Thursday, December 18, 2014

Computer Science Week and a Makerspace

Referring to this post written in the Makerspace blog. Click here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Happy Birthday, Grace Hopper

This is the second year of the Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week. So much has changed in the K-12 landscape for teaching Computer Science. There was a time when there was only Scratch and Logo to use as computer languages for K-5. Granted that Scratch was accessible to all due to the fact that it was free. However, having choices always brings about the best of all. 

The fact is that in time for Hour of Code, several organizations have released products. The most prized possession this year was of our robots, Dash and Dot from Wonder Workshop (read about our first day with the robots here). The other great thing to have happened is our district's purchase of premium accounts with Tynker. And another exciting aspect was that we now have a choice with kindergarten and first grade. They can use both Kodable and Scratch Jr on the iPads. Scratch Jr comes with a variety of online resources. Kodable is a great starting point, particularly because several students are only at letter recognition stage in kindergarten, not reading. Another great product I came across two weeks ago is Trinket because it introduces real Python programming to children in a fun way. 

Two years back, when I started this job of an Educational Technology Teacher on Special Assignment, I had started a noontime Scratch Club because coding was one thing I didn't want to give up with my students as I left my own classroom. At the time, I struggled to find at least one other colleague in our district elementary schools to give me company in terms of teaching coding. I found one soon after I started the noontime club. At about the same time, Tynker had started beta testing and the students now had a choice of programs.

This year, with the introduction of the Makerspace at my school (called the Barron Park Maker Studio), coding was one of the many components of making during lunch. The primary grade teachers had started with the introduction of Kodable in their classrooms as well as the Bee-bots. The second grade and some of the third grade teachers had started with the introduction of Scratch and Tynker in their classrooms. The goal is eventually that teachers have their students work on various coding related activities all year round. So the stage had been set over the past several months. 

In addition to the entire school working on the Hour of Code, like we did last year, we decided to introduce family events. So we now have classroom events, lunch time events, family events and I decided to conduct workshops for our district teachers two days of the week; we called them Educators' Hour of Code. Click here for the activities, resources and schedule for the week.

The week couldn't have had a better kickstart than with one of the kindergarten classes. We were lucky to have two parent volunteers. I also must say that I am lucky to have the trust of the teachers in terms of organizing the activities. They truly go by and trust that I will do the right thing for their students and that is such a blessing. It really helps me work with that goal in mind. The three centers were: Scratch Jr, for early readers and the bee-bots. The students had only worked with the bee-bots prior to this day. 
The idea was to introduce them to new tools so they can adapt and be flexible as regards changes. They had used Kodable regularly for a few weeks and introducing Scratch Jr. gave them yet another tool in their basket. I did have one of the parents run the robot station. 
    The activities for the early readers are fantastic. The students picked them up right away. Rotating through the three centers, they had no clue that their snack time had passed. Our debrief was good. The students talked about what they found hard or challenging (it didn't do what we wanted it to do!).

After recess came the second graders. They had a choice of picking their stations. Again, there were three stations. These students had worked previously with Tynker and Kodable. 

So today, their choices were Scratch Jr, the Bee-bots by creating mazes for them and code. org. While they worked on these, I called a few students at a time to work with Dash and Dot. Since they are second graders, I had to give them instructions before they could start (last week the fifth graders had figured it all out from pairing the robots to programming them). Two of the students made a holiday card as suggested using Scratch Jr. They then came back at lunch to complete the project. That was real dedication.

At lunch this week, the Maker Studio is devoted to just coding related activities. 
Dash and Dot are immensely popular and we had to monitor getting the students to take turns. They worked on a variety of activities using Kodable, Scratch Jr, Scratch, Tynker, Code.Org, Dash and Dot, Bee-bots. Tomorrow, we will have them working on Trinket as well.

After school, there were seven educators from around the district who came to attend a workshop. I was delighted. On a whim on Saturday night I had this idea about conducting workshops during this week so we could capitalize on the excitement and engage and train teachers who hadn't started with this activity as well as provide resources for those who were comfortable with certain others. 

The day was long but rewarding and so energizing for me that I decided to write about it. There are two days when for the first time in the district for the Hour of Code, two schools will interact with each other - a neighboring school's students will code along with the Barron Park students. Everyone is super excited. 

This year I was motivated/inspired to make t-shirts for parent volunteers. 

What is amazing is to see the level of collaboration, cooperation, effort, engagement, motivation, and most importantly, empathy, from all the students. Learning can be so much fun if done right. 

The mission of reaching every K-5 student in the Palo Alto Unified School District seemed long and distant at one point and seems to be coming together slowly and surely. It almost always pays to be optimistic. Happy coding, everyone!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Benefits of Coding in K-1

That coding needs to be part of a student's elementary daily school life has been a passion for me and have been propagating it for a few years in my district now, with the number of teachers attending the workshops growing from 2 or 3 to 8 or 10 (sometimes 20 in a presentation setting) and more teachers implementing the same in their classrooms. 

Last year, with introducing The Hour of Code, it was a great way to introduce coding in classrooms, exciting even the most reluctant educator or those who feel like they are non-tech-savvy as they put it. 

While the students in Grades 2 and up had been using either Scratch, or Tynker or Alice (or in the case of some 5th graders Java and Python), I was wondering what I could do with grades K and 1 to make it meaningful and age appropriate. Along came Kodable to my rescue (and to the delight of the students). I chanced upon it, got hooked onto it and decided it was something that seemed ideal for that age group. Grechen Huebner, one of the founders of Kodable, was gracious enough to share a bunch of resources, and came to work with one of the kindergarten classes once and with a first grade class a few times. The way the students took to it, the thinking, learning, engagement and motivation for each learner was simply fantastic. That then became the students' favorite app to go to when it came to a survey at the end of the year. That was fantastic.

Fast forward to November this week. It is a month away from this year's Hour of Code. We bought the classroom versions of Kodable Class for Grades K-2. It was time to introduce the same in Grade 1. The students are always super excited about learning to use a new application when it involves creativity. I start with the introduction, asking those who were at the school - Do you remember using this app? What does it do? How does it help us?

The first two questions were standard - yes, we remember, we need to get the fuzz ball forward, collect the coins. In response to the last question - the first hand goes up - "We learn how to follow diretions". Applause of course. The second hand goes up - "It makes us think" .

Straight from their mouths, no prompting, nothing. Do we need any more proof that coding at that stage does indeed benefit students and that it is one of the most engaging and critical thinking activities that they can go through at that stage? Of course, now they are off and about on their own, working their way through the mazes.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

IPad Interview

Simple lesson idea for all grade levels which will cover the following skills:
- Speaking
- Listening
- Questioning
- Initiating a relevant conversation
- Respecting various opinions
and more based upon usage :)

This is best done as a partner activity with one person holding the iPad and carrying on an interview using the inbuilt Camera app. As students get to know each other in the first few weeks of school, interviewer starts by greeting appropriately, asking the interviewee to list three things about himself/herself. Interviewer then picks one of those three things and delves deeper into that topic. Depending upon the grade level, the depth could be determined, more like the length of the video. Upload finished videos to Schoology. Have class discussions on what went well about the process and what can be done better the next time.

This was done very successfully with Grade 1. It was not their first time handling the iPad video camera.

The same process can be applied to any topic, other than "All about me". Enjoy!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Waiting in Line at the Maker Studio

Today's lunch time at the Maker Studio was a little different from days past in that one of our staff members who helps with the sewing machine couldn't make it and we had more than 25 little ones wanting to sew. I have used a sewing machine about thirty five years back when my grandmother had one where one had to spin with one hand and move the cloth with the other. The other adult in the room who normally helps doesn't know how to sew either and a third adult who came in early on doesn't. I do know how to hand sew and used to do a great deal of embroidery. However, I also needed to be available to help with the students who were coding or doing some of the other activities. Most of our customers for the sewing were first and second graders and a few third and fourth graders.

So the staff member who is the instructional aide for the Maker Studio had the students line up and wait their turn to get a needle threaded or fabric selected. One of the students who decided he didn't want to do it that way, took a couple of felt sheets, tied string around it, made it into an airplane and came proudly to show it to me, exclaiming, "Look how the wings flap!", while a few others came to me with the ends of the hand sewn pieces wanting me to knot it or cut some thread or just wanting a pair of scissors. In the meantime, one of our classroom instructional aides got this telepathy that she was wanted. She was on yard duty, knows how to sew and given that there were more than 50 students in the room and the backyard there, she wasn't required as much outside.

She obviously saved the day because she patiently got each student to come and sew. 
Meanwhile, several of them were standing patiently in line.

After the students had left at the end of lunch, the three of us were reflecting upon the situation. My personal opinion was that it was great that the students had learned to wait for their turn, but boy, they were waiting patiently and they didn't mind that they had to wait and they didn't want to give that up for another activity in the Maker Studio. Believe me, they had several other choices. This then lead me to think: What if every activity in the classroom was so compellingly motivating that students were happy to wait their turn, that they were learning to be patient and kind with zero teaching from our side on that front. Just patience and calm from our end too! What a wonderful school day that would be!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

iPads in First Grade

iPads have come to stay at our site. This is the third year that I am at this site. So students going into third grade started using them regularly and creatively since first grade and so on if they were at this school. Yesterday was my first iPad lesson in first grade.

One of the many things we, educators are aware, is that just like classroom rules and procedures, expectations and norms with use of the devices needs to be set from day one. There can be no exception. Students must learn to use the devices appropriately and safely. They have the world at their fingertips which is fantastic, but in order that they use the devices efficiently from a young age, students must be taught the same explicitly.

The current first grade students used the iPads regularly in kindergarten with creation apps on a very regular basis. The apps they used included the camera, Doodlecast Pro, Book Creator and Toontastic. By the end of the year, I had been complimenting the teachers and students at their amazing work. The children were drawing so well on the iPads, it was unbelievable and their movements were really fluid. Since I do the cool lessons, the students are almost always delighted to have me in their classrooms (the same students in the second week of kindergarten had referred to me as "The iPad Lady"). 

The classroom teacher and I decided to coteach the norms so that the message was consistent from us. I asked the students to tell us the do's and don't's since they had been using the iPads for a year. The first question I asked them was, "What do you use the iPads in school for?" The very first hand to go up was a boy who hadn't exactly been there the entire year and is an English Language learner who spoke no English when he came here during kindergarten. His response was, "Learning". This validated the fact that once expectations are set, students will use those devices as learning tools and not treat them like toys. Thereafter, it was very smooth sailing with all the follow up questions and responses. We had an excellent discussion.

Not only was my day made, I got renewed energy to go deliver the message once again to the teachers and more students to forge ahead with their creativity and enthusiasm.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


So we have a brand new Makerspace at Barron Park Elementary in PAUSD. The formal innauguration is on Saturday, September 6th from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. with two keynote speakers:

Rushton Hurley , inspiring speaker, educator, founder of Nextvista at 10:45 a.m. and

Dr. Max McGee, Superintendent of PAUSD at 11:00 a.m. 

The first day of school was not really setup. However, the students saw the open doors and asked to come in since they are so used to coming in at lunch for the programming club. Following are just a few pictures of the students tinkering around, getting a tour of the new space, being super enthusiastic.

Fourth grade student who figured out his connections very quickly

New third grade student tinkering

Seeing one of the many options - a Bee bot in this case

Third graders getting a demo of the 3D Printer

A FIrst Day Story

There are a few first day stories from yesterday, but the one I wanted to share is this one: 

After the bell and attendance on the first day of school is the school wide assembly right after which follows the PTA coffee. I had to check out a few classrooms with respect to helping them set up and a few odds and ends in terms of jobs, after which I decided to pop in to welcome the new parents and greet the old faces.  

I encountered one of the parents who had had a ski accident and was telling me about her recovery. She then pulled me aside and asked, "Aren't you the one who taught Scratch to my children?" She now has a fifth grader and a seventh grader. I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that because yes, I did introduce the children to Scratch and guide them along, but not quite taught them but that does boil down to our definition of "teaching" the students. She then proceeded to tell me how for her birthday her fifth grader had made her a Scratch card with popping fireworks and it was the coolest thing she got so she wanted to thank me. Her face was lit up while talking about it, she was so happy, so proud of her son and it was really nice for her to share her story.

Needless to add, it was one of the many things that just made my day!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Haiku Deck and National Poetry Month

It is National Poetry month. Haiku Deck is a free app that has 35,000 built in Creative Common images and is perfect for poetry. Haiku Deck does not mean students must write a Haiku. It could be any kind of poem. Attached is a student sample (3rd grade) of using a combination of Haiku Deck and Explain Everything
1. Students wrote their poems on paper.
2. They then typed them on Google docs where they revised their poems including using the new Thesaurus Add-on feature of Google docs (fantastic feature!).
3. After a few iterations, when checked off, they used Haiku Deck to type their poems, associating each line with a pertinent image.
4. They played Haiku Deck in play mode and took screen shots of each slide (picture + text).
5. They imported those pictures into Explain Everything from the camera roll.
6. They added their voice and annotation.
7. Saved the end product as a video in the camera roll.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Travelling with Google GLASS

I haven't travelled with Google GLASS during the short time that I have had it. However, on a recent trip to New York city, I decided to take it along. My children were embarassed to have me walking on the streets with it (they are both currently in their teen years so challenging is to say the least). So this is from the hotel room but I loved the pictures and videos that emerged with GLASS. So here goes....

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Student ShowCase CUE 2014

The student showcases are always my favorite thing to do whether at CUE or ISTE because it is so wonderful to see students showing off their work to such a large, authentic audience. They come prepared to talk to all age groups, confident, clear on the work they have accomplished and very proud of the same (in a really nice way). This time, as always, I skipped a session to go check out the student showcase. It helped that I was done with my presentations on Thursday and Friday. One of the other highlights at CUE for the student showcase - the majority of those showcasing come from schools which are more than 90% free and reduced lunch. So their achievement is remarkable, given the resources and other obstacles they have to deal with. Following are some highlights from the student showcase.

1. DIgital Storytelling by Fourth Grade at Franklin Elementary School where they used Pages to write their stories, then have them published through the iBooks store. They also had a hard copy in color of their stories, which they were really proud of. The process they followed:
 - Pre-write (thinking maps) on paper
 - Draft on paper
 - Typed drafts onto the iPad using Pages
 - Inserted pictures using the internet and pictures they had captured
 - Drafts with pictures were uploaded to Edmodo to share with their teacher (one could use any LMS or Google Drive)
  - The drafts were then transferred to an iMac where the students revised and edited. The final versions were uploaded to iBooks Author. The books were then published through iBooks on the iPad.

2. A STEAM project by 5th graders from Melinda Heights Elementary: Questions they asked: "How can we tell where air masses are travelling across the country? How can we teach others about weather?"
  - Students tracked weather patterns for a major city using colored pencils and a paper map.
  - Referred to a surface map to describe and predict weather patterns
  - Used a Google docs spreadsheet to record weather for a major US city
  - Calculated the mean, median, mode, and range for the high and low temperatures
  - Chose a weather topic to research
  - Created a game that would teach the topic to others
  - Used the GamePress App on iPads to code the game
  - Added information and characters that were related to the topic.
  S (Weather)
  T (iPads) 
  E (Game Creation)
  A (Game Design)
  M (Statistics)

3. Teens from Val Verde High School created a hard hitting documentary highlighting the dangers of smoking (This idea could be used at any grade level and any topic to create a social impact). 

4. Fifth graders from Walnut Elementary School created websites using Weebly

5. Second graders from the North Ridge Digital club demonstrated their understanding and projects using Scratch. They also learn troubleshooting computers and keyboarding.

6. Fourth graders who are part of a Mouse Squad, program with Scratch, helped the kindergarteners create a stop motion video and a biography video where they interviewed grandparents (passport to California)... Turned out the teacher and I follow each other on Twitter. She should be so proud of her student work. Very impressive. 

7. Minecraft and the Uncommon Core (7th and 8th graders from McPherson Magnet School): It started with the Jamestown settlement and grew into a student inquiry about the 13 colonies. The students called it the Uncommon Core because the project integrates an area of student personal interest (Minecraft) into the required learning context (social studies or science). The project comprised three broad steps:
- Research at least five credible sources supporting the project
- Cite textual evidence from researched information
- Create Digital expressions from the textual evidence to be represented using Minecraft. Click here for the project website.

8. A group of college students, who started a gamification plug-in idea while in high school have a fantastic, free resource. Students will code in features upon request. The plugin source is Wordpress. Click here for the website. Basically, a teacher plugs in their lesson with levels, stages, etc and the plug in gamifies the lesson - hey presto! How cool is that!

Even if one were to implement one idea from the above, it would be fantastico!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Game Testing

One of the coolest aspects of my job is when a new product is to be launched and they would like to have it tested by an authentic audience, in this case the students. I look at it as a win-win situation since the product makers get feedback and the students get to try something new and exciting and they feel really proud about being valued. As long as it isn't a frequent phenomenon, within limits, it is fine.

So yesterday, we had a group of college game design developers come to visit a third grade class thanks to a parent in that class who is associated to the product. The game happens to be a fraction based game (fractions is probably the most daunting concept for students that age and beyond for those who consider themselves to be "not good at Math"), with a Tetris-like appeal (Tetris has been a huge addiction for me the past twenty years at least; there was a time twenty years ago when I all I dreamed about was falling blocks and how I could fit them in and better my score). 

While the students were being called in groups of three or four, the rest got their chance to continue on their coding projects. They also now have the "Make your own Flappy Bird" from which is great. 

At the end of the session, one of the developers asked the students for their feedback. The first few hands went: "It was fun", "It was great". After the first five such responses I intervened to have the students elaborate on their reasoning. The authentic feedback then started: "I like the way they fit into the squares". The first of the candid ones: "Change the music" had all the adults cracking up. "We want to make our own Avatars", "We don't like the guy playing that trumpet" - when asked why the student said "Because the guy is bald". "We want to create our own avatar and have him/her select their instrument". 

To me, that is what this was all about. Having the students think about what makes a good game design or any design, think about how can they enhance it, what effort is involved in making something of that scale and more. All real world situations that students are lucky to have around them. We, as educators, just need to provide them with greater opportunities each day.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The iPad as an expressive tool

Last week, I was interviewing a fifth grade parent (J) about her take on the 1:1 iPad program in fifth grade at our site, why she/her daughter liked it, etc. She loves the program and went to state the reasons why, etc. After I had stopped recording, she went to state to me that she loved how the iPad allowed her daughter to express herself in different ways and be creative. That was a very powerful statement. When the iPad is used as an effective tool, students can produce some wonderful creations.

This afternoon, I was working with a kindergarten teacher, going through some recent student work where the students are creating an "All About Me" book on the iPad. This teacher used to make the book in the traditional way where the children made it on paper and pencil. This year they are using the iPads for the book, drawing and recording their voices with the books. What a wonderful keepsake for the families!

While reviewing a particular child's work where he has really used his words to talk and talked about not just the pieces on his storyboard but gone on to tell us stories and a great deal of description, J's statement about children being able to express themselves came out strong and clear.

This particular child does not have attention at home, does not have the kind of support that others do, but does have the same level of skills and creativity. So, not only did he do what was asked of him, he went on to do much more. He created and he expressed because he found an imaginary audience who would listen to whatever it is he has to say (and he has a great deal to say).

I complimented this teacher because this teacher has provided a safety net and a forum where the children are motivated and feel safe to express themselves without fearing being right or wrong.

This only validated what is so crucial in integrating technology. Do it right, do it meaningfully, do it in a way that allows students to be creative, do it so that it adds value to the product, pay attention to the process, not just the final product and finally, "let it go".

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Whiteboard Apps

It is wonderful to see so many educators now using iPads for student creativity. One of the easiest places to start with is whiteboard apps. One can draw and record one's voice simultaneously. So one can use this for explaining several concepts across curriculum, across grades and across topics. There are always several questions that arise from using one or other app and while each has its pros and cons, I am not one to propagate one over the other. Creating a comparison chart was the answer. The following chart compares four of the more popular whiteboard apps: DoodleCast Pro, Educreations, Explain Everything and ShowMe.