I was trying to find some unplugged coding type of activity for my 4th graders as I was going to be missing one of my classes due to helping out with our high school Spanish Market. I came across this pixel activity at Teach Your Kids to Code as well as this maze activity from Brittany Washburn. I really liked the concept of both of them, but needed to do some modifications for my class. I created an unplugged Christmas Coding booklet for them to work through some basic challenges that taught them about coding and computational thinking. At the end, I built in an activity where they can do some building of the objects they coded in the booklet if they complete the challenges. It was a great activity to leave for a sub and still participate in the Hour of Code!
This month the date for the 3rd-5th grade PBIS celebration landed during the week of Hour of Code, so why not have the STEAM activity be a coding activity? As there are 3 rooms running a STEAM activity for 25 minutes, I knew I had to maximize the time - so a dance party it is! I combined the algorithm component of computational thinking to create custom dance moves. Students were led through a slideshow (button and slideshow below) in which they were introduced to some basic commands, what happens when those commands are changed, and then executed with a musical flair! This gives students insight in to how a computer is only as smart as the commands we give it, and there are many codes running behind the scene that make the commands run. And with this activity, executing a code means dancing!
Coding is one of those things about technology that I just love. I think it is for the same reason I love math - it challenges me and is different every time you try a problem. The process may be the same or similar, but the outcome will be different. Even though the Hour of Code is not until the week of December 9-15 this year, I thought I would get a head start on introducing it to my 4th grade STEAM students. You can never have enough exposure to coding if you ask me!
As I was gathering websites for the kids to work through today, I came across the image shown here. It shares some great points for why kids should have opportunities to code. I love that coding promotes computational thinking (decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, algorithms). Computational thinking is not something that just lives in the coding or even math worlds, but we use aspects of it daily, whether we recognize it or not. A kid-friendly graphic I found that explains computational thinking is below. These are things we do everyday, even as adults!
As students were working through the Symbaloo linked below, I was honestly astounded at the academic vocabulary I heard that originated naturally through exploration. I heard students talking to their table partners using directional words, "if then, then that", "it is only doing what you are telling it to do", and many others. As I was observing from the front of the class, often times I would see a student use their hands or even stand up and walk through the directional code to double check their work on the computer. For most students, this was their first introduction to coding, so I intentionally did not go too deep with instruction, but just enough to hook them. Based on their responses on their exit slip, they definitely were hooked!
Over the summer as I was starting to think about the beginning of the school year, I started thinking about possibly putting on a STEAM Night. We have STEAM classes at the middle school and just added it for K-5, so I thought it could be a good opportunity to share with parents what STEAM looks like in the classroom. After thinking it over a bit and starting to formulate an idea for how it might look, I proposed the idea of a Family STEAM Night to our 3-5 principal and Assistant Superintendent. They were both on board, so the planning began!
I had attended a STEAM Night in my own children's district last year, and really liked the format of the evening. It was set up "school carnival" style where you could easily move from room to room exploring different activities. This easily allowed you to try a variety of new things and revisit things that were already familiar - and you were not committing yourself to one room for the whole evening. So, I reached out to some of our teachers and coaches/specialists in the district and asked them if they would like to lead/facilitate a room based on their area of expertise. I filled in most of the remaining rooms in the building with a variety of activities that had been explored in STEAM classes. I also worked with our high school Spanish teacher (who leads the Spanish Club) to incorporate a culturally responsive room that was designed and led by the Spanish Club.
Take a look below at some videos, pictures, and activity descriptions for what we incorporated into our first Family STEAM Night!
I really wanted the Family STEAM Night experience to begin even before people stepped foot in the door. One simple way to do this was through chalk! I had students who were helping set up take a container of chalk outside and get creative. My only directions were to make sure it was appropriate and welcoming. They did a great job of using the space and making sure everyone was welcome even before they entered the building. We also had the night publicized on the digital sign out front, so between the chalk, sign, people, and cars, you could not miss that something was taking place at school that night!
Another small welcoming sign that I felt was very important was a photo release statement. Basically, I wanted everyone know that they were welcome, but we also wanted to be able to capture the fun and learning that was taking place. We provided pink paper bracelets that people could choose to wear if they did not want to be on video or photographed. It was great for our student and staff photographers and videographers to quickly place themselves in a room to protect the privacy of others while still capturing the essence of the evening.
Toy Story STEAM Mania - Andy's Room
The Toy Story STEAM Mania rooms were an extension of the Toy Story STEAM Mania activities that I had been working on with my Young 5s, Transitional 1st, and 4th grade STEAM classes. For Family STEAM Night, I took it a step further to really set the stage to engage and did a room transformation. When you walked into the classroom, you had the feeling of Toy Story and being in Andy's room. It was great hearing the comments from people as they walked in to the room and were totally surprised by the atmosphere.
The activities that we had in this room were:
Toy Story STEAM Mania - Pizza Planet
The activities that we had in this room were:
This room was lead by EdTech Consultants Keith Tramper and Craig Steenstra from Kent ISD. We always love when they are able to come out and be part of events and help out with classroom needs - they rock!
The activities that we had in this room were:
This room was set up so that kids and families could freely explore the world of coding through drawing. We set out calibration and coding direction sheets as well as some example sheets (from the Ozobots website) and then simply let the creativity flow! I saw a variety of designs from simply exploring with colors and then more elaborate designs with different coding algorithms.
The activity in this room was led by one of our elementary art teachers and was based off the book, Picture Pie by Ed Emberley. Kids and their families used paper circles that they folded, cut, and then glued to make works of art. This was a great activity to combine fractions and art!
In this room, kids and their families had the opportunity to build Hoop Flyers. Hoop Flyers put a twist on the traditional paper airplane and use strips of paper to create hoops that are attached to a straw. Varying the kind of paper used, length of the straw, or adding weight (such as paper clips) changes how the hoop flyer will glide. It is a great way for kids to jump in to the design process and work through revisions so that it will fly.
Our high school Robotics Team lead this room with one of their coaches. They brought some of their smaller robots (not the large 8+ foot one!) for students to try moving, picking up blocks, and seeing how a robot works. They also shared information with parents with how the Robotics Team works, how they attend competitions, and what students can look forward to as they move towards high school. One of the really awesome things that they did was brought one of their tool sets, a bunch of screws and nuts, and let kids learn how tools work, how a nut can be screwed on to a screw, and how the different tools have different functions in building their robots. I am so grateful they were able to share all of their awesome work with the community!
This was definitely a popular room throughout the evening for everyone (parents included!). I love 3D pens as it provides an easy way for kids to understand that in order for something to be 3D printed, it must be printed in layers. This helps them understand why some 3D printer jobs take a really long time to print. I saw many people using some of the templates we had, creating representations of their names, animals, jewelry, and even a fantastic Starry Night image!
The activities in this room were designed by some of our AMAZING ELL and Literacy coaches.
The activities that we had in this room were:
Button Making and Engineering
We were so grateful that our local library, the Kent District Library, was able to be part of our event! They are so awesome and we always love it when they can be part of our special events and promote literacy and the many resources that a public library offers.
The activities that we had in this room were:
STEAM in Physical Education
As I was thinking about activities for the evening, I wanted to make sure that we had some kind of activity that allowed kids to move around. Insert physical education here! I think this was great to show kids and families that something that might appear as just "playing around" actually involves a lot of science and math! I found some activities on the S&S Blog and I knew they would be the perfect addition! Our AWESOME elementary P.E. teachers were so gracious to oversee the room. This was definitely a hot spot for the evening!
The activities that we had in this room were (as found on the S&S Blog):
This room was lead by our SUPER elementary Math Coaches. They came up with some great ways to incorporate math in a fun way (it was often heard from parents in this room that, "This is not math!"). Their activities were centered around geometric puzzles (tangrams, pattern blocks, 3-d shapes) in order to reach a large age range (a few puzzles will be quite challenging for adults while remaining accessible to young kids) and emphasize the critical thinking and trial and error parts of mathematics that often get overlooked. Mathematicians think long and hard about the problems they encounter and often have to look at it from a different perspective to get out of a rut.
They also created a communal Sierpinkski Triangle (fractal) with each participant being represented in the whole piece by a tetrahedron they decorated to represent themselves.
This room was a special part of the evening. In our district, we are working on being culturally responsive in our teaching and student learning, and as it is a district focus, I wanted to make sure that this was part of our Family STEAM Night. Our high school Spanish Club planned to facilitate two rooms of Lotería, a type of Mexican bingo that many of our families play when together with their extended families. Students in the Spanish Club led games throughout the evening and did an awesome job of decorating and facilitating the game so that it was fun for everyone - whether you play Lotería every week or have never played before!
Glow Rooms are one of my favorite activities to do in the classroom, as it completely changes the environment with simply lighting. What is included beyond the lights really puts the learning in a new "light"! Based on survey results and from observations, this room was ranked the top as far as favorites.
The activities that we had in this room were:
I love when a complex topic such as Circuitry can be presented in a way that is hands-on and really help kids understand how electricity works. I have used these in STEAM classes and kids LOVE them! When setting up this room, we started with the resource geared towards younger students (Power Tiles Circuits), then moved to the Snap Circuits, and then the littleBits (geared towards upper elementary students). This allowed the people to take what they had learned and use that knowledge as they moved up in complexity across the room. Without a doubt, the Snap Circuits fan challenge is always a hit because when you turn off power to the circuit, it sends the fan flying into the air. Who wouldn't enjoy that?!
The activities that we had in this room were:
Last, but DEFINITELY not least, we offered food for sale (the only thing throughout the evening that had a cost associated with it). We all know that food is love, and when an event at school falls during dinner time, we wanted to make sure that we were providing an option for families so they did not have to choose between having a meal and attending an educational event at school - they could do both! We sold authentic tamales (so delicious!), drinks, snacks, and candy.
This was the first Family STEAM Night that I had organized and implemented, so there are definitely things I learned that worked well and areas that need improvement for next time. We had a fantastic turnout and I was so excited that we were able to provide this learning opportunity for our community. This night would not have been possible without the AMAZING teachers, staff, and students who volunteered their time and talents. For the most part, students were running the rooms and quickly became experts on the areas that they were in charge of for the night. I am grateful to be surrounded by a community that made this evening possible - I can't give enough thanks to them for all they did!
This week I had the opportunity of attending the MiCareerQuestin Grand Rapids, MI. As part of the event, West Michigan Tech Talent and Kent ISD teamed up to provided a special learning opportunity for teachers during the career event that was being held for students. As an educator, this was a great way to connect with professionals and have conversations about what they are looking for in potential employees (our students) and how we can help prepare them for jobs. Although the focus of our educator event was centered around technology, so many of the concepts can be carried over into most other career fields. I created the sketchnote above based on my learning for the day and the one thing that really stuck with me was that of "Digital Disruption." We need to disrupt our way of thinking in order to move forward - especially in regards to technology as it is hard to find a job that does not utilize technology in some way. It really made me think deeper about our learning in general as we often need to disrupt our way of thinking to meet the needs our students - there is no one size fits all learning method.
As part of the educator event, we had the AMAZING opportunity to learn more about coding with Arduino and building circuits with TinkerCad. I have not explored using Arduino or any of the tutorials in TinkerCad so it was pretty fun learning something new. I always love when I am put in the seat of the student and learning something new. I partnered up with someone and we definitely experienced some successes as well as some fails. It was great learning about it though and having people in the room who have used it before to help us along the way and think about uses in the classroom.
For the majority of the afternoon, we spent our time down on the floor of the large exhibition hall traveling around the the different quadrants with large groups of students. It was so neat to see what all the employers and businesses had to share about their companies and fields and how they adapted what they do to appeal to a predominately middle-school aged audience. The Construction area was definitely the one where I took many ideas away, followed closely by the Advanced Manufacturing. Don't get me wrong, the Information Technology and Health Sciences were pretty cool, the others appealed to some of the design things I would like to try with students.
It was definitely a great day of learning and I can't wait to see what they do next year!
This past October, I attended and did graphic recording for the ISTE No Fear Coding Lab. It was an amazing experience doing graphic recording, but was also re-energizing for ways that Computer Science and Coding can be integrated into content to help students be critical thinkers and problem solvers. It got me thinking about how I can refocus some of the activities I do with teachers and students to focus on the elements of computational thinking - decomposition (breaking down a problem into smaller parts), pattern recognition (identifying similarities, differences, and patterns), abstraction (identify important information and filtering out unnecessary information), and algorithm design (identify and organize steps to solve a problem) (Source: Exploring Computational Thinking via the Backpack Redesign Challenge). So, why not code? There are so many great reasons to teach students coding!
Set the Stage to Engage
One of the teachers I work with on a weekly basis for STEAM activities had shared that her students had found code.org on her website and she was teaching them how to access and use resources on her site and they loved it. I think I had this in the back of my mind after I returned from the ISTE conference and knew that I had to do something - the stars were aligned too perfectly!
As I had determined Wall-E would be the theme for the day (other than the big word of ALGORITHM, which we said computers understand algorithms, not directions), why not have fun with a little room transformation? Some black lights, laser lights, rope lights, and other decor can quickly and easily change the look of the classroom for a dramatic effect. Plus, I found a cute little stuffed Wall-E and Eve on Amazon that I just couldn't resist! I always second guess myself if a classroom transformation is worth the time, energy, and potential distractions from students. This was simple with pretty much just additional lights (2 black lights, a small laser light, and 1 rope light string), but it is amazing the effect that it has on students. Don't get me wrong, there definitely is a few minutes of the wow-factor and exploration (even with just lights!), but it definitely sets the mood for the day, activities, and learning.
Computers Need Directions
To start off the day, I wanted the students to really understand that computers NEED directions to do anything. Even though it might seem like we are typing letters and numbers on the keyboard, we are actually giving a computer directions to make a letter or number display on the screen. Each click and button pressed corresponds to a set of directions that tell the computer what to do. To really drive this point home on following directions, I asked the students to write directions about how to brush their teeth. At first they were a little confused because they thought we were doing a hands-on activity and not doing writing. They played along with me and then the teacher selected a student to read his directions to the district nurse who came by to see what they were doing (she helped me get toothbrushes and toothpaste for the activity) and she did an AWESOME job acting like a robot and carrying out his directions in front of the whole class. The students quickly realized that they needed detailed instructions and started adding more steps to their own directions even before the demonstration was done. Then we had the students read their directions to their partner and carry out the directions. This was pretty entertaining to watch! Students had a blast and I heard from several students that they never thought they would be brushing their teeth at school that day and how funny that was to them. Talk about an activity that will tell a story when they leave the building!
Enough can't be said for the amazing people who made this activity happen!
Once we had established that computers need directions and only follow the ones they are given, we talked about the language that computers understand and read when they are given those directions. <sarcasm> I know that the world of binary is very riveting, so talking about ones and zeros would get students super excited. </sarcasm> I thought that if I was able to help teach them that each character is read as a binary number, they would understand that even small words end up having long code behind them (once the computer interprets the code).
To help them understand how a code for a word might appear to a computer, we coded our names. Students had to identify the letters of their name, find the corresponding binary code, and then determine how many ones and zeros were in each binary letter string. Once they figured how many ones and zeros were needed for their name, they could begin assembling their binary name necklace. At first I think they seemed a little overwhelmed by the worksheet, but quickly realized that they could quickly build their code and do the necessary math to find out how many beads they would need. They were so proud of their necklaces and were excited to share what they did with their families.
Prior to our day of code, I put my feelers out there for anyone who works with coding and would be interested in sharing what they do with 4th graders. Marc Petz was highly-recommended from other EdTechs in my county (as he teaches 3D Animation and Game Design at our county Tech Center). The kids were totally captivated by what he had to share (he hooked them with Epic Games and Fortnite - what 4th grader wouldn't be hooked?!) about how he uses coding as well as projects he is doing with his own students (their autism app looks amazing!). Marc was awesome in how he shared and engaged with the kids and was even so kind to share some 3D printed sharks and coins that he and his students had printed. Students had never thought that there was coding that was necessary to 3D print something! I am so grateful for my PLN and their suggestions! Having Marc as a guest speaker was an AMAZING part of our day and gave students a fresh face with fresh ideas for how coding is embedded in the world around them. Thank you, Marc!
Code a Path
Out of all the activities for the day, this one was probably the most challenging and tested their grit level to the extreme. The teacher shared some of the math concepts they were reviewing, so I created task cards with a variety of those types of problems. Students had to first solve the problem and then find the corresponding correct answer from a multiple choice list on their task card. Then (based on their answer), they placed a green start circle and a red end circle on their coordinate graphing grid. This set up where they would have to begin their coding. At the top of each coordinate graphing grid, there were instructions to place other pieces on the grid. These represented the roadblocks that coders encounter as they are working on a problem. They then had to code their way from the start circle to the end circle using 3D printed coding pieces. I knew that this activity had a lot of steps and would challenge them, but I wanted to incorporate their math content into an activity to show them that coding is not always separate from everything else that they do. The struggle was definitely real, but once some groups (of two) picked up on how this activity worked, they started making some progress forward. The part about being able to code around the pieces was the incentive to help them persevere through the math problems.
Run the Red Carpet
After a couple of activities, I knew we would be ready for a little break. I found a perfect video on GoNoodle that would fit perfectly with our coding theme - Run the Red Carpet! The kids loved it, loved getting up and moving around, and as teachers, I think we needed the brain break as much as the students!
Code the Red Carpet with Ozobots
Our Day of Code ended up being many unplgugged activities due to testing that was going on in the building. I am so glad so many unplugged coding activities in my back pocket that would really help students understand the basics of computational thinking and coding. Our semi-plugged activity that we did was using Ozobots to "Code the Red Carpet." The last activity we had completed was our "Run the Red Carpet" brain break, so now it was time to introduce the robots and let them "Code the Red Carpet!" The kiddos were SO EXCITED about this! We gave them some scrap paper to play around with the different Ozobot codes before moving their big code to a long piece of paper. They worked really well as a group to come up with a code and were so excited to see what other groups had created. At one point, a student placed their groups' Ozobot on another groups' red carpet while they were demonstrating and their minds were blown that multiple Ozobots could work on the same line of code at the same time. It was a great moment as a teacher to see when their ideas come together into something even bigger and better than their individual thoughts and ideas.
Code a Dance Party
This was the final activity that I planned for the day, but time got away from us and we never actually were able to code a dance party. I thought I would still share the resources I had prepped in case anyone else would find them useful! For this activity, I was simply going to have them create a "code" for a partner that started with "START" and "ended" with "LOOP." The teacher would play a song and the students would have to dance out the code. Then the students would switch positions and the coder would dance and the dancer would code. This activity was going to be the final activity that really demonstrated the executing of an ALGORITHM and how computers do what they are told, which is where coding comes into play!
The students noticed right away that I was wearing a coding shirt and thought it was so cool because it looked like the coding that they had done on code.org. They loved the hand stamp even more because it looked just like my shirt and I used my grape smelling stamp pad. I would consider our Day of Code/Hour of Code to be a success!
Recently, I had the AMAZING opportunity of doing some graphic recording for the ISTE No Fear Coding Lab. This was such an amazing experience to not only connect with educators who understand the value of coding across the curriculum and are willing to develop themselves professionally to make sure that their students are learning important computational thinking skills. I had the awesome experience of working with Penny Krebiehl and Matt Orley for this conference to capture the keynote speakers and the themes of the breakout sessions. We worked together during the keynote sessions to create live graphic recordings of the content, and then broke up the themes that were covered throughout the remainder of the conference to produce graphic recordings that summed up those themes.
I love that some people were able to capture us in the design phase. As this was the first time for me doing this in a different way other than sitting in a chair or on the floor at a conference while someone was speaking, communication was key for us! For many of the keynote presentations, I often created sticky notes with thoughts and ideas and passed them on to Penny and Matt who started designing (with me being an educator it helped to filter the information and they could concentrate on the imagery and lettering). Then at the end I jumped in on the boards to help finish off recording any sticky notes and design.
For the themed breakout sessions, I attended sessions about Maker Education, Robotics, and Computer Science Across the Curriculum. I jumped in and out of the sessions trying to capture as much as I could about the themes so that I could translate the information into a recording (well, actually two - I did the Maker Education and Robotics by myself and split the CS Across the Curriculum with Penny). The great part about this was that there was a lot of room for personal creativity, but also a chance to work collaboratively with others to say, "Hey, I need some help!". By the end of the three days, Penny, Matt, and I had shared some long nights drawing and many laughs. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to work with them!
Over the course of 3 days, Penny, Matt, and I spent our days surrounded by paper, pens, pencils, markers and had dirty hands and tired feet at the end of the day. I think all those things are a testament to the work that goes into capturing the content for a conference - but I wouldn't trade it for anything!
Final Graphic Recording Images
On the final day of the conference, we did not do any graphic recording, but rather covered foam board with our recordings and set up a hallway display on easels. I think the true impact of all the learning that happened over the previous couple of days hit me at that time. I had spent the weekend meeting new people, learning new things, seeing really cool things in practice, and stepped outside my comfort zone to do something new and exciting. It is hard to put into words how I felt when I saw the hallway with all of our recordings displayed. What was even more powerful was watching others who attended and presenters view our work, talking to them about what they learned and shared and how it was represented. It was pretty hard to ignore how the power of imagery can enhance a learning experience. Simply powerful.
Both of these resources were awesome for introducing students to the concept of coding - which is exactly what I was going for! I believe that when I use new resources with students, it is important to give them ample time to simply play and explore. This is how they learn how things work and then when the content is inserted, they are not trying to figure out the functionality basics and avoid pure frustration with connecting content and materials. One thing I have noticed with this approach as well (especially with higher level thinking materials), the students intuitively insert the content themselves. I saw many students naturally talking to each other about how to build obstacle courses, figure out distance travelled, and how to move from point A to point B in the least number of steps as possible. Don't get me wrong, I definitely heard some grumblings and frustration, but it was a productive struggle. That was after they truly understood me when I said that Botley was not voice activated or a remote control robot!
The Ozobots provided a different productive struggle than Botley. Many of the students had focused in on learning how to make the Ozobot jump and they were having a hard time doing so as they pictured in their heads. Even though most were not able to make them jump, they had fun learning how to get them to change colors, spin, change speed, and other commands. I also left this open-ended for them as I wanted them to follow their creativity and questions for "how to do it." It was interesting watching them work through the Ozobot codes to create some pretty wild paths!
I am excited to see what the students come up with as we use these more within the content area. Their interest was definitely sparked and it was something very different than what they have experienced before. I love seeing the benefits of coding - the perseverance, critical thinking, and a general interest in creating something totally new by giving directions. Coding for the win!
Today I worked with my 4th grade friends to make binary ornaments. I was inspired by Schooling a Monkey and Little Bins for Little Hands and their awesome ornament ideas. I liked how the wreath and stars offered the opportunity to spell things out, but I also wanted them to use their creativity a little bit more and think about how they could manipulate the pipe cleaners into a recognizable (holiday) shape. I tried it myself to show them one example (Rudolph and his pack on his back), and the manipulating the pipe cleaners really was the challenging part!
We had the students make their pipe cleaner ornament and then figure out how they would add their binary word or letter to it. They did great and were excited to show off their designs and have us guess what their letter was! For this Quickfire, we only allowed them to use the provided pipe cleaners, beads, the ASCII Binary Alphabet sheet from Little Bins for Little Hands, and scissors - no tape or glue.
The teacher I was working with got in on the design action too with a pretty cool snowflake design! Any guesses on what it spells? Hint, start with the light pink tip and work clockwise.
Would you like e-mail notifications? Enter your e-mail address below to subscribe.