of us.

Programming Apps for Elementary School

Along with the literature promoting hands-on learning in a makerspace, there is a movement afoot to have kids understand programming.  It makes sense that if students are going to use Arduinos, Raspberry Pi microcomputers, and other programs for designing and inventing, then learning “coding” logic would be a extension of maker learning.

Coding also feeds into STEM as an additional way for students to augment their technology learning.

Daisy the Dinosaur is a good place to start. Although it is rated at ages 4 and up, a 4 year old would have to be a good reader.  Words like “repeat 5” and “shrink” would take a few minutes to distinguish from each other. It is a “drag and drop” app so controlling Daisy quickly becomes a game. Daisy is a free app.

Tynker is riding the coding wave as well with an app for the ages 9 to 11 crowd.  After solving some coding puzzles, a player can move on to building games.  Although the initial download is free, there are many in-app purchases to enhance programming of games in various themed virtual scenarios. Not limited to the 9-11 crowd, I found this app challenging and less intuitive than Daisy the Dinosaur.

ScratchJr, aimed at the ages 6 to 8 crowd seems to encompass my coding age.  This app is free and, for my coding ability, taught me more about programming than any of the others.  I could work through the various challenges with programming directives that appear like puzzle pieces. Although complex in results, it was the most intuitive to use.

In addimgresition to the app for ScratchJr and the website, books like Learn to Program with Scratch are beginning to hit our library shelves. For a beginner like me, this book gives me tips to go on using the program to challenge my coding ability.

Hour to Code and other initiatives may be a way to introduce coding into your classroom or school in a small way to see how it catches on.   Your students are already playing games, why not get a little learning in with the play. Coding apps may be an engaging way to start learning about programming.