Monday, November 25, 2013

Coding Week

This past spring, I watched the video below and was inspired to teach coding to all my computer students.

There is only one little problem.  I don't know how to code.  So, I used Code Academy to teach myself coding in my free time.  That worked for a while, and I tried it out on my middle school class.  What we learned using Code Academy is that there are many glitches that caused us more stress than we needed.  I'm sure that Code Academy is a great way to learn coding, but I quickly ditched it as a teaching tool in middle school.

What I have found that I like is a host of apps that teach pre-coding skills, especially for elementary and middle school grades. I call these skills pre-coding because we're teaching logic, not language.  Students need to plot and plan a course of action BEFORE they actually begin any movement. The levels start easy but get increasingly difficult as the game goes on.

I recently learned of the Hour of Code Week coming up December 9-15 and got really excited.  In fact, I got so excited that I started early.  I dubbed this week (November 18-22) Coding Week in all my elementary computer classes*.

My kindergartners started out the fun using Kodable, and they loved it! In Kodable, students send a cute little furry creature through a maze, collecting coins as it goes. Students drag directional arrows and color blocks into a specific order before you send the little critter on his merry way.

Honestly, I wondered if I bit off more than I could chew on this. But, I jumped in with both feet and hoped for the best. I showed them an example so they would know the goal before they touched an iPad. It turned out my fears were for naught, because they dove in like the digital natives they are.  I loved how they figured it out, asked good questions, and celebrated victories -- collaboratively.  I liked Kodable so much, that I'm now using it with my daughter in preschool.  (We're taking it slowly, but I think she's getting the hang of the first few levels.)

My first and second graders got their start in Kodable, but they were ready for something else -- something a bit more challenging.  So, we brought in Daisy the Dinosaur with them. The coder's job in Daisy is a bit more complicated. One prerequisite is the ability to read.  On each level, you have to read the goal, then drag and drop the commands for Daisy into the "Program" square.  Daisy can move in two directions, jump, grow, shrink, spin, and do other fun things.  After completing the Challenge Mode, students go on to the free play section where they can really have fun with Daisy.

As students play around with Daisy, they learn what makes Daisy do what they want her to do and what makes her do things they never intended. They learn to use the "Repeat 5" and "When" commands which get into more complex programs.

Daisy was a good introduction to drag and drop coding for my third and fourth grade students, but I quickly moved them on to Hopscotch. (Daisy the Dinosaur was created by the Hopscotch people, for the younger set.) In Hopscotch, the coder picks a character (or more -- as my students discovered) and send them about a three-dimensional board.  Again, the commands are programmed before you see what the character will do.  There are many more commands and they are more complex.  I challenged students to make shapes, but after using the app myself a number of times, I got tired of triangles and showed them how to alter the angle just slightly to make super-cool figures (see below).

My fifth and sixth graders started with Hopscotch, but after about 15 minutes, I moved them on to Cargo Bot, a game in which the coder is challenged to program a machine to move boxes into a pre-determined order.  This is highly addicting and requires a lot of trial and error.  In fact, I could tell that I was bending their minds a bit more than they wanted them bent.

(Note: This solution does not work. I wish it did.)

Blockly is one program I wanted to do with the students, but never got around to using. This is not an iPad app, but is a part of the Google family.  In this game, you pre-program the guy from Google Maps around mazes and hope he doesn't get lost.

Cargo Bot was my introduction to this genre of iPad app.  I found it in the spring and loved it!  I spent many an hour playing it -- all in the name of research, of course -- and found it quite challenging.  However, the teacher in me must confess that I enjoy Hopscotch better because it gives students the chance to explore, plan, and make new things.  That's not to say that Cargo Bot (or any of these apps, for that matter) don't teach higher level thinking skills.

One thing is for sure, I've tapped into a thinking level that these students aren't used to.  For the most part, they enjoyed these coding apps, but they also couldn't wait to get on to something else.  (For instance, Sumdog's Thanksgiving competition is going on right now, and they couldn't wait to get a turkey costume for their avatars.) However, I'm excited to add these apps to my repertoire of apps students can peruse in their free time.  

I apologize for the poor quality of these pics below.  They were either taken with my dying iPad camera or my not-so-smart phone.  However, I thought it would be fun to include pictures of actual students playing these apps.

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