This week is what they’re calling their “Share Faire” where participants share about what creative learning projects they are working on.
So, I’ve come full-circle now. The reason I stumbled onto this course was because I was searching for tutorial materials about Scratch Programming. So, in effect, as I write in this blogpost about what project I’m working on, I’m actually explaining why I took this course to begin with.
Last Christmas, I needed to think of some sort of Final Graduation Project in order to finish my Coetail studies. Coetail stands for “Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy”. Since Coding skills and Computer Sciences are increasingly becoming important discussion topics for educators, I thought I would do something around teaching children to Code. There was only one problem… I didn’t know how to Code! :0
My memories of coding aren’t that wonderful. I either used LOGO or BASIC when I was in grade 7 to draw a square. It was on the ugly dark green screen of the Apple IIe. I next did some Coding in university during my education studies. That amounted to following step by step instructions to draw the same square. I remember there was a turtle, so I know it was LOGO during university. As a result of those dismal experiences, I ran as far away from Coding as possible.
Technology has come a long way since my university days. Technology appeals to and has benefits for everyone now (and not just to the science & math geeks). I use technology to
- write (because I love to write)
- work with music (because I’m also a music teacher)
- sew/quilt (My sewing/quilting/embroidery machine is a sewing computer with software that I draw with, in order to stitch out my own embroidery designs)
- to learn (see my Coetail community)
- to teach (that’s a given!)
Teaching myself how to Code
Learning to Code is a lot more interesting now too, thankfully! Or, I wouldn’t even attempt to do something with it. Since I didn’t know a thing about Coding, I embarked in January on a quest to teach myself how to Code first. If I thought I was able to Code at least one-step ahead of the kids, I would take on the challenges of trying to teach it for Coetail. I first started by doing the 20 Hours of the “Hour of Code”. I dragged my own children along as guinea pigs. That was successful as I managed to pass all the stages and even blogged each stage as lesson notes for myself.
After I finished the 20 Hour of Code, I wondered what would be my students next step? Well, I decided that it would be Scratch Programming. I’ve known about Scratch since 2007 and even gave it to my own children many years ago. I didn’t initially chose Scratch as the vehicle for teaching students to Code because I was afraid of how open-ended it was. If I didn’t know how to Code, how was I going to navigate an open-ended learning environment like Scratch? (The 20 Hours of Code is a linear scope and sequence of coding puzzles. Scratch is an open-ended programming environment where students can Code to make whatever their hearts’ desires are.)
I was looking around the Internet for resources to teach myself Scratch and that is how I stumbled upon this Learning Creative Learning course. (Scratch is developed by MIT and it is MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten group which is delivering this course.)
Learning brings Change
I’ve doodled a chart of what happened to me over the duration of the course. How can I summarize it?
My willingness to play and let students play at Coding was inversely related to the level of panic I was feeling due to the fact I didn’t know how to Code.
caption: Willingness to Play is inversely proportional to Levels of Panic
As you can see on my chart, when I started out on this journey, my levels of panic were very high because Coding was something I knew nothing about. (This chart would also explain why some people turn away from Technology in general.). So, I picked a methodology that allowed me the most clarity and control. The Teacher Dashboard of Code.org afforded me the control (a linear scope and sequence with list of objectives) that quelled my panic.
But, as I learned more how to use Scratch and was encouraged to “play” because of this course, I could feel the panic go down. At the same time, my willingness to pick a more playful and open-ended methodology increased. The encouragement to play in the course came through the videos we watched, the on-line live hangouts, the readings, and the forum discussions. I especially enjoyed reading the various journal and research articles that backed “play and exploration” as important methodologies for teachers. Here’s a video about the science behind “Play and the Brain”. (I certainly didn’t learn anything about “play” during my undergrad days.) My willingness to “play” also came as I watched the other participants “play” with technologies. I came to the course to learn how to use Scratch; I left with an ideology.
A New Direction (not a boy-band, either)
So, my original idea was to take my students through the 20 Hours of the Code.org program. I’ve since completely revamped my original intentions. I’ve decided that I will still use Code.org to introduce the students to the idea of computer logic and snapping blocks together to Code. But—once they get the hang of it, I’ll open the flood-gates so they can work on anything their hearts desire through Scratch. I no longer have any time-line in mind. I’ll let the students decide themselves when they want to move onto Scratch. Ideally, I envision them going back and forth between Code.org and Scratch as they wish. Code.org is great for tackling specific skills and is especially good for giving students the vocabulary to explain the concepts behind Coding. Scratch is great for allowing students to apply their learning to create new things. This is the point of Coding, after all. Code.org gives the students the vocabulary to talk about what they’ve programmed on Scratch. I think it will be a good partnership.
Through my explorations of the Scratch website and discussions on the Learning Creative Learning community, I learned about connecting computers to the physical world (Robotics). My boys have played with Lego Mindstorms for a year but I pushed myself to have a first-try, because of this course. The course gave us challenges to try each week. One week was to try “tinkering at something” so I chose Lego Mindstorms. (Lego Mindstorms combines Lego blocks with programming to make robotics.)
My Lego Mindstorms drives and turns around when it senses the colour Red.
I’ve decided to add the exploration of Robotics to the Coding Club. So, we’ll try our hand at Lego Mindstorms.
This past week, I got the Lego We-Do set. The We-Do is a set of Lego blocks that connects regular Lego pieces to the computer. You can use Scratch programming to program the Lego creations. I felt that the Lego Mindstorms is a bit too complicated for beginning Coders. With We-Do, they can extend their application of Scratch by using Scratch to program their Robotics. The We-Do is more “low floor” than Lego Mindstorms. That means it is easy for beginners to “enter” to try it. I’ve added Lego We-Do to the list of Robotics we’ll try. See my first Lego We-Do project below in the video clip: The alligator chomps down when it senses something near its mouth. There are also sound effects mimicking the alligator digesting his food 😉
Above: Coding for the Alligator We-Do. The coding makes the fish on the computer screen open and close its mouth, while the Lego Alligator also chomps. Thus, you’ll see coding for these two things.
Thus it is now a Full Circle moment. The Learning Creative Learning course asks us to have a “Share Faire” to tell the community what creative thing we’ll be trying in the next few weeks. The “thing” I’ll be doing is what led me to the course in the first place: Coding Club. What serendipity when you hit that “Google” button!
I was looking for step by step instructions to teach myself Scratch. I left with instructions to relax, let-go, have fun, and let the students lead their learning. (I learned how to use Scratch too, along the way. 😉 ) I understand the importance of student-led learning and engagement. It’s freaky how quickly that all went out the window when I was faced with the task of teaching something I didn’t know anything about. This might explain why as we try to increase student engagement through technology, that the “powers above” are increasingly exerting top-down control (government-mandated curriculum and standardized-testing).
I didn’t set out to understand the psychology of learning to Code and teaching Coding but in fact, I’ve received huge lessons about both thus far.
The formal part of the Learning Creative Learning course has now ended. Like all healthy learning communities, the learning never stops even though the “studies” have. So, the Learning Creative Learning community will continue to share and encourage each other through the forums and the #lcltalk Twitter hashtag.
This is my last formal blogpost about the course, but I’m sure you’ll hear snippets of what is happening during my Coding Club, soon.
In a week, my club starts. I’ve named it the Infinite Loop Coding Club.
In the words of the Learning Creative Learning course: Imagine… Create… Play… Share… Reflect… Forever.
In the words of the Scratch Cat: Imagine…Program…Share… Forever.
Now you know why I named my coding club, the
Infinite Loop Coding Club
See below my promotional video to generate student-interest in joining the club:
What do you think the overall arching goal of learning to Code should be in elementary school? I think it is to “play” in order to generate interest in Computer Sciences and to give students confidence about this new medium.