Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Putting their Skills to Work

Today Tyler and I had the honour of refereeing the Robotics competition, part of the Ontario Technical Skills Qualifying Competition. We had an amazing day of learning with the teams from CCI and BDHS. To begin, both of the student created robots had to pass a pre-competition inspection for compliance with the safety and design rules before they will be allowed to participate. Then the two teams participated in a harvest simulation in which the robots moved crops (golf balls, straight pipes and elbow pipes) from a collection bin to a destination stand. The robots were controlled by a driver, who was directed by a spotter. The spotter could move around the perimeter of the playing court and communicated directions to the the driver. 

After the first game, one of the robots was in need of repair and both teams came together to problem solve. It was impressive to watch the students working together to solve a design challenge with creativity. There perseverance paid off and we were able to continue with tournament play. 

During the playoff round both teams gave their all and the exciting third match ended with CCI qualifying as the team moving forward to the provincial OTSC in May. 

The robotics competition was an engaging learning experience for students in which they were cognitively challenged and having fun. Also, they saw a real purpose in what they were creating. When I asked the students about the process of creating the robots, one of the grade 12s said “creating a robot is about solving a problem and creating ways to make it better.”

Throughout the day I had conversations with students and educators about the robotics and coding involved in creating the robots but one in particular stood out...we wondered: where are the girls?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Coding + Art + Math = Turtle Art

created with code using turtleart.org
created by Gary Stager called Early Turtle Art activities.
Today I was co-learning with a group of students using the Turtle Art software to create awesome pictures while we learned about geometry, numeration and programming.
First I inspired them with my artistic creation so they could see what the amazing little Turtle could do! The Turtle follows the program that you write for it. You create the instructions by snapping together puzzle like pieces in a logical sequence. The Turtle can draw lines, arcs, draw in different colours and even perform logical operations.
Click the block to see the code. turtleart.org
Click the block to see the code.
The first challenge has students create a program and predict what they think it might make. This Turtle Art activity challenged students to use mathematical reasoning, problem solving, counting, measurement, geometry and computer programming to create images.

We showed students the Getting Started with Turtle Art page that has a variety of tutorials and examples. When we had a question or needed to problem solve, we found that a simple YouTube search gave us lots of solutions. There are also a series of Turtle Art Activity Cards that you can use to model the creation of an image.
I learned about Turtle Art from Artemis Papert & Brian Silverman at Minds on Media in 2014. Read their paper Turtle, Art, TurtleArt for more information. 

If you want to try Turtle Art, you can contact me or request the software by emailing contact@turtleart.org.
Turtle Art is designed for learning math in a way that empowers artistic expression! Have fun!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Coding in School is about Learning!

Part 3: My last reflection on CBC’s The Current Kids Learn Computer Coding in Class to Help with Problem Solving:

Scratch creator Mitch Resnick believes that everyone should learn to code. Scratch launched in 2007 for kids aged 8-16 and more recently Scratch Jr for younger kids (aged 5-7). Through Scratch kids can express themselves and create dynamic and interactive stories, games, and animations. They can share their creations with each other through the online community. We want students to express themselves through meaningful projects and not get caught up in the syntax, punctuation and grammar of coding. They build their scripts with graphical programming blocks (like putting lego blocks together). The blocks in Scratch give an instructions and you snap them together to create a sequence of actions that is a program.

Getting a job as a programmer is one path but that is not Mitch Resnick’s main goal. His dream is to help students to be prepared for life in tomorrow's society. I think he says it well when he describes how society is changing quickly and specific facts we learn today will be obsolete tomorrow, but what is most important is becoming a good learner and developing the ability to think, collaborate and act creatively. That is what kids are learning through Scratch - skills will serve them well in life.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

CBC Documentary: Code Kids

England adds Coding to the National Curriculum

England mandated coding in their national curriculum in June 2013. The former Education Secretary stated that this new curriculum was designed to raise standards and allow students to compete in the global race. That it was designed to be a long term solution for addressing the digital skills gap and to create opportunities for jobs and careers in the future. 

Rachel Swindenbank, of Codecademy, is the lead on the initiative in England. The new program has three key elements: Computer Science (a focus on computational thinking - coding is a key part), Information Technology (How computers and telecommunications equipment work and how they can be applied), and Digital Literacy (responsibly and safely navigate the world of digital technology - Digital Citizenship).

In September 2014, students in England began learning the fundamentals of programming. Students, beginning at age 5, learn the basic concepts of computational thinking, algorithms, decomposition and pattern recognition through visual programs like Scratch. At age 11 they begin to learn more text based coding.

Concerns or push back in England? Jennifer noted that there is little concern of pulling resources from other areas because it was replacing a very outdated curriculum and coding can be used as a creative too. It can be used to express art, music and anything your imagination can come up with. She describes two implementation challenges: One, teachers didn’t have the knowledge to teach programming. This was addressed through professional learning (provided by the government and other organizations like Microsoft, Google and Codecademy). The second challenge was that teachers didn’t feel ready or confident to teach computer science. However, now after one and a half terms, Jennifer describes how the experience of being in the classroom teaching it and the engagement and excitement of the students is slowly beginning to remove this concern from the classroom.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

From Consumers to Innovators

This evening I listened to CBC’s The Current Kids Learn Computer Coding in Class to Help with Problem Solving Here is what I learned and reflected on Part 1:

The Codemakers program is an initiative that aims to change the way that youth view and interact with computer science. They plan to roll out transformational computer science content across Canada (workshops in schools, summer based programs, coding clubs, after school professional learning) all delivered through Actua’s network of University Partners. The program teaches students how computer science and coding are impacting their lives and how it is connected to things that matter to them. For example, we know that kids love video games and the program is designed to take them from being consumers of this technology to being able to code those games and build their own. To know what it feels like to be in the driver’s seat of that technology. Codemakers is all about having students make the transformation from being consumers of technology to being innovators of technology. Jennifer Flanigan gives the example of the saying “There is an app for that” and how they want to talk to kids about what this actually means.  There is an app for that because someone has created it. They saw a problem, identified that there was a user that had a need, thought creatively, applied analytic skills and actually coded a solution. They then shared this with millions of people. And the coolest part - this is something kids can learn to do NOW. They can learn to code and bring the stories in their head to life! 

Jennifer Flanigan reminds us that when we engage students with high quality computer science content it’s teaching them about computational thinking. It’s teaching them to take a big problem and break it down into small manageable chunks. Students have the opportunity to analyse data and make decisions based on that data. It gets them to think creatively, work in teams and trying things out. It is about building computer science skills that can can be applied now and in the future. Jennifer also talks about 21 century skills as complementary skills that are going to be critical in any field students pursue in the future. 

Google Executive Eric Schmidt describes the need to bring coding to kids to fill the shortages in the Canadian and worldwide job markets. He states that the education system needs to change to produce them. 

Computer science is going to be involved in every sphere of our lives and workforce. Knowledge and skills in computer science are going to be critical for students to understand so they are empowered to take on those jobs. 21 century skills such as collaboration, creativity and critical thinking are essential for pushing innovation forward. 

Another benefit of coding that Jennifer discusses at length is the ability it has to allow students to fail in a productive way. She describes this as a component that is vital to innovation. For example, when a code doesn’t work you get immediate feedback, then you need to go back and look at your code, revise it, collaborate to find a solution, fix it and move forward.