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!
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!
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