A new school year and new tools to bring into Computational Thinking. With a new year comes new ideas and new initiatives. Keeping students front-sight focused on their learning goals is a top-priority and of course finding creative and imaginative ways to keep them engaged is always an interesting endeavor. It is important to give students opportunities to learn, but also help them find ways that they can learn in "ordinary" activities, games or puzzles that they may have at home as well. This would grow their excitement to continue to learn. I continue to grow my classroom with some new tools for students to learn and have put my focus on my primary learners, grades Pre-Kindergarten through 2nd grade. As my front-sight focus is on Computational Thinking and Computer Science skills, here are a few new tools that I will be working with this year and why:
Mouse Mania is a board-game version of the Code-and-Go Robot Mouse from Learning Resources. This gives kids a great way to move and play without having to use the actual robot. A fantastic introduction game for those coding concepts and a great hook for those beginners. Students really connect with board games so this is a great way to have fun and learn at the same time.
The Q-Ba-Maze 2.0 from Mindware is a great puzzle and building activity that really helps with critical thinking and problem solving skills. Productive struggle for my students encourages them to think on their own. Students build the tower to create a path for the marble. And with the variety of pieces that it comes with they have numerous possibilities. Engineering and Design practices in the Next Generation Science Standards also play a huge roll as students plan what they are going to create and anticipate what is going to happen.
You can't underestimate the power of playing games. I am always surprised at the number of students that come through my room each year that have never played either of these games. So, I believe that we should be using them in school and not just for indoor-recess time. These games should be part of the learning curriculum. For our youngest learners, they practice skills like counting, color identification and matching, and subitizing - the ability to know a number without actually counting the dots on a number cube. It also encourages positive communication and shared leadership as students talk about the game and share with each other when it is their turn. Game play is becoming a part of my curriculum.
K'Nex are great building tools for older students, so I was excited to find Kid K'Nex for my PreK and Kindergarten students is more appropriate for little hands. Students in the this young age need that time to explore different tools, try different methods and fail at tasks so that they see how they can modify and improve on their designs. Giving them a time to just build and create is an essential skill in my PreK program. Students learn best when they are communicating their ideas and excited when they get to share what they have made. These tools offer just another avenue for that thinking.
With the proper student-centered instruction and having clear objectives and goals, I believe that these tools will increase engagement and understanding across the general curriculum of learning. I am really excited to see how these materials work out as I fold them more into my resources of teaching. I would love to hear what other creative resources you are using this year to get kids engaged!
Have you always wanted to have a LEGO building center in your classroom? They are a great way to give kids a way to dig into their inner-engineer, motor-skill developing, problem-solving self! Some schools have LEGO Walls permanently set up somewhere and I have always wanted one in my room, the issue with that is that I have moved classrooms every year for the last 6 years. And, as it turns out, in my current area, space is quite limited. I needed a portable solution that wasn't going to break the bank.
As we start the new school year, this is a great time to put one together that your students will love! In my classroom, this is a free-building area where the target is to build something. That's it! After some fails and successes, this is what I have found that works for me...
IKEA LACK Side Table 22" x 22" - cost $8.99
The tables come in either black or white. Black hides the school year grime pretty well.
IKEA VESSLA Storage Crate with Casters - cost $6.49
These do come in a variety of colors so you can pick one that works for you. I have seen them in white, blue, pink, and green.
Brickyard Baseplates (pack of 4) - cost $15.95
DreamBuilder Toy Stackable Building Plate (pack of 4) - cost $16.99
This is by far the most expensive part. You have to be careful when picking generic build plates because some work great and others not so good. I have used all of these options and they work really well. There is also the LEGO-brand option which will cost between $20-$25.
For attaching the plates to the table, I would strongly suggest some type of clear Liquid Nails bond. You can find this at your local hardware store for around $5 for a tube. I have tried Loctite Super Glue and Gorilla Glue, but those don't seem to hold and the kids are able to pull the plates off the table. More annoying than anything else. Overall, this option has worked out really well for me and some fellow teacher friends that I know have also done this. Finally, as for the LEGO building bricks? Ask for donations! In my experience, there are lots of families out there that are more than willing to donate.
I would love to hear about your creations and any other ideas you may have that work well for you in the comments below. This is one of my most popular activities in my room as it gives students a common language to communicate and collaborate with each other.
Thinking ahead to next year.... I am working on 3-D Printing "Coding Karate" badges. (the name may change. LOL) My elementary students have been very excited to have something from our 3-D printer. Many have shared that they would to take something with them as they finish activities and they had the idea of coding badges. As a motivator for next year, and to help with some engagement, I have decided that we are going to work on some benchmark coding activities and students will earn those colored coding badges. Not only are they able to see how a design goes from concept to a physical product, they will also earn some bragging rights as they work.
I am using a Flash Forge 3-D Printer ($299) to create a Code.org backpack badge. We will be starting with colors: white, green, red, blue, purple and black. We will be completing a variety activities in elementary computer science that focus around algorithms, sequencing, loops, functions and variables.
We were fortunate enough to receive a mini-grant of approximately $600 from our Washington County Education Foundation to purchase a class set of Turing Tumble, along with some spare parts, to build a lesson around "How Computers Work". I am very excited to be able to work on this this summer. Turing Tumble is advertised as building a marble-powered machine. Students will be studying inputs and outputs. We will be building a mechanical machine to perform a specified action or actions to create a pre-determined output. This is all supported by a graphical novel story to draw on student interest.
Prior to doing this mini-grant project, my administration was gracious enough to purchase one kit to try. I took that opportunity to gauge student interest in this activity and it was an overwhelming success. I am looking forward to working on this summer and sharing out more in the fall!
I was looking for a way to engage some of my Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students in some hands-on coding activities. After some research (and modifying for my kids) we did some Egg-Carton coding. First we gathered materials:
To take this a bit further, and for a little motivation, after students had the basic understanding of sequence and moving then we added a Lego build to the mix. From my Creative LEGO Brick Set (#45020) we used the parts of the simpler builds like the giraffe, tree, rocket, etc. and had the kids give sequence of commands to collect those pieces. Once their mini-figure collected those piece than they could build the figure.
Assessment for this activity focused on my observations and anecdotal notes of whether or not students could make and describe a sequence and follow that sequence. This activity also reinforced concepts-of-print skills that we read from left to right and top to bottom. Students had the opportunity to choose how they wanted to write their algorithms. It also reinforced some one-to-one counting skills. Finally, we added in some engineering skills as a motivator to finish the activity.
Just a quick post today to give a shout-out to 5th graders for doing a fantastic job persisting. They have been working hard on skill-building in Code.org on variables. We are looking forward to the second half of the school year where we will be applying a variety of concepts in some final products.
Coding variables supports math concepts in finding patterns and utilizing changing values in their work. As students begin to work on algebra concepts this is a great introduction to understanding those concepts. It is also important that students collaborate with each other to solve difficult problems and understand the thinking process. We spent a good bit of time doing "I do, We do" activities to go along with this so students could hear what good thinking sounds like.
WOW! What a week! We received a new Flash Forge 3-D Printer courtesy of a generous donor from DonorsChoose.org. My students were so excited to see and experience this new piece of technology in our classroom. As we started to explore and experience we took some time this week in class to do A LOT of Notice and Wondering. Check out our video below!
We began discussing how we can design objects of our own. We noticed that now we can manufacture them in a rough draft form called a "prototype". We wondered why would an engineer do something like this? We made connections to how the design, engineering and manufacturing process is just like the writing process. We assessed our models to see how we could make them better for next time. This definitely began the seeds of some engaging activities to come.
I am very excited to continue to grow our STEM and Coding Encore class around activities that interest and engage our students. Stay tuned!
Pre-Schoolers and Kindergarten is a great age to begin the concept of following algorithms and coding. You are truly giving students an opportunity to find new ways of thinking and allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them forcing them to think another way. However, some might say this is quite a challenge when there is a lot of research to show that screen time for children is not necessarily a good thing. That is where "unplugged" activities and games come into play. "Robot Races" by ALEX toys is an easy, engaging and fun way to introduce this concept.. Now this game can be easily created but I figured the $12 price tag that I paid was light enough on the wallet, although I believe the price has gone up more since I bought it. Made for ages 4+, the kids create a path from start to finish and place activity blocks down. The idea is to use the included timer and see who can create the faster path. However, with Pre-K and Kindergarten we did not use the timer. They were just excited to get up and move!
It was very interesting to see the different ways each child took to complete the path from start to finish. Some students made paths that went from start to finish with no actions, while others purposefully made paths that went through each of the actions so they could do jumping jacks and spin in circles.
I would highly recommend activities like this. I used this in my Pre-K classes, Kindergarten and Life Skills classes. All of them wanted to play and create paths and then make a challenge for someone else. Once we learned this activity, it became a station the kids could play, however it did require a good bit of continued guidance from myself. As a follow-up activity to take things to the next level, I introduced students to Botley Coding robots and Fischer Price Code-a-pillar. I'll follow up with those activities in one of my next posts.
December is Computer Science education month. The first week of December is the kickoff with Computer Science education week December 3-9. The emphasis on Computational Thinking is becoming more prevalent in education today. Coding is a great way to foster those skills. Over the last 5 years I have been using the website Code.org with my 5th and 4th grade students to teach them the concepts of coding. However, just 3 years ago, at my school, we began an initiative to give all students access to these skills by creating a class that students visit approximately 1 time a week for 50 minutes just like they would go to PE, art, music, or media, that focuses on Computational Thinking and specifically, Coding. The elementary age is the perfect time to begin building the foundation for these skills just like any other academic subject. Once a solid foundation is laid than when they go on to middle school, high school and beyond, they will have a leg-up on those future careers.
Mitch Resnick, creator of the Scratch software, in his TED talk shares about the importance of why kids should learn to code. It’s a way for students to create and use their imagination. They continue to have a sense of accomplishment and it supports multiple standards in math and science. The importance of the process of design and taking an idea and creating something functional out of that idea.
Elementary age students need a lot of exploration and hands-on time when learning to code. With so many resources and materials out there, here a few of my favorites for elementary age.
Thanks for joining me! My goal is to further share some of the solid activities, resources, and know-how that I have been working on for the past 2+ years now. I am also hoping to make some connections and learn a few things as well. I teach at a rural school of 750+ students in Washington County, Maryland. With my 15 years of experience teaching middle school technology, 5th and 4th grades, and now my most recently created venture of teaching elementary coding and STEM skills, it’s time to share out what we do.
Computational Thinking is a concept that has really come to the forefront of education. Coding skills and resources have become the driving force behind reinforcing and teaching this concept. Fortunately, many schools are now putting this practice into action. Unfortunately, at a lot of schools, it is getting put into an already packed area of Library and Media. While I am glad to see it happening, I believe that Coding and STEM skills deserve their own class. While yes, “digital and coding” literacy is important and considered an essential nowadays, “literature and research” literacy should not be put aside. The two content areas can co-exist but “digital and coding” literacy needs its own place to shine.
Now going on our third year, our school has successfully implemented this strategy. Our students participate daily in the arts and literacy by attending a Wellness / PE class, music class, art class, library and media class and a Coding and STEM class. The following Edutopia article states, “kids who code in the classroom have the same neuroplasticity as those who learn a second language when they are young.”
Coding in the Classroom: A Long-Overdue Inclusion
It is important our students develop a solid foundation in computational thinking. It is not an option to just dabble in this content here and there, it is imperative that students are immersed in it regularly.
When I trained as a teacher, the position that I hold now did not exist at that time. However, the experiences that I immersed myself in brought me to where I am today. Our students need this immersion today to have the skills they need for their future.
"Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter." — Izaak Walton