Coding 2.0 – Introducing the Micro:bit

2016-17 was a whirlwind for me; I delved into a new area of leadership, bringing the world of coding to my school board in many ways. Sure, I can say that I was comfortable taking this on last year, but I had no idea it was going to be so challenging, yet so exciting!

Here’s the thing: I find it so easy to share thoughts about what I’m doing when

  1. kids are engaged;
  2. I love what I do; and
  3. it makes total sense to be doing what I’m doing!

I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t give credit where credit is due; I wouldn’t be sharing these experiences if it wasn’t for a couple of very important people that are making waves not only in Ontario, but nationally.

Lisa & Steve Floyd

Steve – better known as Lisa’s husband (you had to be at #BIT17 🙂 ) – was someone I found before the 2016-17 school year even started – even before connecting with Lisa – through his work in a CLC project Driving Student Engagement in Mathematics with Coding and Programming. I read this article once and said to myself – I need to be doing this too! I read it 3-4 more times and decided that this was going to be my focus for the year. It was a daunting task to even consider given that I don’t have the CS background that Steve has, but the concept of integrating coding sounded so amazing to me that I knew I would make it work.

For the past year or so I’ve been chatting with him through Twitter, and he’s been amazing at answering questions and making suggestions. Whether it be makerspace, code or project-based learning ideas, he was a Twitter DM away. Last week at Bring IT Together I finally met him for 30 seconds (I was in a pickle stuck in a serious but great conversation about portfolios with Joe Sisco)! We’ll cross paths soon enough again.

I coincidently was connected to Lisa through a colleague and friend of mine Tim Robinson. When I told him my plans that I was seeking out a keynote and special guest that would add a coding flare to our second annual Google Student Summit, he recommended Lisa to me. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to start on the coding train, not with staff, but with students!.

Here’s how I described Lisa to my SOs:

She is a young and energetic person with a passion for coding in the classroom.  I really do think that getting someone like this would be huge to get coding off the ground at NPSC.

It was such a success that we hosted her for two more learning sessions throughout the year so that she could share her passion and knowledge about the importance of computational thinking to our classrooms.

Fast-forward a year later, and she’s keynoting one of the biggest EdTech conferences – Bring IT Together.

These two are an inspiration to many, many people. I am indebted to these two for a while!

As a Technology-Enabled Learning Facilitator, I likely have one of the best jobs that anyone with the slightest interest and passion for technology could ever have. But here’s the thing – I don’t have the slightest interest in it – I love it! Being able to help staff and students learn the latest skills and pedagogies related to technology in education some days feels like I should be paying to do this instead of getting paid – it can be that fun. (We don’t have to tell my bosses that last sentence, ok?)

You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it. – Seymour Papert

Welcome the Micro:bit

Speaking of fun – I was lucky enough to spend three morning blocks with a grade 6/7 class over the span of 5 school days in October, introducing students to the Micro:bit.

Here is what we did in a nutshell:

Day 1

I thought I’d start with an unplugged activity on algorithms and programs.

What did you do this morning before you got to school?

Students listed on the board what they did. ‘Woke up, got dressed, ate breakfast, etc…’ We then moved into putting the items listed in order. This sparked the good question that I was anticipating:

But Mr. Anello, I eat breakfast before I get dressed.

I thought I would use an example involving maps and directions for this discussion.

Given points A and B in a neighbourhood of many streets and paths, there are many ways of getting to point B from point A; some would take different streets, some would use shortcuts, but as long as you get to point B, that’s what’s important.

We then got into discussing algorithms and programs, and how computers need these to complete even the simplest task. Scanning the room, students for the most part knew what the difference was.

I then played this Brainpop video on computer programming to give students a clearer understanding of why detail and accuracy in computer programming is so important.

We then moved onto the Dice Race activity. Students were to play a couple of rounds of dice race, with the focus being to pay attention to every detail that they were doing while playing it.

Each group was then tasked to describe all steps to play the game and writing these steps down. Once completed, students then exchanged instruction sheets and played a round of Dice Race only following the instructions provided on the sheet from the other group.

Students laughed, asked questions; some weren’t playing at all.

But the instructions didn’t tell us who’s turn it was.

It didn’t tell me to roll the dice on the table – so that means I could have thrown them against the wall?

To capture student understanding and wrap up day 1, I used Flipgrid (for the first time!). It is amazing and easy way to capture student voice in the form of video; so powerful.

Day 2

The next day I introduced the micro:bit. Students worked in pairs and we completed a couple of introductory activities to get familiar with makecode.microbit.org.

Amazingly, most of the students picked up block coding very quickly. Having been familiar using Scratch last year, it was mostly a matter of learning the different toolboxes that makecode uses.

The die roll simulator was definitely a challenge, which I had anticipated. Student’s had a tough time grasping the concept of conditions; they also wondered how, by shaking the micro:bit, it would pick a number randomly, which would then display the side of the die for that number. The other thing that was tricky was to explain that ‘0’ counted as a value in the range for the faces of the die – so setting the range for the variable to choose from 0-5 instead of 1-6 was interesting, but not overly difficult to explain the idea of range.

Day 3

At the end of day 2, I was worried that by jumping right into conditional statements with the group I would turn some students off with the idea of coding. Thankfully as we started up on day 3, there was no worry at all.

Some students were excited to show me and each other what they had programmed, with others asking for help with some basic concepts of code. It was exciting to see this all take place, especially after four days since the last day I was with them.

We consolidated the activity by having students share their programs. It was a great opportunity to see how some students’ programs were slightly different than others and with close inspection, performed similarly.

To make use of these die simulators that the students had created, we then moved to play a game of SKUNK. I had actually never heard of the game, but a huge inspiration to me this past year as I delved into the world of coding and recent keynote speaker at Bring IT Together  – Lisa Floyd – shared this game with me in conversation as I was sharing my plans with the class with her.

It was perfect. Instead of rolling actual dice (obviously!), I had students take turns each round coming to the front of the class and rolling their die!

Not only were students engaged and excited the whole time as they made their choices and anxiously waited for the results of each roll, it was fun.

 

My biggest takeaway from this activity was that students aren’t provided enough opportunities to explore the world of coding. Teachers also haven’t been able to figure out how it can be integrated into their lesson planning. Instead, those that are willing to try are simply ‘fitting it in’ as an extra, rather than actually integrate it. With such a tight schedule of curriculum to follow, most tend to keep with what they’re comfortable with.

That’s where I come in!

It’s not enough to provide a single path from low floor to high ceiling; we need to provide wide walls so that kids can explore multiple pathways from floor to ceiling. – Mitch Resnick

Coding/programming is naturally has a low-floor, high ceiling (I really like the addition of wide walls here too). Being a newer concept for most, I honestly feel that once teachers are provided an opportunity to see the many affordances that computational thinking can provide for their students, it’ll be a no-brainer that they’ll want to implement it.

Beyond the #HourofCode

I basically wanted to share Jim Cash’s recent post in this blog post. He writes awesome stuff on computational thinking, Scratch, etc… If you’re on Twitter and interested in this sort of reading, make sure you’re following @cashjim.

I just wanted to share the importance of going beyond the hour of code, and a bit of what we’re up to in trying to do so.

Going Beyond the Hour of Code

Last year, we started coding just before the Hour of Code, so not too many people even knew what  I was talking about when I asked them to try coding in their classrooms.

But things are slowly but surely turning around. So much more awareness has been spread in just under a year since we introduced coding at our board.

  • Last year around this time, we had Lisa Floyd from Fair Chance Learning up to keynote and put on sessions at our 2nd Annual Google Student Summit to add a little coding spice to the day.
  • With the help of CODE and the TLF, we had a small group of teachers explore coding in various forms, also with the help of Lisa Floyd.

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This year, to help share the importance of computational thinking in K-12, I decided to launch a 5-week challenge from November 20th, through the Hour of Code week, and ending just in time for Christmas. I got admin on board and we’re offering awesome prizes including Spheros, Makey Makeys, Micro:bits and Flipgrid licenses! (If you don’t know about Flipgrid, you’re totally missing out!)

 

Here’s a link to a calendar to give you an idea of what we’re up to:


This idea was inspired by a colleague and friend of mine, Stacey Wallwin. She did this last year with awesome success, and is of course doing it again this year. Thanks Stacey!

Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability. (Wing, 2006)

As we approach the Hour of Code, don’t stop there.

As mentioned above, Jim Cash’s post provides five great examples of how to do this. We’re just starting with a coding blitz of sorts to start the ball rolling – but it’s really only the beginning.

There are many more resources out there to help as well. Here is a couple (there are many more – if you have one comment below and I’ll add it!):

There’s a ton of buzz about coding not only in Ontario, but worldwide. Here’s a a news release from Mitzy Hunter last year around this time, explaining a little bit about how Ontario is supporting students to learn how to code:

Ontario Helping Students Learn to Code

All students need to be provided the opportunity to code; what we need to do is at least give them a chance. Once you do so, however, be prepared to be blow away in so many ways.

I virtually guarantee it.