Here we go again…

Remote learning is here again and after three days of synchronous teaching this week, it feels like a deja vu of last year. I spent September to June teaching remotely from my office last year after being surplussed from my school. To be back in the same office teaching remotely is quite a challenging feeling, especially since we all know the toll it takes on kids to be out of the classroom.

For students at my school, being in the classroom is essential. That word has been used a lot in the past three years and it seems to hold a lot of weight. Being in the classroom is essential for so many reasons. Our food program provides the first meal of the day for many and is not available now that we are online. The connections in the classroom help students who have felt isolated for so long and they were so happy this September to finally start making these connections again. The ability to play on a sports team that is free and is developmental is so important for those in our community. Having a caring adult who is always there to listen and to help is a must during these times. Being online takes away most of those essential opportunities.

I have been reading many articles this week that spoke to me. My favourite read was this article:

https://www.macleans.ca/society/the-cruel-ridiculous-reality-of-virtual-learning/?fbclid=IwAR2iS0pFaMpavoWSZLi0MmGvNHaUHccAgc7s7IbbH4-cs8ymegSFjB4Bq_A

This article speaks about many of the problems with children learning at home, disengaged from their peers. It is really interesting to hear things from a parent point of view who try to juggle their children’s schedules while also doing their own job. Worth a read for anyone wanting to hear another perspective.

Last year, we made it work as the vaccine roll out started and many parents were uncomfortable sending their unvaccinated child into the classroom. This time, we have access to these resources and we have done all we can. It is time to stay in the classroom and never be taken out again.

However, I can celebrate some small successes this week as I always try to look for a few positives in a dark situation:

  • 18 of my 24 students were able to get access to technology and they signed in and came online
  • 3 out of my 24 students turned their cameras on which was great as I could see their reactions while I was teaching
  • Two of my students who rarely complete tasks in the classroom completed many tasks this week
  • One of my students who does not speak throughout the day connected online in the chat
  • One of my students with attendance issues signed in all three days this week

So even though remote learning is in no way the best option for children, some students thrive in this setting.

I am also taking advantage of this online time to begin coding with my class as this is the only time we will have 1:1 technology. We have started the Express Course 2021 on http://code.org The website tracks the progress of each student and lets me know who is online and learning. It covers both the grade seven and eight curriculum content for coding. The students can learn to code sprites to move, work with loops, functions and even design their own app. I am thankful for the devices that we are currently able to have since it would not be possible to start coding without them. Last year my students used Scratch and it was not that user friendly, especially since I could not walk into their homes and help them with their tasks. This program is much more reliable and easy to understand.

So all in all, it has been a long week with many ups and downs. At the end of 2021, I told my students there was really no way we could end up online and now here we are again. I hope that we can go back into the classroom soon as we all know the benefits that it provides to each and every student. I commend my fellow educators who are teaching at home and some with their own children home too. I cannot imagine juggling both. Keep at it everyone and we will get through this, once again.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has brought unique and unprecedented challenges to teaching. ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that in-person instruction and learning in publicly-funded schools provides the best experience for learning, quality delivery and is the most equitable model for all students. In order to support educators during remote learning, several resources have been created to support members.

Being Open to Teaching New Subjects

As we know well, elementary teachers can be called upon to teach most subjects or grades at any point in our careers.  In my 18 years teaching, I have amassed a mental list of what I like and “would prefer to avoid as it isn’t my strength” and if you’re lucky, enough of your colleagues have varied choices so ideally everyone isn’t fighting over the same options when it comes to covering planning time, etc.  No-where and at no time has this been more tested in the past 18 months with teachers accustomed to paper and pencil most of their careers navigating virtual classrooms and teachers online covering subjects like Phys. Ed and Music that have traditionally been taught by rotary educators.  So what does one do, when like myself the previous year, you are called into the admin office at re-organization time and told “sooooooo due to the decrease in person class enrollment I am needing you to teach a few Maker classes a.k.a. Coding” and laughing hysterically would be considered unprofessional to a new principal?

  1.  Do not panic. Most admin should know the strengths and favourites of their teachers and while this is sometimes unavoidable, addressing possible alternatives may be an option.  Failing that, facing the music (by sometimes literally facing teaching music) and doing a year of something that isn’t your cup of tea may be an opportunity to show that you were willing, but it didn’t work out.  I myself am glad one of my teachers’ college placements was in kindergarten to know that it definitely was a place where I wouldn’t do well full time and as such, have never requested it.
  2. Continue not panicking.  Any subject you teach at the kindergarten to grade 8 level will not be in enough advanced detail that a student will be discouraged that the teacher they have one year may not be teaching their ideal subject.  In my case, I was able to look over some very ‘user friendly’ resources to have the students complete some simple programming projects.
  3. Try to keep a positive attitude.  Even though I struggle with integrating a lot of technology, I went into my planning with an excited albeit nervous attitude and by the end of the year, learned a lot of powerful modern learning skills that I integrated into my French and Music lessons.  I even felt confident enough to do Coding as one of my subjects in the summer for an educational camp that I pitched and thankfully, got some assistance from students in teaching new techniques.
  4. Put your own spin of things.  A lot of my lessons used the history of computers with non-traditional role models (who knew female Ada Lovelace was considered the first ‘coder’?) as well as integrating comic strips about digital safety featuring a certain orange lasagna-loving feline?  We all may sometimes ‘hate Mondays’, but demonstrating that as an adult you are willing to take risks and go outside of your comfort zone can be a powerful messages for young scholars.

Hour of Code is Coming…Part 2

Last month I blogged about the Hour of Code which occurs during Computer Science Education Week. Little did I know that it would prompt further conversations geared around wondering whether or not an hour makes a difference. My post by no means was the be all and end all of coding or computational thinking but was meant to spark conversations, perhaps an interest and possibly support educators for whom coding or computational thinking might be new. To be clear, I know that coding for an hour during that week might not have a significant impact in the grand scheme of things, but the opportunities that it provided for my students certainly had a significant impact. While these opportunities should exist on a daily basis, let’s face it, weeks like this often allow for conversations amongst educators to be had and provide spaces for collaboration. This was the case for me and my students. 

I think that we sometimes forget that there is a continuum of learning – even for educators – and while everyone has strengths and areas of need, those strengths and areas of need vary from person to person. Unless we’re willing to start somewhere and be vulnerable with colleagues, we can miss out on the chance to learn with incredible colleagues. This year, my students had the chance to participate in coding activities with 3 other classes and for them, it was an exercise in developing greater empathy; growing in clear communication; and problem solving. At the end of the week, coding was the tool that facilitated this learning for my students and they were able to help younger students develop their own set of problem solving and computational skills. 

That being said, this post, (part 2) is really to go a little deeper into what I believe computational thinking is about. I’ve always seen coding as being one, creative way to helping students develop computational thinking skills. I’ve learned that computational thinking is about solving problems, using similar methods as would a computer. There are four kills that make up computational thinking:

  1. Algorithmic Thinking – using algorithms to show the different steps in a solution or process. This can be applied across subject areas and can help to outline the process by which something is accomplished. When students are using some of the coding activities mentioned in my previous post, they are thinking about the steps needed to move through a maze or a specific sequence to achieve a goal. In language, students are often taught procedural writing. These procedures are used in recipes and in instruction manuals. In Science, we can think of this as the execution of an experiment. While students have the opportunity to hypothesize based on what they know, they may be required to follow procedures as they gain new skills for their experiment. Again, it’s that specific sequence of events that needs to take place to accomplish a task. 
  2. Decomposition – the breaking down of big problems into smaller ones. When broken down into smaller parts, tasks become less daunting. With large projects, when students can solve one task at a time, they’re better able to achieve success with the overall project. Knowing how to break down big challenges into smaller, more manageable parts is really a skill. When we help students in this, they are better able to become more autonomous, knowing specifically the next step that they need to take in order to succeed. During our coding activities, Code.org’s Dance Party was a hit! As students navigated through the challenges, they realized that they were gaining the skills required to ultimately create their own dance sequence. When they got to the end, they understood the functions of all of the blocks and were really excited to create and I must say that a few even replicated their dances in small groups.  
  3. Abstraction – the idea of using a simple model to explain more complicated systems. By taking away minute details, we are more easily able to understand the overall concept by making sense of the important parts in the model before us. I often think of this as making things more concrete before moving into the abstract. We can do this for ourselves when planning a unit. It might be daunting to understand all of what has to be taught but if we think first about the big ideas, we can then understand what is most important for students to understand and work backwards from there.  When we were working on coding activities with the kindergarten students, it was amazing to see how my students were helping students to physically move around the space in order to understand direction. When you first gain a grasp of direction and understand it clearly, perhaps moving around the physical space is no longer needed as much and you can move onto other skills, as you learn.
  4. Pattern Recognition – helps determine probability by interpreting data & identifying patterns. Scientists are recognizing patterns and are able to more effectively predict outcomes for things like diseases and weather. Why not get students identifying patterns in everyday life and see what they might be able to make sense of in the world. In my teaching practice, I have found Math so much more meaningful to students when they are able to see and identify the concepts being taught in real life. By looking at patterns, they understand and can identify why some structures might be more stable than others and can make more accurate predictions based on data they have collected. Lightbot was one of the activities we tried with younger students and it was a great way for my students to help the younger students to see that by creating a program once, they could repeat it and it was similar to the core in a repeating pattern. It took us a minute but it was amazing when the “ah ha” moments came.  

As with all things, I am growing in my understanding of computational thinking and coding. My first post was merely a conversation – and perhaps an activity – starter as we think about helping students to develop these skills. Doing or looking to do amazing things in your classroom in this area? Please share it in the comments! I would love to know more and grow with you.

Coding in Kindergarten

I have taught every grade from K-8 in some way, shape or form.  I can say that without a doubt or apology I have more respect for Kindergarten teachers than any other grade level.  Hands down.  I have loved every grade I taught while I was teaching it.  I was young and without children when I taught Kindergarten and can say that there is no tired like Kindergarten teacher tired.  That being said, I absolutely love going into Kindergarten classes with robotics.  Unabashedly Kinder friends approach you to ask your name and promptly tell you about the “owie” on the bottom of their foot as soon as they walk in the door.

I work with Bee Bots in Kindergarten classes to teach sequencing, estimation, problem solving, geo-spatial reasoning through coding.  Bee Bots are a rechargeable, floor robots designed for early learning.  It is easy to operate and does not require any other equipment.

We start as a whole group using the hundred’s carpet and decide how to move Bee Bot from our start to another point on the carpet.  Students decide upon the directions and we program them in to find out what will happen.  Wonderful mistakes happen here and we need to clear the code and start again.  When we achieve our goal as a group there is much rejoicing!

It isn’t really about teaching Kindergarten kids how to “code”.  Coding is used as a vehicle to teach many other transferable skills.  Planning, organizing and communication are just some of the learning skills that come from using the Bee Bots.   If you have access to the mats as featured in the photos, you can automatically see the ties to language and math concepts as well.  There is a romance period that needs to take place when the students first get their hands on Bee Bot.  However, even if they don’t know the words for “right” and “left” at first, they get to know them quickly through the use of Bee Bot.  Bee Bots in many of our Kindergarten classes now have homes and some have villages made from found materials so that Bee Bot can be coded to go to different places.  The possibilities for creativity really are endless.

For more information about using Bee Bot in the classroom, check out these resources:

https://krgarden.ca/media/hold/the-beebot-robot

https://blog.teaching.com.au/5-mathematics-bee-bot-lesson-ideas-for-the-classroom/

 

 

Hour of Code Is Coming…

Every year, the beginning of December marks Hour of Code. While coding and computational thinking are important skills that have benefits when incorporated year round in classroom programs, this is an excellent time where classrooms around the world participate; empowering students in d the development of these skills. In this post, I’m highlighting 3 activities that I will be using in my school to help support teachers who are new to coding and are wanting to give it a try this coming week. 

This year, I’m envisioning centers so that students have an opportunity to participate in a variety of different activities while still allowing for small group teaching, especially with Scratch. 

Lego

Who doesn’t love playing with Lego? I have to admit that even as an adult, when I have the opportunity to build with my nephews, I get excited at the possibility of creating with Lego. One of the unplugged – no tech required – activities that students have enjoyed is Coding Lego Mazes. This free resource is a great way to get started. The idea is that students have the opportunity to create their own mazes and once built, have to navigate their way to the end by thinking of all of the steps that it might take. In doing this, students start to think about giving clear navigational instructions using commands – similar to how we might use commands when coding. Older students can consider creating their own more elaborate mazes and the premise is the same, whereby they have to be able to direct someone from the beginning to the end of the maze.

Lego also has an online coding game, Bits ‘n’ Bricks. Students learn how to code using blocks as they help Bit on an Adventure. 

Guided Online Activities

There are so many really great activities online that guide students as they learn to code using blocks. As students progress, the levels get more challenging and they gain a greater understanding of how code is formed and used as commands for specific actions. Below are a few links to some that I have used in the classroom with students.

Code.Org

Made With Code

I often share links with students in Google Classroom and they can select which activities they may enjoy participating in with a partner or in a small group. 

Creativity with Scratch

I’ve used Scratch mainly with Junior students. The TDSB Coding In The Elementary Grades website has a variety of lessons from K – Grade 8 that guide educators as they teach students to create. I’ve used a number of these lessons to help students gain some of the basic skills in Scratch as well as in the creation of their own narratives. I love that they have broken it down by subject area. Take a look and see if there is anything that has a specific connection to what you are currently working on that students can try. We’ve been working on Geometry so this week, we’ll be using Scratch to determine how we might draw 2D shapes. Here’s the link to an article that I saw in Edutopia that we might use to get us started as we think about angles and side lengths. 

For teachers new to coding, I hope that this helps. In my Hour of Code presentation, there are a few more ideas that you might also be interested in incorporating in your classrooms. Whatever you do, I hope that you have a great time coding and learning with students next week!

The Gender Gap in Technology

Quote for blog

According to a recent report* by ICTC (the Information and Technology Information Council) Canadian women represent about 50% of the overall workforce but represent only 25% of the technology industry workforce.  Of the 100 major tech companies in Canada only 5 have female CEOs and 1 Co-CEO.   26% of the tech companies have no women in senior leadership at all.  There is a gender wage gap in the industry of $7,000-$20,00 per year.  When I read these statistics I wondered as educators, what can we do about the gender gap in technology?  This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to begin:

1.  Build her confidence in her abilities.

2. Cultivate a community of supportive peers.

3.  Provide a STEM/STEAM club for girls.

4. Ensure that access to technology and computer experiences is encouraged and inclusive.

5. Foster interest in computing careers.

6. Be a role model as a LEARNER.

May 11th is National Girls Learning Code Day.  If you are looking to encourage coders in your school, why not begin on May 11th?  Below you will find links to resources for beginning coding.  Many students code on their own at home and may appreciate the opportunity to mentor fellow students.  The resources attached will get you started.  There is no special equipment or robotics required.  Teachers do not have to be expert coders to encourage their students.  Teachers can be role models of resilience, risk taking and problem solving by learning alongside their students.  Teachers only need to open the door and expose their students to the opportunities.

Girls Who Code Canada

National Girls Learn Code Day

Canada Learning Code

Scratch

Hour of Code

Code.org

 

*Cutean, A., Ivus, M. (2017). The Digital Talent Dividend: Shifting Gears in a Changing Economy. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Elaborated and written by Alexandra Cutean (Director, Digital Innovation Research and Policy). and Maryna Ivus (Senior Analyst, Research and Policy) with generous support from the ICTC Research and Policy Team.

Coding with Microbits

Twice I have attended the Ontario Teachers’ Federation “Pedagogy before Technology” conference in the summer.  This year I attended a design workshop that the InkSmith company provided and would never have been able to predict the chain of events that would follow.  In the workshop we were grouped with people at our table to come up with a design concept and present it in the manner of a “Dragon’s Den” pitch.  As we discussed the concept and made diagrams on chart paper, I put the visuals together in a small Google Slide presentation and added an entertaining video.  I have my drama specialist and I’m not afraid to ham it up in front of a crowd.  When it came time for the presentation we wowed the InkSmith team and ended up presenting to the entire group.  We then went to lunch and I didn’t really think too much more about it.  However, because I had so loudly and visibly put myself out there in an entertaining way, I was contacted by the team at InkSmith and then connected with kidscodejeunesse team.  Kids Code is a federally funded program that helps students learn to code.  They provide free workshops to classrooms across the country using handheld, programmable micro-computers called micro:bits. The coding program is web based and is in the blockly format but can also be switched to html for more advanced coders.  When a workshop is provided to a classroom, the teacher is provided with ten microbits for the class to use and keep.  You can visit the website kidscodejeunesse to sign up for a workshop for your classroom.

microbit

                                                                                                                                 This is the microbit connected to a battery pack.

Kids Code Jeunesse provided me with training and as part of my job as an innovations consultant, I now go into classrooms within my school board to deliver workshops to students.  The only coding that I had done up to this point was with Spheros and Ozobots which was quite rudimentary.  I am now immersed into the coding culture. Which means that sometimes my kitchen counter looks like this:

IMG_6320 It was a little out of my comfort zone to be sure.  As I have gone into classrooms I have admitted to students that I’m not an expert on microbit   technology and I have learned from some of the students that have been engaged in complex coding on their own time.  With a quick conversation with   the classroom teacher I can usually make some decisions around differentiating the program to keep students engaged.

 You might be wondering what it is these little computers can do.  The LED lights on the front can be programmed to light up in patterns which create   animations.  Students can create dice or rock, paper, scissors games and with a few alligator clips and a small speaker or headphones, microbits can be   programmed to create music. With a little innovation and some adaptation it can be programmed to water plants automatically or become a pedometer.   It can also be paired with a robot called K8 which can be purchased from Inksmith and assembled.  The microbit website itself is where the coding takes   place and it has easy to follow tutorials and ideas for projects to code.

The initial workshop is only the beginning.  The only limit to these little computers is the limits of your student’s imagination.  Microbits would be incredibly useful in a maker space or genius hour environment.  The students develop design and critical thinking skills and problem solving techniques as they create and de-bug programs.  It is an amazing way to introduce coding to students-especially if you are a teacher who is brand new to coding.  Be warned: coding is extremely engaging and you and your students may have an inordinate amount of fun while learning.

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