National Sweater Day

Our most recent “connected classroom” project was organizing National Sweater Day at our schools this month to promote energy awareness and energy conservation. National Sweater Day is a World Wildlife Fund initiative which Mrs. Devon Caldwell’s Kindergarten class invited us to take part in. (You can read about their project learning here.)

Although this was a “smaller” project compared to some of our more massive PBL undertakings (like starting a postcard writing campaign to support Olympic athletes or organizing a code-a-thon), it was a meaningful learning experience. Students researched National Sweater Day and learned some of the reasons why turning down the heat can help the earth. They wrote letters inviting other classes in our school to take part and talked to our school principal about participating in the event. Once we had full support from staff and students in our school, we moved ahead with the project.

Students advertised the event using posters and our school signs. My class even got our collegiate involved by writing to the student councils, asking them to organize the event in their school building. As a shared writing activity, we wrote informational announcements and reminder announcements to be shared over the school intercom. Student volunteers even read the messages LIVE on school announcements (using our great speaking skills!) We also prepared a message to send home to families so everyone knew that we were taking part in this event and to encourage families to turn down their heat at home in support of our event.

On February 5th, our school custodian turned down the heat and we wore our sweaters to stay warm, taking part in our school’s first National Sweater Day event. As a nice treat for all of the classes in our school, our class prepared hot chocolate to help keep everyone warm!

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Kids Who Code Code-a-thon

On Friday, December 12th our class co-hosted the Kids Who Code Code-a-thon with Mrs. Caldwell’s Kindergarten class at Oak Lake Community School.  After preparing for this event over the last few weeks, my Grade 2s were very excited to lead their coding activities and share their coding expertise.  I was incredibly proud of the Grade 2s as I watched them teach other (younger and older) students and community members about coding.  Each group of 2-3 students from our class ran a station for the event, which featured tools such as Tynker, Code Monkey, Kodable, Hopscotch, Daisy the Dinosaur, Lightbot , Kodu & Scratch Jr.

Over 150 students were involved in the event, yet the OLCS gym was often quiet as engaged learners tackled computer programming challenges using a variety of kid-friendly coding tools. Cheers of “I got it” and comments such as “this is cool” were reassurance that coders were having an exciting and positive experience despite the quiet, focused atmosphere.

We had great support from our communities, which is much appreciated.  Several special guests, including representatives from Park West School Division, Fort La Bosse School Division, RM and Town of Hamiota, RM of Woodworth and the Virden Oil Capitals Jr. Hockey team were in attendance.  Microsoft in Education Canada also supported us as Expert Educator Fellows.  We are really excited about the success of this inaugural event and we’ve already starting talking about what’s next…

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Kids Who Code: Exploring and Evaluating Coding Tools

The Kids Who Code project is well underway in our classroom!  Our class has been exploring coding for the last couple of weeks.  We’ve learned that coding is “giving computers instructions/directions” and students have had the chance to try out a variety of coding tools.  My students have learned a lot (and so have I!)

Here is what we’ve been up to:

codingExploration Time:
Students have used different devices to explore a variety of coding tools including Lightbot, Hopscotch, Kodable, Code Monkey, ScratchJr., Tynker and Daisy the Dinosaur.  These initial explorations were typically preceded by a short demonstration from me or a short video tutorial.  The instructions/demonstrations were minimal since I have limited experience with these tools and I wanted students to discover things on their own.  Due to the number of devices in our classroom, students worked in pairs or small groups to spend about 10-15 minutes with each app over the course of about 1 week.

Evaluation and Feedback:
We decided on some important characteristics of coding tools and, after trying each tool, students used a simple 5 point rating scale to evaluate the tools.  Students also gave comments and suggestions.  In response to a student suggestion, we sent these evaluations to the creators of the app/tool via Twitter.  (A couple of them even responded to thank us for our feedback!).

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Kids Who Code Code-a-thon:
We are gearing up to take part in Hour of Code, which is an international movement to encourage people to try coding. The Hour of Code week is from December 8-14th this year and we are co-hosting our own event to celebrate. Working with Mrs. Caldwell and the Oak Lake Community School Kindergartens, we are organizing the Kids Who Code Code-a-thon.  During this event, my students will act as “coding experts” and teach others about coding.  With this goal in mind, students selected a coding tool to “specialize” in for the event.  We are now working in small teams to become experts with our selected tools and develop activities for Code-a-thon attendees to try out when they visit our stations at the event!  Meanwhile, we are supporting the Kindergartens as they plan the details of hosting the event at their school.  We are very excited to continue with this learning project!

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Kids Who Code Code-a-thon Meets Project-Based Learning!

My teaching partner and friend, Leah Obach, and I have worked together for a number of years on a variety of learning projects. For the past few years, our collaborations have focused on service-based projects where we have strived to make a difference, both locally and globally. A great deal of rich, real-life learning has taken place, and it has been inspiring to guide our students as they have become change agents in their homes and communities. From selling cookies and iced tea to raise money for the Oregon spotted frog, to planning and executing a Farmer Appreciation Day to thank local farmers, our learners have met curricular outcomes and developed strong 21st century skills.

Leah and I are fortunate to belong to a professional organization that promotes ongoing professional learning through reflective professional practice grants. Manitoba teachers, learn more here! This year, we collaborated with a Winnipeg teacher, Connie Lowe, to develop a new action research project, Kids Who Code. We have wanted to explore coding (think computer science or computer programming) with young children for quite some time as a tool for developing critical and logical thinking skills and highlighting future career possibilities. Today was our first day of officially working on our project, and before we knew it, as so often happens with our work, it exploded into an exciting project-based learning event…Kids Who Code Code-a-thon!

As a kindergarten teacher, I recognized that coding has many exciting possibilities but also some potential stumbling blocks for our youngest learners. Leah and I agreed that her Grade 2 students could play a unique role as mentors, working with my students as they explored a variety of coding tools. As we were working in Hamiota today, we decided to walk over to Hamiota Elementary School and chat with her Grade 2 students at lunch. I posed the question, “Would you be willing to teach my kindergarten kids how to code?” and received an enthusiastic yes! As the students, Leah, and I discussed how this mentoring would take place (via Skype or in-person or a combination of both), someone proposed a coding party….and the Kids Who Code Code-a-thon was born! A quick phone call to my principal, Brenda Masson, ensured her support and a location for our Code-a-thon, which quickly grew into an officially Hour of Code event on Friday, December 12.

Letting our students take the lead on projects such as this one is key, but as the adult guides we felt it was important to make some “big picture” decisions today. Leah’s class has already agreed to act as mentors, and they will evaluate, select, and prepare learning activities to teach my students about coding tools. My students will take a leadership role in planning the Kids Who Code Code-a-thon at my school. Connie is hoping to host her own Code-a-thon in Winnipeg, where her kindergarten students will mentor other classes in developing coding skills.

So many possibilities and so much creativity energy flowing today….we can hardly wait to get back to our classrooms and get this new learning project underway!

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Kids Who Code

This school year, I am working on a very special project with two other educators in Manitoba, Mrs. Connie Lowe and Mrs. Devon Caldwell.  We have been fortunate to receive support for our work from the MTS Reflective Professional Practice Grant.  Our project is called Kids Who Code and it’s all about helping our young learners develop coding skills.

So… what is coding?  According to Code Conquest, “Coding is what makes it possible for us to create computer software, apps and websites. Your browser, your OS, the apps on your phone, Facebook … they’re all made with code.”  Coding is what many of us call “computer science” or “computer programming” and we’re excited to bring it to our classrooms.

So.. why teach coding?   Personally, we feel that coding will help us develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in our young learners.  Code.org asserts that, “Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. It helps nurture problem-solving skills, logic and creativity. By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any 21st-century career path.”

 

Kids Who Code project goals:
*explore coding tools with K-2 students
*provide opportunites for students to try coding, using a variety of tools
*get involved with the Hour of Code movement
*document our professional learning and our students’ learning

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Count on Project Based Learning

We are excited to be sharing a presentation at the 2014 MAMT SAGE conference.  Our presentation notes are available here:  http://tinyurl.com/nd44va5

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Welcome to Minds on Media at MTS Fab 5: Connecting Kids

Presentation notes available here

Please contact Devon and Leah if you have any questions or you’d like to connect your classroom with ours!

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