Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Kids can Code!: Apps and Websites we've Used to Learn to Code

Okay, first off a confession: when I decided I wanted to get the kids in my class coding on the computer I had NO IDEA how to do so. I just knew it was a good thing, and that it would give some chlldren a chance to shine.

The opportunity arose when offered the Hour of Code this year. This was a tipping point for a lot of educators, and I don’t think we can properly thank all the companies that offered Hour of Code resources. It is a ready-made, step-by-step walkthrough for beginners. Perfect for classes of eager students!

The truth is I had no idea about a lot of things i have tried this year, but I found that if I just dove right in fearlessly, the students would follow. We followed the acronym F.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning. Working together we proceeded through the steps of basic coding learning as we went. It came naturally to some students, and they then circulated and helped the students who were stuck on a level. We worked together and everyone was successful.

After the Hour of Code, we also took the opportunity to do the Flappy Bird: Code Your Own Game challenge at This seemed even easier than the Hour of Code Tutorial, and the room was near silent as students interchanged blocks of code finding the right combination to complete a level. The real fun and creativity came at the end when everyone was able to individualize their game, adding their own twist to Flappy Bird’s original code. Here is a short video of a Grade 4 student explaining how he "modded" the game.

Gr. 3/4 student explains how he modded Flappy Bird on from Scott McKenzie on Vimeo.

We wanted to share our learning with other classes, so we found an app that would introduce the Kindergarten students to coding. Kodable is a great iOS app for this age group, and we started with the most eager Kindies. They started sharing their learning with the rest of their class, and soon their whole class was learning how to code. The Grade 1 students were also interested, so we taught them with Kodable as well.

There was a lot of interest from students in coding, so I decided to try a Junior Coding Club, and a Primary Coding Club. Both have had steady attendance from students and I have been asked weekly “Do we have coding club today?”

These are some of the Coding apps/websites I have been using. I will start with the easier apps I used for the youngest students, and they get progressively more challenging from there. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so please add on your own  in the comments below.

Primary Students:

Kodable: iOS app. Perfect way to introduce the basic coding commands. Great for Kindergarten as there is no reading required.

The Foos: iOS and Android apps, and it works on a computer (but not a Chromebook). No reading required, excellent for Kindergarten and up.

Daisy the Dinosaur: iOS app. Introduces the students to “block” coding. The only challenge I found was that it is difficult for the younger children to read the instructions.

Hopscotch: iOS app. This is a more advanced, greater choice/control app for children who have been successful with Daisy the Dino. I found a great tutorial on Youtube that walks students through some of the features of Hopscotch.

Snapcoding: works in the web browser (Chrome works best) and on tablets/chromebooks. This is a step up from Hopscotch, and introduces many more scripts that students can experiment with.

Light-bot: This app is great if you are a BYOD classroom. It is available on both iOS and Android, and their is an online version as well.

Tynker’s Hour of Code: online, a little more primary-friendly that’s Hour of Code.

Junior Students:

MIT’s excellent Scratch online coding program. We have only scratched the surface with this, Hopscotch is a good way to get ready for this program as it is a fair bit more advanced.

Turtle Academy is another online program that teaches the LOGO language in steps.

Codecombat has a gaming format, and moves past the blocks and has the students writing actual javascript commands.

Khan Academy has a full program on offer as well. We are going to be trying this next!

Codecademy now has an iOS app as well as their interactive website.

Friday, 11 April 2014

How Minecraft has Enhanced Student Learning (explained with the SAMR model)

This year I decided I wanted to try Project-Based Learning in my class. I knew that technology would enhance this approach, and I was ready with iMovie, Explain Everything, Educreations, Skitch, Haiku Deck, Google Sites, Wikis, ect. The previous year my students had made use of all these tools, and had learned to choose the best one for sharing their learning. I was missing a big one however…
A student approached me in class and asked if he could create an activity in Minecraft Pocket Edition. A 3D building block game on his iPod.  I wasn’t sure how it would work, and I felt it would take him far too long to complete. But I gave him a chance, and I was impressed with how quickly he was able to work. This student had difficulty with reading and writing at grade level, but in the span of 10 minutes he had created everything in three-dimensions that other students had created 2D on paper. He has difficulty with letter reversals, but every letter he had built was correctly represented. I was impressed.
Next we began using Minecraft to supplement other activities and ways of sharing our learning. I challenged the students in my class, I wanted everything they would normally present with a poster, or report. They easily surpassed my expectations, modding, and hacking the concept of a report. Instead of just writing information on a wall in Minecraft, we were being taken on a tour through their project. There were information sections embedded throughout the tour, and working models of what they had learned about. Everything important had been included and shared. Here is a tour of the Titanic by one of my Grade 4 students:

A lot of Problem-Solving opportunities arise as well. Recently, a few student were completed their work early and I gave them a class challenge. We were working on telling time, and measuring time and I wanted time to work with those that would need extra help in class.

“When you are finished… see if you can create a clock in Mincraft… That works!”

At home this might be possible when they are working on the full powered Minecraft application, but Minecraft P.E. has limits as it is designed to work on portable devices. An alternate was to create a clock in Minecraft that was telling a particular time, or show measurement of time.

There was near silence in the room as students finished their work. Occasionally they would confer with each other sharing a strategy, or design that was working. These mini projects were all completed in about 20 minutes.

This student created a sand clock, that cleans up after itself, so that it can be used over again:

Here is a student who created a “working” clock. It isn’t accurate (to scale) but he has “hands” moving at second, minute and hour intervals:

This student had a similiar idea. I challenged him to see if he could build his clock to scale. He went home that night, and returned the following day with a successful model:

These girls worked on measuring time. They created two clocks, and showed how much time had elapsed between the two clocks:

Social Studies just seems custom-made for Minecraft. The opportunities are endless. Any place you learn about can be recreated in Minecraft. Here is a Medieval Village shared in Minecraft:

I have tried to use Ruben R. Puentedura's SAMR model this year to look at how I am using technology in my teaching. The SAMR model helps us to reflect on whether or not we are making full use of the possibilities with technology.

I thought about how Minecraft had changed the possibilities for Report Writing/Presentations:

The lowest level is Substitution: 
-tech acts as a direct substitute  
-instead of writing report on paper, students type on computer.

The second level is Augmentation 
-direct substitute with functional improvement 
-importing images from the internet into their report

The third level is Modification 
-tech allows for a significant task redesign 
-for me this is where Minecraft comes into play 
-students started by creating 3D models of what they were learning about, then took screenshots, or short video clips and used them in reports

The fourth level is Redefinition 
-tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable 
-creating a report inside a game, writing the important information through each level, or learning space in the 3D environment
-NEW PRESNTATION MODE: sharing that world on a projector hooked up to their device, flying through their created project and visiting each area of important information 

The best part of it all is that I am not the clever one here at all. I didn’t move up through these levels, I just challenged my students to improve their design, and explain their thinking clearly, they did the rest. I didn’t move through the SAMR model, my students did… with Minecraft.

These are some other blog posts I wrote on the use of Minecraft in class this year:

Friday, 4 April 2014

Using Google Hangouts to Enrich Student Learning

This year my class has had some unique opportunities through Google Plus and Google Hangouts. Today we had a great experience when we attended a Virtual Field Trip through Google's online community "Connected Classrooms" on Google Plus. 
We were attending Mr. Cameron Young's "Virtual Snake Hike".

We joined the Google Hangout space at the same time as Mr. Jose Luis Gutierrez Sanchez's Grade 3 class in Mexico. An impromptu Hangout started as our two classes just naturally started talking to each other. Then our snake expert, Mr Cameron Young came online and started his tour. As there were only a few classes on the virtual trip, we were able to engage directly with Mr. Young and ask his questions as he shared the snakes at the Center for Snake Conservation in Denver, Colorado.

At the beginning of this year I started using Google Hangouts to create a more engaging way for students to learn about other Provinces in Canada. Google Hangouts is an excellent tool to allow students to meet each other no matter where they're located around the country. I created a community for teachers in Canada to connect on Google Plus.
We did Google Hangouts with students in Prince Edward Island, and in British Columbia. The students were able to ask questions about things they had read in a book about those provinces, and found out how their lives in Ontario were similiar/different from other Provinces.
Then I was lucky enough to connect with Mr. Frey's class is at Parkway Public School We connected our classes through Google Hangouts. His class was the audience for my class as we performed a play for a live audience. Afterwards we sought out feedback from his class, again using Google Hangouts as well as a back channel with Today's Meet. The students thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and we knew that we wanted to have more opportunities to allow students to collaborate. Recently our students connected to check on the progress of a shared web site they were building together with Google Sites.
After having success meeting classes across Canada, we tried other countries. We met a class from Serbia and had a conversation about culture. We were also able to meet a class from Scotland and learn a bit about what life was like for them. My students were fascinated by these opportunities, and really enjoyed learning about what life was like for students in different countries.
Communities on Google Plus that foster collaboration between classes:
G+EduHangouts and Google Hangouts in Education.

Moving forward, my goal is to have ongoing collaboration with other classes. There is so much we can share, and a wide world of students to learn with!