Tag Archives: coding

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.


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:


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


A second grader’s winter tree.


A third grader’s winter scene.


A peppermint candy created by a third grader.


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?

Planning for Coding

You might remember that I’ve been exploring computer programming (or coding) with my young students.  You can go back here and here to see our early attempts.  The basic idea is clear…you write code to make your electronic device do something.  At first, ANY something was fun.  And then we all learned to make a specific something (square and triangle).

Today we asked students to make a plan for their code and then carry it out.  They drew a quick sketch (we reminded them to keep it simple and to use what they already knew about squares and triangles to get started) in their notebook and then move to Hopscotch on the iPad to carry it out.

I showed them how I had gone home and figured out how to write my very simple name with straight lines and angles similar to those we had used to make our squares and triangles.


What I’ve learned is that not all students take to coding equally…and that doesn’t surprise me.  Some students find it hard…and they are at a loss of how to proceed.  I encourage them to study what they have done before, but they need more of the one to one support of having someone sit and talk them through their choices.  Others are quite persistent.  This first grade boy worked and worked to draw this house.  He struggled with the final side, and while it’s not quite straight…he was proud of his accomplishment!


Lots of girls liked my idea of drawing letters or writing their own name.  This second grade girl figured out how to make several characters come together to make an “E” to represent her name.


And others risked creating something more complex.  This third grader managed to create a picture along with some words of a story.  I got him to take this screen shot for me, but after that he was still adjusting his code and working to make it look just the way he wanted.


I love the way that programming allows students to work at their own edge…and teach each other as they figure out something new.  We ran short of time today, but I know that I want to give students time to share how they made their designs with each other (and me).

Using Hopscotch makes me realize just how much more I need to know about angles and rotation in order to get past the basics of squares and triangles!  I just figured out how to make a circle as I was waiting for a dinner meeting tonight!

Have you tried Hopscotch or another basic programming tool?  What do you suggest as next steps for my students?

More Adventures in Coding

It’s Halloween…the perfect day to continue our adventures in coding with our first, second and third grade students!

And thanks to Mark, our ed tech guy, the kids had the advantage of having someone other than their regular teachers reinforce their initial learning and suggest some next steps.

We returned to Beebot today.  Our students love this friendly bee that responds to their fingertip commands.  And it becomes the perfect vehicle (pun intended) for reminding them that programmers have an idea in mind for their code.  Today’s challenge:  can we make Beebot travel in a square and return to where he began?  (The answer was yes!)


And then we transitioned to Hopscotch.  And our students were in for a treat!  Hopscotch characters were dressed for Halloween today…a special Halloween update.  (The room was electric as the students discovered this new edition on their iPads!)

Mark guided the students as they matched the commands they used on Beebot to the blocks on Hopscotch.  And they carefully coded their first character to make a square.


As you might expect, there were a few glitches…a perfect opportunity to do some “debugging.”  And then we all tackled making a triangle.


That was a bit harder.  And some students figured out if you used the repeat block, some interesting triangle designs resulted!  And here is the basic square and triangle we aimed to code for today.


I hope students take away the value of being able to make the characters do what they want them to do.  This planning is not to get in the way of “happy accidents” but instead to help students do more than move blocks and push play randomly.  I know that many of our students can hardly wait to create some more triangle designs.  Our next invitation might be, what picture can you make with triangles and squares?

The Halloween costumes will go away the next time we update the app…but I hope the lessons learned on Halloween will remain…and become a platform for continued learning. I know I learned a lot today and am more interested in programming than I was before!  I can’t wait to figure out what my students (and I) will do next!

Horizons: The Edge of Learning

Today’s Weekly Photo Challenge on the Daily Post is about horizons…that place where the earth meets the sky.


And as I headed to the beach to capture one of my favorite horizon vistas, I found myself thinking about the comfort of familiar places like the beach…and the stretch of reaching for new horizons.

In some ways my horizon photo this afternoon represents my feeling of reaching for new horizons and feeling the “edge” of learning as I work with my students to learn computer programming.  There’s that sparkle and shine and thrill of the new along with the hazy sun and encroaching marine layer representing all of the unknown and uncertainty.

Today a parent in our classroom came in and shared his work as a video game programmer with our students.  He showed us a few of the games he has made…


the first with a team of three including him.  The most recent included a team of 1,000!

Then he helped to connect this work that he does with our work on Hopscotch (an app), built on the shoulders of Scratch (a program developed at MIT).  He showed us a few kid-made Scratch programs and had the kids make suggestions for changes.  In a matter of a few minutes, he showed how the iterative process is essential for programming.


At this point there were about ten minutes before recess, so we offered our students this short time to return to Hopscotch and try their hand at some more programming.  Students were quick to get set up…and were immediately focused and engaged with working with code.


I watched them try something and then go back and make a change and run their program again.  When students showed me something they had created, I also asked them to show me the code–and in many cases asked them explain their thinking behind the code–so I can learn along with them.  When it was time for recess, we offered students a choice…they could put their iPad away and go out for recess or they could stay inside and continue their coding.  Only 8 of our 44 students chose to go out.  The rest were totally absorbed with programming on Hopscotch!

I’m working at my edge on this new horizon of learning to code with my students…and it’s uncomfortable at times.  But knowing that this is also where learning happens is exciting.  I’ll probably spend some more time on Hopscotch (or maybe even Scratch) this weekend.  If you have any coding advice, I’m happy to receive it!

Here’s a great TED Talk by Mitch Resnick, one of the creators of Scratch, explaining why students should be involved in programming.  Maybe we should all try it out!

And if it’s not coding, what new horizons are in your future?  What are you doing to find the “edge” of learning?

Learning to Code

It seems perfect that this month that includes the National Day on Writing and Connected Educators’ Month is also the time when we have ventured into teaching coding to our students (and ourselves).  My teaching partner and I talked about doing this last year during our 1:1 iPad pilot…but were thwarted by the fact that Scratch requires flash and won’t work on our iPads.  We had even thought about it the year before, that but 30 minutes of computer time per week just didn’t seem adequate.

So to push myself to realize this goal of coding with my students, I have been telling people that I want to do this.  I know myself enough to know that if I don’t make my goals public, somehow it is easier to push them aside when they feel “hard.”  And In our school district this year we have a new Educational Technology teacher.  A credentialed teacher who was hired specifically to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching–in addition to the tech people in our district who help when our technology isn’t working.  I mentioned our desire to teach our students to code in an introductory meeting with the Ed Tech teacher before school began…and he was interested and excited about the prospect.

And so last week he ventured into our classroom at a perfect time to talk…and pinned me down on getting started with coding.  He would come in and get students started–using the Beebot I had purchased at the end of the summer and the Hopscotch app he had learned about.


I love the way the simple, mechanical Beebot illustrates the basics of programming.  And I love that it also demonstrates how easy it is to have mistakes in your code, and the need to problem solve and “debug” through repeated trials and iteration.  My students were quick to understand the basics and very interested in the Beebot.  First graders could easily explain their thinking–and could figure out where they had made mistakes (older kids could too, and made mistakes too!).


After exploring how to make Beebot move, we turned to our iPads and opened Hopscotch.  Similar to Scratch, Hopscotch uses interlocking blocks to make the characters move.  After trying a few moves in common and learning to make their character spin, we set students loose to explore the possibilities.


And they began to “write” their own code!  We gave students the opportunity to share cool things they had figured out with all of us…and promised that we would give them more time to explore this app and create more code.

I don’t know any more about coding at this point than my students do, so we will continue to learn together.  And I think I am as excited about learning to code as they are.  I’m glad our Ed Tech teacher pushed us to set a date to start to work on coding with our students…and I’m glad he was there to get us started.  His checking in on our progress will also be an incentive to continue this with our students.  I have tons more to learn…but who better to learn it with than our students?

Find Five Friday! Digital Tools

Today’s post comes from Anna’s invitation at #clmooc to participate in Find Five Friday! (or maybe find five futures).  I’ve had a week filled with digital tools…and thinking and conversation related to them.  Here’s my curation of five (in no particular order):


iBooks Author

This tool came to light as I worked with a group to find an appropriate platform to serve the resource being developed at the NWP Resource Development Retreat.  We wanted something skimmable, flexible enough to hold a variety of digital artifacts (video, pdf files, images, links,…), shareable, editable, and something that looks good.  My colleague Beth was able to experiment with iBooks Author and create an early draft of the resource envisioned.  Previewing it on the iPad showed it to have many of the features we were looking for.  Were there glitches?  Of course…and there is a learning curve (which I have not yet mastered!).  My biggest disappointment is that you have to use a MAC computer to create with iBooks Author–it isn’t available for creation on the iPad–you can only read (be a consumer) there!  I wanted to have my students use this tool.  Anyone have other suggestions for a similar tool for use on an iPad?


If you’ve been on my blog before you know that I love iphoneography and love to use photos to convey information.  Thinglink is a tool where photos can be tagged with other media including text, video, links…  It includes an embed code so thinglinks can be included in other platforms…think Google Earth or your own blog!  I learned about this at a CUE Rockstar training this week and then found this great resource from Richard Byrnes at Free Technology 4 Teachers.  I’d love to know what you’ve done with this or similar tools!

iPhoneography editing tools guide by Nicole

This is another resource that I learned about at CUE Rockstar.  (The presenters developed wonderful pages of linked resources associated with their sessions.)  Nicole (who was not the presenter) has put together this amazing pinterest slideshow that highlights not only the tool she uses for editing her photos, but some of her thinking about why she wants to use the tool…and includes samples of her amazing photos.  Thanks Vicky for pointing me to this!

Tagging and custom searches for student bloggers by Kevin and Bart

My work with Connected Learning and the clmooc this summer has pushed my thinking about my students’ blogs and how to help them connect with other students for meaningful comments not just from the adults in their lives, but from students all over the world.  Bart had some ideas about tagging and embedding the classroom lessons that inspire the blog posts to help students from other places have some context for their responses and interactions.  Kevin then suggested the idea of a custom search for student bloggers to connect with other student bloggers with similar interests.  Brilliant!  (Now to put this into action!)

Bee Bot and Tynker

I’ve been thinking about coding and how I might help my students think about the work behind the digital tools they use.  I’d heard about lots of tools/games out there for students–Scratch from MIT and Gamestar Mechanic, for example.  And I’d messed around a little…  My students have iPads as their classroom device, so I really want to have something they can do with coding on the iPad.  Today I learned about a few possibilities to try out.  The first one surprised me–it is a little robot-like toy called Bee Bot (not for the iPad–just a little battery powered toy).  This little bug can be programmed with up to 40 moves (like the arrow keys on the computer) and can make 90 degree turns.  I can think of so many ways this little robot can introduce my students to the fundamentals of coding (and they can create their own games to review other concepts too!).

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 4.16.13 PM

I also learned about Tynker.  It’s not an iPad app–but since it doesn’t rely on flash it will play on the iPad.  Tynker is very similar to Scratch with the linking blocks that students arrange to make their actors move on the screen.  It’s set up for teachers–you create an account and can follow up on what students accomplish.  I’ve only begun to experiment–but I’m excited about the possibilities.  I love the way you can see sample projects–and look at the code (in interlocking blocks) behind it!  I’d love to know if you have tried any of these tools–how did they work for you and/or your students?

I think that is already 6 (or 7) and I really want to include one more–Touchcast–an iPad app for making video with embedded real time apps (check out the little video link above).  More on that to come!

What are your favorite digital tools?  What are you currently exploring?  How will you use them in the classroom?  Teach with them?