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.

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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.

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Making rubber bands.

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Finished products!

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

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She completed all 10 puzzles! 

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Moon Colony

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

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Some dedicated teachers! Thank you for all you do!

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Pizza! Yum!

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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.

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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.

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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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Sphero

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? 

Programming Club

“Are we going to get to build robots and design video games?”

“I think this club is going to be so much fun!”

“Wow! This is so cool!”

“I did it!”

My second and third grade students were so excited to start Programming Club yesterday, and honestly, their teacher (me!) was too! I love more than anything seeing the excitement in students when they are learning new things and trying something novel. It is amazing to watch them try to figure it out and then when they do, that moment of celebration.

Yesterday began our first official meeting of Programming Club. I am co-chairing the group with the Focus Teacher at Fairview STEM Elementary, Mr. Stalter, and we are so excited to get started. The club is open to 2nd and 3rd grade students and we will meet once a week throughout the school year. We are using the free curriculum from Code.org for our club, but will also be implementing some lessons from SPRK Education to program our Sphero.

We started our session talking about what programming is and what computer programmers do. Students had a lot of really good ideas about what types of things people in the computer science industry do. Then we talked about whether we thought computers and iPads were really smart. Most students said yes; look at all the things they can do! That led us into a discussion about how computers don’t know what to do until someone tells it what to do. I love that we can make connections between following directions at school and a computer following directions!

Then, students programmed each of the teachers using the tile squares on the floor to give us directions to get from one corner of the room to the Promethean board. IMG_4054It was really helpful for students to see how they had to give me explicit directions – including which direction to turn – before moving in another direction. Students then had some time to practice on their own using the Unplugged activity called “Happy Maps.

In Happy Maps, the objective is to program the Flurb to get to the fruit. Using arrows, students work in partners to try to figure out which direction will get the Flurb to the fruit in the shortest number of steps. It was a bit of a challenge for some students to choose the shortest path. I think maybe they just wanted to glue all their arrows down! But, Mr. Stalter compared the steps to trying to win a race. If you need 1 step to get to the finish line and the other person takes 3 steps, who will win? That helped them to understand why they should try to find the shortest distance.

IMG_4052We finished up with an Assessment on Code.org where students answered questions about which way to turn in order to get their Flurb to a pot of gold. One of the things I LOVE about Code.org is the Teacher Dashboard. You can set up all your students in a class and assign which course you want them to be working in. Then, you can track their progress in those courses, including areas where they may have “passed” a level, but used more blocks than necessary. This shows that students are understanding the main concepts, but are still having struggles with something like looping or conditionals. Code.org using block programming, where students drag and drop blocks onto the work space and they can watch their code in action as their character moves through a puzzle. There is an option to show code, which is great for older learners as you begin to make the transition between block programming and programming language. When you create your class on the Teacher Dashboard, you also have a vareity of options for login. We created a picture as their password, rather than an actual word the students had to type. I love that it’s so scaffolded for different age and skill levels.

We had a blast and are really excited for this school year! IMG_4053

Are you interested in learning more about Code.org? You can find a FREE workshop to attend where you will get training, curriculum guide, swag bags, resources, and more. If you’re local to the Lansing, MI area, sign up for my workshop HERE.   

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.

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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. 

Anyone Can Code!

I just returned from a three-day training summit put on by the AWESOME people at Code.org. Given that their mission is to bring Computer Science (CS) to every school in the country, Code.org is reaching out to educators and others who are passionate about coding with students to take their message “to the streets.” At last year’s summit, Code.org’s mission was to train 10,000 teachers in a year’s time. I’m very excited to be part of this incredible movement as a Code.org Affiliate.

What exactly is a Code.org Affiliate? It’s a person (ideally an experienced Computer Science educator) who is trained by Code.org to deliver one-day workshops to area teachers. Affiliates are asked to host at least 4 workshops throughout the year and would like around 20 teachers to attend. At these workshops, affiliates walk the teachers through the Code.org curriculum. Teachers learn about the importance of Computer Science – and specifically coding – education, the employment and wage gap in our country, the necessity of teaching skills like collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. They also get to experience roles as both the Teacher and Learner. Workshop attendees will teach a lesson and will also experience what it’s like to be a student going through an “Unplugged” activity. In addition to that rich experience, teachers will also engage in conversation about equity – how do we bring girls, students of color and other minorities into the conversation? They will learn about strategies to engage reluctant learner and how to level the playing field so we are ensuring all students who want an opportunity to learn how to code are able to take advantage. Code.org also generously sends each workshop attendee who completes 15 online puzzles the materials to teach an Unplugged lesson with their students. Attendees also get some fun Code.org swag and a copy of their printed curriculum.

In exchange for all this awesome training and “stuff” Code.org is providing, the mission of Code.org is spreading throughout the country. As more teachers get trained, coding and computer science education begins to permeate all areas of our country. Students are no longer disengaged and bored in school, they have meaning and purpose to their work. We are able to provide a creative outlet for students to make something new or solve a problem. We are able to open the doors of opportunity to young students, so they are engaged in what they are learning and can imagine a different reality from the one they live in.

I’m so excited to bring this opportunity to my staff in the Lansing area. If you’re close by and are interested, feel free to sign up for my workshop. Even if you’re not local, you can search for a workshop being offered near you.