Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kaizena Feedback has Tags!

Kaizena feedback continues to grow and develop into an ever more useful tool for teachers.  Today they launched tags.  Now teachers can tag comments in student writing to help identify trends and track growth over the semester.

What can you do with tags?  Here are some great ideas from the Kaizena blog.

  1. Track and rate skills - tags can be rubric criteria, common core standards, your local state, region, or country’s standards, learning objectives or outcomes...anything.
    1. The first time you type in a tag, we save it for future re-use. <screenshot>
    2. Every tag gets a rating. You can change the tag’s rating levels to match, say, your rubric levels. <animated gif>
    3. After you’ve tagged a highlight, add a voice comment, type a text comment, or add a resource. Or any combination. <animated gif>

  1. Save feedback for future use
    1. Remember that voice comment you just made? Save it to the tag, and every time you use that tag in the future, it will reappear. You can even save multiple voice comments or a combination of voice comments, text comments and resources to a tag (psst: tags get really powerful in combination with resources).  <animated gif>

  1. Skill summary
    1. If you made five “transition” tags with different ratings, then “transition” would appear in the summary as an average of those ratings. <screenshot> This is like a rubric summary, but smarter: students can click on each tag in the summary and see the evidence for the score they received <animated gif>

Voice comments saved educators time while enabling better student outcomes , and tags continue this legacy:

Better student outcomes
  • Knowledge of strengths and weaknesses is a prerequisite for improvement
  • Transparency: showing the evidence behind a rubric score builds trust between educators and students

Save time
  • Re-use your feedback
  • Get rubric criteria out of your head as you read

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Coding Lesson: Programming in Primary

-continuing a series on teaching coding in primary grades-

Once I saw the potential of coding and the ability to use the activity of coding to get students to spend more time with the content, I was hooked.  Now I had to figure out how to create learning to code as a learning experience for my students.

To paraphrase William Carlos Williams, so much depends upon your classroom context. (if I didn’t occasionally throw in some bad English teacher jokes you would be disappointed, admit it)  When designing a coding lesson, remember that a good coding lesson is going to be structured in much the same way as any other student centered lesson in your class.  My lesson is going to begin with a brief period of direct instruction and goal setting.  If I can do this through video with a puppet, I do.  Even though it is a false variety, I like to have the kids get their information from multiple sources and media, so if the puppet can lead the into activity. I let him.  I try to get the kids working as quickly as possible and I want them working for at least 30 minutes.  Some can go longer, but coding is demanding and requires frustration management skills.

The Coding Lesson - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

In the next post we will talk about the power of having students program in pairs, we also ask How do we keep girls engaged in coding and excited about learning through code? What questions do you have about programming in primary?  leave a comment and join the conversation, or tweet at me @SamPatue.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Primary Teachers: Learn Coding Fundamentals in an Hour

If you have heard about the hour of code, I hope you saw this coming from the title.  If you don't know about the hour of code, it is time. wants to support everybody everywhere in learning to code.  They are organizing all kinds of people to create tutorials that can be used in schools to get kids coding, even if it is just for a one hour guided activity.
When I work with teachers new to coding I always recommend the tutorials at  Today we are going to look at a couple if these tutorials and call out the important concepts they teach.  Hopefully by the end of this you will feel comfortable enough with the tutorials to but an hour in and see what you know about coding at the end of it.
The first tutorial at is a great introduction to block based coding using the characters from angry birds and plants vs zombies.  This is a browser based coding experience and it works on the iPad.  Jump right in by clicking go and notice that there are three main areas of the screen.  On the right there is the compose field, this is your active program.  Your available commands are visible in a library near the center of the screen and the instructional and preview panel is in the far left.
In the course of this tutorial you will learn how to manipulate the code blocks, how to start a program and "repeat-loops, conditionals, and basic algorithms."  These three concepts will be your foundation of programming logic.  We will be exploring these tools in the tutorial before we discuss their definition.  This might seem counter intuitive in a world where we ask students to look up vocabulary words before reading, but this is bigger than knowing a definition.  Through the tutorial you will experience creating loops and you will see the resulting economy of expression.  Programming is a language and you will begin by composing simple messages, you will learn the syntax by creating simple texts.  As you learn, explore.  Don't rush through the tutorial, watch the videos.  When it asks if you want to see the lines of code you have written, say yes!  Take a screenshot, see if you can understand how the lines of JavaScript and blocks of code relate to each other.
Even though we can do so many things at the same time, allow yourself an hour of just coding time.  This is work, there are big ideas at play here.  Although it is hard, I silence my phone and shut my extra tabs.  I rarely work with one window open.  I do take note by using the screen shot function often. I delete the pictures often, but it serves as a great reference of later, especially if I am sharing the information with other teachers from my site.  As I work, I often have to close Facebook or Twitter, they seem to open themselves.  I do set a timer on my iPad and I try to stay focused and work till the bell.  At the end. I page through the screen shots and see what I learned.  
At the end of your first hour of code. I want you to be able to explain the three foundational concepts in your own words.  I want you to have a ready answer to help your students better understand these concepts when your students encounter them.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Myths about Coding in Primary Grades

1. I can't teach coding because I don't know how to code.
2. Coding has nothing to do with my subject area.

I have never met a teacher who got into teaching because of what they didn't know.  Teachers have long been expected to be the expert in the room.  I studied English, rhetoric, poetry, and literacy skill development in formal and informal environments to become the teacher I am today, and then I laugh because I am a K-5 technology teacher.  I thrive in a professional life of decentralized expertise.  For so much of the day to day challenge of how will we help the kids create whatever it is we are creating this week I rely on the insight, videos, and blog posts of others.  I still get to employ my core understanding of how learning works, everyday.  

Technology is not the subject of the class, it is the medium.  Even when we use coding or programmatic thinking in a lesson, we are almost always learning more about something else.  
I admit I have taken a couple programming classes a few years ago, but I am not a coder.  I know some HTML, but I do not spend time writing code, ever.  When I began developing the coding k-8 curriculum I was nervous because I know so little about coding.  I have learned much over the last year, but still write more haiku than programs.  
The first thing that I found was a short tutorial can go a long way.  When I was really lucky the tutorial was built into the app as in Kodable, or help was on screen like the web based Tynker.  In the early days of Hopscotch the interface was stark and only once I found Wes Fryer's ebook did I figure out how to make the platform useful in class.  Once. I found some clear "how to" support the critical question shifted to "how can I use this in a meaningful way to support learning goals."
Once we regard tech as the medium we need to know as much about it as we know about a text book we might use, or the general operation of glue and cardboard.  When people say "it is not about the tech" this is what they mean.  In our new tech class we are no longer teaching the fundamentals of computer science, we are teaching movie making.  We are not looking at our tablets, we are looking through them.
Something education is just warming up to is that the tablet is not a magical infinity workbook with self erasing pages, it is a digital canvas that can hold and manipulate any form of information we can produce.  A portable, shareable, digital canvas allows teachers to quickly get the work in the room onto the screen.  When I look at learning apps I am looking for a camera button and a share button.  I was first delighted by the power of camera import on puppet pals.  I paid for the app for all the shared iPads in the lower school because of the power of using the camera to import a background, or a character.  The first grade turned their cut out fish into a movie about life in the coral reef.  The coding app Scratch Jr has a camera import function and it is a free app.  This means that in math I can have the students take a picture of their work and program the cat to walk through the steps of the problem.  They can record their own voices explaining or they can type it in for the text to be delivered on screen.  
This programming interface requires NO READING and allows the programming of presentations, interactive games and cinematic sequences.  With the camera import function this program can do many things you would previously ask kids to do using sonic pics or explain everything.

So how do you begin to prepare to teach coding for kids in grades k-5 if you have no coding experience yourself?  In my next post we are going to talk about exactly that where to start.  We are going to look at some great tutorials to introduce you to coding and begin to talk about how to structure coding lessons for your students.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Puzzles, Play and Programming

If you have not yet heard of Robot Turtles, it is a board game built around the fundamentals of computer programming by Dan Shapiro, formerly of Google and Microsoft, launched on Kickstarter last year.  The response was amazing enough to convince the company Think Fun to help Dan deliver the game to a wider audience.  Think Fun was founded in 1985 by Bill Ritchie and Andrea Barthello. They have created popular and thoughtful games like Math Dice and Rush Hour.  Bill describes his company as one that makes things that sit between the categories of game and puzzle, tracing his inspiration back to puzzles designed by Bill Keister, his father's co worker and close friend at Bell Labs.

As a K-5 technology integration specialist, I often find myself talking with teachers about how the technology newly available to teachers can upgrade our instructional models and open new doors of understanding to students. My recent conversation with Bill Ritchie, challenged some of my notions and helped me see how we can use analog tools, like physical puzzles and board games, to support the development of computational thinking and problem solving.
How does Robot Turtles fit into the family of games at Thinkfun? “Coding is a thinking skill and that is our mission” says Ritchie, "Teaching coding teaches executive function skills.  The child is the responsible party, making decisions.  The parent or adult is creating a safe space to explore in a low risk situation"  Robot Turtles is low risk because every player is on their own quest, and the on-board challenges can be modified to the needs of the players.  Like a video game, Robot Turtles gets more complex to match the player's developing skills.  
While Ritchie values coding as a thinking skill, he also sees the interaction between people over a game as very important.  In the case of Robot Turtles there is an active role for an adult to act as the computer, executing the programs written by the players Ritchie wants parents and kids to play together.
I asked Ritchie to think with me about what role Robot Turtles could play in a classroom.  The basic action of the game is you have to move your turtle to the goal.  As you set up the game you always start from a blank board.   There is even a way to pre-design the layout of the board. Yes, even board games some with extra levels now,and they are online.   Adventure Quests invite adults to work with kids to design their own levels and possibly lessons.
When we started talking about content integration we talked about the power of a blank game board.  What if an industrious teacher created a game board in the same dimensions as the original, but on laminated poster board? Students could design a board with solutions to math problems, the letters of their name, of the steps in tying their shoes.  On a laminated surface you could add information quickly with dry erase markers.  Bill wants players to extend their play of the game by writing narratives of adventure about where the turtles are going and the challenges they will face.  As we talked, I could see that the game space is a medium we can use to engage so much of the content of primary school.  Depending on what we put on the board and the choices we ask the students to make we can be supporting literacy, science or math.  In addition to executive function skills, we are also building social and problem solving skills
I see a Robot Turtles learning center coming soon to a class near me, but it will have to be adult lead to get the most out of the experience.
Do you have board games where you could used the mechanics of the game on a modified board to support the lessons in your class?  Here are a few teacher maker questions to get you started.

The power of a blank game board: Teacher Maker Key Questions:

  • Do you know the dimensions of the original board and squares?
  • Do you have access to a laminator?
  • What could your students do with a dry erase game surface?

Do you have a great idea for remixing Monopoly to teach statistics or how Candy Land can support Common Core?  Share it with us here.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Scratch Jr, Programming for Prereaders

I was really excited for the release of the Scratch Jr app.  Its parent langauge is Scratch, an amazing programming interface that opened the world for programming to a whole new group of young programmers.  I have used scratch with my students from grade 4 up and I have seen other teachers who use scratch with students as young as first grade.  

Last year as I was figuring out how to bring meaningful computer programming to my pre-reading students, I really wanted to find tools that worked on the iPad.  I was really excited to find Kodable and it transformed my approach to coding with kindergarten students.  As I looked to expand my resources, I talked to many developers and time after time I heard about projects underway to make complex programming available to young students.  Then I found the Scratch Jr. kickstarter.  I didn't have a chance to support the project at that stage, but as soon as I saw that a Scratch platform for the iPad was being developed I began looking forward to when I could bring this to my students.

In the mean time, I learned about what meaningful tech integration looks like in the primary grades.  There were many lessons along the way, but the most important was that the camera.  The camera allows students to easily place the work on their desk inside the iPad.  My first experience was with Puppet Pals.  This was one of the most expensive apps I bought last year.  While there is a free version, the paid version allows you to use the camera to bring in custom backgrounds and characters.
This feature makes it possible for students to share their developing understanding of a topic. Now the FREE IOS App,  Scratch Jr comebines an instructive coding environment with a camera import ability.  I have only worked with this app for a few hours and I am already really excited about what we will be able to do in class with this app. Check out the video for more great ideas for integration, and maybe get some inspiration for your own situation.


What can you teach using this platform?  Let's share ideas and inspire each other to use programming as a medium for developing and applying understanding.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

10 Tips for Going Paperless in the Classroom

There are many reasons for a teacher to take their classroom paperless, but what happens when someone else decides it is time for your classroom to kick your paper habit?
In the best situations, the rate of technology integration in a classroom would be in the individual teacher’s control and each teacher would be allowed to augment their approach, moving toward a paperless workflow at their own pace. In many cases these days, schools or districts adopt technology and want to see the change it promises happen quickly.

Juggling the demands from their school and district, teachers often end up having to train students to use devices in a paperless workflow before anyone feels comfortable with the tools. In these cases, the huge range of tools available can be challenging and the learning curve overwhelming. So, what can you do in your classroom on day one to get started on the right foot?
Here are some ideas that guide me:

1. Acknowledge you are learning the technology along with your class – We are used to teachers being the experts in the classroom, but the average history teacher did not study wireless workflow management. Share what you learn with your students as you go and recruit them to help you whenever you can.

2. Expect change – I used to set up my class protocols at the beginning of the year (i.e turn in your paper in the book with your block number on it on my desk). This would never change. But with my students on iPads, I have changed our workflow a few times throughout the year. Sometimes it’s because I found a better tool. Sometimes it’s because an application that was free was no longer. Being connected means you cannot escape the forces of change.

3. Use Google Drive and the “Publish to Web function” – This is a really simple and easy way to make your Word and presentation files available to your students. You can upload your existing documents to Drive and select the publish to web option under the “file” menu to create a URL address for your documents. This allows you to get started without having to create all new resources. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We need that water for later.

4. Learn one thing at a time – There will always be more tools to learn than time to learn them. Focus on learning one new tool at a time.

5. Let someone else try it first – While new tools come out all the time, you should focus on learning tools that other teachers have already had success with.

6. Find a tech mentor – You should look for someone in your building or online and follow their example.

7. Avoid perfection – As you create and share content with your students, avoid perfection. Create the best work you can in the time you have but allow your students to see your process.

8. Listen to your students – They are your audience so make sure your technological choices meet their needs. If they don’t use the resources you are creating, ask them why. Make sure your resources are accessible and useful.

9. Sharing is your superpower – Digital work is easier to share, send home, and share with other teachers. I love how sharing student work regularly can change the conversations I have with my classroom’s parents.

10. Share your journey – Whether it is with a teacher you see as a tech mentor, or just a personal friend, share your challenges and successes with others. Sometimes I do this by blogging, other times I pick up the phone.

Is this all there is to it? Nope, but it’s a good place to start. I could also add “keep it simple” and “forgive yourself” to the list because beating yourself up over the process will not help. I think if Matt Gomez were going to add something to this list, he would add “Be Brave”. And, any one who taught primary this past year might also add “Let it Go.”
So many of us are on a journey of tech integration and going paperless in the classroom, so let me end by coming back to number 6. My tech journey has taught me that we are all better together, so there is no reason for anyone to face these challenges alone.
Sam PattersonScanSnap Squad, Education
- See more at: