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Redefining the (digital) Classroom

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Robots, Yetis and Monkeys: 3 Classroom Coding Resources You May Have Missed

As we dive deeper into the digital age, coding is becoming more and more prevalent in our schools. In fact, some districts have begun to make coding and computer science part of their core curriculum for graduation. So how can we better prepare our students at a young age for this digital landscape? How can we bridge the divide between male and female computer engineers and help young girls see computer science as a viable and interesting path? One strategy is to teach coding earlier, to everyone.

There are many websites and apps to help kids learn to code. Some offer activities that get kids actually coding while others are more basic - simply training them to think in programming syntax. I've included a list below of great coding resources to explore, but in this post I want to highlight three that I don't often see mentioned in lists like these... and pose a challenge to you and your students to win some robots.

Sometimes coding is hard for students to grasp because they can't see the immediate feedback of changes in their code. An adorable robotic duo named Dash and Dot make coding tangible for students of all ages. Using any tablet, students can code movements, sounds and lights for these robots to interact with each other, the environment around them or even build Legos and play music! The apps are free, all you need to purchase are the robots. Our students are obsessed with Dash and Dot - they love to see their coding acted out before their eyes. Check out Wonder Workshop's blog to read more stories about Dash and Dot in the wild and scroll down for a chance to win a free Dash and Dot for your classroom :)!

Made with Code is a project from Google to inspire more young girls to embrace and enjoy coding. From their website:
We started Made with Code because even though increasingly more aspects in our lives are powered by technology, women aren't represented in the companies, labs, research, creative arts, design, organizations, and boardrooms that make technology happen. If girls are inspired to see that Computer Science can make the world more beautiful, more usable, more safe, more kind, more innovative, more healthy, and more funny, then hopefully they will begin to contribute their essential voices. As parents, teachers, organizations, and companies we're making it our mission to creatively engage girls with code. Today, less than 1% of girls are majoring in CS. Tomorrow, we can make that number go up.
The website is not only full of amazing code-based games and activities (my favorite is the Yeti!), but also inspiring stories from real girls and women who made an impact using code. There is even a search tool to find coding events in your area. Check out their website and follow @madewithcode on Twitter.

Code Monkey is a full-fledged curriculum for grades 4 and up to teach kids actual code. Not just block code as many other websites use, but actual typed code. The developers chose CoffeeScript as the coding langage to teach because, according to their site, it has "a friendly syntax, which resembles the way we write in English, compared to other programming languages". I love how my students are learning to type code, and are understanding the logic behind the code so much better than before. Teachers with whom I've shared this tool rave about how much simpler the program is for their kids to utilize and how much more logical the lessons are as compared to other resources.

VIDEO CHALLENGE - win a robot for your class!

dashdot_ipad-c05a32301aa2000c54b3ddc213b19ec5.pngI challenge all of YOU to get your kids together and create a creative and fun video about coding and computer science. It can be a story from your classroom, a music video, a personal inspiration, a public service announcement... anything! For some fun examples of student-made videos, check out the first three in this playlist. The videos will be viewed by my students and the top selection will win a Dash and Dot kit courtesy of Wonder Workshop!
How to enter (the rules)
  • Have your kids create a video about coding and/or computer science 
  • Make sure it is 2 minutes or less (longer videos will not be accepted)
  • Get permission from parents for all students under the age of 18 to post video to YouTube
  • Post video to YouTube and include #makewonder in your title
  • Fill out this form to submit the video
    • Optional: Paste a link to your video in the comments below
  • Deadline for submission: Tuesday, May 19th


Tangible Tools:
Web-Based Tools:
Mobile Apps:
Communities, Curriculum and Training Support:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Creating an Interactive Table of Contents for YouTube Videos

In the previous post I show you how to create differentiated Choose Your Own Adventure Videos using YouTube. That video is kind of long... 10:44. Perhaps you didn't need to know how to create a YouTube Channel... or maybe you wanted to skip ahead to the part on adding free music.

This post will walk you through how to use YouTube Annotations to create an interactive table of contents at the beginning of a video. This way viewers can see all the topics you'll cover and then skip to the content they're most interested in seeing without having to scrub through the timeline and potentially skipping other important parts.

Hope to see more videos come out like this - it would definitely save me a ton of time :)!

Creating Choose Your Own Adventure Instructional Videos

In other posts I've talked about Cloning the Teacher through differentiated screencasts. But what if the assessment and differentiation were automated as part of the video? Using YouTube annotations, you can embed quiz questions into the video itself and by clicking on the answer, the student is led to either a re-teach or challenge video.

This has been super helpful for my students and colleagues. While not everyone works in a district where YouTube is open to kids, families are incredibly appreciative of quality instructional content for their child to access at home. These videos are easy to create and quickly build up to a collection for you to use for years to come!

Check out this tutorial I created to help you get started :)!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Still here... and there!

Hello readers,

I'm so sorry I've been MIA for the past few months... it's been a busy winter! Some reasons I've been so bad at posting here:

  • Some of my time has gone to supporting other projects - i.e., supporting schools and districts through speaking and workshops or being on a team to help review and update the National Educational Technology Plan (NETP). (Note: If you haven't had a chance to take a look at the last update of the NETP, from 2010, you definitely should. There are a ton of great ideas and stories in this document to help you lead your digital initiatives in your school or district.)
  • The rest of my time has been in our schools, working with teachers and students to leverage devices!
However, don't worry - I haven't abandoned this blog! I will be sharing more stories about my students, our classrooms and digital learning tips. I just wanted to check in to let you know I'm still here and to thank you for reading!

Smiles :),

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Let it (OK)Go - Inspire your students

You may already be a fan of OKGo - if not, perhaps you may recall them from their iconic treadmill video from 2009. I have been a long term diehard fan of this band for many reasons .. hometown love as they're #ChiTown locals, their heartwarming start as 5th graders in camp, and most powerfully, the impact they've had on my students. In past years OKGo has become one of the most inspiring catalysts for my kids' learning. Let me tell you why.

First off, the adorable story behind how this band started... As 11 year olds, lead singer Damien Kulash and bassist Tim Norwind met at Interlochen Arts Camp. They met, fell in bro-love and kept in touch after camp, sharing mixtapes and ideas. The name of the band came from their camp art teacher, who would say to them "OK... Go!" How lovely and telling that these two children found each other in an environment where they could truly be themselves and have the space to play. As inspiring is that they chose the name of their band based on those simple two words... OK Go. Go Play. Go Explore. Go Get Messy.

Quick Meta-tangent: How often to do we as teachers simply say to our students... "OK... go!" And when we do finally release them to an activity, how free are they really to truly "Go"? What parameters have we set that may limit their "Go"? Have we set up an environment where they feel it's really "OK"? 

Ah, now we're back from that metabreak, let's get into how OKGo is inspiring my students in the here and now. Back in 2009 I remember seeing that treadmill video and thinking "wow... that's pretty cool". Then, in 2012, I saw this video from a seven year old named Audri, inspired by OKGo's This Too Shall Pass video. The incredible lesson of resilience, learning from failure and engineering inspired me to have my own students create Rube Goldberg machines.

I started by showing my students the same OKGo video that whet Audri's interest in this concept, then showed them Audri's own creation. By the end of both videos, they were positively chomping at the bit to begin constructing their own masterpieces. It was a delicious mess, with students bringing in more and more "junk" to school daily to build, refine and rebuild bigger and bigger machines. Students who were normally stymied by failure were cheering one another on each time their contraptions failed, saying to one another "remember Audri did it!" or "do it like they did in OKGo!".

From there we watched OKGo's video, Needing/Getting a glorious celebration of "found sounds" to create music. Driving a car through a musical obstacle course in the middle of the desert, the band members create the percussion to back their vocals. My students immediately set to work finding rhythms in their own school day, taking notes about sounds --- coming to me after school to share ideas for moving carts down the hall to provide bass or girls playing double dutch to add the beat.

Most recently, we explored the newest release I Won't Let You Down. This video's explosion of patterns, rates and shapes inspired my students to dig into the math of music, explore marching band patterns and wonder how to build teamwork in their classmates to accomplish something similar. As we studied the video to decide on a project, one of my students commented, "I really wonder how they all got along so well. Sometimes we can't even line up for lunch - how can we get everyone in our class to team up to do this?" We spent a good 15-20 minutes seeing if we could cooperate enough to time a jumping photo - first in the hall then moving to the classroom as we realized we needed to sit down and literally think before we jumped. So while I set out hoping they'd explore the rates, timing and math of the patterns in the video, it looks like my students are digging more deeply in to the social teamwork it would take to coordinate such a collaborative effort.

After we're done seeing where "I Won't Let You Down" takes our learning, I plan to show them The Writing's on the Wall, a wonderland of optical illusions. Awesome to teach about light, reflection, refraction.

OKGo's innovative music, and music videos have not only engaged my students in my own learning goals but also pushed them to wonder and explore ideas neither they nor I had considered before. OKGo - you may entertain millions of people with your snappy beats but you're making a real difference in the lives of your students by daring to be different and thinking outside of the box. Thank you innovating... and to your Interlochen Art Teacher -- thank you for saying "OK... Go".