Coding in the K-8 Classroom

When I made the switch from teaching music to technology, one of the topics I was most excited (yet also most scared) to teach was coding. I’ve read articles and blog posts about the importance of teaching students how to code (one of my favorite resources is here: https://code.org/promote) and knew that I wanted my students to have the opportunity to experience computer science in my class. I firmly believe that it is our responsibility to expose all of our students – especially girls and students of color – to computer science and the countless opportunities that are available to students who wish to pursue this as a career. With everyone from NBA players to President Obama pushing for computer science in our classrooms, I was ready to jump on board!

IMG_7630Only problem was, I’d never taken a computer science class before. Well, with the exception of the short unit in BASIC programming we had in “Keyboarding Class” in 8th grade (which was a welcomed break from the endless typing games we had to play), I have spent the majority of my technology-centric life as only a user. So, I went over to Code.org and started by completing the Angry Birds-inspired Hour of Code. I was instantly hooked, and immediately signed up for the next K-5 Computer Science Fundamentals workshop in Chicago. The workshop provided us with time to explore the 3 (now 4!) self-paced courses Code.org offers on their website, as well as an overview of the “unplugged” lessons the curriculum offers to reinforce the concepts of algorithms and programming in off-line situations (such as writing algorithms for planting a seed or using loops to write song lyrics). One of the most powerful pieces of advice I took from the workshop was the idea that it is okay to not know the answer to a student’s question about coding. Code.org suggests teachers respond to these situations by saying “let’s figure this out together!” which has guided my entire philosophy of teaching computer science these past few months.

I was energized and ready to teach coding, so I decided to start my 4th and 5th graders on the brand new Star Wars Hour of Code (albeit a few weeks earlier than the actual Hour of Code was to take place!). While I may have been a little nervous introducing it to my students, they could not wait to type in their brand new log-ins (which the Code.org teacher dashboard made a breeze to create and print out) and get started with programming BB-8 to collect scrap metal and R2-D2 to save Rebel Pilots. And those that finished ahead of their classmates got to try out the even newer Minecraft Hour of Code. Seeing my students excitement for this one hour of code helped me realize how important it would be to continue their learning by having them complete one of the Computer Science Fundamentals courses. Naturally the students took to it quickly, and many passed the highest level I had completed in Course 3, prompting numerous “let’s figure this out together” moments, which actually proved to be a great lesson to me in that I don’t always have to be the expert in the room to be an effective teacher.

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My coding experiment took off, and what started as a 4th and 5th lesson developed into 10 week long units for K-5 students in the 2nd quarter and 6-8 students in the 3rd quarter. Here’s how I planned out my students’ computer science curriculum:

  • Kindergarten and 1st grade: worked on Course 1 (with many unplugged lessons and brain breaks throughout to break up all that screen time!)
  • 2nd and 3rd grade: tackled Course 2, because many of them had completed at least the Hour of Code as well as some of Course 1 with the previous technology teacher
  • 4th and 5th grade: after completing the Hour of Code, they proceeded on to either Course 2 if they were new to the school or Course 3 if they had completed some or all of Course 2 with the previous technology teacher
  • 6th grade: will utilize the Google Computer Science First curriculum in class, using the Art materials that go along with our year long theme of graphic design and photo editing
  • 7th and 8th grade: though I originally planned to introduce them to programming through CodeAcademy, Chicago was one of 4 school systems selected by Khan Academy to participate in the 2016 LearnStorm Challenge, a 9-week program in which students earn points by completing math and computer programming missions. So, I signed all of my 7th and 8th graders up for LearnStorm, and assigned 7th graders to complete the Intro to JS (JavaScript): Drawing & Animation course, and assigned 8th graders to complete the Intro to HTML/CSS: Making Webpages course.

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So, what’s next? Now that all of my students have embarked on a computer programming challenge in my technology classes, I am thrilled to keep the excitement and momentum going! I plan to continue my own computer science education (I still need to complete those Khan Academy courses before my middle schoolers do!) and find ways to foster student interest through an after school coding club in the future. Also, I just recently finished our school’s application to be part of Chicago Public Schools’ Computer Science for All (CS4All) initiative, which provides support for all elementary schools to offer computer science courses through Code.org and prepare them for the computer science credit requirement that all high schools will be instituting in the coming school year. It’s been an exciting first year as a technology teacher, and I am excited to see where coding continues to take me and my students!

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Full STEAM Ahead!

I don’t tend to jump on buzzwords in education, but after reading countless articles and blog posts and sitting in on a few conference sessions about STEAM education (that’s science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), I was hooked. What I like best about this concept of STEAM is that it is something all good arts educators already know how to do: arts integration! For years now our principals have asked us music, art, dance, and drama teachers to integrate with other subjects, but it tended to be only the social studies and writing teachers who approached us. With this new emphasis on including the arts into STEM education, it’s like we have finally received the green light to collaborate with the science and math teachers we’ve been longing to work alongside. Well, perhaps that’s just me, as I’ve always felt a greater inclination towards math, science, and technology. But regardless, any time the arts can be purposefully integrated into a lesson is a win in my planbook!

Yet, that leads me to the focus of what will be my further investigation into STEAM education. I am curious to know how the arts – music specifically – can be purposefully integrated into a STEM lesson. Arts should not be the icing on the proverbial cake in a STEM lesson; they should be part of the batter, folded into the STEM lesson plan with a gentle hand to ensure all subject areas are carefully blended together. Movement in dance is taught alongside the solar system. Rhythmic notation is taught alongside fractions. Improvisational acting is taught alongside atomic molecules. Song form is taught alongside audio recording technology. Thus I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the book “No Permission Required: Bringing STEAM to Life in K-12 Schools” by Susan M. Riley, which proposes a structure for a meaningful integration of arts and STEM so that all content areas are addressed, side by side, in the same lesson. Riley writes, “[STEAM] integration is the intentional act of finding, aligning, teaching and assessing two or more naturally-connected standards equitably with integrity to both content areas” (2014, p. 16). Riley then proceeds to outline a “STEAM Cycle” to help teachers prepare meaningful STEAM lessons in their own classrooms (which can be viewed at the EducationCloset’s website here.)

MakeyMakey kits
MakeyMakey kits received from DonorsChoose

In my own music classroom, I am only just beginning to explore this concept of purposefully integrating music with STEM learning. I received a huge jump start on this endeavor when a DonorsChoose plea for MakeyMakey invention kits was fulfilled in a matter of days this summer, providing me with some fun new toys to utilize with my students that connect technology, basic coding, and music. Plus I have four littleBits Synth Kits – purchased with a grant received from the Illinois Computing Educators –  that have also allowed me to connect the science of sound production with music composition in my classroom.

But this is only the beginning of my investigation into STEAM education, and I look forward to continuing my pursuit. And, of course, I am happy to share my learning along the way; I have already presented on STEAM at the Illinois Golden Apple’s Teachers for Tomorrow conference in September 2014 (view my presentation here) and have future presentations on STEAM and maker education in the music classroom at the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) Conference on February 27, 2015 and at the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) conference on March 20, 2015. And, I’ll be posting much more about my journey into STEAM here on my blog in the coming months!

References:

Riley, S. (2014). No permission required: Bringin S.T.E.A.M. to life in K-12 schools. Westminster, MD: Visionyst Press.

Chicago EdTech Collaborative 2014

On Thursday, August 14, 2014, I had the opportunity to attend a unique event featuring a wide-range of educational technology start-up companies. This is the second year the Educational Technology Start-Up Collaborative has held a conference in Chicago to introduce K-12 educators to new and innovative tools that are just getting off the ground. The format of this conference is simple: each start-up in attendance gets 3 minutes to pitch their product to the audience. Start-ups spend the rest of the day talking with teachers about their product, providing hands-on demonstrations, and even recruiting teachers to get their classrooms involved in their start-up project. This year, specialized workshops were offered in addition to the start-up showcase, allowing participants to explore topics in literacy, STEM, and design in a focused environment. You can view my notes on the start-up tools I learned about as well as the STEM and design workshops I attended by clicking here.

Summer Vacation 2014: My Big 3 Obsessions

Every year I remind myself how fortunate I am as a teacher to have a summer break. But it’s about more than long days at the beach, lunches with friends, and catching up on my Netflix cue; summer break is a time to reflect on and renew my passion for education. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to leisurely pursue things that fascinate me and drive me to be a better teacher in the next school year. This summer I’ve been focused on three big areas, and I hope to utilize this blog as a means of sharing my research, thoughts, and experiences in these areas. In no particular order, here are the three things I’m obsessed with this summer:

1. Google Apps for Education Pairing my love of using Google Drive with my students with a brand new cart of Chromebooks in my classroom this year, I have become obsessed with learning as much as I can about utilizing Google tools in my curriculum. I have embarked on the journey to become a Google Certified Teacher and am currently making my way through the online testing portion. I’m excited for the new Google Classroom that will be rolled-out in August, and look forward to immersing myself in it and getting my entire staff on board with using it too.

littleBits Synth Kit
littleBits Synth kit in collaboration with KORG

2. Innovation and Creativity in Student Learning You can’t help but hear a few familiar buzzwords being thrown around EdTech Twitter chats and conference rooms lately: Genius Hour/Passion Projects, Makerspaces, STEM (and STEAM) education, design thinking, teaching coding. This year I’ve determined to find out what the buzz is all about by researching these buzzwords and finding ways to implement them into my classroom – even as a music teacher – this coming school year. I am already working on a plan to pilot a Genius Hour project with 7th and 8th graders this fall, and have secured a few littleBits Synth Kits (with a grant from the Illinois Computing Educators) to get started with our exploration of STEAM – that’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math – education.

3. Character Education My readings on student innovation and creativity have caused me to think more about how students learn best, leading me to my favorite book of the summer How Children Succeed, written by Paul Tough. Paul explores a wide array of situations in which children fail and succeed in our school systems, proposing that it is not IQ alone that determines success but how strong a child’s character is. My biggest take away is from his references to Angela Duckworth’s research on grit, inspiring me to ponder how I can teach my students to become “grittier” this school year. Here is Angela’s TED Talk in which she describes what grit is:

As the end of summer nears, I look forward to exploring these three big ideas throughout the school year, with frequent updates on my progress and my failures. I am excited to share and welcome support and feedback along the way!

Symbaloo Webmix – Remix Repurpose Redesign

Remix Webmix

Symbaloo Webmix – Remix Repurpose Redesign

A Symbaloo Webmix of all the tools we reference in our presentation “Remix Repurpose Redesign” at the ISTE2014 Conference and the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) 2014 Conference.

TPACK Graphic Organizer

TPACK blank template

TPACK Graphic Organizer

Here is a TPACK graphic organizer created by Candace Marcotte, Bill Marsland, and Jamie Perry for their presentation “Remix Redesign Repurpose” at the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) Conference in February 2014. This image is attributed to Matthew Koehler and Punya Mishra of Michigan State University; see tpack.org for more information.

To use this graphic organizer, open the file in Google Drive, then make a copy of the file for your own personal use.