Reflections on Hour of Code 2015

Today was our last day of school before winter break, which is a great time to reflect on Hour of Code… because it took us this long to “finish” with it. (“Finish” is in quotation marks for a reason!)
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Things I did that I will do again:

  • We did the Hour of Code during regular scheduled computer lab times. Every class in the school comes to the computer lab once a week for a lesson with me. These classes are forty to fifty minutes long, depending how long transitions take. I never thought I would cram in the Hour of Code in one week, because I planned on it taking at least two class periods per class. Because of other December scheduling conflicts (singing practices for our holiday music program, standardized testing), it actually took most classes three weeks to get a full sixty minutes of coding in.
  • I created accounts for every student that matched the usernames they use for school email addresses. But, I had them use “secret pictures” instead of their usual passwords.
  • I linked to the Hour of Code login sites from our school website. I showed them how to get to the website from our school website.
  • I had planned on doing the Hour of Code since August, so I started working in important words, phrases, and concepts subtly. For example, working in “if statements” during games of Simon Says when we’re filling five minutes in the cafeteria. Or dressing up as Admiral Grace Hopper for Halloween and telling them that debugging story about the moth!
  • Students had some technology free time in the last week of school before break (on classroom Chromebooks, not during computer lab time). Many chose to continue Hour of Code and remembered how get there! I was thrilled and proud and it was probably the best way for other teachers to see and understand what Hour of Code was about. Many students also did Hour of Code at home, or at the public library, and asked if they could do it over break. So… that’s why “finish” was in quotation marks. Because many of these kids are not done! Let’s see whether I can keep this momentum going in 2016.

Things I will do differently:

  • I will send a letter home to parents explaining Hour of Code to them.
    • That letter can also include directions on how to access Code.org accounts from home, and on different devices, in case parents want to check it out for themselves, or students want to extend their learning independently.
    • Similarly, I will better communicate about Hour of Code to other teachers at school.
  • I will make student accounts AND subdivide them into smaller groups so that they are easier to distribute (and for students to find on a page).
  • Not every kid went back and found errors in their program when they made mistakes. They just clicked-and-dragged the entire thing into the trashcan. That was frustrating because it was often just the more recent steps that were off, and the first steps were fine. We learned the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!” But even though I knew this was happening, I am sure it was still happening all over the place, despite my best efforts to prevent it. So I will try to anticipate that happening next year, I’m just not sure how yet.

Things that were just plain awesome, and not because of me:

  • Minecraft was a huge draw. Not only did it draw in kids who already play Minecraft, it drew in kids who had never played it but know it is popular with their peers.
  • Star Wars and Frozen also provided pull for kids, even though I did not start them on those tutorials. I simply told them they existed, and they were welcome to try after doing the Minecraft version first. Some kids worked really hard to get to code characters they already knew and loved. The Star Wars tutorial was a cakewalk to kids who had finished the Minecraft one, too, and they breezed through it even though the content was slightly different. They felt like geniuses.12065592241647756196mystica_LightSaber_(Fantasy)_2.svg.med
  • Actually, yeah, many kids felt like geniuses. A lot of the kids who understood the material quickly were not the same kids who succeed academically with little effort; they were very excited because they could see evidence that they were learning, and feedback was immediate. I remember being frustrated with math as a kid, because when I got a wrong answer, I couldn’t tell it was the wrong answer — I thought it was right until someone told me I was wrong. I could get entire pages of math problems wrong before a teacher realized. With Code.org, you can run your program right away — and it either does what you want it to, or it doesn’t. You know instantly whether you’ve solved it correctly, and if you haven’t, you have the opportunity to fix it before moving on. You can learn so, so much from your mistakes, but only when you know you’re making them! So the immediate feedback is a huge thing, I think.

Overall, I really liked it, and I hope to keep using coding and programming in my classroom this school year and next.

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