Monday, November 30, 2015

We Started Coding Today!

The topic of coding/programming is not a new one to me, I just hadn't felt the need to introduce it to my students until recently. Several of my students have expressed an interest and I think a combination of things/people finally got me to take the first step. I short while ago +Michelle Booth posted about The Hour of Code initiative coming up Dec 7 - 13.

Last week, during our tech time on the computers in the library, the students noticed that I was exploring The Hour of Code website. I was actually coding some Minecraft games and once they realized what I was doing, they were all over me!! They were very interested, they love Minecraft. All of a sudden I had students take over the controls until I regained the mouse and sent them back to their work stations with the promise that I would provide them with more information about what I was doing and what I would be planning for them.

A couple of days later I informed my students that we would be participating in The Hour of Code this year. Also, thanks to the website, I was able to connect with two University of Waterloo students who would be speaking to my students about coding/programming. One of the volunteers will be visiting us in class and the other will be joining us via Google Hangout.

So, why code? What's the big deal? First off, my students are interested. They have been talking to me about it for a while now. The group that I have this year are keen with respect to solving problems and being creative. Coding allows students to be creative, collaborative, problem solve, learn a new language, think logically, and have a lot of fun!! Being able to code/program is the way of the future - it will become common place so to start their journey now is appropriate.

We are only in the introductory phase, and like anything worth doing, we need time to play and experiment. All of this is new to us and we are taking the time to get used to things and gain some useful skills. Once we have a handle on what we are doing, I can begin to make solid connections to our curriculum and immerse the students in activities that will hold their interest and allow them to acquire the knowledge, understanding, and skills that will lead them to academic success.

We started playing today. I introduced my students to a few options that involved Star Wars, Minecraft, and Frozen. Using blocks of code/demands, they went on adventures and did some cool things that they weren't able to do before.

When the students started working on their chosen activity, I saw some really amazing things. First and foremost, they each had a computer to start their activities. But as time went on, I saw students start to

  • work together to solve problems,
  • grab pencils and papers to write out their ideas and logic - essentially leaving the computer to code without it,

  • actually stand up and physically act out what they were going to do with their code
It was incredible. Actually, what was incredible is that they took the initiative to do what they needed to do to get the job done. All our talks about taking initiative, about being aware that there are a variety of ways to meet a goal, that it is ok to do things differently to get results, seemed to pay off. No one asked me to get pencil and paper, no one asked if they could problem solve with another student, no one asked if they could get up and move around! They had their task and they showed me that they could work on it in a way that would best suit their needs. This is precisely the culture that we are trying to grow in our classroom community and it was quite the reward for me to witness it.

Here are some photos of their work today:

I have a feeling that what we started today is going to lead to many fun and challenging learning experiences. Thank you to +Michelle Booth+Brian Aspinall+Sam Patterson Ed.D., +Jonathan So, and +Andrew Campbell for getting me thinking about coding and a special shout out to my Grade 4 students for nudging me to continue to meet their needs and interests.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mathematics and our 3D Artifacts

In Mathematics the students are adding and subtracting 3 and 4 digit numbers. They are engaged in a variety opportunities to gain knowledge, problem solve, apply their skills, and communicate their understanding, or lack thereof. They are talking, drawing, and using manipulatives as they work through problems. Sometimes they work with others and sometimes they work on their own. As I move around the room I listen to what the kids are saying, watch them work, and ask them questions about their ideas and the processes they are following to solve problems/complete a task. They seemed to be on the right track so I decided to add another layer to their learning.

I put the students into groups and explained that they would need choose a 4 digit number, create a representation of it using Tinkercad (3D software), print it, and then present it to the class. Based on my observations and discussions with the students, this seemed like the perfect time and task to integrate the 3D technology in a way that would allow them to use a design mindset to apply their knowledge and skills to create physical artifacts of their learning - to bring their thoughts and ideas to life. This task would also allow them to be collaborative and creative in order to complete the assignment.

I created the groups strategically. Each group had the following:
  • a natural/compassionate leader
  • someone skilled at using Tincercad
  • a student unsure of what to do
  • confident/competent student with the "Math"
I also let the students know that I would be moving people around if I felt that they had been placed in a group that wasn't working for them. There was a bit of grumbling, but once they got started things seemed to be going smoothly. Once or two group changes were made (personality conflicts) and then things were really underway. Each group had a Chromebook to access Tincercad and as usual they were free to work anywhere they wanted to within the classroom. 

While the students were working I was moving from group to group - listening to them and watching them go through the process of expressing their ideas (discussion, 2D drawings), representing them (using the software to take 2D drawings into 3D drawings), and then creating them (3D printing their representations). I was also listening for references to what they were learning in our current unit of study, past unit, and future units. From my perspective, I got to see and hear the four areas of achievement in such a natural way. The students were providing me with great data about what they know and what they can do as they engaged in this activity. 

The students were given two "Math" periods to collaborate and create and then we printed their work. 

Here are some photos of them working through the process:

Here are some screen shots of their work in Tinkercad:

Here are some photos of their 3D printed representations:

When the time came to present their work, the students were very excited to share what they had done. They talked about what worked, what didn't work, and how they dealt with design problems. They talked about their experience using Tinkercad and about new ideas that have come from this experience. EVERYONE in the group spoke and had something to offer. They even made sure to let me know who they might want to work with next time and who would like to lead :)

This was their first time they went through the entire design mindset process - from beginning to end. They have a lot of experience using the Chromebook and a significant amount using Tinkercad but this was the first time they printed their work. Having printed their work and actually held a product of their thinking in their hands, they now have some insight into how the printer puts together their design and what they might do differently now that they know how the printer does its job. 

This experience has provided my students and I with a new and exciting layer to our learning journey. We could feel a shift, an evolution, as we worked through the task that was given to them. They have a taste of the amplification that this type of thinking and technology can provide their thoughts and ideas. We are looking forward to what comes next and I can't wait until the next time I share our experiences with you.

I would love to hear about your thoughts and ideas about our experience. Please feel free to leave a comment below, and/or connect with me on Twitter or Google +.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Their Own Accord

My students really enjoy engaging with their learning at home. They are accessing their GAFE accounts at home, on their time, without my prodding or prompting.

Each week,  I receive 2-3 email notifications (in the evening) that my students have shared their work with me. They want to share their work and seek feedback. They enjoy using the GAFE tools and are blending their own learning.

As a teacher and parent, I am delighted to see this from my students. I love that they are using their own time to practice what they have learned at school and use digital tools to continue their learning and to share it. Regardless of what I say to them, they take risks and push themselves to "get it".

I have written about this before - when I was teaching grade 2. The grade 4's are taking this to a whole new level for me and had to share again.

We need to keep teaching our students to learn to help themselves. To know that they can collaborate and create when they feel the need and to share so other can benefit from them.

Here is an example of what I received last night:

It always brings a smile to my face!