Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tips for Organizing an After School Club

After School Club

Last year I ran a weekly after school coding club for fifteen 3rd and 4th graders at my elementary school. Boy, did I learn a lot from this experience! Here are some suggestions if you are interested in starting your own after school club.

1. Create a Pacing Guide 
Before you even send the notes home to the students, write out a rough pacing guide. It doesn't have to be as detailed as weekly lesson plans, but I would include the objectives, materials, and teaching order for that week's class. I learned I spent too long on the planning stage of their projects as opposed to the teaching and students actually creating their projects. If I had created a pacing guide prior to, it would have helped me use our time better throughout the year. 

Don't forget to include make up lessons and a couple of fun weeks in your pacing guide too! 

2. Convince Another Teacher to Help Out
Even though there was only fifteen students, it was fifteen students learning new things who had lots of questions! I wish I'd had a co-teacher to help manage all the students and brainstorm lesson ideas together. Asking someone else to help you will only make your club better!

3. Show Off! 
Don't forget to have a time to show off your hard work! We had a parent's night where the students could be the teachers and show their parents what they had learned with programming in Scratch.  Students also went our district's Project Based Learning Expo to show off their projects.

What tips do you have for organizing an after school club? 


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Break the Code - Lightbot

LightBot is a coding program where students are a robot completing the command of turning on the light bulbs. As the students progress, more and more light bulbs have to be turned on and sometimes the robot has to jump up.  
lightbot screenshot
Classroom Uses K & 1 
I don't use Lightbot as much with this age as I do other programs. I think they could handle it by the end of the year because of the picture support, but their are other programs I like a little bit better. 

Classroom Uses 2 - 4
I think Lightbot is perfect for the 2 -4 age. It provides just enough challenge that sometimes I even get stuck on the levels! (Don't worry, you can google the answers. I may or may not have done that!) My favorite memory of this program was my group of too cool for school boys that sat together on the carpet (hello flexible seating!) and worked together the whole time as a group. They helped each other out the whole time! I was so proud!

lightbot screenshot
1. I like the simplicity of this program....the player tries to get the light bulb. While the program might add more obstacles, each time the student knows what they are trying to do.
2. It can work for any age! I have

1.  When you get to the Procedure Levels... it gets hard. There aren't any other coding websites that do it exactly like this. It takes a little bit of extra time to explain it.
2. I wish the turns had words on them. Even I have to sometimes stand like the robot to figure out which way he needs to go.
lightbot screenshot

As a whole, I really like this program. I like its simplicity and ease of use. I wish the explanations was a little bit better for thee procedures and I think that would make it even better!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Break the Code --- Daisy the Dinosaur

Today is the second post in the series of "Break the Code" -- a review of different learn to code apps & websites. Today we have the iPad app "Daisy the Dinosaur"

Daisy the Dinosaur is a iPad app aimed at the youngest learners of code. With its colorful dinosaur and simple set up, students can navigate through different levels. Students drag blocks of code that the dinosaur will do in in order to get the yellow star.

daisy the dinosaur

Classroom Uses - Kindergarten & 1st 
Daisy the Dinosaur is a great app to use with younger students (7 and under). I used it after we introduced Code.Org to both K & 1, but felt like K didn't get as much out of it because of the reading difficulty. My 1st grade students breezed through it!

Classroom Uses - 2nd, 3rd, and 4th
None - Daisy the Dinosaur is aimed at much younger students. It provides very little challenge for older students.

daisy the dinosaur screenshot

1. Simple structure. This program doesn't have a lot of wiz bang to it. It's perfect as one of the first ways younger students can learn to code.
2. After students work through the levels, students can practice with free play to create their own code.

1. Daisy the Dinosaur just doesn't have a lot of content. Students can either work through the levels or just free play on it. My kindergarten students lasted about 15 minutes on their own playing and then they were bored.
2. With my high EL population, there were just too many words for my kindergarten students to read. I had to go from student to student to read the words they couldn't understand. I also felt like I had to do a lot vocabulary introduction of words that meant very similar words (turn, spin and rotate)
daisy the dinosaur screenshot

I think Daisy the Dinosaur is a great first app for young coders. But don't expect it to sustain student's attention for as long as a teacher probably wants. It's a good way to introduce moving vocabulary for young learners as well.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Sight Words - Scratch Jr

Kindergarten Lesson Plans. The words make me cringe.I struggle between being challenging enough but also holding their attention for a whole hour. The longest hour of my day!

After having a lesson on exploring in Scratch Jr and letting them make "art", we do our first project in Scratch Jr. In our morning message, I have students brainstorm all the sight words that they can think of and I make a list of about 10 on the board just for those students who will need more support in their program.

One of the biggest problems is not putting the letters as their own characters so they can each do their own movement. Students want to write the whole word on one slide. One way I might change it for the future would be to have students pick 3 words and have them write them on separate slides. I would still be able to see that they have mastery of using the green flag and the blue arrows.

Here is an example of a finished project. I couldn't make the letters go the right way after they were written, so just imagine. 

Feel free to ask me more questions about Scratch Jr. in the comments section! 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Online Safety

Wow! I feel like I open a can of worms when I start teaching my kindergarten through 4th students about online safety. It's such a hard balance between informing students of how to be safe and exposing students of how to be safe.

With my kindergarten through second grade, we watched this video. It's ehh -- I just couldn't find one that I loved ya know? I think it drove home my point that some information we just don't share with people we don't know online (or online strangers as I had to call them with some classes).

With 3rd and 4th grade, we watched this video from Common Sense Media. We talked about how important it is to for the "3 Be's" like they talked about in the video. While I'm not sure this is true, I told them that if they aren't careful, future bosses might look at what they did online even when they are this young!

I did an informal poll with my classes and was just shocked with how many students in my 3rd and 4th grade classes have some sort of social media (Facebook, instagram, snapchat, kik, etc.) Even though I'm not a parent, it just scares me with how much freedom some of these students were being given to just surf as they please. Make me think I need to do a class for the parents about online safety...

I do have to give one of my classes some major props. A student was worried about the talking angela app that is supposedly takes your picture while you were playing on it. Now, I had never heard of it, so I explained that while they were working, I would see what I could find. Lo and behold, it was a hoax. I was so proud of these students though because they did exactly what I wanted them to do and they didn't even know it!

As a post assessment for my students, I have them complete this sort of safe and unsafe things to share with students. In a classroom that uses technology 95% of the time, having a paper to actually grade is nice sometimes!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Break the Code --- Code.Org

This post starts my first in my series of "What the Code?" -- a review of different learn to code apps & websites. Today I am going to start with the big daddy of them all -- Code.org.

Code.org began in 2013 as way to get ALL students interested in coding. Students can choose to participate in just an "hour of code" during their yearly "Hour of Code Week" or can participate year round with Code Studio. Depending on you location, Code.Org offers free trainings for teachers on how to implement into your classroom!

Classroom Uses - Kindergarten & 1st 
For K&1 I start them on Course 1 (non-readers) Stage 3 where they learn to drag and drop the piece. Students could skip this level, but for me, I think it builds a great foundation of how to manipulate the blocks. Before I let them begin, I work whole group with the students through stage 3 and a couple of levels on stage 4. Because it's usually one of the first class periods and our "coding stamina" isn't built up yet. I usually let them work for around 30 minutes beginning with Stage 3. Rarely do I have someone make it to the end of Stage 5. The next class, I skip ahead to Stage 13 to loops. Wow. Loops are hard! As long as they are trying to use the new repeat piece then I am happy!

Code.Org - Course 2

Classroom Uses - 2nd, 3rd, and 4th
For 2-4, I have the start on Course 2 (readers) Stage 3. I model levels 1 - 4 mainly to get show them an example of a turn & a move. Because these are older students, I usually have them work the whole class period. I also usually have a handful of students who get to the artist levels which I think is much harder because it has them use degrees which hasn't been taught yet. Those kids who get there though are usually able to do it pretty well with a little bit of support.  The next class period the students work through Stage 6. My brain always hurts after this level! I try to explain to the students to look for patterns!

Code.Org - Course 1

1. I love the connection of the current game characters! Students are willing to work harder on something because it has Elsa on it than if it was a no name princess!
2. Recently, they have added hints! Game changer! To me, this totally connects with real life problem solving. If I don't know something, I go and ask someone or "get a hint".
3. It's a great work at your own pace program! You don't have to sign in to use the program either. Yay for no passwords!
4. Code.Org is always coming out with new themes. This past year they added a Minecraft AND Star Wars theme.

1. I know they want you do also be able to do unplugged activities without the computer, but I wish there was a way to skip those.
2. I hate the bee levels on the Course 1. Even to me, it's so confusing with the nectar and the flowers. I intentionally skip those levels because we just don't get it! No more bees please Code.Org!

I think code.org is a great way to get kids of all ages started learning to code. I mean, who doesn't love coding with Angry Birds, Star Wars,  Frozen, and so many more current characters! I do wish it had more "create your own", but I think there are other programs *cough* Scratch *cough* that do a great job of that.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Morning Message

Two years ago, I taught 3rd Grade with a very high number of English Language (EL) students. One thing that I dreaded was Morning Meeting or Community Gathering as we called it. I hated writing the notes. I hated the activity. I hated the greeting. I hated everything

Since moving to the computer lab, I have started loving Morning Meeting. Morning Meeting in related arts? What?! Now, my Morning Meeting looks a little bit different, but still involves the component of message and sharing which for a Morning Meeting hater, I will take 2 out of the 4.

When students enter the classroom, I have a message already written for them projected on the screen. 

Students have learned from day 1 that you do not ask me what we are doing in class or if we are going to get on the computers. (We are a computer class -- of course we are!) Uf they do ask, I tell them to go read the message. While they are reading the message, it gives me a quick minute to check in with the teacher or grab what I need for my lesson. So even though I have no time buffer between classes, I've built in some with a structured read.

Now I know you are thinking, but what about Kindergartners? They can't read! Well no, most of mine can't even this far into the school year. But they do know their letters and some sight words. I still let them "read it", but they know they need to be looking for something they do know how to read. Before I read it aloud, I let students come up and point to a sight word or a letter that they know. 

What classroom management do you have in place for when your students enter?