Got A Coding Itch? Try Scratch 3.0!

If you’ve done any coding with kids in the last 10 years, you’ve likely encountered Scratch! Scratch was developed at MIT by Mitch Resnick and his team and for many years it has been the go-to standard for teaching block-based coding. The Coding Quest program, in its third year here in West Vancouver, is designed around Scratch, and, based on demand the Scratch team developed Scratch Jr a number of years ago, to use on the ipads. Over the years, Scratch has developed and almost cult-like following, with thousands of games and tutorials uploaded to the Internet yearly.

But, times change and the whole “teaching kids to code” world has exploded, with tons of new sites and apps and with the addition of robotics and drones, Scratch was starting to look a little dated. So, the team at MIT stepped up and created a new version of Scratch, Scratch 3.0, which officially launched January 1st. So, what can you expect from the new Scratch?

First of all, it remains totally free to users! Secondly, the full blown version of Scratch now works on tablets, too! This is awesome news for as much as Scratch Jr is great, it is limited and this has been frustrating for students who have a tablet and want to build more complex code or games.

The look and GUI (graphic user interface) have changed, too, although everything that used to be there is still there! The team has added new backdrops, sprites and sounds. The paint and sound editors have been revamped, making them more creative and allowing for more customization.

Finally, you can now use Scratch with attachments, such as the Lego Mindstorm kit and the Micro:bit!

Here’s a quick video look at the new Scratch!


Here is a link to the the FAQ page for Scratch 3.0 and here is a link to the Educator’s page. Enjoy scratching that coding itch!

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A Cure for the Christmas Crazies!

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Have your students started to suffer from the “Christmas crazies” yet? What about the staff at your school? Yeah, that’s what I thought! Keeping focussed and on track can be tough this time of the year, and let’s face it, sometimes you and the kids just want to kick back and have a little fun!

Last year’s blog from this time had some fun Christmas and winter themed activities you and your kids could do, so I thought I would add some new ones here for this year!

Kahoot It Up!

If you’ve never heard of Kahoot, it’s a great site for playing online learning (or just fun) games with your students. You need to have an account, but your students do not, which I think makes this a really user-friendly site! This year Kahoot has a bunch of Christmas/Winter themed games, from the ever-fun “Rudolph and Reindeer Trivia” to “Multidigit Multiplication: Christmas Word Problems.” So far there are 16 Kahoots in this collection. You could do one a day and still have leftovers!

Ed Tech Gifties!

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Photo by George Dolgikh on Pexels.com

The Ed Tech Team is giving out free teacher resources from today until the 21st. You can sign up here to get notification every day. Today there were a bunch of Christmas and Winter themed hyperdocs to use with students from K to 12. If you’re not sure what a hyperdoc is, check it out here.

 

 

Coding Fun!

I know, I know…..Hour of Code week was last week! But guess what? Coding can be fun any week of the year! Here is a fun set of coding puzzles based on The Grinch. This Frozen themed game teaches angles in a fun way, and this game shows players how to code Snoopy into throwing snowballs! Finally, this game uses block coding to design snowflakes and this one does the same thing with Python!

Youtube Yule

Want to teach your kids some new Christmas songs? Youtube has lots of great Christmas carols with words. Learn Petit Papa Noel or Mon beau sapin or even the French version of Jingle Bells! We’ve all hear Feliz Navidad, but have you ever heard of Mi Burrito Sabanero, from Venezuela?

And finally, because I can…some minions to enjoy!

Coding With A Purpose

This is a post I wrote recently for The Learning Partnership.

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30 students sit quietly, staring at me in disbelief. I’ve just informed them that we’re going to spend the next 6 weeks designing and building video games

“Real video games?” asks one of the students, skeptically.

“Yes,” I answer. “Ones that other people can play!” Excited looks shoot between the students and I know I have them hooked. We are about to begin Coding Quest, a program created by The Learning Partnership. Coding Quest is designed to engage students in curriculum through the medium of video games while also introducing them to design thinking, computational thinking and coding. And the best part? It’s fun and who doesn’t want to have fun while learning?

Students begin their Coding Quest by exploring the world of Scratch, an online, block-based coding platform developed at MIT. Scratch achieves the seemingly impossible, by providing a simple enough platform that beginning coders can be successful but a complex enough platform that experienced coders can be challenged. As a teacher, you don’t need to have experience coding, as there are tutorials and lessons available.

After you and your students have been introduced to Scratch, Coding Quest leads you through lessons on game design and planning. Everything is laid out for you and it’s been my experience that time spent on these lessons is time well spent! Students decide who the characters in their game will be, what kind of game they will build (a platform game, a scrolling background game, a maze game – the kids will have lots of ideas!) and how the game will showcase what they are learning in class. How closely your students’ games tie in with what they’re learning in class is up to you. I’ve seen teachers give students a broad topic, such as “space” or “survival” and I’ve also seen classes where the teacher had all groups working on games designed around a novel the class read. Regardless of what learning you want your students to showcase, this planning stage is important.

Once the planning is done, the game building begins! Student’s plans will very quickly outstrip most teachers’ abilities to help! “How do I make my character score points when they catch the fish?” “How can I make my character earn lives when they level up?” Luckily, there are tons of Scratch tutorials online and every class I’ve worked with has at least one or two keeners who are already familiar with Scratch and all too willing to help. This is truly your chance to become the “guide on the side” – learning with, and from, your students!

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As a wrap-up activity, the best games from each school in participating districts get invited to a Coding Arcade. It’s sort of like a Science Fair, where kids get to show off their games and let other people play them. We run ours at the local public library – it’s a great showcase for all the hard work!

So, at this point you, as an already very busy teacher, are probably thinking… “I don’t know how to code, I don’t play video games and I’m busy enough already – why should I throw one more thing into my classroom?” I get it. I hear you.

But.

But the problem solving, resilience and interpersonal skills students develop as they are designing and building their game are invaluable, real-world skills.

But many people, myself included, see computational thinking and coding as life skills; part of the digital literacy toolkit our children will need as technology becomes even more ubiquitous in our world.

But it’s fun, it’s challenging and it’s engaging. And we all know that when kids are engaged, they’re learning. And that has to be a good thing, right?

Coding Quest plus video games plus excited kids plus curriculum equals the perfect combination. Give it a try!

 

Hour of Code…Out of the box!

 

Out-of-the-Box-MarketingWhen you were little, did your mom or dad ever try to sneak veggies into your food? Or, have you done this as a parent? When my kids were little I always added shredded zucchini to meatloaf, spaghetti sauce and chocolate cake. It’s sneaky but it works!

Next week is the annual Hour of Code week. I’ve written numerous blogs about Hour of Code and coding in general (here, here, here and here) but today’s blog is a sneaky one! For those of you who aren’t comfortable with coding, here are 3 sneaky ways to bring Hour of Code ideas into your room, without any coding!

Read About Coding!

Both Newsela and CommonLit have some cool articles about computers and coding that you and your students can read. You will need to create a teacher account but you do not need to create student accounts. With Newsela, you can print the article and if you need a digital copy, just scan the printed copy. With CommonLit, you can download a PDF and then upload that to Google Classroom or wherever you need it.

The Math Behind Bits and Bytes (adjustable Lexile level, Gr. 3 to 9)

Reading Robots (adjustable Lexile level, Gr. 3 to 9)

Mavis Batey and the Enigma Code (adjustable Lexile level, Gr. 4 to 8)

Her Code Got Humans on the Moon (11th Grade)

A Slick Little Robot (6th Grade)

Use Branching Logic or Flow Charts

Want your students to do thing in a particular order? Introduce them to flow charts (you know….IF you are finished your Math questions, DO your Spelling OR Reading!) Or get them to use branching logic to create “Choose Your Own Adventure” type stories – here’s a great post on using Google Slides to create them and here’s another on using Google Forms to create them.

Pixel Art

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Give your kids some graph paper and introduce them to the idea of Pixel Art by showing them pixelized video characters like Mario. Let them create their own images. Start simple with shapes like hearts and stars and get more complex as they get more comfortable. Wanna throw in some coding-without-coding? Get them to figure out how to write instructions for drawing their image, using only numbers and colours.

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For instance, for this heart, the instructions might start like this:

  1. 2 White, 2 Black, 1 White, 2 Black, 2 White
  2. 1 W, 1 B, 2 Red, 1 B, 2 Red, 1 B, 1 W

 

Obviously, I hope you do some actual coding activities with your class next week. But in case you decide not to, maybe you can use some of these out of the box ideas to sneak some code into your students……and you!

 

 

It’s That Time of Year!

It’s almost that time of year again. You know, that time that all teachers and students look forward to? Maybe even eagerly anticipate?

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No, not report card time (seriously, did anybody actually think that?). Not Winter Break. Not Christmas. Give up? It’s almost…..Computer Science Education Week!

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Let’s try again….Hour of Code week!

Actually, the reason Hour of Code is always on the first week of December is that is the same time as Computer Science Education Week. And this year there is even a Canadian twist! The Canada Learning Code organization has declared December 3rd to 10th “Canada Learning Code Week.”

Our school district has had a great record of participation during Hour of Code week for the past few years, with classes from Kindergarten to Grade 12 taking time out of their regular schedules to try out coding activities.

So….what can teachers and students expect this year? Hadi Partovi and his team at Code.org, the brains behind Hour of Code, continue to impress. As always, they have a game related to a new high-interest kid movie – this year it’s The Grinch! Their Minecraft offering includes a new aquatic world and Scratch splashes out with their new Scratch 3.0! For those working with older or more capable students, there is a great visual art tutorial from Hello Processing. Really, there are tons of great tutorials and challenges available on the website and you can search by age, comfort level, available devices, topics and length. For those of us lucky enough to have access to robots and  circuits, there are challenges available for those, too! There’s so much to do, for so many ages and experience levels that there is really no excuse to NOT try!

As I indicated above, this year there is a Canadian entry in the coding festivities! The Canada Learning Code site has some cool lesson plans for various ages. Kids can do an unplugged basketball activity, use Scratch to explore the concept of self-driving cars and even think about how Alexa might change our lives.

Teachers can request a teacher kit (so cool – Canadian teachers never get free stuff!) and there’s even going to be a contest starting December 3rd!

With so many options, there are loads of reasons for you and your students to participate in that most magical of times…..Computer Science Education Week!!

 

A Button, Some Math and a New Robot!

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One of the things about writing a weekly blog is that you have to write something. Every week! It’s usually my Monday night ritual. Even on Monday nights when I accidentally fall asleep on the couch and wake up with a crick in my neck and ten minutes until “bedtime”! Yikes! Luckily for me, my weekend included the annual CUEBC (Computer Using Educators of BC) Conference, so I have things to write about! So, without further ado, I bring you “A Button, Some Math and a New Robot”!

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First, the button. I’ve written here before about Read & Write for Google Chrome, an awesome extension our district has enabled for staff and students. This weekend at the conference I learned about a new function on the Read & Write toolbar! It’s called “Check It” and it’s a tool designed to check for spelling errors, grammar errors and homophone errors. The Check It button is located on the far left of the toolbar and it looks like a check mark inside a circle. You can use it after you’ve done your writing or while you are writing. Here’s a short video from the people at TextHelp, explaining the tool.

Pretty cool, right? On to Math and back to the people at TextHelp! Turns out Read & Write is not the only tool they make! They make quite a few other tools but the one that impressed me this weekend is their Math tool, EquatIO (rhymes with ratio). We have not purchased this tool but guess what? It’s free for teachers!

EquatIO makes math digital by allowing users to write or speak math equations and convert them to digital text and numbers. Using EquatIO, you can add shapes, graphs and equations into Google Docs and Slides. Now, again, as a non-Math teacher I am not sure exactly what all the functions of EquatIO do, but the secondary Math and Science teachers in the session with me were positively giddy about this tool!

 

The third thing that really stood out for me this weekend was a little robot called K8. One of the first things I loved about K8 is that it’s Canadian! Designed by InkSmith, K8 starts off as a kit, so before you can use it as a robot, you actually have to build it. Cool!

k8

Once built, K8 is powered by the Micro:bit and the Microsoft MakeCode site allows students to build code for K8 using either block based code or Javascript. K8 includes an ultrasonic sensor and two independently controlled motors. Not sure what you’d do with a K8 robot? The team at InkSmith has thought of that and they have a number of “get started” lessons to help you and your kids get going. I’m pretty sure once the kids figure out how to use K8, they’ll be developing their own lessons and challenges!

That’s all I’ve got for tonight! Time to brush my teeth, put my jammies on, set the alarm and climb under the covers! See you next week!

A Coding Story

This week’s blog isn’t so much a tip as it is the story of what happened when someone passed a tip on to me. It’s also an argument for inclusion and a story of successes.

A few months ago, one of our elementary administrators, Cathie Ratz, forwarded an email to me about something called Hackergal. I’m automatically intrigued by anything with the word “hack” in it, so I opened the email. It was all about an organization called Hackergal, whose goal is “to empower young girls to explore the possibilities in code.” I dug deeper. I found out that all I had to do was register and my female students and I could start learning Python (a coding language) and participate in a Canada-wide hackathon! So cool! Never one to shy away from a challenge, I called one of the organizers, found out a bit more and signed up!

Rather than running our Hackergal’s group as a single class or in a single school, I put the challenge out to Grade 6 and 7 girls across the district. Who was interested in knowing more about coding? To my delight, I ended up with a group of 36 girls from 4 different schools – all willing to try something new! We were the only “district” participants in all of Canada!

One of the great things about Hackergal is that they have teamed with Codesters to provide every Hackergal participant with a Codesters account where they can learn another programming language; in this case, Python.

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The girls and I got together one morning in late April, to meet each other, set up our Codesters accounts and start learning. It was apparent quite quickly that some of us knew a bit more than others but the energy in the room was great and we all helped each other over the little bumps we encountered as we began to explore a new platform and a new language.

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The next time we met was on May 2nd – Hackathon day across Canada! It was pretty exciting knowing that we were joining thousands of other girls and women across the country!

For those who don’t know, at the beginning of a hackathon, you are given a problem to solve. You solve the problem by combining the design cycle and coding. The problem we were given was to use the Codesters platform to create an interactive story about an endangered species. I put the girls in groups of 3 and I purposefully organized the groups so that they were multi-school. The first 20 to 30 minutes was spent choosing an animal, getting to know each other and beginning to think about design. Then it was off to the races!

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Throughout the day the groups encountered many challenges. Some were of the coding variety, some were design challenges and some (the trickiest ones) were collaborative/social challenges. Codesters and Hackergal had staff online to help us with coding challenges but the other challenges were up to us to overcome.

The day wrapped up with judging and awards. There was no first place winner – three teams were given “Honourable Mention” stickers based on their Coding, Design or Game Play prowess. In addition, each girl chose a sticker for herself based on what she felt her strength was – Coding, Leadership, Creativity or Teamwork. And for taking part in the hackathon, all of the girls now have a year long subscription to Codesters!

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For me, the day and experience held many successes. Even though some of the teams struggled to complete their project on time, everyone progressed and developed their hard skills (coding in Python) as well as their soft skills (negotiation, teamwork). We got to participate in a Canada-wide all-girls STEM event…and we had lots of fun doing it! The girls got to meet other girls with similar interests and make connections. And they got to see that girls who like coding can be quiet girls, athletic girls, bookish girls, funny girls, girls who like fashion, girls who like animals – there is no stereotypical coder!

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One of the biggest successes of the day involved a girl who loves coding but struggles in social situations. She has a full-time aide. Her teacher, her principal, her aide and I all agreed that it would be a great thing if she could participate but we all worried that the challenges of the day might be too much for her. We prepared for the fact that she might need to go home at recess or maybe lunch – we agreed that she would stay as long as things were working for her in her group. We were hopeful but nervous.

The challenges started right away! She had to meet two new girls. They had to agree on an animal – her favourite animal is not endangered – would she accept a different animal? She did and the group moved on. Several times during the day she had small meltdowns but the prospect of getting to code helped her calm down and return to the group. At the end of the day, her group did not get one of the honourable mentions but she was singled out as being a great coder. She left with a smile on her face and the confidence that she could do a hackathon. Just like all the other girls! Now, that’s success!

Hackergal runs events twice a year – I am already starting to plan for the next event. Thanks for the tech “tip”, Cathie!

Assessing Computational Thinking and Coding – First Best Try!

superpowerSo, as promised before Spring Break, this blog post is going to be about assessing computational thinking and coding in elementary school. It was not an easy post to write for the simple reason that asking many teachers to assess coding is asking them to assess something that they themselves likely have little understanding of or experience with. Well, the good news is, you don’t have to be a coding super-hero in order to assess and report on student progress!

For the purposes of this blog (mainly to keep it from being massively long) I’m going to focus on Grades 6 and 7 and the Coding section of BC’s ADST curriculum. With small modifications, however, all of what I put here could be used in any grade from K to 9. I will add that all of this is my “first best try”. I am sure I will continue to tweak and refine as I go, as I am sure you will, too!

I am going to split assessment into three main areas. The first is assessment of computational thinking skills. The second is assessment of coding terminology and “skills”and the third is really assessment of the application of those coding skills in game creation (something we have focused on here in West Vancouver, through our use of Coding Quest from The Learning Partnership). This third section will be split into self assessment, peer assessment and teacher assessment.
COMPUTATIONAL THINKING

Computational thinking, which is the base of all coding, can actually be taught without coding or computers as it has more to do with logic and problem solving. Not only that, but it’s something we teach students from a very young age. One easy way to assess computational thinking is through sequential problems. At a very basic level, that might look like giving a student a bunch of picture cards that tell a familiar story (like Goldilocks) and asking them to put the cards in order, so that the story is told correctly. As a teacher, you are looking to see if the can find the correct order and if they understand and use terms like “first”, “next” and “then”. Want to test abstraction? Throw in a few cards that have nothing to do with the story and see how they handle it. Goldilocks is also a great story for patterning!

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If that’s too young for your students, ask them to write down the steps required for making a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Don’t discuss it ahead of time and have them do it independently, without talking to each other. Again, you are looking for students who use sequencing words (first, next, last, then, if). You are also looking for students who are able to be specific and clear in their instructions. “Put the peanut butter on the bread” is not as clear as “Using the butter knife, scoop approximately 1 tablespoon of peanut butter out of the peanut butter jar. Spread this evenly on the upward facing side of the first piece of bread.”

A more “coding” based way of testing sequencing is through these two activities (1 and 2), both based on the awesome book “Hello Ruby”. I found these on this website, which has some great information and resources.

CODING TERMINOLOGY AND SKILLS

Computer programmers (coders), have developed a vocabulary that refers to certain jobs or tasks, regardless of what coding language is used. An understanding of this vocabulary is an important part of being able to work with other coders. To help you assess students’ knowledge of the terminology, here is a link to a basic quizlet  (online flash adds) I have created. If you are unfamiliar with quizlet, check out this post. In addition, here is a small quiz I created, using the same vocabulary.

While understanding the terminology is important, being able to use it is even more important. A student might be able to tell you what “conditional” means. But can they use conditionals in the code they write? If you understand code yourself, just having a look at what they’ve written may be enough, although you do need to watch out for students who copy and paste code from online tutorials but do not really understanding what they’re doing. Of course, if you can’t write code yourself, analyzing a student’s code becomes an almost insurmountable task.

To help with this, I have created a series of scenarios you can give to students. In each case, the student needs to look at the code, tell what the code says and either indicate a way to extend the code or, if needed, debug it. I’ve also included answers, although for the extensions, I have only shown one way to write the code – there are often many ways to do this.

These scenarios are all designed in the Scratch universe, using block based or visual coding. The same scenarios could be looked at using any coding language, program or app, I just don’t have time to translate!

GAME BUILDING

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The assessment in this section focuses on using Scratch to build games based on curriculum. This is what Coding Quest is based on and this is what many of our intermediate students do for their exposure to coding. I should note that the following assessments are all based on some assessments I found online some time ago. However, I forgot to record where I found them so am unable to direct you there or give credit – my apologies!

We’ll start with self-assessment. I have included two types of self-assessment. The first one is more open-ended, the second one is more of a rubric and uses the descriptors Beginning, Developing, Acquiring and Exceeding, although you could change them to anything that works for you! Both of these could be used as formative or summative assessments.

Peer assessment plays a valuable role in this instance, as children often have far more experience playing video games than the average teacher does. They will be much better judges of whether or not a game is interesting to play, functions properly or has too many bugs.

Finally, I have provided a teacher assessment. I’ve attempted to make it as user friendly as possible, with the understanding that many teachers asked to assess coding will be people who do not, themselves, ever write code.

Here is a link to a Google folder with all of the resources in the blog post included.If you have feedback or comments, please let me know. Even better, if you have something you’ve used that you would be willing to share, please let me know so I can add it in!

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Link

One final thought. At this point in BC, there is no scope and sequence for coding. I’ve seen 7 year-olds using Javascript with glee and I’ve seen grown adults brought to tears using the directional code in Lightbot! Unlike a more “traditional” topic like Math or Reading, I can’t say to you “the average 7 year old should be able to do x and if they can do y they are exceptional.” We’re still in a bit of a “wild west” situation with regards to assessing coding in elementary school. So, take resources like the ones in this blog, combine them with your own knowledge of kids and your students in particular, sprinkle in an understanding of grit, perseverance and creative thinking (all vital skills in the coding world) and then…..remember that this is only one small part in the overall assessment of each child this year. Approach it with an open mind, do the best you can and don’t sweat it! First best try…remember?

Meet the Micro:bit!

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About a year ago, my friend and colleague Keith Rispin and I both found something online about a new tech “toy” called the Micro:bit. We were instantly hooked and began to look into what we could do to get our hands on one. Sadly, at that time, importing one from England, where the BBC was making them, to Canada, was almost impossible.

Fast forward to the fall of 2017 and the Micro:bit had started to make its presence known on this side of the Atlantic. Yahoo! I got my first one at the BCERAC conference in November and I’ve since managed to collect 4 more!

So, what is the Micro:bit? Basically, it is a little (half the size of a credit card) codeable computer with a built in accelerometer (motion detector) and compass, 25 programmable LED lights, several buttons and 5 spots to add on “extras” like speakers, sensors and alarms. Here’s what it looks like:

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The Micro:bit was developed by BBC and partners as a way to get school-age kids interested in creating things with coding (okay, am I the only one who sees an almost perfect fit with the new ADST curriculum and makerspaces?)

Students can use coding languages like Microsoft Block, Javascript and Python to build code on their device that can then be downloaded to the Micro:bit via a supplied micro-usb or Bluetooth. The Micro:bit can be connected to other “bits” like sensors, as well as the Raspberry Pi, Arduino and Little Bits to really challenge students and expand the learning.

Yeah, yeah….sounds interesting but what can you do with it? Well, a few weeks ago I worked with a group of Grade 7s who had never seen the Micro:bit before. I challenged them to write code that would turn the Micro:bit into a slightly-less-cool Fitbit, so we could track our steps (kind of like the Micro:bit version of “Hello world”). Using the site makeblock.microbit.org (great site where you can actually test out your code before downloading it to the Micro:bit), the kids fairly quickly figured out the code needed. They downloaded it to the Micro:bit, plugged in the battery and, using some duct tape created a wristband. Some of them even figured out how to hack the code so that they could arrive at the required 10,000 steps more quickly! Totally fun and a great start to using the Micro:bit to create something using code and design!

There is lots of information for teachers on the Micro:bit website, there’s a facebook page, and if you google Micro:bit challenges or Micro:bit lesson plans you’ll find lots of resources, many of them from England.The “official” Canadian partner for Micro:bit is Fair Chance Learning. You can buy Micro:bits from their website but you can also get them here in BC from Agata at Robotix. And in a market where most coding tools cost hundreds of dollars, the Micro:bit is about $25.00 each. Why not get one or two, set them up in your classroom as a “spare time” activity, provide a few challenges and see what happens!

 

K to 7 Robotics?! YES!

 

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If you had asked me, a year and a half ago, if I could find a way to “teach Robotics” to all the students in an elementary school….I would have said yes (because I am almost incapable of saying no to a challenge). And then I would have gone home, sat on my bed, put my head in my hands and thought, “You’ve done it now, Wilson! Talk about a recipe for disaster – how will you deliver on this one?!”

Well, happily, I can say that today marked the first day of my fourth “robots in school” foray and things are going just fine! Isaac Asimov, Data and R2D2 would all be happy (nerd references – look ‘em up!)

Before I explain how I pulled off this incredible feat, let me say this: I have not done it alone, nor could I have done it alone. Charity Cantlie, Aron Campbell and Michelle Davis provided the initial spark and support. Since then, Jessica Richardson and Kristi Yorke have joined in and I am so grateful to all of them for being willing to go along on this wild ride!

So…you’re thinking…get on with it! How exactly did you teach robotics to a whole school of K to 7 students?! Simply put – stations. No school that I work with has enough of any one kind of robot to keep a whole class occupied, but many schools have a few of this and a bit of that. As it turns out, that’s just enough! Oh yes, it also helps to have a Learning Commons area or open space in a library or gym.

In all cases, we started by looking at the resources we had at hand. A few Spheros, a set of Cubelets, a couple of Dash bots, some Lego….what can we do with that? If you know that only 7 students will be using the Spheros at any given time, you need fewer resources than you would think! It is important to make sure you have enough iPads for some of the stations (like Dash and Sphero) and to make sure that the iPads and bots are compatible.

Once we knew what resources we had, we planned the stations and set up a schedule. In each school, we made sure that we created a schedule that allowed all students to experience all the stations for their age group. Ideally, you organize the schedule so that when the class comes to the learning area, their teacher comes with them and learns alongside them. In one school, the only way we could arrange things was for the kids to come to the learning area while their teacher had prep and that wasn’t ideal as the teacher then missed out on seeing their students explore and learn in new ways.

Over the course of 4 schools, we’ve had to come up with a variety of stations for a variety of ages. In each case, we used 4 to 6 stations, with 3 to 7 students in each group. Here are the stations:

Sphero for Kindies – For this station I marked out an obstacle course with masking tape and the kindies worked on “driving” the Spheros through the course – forwards and backwards. No coding. They loved it!

Sphero for Grades 1 to 3 – For this age group we used the Edu app and students worked through a few challenges using basic block coding. If they finished the challenges, they could “drive” the obstacle course!

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Sphero for Grade 4 to 7 – Again, using the Edu app, students work through a series of challenges by coding the Sphero.

Dough-bots – This one is Michelle Davies’ brain-child. Ziploc bags full of colourful homemade modelling dough, lots of nuts, bolts, screws, beads, buttons and bits and a challenge to create a robot to help you in your everyday life – the perfect recipe for a station that all the kids loved! The only hard part was taking the robots apart at the end of each rotation!

Recycled-bots – Much like the above station but using a variety of boxes, cardboard, milk cartons, tape, chopsticks, and what-have-you. Kids created amazing robots at this station.

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Lego-bots – As above but done with an assortment of Lego bricks. Great if you have a couple of tubs of bricks, wheels, and Lego paraphernalia! This station was not a Lego Mindstorms station – these bots were imaginative, not functional!

Cubelets – In all cases we made this station strictly exploratory. Put the cubes together and see what they can do! Kids really enjoy this station. The kindies were the funniest – they spent most of their time just pulling the cubes apart and putting them back together. Who knew magnets would be so much fun!?

Dash for K to 3 – We used the Wonder app and students either did the Challenges in Scroll Quest or just played in Free Play (depending on the group)

Dash for 4 to 7 – In some cases we used the Wonder Blockly app and students used Block based coding to work through the puzzles. In other cases they did the same challenges as the younger students and then had time for Free Play.

Scratch Jr – In all the schools I worked with we had this in our “back pockets” as a station we could use in case another station wasn’t working. Even the older kids enjoy playing with Scratch Jr.

Storybird – We used this with Intermediate students. Their task was to create a children’s picture book about robots on the Storybird site. By the way, if you’ve never checked out Storybird – do yourself a favour – it’s awesome!

Robot Stories – This was a station filled with fiction picture books about robots as well as non-fiction books about robots. Pull up a comfy bean bag chair and read. We organized it so this station came after a busy station and students seemed quite happy to settle into a quieter activity for a bit!

Robot Rules – This was a bit of an ethics and philosophy station, with a nod to Isaac Asimov. The question put to students was “If you had to create 3 rules that all robots had to follow, no matter what job they do, what would the rules be?” There were many interesting discussions at this station, as students had to agree on the rules and then design a logo that reflected all of the rules.

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Vex IQ Bots – We tried setting this up. Once. It didn’t work. Not because the bots aren’t awesome – they are! Mostly because kids need more time to work with these complex build-a-bot kits. We did, this year, figure out a way to use them very successfully with Grade 6 and 7 students, but that’s a different blog post!

Micro:bits – This is a new station we just launched today and only with the Intermediate students. The students were challenged to try creating the code that would “teach” their Micro:bit to play “Rock, Paper, Scissors”. In the group that did this station today, two students managed to figure it out and boy, were they proud! It should be noted that this station required laptops with usb ports – we are fortunate in that our students all bring their own devices so this was not an issue.

So…..after doing this 4 times, do I have any advice for you? Yes. First, train some competent senior students to be helpers and beg their teacher to let them come help with the primary students. It makes a world of difference if you can swing it!

Second, be prepared! Inevitably something will go wrong! We’ve had Spheros that didn’t charge, apps that needed last minute updating, Cubelets that weren’t working and pencils that went missing. Have back-up stations that are either low-tech (like Scratch Jr) or no-tech like the books and Lego so that if things go wrong (and they will) you are prepared!

Third, think of some form of self-assessment the students can fill out, either as they go through the stations or after they have finished them. While everything is happening you will be too busy taking pictures and joining in on the fun to assess what is happening.

Finally, have clear, written instructions for stations so that students can be as independent as possible. That frees you up to run around and help/guide/trouble-shoot.

So, if someone approaches you one day and asks you to “teach robots” to a whole school…take heart! It can be done!