Sunday, 4 December 2016

Elementary Coding: Number Sense and Numeration with Racing Cars!

"Racing Cars - Number Sense" is a project that has the more difficult coding parts completed so that students can adjust the values to create harder, or easier questions in the game. They don't have to know how to code the entire program, they are just "tweaking" the code to give them a desired result. They can change how fast the competitor's car travels across the race track, and how far their car will travel each time they answer a question correctly. In this way, they are practicing their math skills, and then adjusting the game to increase the challenge as their skill level increases. 

This project can work for a Grade 1 through Grade 6 class depending on how hard the students code the math questions. It is a simple game where one sprite moves at a constant rate, while the other sprite needs to first answer an addition (or subtraction, multiplication and division) question to move forward. 

My Grade 3 class will first play this game, then code it for a Grade 1 class and a Grade 6 class. They will have to consider the range of numbers selected in the "operators" blocks of code when doing subtraction, and division.

If they select a smaller number for the first number in the question for subtraction, or division, then their program won't work, not for an Elementary class at any rate.

Here is the video tutorial to get you and your class started:

Here is the project page:

Good Luck!

Elementary Coding: Measurement (Telling Time) & Number Sense (Ratio)

Here are a few Measurement and Number Sense projects that program a working clock in Scratch. It starts with Primary and works up to Junior.

There is an advanced project as well. Students are asked to adjust the ratios between the two hands already on the clock, band to add a third (hour) hand to the clock as well.

If you want to learn along with your class, try the Primary or Junior video tutorials.

Primary Clock Project:

Here is the starter project your students will use:

If your students are in Grade 4-6, or found the above project easy, here is a video tutorial and project for them to try.

Junior Clock Project:
Here is the starter project your students will use:

Scaffolded Project: 
Students can try this project where one of the "hand" sprites is already coded, and they have to code the other hand to be in the correct ratio as they travel around the clock face:

Represent Ratios found in Real Life Contexts:

The "hand" sprites need to turn (rotate) around the clock. Can you code the hands to go around the clock at the proper ratio?

Extension: Can you add an "Hour" hand sprite to turn and represent each hour at a ratio that matches the Minute and Hour hand sprites?

How did you figure out the solution? Explain the math you used to make the program work properly.

Easier Project:
Number Sense and Numeracy/Measurement:

Clock: Switch the Stage Once an Hour

This clock switches its backdrop, but it is not switching it once an hour as its programmer intended. Can you change the program so it changes the backdrop once an hour?

Measurement and Addition skills are needed to succeed at this task. How did you solve the problem? Explain your thinking!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Elementary Coding: Probability Experiment and Building a Graph!

This is a quick way to do the Hour of Code in your class and still meet specific Math expectations in your classroom. There are a ton of terrific coding activities online, this is just my contribution.

My daughter wanted to code a game in Scratch, and we built this little game together for fun:

Snowman Dash!

After we coded the game I saw how it would relate to Probability in my Elementary classroom. 

1. How long can your Snowman survive the game? 

2. How could you change the code in the game to make it easier, or harder to survive. 

3. Write down how you changed the game and share with your classmates.

Next I thought about how we could graph the results, so I built this simple Pictograph in Scratch:

Building a Pictograph

Now students could add to the code to graph the data they gather collected when we played the "Snowman Dash!" game.

You can change the sprites that move up the graph to match any data you collect in your class as you work on Data Management.

Happy coding!

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

How Design Thinking has Improved Genius Hour in Grade 3/4

For the past couple of years, I've been experimenting with self-directed learning in my classroom. We refer to this as “Awesome Ideas” time, and it quickly became my students’ favourite time of the day. This process was a bit challenging for students, as they struggled to come up with innovative ideas, but I knew they were enjoying the learning. I knew they were enjoying the learning, because they would groan when the lunch bell rang, or ask if they could stay in at recess to work on their ideas.

They work on a wide variety of ideas…

Information on wildlife:
Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 7.40.15 AM.png
Writing a play that all students have a role in:
Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 7.05.30 AM.png
Learning and Sharing about Chemistry:
Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 7.10.51 AM.png

I started by explaining to my students what Genius Hour is. If this term is new to you, here is a short video from Chris Kesler “What is Genius Hour? - Introduction to Genius Hour in the Classroom” that explains the concept:
Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 7.17.33 AM.png
More information on Chris’s website:

As a class, we discussed how people tend to come up with great ideas when it is something they are interested in.  Students seemed to appreciate that when provided with choice, they are naturally more engaged in the process.

Students began the process working how they always have in class. They worked with their friends in class, or by themselves if they preferred. Slowly I began to ask questions, “Have you seen what Matthew is working on?” and commented that they were doing a similar topic. Curiosity took over, and they began to connect with new people, and work with a greater number of classmates. Now that we are nearer the end of the year, students are typically working on about three projects at once, with various groups of students, collaborating on a variety of topics.

I spent about a month teaching my students how to use various tools effectively in the classroom. These would be the tools they would primarily present their ideas with. Students became proficient at building websites with Google Sites, slideshows with Google Slides, interactive graphic posters with Google Draw, interactive games, or animations with Scratch, and they used Minecraft to create 3D tours, or 2D static screenshots to explain their thinking, or build on their ideas.

As new tools came along, we would try them out in the classroom. Learning and sharing some of these tools became part of self-directed learning as students became proficient with the new tool, they shared it with the class. This gave students a sense of ownership of their learning that they hadn’t had in the past. They felt that their opinions and ideas mattered, and they knew that I trusted them to share their new learning with the class. As they built upon this model of learning and sharing, they became teachers in the class as well.

How has this helped students to be better learners?

As teachers, they started to look at how they would make their lesson clear and easy for others to understand. They looked at their presentation and picked out the key points they were trying to share. They used Kahoot to build an interactive quiz for the students to try after the presentation, to make sure everyone grasped the big ideas. In this way, they became metacognitive thinkers, looking at how they and their classmates were learning, and trying to improve their ability to impart knowledge they wanted to share.

Students have become more confident sharing in front of the class, as it is embedded into the self-directed learning time. Students gradually stopped simply reading their slides to the class, and began to face the audience, and share the big idea on each slide. They improved their oral communication skills and learned how to stand in front of an audience, and how to speak clearly, projecting their voices.

Playing the Kahoots really engaged the students in the classroom to pay close attention to the presentation, as they wanted to be successful during the quiz. I started to see students taking jot notes during presentations, as they organized the information they were learning to succeed in the mostly fun, but slightly competitive Kahoot.

What is nice about the Kahoot quiz, is that every student puts in a nickname, and then they can reveal who they are if they are doing well, or stay anonymous if they have an off day. This takes the pressure off for some learners in the classroom.

Slideshow that was presented in class:
Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 6.58.30 AM.png

Kahoot students played afterwards:

Give it a try!
Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 6.53.01 AM.png

Every group that wants to present (and they ALL want to present!) has to meet with me to edit their work, and receive feedback as they are finishing their first run at their presentation. These have been the most successful editing and feedback sessions as students are still involved in the development process, and are heavily motivated to fix errors, and use the feedback to polish their presentation. I have been able to focus on many grammar, spelling and writing mini-lessons this year during this process.

There has been a wide variety of projects.  It was difficult at first for everyone to get started, but they shared their ideas on an Awesome Ideas board in the class, and this was often a jumping off point for students who were trying to come up with an idea.

I am still working through the best way to bring students around to the idea of helping others more. They are very excited to work on topics they are interested in, but have difficulty seeing the potential to help others. I think next year I am going to specifically use some TED talks that will help them to develop more empathy for others in their community and the bigger world as well.

Example I have used with success in class:
Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 6.48.03 AM.png

I am very interested in Design Thinking, and how this could be integrated to further this goal in the self-directed learning time. 
I watched Time Brown’s Ted Talk on Design Thinking:
Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 8.08.16 AM.png

I took some notes on the video, and I am thinking how to best integrate the ideas into our Genius Hour.

Design Thinking.PNG

Then I read “An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE” by The Design School at Stanford:

Design Thinking changes the way students look at Genius Hour

They follow these steps:

Observe - if they understand the process of observing what is needed, then they can begin to engage with the people they are trying to help.

Listen - they need to ask the right questions, and really consider the answers if they want to help people

Define - figure out exactly what the “need” is

Create - here they design and build a prototype, and test it

Refine - they iterate, having the people they are trying to help give them feedback, until the design works.

This is currently happening in my classroom. My students came up with ideas on “How to Make School Even Better”. Here are their ideas:

We are currently applying the Design Thinking process to their idea to:

“-create a soccer space for the Kindergarten students”

They have been playing with, and talking to the Kindergarten students. They saw the need for a different space where they can play.

They empathized with the Kindergarten students, noting that the Junior and Primary students have a soccer pitch, but the Kindergarten students, who love soccer, have no such space.

They are now moving to the creation phase,-they have been given permission to design and paint out a soccer pitch on the school yard. Once the design has been iterated into a “good fit” for the end users (Kindergarteners), the project will be completed.

The amount of math necessary to pull this off is staggering. They will have to estimate and measure how far the kindergarten students are running up and down the field currently to gage the size. Then they will need to measure the perimeter, and area, ensure their corners are proper 90° angles, and have to try to calculate the amount of paint they will need to paint the lines on the field.

Not only are they eager to do this, they are willing to spend recess time getting the design set up. I am both excited, and curious to see how the final product will work. No matter what happens, I am proud of the students for their empathy for the young students in our school.

This is a messy, new way of learning. It is developing, and changes depending on the students in the classroom. I do know that there is value in this type of learning. I know it builds community, and empathy in my classroom. And I know that the students come to school engaged and excited to learn everyday!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Getting Started with Scratch Coding in a Primary Classroom Part 2

These are introductory lessons for Primary students (and teachers) using

The first series of four lessons are here:

Today we will focus on "Debugging" a program. When something isn't working right students can look at the stack of blocks that make up the program to find out what is wrong. Students should have done the first 4 projects before trying these "Debugging" lessons.

I have tried these with various Grade 1 and Grade 2 classes, and the lessons have gone well. As time goes by lessons will be added that increase the complexity of the tasks. I am working with teachers in every grade up to Grade 6. None of them had any experience coding before, so don't be afraid to try!

Each of these tutorials can be played for the class, students should click on the Scratch Project Page link directly below the video to get started. It may be easier to take your students to this website where I am posting the tutorials:

Debugging a Program - Part 1:

Debugging a Program - Part 1: Click here!

Once they have figured out the first project, have them try the second one:

Debugging a Program - Part 2: Click here!

Then once they have solved both problems, have them create their own debugging program for another student to solve. 

More tutorials to come! 

Happy Coding!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Ten Lessons I learned from the TLLP ~by Michael Frey

This is a guest post from Michael Frey, we teamed up last year to give our students an opportunity to work together with other classes around the world. Michael shares the positive learning journey he experienced through our project. The project was part of Ontario's excellent Teacher Leadership Learning Program. I would suggest you read more about it here:


Personal Reflections on My Experience in the TLLP

~ By Michael Frey

In the fast pace of daily living, self-reflection is often the first casualty in the constant juggling of priorities. As a teacher, this can be very detrimental to one’s practice, as we can miss critical opportunities to hone our practice and move toward mastery of our craft. This March Break, I’ve decided to prioritize self-reflection with the added dimension of sharing my findings. 

Sharing my personal reflections on social media or among professional learning networks does not come easy for me. Consequently, I’ve been selfishly keeping my thoughts and reflections about my experience in the Teacher’s Leadership and Learning Program (TLLP) quiet. Recently, Dr. Carol Campbell (@CarolCampbell4) expressed interest in hearing more about my experience with the TLLP, and I was compelled to record (and share) my thoughts. So thank-you Dr. Campbell, for not “letting me off the hook”!

Ten Lessons I learned from the TLLP

About two and a half years ago, my colleague Scott McKenzie (@ScottMcKenzie27) invited me to be part of his team for a project he was submitting to the TLLP. I was honoured that he would ask, but I have to say also a little surprised given that I had very little to offer him (in my estimation). This is the first thing that I learned through the TLLP. 

Lesson 1: Collaboration does not need to be an equal exchange in order for learning and benefits to be enjoyed by all participants. 

Scott had an idea, a plan, a proposal, and a vehicle for putting them into action; but, what he wanted was an active participant who was willing to learn. 

The basis of Scott’s project proposal for the TLLP was to create a global classroom to explore social justice issues through project-based learning. Essentially, he aimed to connect with learners around the globe to investigate various topics such as poverty and human rights, and to have them collaborate on a project to share their learning. I really liked the sound of the project and expressed that interest to Scott. However, I had very little idea about what he was talking about regarding the technology we would use. He kept throwing around terms like “Microblogs, Google Hangouts, SAMR, Drive, Chromebooks, Google Apps, Blogs, Inquiry-Based Learning, and Genius Hour”, and my head dizzily tried to grasp the overarching ideas -- since I had no idea what he was talking about in the finer details! Still, if he was ok with my inexperience with technology, I liked the concept and decided to dive in.

Scott seemed genuinely pleased at my willingness to participate in the TLLP, which surprised me since he did not need me to participate. He was proposing the project as a sole participant, but graciously invited me to join him. This brings me to my second lesson from the TLLP. 

Lesson 2: Educational changemakers will move forward with or without you. 

While your participation is unnecessary for their success, their excitement for innovation is enhanced when others “catch the spark.” Scott and many others taught me that during my involvement in the Program.

And so it began, my journey of a thousand steps! A journey which really did begin with a baby step of saying “yes”. Afterall, so many of the things I now take for granted with regard to collaboration and technology in education, were foreign to me just a couple of years ago. For example, at the start of this project I had not used Gmail, blogs, Google Apps, Twitter, Google Drive or a Chromebook. Google Hangouts, cloud-computing, programming, game-based and project-based learning were foreign concepts, as were Genius Hour, Google + Communities, and the SAMR model.

Scott spoke about these things (and many others) frequently, quickly, and effortlessly. I was overwhelmed at times with trying to make sense of what these things were, let alone how we would use them in the project. 

Lesson 3: If you wait until you are comfortable with new technology to use it in the classroom, you likely never will. 

The pace in the school year is too quick to allow waiting to master every new thing you want to try in the classroom. There just isn’t time. The TLLP moved along whether I was ready or not; and by necessity, I learned to use new technology in the classroom with little preparation. 

As a result of not feeling competent with many of the collaborative technologies we used in the TLLP, I was forced to (at last) abandon my mindset of “Teacher as Imparter of Knowledge”. Being thrust into the uncomfortable position of co-learner with my students was a great thing that happened to me! The many technical difficulties I experienced in the classroom, the unplanned glitches, the vastness of the resources available to students, and the resident expertise of many students shaped a new mindset: “The Teacher As Co-Learner”. What a freeing concept! 

No longer did I feel the need to compete with “Google” on the bank of knowledge, or to be the resident expert. Instead, we were on an exploration of ideas together. Students started learning how to use certain technologies (example creating and sharing a document in Drive) and sharing their knowledge with each other. Sometimes I would teach one student how to do something, and require her to pass this knowledge along to a classmate, who in turn passed it on, and so-on. This approach to teaching new skills in the classroom helped to empower students and build a culture of collaboration. 

As part of the TLLP, both Scott’s class and mine received chromebooks to share among the students. Together, we built two classrooms of 21st Century learners. Students learned to use the Google Apps for Education environment to both build their learning on various topics and to collaborate with classmates in their classroom and in the global community. Together, Scott and I introduced our students to new ways of learning: “building” our learning in Minecraft; using Kahoot and Prodigy to gamify our learning; using stop motion and green screen technologies; a variety of Google Apps for differentiation and creating products; connecting with others through Twitter, and sharing with the international community on a blog site; meeting other learners in Korea, Mexico, and USA via Google Hangouts; and in trying to find new ways to access information and share the learning. 

Lesson 4: Engagement in learning increases when students sense the authenticity of their audience and the relevance of their various projects. 

At the outset of the TLLP, we wanted to establish connections with many classrooms around the world that would be sustained throughout the school year. In reality, these sustained connections proved difficult to bring to fruition. We found that the challenges related to the extra time required, different time zones, different expectations, and language or cultural differences interfered with succeeding in more than a “one-off” connection in many cases. However, we were able to establish lasting connections with a classroom in Mexico and one in Korea. Consequently, our four classrooms communicated via blogs and Hangouts, and managed to collaborate on a few projects. 

One of the most gratifying projects for me personally was the digital book created by the students in three of the classrooms. They each drew a picture or built something in Minecraft with a caption stating what they believed an important human right was. These images were digitized and collated into an e-book that was available on iTunes. There was a great deal of pride on the part of students to be able to share the link to the e-book with parents and to explain how they made the book with students in another country. Similarly, students collaborated in building a website together to share learning about the indigenous populations in their respective countries, and created a shared world in Minecraft that they called Human Rights World. 

These interactions between students from different places on authentic tasks related to their learning, helped to “bring the world home” for our students. In my opinion it is the building block of peace. It is easy to distrust those different than us, but when we teach children how similar we are to each other (regardless of where we live), the fear and the mistrust are diluted. Students shared remarkable insights with each other and were outraged by the injustice of things like child labour, lack of clean water, and racism. They had responses to these issues that can definitely be part of the solution, and through their blogs and e-book, they could be heard. 

Lesson 5: Unintended positive outcomes are inevitable when students are given a voice on real world issues. 

As a participant in the TLLP, Scott and I were able to attend various conferences (such as the Bring It Together conference, the GAFE Conference, and the TLLP Share the Learning Summit). I feel that these opportunities were very beneficial in exposing to me an entire community and culture of educators who are leaders in their own right. Meeting so many passionate people who are doing inspiring things for and with students is very motivating. I will always look forward to the energy and vision of such events. 

Lesson 6: Surrounding yourself with passionate visionaries is contagious and will infect your teaching practice.

The partnership between various stakeholders in the TLLP is fantastic. The Ministry of Education, School Boards, and Labour all coming together to support innovation, leadership and systemic change is a pretty unique and satisfying endeavour to be a part of. However, it would be unfair to neglect mentioning the Administrators at the school level who supported Scott and I. Both Andrea Michelutti  (@micheluttia) and Alison Wardrop (@displacedkiwi) were more than neutral observers. They were team members who championed our efforts, supported us in our challenges, and moved obstacles from our way. I am convinced that the experience would have been much less positive without their enthusiastic backing. 

This is Lesson 7: Supportive administrators are not essential, but will increase the efficacy of the TLLP exponentially.  

The eighth lesson from my experience is closely related to the seventh. 

Lesson 8: You are a leader . . . if you will be.

When I started in the Program, I had little confidence in my ability to offer much in the way of technology leadership to my (much more experienced) colleagues. The thought of sharing things at a staff meeting or a large technology conference, or within our local school board, with some masterful teachers, was intimidating; yet, our TLLP involved Scott and I in all of these things! Scott does a significant amount of sharing in social media and in his blog (, but I think he would agree that our plan “stretched” him too. Nevertheless, we did share, and it was enjoyable to be challenged together, as our enthusiasm to do so carried us along. 

Our experience with the action part of the TLLP concluded with the 2015 school year. It was an unusual ending due to labour disruptions in the education sector, but both Scott and I consider the project to be a success. I have been asked by several individuals whether I am continuing to collaborate with colleagues internationally. I have pulled back from actively seeking these relationships at the moment (though expect to again in the future). This school year has been refreshing to focus on fine-tuning the technologies that work for me as a teacher and my students. 

Lesson 9: Taking time out for consolidation is necessary sometimes.

When I reflect on the time I was involved in the TLLP, I am astonished at the amount of learning that took place for me. The TLLP experience has been transformative to my teaching practice. Amidst the timeline of the project were several personal and professional setbacks that kept me on my heels for periods of time. So stepping back a little, slowing down the pace of new learning and active extra-classroom collaborations has been good. Nevertheless, the ongoing impact of the Program on my teaching practice continues.  

As I write this, Scott and I are currently looking forward to sharing our experience with a Professional Learning Network in Pembroke, and we continue to meet occasionally to discuss new ideas. As opportunities come up to try out new technologies in the classroom (such as using robotics), my new mindset allows me to jump on the opportunities and partner with my students to absorb the learning into the stream of our discovery. These are some of the lasting impacts of the TLLP. And that is a great seguay to the most recent lesson from my experience in the eighth cohort of the TLLP . . . Lesson 10: The experience isn’t over just because project is. 

Follow Michael Frey on Twitter: @MichaelFrey10

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Creating Animated Comic Strips with Google Sites and Scratch Coding

Creating Dialogue between Characters:
To create a Comic Strip/Graphic Story you will need to know how to create a dialogue between sprites in Scratch. 
Here is an excellent CSFirst tutorial on how to get started. 

Creating Static Panels:
Once you have set up some characters with a background setting, take screenshots of the characters with different speech bubbles to tell your story. 

Create a Google Site for your comic: 
Insert a table sized for how many panels your comic will have.

Click on the "Settings" Gear Wheel and select "Edit Site Layout".
Customize the website width to about 80%. 

Now add your screenshot panels. 

Create an Animated panel with a Scratch Project:
Having the characters move adds excitement to your story.

To insert your animated panel, switch to HTML view, and insert the code in the empty box in your strip. Here is what the empty box will look like in HTML view:

Here is an example of a comic strip page: