Tuesday, November 18, 2014

So You Want to Do the Hour of Code

What is the Hour of Code?

From http://hourofcode.com/us
"The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. Anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event. One-hour tutorials are available in over 30 languages. No experience needed. Ages 4 to 104."

Who Should participate?

The simple answer is everyone.  Code.org's mission is to make coding and computer science visible and accessible to everyone and the hour of code is a glimpse into the wold of programming.  They have expanded their offerings this year to include a 20 hour computer science curriculum for grades K-5, and they are introducing new curriculum that connect with math and science at higher grades.

Why an Hour?

The hour of code is aimed at getting all kids and teachers to experience what coding can do in the classroom for an hour, but their resources can support much more instruction than this.  The hour is about changing perceptions of programming.  The videos that accompany the curriculum don't just describe concepts of loops and algorithms, they break down stereotypes about what programming is and what it can do.  You can take this much further than an hour.
Last year the Hour of Code helped me introduce programming as an instructional mode on my campus.

First you learn to code, then you learn through code -Mitch Resnick creator of SCRATCH

While the hour of code got my kids programming more, I had already introduced most of the to programming in technology class.  The transformation took place as their content area teachers experienced coding with them.  Until our science teacher saw how SCRATCH could model equations, he never used it in class.  This year both middle school math and science classes are using programming to develop their understanding of key concepts.

Where do I start?

Check out the tutorials and videos at Code.org/learn for yourself. Challenge yourself to do an hour of code and see what you learn.  Then talk to your school leadership about the opprotunities available to all your students and teachers.

What next?

Talk with the other teachers on your campus aboutthe instructional potential of programming, help them design a lesson that connects with their curriculum.  Need some help?  Drop me a line and let's brainstorm together.

Mitch Resnick has said that programming is the next or the new writing.  He is more correct than he knows.  Not only is it a meaningful mode of expressions, but it is viewed as mysterious and hard to teach and the people best positioned to make it accessible don't know where to start.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Programming and Music, Hour of Code and the Arts

There is a chill in the air, lights are going up everywhere, it is like the whole world is prepping for the hour of code!  While I might have enough excitement about the season to carry my whole school site, I know that other people can't believe we are talking about the Hour of Code already.  They ask me "Wasn't it just connected educator month?"  Some of my favorite teachers anguish over the time needed for the hour of code and how fast the short period between turkey day and winter break rushes by.  They aren't sure they can find a spare hour to "do coding."
I am putting together some of the best resources I know to help them find meaningful ways to help their students learn through code.
As I have been learning about programming and teaching kids to code, music is a theme that keeps emerging.  Vikas from WonderWorkshop first got me thinking about you music could help teach programming last year when I heard him speak about why Dash, one of their robots, plays the xylophone. He spoke about the power of music to help kids understand sequence.  Whether a scale or Mary had a Little Lamb, we can hear the difference between wrong and right in a musical sequence. When we can take something like music and use programming to interact with it we can teach programming basics at the same time as sequence, rhythm and even some basic music theory.
Thinking about how to make Hour of Code accessible to my music teacher I was playing around with Trinket.io and their Music trinket.
this is a neat interface and it plays the music you program into it.  The window has a "cheat sheet" available and allows you to program but the bass and treble parts.   Trinket.io is one of the companies in the Imagine K12 startup incubator this year.  Their Philosophy:
trinket knows that educators belong at the center of open education. That’s why we believe that Teachers won’t be Replaced by Software and that there’s a Middle Path for Education Technology that can disrupt an industry without disrupting teachers’ connections to their students. The trinket team has been working towards this vision since 2013. Together we’re building the tools that you need to make a difference in your classroom, whatever and whoever you teach. We hope you’ll join us.
Below you will find 2 music trinkets, see what you can come up with.  Could these help you support a meaningful hour of code in a music class?  I was really happy to discover that they work in the Safari Browser on my iPad


From Eliot at Trinket.io
We describe the music trinket as everything you need to teach and learn music theory/composition and nothing you don't.  We use a lightweight music markup language in the trinket to help show that code can enhance other disciplines without being about computer science.  Like all trinkets, music trinkets are free to use, easily remixable and shareable.

Does this have you thinking about the relationship between programming and music?  Well here is some reading to support your curiosity.

Cal Arts Programming of Musicians

Musicians written about by a coder

Music Programming intro essay

Friday, November 14, 2014

Using Ipads for Instruction- Desert Research

As the elementary technology integration specialist for my school I wear 2 main hats.  I teach kids to use technology and I also help teachers new to technology figure out how capture the power of mobile tech to deliver instruction.  Today in 3rd grade we are researching desert bios and this is the lesson.  The kids will each have their own iPad and a printed version of the data collection sheet.  For the 3rd graders right now writing on paper is easier than navigating back and forth from 2 windows as they need to look at the information they are recording as they record it.
I have made the links bigger in this lesson to help the kids see them, and I scanned in the data collection sheet.  My hope is that using tech time to deliver this type of traditional instruction guides and inspires the teachers I work with towards creating their own digital content.

Sometimes we get to model more than we anticipate.  Below you will see 2 versions of the same post.  The first is what it looked like when I went into the first class.  The second post reflects the changes we made as the kids struggled with selecting an animal and plant.  We limited the choices to some of thew more clearly written articles.


Today in class we will be using the internet to read for information.  The first thing we will read is a page about the Sonoran Desert (click on the words Sonoran Desert to go to that page).

After reading that article for some background information you are going to research a desert animal and a desert plant.

This is the link for the desert animals.

This is the link for desert plants.

You will click each link and fill out your data collection sheet on the animal and plant you choose.

You will be researching by READING, so please don't watch the videos.  We are practicing getting information from written texts today.

Definitions to keep in mind:

  •  Range is the geographic region where a plant or animal lives, such as “arid regions of the North American southwest” (any plant or animal you choose to write about must live in the range of the Sonoran Desert.) 
  • Habitat is the kind of area where it lives, such as “sandy and rocky soils in desert locations.”

Version 2.0 improved for more learning 
Today in class we will be using the internet to read for information.  The first thing we will read is a page about the Sonoran Desert (click on the words Sonoran Desert to go to that page).

After reading that article for some background information you are going to research a desert animal and a desert plant.

This are the links for the desert animals.
The Southern Pacific Rattlesnake 
The Desert Tortoise
The Cactus Wren
The Jack Rabbit

This are the links for desert plants.
Desert Paintbrush
The Mojave Monkey Flower
The Ocotillo
The Organ Pipe Cactus

You will click each link and fill out your data collection sheet on the animal and plant you choose.

You will be researching by READING, so please don't watch the videos.  We are practicing getting information from written texts today.

Definitions to keep in mind:

  •  Range is the geographic region where a plant or animal lives, such as “arid regions of the North American southwest” (any plant or animal you choose to write about must live in the range of the Sonoran Desert.) 
  • Habitat is the kind of area where it lives, such as “sandy and rocky soils in desert locations.”

Modeling Orbits by Programming in Hopscotch

This week in fifth grade we have been studying planetary movement.  From navigating by constellation to the mechanics of an eclipse we have been working to understand how the heavens work.  We extended this conversation into technology class as we used Hopscotch to explore the movements of planets.
We only had about 30 minutes available this week, so I kept the instruction short.  I reminded the students about how to add characters from Emoji.  Then we talked about how to program the characters to move in a circle.
While the students worked, I helped some with hints and gave bigger challenges to others.
Overall I was really impressed with the quality of conversation about planets and orbits.  Several students developed pretty good models.  I gave them the chance to impress me and they delivered.  The most rewarding moment was at the end of the lesson when many of the students asked when we would have time to finish their projects.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

15 Digital Curation Tools For Teachers

What is the difference between finding a great idea on Pintrest and building a professional library of resources?  A solid curation strategy so you can find and share those great ideas when you or others in your PLN need them.  In this episode of the TechEducator podcast we share our favorite tools for collecting and sharing out favorite tools.

Show Information

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Write on! The Equil2 Smart Pen -Bringing Writing Back

I have a confession, while I strive for a paperless classroom, I love writing in notebooks.  Actually, it is more than love.  In many ways I need to write in notebooks.  I think differently when I write by hand.  
The fact that the pen is mightier than the keyboard in my creative process is a double edge sword.  My handwriting is bad.  Throughout my education most of the feedback I got from teachers grades 1-10 was about how bad my handwriting was.  Handwriting worksheets have left their scars on my psyche.  I rushed into the world of screens and keyboards that fit in my pocket with open arms, only to find empty betrayal.  My brain needs the clumsy, messy, hard to read process of ink on paper.
Thus my love affair with the smart pen.  The idea of a pen that holds all the writing I have done, and makes it searchable is like having an extension added to my brain.
When I saw the Indegogo campaign for the Equil2 Smartpen I knew I had to see what this writing revolution was all about, and I was not disappointed.

How it works
The Equil2 pen works on ANY notebook.  The receiver unit clips to the top of the page and uses a combination of infrared and ultrasound to map your writing into the aopp on the connected device.  The unit will also store writing you have done while not connected to a device.  I was really impressed with the fidelity of the image and the quality of the connection.  If you are in a very noisy coffee house, the blenders and cappuccino steamers will occasionally cause a bit of interference.

What is in the box
When you get an Equil 2 smartpen you get a charging station/ case with a wrap around cover.  It is small and fits nicely any small bag, tote, or purse.  It is a bit too bulky for a pocket.  The case hold the pen and the receiver unit.  The receiver is about the size of an old school pink eraser and the pen is a standard size pen.  For those of us who have used oversize smartpens, this is a relief because you can write with the equil2 for extended amounts of time without fatigue.  The charging station uses a standard micro USB charger, making it easy to keep charged.  The batter life on the receiver and the pen is great, in my month of testing I charged the pen every 2-3 days and never ran out of battery.

Pen + tablet = live scrapbooking
Smartpens are an important part of my note taking toolkit because I go to some meetings that have a “no screens” rule.  In fact there are leaders I work with who believe that being on your device is a sign of disengagement. In an age of 1:1 programs where we expect kids to learn using devices I am hopeful this will trickle up to the leadership soon, but until then I need a way to capture my learning and thinking that is screen free, thus the pen.
When I need to work screen free the equil 2 save the pages I write to be imported later.  When I can work connected to the device, the functionality of the pen sky rockets.  The equil Note app allows me to add pictures directly into the page I am writing, in full graphic layout mode! (insert picture) I can even drop a picture onto the page, change the ink color, and annotate directly on the picture.  Sitting through a presentation, I can use my android tablet to snap pictures of the slide and drop them into the notes I am taking, like these notes I captured at the Wonder Workshop educator’s day.

Once I started working with the photo import feature I went a little wild exploring digital scrapbooking.

When I dialed it back, I started thinking about using this for text annotation.  One of the pen modes you can select is highlighter mode.  So I photographed my text and gave it a shot.

But wait there is more! My use of the pen has focused on how it works with the notes app and there is a whole other side to this tool.  The Sketch app allows the user to create awesome artworks using a pen and paper just as if they were using a stylus and a tablet.

The team behind the Equil2 have developed a tool that allows users to create digital content with a pen on any piece of paper they choose.  IN the short time I have used it my writing productivity and quality have both increased.  I connected it to my evernote account, so my work is fully searchable.  This is a game changer for anyone who likes to write by hand, but wants their work accessible from any device.  

Google Like A Pro: Wolverine Edition

This quick video demonstrates the awesome power of Google search tools like site: and ~

Sunday, November 9, 2014

When Amazing is Failure

Working as a technology integration specialist in a small school is the best job I have ever had, and I love it.  All good jobs are challenges at points, and I worry that I am getting half of my job wrong.  The most visible work I do, teaching kids technology, is going really well.  We are programming in grades K-8, students make videos and post them to the class blogs, the 3rd grade even made bird puppets and 7th grade is going to be making puppets soon.  I can see that I have made a difference and can confidently say that the technology class model has changed to suit the adoption of the 1:1 program.
That is only half of my job.  My second charge is to support teachers using technology in class.  I know I am making progress, but I thought it would be more visible now that I am in my second year.  I try to model solid pedagogy and lessons that seamlessly include and leverage technology to support learning.  I try to keep my work transparent and accessible, but the other day I heard it.  A teacher I love working with said, "Sam is amazing, he is a wizard."  This sounds like high praise, and I know it was meant to be, but it is evidence of failure.
If what I do is amazing or magical, it is the opposite of accessible.  This teacher did not follow up her declaration by saying that she too was a wizard.  This praise was a clear measure between what I do and what she feels she can do.  This is the hard work of technology integration, keeping it accessible. I want to be more "You got this" than "Look at this amazing magic."
Even as I write this I can think of teachers who are using more tech this year than last.  They are using it in ways that make their students work sharable and engaging to a wider audience.  It isn't all of them, but it is happening.  Like any good teacher, I con't focus on the successful ones, unless we are all successful.
I know so many great teachers working on this same challenge, so how do we do amazing and transformative work, and keep it accessible to other teachers?  How do you spread the message of "You got this" with your colleagues?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Exploring Yosemite, the New Mac OS

This episode of the TechEducator podcast we dive deep into Yosemite, and Jeff Bradbury and Jeff Herb compete for the title of Mac-Daddy.  Who has the best tips and tricks? It doesn't matter because you will win with all the new things you learn about how this OS powers up your productivity.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Can We Do That? (ROI/ Risk and Sphero)

Working with middle schools kids in an afterschool programming club, I am always looking for an engaging challenge.  When I mentioned the idea to my robot club they said "Oh that will be easy."  Sphero Robots to dance.  He mentioned Ok Go's new video "I won't let you down."
Later, I mentioned to a friend that I wanted the kids to teach our robots to dance.
This is a challenge worth chasing.  So today when they show up, I will throw down the OK GO video challenge to the kids.  Can they:
1. Choose a song they want to choreograph
2. Design what they want the robots to do
3. Program the robots to do it
4. Film the robots
5.Edit the film into a great short video

Honestly, I don't know if it will work.  This is a BIG gauntlet.  I also have to admit if I were faced with this challenge I would not know where to start.
Yesterday my collegaue asked me it we could ask kids to figure out programming challenges that we do not yet have the answer to, and I glibly told him "Sure!"
I believe it is important to have kids try things that might not work out, and to push them to explore beyond what we could imagine and prepare.  So today I am putting my money where my mouth.
Watch this space for updates, pictures and videos as my programmers attack this challenge.

So I wonder what the return on this investment of risk will be, and I can honestly say, I can't imagine.  (Seems like that is an indicator that I am moving in the right direction)

Here is our inspiration deck for this afternoon's robot club

I Won't Let You Down


End Love

The Writing's on the Wall

Some ideas are already pouring in from readers!