My Language and Literacies curriculum is a blend of technology skills with Language Arts content, and this event fit perfectly into what I want my students to learn. Last year, I introduced coding using Codecademy, and I will still do that unit, but this week was about dipping our toes into the water. A few great new online coding platforms have emerged since last year and this was a perfect opportunity to let my students explore.
On the Hour of Code website, there are tons of great online activities already prepared for students. My initial plan was to pick one, but after reading Vicki Davis's great post about her plans, I decided to give my students a choice. I use Schoology as my class LMS and posted the following message to my students with the links to three different coding sites and information on how to log-in.
The first thing we did on Monday was watch Code.org's Code Stars video. The video really gave them a glimpse into what you can do with coding and why it is important. They loved it and were ready to hear more after viewing.
I then introduced the three sites from which they could chose during the week. They were Khan Academy, Scratch, and Tynker.
Some students were familiar with Khan Academy's math tutorials, but many others did not know anything about the site. I explained how Sal Khan began by creating math tutorials for his cousin and how that expanded to a website where people can learn dozens of subjects through self-paced video lessons. The Khan Academy activity for the Hour of Code is a drawing lesson. Khan Academy gives students finished programs and lets them explore how the different parts control the final product. They can then "spin-off" a program and customize it or try to build their own from scratch.
Scratch offered a different type of programming experience. With Scratch, students use visual programming blocks to create games, stories, drawings, and other interactive media. The Hour of Code activity was to make an interactive holiday greeting card. I showed students how to follow the steps in the "Tips" window to create the program using the videos and directions. Very quickly, students were looking for ways to creatively add custom sprites, sounds, and backgrounds. The majority of my students seemed to want to start with Scratch.
The last site I introduced was Tynker. Tynker is a coding site that is based on Scratch. That let me do a mini-explanation of "open-source" programs and how that can lead to innovations. Tynker uses interactive media to walk students through coding challenges to solve puzzles or build games. The site is very engaging and quite a few of my students decided to start with Tynker as their programming activity.
When thinking about how to assess what my students would learn this week, I decided to have them write. At the end of our exploration, they will write a reflection in Google Docs and share it with me. I think having them "think about their thinking" during this process is a great exercise in metacognition and gives them an opportunity to process the experiences in a deeper way than just showing me an end product. When I told my students I was not going to grade their projects, but just wanted them to try to work through an activity to completion and then at the end of the week tell me what they tried, I saw them relax. Coding didn't seem as hard. It was like I had given them permission to play and take risks and not worry about making mistakes, which I had!
Some of the things I want to know from them at the end of the week are:
- What did they try?
- What did they figure out or learn?
- What surprised them about coding?
- What was difficult and how did they handle that?
- What would they do differently?
I asked my students to take screenshots this week of things they did. These will be shared with their reflections and should be a great artifact of their experiences. I can post these in the classroom and say, "Look! At the beginning of the week you didn't know what coding was, but look at these great programs you wrote!"
Lastly, I saw this short video by Code.org about coding as a new literacy. As part of my curriculum, I talk to students about how there are different types of literacies or knowledge that we build. Reading and writing are traditional literacies, but we also talk about digital literacy, information literacy, and visual and media literacy during the year. I agree that knowing a little bit of coding, or at least having a basic understanding of how it works, is important for students in the 21st century. The Hour of Code is a great way to get that dialogue started.