Hour of Code 2017

The 2017 Hour of Code movement is off to a great start here in Lansing. Sixth grade students at Sheridan Road STEM participated yesterday. We have been working through Google’s Be Internet Awesome curriculum around digital citizenship, and students are really loving the opportunity to interact with technology in different ways. They are also so appreciative of the chances they get to create instead of just passively consume technology.

Students have been working through some of the CS Fundamentals Express curriculum and most of them have been pretty intrigued by coding. Some students have struggled, and we’ve continued to support students in being problem-solvers and becoming self-sufficient learners.

We’ve been participating in The Hour of Code for the last 3 years and it’s something we always look forward to. This year we were so excited to see a whole bunch of new activities for students to try. Several of the boys in class were pumped to see a basketball game they could code. I was excited to code my own Google logo.

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You can check out all the cool stuff happening in Mrs. Bliesener’s class here.


Family STEAM Night

Students and teachers at Mt. Hope STEAM had an awesome and successful family STEAM night last week! Our Magnet schools throughout the district hold theme nights several times a year to open their buildings up to parents and the community at large to show off all the great learning that’s happening in our buildings. It’s also important for parents to see just how much education and schooling has shifted since they were in school.

Throughout the building, it’s clear that Mt. Hope STEAM is a different kind of school. The walls are painted bright colors, a beautiful mural dons the walls on the front entrance showing the cityscape of Lansing and elements of the STEAM theme – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.

It was easy to see the STEAM theme throughout the building. In the Technology Lab, students and parents used VEX Robots to race each other and complete challenges.


VEX Robotics

A fifth grade teacher used latex to create rubber bands. Parents and students got to participate and use scientific principles to make their rubber bands.


Making rubber bands.


Finished products!

In another classroom, students showed their parents what they have been learning about computer programming using puzzles on Code.org.


She completed all 10 puzzles! 


Even parents like Code.org! 

Another teacher set up the Lego robotics kits and parents and students worked on programming their Lego builds. Parents commented on how different these Legos were from the ones they used growing up!



Lego Robotics

One of the tastiest activities was in a 6th grade classroom. Using Nerds and Starbursts, students created different types of rocks to explain the rock cycle. At the end, they got to eat their creations – like lava melting rocks!


Creating sedimentary rocks with Starbursts and Nerds

The fourth grade showcased their 3D printed houses, buildings, and cars on their moon colonies. This was such a fun project and the kids loved seeing their designs printed in tangible objects.


Moon Colony

Of course, we had some time for fun, too!


Some dedicated teachers! Thank you for all you do!


Pizza! Yum!


Our fabulous MSU Interns making sure everyone gets fed.

We even had our local school district press present. Teachers and students explained what learning is like at Mt. Hope STEAM and shared what they love most about their school. It’s always so powerful to hear students share what they are learning and how they are engaging with new content and ideas.


Students sharing why Mt. Hope STEAM is a great place to learn.

Too many times we hear about all the problems and issues with public schools. I love sharing events like this that help to showcase all the efforts teachers and staff go to in order to create positive experiences for our students and community.

Lansing School District Participates in The Hour of Code

As both a Code.org National Affiliate and current Technology Integration Specialist, I made it my mission this year to provide leadership and support to schools throughout the Lansing School District in The Hour of Code. Working in partnership with our district’s marketing team, I was able to get some really great publicity for the district. I’m really proud of the work teachers throughout the district are doing. It’s more challenging than ever to be in the classroom, and so I appreciate teachers’ willingness to continually push themselves and their learning in order to create more meaningful educational opportunities for their students. You can read more about The Hour of Code week in Lansing Schools in this previous blog post.

Check out the nice piece in our district newsletter – The Bright Side.

Bright Side January 11 2016

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Our programming club has been progressing steadily through the lessons on Code.org. We enrolled our students in Course 1, which is appropriate for students who have basic reading skills and no prior coding experience. In this first course, students have been introduced to computational thinking as they work their way logically through problems and try to solve challenges. Students have also learned about looping through a series of fun activities like Getting Loopy and dancing games.

As students are beginning to have a deeper understanding of computer science and programming, we wanted to bring in some other science and robotics elements into our programming club. Enter our Spheros! Sphero is a robotic ball that students program using an app. They can write a basic program that simply makes their Sphero roll a direction or change color, or students can write a very complex program that will allow the Sphero to navigate a maze. You can see Sphero in action in this video.

We started off pretty basic because we wanted our second and third graders to feel successful and excited about using the Spheros. The first app we used was the basic Sphero app for the iPad. Through this app, students can change the color of the Sphero, change the speed of the Sphero, and navigate it using a simple joystick . IMG_4785IMG_4783

We had students work in partners because we find pairing always helps kids work better, are more creative, and can help each other with problem solving. Pair programming is a popular model with big tech companies you may have heard of – like Google.

Once kids had a basic understanding of how to navigate the Sphero, how adjusting the speed affected the control they had, and how to “calibrate” the Sphero so it understood what direction you meant when you pushed the joystick forward, we moved on a to more robust app.Sphero is somewhat similar to a toy car in that you are controlling the movements of the ball, but it’s much more challenging because students have to write the program to make their Sphero act in a particular way. We used the SPRK Lighting Labs app which uses drag-and-drop blocks, just like students are used to with Code.org. Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 8.55.08 AM.png

Mr. Stalter walked the students through the basic commands – Roll, set heading, change color – and then we wrote a program. Each student got to choose either a color, or how long the ball would roll and in what direction. That was a challenging part for our students was figuring out the direction of the roll. It’s not a simple forward, left, right, back, but rather measured in degrees based on a circle. So we had to figure out what direction rolling 180 degrees was and then we stuck to basic degrees – 360, 180, and 90.

This was a really fun activity and kids loved being able to write a program and see it actually “happen” in front of them. One of the students mentioned how long it took to write a program to get the Sphero from one side of the room to the other, turn, and knock over a cup. We talked about how long it must take – and how many people – to write a computer program for a video game. I love that kids are  making real world connections and getting excited by the opportunity to create something of their own. It’s so incredible!

Your Turn: How have you used Spheros or other robots with your students?

The Hour of Code

Last month, students across the Lansing School District participated in The Hour of Code. Put on annually by the amazing people at Code.org, the goal of this international movement is to get students around the world writing computer code for at least an hour during that week. This year, Hour of Code was scheduled December 7-13th. Ideally, this sparks interest in computer science, spurring more students to demand access to computer science courses. In addition, it’s important for students to be exposed to computer programming at a young age since so much of their lives center around technology. Students also learn valuable collaboration and problem-solving skills as they go through the puzzles.

Throughout the district, various schools participated at different levels. In some schools, a couple of classrooms participated. In other schools, the entire building took part in various events. Regardless, all students had a blast and teachers loved seeing their students so engaged.

At Sheridan Road STEM, the 6th grade students did the Star Wars Hour of Code puzzles.

Ms. Rubio also brought in a guest speaker from Leigh Kunz & Associates (a software development firm) who spoke to students about how learning computer science has impacted his career. Students were super impressed with the thought of making close to $70,000 right out of college. Gary explained to students that they were uniquely situated in Michigan, because there is a huge need for computer science experts and not enough people to fill those jobs. He talked to students about how having those skills makes them more valuable and able to ask for more things to get employed. They loved the idea of folks competing for their skills! Gary commented to me that if he had learned coding this way, he would have found it MUCH more enjoyable and engaging. He talked to students about how he learned – big, thick books, and pages of notes to memorize the various codes to make “things happen.” Students also prefer learning computer science this way!

At Cavanaugh STEAM, our 3rd grade students spent a few minutes talking about how computers communicate. I started out by asking students what language we speak. Then, we talked about what language computer speak. That was a bit trickier. Students learned how computers talk by “programming” me to get from one area of the classroom to another. I then made the connection to students that what they were doing when they dragged blocks over to the work space was “talking” to the computer and when the computer followed the commands, it was “listening” to what the student had told them.

Kids had a blast and were SOOO excited when they finished. Prior to our lesson that day, we printed Hour of Code certificates for each student. They loved getting a certificate that showed they had completed their Hour of Code.

Our second grade students at Fairview STEM were super geeked to participate in the Hour of Code using Minecraft. Mrs. Norris had been talking it up to her students and boy were they excited to start! We have been doing pieces of coding using some other resources from Code.org, but when Minecraft was announced, students were so excited. It was a challenging puzzle in some ways – mostly for me! – but kids persevered through it.

That was one of the highlights of the entire week for me – seeing the kids working through challenges and problem solving with one another. Students don’t always love having to solve a problem on their own, so seeing them WANT to try to figure it out and then show others how they did it was awesome.

At Mt. Hope STEAM, the entire school participated! They took one afternoon and created two hour-long sessions. Teachers led a combination of plugged (computer-based) and unplugged activities. Students then rotated to another activity after the hour was up. It was a great way to mix students from various grade levels up, and to allow the teachers some creativity in teaching different groups of students than the ones they see on a day-to-day basis. We often have wifi issues, so collaborating with only a couple of plugged activities helped alleviate any issues we might have had. One of the computer-based lessons was housed in the computer lab (with wired internet connection!) and the other was on iPads on the other end of the building. Overall, teachers and students praised the activities and the planning. We provided a variety of unplugged lessons including Binary Bracelets, Building a Foundation, and Graph Paper Programming. It was a fun and successful day!

Your Turn: Did you participate in the Hour of Code this year? What activities did you do? 

Building a Foundation

Our second and third grade students at Fairview Elementary’s Programming Club are having a blast learning more about computer programming. We have been using the curriculum from Code.org’s 20 Hour Courses. As most of our students are at or below grade level with reading (and they are just little guys – 7 or 8 years old), our students are working through the concepts in Course 1. Course 1 uses fun characters like bees, zombies, and Angry Birds to teach students the basics of looping, events, conditionals, and other computer science concepts. Along with those online components, there are some “unplugged” activities where students get off the computer and interact with some materials hands on.

Last week, we wanted to remind students of the importance of persistence. This is obviously an important skill students should practice in all challenging tasks and it’s often difficult to teach it. It’s especially crucial in an area like computer science, where it is often the figuring out, changing a couple of things, testing and trying again, before you finally reach success. It can be easy to give up, which is why we must create tasks that are appealing enough for students to want to figure it out, but challenging enough that they learn how to work through those areas of discomfort. That’s why I love the curriculum from Code.org; it is engaging and cyclical.

For our unplugged lesson, students were given a set of gumdrops, some toothpicks, and a small 6 oz. cup. Their goal was to create a structure that was at least as tall as the cup and would hold the weight of a book (a regular-sized novel) for 10 seconds. They could only use the materials provided. IMG_4466

Before we gave the students their materials, we asked them to spend some time and individually draw a model of their design. Then, each person shared their design idea with their group members. Lastly, the group decided on the best design together.


Then, students were ready to build!


Some groups were successful on their very first try. Others had to continue to problem-solve and come up with alternative designs.


Happy and successful foundation builders!



First (and second) try was a failure!


It’s working!

We gave the students about 20 minutes for this lesson – from individual design time to group building and testing. Once the time was up (and sticky hands washed), we debriefed. Students shared what was challenging about the project. This included things like needing more materials or not being able to communicate effectively with their group. Another challenge was coming up with a different design once their first design didn’t work. Students were reluctant to change too much of their original design rather than mimic what other groups were doing with success.

Some things students enjoyed was testing out different configurations – if they made their structure taller would it hold a book? If they made it wider, could it hold a heavier book?

This was a fun unplugged activity that could easily be implemented in any classroom. It would be a great icebreaker activity at the beginning of a school year or semester. Most of the schools I support are STEM and STEAM schools; this would be fun for a parent night. You could use straws and marshmallows, too.

Your turn! What team building activities do you do to teach the importance of persistence? 

Coding – It’s Elementary!

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to work with 15 teachers from various parts of the state on utilizing the free resources from Code.org to integrate Computer Science in the elementary classroom. It was a blast! IMG_3806

Recently I wrote about my experience in becoming a Code.org Affiliate and yesterday was the first time I actually got to work with teachers to implement all the things I learned at the Affiliate Summit. There are several purposes behind hosting a workshop. After attending a workshop, participants will:

  • Learn the basics of Computer Science
  • Review best practices for teaching Computer Science basics to students
  • Access free curriculum and resources for teachers
  • Plan for how to get started teaching Computer Science
  • Connect with a community of fellow educators who are making a positive change in their classrooms with coding

We started the morning – after introductions and some carbs (thank you, Panera!) – by establishing some group norms. This was critical to creating an environment where all teachers feel supported and willing to take a risk. Without those expectations, it can be very challenging for teachers to feel comfortable enough to try something new. We agreed on several norms and held one another to them, which really helped everyone to feel at ease with one another. IMG_3801

Throughout our time together, teachers interacted with, learned, and taught four different “unplugged” activities. These lessons are designed to introduce or reinforce one of the basic concepts of computer science – looping, conditionals, computational thinking, and algorithms. We learned a new dance called “The Iteration”. While maybe not as catchy as The Whip, we certainly had a lot of fun, and really appreciated the way the lesson was scaffolded. We talked about how this lesson would help to reinforce the concept of looping using real world language and experiences that kids could relate to.

One of my favorite parts of the day was when teachers were able to work together in partners to experience what Pair Programming is. We loved this video that introduces Pair Programming and talked about the benefits of using this model in their classes. Teachers then worked together with one person as the driver and the other as the navigator. Teachers naturally took turns and worked through problems when they encountered them. It was just so neat to see them working together, discussing, and collaborating! Teachers really appreciated this activity and saw how they could use this in their classrooms.

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The afternoon was devoted to providing teachers some time to delve in to more of the Unplugged lessons. Using the Teacher/Learner/Observer model, workshop participants alternated through these roles, experiencing a lesson as a teacher, a learner, and an observer. It was great to see the creative ways the groups came up with to teach Computational Thinking, Graph Paper Programming, and Songwriting. We had a blast trying to decompose a challenging math problem, follow a program using an algorithm, and making a connection between a chorus in a song and a function in a computer program.

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I was so pleased to spend the day with these risk-takers. We all learned a lot and the attendees were so thankful for the amazing and FREE resources and support available through Code.org. I’m excited to be part of the movement and to help Code.org reach their goal of getting 25,000 teachers trained by next summer.


Interested n attending a workshop or know someone who might be? Contact me via Twitter (@athomp526) or email me at mrsktechnology[at]gmail[dot]com.