Introducing Coding without Robots

A few years ago when I started hearing about teachers doing coding and robotics in the classroom I dismissed it as a fad.  I didn’t understand the value of coding nor could I see how it tied to the curriculum.  However, I recognize as a professional learner my initial reaction to something radically new can sometimes be resistance.  I think that this is because I can’t see myself fitting “one more thing” into my classroom practice. I always have to give myself time to process, research, find the value and then finally accept it.  After I have tried a new practice with students and see the beneficial outcomes, I endorse it and then begin to share it widely with colleagues.

When I began the journey with coding and looked at I tried it on my own and admittedly, understood very little. I went to more workshops and conferences but avoided the coding and robotics thinking that it just wasn’t my bag.  Then I had a colleague that dragged me in to the world of coding and robotics.  We worked together.  I’ve since become convinced that we need to teach all students how to code.  I have also figured out that you don’t need any robots to do it.  In fact, when you start-you don’t even need a computer.

coding 4         coding 2


The above picture is a coding game that I used recently with a grade one and two class.  Students placed their obstacles (rocks) on a grid.  They placed their “gemstone” or finish on a spot on the board and their “robot” (animal)  on another spot.  They wrote their code on a sticky note using arrows and then had their partner take their robot through the code to test it for “bugs”.  A big part of coding is knowing your left from your right and being able to write instructions that someone else can follow.  We started out the day coding one another to walk in a square using only: “forward” “turn left” and “turn right”.  It was amazing to see how much problem solving took place.  They were using positional language, procedural writing, clear communication, visualization and proportional reasoning.  Their thinking was exploding! The students were engaged in the learning and well on their way to being able to code something online.  From there we explored the Scratch Jr. app.  After a short look together at what the different “buttons/blocks” meant they were able to code independently.  As teachers we sometimes get bogged down in the fact that we don’t have the money to purchase the technology and shy away from trying things based on the fact that we don’t have “the stuff”.  However, laying the groundwork before introducing the technology piece to students is key.  We need to always consider the pedagogy before the technology.


Why Coding Is Important Part Two

In Part one of this blog post I talked about coding with relation to the deep learning competencies and learning skills.  However, there are greater implications of teaching kids to code.  I am a huge science fiction and dystopian fan.  I think I am attracted to the resourcefulness of the characters in the movies and books.  The characters that have hands-on life skills and leadership qualities are valued and survive.  Let me be clear, I do not view the classroom as a dystopian or science fiction society…well…unless we are suffering from a severe heat wave.  I think that understanding the way the technology on which we rely on a daily basis, is a skill worth exploring.  That understanding also builds an appreciation of the work of coders and others in the computer science industry.  After taking 20 minutes to code a square with a small spherical robot a student said to me, “Wow. Can you imagine how much time it took to code everything in FortNite? Every step my character takes, everything it wears or every background must be lines and lines of code.”  That was a pretty serious revelation for a 9 year old.

It isn’t science fiction that there is a huge demand for computer science programmers and developers.  According to, 71% of all new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)  jobs are in computing, yet only 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science.  According to the employment website there are currently over 2500 full time job openings in the greater Toronto area in the field of Computer Science with annual salaries between $60,000 and $140,000.  Learning to code increases the odds of securing a lucrative STEM career, especially in a world where computing jobs are growing exponentially. Coding has quickly become a vital skill in the work world.  Elementary teachers can begin to open doors for students by exposing them to coding in a fun and interactive way.  It is safe to say that coding language will develop into something much different before our students get into the workforce.  It isn’t about the “content” or “language” of code.  It is about teaching them a new way of thinking that they could apply to any coding language or problem solving situation.  According to, many colleges and Universities are looking for experience with coding on entrance applications.  It is difficult to ignore the statistics.

With Alexa, Google, and Apple in homes, cars, pockets and on wrists we know that this our reliance on computers as a society isn’t going away soon. Exposing students to these new learning opportunities to develop their deep learning competencies is necessary for development as learners and in the end, may prove quite lucrative for their futures.


Why Coding is Important Part One

I consider myself a fairly techie teacher.  However, until recently I hadn’t really tried my hand at coding or robotics.  Well, I had, but I had lost interest as I quickly felt as though I was out of my depth.  So, I did what I always do when I really want to learn something about teaching, I go to a colleague that has the knowledge and I try it WITH the students.  Collaborative inquiry.

Until recently, I didn’t see what the big deal was or why it was important to teach coding to students.  Yeah, playing with robots is fun but what does that have to do with curriculum?  When I started working with and learning coding along side students I had a change in mindset.  There is a lot of math, strategic planning and visualization in coding. Coding may not always directly relate to curriculum content-that is true.  However, in terms of teaching students about the deep learning competencies, coding is key.  If you aren’t sure what I mean by the deep learning competencies; they are referred to as the 6 C’s.  Here is a link to the New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning paper but I have extracted a summary of the 6 C’s for a quick reference:

Character: Character refers to qualities of the individual essential for being personally effective in a complex world including: grit, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, reliability, and honesty.

Citizenship: Thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on a deep understanding of diverse values with genuine interest in engaging with others to solve complex problems that impact human and environmental sustainability.

Collaboration: Collaboration refers to the capacity to work interdependently and synergistically in teams with strong interpersonal and team-related skills including effective management of team dynamics, making substantive decision together, and learning from and contributing to the learning of others.

Communication: Communication entails mastery of three fluencies:digital, writing and speaking tailored for a range of audiences.

Creativity: Having an ‘entrepreneurial eye’ for economic and social opportunities, asking the right questions to generate novel ideas, and demonstrating leadership to pursue those ideas into practice.

Critical Thinking: Critically evaluating information and arguments, seeing patterns and connections, constructing meaningful knowledge and applying it in the real world.

I reflected on these 6 C’s as I wrote the learning skills for my grade 4/5 students this year.  I spend the most time on my reports creating the Learning Skills for each student.  They are personal and they reflect each individual student.  As a parent, it is what I am most interested in reading about my own child.  The 6 C’s are competencies not only for school, but for life.  While students were exploring coding I had them working in pairs or small groups to give them the opportunity to communicate, collaborate and show leadership.  When the code didn’t work, they were able to go back and find the error and correct it and try it again with results right away. Sometimes they found it painstaking and I had to let them work through that and they were glad in the end when I didn’t give them the easy way out and they solved things on their own.  When they learned something in coding, they quickly wanted to share their learning with other students.  I gave basic instruction about the program to start using a youtube tutorial and then let the students go.  Students who often don’t do well in groups with “typical” academic tasks often excelled as leaders in coding because it is a divergent way of thinking and they had a self-check strategy built into the task.  It was incredible to witness the amount of learning that was taking place.

You don’t have to have robots to code.  There are online coding websites that teach kids to code such as and Scratch.  The students even as young as grade 3 are easily able to use these sites to code.  Scratch Jr. is available for younger students.  The sites have great tutorial videos and somehow the students seem to just start discovering and creating things intuitively.  They begin helping each other when they see that someone has created something cool and ask the creator to show them how to do it too.

I am proud to say that I can now code a square, star and a small obstacle course using blocks and a Sphero robot.  My students discover new things every day and share them with me.  It is definitely a new age in teaching.



Deep Learning in Inquiry (Part 2)

In reading part one of my inquiry blog, one might think, “That’s all lots of fun, but building a bee house isn’t exactly something that I can write on the report card.”  You would be absolutely right.  The learning is imbedded in the exciting things.  It is intentional and it is authentic.  Connecting with a local expert, using technology for research and having hands on activities with students engaged scratches the surface of inquiry.  Our deep learning with this unit began with the types of questions that we were asking.  I noticed that when the students began asking questions on Padlet that Siri could have easily answered many of their questions with one or two word answers.  This lead to a series of lessons on “THICK” vs. “Thin” questions.  We added better questioning to our goals.


The students also noticed that I had included a lot of infographics on the Padlet.  Infographics are seen everywhere in social media to communicate information efficiently and visually.  However, students need to know how to use this information, how to synthesize it, how to put it into their own words and how to source it.  We spent a significant amount of our language periods on reading and interpreting infographics.


Our learning goals and success criteria went way beyond making houses for bees and honey tasting.  Students wanted to DO something to help bees.  We created our learning goals and criteria together:

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Early on in the inquiry we watched an informative YouTube video called, We Can Save the Bees Together.  Sarah Red-Laird, bee enthusiast and scientist, gave us a number of ideas of actions that we could take.  The students decided that one of the things that they wanted to do was to call for stronger legislation about mono cropping and pesticide use in farming.  They wanted to write letters to politicians and change makers.  In addition, when Susan Chan, local bee researcher visited, she “planted the seed” about creating a non-stinging bee friendly garden in our school yard.  This prompted students to write letters to local school officials to solicit assistance and guidance.  One of our students from Curve Lake First Nation decided to write the Chief and Band Council to ask them to consider building a bee friendly garden in their community. The desire for letter writing lead to a series of lessons on how to write a professional letter, how to proofread and how to edit in a meaningful and authentic learning context for students.  The students also felt that educating others about conservation of  bees was important so they are now working on developing presentations that they can take to other classes as well as media advertising to share their learning and call others to action.

In math, we had been focusing on data management.  It fit in perfectly to what we were doing with our inquiry!  There is an incredible amount of data about bees on the Statistics Canada website.  We read real graphs with information that the students cared about, we labelled the important parts of the graphs and we will be creating our own surveys and graphing the information from different areas of our inquiry.


Statistics Canada

Honestly, the best part of inquiry is when the students start to direct their own learning.  I guide them.  I provide thought provoking questions and “what if” scenarios.  They make choices and feel good about doing something that is affecting real change.  Inquiry is empowerment for students.  This students aren’t done with this inquiry yet-they have many more plans ahead!  Stay tuned.

The Virtues of Non Fiction Reading and Writing – Part 2

Our Journey

We began by identifying the books in our book bags as fiction or nonfiction.  The students justified how they knew if a book was fiction or nonfiction.  In small groups the students compiled lists of nonfiction text features that they noticed in their stack of chosen books.  As a class we went through the Scholastic Book order and they decided which books were fiction or nonfiction and explained their choice.  The students discussed whether there was a realistic photo, the title and if there was a synopsis about the book.  We explored the “Explain Everything” app and played with it for a short period before getting into the project.  I find that a “romance period” with a new tool helps to keep them on task when they begin their work. The app was fairly new to me but the students found it to be mostly intuitive.  They were really stoked to use the feature that points to the words using a “light sabre”.  There were a few glitches with accessing text edits but eventually they got the hang of it.  We have the free trial version.  The actual app is quite expensive.

Establishing a Purpose

I explained to the students that our younger “buddies” were going to be learning about nonfiction and their teacher was looking for an engaging presentation about nonfiction text features for her students.  By setting up an authentic purpose and audience for writing, the students were engaged immediately.

These are the learning goals, success criteria, project checklist and anchor charts that we developed over a period or two.  We added and changed some things as time went on as well.

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The students really had to think about the information that a nonfiction text feature gave them as a reader.  The learning was much deeper by creating a teaching video than if they had just identified the features in texts.  Students referred to the success criteria and checklists throughout the project.  Before they came to me they had to have some peer feedback.  They put their first draft on Seesaw and I provided some feedback online.  The students edited and adjusted from peer and teacher feedback and then posted for parents to see on Seesaw.  Below the blog, I have included three different examples of projects from both grade four and five.

Assessment and Evaluation

The integration of technology with a presentation provides an opportunity to assess many different curriculum expectations in language:

-ability to critically analyze the purposes for nonfiction text features

-ability to create a piece of media for a specific purpose and audience

-ability to oral communicate coherently and expressively

-ability to write clearly using appropriate conventions and their ability to edit their work

-ability to use success criteria, anchor charts and feedback in the creative process

In the area of learning skills:

Independent Work

-adhere to timelines and guidelines

-use class time appropriately to complete a task

-monitor, assess and revise plans to meet goals


-provide appropriate feedback to peers; being considerate of the feelings of others

-have their materials ready


-find answers to questions and materials they need on their own

-find ways to make their work better


-set up their work so that the ideas are communicated and the audience understands their thinking

-prioritize what needs to be done


-uses politeness and kindness when providing feedback

-shares resources, information and expertise

Self Regulation

-asks for clarification about feedback

-uses mistakes as a learning opportunity

-provides evidence that they think about their thinking

Embracing Creativity?

I’ve always been fascinated by teachers who are true life long learners. Those who understand that our work is a practice and that there are always professional development opportunities that are available to us to pursue for both personal and professional growth. I would have to say that my love for continued learning has in part been inspired by my parents who are constantly taking courses in order to grow. For the last few months, my mother has been taking a course in Critical Thinking and Creativity. I have to admit that I usually love following along in her modules to learn with her but didn’t get that opportunity this time because of my schedule. The course was developed to foster Critical Thinking and Creativity and yet when it came to her culminating activity, – in my opinion – the course fell short and this opened a discussion about how we might be doing the same in Elementary and Secondary classrooms.

In our board, consideration has been given to the understanding and implementation of the Global Competencies. We have even gone as far as creating a site with Learning Experiences that teachers can use in classrooms as we work towards helping our students to become globally competent. I found it interesting that my mom’s course would be in developing 2 of the competencies in participants. As mentioned before, I thought that her culminating activity was everything but creative and used very little critical thinking in order to put it together. When she first told me of the task, I was excited and wondered how I might be able to introduce something similar with my students but as the printer continued printing the long list of specific expectations, it became apparent that there was really only 1 way to be able to accomplish the task and the exemplars provided, solidified this understanding. As I watched my mother work through her assignment, I started to reflect on the assignments that I offer to students that are considered open, and wondered if in reality, they really foster creativity. Am I truly getting my students to think critically about information provided to them or simply getting them to regurgitate facts based on their research? How am I doing that? In the creation, am I encouraging students to be creative in their own way or am I limiting what they may create by what I hope to assess?

A few weeks ago, we started working on a board game project for Social Studies. The idea came from the book, Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student. My goal was to have students uncover parts of the Social Studies Curriculum and then create a board game, not a bored game. The grade 4s had a focus on the following expectations around the Political and Physical Regions of Canada.

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The grade 5s focused on the following expectations based on the Role of Government and Responsible Citizenship.

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After doing some research and learning collaboratively about Canada, they were asked to select the expectation that they would like to focus on. From there, they worked on their own individual research that they would submit with their board games at the end. Although we made some general guidelines about what was to be contained in their board games, it was open for students to create and for some, it appeared too open. Many wanted to know what they could do to get a B or an A and were expecting a list, similar to my mother’s. I struggled with finding a balance between providing enough support while at the same time giving them the freedom to try something, even if it didn’t quite work out the way that they expected. After investigating some of the qualities of games that we enjoyed as well as exploring some that were new to us, we worked together as a class to come up with our success criteria that was based on both the Social Studies and Language Curricula. Posted in the class, it was available for all students to review as they continued to work, not for the specific way to create the same cookie-cutter board game but rather to make sure that they were critically thinking about their research and their ability to communicate the learning by guiding players with their procedural writing.Screenshot 2017-12-30 at 5.34.40 PM

What I noticed during this activity was that students wanted to dig deeper into developing and sharing a plan of social or environmental action rather than merely providing facts about Canada. Many of my students looked at issues from bullying to deforestation and urbanization and considered creating games where people were given ways in which to have a positive impact in our country.


Screenshot 2017-12-30 at 5.32.24 PMAs I mentioned before, we are well into the creation stage and will continue in the new year. I do wonder however, if by calling it a board game, if I have steered them into a specific direction. Could it have been just a game where I may have seen a greater diversity of materials being used from physical to online? Did I in reality just do the very thing that bothered me so much about my mother’s course? Ask students to create something that wasn’t bored and yet steered them all into asking for bristol board? I’m on a path to really reflect on the types of tasks that I design for students while expecting them to become critical thinkers who are creative. This has now become food for thought for future tasks that we’ll embark on. Please stay tuned!