Monthly Archives: December 2013

Hour of Code

Coding, programming…words that are used to describe the process of “speaking” a machine language.  This week classrooms and schools all over are participating in the Hour of Code, an attempt to get 10 million students to try computer science for an hour during Computer Science Education Week.

If you read this blog you already know that we have been working on computer programming using the Hopscotch app for a while now.  (See here, here, and here)  So in honor of the Hour of Code, we decided to pose a Winter Scene Design Challenge for our students.

Today was the day.  Students were asked to create a scene using Hopscotch that depicts some aspect of winter.  As you might expect, students thought snow, snowmen, Christmas trees, and more.  They were super excited…with my speech students arranging to get out of speech (something they love!) so they could be part of the challenge.

And there were many highlights today–lots of successes, lots of students genuinely collaborating with one another and supporting each other without teacher direction.  But my favorite moment was Esther.  Esther is an 84 year old grandmother who lives in Australia and visits her daughter in our town each year in the winter.  I taught her grandson and granddaughter many years ago (they are both college students now) and Esther has continued to come to our classroom several days a week when she is in town to help out and hang out.

As Esther began to watch the students at work on their winter scenes, I asked her if she would like to try it too.  I handed her my iPad and asked Sophie if she would show Ms. Esther how Hopscotch (and the iPad) worked.

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Esther was delighted!  And so was Sophie.  It is wonderful for my students to see the embodiment of lifelong learning…and Esther is just that!

An article I read recently points out the advantages of learning to code:  problem solving, (digital) confidence, and understanding the world.  And I see those advantages when my students work to program.  They also learn about systems…and working through the many variables to figure out why their plan isn’t working as they imagined.  They become persistent and learn the value of iteration.  Each mistake becomes another opportunity for learning rather than a sign of failure.

Here are a few examples of students’ winter scenes:

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A first grader who figured out how to use o’s as text features for eyes and nose on his snowman.

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A second grader’s winter tree.

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A third grader’s winter scene.

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A peppermint candy created by a third grader.

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And a holiday greeting card, Hopscotch style!

You can see that students are gaining confidence and expertise with this programming tool. Most of these projects were completed in less than 30 minutes and they represent only a fraction of the programming that was happening in the classroom today.  Some of our students are still struggling while others can’t wait to go home and try some more programming on their own time.

Next week we plan to have student-led tutorials where students will teach and learn from each other in small groups.

How was your Hour of Code?  What did students learn and create?

Frosty Beauty

White crystalline structures, both fragile and surprisingly strong, appeared this morning on the lawns and cars in my neighborhood.

All too often frost is just another annoyance…evidence of cold weather and the need to either scrape the windshield or wait for the defroster to gain enough traction to melt it so I can see through the windshield to drive off to work.

But this morning, when I heard there was frost on the cars, I put the macro lens on my phone, grabbed my jacket and headed outside…before even taking time for breakfast or coffee.

And I was rewarded by the intricate lacy beauty of this micro winter wonderland.

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When viewed through my macro lens, those ordinary blades of grass were transformed.

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This stray leaf blossomed with delicate white crystals of ice.  I was afraid to breathe too heavily for fear of melting these structures before I could capture them through my lens.

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The frozen moisture seems to grow, creating intricate pathways of texture extending over the roof of the car.  It seemed to stay colder there longer than along the sides.  I’m sure the neighbors thought I was crazy as I crawled along the lawn photographing blades of grass and peered along the top of my car examining the patterns of frost in the crisp, cooler-than-usual morning air.

But for me, I rediscovered my sense of wonder and curiosity as I worked intently to find and capture this minute beauty.

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My macro lens has reminded me once again to take the time to look closely and appreciate the beauty in those things that seem uninteresting or annoying on the surface.

I didn’t get to work quite as early as I usually do this morning, but I had the perfect start to my day…just by looking a bit more closely.

Snow in San Diego…Really??!!

A rainy Saturday set the scene for our adventure.  Remember, rain in San Diego is an event! The smallest amount makes our roads crazy and all the talk…on news stations, in coffee shops, in bars, on the street…is about the rain.

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On the surface, we told ourselves that we were off to do some holiday shopping, but really we were looking for a bit of adventure!  Parking itself was an adventure…and as we searched we discovered that we were just in time for the Little Italy Tree Lighting Festival. And as we searched for parking we also spied this magnificent rainbow.

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Once parked we emerged into the cool, crisp afternoon.  The rain was done for the time being, the sun made an appearance…a perfect time for a bit of exploring.

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As we wandered and walked and ate and talked the sun began to set, painting splotches of brilliant pink onto the gray rain clouds in the distance.

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We explored the booths at the festival as darkness arrived and looked up, turned to each other and asked…what is that?  Small white flakes floated in the air…could it be…  As always, as someone who grew up in dry, relatively warm southern CA, when I saw the flakes my first thought was ash…a fire?  No…snow swirled and danced in the glow of the lights. Snow?  Really?

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Sure, it was snow.  The man-made variety.  But it did lend an air of festivity and winter-ness to the event.  It was noisy…and turned off and on as the guy manned the switch.  But when it was blowing snow, everyone around responded.  Children danced and chased the flakes, trying to capture them in their hands, on their tongues (I have no idea how it tastes), in their outstretched hats.  Adults flocked around capturing pictures of their children, of each other, and of themselves.

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I haven’t yet had the opportunity to try my hand at photographing snowflakes…and this version of snow lacked the hush and wonder of the snow gifted from clouds.  But it was fun and unexpected.  Remember, we think light rainfall is a major weather event.  So snow in San Diego…  Maybe a snow day will be next…

The Grand-ness of Small

When I saw the Weekly Photo Challenge yesterday I started to think about photos to represent the word grand.  Would I choose a picture of the ocean?  A sunset?  The magnificence of the redwoods?  The intricate design of a bridge?  Should I focus on the size…the “wow” factor…or something else?  I went to bed last night without posting because I really couldn’t decide which photo to post.

This morning when I woke up and headed down to the kitchen I noticed that our Christmas cactus had bloomed.  For most of the year the Christmas cactus is a pretty ordinary green plant with characteristic sharp spines expected of a cactus.  But once a year (or more if we’re lucky), usually in December, the cactus develops red buds that open in a spectacular burst of color.

When I saw the blossoms this morning I couldn’t wait to get out my macro lens and try to capture some of that splendor in a photograph.  I love the idea that this small blossom represents grand.  When we look closely and notice the details, we can find the beauty and magnificence in the tiniest of places.

This is the unedited photo that I captured this morning.  I hope my photo helps you see the grand in this blossom!

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Spontaneous: a Photo Essay

There are so many routines…and they help me get things done.  They get me to work on time , allow me to accomplish the mundane and the inspirational work in my life, and remind me to make time for work and play, relaxation and exercise, books and art and more. But sometimes my routines get in my way.

I almost let that happen today.  I had a meeting at a school site near a picturesque part of our city.  As I pulled up to park I thought about taking some time after the meeting to drive the couple of miles to the cove and see if there was anything to photograph.

After my meeting I wanted to go home.  I knew the traffic would be bad… and it gets dark so early these days…I had lots of excuses.  But then I decided to take that short drive anyway, even if it meant some miserable traffic on my way home.

And I’m so glad I did!  La Jolla Cove is truly a treasure.  This little protected piece of ocean is a refuge for wildlife…and for people.  When I pulled up and immediately found a parking place, I knew this would be worth the spontaneous decision.  I first noticed this little structure with sea gulls roosting on top.  Through it I could see a small fishing boat in the surf.

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As I continued up the walkway, I heard barking.  But it wasn’t dogs…it was sea lions!  Some sunbathed in the cool December air while others seemed to play hide and seek in the waves.

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I looked up and noticed pelicans cruising the coast…almost close enough to touch!  (Of course I missed photographing the ones that were close!)

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I noticed this big seagull cruising the park area.  He had been perched up on the tree, but had moved on by the time I close enough to use my camera!

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I was right about the traffic, by the way.  It took me more than an hour to get home after this excursion.  But it was so worth it.  My photos don’t begin to do justice to my experience. The sights and sounds and smells along with the crisp, cool air and low afternoon sun made for a perfect respite on a work day.

When I got home it was dark…and I noticed the sliver of moon rising.  Geoff and I headed out after dinner to get gas for my car…and decided to stop by Starbucks for a cup of coffee. And spontaneously, as we turned the corner and spied the moon we headed off to the beach where we knew the view would be spectacular.

And we weren’t disappointed.  That shy smile of the moon reflected on the surf below.  The colors were incredible…whites and golds.  The moon made the water glow…and the froth of the surf curled in frosty waves.  I tried my camera…with little success.

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But standing side by side in the dark appreciating the beauty of the moon and water in the cool of December with a hot coffee in our hands was priceless.  A reminder to be spontaneous now and then.  Routines can return tomorrow.

Opportunities to Iterate

My teaching partner and I have been working with our students on coding this year (see here and here and here).  We’ve figured out how to make coding a regular part of our week…and our students are having success with planning, creating, and debugging.  We’re planning a “winter scene” challenge for next week to celebrate the Hour of Code…more about that next week.

Related to this coding effort is our goal of helping students to cultivate “grit” and to see mistakes as learning opportunities.  (See It’s the Little Things for more on grit.)

So this week in addition to our digital work as programmers, we have given students a design challenge…making snowflakes.

These southern CA kids have limited experience with snow (as do I), but learning about snowflakes is fascinating.  We started by reading Snowflake Bentley about Wilson Bentley–a man obsessed with photographing snowflakes using a camera attached to a microscope (back before the technology was very developed).  He showed a tremendous amount of tenacity and grit in his efforts…and finally published his book of snowflake photos when he was 66 years old.

We knew that creating hexagonal snowflakes (by cutting paper) would be challenging for our students, but we decided that this purposeful opportunity to iterate…study mistakes and learn from them for their next attempt, would be a perfect platform for helping to build grit and tenacity.

And then to add to the challenge, inspired by Zoo Flakes ABC, our students are creating hexagonal snowflakes in the shape of animals.  Yesterday they learned to fold and began drawing their animal to cut.  Today they tried out their design by cutting out their animal. There were many failures–unconnected pieces that looked nothing like animals or snowflakes, whiny “this is hard” comments, and requests for help cutting (we deferred, reminding  them it was a perfect opportunity for practice).  There were some semi-successes with 6 intact “arms” of something like an animal shape.  And there was lots of concentration and studying of the results.

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We studied our successes and failures…and then looked at some more “expert” attempts online.  We considered ways to improve even those attempts that were “successful” (in the sense that a snowflake-like shape resulted).  And students are ready to try again tomorrow.

But best of all there were no tears and everyone gave it a try today.  Our students were focused on their design and their cutting…and desperately want their snowflakes to work out.

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We’re excited about this project…and all that our students will gain from these iterative efforts.  I’ll let you know more as we progress through this project!

What do you do to help your students study their mistakes and try again?