Category Archives: Critical Thinking

It’s What You Make of It

Since many people are returning to school during the next couple of weeks, I thought I would re-visit and share some of last year’s more successful projects in case you want to try one.  Monday’s post was on the surprise “You Matter” videos that I asked parents to make for their children last year. On Tuesday, I wrote about the Global Cardboard Challenge.

Almost exactly a year ago, I predicted the trends in education for the 2013-2014 school year.  I was re-reading that post today, and laughed at my addition of maker studios almost as an afterthought at the end of my post.  Anyone who has been reading education blogs and magazines will know that maker studios are becoming a huge trend, and that they are not limited to schools.

The-Maker-Movement

The truth is that many people are recognizing that there is a hunger in our youth to create and that the process of making is a deeper learning experience than regurgitating facts from a lecture.

There is not one right way to bring a maker studio into your school. Many schools are integrating them into their libraries or obsolete computer labs.  Some are incorporating the design process into their entire curriculum.  But, just like the Global Cardboard Challenge, you can still make a huge difference by starting small.

Last year, I realized that an empty classroom next door could be transformed into a maker studio.  I applied for a grant from our school’s PTA.  My GT classes named the room B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) and it basically became a testing ground for all of the new materials we purchased.  You may not have the luxury of an empty room, but a station in your classroom would work just as well.

Some of the items we purchased for our space were:

We also had a green screen that had been given to the school.

I didn’t know how to use any of the above until my students helped me figure them out.  Last year was really just time for us all to explore.

This year, I am starting an after-school Maker Club to involve more students than the ones in GT.  One thing I learned from last year is that I need to narrow my focus.  So, the Maker Club will have 4 main themes this year: Cardboard Challenge, Video Creation, Programming, and Electric Circuits.

In addition, the GT students who were exposed to materials last year will be challenged to find ways to incorporate them in our Cardboard Challenge and other projects throughout this year.

Eventually, I want B.O.S.S. HQ to be accessed by all students in the school, but I’m still working out the kinks on that.

My advice to a teacher just beginning would be the following:

  • Read Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez
  • Try the Global Cardboard Challenge
  • Add a station to your classroom that involves creating.  Little Bits are great, and the company offers educator discounts. Chibitronics and MaKey MaKey are also relatively inexpensive ways to start.
  • Make the mantra, “Think, Make, Improve” (from Invent to Learn) part of your classroom theme.
  • Celebrate the “growth mindset” so that students understand they will learn even when things don’t go as planned.  Rosie Revere, Engineer is a great book to reinforce this.
  • When you are ready to “go bigger”, enlist the help of the community.  You can find experts who can teach your students different skills, people who are willing to donate supplies (Donors Choose is great for this), and you might want to visit maker spaces and maker faires in your area for ideas on the type of inventory and organization you need.

If you search for “maker” on my blog, you will find many other posts I’ve done regarding this topic.  You can also visit my Pinterest board of Maker Resources here.  Two of my favorite online resources are Make magazine and Design Squad.  The online Maker Camp from Google and Make also has lots of ideas.

DragonBox Elements

I don’t often recommend paid apps on this blog.  One reason is that they are difficult for many educators to obtain for their classroom, as I outlined in yesterday’s post.  Another reason is that I feel that many of the paid apps have features that can be found in other free apps. However, every once in awhile, I run across a paid app that I think is unique and worth sharing.

I was recently given a promotional code for DragonBox Elements, and decided to test it out.  Previously, I had reviewed another app by the same company, DragonBox Algebra 5+, for AppoLearning.  (DragonBox 12+ is also available for older students, but I have not tried that one.) I was very impressed by the app, and have recommended it to parents who have young students with a high interest in math.

DragonBox Elements, like the Algebra apps, is designed to teach math “secretly.”  The Elements version teaches Geometry (I think they should change the name, as “Elements” made me think that it was a science app), and is aimed at students from 9-11.

DragonBox Elements - a Geometry app for ages 9-11 available here
DragonBox Elements – a Geometry app for ages 9-11 available here

The app accommodates up to 4 different players (individually, not at the same time), and has three levels of difficulty.  As advertised, it slowly guides you through basic geometric concepts by playing a game.  After learning to identify different types of triangles and quadrilaterals, the player begins to “prove” geometric characters into existence. For example, if one is given a triangle that shows two congruent angles, then there must be two congruent sides – making it an isosceles triangle.

None of the concepts are explicitly taught.  My daughter, who is 11, had the main complaint that she didn’t feel that she was learning anything.  However, when I asked her to explain her actions on a level, she basically gave me the steps of a geometric proof.

Like DragonBox Algebra, DragonBox Elements is a good app to recommend to parents who want to give their children an entertaining, educational app.  I think it definitely helps if there is an adult who can ask some guiding questions to aid the child in verbalizing what he or she has learned.

All of the DragonBox games are available on all mobile platforms here.  You can also find teaching resources on the site.

ScratchJr

I have been eagerly waiting the release of the ScratchJr app for the iPad this summer.  It became available on Tuesday, and I spent part of Wednesday playing around with it.

ScratchJr is a free iPad app that is designed to introduce programming to kids ages 5-7.  It is, of course, intended to acquaint students with the Scratch programming language – a block type programming that was developed by M.I.T. and is available for free at this link. (You can use it online or download the software.)

As school hasn’t started for me yet, I haven’t been able to put this app in the hands of students to see their reaction.  I am curious to watch my younger students who have not been exposed to Scratch explore the app.  Many of them have used Hopscotch, Daisy the DinosaurKodable, and Robot Turtles, so the concept of programming won’t be completely foreign to them.  However, my plan is to give them as little information as possible to see what they discover on their own.

The interface seems fairly simple.  The question mark allows you to find sample projects and watch an introductory video.  In my opinion, the intro video should be broken into parts.  Even though it’s less than 4 minutes, I think young students will find it too overwhelming to watch the entire video in one sitting – particularly if they have never done any type of block programming.

Clicking on the house icon will take you to the project screen, where you can add new projects or edit others you have saved.  The book icon (back on the home screen) gives you information about the program, including guides to the different icons in the program.

ScratchJr screen shot

For more information, you can visit the ScratchJr website.  There are a few materials available for teachers at the moment, and I’m sure more will be added as the project gains momentum.

So far, there does not seem to be a way to share projects created in ScratchJr with an online community as there is with Scratch and Hopscotch.  However, projects can be viewed full screen, and I am sure that you can project them if you have AirPlay or other means of iPad projection in your classroom.

If you are new to programming, I highly recommend the tutorials on the Hour of Code website.  However, do not let your lack of knowledge keep you from bringing it into the classroom.  I promise you that I know very little, and that is actually a benefit.  It keeps me from helping my students too quickly, and they learn from struggling and solving problems on their own.

Also, even if programming is not in your curriculum, apps like ScratchJr are great as a creation tool.  Students can use it to tell stories, explain math problems, etc…  Not every student will embrace ScratchJr, but once you have introduced it to your class, it could be one of many choices for assessment that allows them to use their creativity.

Here are some more resources for Programming for Kids if you are interested.

 

 

Erase All Kittens

Don’t worry.  There is nothing inhumane about this site.  And, if you are a fan of kittens and teaching kids how to code, then you will probably like it.

Erase all Kittens is a game that can be used to teach kids some programming skills.  The demo, which is available online, has several levels that scaffold learning to code (HTML and CSS) as the user plays a simple video game in which the goal is to release kittens from their box prisons.  Whenever you reach a kitten, you are rewarded with a short video of a cute kitten.  Each level is a bit harder, and you learn coding skills such as creating headings and changing colors so that you can more easily navigate.

My 11-year-old daughter was able to play the demo without any help from me.  She has a bit of experience with coding, though.  Whatever age level you try this with, the user needs to be able to read in order to make the necessary adjustments to the code.

If you want the full game, and you have some tech skills, you can visit this link.  Erase All Kittens is currently in beta, so the full version is not currently available to play online.  If you want to be notified about any updates, be sure to fill out your information on this page.

H/T to @wfryer for tweeting this link out last week!  If you would like to see more ideas for teaching kids how to code, feel free to visit my Pinterest Board on Programming for Kids.

Erase All Kittens

Sherlock Holmes’ Resume

My daughter is a huge fan of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes series so when I saw this, I had to show her.  We both had a chuckle over the graph of his interests :)

a portion of Sherlock Holmes' resume from Media Bistro
a portion of Sherlock Holmes’ resume from Media Bistro

You can see the infographic in its entirety by visiting Media Bistro. It’s being used to advertise for a new book on infographic resumes from McGraw-Hill.

Students could do a similar activity to analyze a character in any book or a person in history.  This would go along very well as a companion activity to creating a book trailer using the app I mentioned yesterday, “In a World… Drama.”  To create the infographic, students could design their own free-hand.  Or, you can visit this list of suggested websites to make infographics from Richard Byrne.

This activity not only allows students to show their understanding of a particular person while showcasing their creativity, but may also help them to develop a beneficial skill that they may need down the road.  My husband’s company has been receiving infographic resumes from prospective employees, and they definitely help the job applicants to stand out from the rest of the crowd!  (Of course, you probably would not want to highlight cigars as being your primary interest in life…)

 

8-Bit Philosophy

There aren’t a lot of opportunities in a standard curriculum for students to think philosophically.  Hopefully, teachers still find ways to give them time for such discussions.  In the past, I’ve written about the Kids Philosophy Slam and Teaching Children Philosophy as resources for integrating philosophy into the classroom.  Both of those offer ways for students for K-12 to become philosophers.

8-Bit Philosophy would be better for older students – middle school and above.  The topics are a little “heady” for elementary.  However, I think tweens and teens would really enjoy the fun graphics in these short videos, and they would definitely spark some interesting conversations.  There are currently 7 episodes available.  Each one is between 2-4 minutes long.  The subjects range from, “Do humans operate like computers?” to “Can we be certain of anything?”  (After watching the latter, I’m only certain that we can’t!)

As always, preview any videos before showing them to students. Religion is discussed in several of these, and there is a bit of video game-ish violence.

from: 8-Bit Philosophy
from: 8-Bit Philosophy – Episode 3
Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.07.58 AM

Help Kids Code

It hasn’t been that long since I started collecting resources for teaching kids how to program on my Pinterest Board, but it seems like I already have enough links to keep any interested child occupied from Kindergarten to Adulthood. helpkidscode-logo-100x100 I recently ran across an online magazine, Help Kids Code, that offers even more support for anyone that has a passion for learning how to program. According to the “About” page for the site, the people behind it are well aware that there are many kids who may be introduced to coding and find that it isn’t their niche: “If you find coding fun, learning a programming language is only a start. You also need to know how to debug code, choose technology, define and solve problems, and many other skills and concepts. Help Kids Code provides a high level view of what new coders need to know to become great coders. With links to learn more. If coding bores you, Help Kids Code can help you dive into computer science concepts, problems, and challenges in a friendly way. You can learn the limits of technology, as well as what makes technology so amazing.” The magazine is published monthly, and an annual subscription costs $12.  From what I can tell, you can access the current issues for free.   The June/July 2014 issue has tons of intriguing articles that I’m still investigating – including a treasure trove of “unplugged” activities for learning about computer science.  I’m particularly interested in the problem called, “Santa’s Dirty Socks.” I am impressed by the sophistication and the depth of this site, and think that those of you who are looking for ways to satisfy the curiosity of young people with a passion for computer science will find many valuable links and articles here.