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.

 

#choosekind

School is finally in session here in the Capital City and our students are busy settling in to new routines, earlier mornings, and getting to know their friends and teachers. When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite things was to spend the first week getting to know my students, learning about their interests, getting their feedback on what they wanted their classrooms to look and feel like, and having them create digital collages and word clouds representing themselves.

Just as we can work hard to make our classrooms warm and welcoming, it’s incredibly powerful when an entire school gets involved and sets a theme for the year. One of the schools in our district – Sheridan Road STEM – embraced the theme of kindness this year, inspired by the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In fact, the entire school is reading the book and doing a book study around it, the themes it represents, and embracing the idea of being open to others, being kind to all people, regardless of their appearance, circumstance, or background. What a powerful message for our young people to hear, especially in our current political environment.

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This is a powerful message that schools across the country are embracing and using to connect with others. Some of the things being shared on Twitter with #choosekind are incredibly inspiring. I personally haven’t read this book yet, but I am very excited to participate in the book study along with the teachers and students at Sheridan Road STEM. 

How will you #choosekind this year?

 

It’s a Big Job…

The nights are getting longer, temperatures are dropping a bit, the sun is coming up a tad later every morning, pens and notebooks are on super sale in the store. Summer is winding down and it’s about time for school to start again. While people are always somewhat reluctant to head back to work after a vacation, most teachers I know are ready to get back in their classrooms after a couple of months away. They miss the energy of a new school year, their students, the creativity and collaboration of lesson planning and learning from students.

This year, I am also getting excited as I am transitioning into a new role. For the past two years I have supported the Magnet Program in Lansing. These five schools focused on STEM, STEAM, and Global Studies/Spanish Immersion. Through that role, I built relationships with some wonderful people and helped to share the power of technology in creating meaningful and relevant learning opportunities for students. Now, as that program is winding down, I have moved into a new role where I am supporting the entire district’s technology integration efforts.

While it is a big job – one of me and 27 schools – I am excited for the opportunity to continue to push students and teachers to do new and innovative things with the assistance of technology. But, it is going to be a challenge to support so many people with only so many hours in the day. This year I am trying something new – a booking tool that syncs with my Google calendar. Hopefully this will eliminate a lot of the back and forth emailing that sometimes happens when people want to set something up. I anticipate there being a bit of a learning curve as the most common way to connect with someone is to send them an email. I am hopeful, though, that after a couple gentle reminders, most people will look to the booking site first rather than email.

I put together a little flyer to showcase who I am, what my role is, what I can do, and how to reach me. This will be posted on our Technology Integration website as well as shared with the people in Central Office and all the building principals. In a district our size, it’s impossible to know everyone, so this was the best way I could think of to get my name out there. Let me know what you think!

foxford university presents

Fairview Animal Hospital

As a Biomedical focused STEM school, students at Fairview Elementary utilize Project Based Learning units centered around learning more about their Magnet Theme. Kindergarten, First, Second, and Third grade students participated in an Animal Hospital. Lots and lots of work went in to putting this event together, but the end result was an amazing learning opportunity for these young scholars!

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Through the help of local partnerships with The Red Cross and Wal-Mart,, we were able to transform the library into a medical lab, complete with doctor’s kits, x-rays, and medicine.

Students began their experience with a hands on lesson from the Red Cross on CPR. They had the opportunity to practice on a medical dummy and to ask questions about what the Red Cross does. Then, students were given a stuffed animal and a little story starter about the symptoms of their patient. Students worked with an adult volunteer to diagnose their animal through a series of questions on a Google Form. Once students figured out the diagnosis, they were given directions to X-Ray their patient and what type of medication to distribute. It was really neat to see students talk through what might be wrong with their patient, to ask them questions, and to hear them explain their reasoning for a particular answer to a question.

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.

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?

Tinkercad Tutorials

Several classrooms at Mt. Hope STEAM have been putting their creativity skills to the test and designing different types of buildings and cars for their moon colonies. I love this unit because it allows students to be so creative while still implementing design and engineering principles to make it a bit more challenging.

Last year students used Google Sketch-Up and created some really unique designs. Sketch-Up offers a lot of really advanced 3d Design software tools, some of which are a bit too challenging for 4th graders to master. So, we decided to try another tool this year – Tinkercad. Tinkercad is great because it’s so user friendly and easier to design in 3D than Sketchup (at least for younger students).

Once students create their house and cars on Tinkercad, we’re going to use our 3D printer to print them. For theme night next week, we will have our moon colonies set up. It should be really cool!

If you’re interested in using Tinkercad with your students, here are a couple of tutorial videos I created for teacher and students. It would be easy enough to post a link to the videos either on your teacher webpage or as an announcement on Google Classroom. Then students could access them as much as they want, pause when they need to, rewind, etc. I hope you find them helpful!

Aligning a Roof Shape
Creating a Window
Creating an Arched Doorway

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? 

The Scientific Method – Robotics and Cars

I remember being in science class and having to come up with a problem to solve using the scientific method. I remember trying to come up with something (science-related) that I cared enough about to create a project that would solve that problem. My partner and I came up with a silly question about whether a seed would grow better with plain water or with carbonated water. Yawn.

Fast forward about 15 years, and students in “science” class are coming up with far more complex problems. I use quotes because in this particular STEM school, the science curriculum is integrated into all the learning as a whole. Students are using an app on their iPad called Canvas as part of Project Lead the Way curriculum to build and test robots. In this particular challenge, students were given tools and had to watch videos which gave them the steps they needed to build a car.

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Students then built a ramp and had to come up with predictions on how far they thought their car would go based on the angle of the ramp. Then, students tested their hypotheses and recorded their results.

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Students then recorded their results using the Showbie app on the iPads. Their teacher had created this chart and shared the document with all the students. This school isn’t a Google Apps school, so Showbie has been an excellent alternative for creating a paperless classroom. Students are able to record their results instantly in Showbie and share them with their teacher. IMG_2729

One of the coolest things was that students completed all of these tasks in groups and without using paper! As someone who knows the power of technology, it KILLS me when I see teachers still creating projects that center around printing reams and reams of paper. For this task, students watched a video and worked together to try to troubleshoot. They didn’t have a set of printed directions. It was actually really neat to have the step by step directions on an iPad, because students could “rewind” the directions, zoom in, look at it from a particular angle, etc. They also didn’t have to worry about losing their results as they were all stored on the iPad and in the cloud via the Showbie app.

This was a really excellent example of integrating technology and collaboration skills. Throughout the process, I noticed all students in all groups were engaged. Those who were building the robots would watch the video and tinker, explain and talk to one another and try something else. The groups that were already testing their cars had assigned roles for each group member. One person was responsible for measuring the different angles of the ramp, another student measured how far their car went, and another group member’s job was to record the results. It was great to see the scientific method being taught and tried in a meaningful and fun way – a far cry from my 7th grade science project!