Video Story Problems

Video Story Problems

This resource was shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher).  I am always looking for new ways to bring relevance to math, and I love this idea.  The Video Story Problem channel currently has 195 videos created by teachers and students.  If you go to this post on “The Tech Savvy Educator” you can get more information about the motivation for producing these videos, and how you can get involved.  There is even a form for students to plan their own Video Story Problems to submit.

Below is an example of one of the Video Story Problems that you can ask your students to view that proposes a challenge to figure out some awesome discounts at Kohl’s.  (If you are unable to view the video embedded below, try clicking here.)

Video Story Problem – Shopping at Kohl’s from Ben Rimes on Vimeo.

It’s About the Process, Not the Product

A couple of my 2nd graders as they play with the Kodable app.

A couple of my 2nd graders as they play with the Kodable app.

The Hour of Code is scheduled for next week, and I can’t wait to participate.  Vicki Davis just posted an excellent resource on Edutopia for those who want to join in the fun.  Yesterday, I posted about a new iPad app that you might want to try.  And in November, I gave some awesome resources that include suggestions by grade level as well as a terrific compilation of Computer Science resources.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am a huge proponent of teaching kids how to code.  However, I am going to step way out on a limb here, and say that I do not agree that coding should be added to the required curriculum.

I know.  Where did that come from?

Generally, I don’t publicly get in the mix on controversial topics; I try to save that for Thanksgiving dinners with my family.   One reason I avoid contentious subjects is because I am well aware that I don’t know enough to weigh in heavily on either side.  That is probably the case here, as well.  But I am going to blunder my way into this one because I have been pondering it quite a bit.

The case for teaching kids to code can be found in numerous articles online.  Our nation has a far higher demand for programmers than we are producing.  Coding is an important 21st century skill.  It teaches our students about systems and how to problem solve.  I agree.  I also agree that exposing our kids to the basics of programming at an early age is a great idea.

But I worry that shoving it into our curriculum will take away its relevance.  It will become another skill to check off, another subject to be tested.  Exploration and creativity will be surrendered for efficiency and expediency.  Kids will be yawning and asking, “Why do I have to learn this?  I don’t want to be a computer programmer when I grow up.”

The truth is, despite the fact that we are careening into a future that will be even more dependent on technology than our present condition, not every person is going to need to know how to program.  I can watch T.V. just fine without knowing what a cathode tube does.  And, though I would probably have less chance of being gouged by a mechanic if I knew more about my car, I have driven for over 20 years in complete ignorance of the existence of 99% of the various parts necessary to make it run.

I teach kids to code because a.) they are interested, b.) they are not even a tiny bit interested, but then realize that it can be both challenging and fun, and c.) they learn valuable thinking skills that transfer to other lessons.

In my ideal educational world, every child would be introduced to coding by a passionate teacher who is able to integrate it with other subjects, and to guide kids to making real-world connections to programming.  The students who love it would be able to go as deeply into it as they like.  And those who have seen what it can do, but prefer to develop their computational and problem-solving skills another way can move in other directions.

The problem is, many kids today, particularly girls, don’t get to make that choice. The stereotype of pasty white, anti-social males sitting in basements surrounded by monitors and other mysterious electronic equipment as they design video games still pervades our culture. We should dispel that.  But we need to be careful.  Our goal should be to teach kids how to think, not what to think.

For my part, I will be including all of my classes, 1st-5th, in the Hour of Code next week.    I also plan to show this video to my upper grades because it eloquently expresses how coding was a vehicle to helping someone realize he matters to the world – and that the world matters to him.  They will get more programming experiences throughout the year.  They can also use Genius Hour time to pursue the topic if they like.  Or not.

In summary, I think we should teach kids how to look for patterns, systems thinking, creative problem solving skills, and even how to read and write code.  We can do that with computer programming – or knitting. Requiring either of those specific skills in every grade level will not benefit our children.

Cubelets

So, weirdly, today’s “Gifts for the Gifted” post has to do with cubes – again.  If you have been reading my last few Friday posts, you may have noticed this pattern. It was not pre-determined, I promise.  In fact, when I realized the odd coincidence, I almost chose another product to review for today.  However, I am just too excited about this one to wait.

In a perfect world, every child would have access to a set of Cubelets.  I cannot emphasize enough the educational value of this modular robotics system.  And the absolute fun factor is best expressed by my 5th graders today, who got to test it out for the first time.  “It’s awesome!”  “I could play this all day!”

The magnetic Cubelets easily combine to create all sorts of robots.  Each robot must have a Battery Cubelet, but that is the only requirement. Using different Sense, Action, and Think Cubelets, you can design a robot that turns on a flashlight when the room grows dark, or sounds the alarm when the temperature gets too warm.  You can make a robot that flees from your hand or one that follows it.  There are infinite possibilities.  These little cubes contain lessons in systems thinking, logic, creative problem solving, programming, engineering, and collaboration all rolled into one hands-on, interactive set.

We were fortunate enough to receive a grant from our PTA to purchase the Standard Kit, which is a hefty $520.  The kit comes with 20 cubes, and really is almost perfect for a center for small groups of 4 or less.  We ordered an additional Battery Cubelet as the kit only provides one.  This way a couple of robots can be going at the same time.

If you want to start out smaller there is the KT106 Kit, which offers 6 Cubelets for $160. Or you can go whole hog, and buy the Educator Pack, which includes 4 KT106 Kits and a Standard Kit at the educator’s discount of $999.

You can also buy Cubelets individually if you see a need to add certain types to your collection.

So far, no kid I’ve put in front of this set has wanted to leave it.  Once they do some exploring and get the gist of each Cubelet’s capability, they eat up the challenges that are listed on the Educator page – and then start thinking of their own challenges.

This is a relatively new product. (Our box says “Beta Release” on it.) There is a community forum for suggestions, and I have a feeling educators, students, and parents will have many ideas. It’s definitely a work in progress with a great future. The Education page offers some Lesson Plans and Challenges, and I predict there will be more to come.

It was interesting to see the different ways my students, who voluntarily separated themselves into small groups by gender, initially approached the Cubelets.  The boys enthusiastically attempted to build things with them immediately, while the girls started by trying to identify and organize them.  The boys would start a challenge, but go off on tangents almost immediately with new ideas, while the girls preferred a more systematic approach.  In the end, however they all agreed on two things – the awesomeness, and the need for more time with them.

If you think that your budget might be a bit too stretched by Cubelets, I urge you to try to get some funding, as we did, from another source.  Cubelets are not a “flash in the pan” type product.  They have outstanding educational value, and you will not be disappointed if you purchase them.

Below: Video of my students creating a “conveyor belt” with some of the Cubelets.

(For my gift ideas, visit my Pinterest board.)

5 Methods for Developing Problem-Solving Skills

5-Methods-for-Developing-Problem-Solving-Skills_700

This infographic comes from the blog over at eyeoneducation.com.  I particularly like the first suggestion, “Brainstorming with a Twist.”  I often have my students brainstorm, but I have never thought of adding this additional challenge once they are finished.   You can go here to view the book, Teaching Students to Dig Deeper: The Common Core in Action, by Ben Johnson, from which the infographic is adapted.  There is a link on that page to download a PDF sample from the book.

Camelot Jr.

For those of you new to this blog, I am devoting Fridays during the holiday season to recommending “Gifts for the Gifted”.  You can see the three posts that I have done so far hereherehere and here.  You can also visit my Pinterest board on Games for Gifted Students.  A lot of these are not just for gifted students, but would be appreciated by many children – and adults.

I bought “Camelot Jr.” several years ago on sale at Barnes and Noble.  Back then, it was called “Royal Rescue”, and I liked the idea that a little bit of building was integrated with the logic puzzles.  This game can be played alone, or with a couple of people.  The challenge is to find a way for the knight and the princess to meet.  There is a book of puzzles, and they are in order of difficulty.  You are given a picture showing the initial construction, with the knight and princess on opposite sides, and shown pictures of which blocks can be used to create a “road” that will join the two figures.

This is a great game for children five and up.  Don’t let them skip to the middle because it seems too easy at first.  Each challenge teaches you something, and you can use your experience from previous, easier challenges, to help solve the harder ones.

If you read the reviews on Amazon.com, you will see that many people felt that “Camelot Jr.” was a fun activity for kids and adults.  As I’ve watched my daughter and many of my students work through it, they have reached puzzles that I definitely can’t solve mentally, and it’s exciting to observe the children problem solving, reaching the edge of frustration, and then crowing with triumph when they finally reach the solution.

Refraction

I first learned about the web game, “Refraction“, from Julie Greller’s post on “A Media Specialist’s Guide to the Internet”.  Since my 5th grade daughter happens to be knee-deep in fractions right now, I was intrigued by Julie’s description of the game, which involves guiding lasers to power spaceships.  I followed her link to the game to check it out for myself.

Big mistake.

I really didn’t need another internet addiction, but “Refraction” has all of the elements that make it worthy of adding to your Favorites list.  First of all, your mission is to help the poor, lonely spaceships of animals drifting along with no fuel.  So, that should appeal to everyone’s heroic inclinations.  Secondly, the game slowly introduces challenges that keep it from becoming boring, but also make you do some mental gymnastics.  More and more spaceships need fuel, and some need a quarter of your laser beam or a third or a half.  Math and logic are definitely necessary skills in order to succeed in this game!