Wednesday, 26 November 2014

How to Get Started with Coding in Your Classroom with the Hour of Code

The Hour of Code is an excellent resource for both teachers and students alike. If you have never heard of the Hour of Code before, or have never tried any coding whatsoever, then this is a guide to get you started. Here is a great video to get you and your students excited about learning to code:

If you don't have access to YouTube here is a link to the video on Vimeo:

Coding is just an algorithm that speaks to a machine, and tells it to do things. There are many different languages, and it can be very confusing to stare at a black box on your screen and try to type out a line of code, making sure you got the spacing and strange symbols all pointed the same way.

The Hour of Code is nothing like that. You and your students are presented with colourful blocks that can be dragged and dropped into place to control a variety of variables. They are clearly labelled and it is very accessible for all ages.

Last year my class participated in the Hour of Code and we took about an hour and a half to completely finish as a class. We worked together, so that if one student finished a level early, then they became the teacher, circulating through the room giving hints to other students to help them be successful as well. This collaboration helped us to all be successful, and the experience was both educational and enjoyable for all students.

Afterwards I extended the learning in my class, and started a Primary Coding Club, and a Junior Coding Club. Before the Hour of Code, I knew little, to nothing about Coding. I have been learning with my students. I decided I didn’t need to be an expert, and instead we learned and solved puzzles together as a class.

The Hour of Code website has a variety of options available to help your class get started:

Unplugged Coding: A great way to introduce students to the language of coding.

The Online Beginner’s Course: This is what I did with my Grade ¾ class.
Kindergarten and Grade 1 students have options as well. Both Kodable and The Foos offer excellent apps for portable devices that require little, to no reading to use. They are very engaging, and teach the same key concepts as block coding.

Daisy the Dinosaur introduces the concept of block coding in an easy format that works well for students who have successfully used Kodable and The Foos. It introduces one concept at a time, but does require some reading.

Hopscotch is a more advanced app that introduces many more variables that students can control.

Another option is Lightbot. The great thing about Lightbot is that it is available on computers, Android tablets, and iOS devices. If your students bring their own devices to school, this app makes it easy to still participate in the Hour of Code. Just make sure the students download the app ahead of time, the Hour of Code version is a free app, but I have found that not all my student’s have their passwords to download apps at school. I also recommend purchasing the full app to extend the learning, it is a great app that my class has used extensively with great results!

Codecademy has an Hour of Code tutorial on Javascript that is a good follow up to block coding for students ready to take on a new challenge.

There are hours and hours of additional activities available for free at's website to extend the learning. And here is a link to other coding apps and websites:

If you are looking for a next step after introducing coding to your students. There is a big world of coding and robots you can access. I have been looking for an inexpensive way to take that next step with my class. Thanks to Brian Aspinall, an educator who has forgotten more about coding than I will ever learn, I was introduced to, and there are tutorials here to code instructions for a Sphero, or a Finch Robot. What I like most about the Finch robot is that it comes full circle, it is a modern version of the "turtles" that Seymor Papert was using with children coding way back in 1972. 


Good luck! I think you will enjoy the experience and I know your students will! Good learning for our students comes when we push them gently forward from what they already know, making them slightly uncomfortable in the process. Get slightly uncomfortable and learn a new skill along with your class. I can tell you it is a very rewarding experience!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

How to get Started with Minecraft Pocket Edition in the Classroom

Minecraft pocket edition is an excellent resource that is available to teachers that have iPads or Android tablets in the classroom. It is not a cheap app to purchase, but it is well worth the $9.99. This is a quick walk-through of how we got started with Minecraft Pocket Edition in our classroom. This is not meant to be explained as an "expert", which I am not, but as a person who is "working in progress".

Last year I began using Minecraft in the classroom. It was easy to access because students brought in their own devices, making it easy to allow the students to use it in class. Just because something is easy however, doesn't mean that it should be used. So I really had to sit down and think about how it could best serve a purpose in my classroom practice, and in meeting the curriculum standards.

At first, students wanted to use it to do every task. This wasn't really the best practice, so we quickly learned when it was a useful tool, and when it was not. I feel it's important that students have a wide variety of digital and hands-on tools to be able to do their work, so it was important to me that Minecraft was not the only tool they used.

The first thing to get out of the way is to remove the verb "playing" and replace it with "using". The last thing we want students to go home and say is today I played Minecraft all day. What we hope they will say is I was using Minecraft to create an ancient civilization with the knowledge I have learned from doing research. I used Minecraft to create that so that I can share with my class in a live presentation where we virtually toured the city.

The second thing to get out of the way is that we never use Minecraft as a free-time activity. It is never something to just play at school, or to fill in the time. It is a tool that we use purposefully to further our understanding of a concept, or to share our learning about curriculum.

Here is a poster about how we use Minecraft in the classroom:

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the activities that have proven successful and would allow you to quickly get started with Minecraft in class.


There are many math challenges that can be presented to students is a Minecraft activity. After they've learned a concept and shared it in a variety of ways, you can offer to them Minecraft as another method to share their learning. I find this works best, by not giving them the actual test to do, but rather by giving the challenge can you share this in Minecraft?

Students can represent fractions:

Build graphs:

Share addition, and subtraction strategies, represent multiplication facts.

Represent time: 

Share reflections, rotations, and translations:

Create patterns, share representations of area, perimeter, and volume. 

These are just a few ways that Minecraft to be used in in the math classroom, there are many more but try these to get started.

In Language, last year we created "Choose Your Own Adventure Stories" with Minecraft. 

The students wrote the actual story in the landscape of the world that they were in. They created a story that had alternate storylines, alternate endings and it all worked within the world. Minecraft can also be used to share the setting of a story there reading class, or to do a book report when they're finished a book, sharing the most important things they learned in their book in Minecraft.

Social Studies seems to be a perfect fit for Minecraft. There's so many different ways that they can represent their learning in Social Studies, by building and representing what they've created in Minecraft. Last year my students shared about what would be found in each of the provinces and territories of Canada, they created Ancient Civilizations, they created an Aboriginal Village with a longhouse, and they created both in urban and rural landscape in the Minecraft world.

Science concepts can also be shared in Minecraft. Students have created visuals to represent sound waves, inner ear diagrams, internal organs complete with labels and used it to present to their class.

So they have created something in Minecraft, but now how do they go about sharing it? We have used a variety of tools, it usually starts with taking screenshots on the device, and then adding those images into another up on the device.

We regularly use Skitch, available on Android and iOS, where we load the picture in and then use the arrows and different ways of making notes to share our understanding and to represent the different parts of the image we've created Minecraft.

We use iMovie, where we load the images into either a trailer, or an iMovie itself and do a voiceover explaining the different things were created in our Minecraft world.

Titanic from Scott McKenzie on Vimeo.

We use Google Slides/Presentation, although you could certainly also use Keynote, or even PowerPoint to share the images with both words on the screen, and presentation notes in order to do the presentation to the class.

This year, we have been using Green Screen by Do Ink, which allows the students to virtually be standing in their Minecraft world giving a tour much like a movie.

Pairs of students can also do a live presentation to the class, with one student taking a turn actually driving the students through on the screen as it devices hooked up to a projector and the other student stands at the front explaining what's happening then they switch and continued to explain so that both students get an opportunity to present to the class.


Sharing a World with Others Local, and Abroad:
Sometimes, we want to have the students working in the same world with other students. This is easy to do on the full computer version, but can be more challenging when using Pocket Edition. The secret is using an application called Pocketmine. It can be downloaded and used as an app on a smart phone, or it can be downloaded and used on a Macintosh computer, or a Windows computer. It allows you to run of a virtual server that runs a world in Minecraft where students can join from different devices, and from different places. Students from other sides of the world can join your world if you set it up properly. There are various tutorials online to help you set up your server.

This is a poster we created with some Minecraft Server rules:

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, there are many other ways Minecraft can be used, these are just ways to get you started. I hope there is something helpful here for you, and I wish you well on your journey into a blocky, exciting classroom of opportunities!