For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over. Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year. This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year. Today’s post is about the benefits of teaching programming to our students.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have probably noticed that I am a huge advocate for teaching programming to kids. You can see this trend building in a lot of the education blogs and professional publications. Like all trends, it needs to be done right so that it will not be a colossal failure or a “flash in the pan.” Here is why it should be done, and how I plan on doing it next year in my classroom.
Why We Should Teach Programming to Kids
I think that there is a misconception that this is all about teaching kids a new “language” that is useful in the career market. While that is, perhaps, one of the benefits, I think that it should not be the main purpose. Programming languages evolve quickly, and teaching a specific one might be likened to teaching Latin. It can help you to decode other languages, but it is unlikely you will use it daily.
I learned Basic when I was in high school. I haven’t used it since. But I still remember some very important lessons that I learned in that class that can be extrapolated for real life.
The most important lesson was that, if you are not getting the results you want, you can’t keep doing the same thing. I remember the first couple of times a program did not work the way I wanted it to, and I kept saying to the computer, “That’s not what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Once I realized that I only had myself to blame, I would set about finding out what I had done wrong. This led to the next life lesson – find the real source of the problem or your “fix” will make things worse. Sometimes I had to dig deep into the code to figure it out, but would not realize that until I had tried one or two simple revisions that would end in disaster.
When programming, you also advance through the Scientific Process, and learn to change one variable at a time if your conclusion is not what you expected.
And finally, programming is not all about logic. Once you understand the code, you can use your imagination to create unusual, unique, and even beautiful programs.
What I Plan to Do Next Year
As some of my colleagues pointed out this year, Programming falls very easily into something that we already have in our curriculum for elementary gifted students – Systems Thinking. Now that I am becoming familiar with Tynker through the online summer class I’m offering, I plan to use Tynker with my 3rd graders during our Systems Thinking unit. If you want to start anywhere with programming (from about 7 or 8 years old and up), I would highly recommend Tynker as you can create classes and monitor student progress very easily. Plus, it has an engaging curriculum of projects.
I want to weave programming throughout my K-5 gifted classes, so I will begin my Kinders with the iPad app Daisy the Dinosaur. For 1st, we will move on to Kodable, and for second, Hopscotch. (I may switch these last 2 around – I need to play with them more to determine difficulty levels.)
If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment. Also, for even more links for Programming for Kids, feel free to visit my Pinterest board on this topic.
This week, I am focusing on providing resources to “Squash the Summer Slide” as ReadWriteThink puts it. Parents often ask me at this time of year for ideas to keep students challenged over the summer. Here are links to the rest of the articles from this week:
Since today is also Fun Friday, I thought pool noodle projects would be appropriate! After coming across one article on ways to use pool noodles, I did an internet search, and found a lot more creative ideas than I dreamed could exist for using these long pieces of foam!
My students use every spare moment they can get in my classroom to build elaborate marble runs, so the above picture caught my eye immediately. You can find it, along with 19 other ideas for pool noodles here.
You can find the idea for pool noodle flash cards here. To kick it up a notch for gifted thinkers, why not call out a word in a foreign language, or a definition, and have them find the noodle pieces that spell its counterpart?
Along with the Pool Noodle Super Sprinkler, you can find 29 other ideas here.
Of course, with all of these innovative suggestions I did not find any that matched the one drawn by one of my students!
This week, I am focusing on providing resources to “Squash the Summer Slide” as ReadWriteThink puts it. Parents often ask me at this time of year for ideas to keep my students challenged over the summer, and here is a treasure trove of resources.
Kacie Germadnik, a colleague of mine, created this awesome flyer with Smore that offers excellent ideas for keeping children engaged in learning throughout the summer break. It suggests activities, websites, and apps that will encourage higher level thinking. I’m really bummed because I can never get these things to embed correctly on this blog, so you will have to visit this link to see it – but it will definitely be worth your while! She plans to update it as she finds more resources, so don’t forget to keep checking back!
Yesterday’s “Summer Slide Squasher” can be found by clicking here.
Got a Lego enthusiast in your class? Show him or her this, and you will be sure to get a passionate reaction. You might want to be careful, though. I mean, it’s one thing to look at it online, but to travel where it is and actually sit inside might become your Lego pal’s next obsession. By the way, be sure to visit the article. There are a lot more pics and even some video. Try this fun guesstimation game with your students – how many Legos do you this were used to make this full-scale model? Check out the article to find out!
Well, I finally did it. I finally found an app that is free, happens to be available on both Android and iOS, is engaging, and is educational.
FlipPixArt is based on an old Japanese logic puzzle that offers a matrix and clues about which boxes should be colored in each row and column. By using the numbers at the top of each column and the beginning of each row, one must deduce the correct boxes to “paint” and which ones to “hammer” out of the picture.
Once the puzzle is solved, an object or animal is added to the scene at the beginning of the game. In the free “Zoo” version, there is one scene with 36 puzzles needed to complete it. Recently, the “Holiday” version went free (though I don’t know for how long), and it has 6 holiday scenes with 74 puzzles. However, one of the scenes in the “Holiday” version is a bar scene, so I would not recommend it for educational purposes. There are many other versions – including the Kids one – some are for free, and some cost. So far, my favorite free one is the Model Plane version. There is also a Jurassic one that is sure to appeal to some of those dinosaur enthusiasts.
This is a good app for the classroom because it allows for different players on the same device, so they can each play at their own level. It also offers a great tutorial. I would say that this is a good app for 3rd grade and up, though younger children can probably enjoy it with a bit of guidance.
I know this is a topic that is getting a bit repetitious on my blog, but I really can’t emphasize enough how important I think it is that we offer programming to our students at an early age. This article from MindShift, explains how learning programming has far-reaching effects, and should not be reserved for only those who aspire to careers in technology. ”Why Programming Teaches So Much More Than Technical Skills”, by Ian Quillen, explains 4 specific benefits of receiving an education in this area: Subject Mastery, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, and Passion.
Robotics clubs are a good start in the elementary schools, but we need to think about adding more. Here is my Pinterest board of resources for “Programming for Kids” with links to app, websites, and other articles of interest in this area.
When I saw this idea on “Learning to the Core“, I thought it would make a great activity for the end of the school year. Basically, your students create a Wordle, and then it is made into an online jigsaw puzzle for them to solve. Depending on the ability of your students, the Wordles could: describe their school year, summarize a particular unit, give clues about a student in the class, use Word Wall words, be a famous quote, etc…
Once the Wordles are created, a screenshot can be taken and saved or e-mailed to the teacher, who can load them into a class account on Jigsaw Planet for all students to solve.
My wheels are already turning on how I might use this during the summer to keep my gifted students thinking.
Mary Howard at “Your Smarticles” posted an awesome list of ways that you can use the Aurasma app in your classroom. For those of you new to Aurasma, I like to describe it as QR codes on steroids. However, any image can be the trigger – not just unattractive codes. I was impressed with Mary’s creative ideas, and I was even more impressed by the huge Aurasma Scavenger Hunt Mystery Person Silhouettes package that I downloaded from her Teachers Pay Teachers store. It is $5.00, but so well worth it! She has put a LOT of work into this download, and all you have to do is choose where to post the mysteries and make sure you subscribe to her Aurasma channel. Your students will love you for giving them this fun activity at the end of the year!
I came across these QR code riddles for May on The Techie Teacher Blog, and tried them with my gifted 1st graders yesterday. We had not done any QR code scanning this year, yet, so it was a novel experience for them. I showed them the riddles first, and had them predict the answers in groups. Then I put a page at each table, and let them go around and scan the answers. They loved them, but it was good we “reflected” over them afterwards, as some of the puns needed to be explained. Thanks, Julie Goode, for providing this fun learning activity for free!