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!

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