Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hour of Code Unlocked

I'm sure by now you've heard of coding in the classroom, or maybe even heard of dedicating to an "Hour of Code."  For those of you who haven't, in a nutshell coding is the language that computers and the like speak.

Why is it so important for kids to learn this skill?  For one, in an increasingly digital age it will be important for students to not only understand technology, but control it as well.  Students also gain valuable logic and reasoning skills as they work to overcome obstacles or create tasks for the computer/machine to do.

Deeper than that, providing students with the experience of learning a computer's language will perhaps plant a seed that will someday blossom into a career.  For many students who have deficits in literacy, coding may provide them a level of confidence that they lack in that area of their academic life.

I've shared before that I am the sponsor of my school's tech club for 4th and 5th grade students...Go Tech Ninjas!  I was very excited to bring the world of coding to their fingertips in our most recent meetings.

Here is how we unlocked the world of coding in the classroom.

1. Provide a Purpose

My husband is a tech guru.  He's an Apple certified, degree-holding computer engineer.  He understands things in ways that I simply do not, but I like to think that is vice-versa!  Let's just say we make a great team.  So since he's had plenty of experience in the real-life coding world, I asked him to come and speak with my Ninjas.  Why?  To show them that there is an actual, real-world purpose for what we were about to do.  He shared with them some of the programming that we use in the district to track student information.  I wanted to show kids that this is something that someday, they could make a career of.

2. Give them a Starting Point

Coding can seem daunting at first.  At a glance, at best it looks like a bunch of random letters, numbers, and symbols.  However, once you are able to "crack the code" it's actually fairly simple.  We used Crunczilla's Code Monster to get a taste for coding language. (Link in photo.)

The great thing about this website, is that it's suitable for a wide range of users.  Code Monster is geared toward pre-teens or younger with help.  In our case, it was younger.  In this free program, students are given tasks to complete.  As they are prompted to change various pieces of code, they are able to see an instant visual of what their code is doing.  For example, if they change a certain number, it will increase or decrease the size of a box.  As they work through the tasks, it gets gradually harder.

This was a great way to start because it allowed students to a) see actual coding language and b) see instant visuals of their work.

3. Bump It Up via Gaming

After I felt students had a sense of what coding is and what it is capable of, we moved to another great website, Tynker.  What I love about Tynker, is that it presents the world of coding in gaming format.  This is INSTANT engagement.  While my students enjoyed Code Monster, they LOVED the games they found on Tynker.

Another great thing about this site, is that it provides teachers with a section just for Hour of Code initiatives providing a free place to check it out.  They have varying levels of software for purchase if you so desire to further explore.  The photo below will link you to the Hour of Code section for teachers.

Each game provides the student with a task.  They may have to make a monster go so many steps to eat a jellybean.  The code is provided in the form of "building blocks" that they must string together to make their character move, jump, etc.  As each game progresses, the tasks become more and more difficult.

The gaming is extremely audio-visual with its bright colors and sound effects.  Students are also able to build their own avatars (and you know they love that).  The format Tynker provides gives even the most weary teacher and student the feeling that they CAN do it.

4. Make it Tangible

I come from a land of plenty when it comes to technology.  Our science department is fortunate to have a robotics program.  What's REALLY fortunate for me...I graduated with the teacher of this robotics program, and she was willing to share.  My Tech Ninjas had the incredible opportunity to take what they learned in Hour of Code and translate it into something tangible in their hands.

Follow the photo link to our Tech Ninja Facebook page to watch a video created by one of my students.  He does a great job of explaining! Go ahead and "like" our page while you're there!

So here's the thing.  You don't have to make it all the way to Step 4.  I know how lucky we are to have such resources at our hands.  If you are interested, check into other programs such as Lego Mindstorm. At the very least, take an hour out of your day to inspire your students with the world of code.



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