School Week Round-Up: Week Sixteen

I keep intending to write posts during the week, about a variety of topics. And I’ll start. I just don’t finish. So I have something like thirty half-done drafts. I need to work on my follow-through, or on writing conclusions, or both.

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Lessons: We had our winter holiday concert this week, and we practiced in the gym during several of my regularly scheduled classes. So, lesson planning and lesson teaching were on the light side this week. But, that also meant I felt a little free-er to try some resources out with students without feeling like I needed them to work perfectly well. Also, I did Hour of Code with some classes (specifically Candy Quest, with most students) and it was, well… it was extremely chill. It’s normal in my room for kids to talk and ask one another for help and be out of their seats within reason, but for whatever reason, when they were doing Hour of Code, it was the quietest my lab has ever been outside of i-Ready time. And i-Ready time is quiet because we enforce quiet at those times; not so with Hour of Code. Kids were still out of their seats and talking with one another, just… more quietly than they usually are. Maybe they were really tired from the concert.

Support: So, I really like our new tech guy, John. Maybe it’s because he’s married to a teacher and is therefore not unfamiliar with our trials, but he strikes me as super not-judgey and really willing and able to suss things out in my style, even if it might be more time-consuming and less convenient on his end. Yesterday we had and email back and forth where we were trying to figure out why a particular desktop… well, it was doing this:

Mysterious, no? We went back and forth, trying to remote him in, though in doing so I realized this only happened when a particular student logged in. So the easiest solve? Switch the student’s seat. It doesn’t happen when he logs into other computers, so whatevs! A delightfully non-technological way to solve a technological problem. (Although John did come back and make it so the computer stopped doing the flashing thing, in the end.)

Things I Did Well: 
Pretty proud of the video I made to play during the holiday concert, during a transition time when students were getting on the stage behind a closed curtain.

Things I Will Do Better: I fell asleep halfway through the district’s weekly Twitter chat. I… should make sure I get more sleep.

Cold Prickly: I missed a PLC meeting because the coverage I had arranged fell through at the last minute. Shucks.

Warm FuzzyWe hosted a program called Donuts for Dads yesterday. We had donuts, we had dads, what more could you ask for in life?

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.