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

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.

Understanding the Needs in K-12: Our EDSBY Journey

I thought I’d share quickly my thoughts and experiences with EDSBY so far.


Initially, for years, our school board was trying to find ‘the one’ – a gradebook for our secondary school that met our needs: web-based, user-friendly and intuitive and of course, had potential for data analysis.

After a test run and a few demos with EDSBY – sold.

It took many, many, many years to adopt our previous gradebook at the high school in a manageable, effective manner.

It took a couple of months with EDSBY.

But EDSBY is becoming more than just the gradebook solution.

In a hurry.

K-12 Vision

Moving beyond just assessment management (I’m working on them to change the name from gradebook to assessments) , EDSBY is an online platform that is made exactly for what K-12 needs. I foresee us implementing the following features within EDSBY over the next few years:

  • reporting/report cards for K-12
  • communicating with parents, students and staff (groups)
    • including shared calendars
  • student portfolios
  • attendance

Internal Communications

Kind of a funny story; I was sitting with an elementary school during a PA day last month with the plan of showing them an overview of EDSBY later in the day. That plan quickly changed.

During the first fifteen minutes as I arrived, the staff were all sharing important dates verbally and – yes – they were each writing them down in their own notebooks!

The first thing I showed them that day was the staff room group, highlighting the shared calendar built into it.

You have no idea how many times they have thanked me for showing them that! 🙂

Evidence of Learning

We have been fortunate enough to have been part of EDSBY’s new evidence of learning tool test group. During the first week of school, we gathered all of our kindergarten teams together and spent about one hour showing them EDSBY, as well as the Evidence of Learning tool.

I honestly can’t do it any justice – hop over and check out their Evidence of Learning page by clicking here.

After about a month and a half of introducing this teachers, it’s been a huge success! Teachers are excitedly waiting for parents to have access (they will very soon!) so that they can share student learning back home.

Here’s a comment from  our feedback so far:

EDBY’s Evidence tool is the only thing I tend to use. I find it easy to document, link expectations, and choose whether to take a picture or retrieve one from my photo library.


After a successful test-run of reporting using EDSBY in the spring, the upcoming reporting period is happening next month, and kindergarten teachers are using EDSBY for progress reports this year!

We’re also hoping to have a few teachers in grades 1-8 use EDSBY for report cards in January. Stay tuned.

Final Thought (for now)

EDSBY has huge potential. As with any system-wide change to any process or organizational structure, there is a fear of leaving what’s comfortable and working. We’re bound to run into a hiccup or two as well along the way.

With goals in place and a vision for what can be possible – a ‘most-in-one‘ shop for many administrative processes, overcoming these fears and hiccups are inevitable for – what appears to be – the adoption of an amazing K-12 platform.

I will continue to share our EDSBY journey here both for my own reflecting as well to share any successes and failures – but there won’t be any, right Karen? 🙂 .


My #CTMindset Journey – Part II

The #HourOfCode.

This massive worldwide event is dedicated to promote awareness of computer science for people of all ages, and to shed light of how important it is for our younger generation to become adept in languages that will likely be in their fields of study in the future. It really is an awesome thing for both students and staff to be aware of and participate in, which Nipissing-Parry Sound CDSB classes did just that.

Last week was arguably the most fun I’ve ever had in this role.  Visiting schools and classrooms across our board, seeing students and staff so engaged and excited about learning computer science, regardless if it was introductory coding activities through and Google CS First, the fire has been set!


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The media even visited us for an hour of code, and were also amazed by the engagement that was evident.

Introducing Local Students to the Hour of Code

St. Luke Students are Up to Code

But this can only be the beginning.

The hour of code can’t be a one-off, however, or you might as well not even bother; it has to be the beginning of a journey. This journey can be for the students, or yourselves as leaders, or better yet – both!

This year so far I have mistakenly overfilled my to-do list with ideas that I want to try this year as we explore computer science and it’s effects on student achievement and engagement. For starters, from coding in elementary to intermediate classrooms using Scratch JR, Scratch, Makey Makey and Spheros; how do these tools fit? Do they? Being such a new journey for me, I find myself struggling trying to make a manageable to-do list as I want to go full steam ahead with everything that I’m seeing.

That’s where having thirteen teachers, spanning grade 1 to grade 8, coming together to investigate these such things in a collaborative inquiry will make this a rich learning experiment.

One of the key people inspiring me as I’ve mentioned in my previous post is Lisa Floyd. A recent post of her’s entitled Carrying the Momentum Surrounding Coding (Code On!), encourages different entry points into coding such as tutorials and remixing other projects. She also tells people to not be afraid to jump into the world of coding. There is an amazing network of people out there to help and when in doubt, ask your students!


So yes, the journey is still in the early stages, and I along with teachers in our CI group can’t wait to dive into this after the holidays!

My #CTMindset Journey into coding – Part I

Computational Thinking – such a daunting term for many people in education these days, including myself.

What is Computational Thinking?

Here’s a great blog post by Brian Aspinall on his view of what Computational Thinking is. And if there was anyone that we can trust about the meaning of computational thinking, he’d be one person to trust for sure.

I’ve been known by friends and colleagues as the Google Guru and the website guy, among other things related to my role at TELT Contact, making it seem like computer science would be in my arsenal of skills. I can do some basic HTML, but when it comes to actually coding, and what I’ve learned it to be, I’m nowhere close to being the coding guy for people to reach out to for help.

Last winter, I decided that I needed to learn more, as I was seeing to be something that I would want to support this year. So, I turned to the Codeacademy and started with their JavaScript course. I’m not sure that’s where I should have started, but nonetheless, it’s been great learning.

But what I’m learning about computational thinking and how it plays such an important role in education is much more than just coding. And reading what Brian and many others are sharing have pushed me to learn more about it this year. As I started this September, I chose this to be my main focus, and to share with our staff and students.

Recently, I blogged about our second annual Google Student Summit, where we focus to bring awareness and training to students about the marvels that G Suite for Education brings to them.

This year, I also brought in Lisa Floyd to add awareness and to share the importance of coding in education. If you’re looking to do anything related to computational thinking, coding and/or robotics, I highly recommend her – she was amazing!

Our student summit was – in my opinion (biased of course) – a huge success. Staff and students left excited with what they had learned, and were looking forward to sharing with their peers.


Coding Clubs

To follow up the excitement, I am starting up Coding Clubs at our schools starting this week, using the Google CS First program (which is super awesome by the way). Initially I was thinking I’ll offer 20 spots, ‘not that we’ll get that many students’ I said to myself.

Well, I was I wrong.

It appears that there will be 30 or more students! This doesn’t include the awesomeness that two teachers are in ‘wanting to learn more about coding’ as well.

Connecting with Others

I’ve known Stacey Wallwin for a few years now, as we share the same role in our respective boards. We’ve collaborated many times with other TELT Contacts both face-to-face and from a distance on various initiatives. Recently, we have found ourselves in a very, very similar position: we both want to investigate computational thinking and how coding can be embedded into the classroom in a meaningful way. Even though we’re about 1000 kms away, we’re going to try and take our group of teachers and make connections from a distance as we explore this year!



Reflecting through blogging

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

I haven’t blogged very much at all over the past few years, always putting it off and never coming back to it. Recently, George Couros reiterated that blogging is your job. This is such an important way to look at blogging and I hope to reflect as much as I can this year.

If you see reflection as crucial to what you do, don’t find time; schedule time. – George Couros

As if learning more about coding and computational thinking wasn’t enough – here I am taking on challenging myself to blog, but I honestly think it will be the piece that will help me the most – putting my reflections into words at least for myself, and if others want to read – then bonus!

What’s a challenge if you’re doing it alone? So, I also challenged Stacey to blog with me this year; I think we’ll have amazing stories to tell. I think this will help push each other to share our thoughts in words with each other, and with a greater audience!

What’s next

As a focus for this year’s CODE-TLF 21st Century Learning at Nipissing-Parry Sound CDSB, our theme is Coding to Learn (yes, I borrowed this from Mitch Resnick’s Ted Talk Let’s teach kids to code). We are going to explore as a group of 8-10 teachers if student engagement and achievement can increase by incorporating coding into their lessons using Scratch and robots such as Spheros and Dash & Dots across all divisions.

After reading that last sentence, I’m actually quite nervous, seeing as I’m not really a coding expert, a computational thinking expert, nor a collaborative inquiry expert – let alone leading one!

What keeps me positive with this is that I keep thinking back to the many images that have come through my Twitter feed about getting comfortable being uncomfortable (or along those lines anyways).

I’m ok with this, and everyone else should be to, to some extent. Otherwise, in my opinion, you are just coasting along and not making the most of whatever profession you may be in.

I have many questions about how coding can improve student achievement, and I think I’m in a position to be able to answer those questions this year. I can probably assume that student engagement will a no brainer, but we’ll soon find out.

This is going to be a fun, exciting and challenging learning experience for me this year, and I look forward to sharing what comes of it with you.

I also challenge you to leave your comfort zone not only for your sake, but (if you’re in education) for the sake of the students.