This year at Hillbrook, every student participated in the Hour of Code. Started by code.org to “demystify computer coding and show that anyone can learn the basics“, the goal is to get every student in the world to spend one hour coding during the second week of December.
We had several events to celebrate Hour of Code (aka Computer Science Education Week). In this post, I’ll walk you through what we did at Hillbrook, how you can recreate it, and why it matters.
Two years ago during Hour of Code, a few teachers spent one hour coding with their students. It was great. Our school hadn’t participated in Hour of Code officially before, and we did. #eduwin
Since then, several teachers at our school have integrated coding and/or robots into lessons. First graders worked with BeeBoots and blockly programming on iPads. Middle school students began to learn Javascipt in math class, and program Mindstorms to create robots in science class. Coding in classrooms was bubbling up. It was time to double down.
Last year, every student was going to spend at least one hour coding. Instead of simply visiting hourofcode.com, we decided to have a week-long celebration of coding. It was epic, and led to more coding embedded into traditional lesson. This year, we renamed it Everyone Can Code and continued the idea of having many stations/sessions for students to participate in.
Let me walk you through what we did with our students, from junior kindergarten through eighth grade.
Warning: this was a lot of work. Even if you take these ideas and run with them (and please, take these ideas and run with them!), there’s a lot of prep, and there’s a lot of purchases. Feel free to pick and choose ideas, lessons, and sessions from the veritable smörgåsbord of coding activities. I recommend doing something for Computer Science Education Week/Hour of Code, but December is a crazy time of year to pull of an event or two at this scale.
Here’s the rundown:
We created 12 stations/sessions. Over 95 minutes, middle school students will go to two stations.
Through this Google Form, students selected their top 3 choices. I manually created heterogenous groups, used Autocrat to email students their tickets, and used a Mac application Pages Data Merge to mail merge this fancy Pages document with a csv file of students and their assigned sessions.
Every single middle school student spent 95 coding at two of these sessions:
Here are the descriptions for each session:
Code Combat: Choose your hero and code your way through the ogre patrols, lava pits, and laser beams of Kithgard Dungeon. Level up, earn gems, and loot magic items to unlock new programming powers!
Sphero Maze: Create an intricate maze and program your Sphero to successfully navigate the most epic maze ever designed for a robot.
Programming music with MakeyMakey: Use the MakeyMakey to connect conductive material to control your computer. Create a game or instrument, and play or perform it with your MakeyMakey materials.
Make a Movie with Robot Actors, Dash and Dot: Write a movie script where the actors are robots. Using the app Tickle, program the actions of the robot(s). Use an iPod Touch to record your movie and add voiceover in real time to add the dialog.
Hillbrook Air Corps: Ready to try flying some drones? Do you have what it takes to earn your wings? Code drones to fly mini missions. By the end, you’ll be saying… “I feel the need…the need for speed.”
Sphero Art: Painting and programming using a robot? Yes, we are living in the future. With an introduction to action art by famous artists such as Jackson Pollock, work together to learn how to program Sphero using the Tickle app to create a collaborative art piece!
Paper coding: Learn the basics through games that use cards, string, and lots of running around.
Paper Circuitry: Make paper come to life! Build circuits onto a piece of paper using tape, batteries and paper.
Build a Computer with Piper: it’s physical computing on a Raspberry Pi!
Escape Room! Use the basics of coding to break into a box with multiple locks in a game called BreakoutEDU.
LittleBits and SAM Labs: Create your own prototype robot with magnetic circuits and Bluetooth modules
We recruited faculty and staff to run sessions, and created lesson plans called Ready, Set, Go with details on running each session.
Most of the planning for younger students is identical to middle school. There are enough differences, though, that it’s worth listing each step, particularly if you want to copy and paste this to share with an elementary teacher.
We created 11 stations/sessions. Over 70 minutes, lower school students will go to two stations.
Through this Google Form, students selected their top 3 choices. (Note: this form is rad. Each choice is a separate section. The “what do you want for session 1” questions is a multiple choice question; we added an image to each multiple question choice (a rad new feature in Forms!)). I manually created heterogenous groups, and used a Mac application Pages Data Merge to mail merge this fancy Pages document with a csv file of students and their assigned sessions.
Every single lower school student spent 70 coding at two of these sessions:
Instead of session descriptions (several are identical setups to the middle school version), I made a short YouTube video.
Just like with middle school, we recruited faculty and staff to run sessions, and created lesson plans called Ready, Set, Go with details on running each session.
Every single JK/K student spent time coding in a small group. We used BeeBots and a BeeBot map to introduce students to computational thinking.
There isn’t much to explain, but it should be duly notes that kindergarten students catch on to this quickly. Before long, most were able to write a complex path for the BeeBot to follow. It’s a good reminder that we often underestimate students’ abilities. One of my favorite things about a schoolwide initiative like this is that faculty and staff can see what students are capable of, and this can lead to significant transformations in how coding is integrated into the classroom.
Our school’s vision is to “inspire students to achieve their dreams and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world.” So the question is, “How can coders make a difference in the world?”
I arranged a field trip for eighth graders to Google to learn how coding makes a difference in the world. We heard from Googlers from a variety of departments: Google X, user interface design, software engineer, and marketing. A big takeaway is the huge amount of collaboration and interdependence between all these people with vastly different skill sets. It’s also an epic way to see coding in the wild, and not just on a website.
As we work to integrate coding into the school day more, there are two things we need to do more:
Continue to question, continue to reflect, continue to practice, continue to implement.
Genius Hour? Yeah, I could do that with my second graders.
There are few projects that truly changed the culture of my classroom–this is one of them. Both 20timeineducation.com and geniushour.com provide a quick primer on Genius Hour, aka 20 Time, aka 20% Time, aka FedEx Days. All right, I’m assuming you know about what Genius Hour is know. I found that this project is one of the rare moments in school where students are given choice in curriculum. In my class, students were free to choose any topic, and they were able to share what they learned in a variety of ways.
After talking with Kate Petty about 20% Time in her high school english class, I decided to give it a try with second graders. Despite several failures and rocky lessons along the way, my class found their groove with the following workflow:
Week 1: Choose a topic. Research it.
Week 2: Finish research. Organize notes.
Week 3: Create a poster or Google Presentation (or something).
Week 4: Present your project.
We spent one hour every Wednesday afternoon on Genius Hour projects. Students worked in pairs, and chose a topic together. The goal was to decide on a topic (horses, how to become a vet, how to spawn Herobrine (Minecraft was quite popular) and deliver a presentation four weeks later, totaling four hours of work. The following month would be new pairs, new topics, and new presentations.
I learned pretty quickly, though, that Genius Hour needs flexibility. I started off trying to stick to this exact schedule (4 weeks fit nicely into a month), but realized that this particular style of project takes on a life of its own. I’m not sure if it was a rainy day, a more challenging topic, or if pizza for lunch was to blame, but some rounds took two or three weeks. So, sometimes we would spend four weeks on a topic/project and sometimes we would spend seven weeks.
It took a while to figure out the pacing on this with second graders. The first time I tried this, we did all four steps in one afternoon. I don’t recommend that–it did not go well. Another mistake was using Google Slides for presentations. My classroom was typically 10:1, which meant students could only work on their slides when we had a laptop cart or when we were in the computer lab. Another bad idea was forcing buddies. Students could choose their partner, and could choose to work alone. I encouraged collaboration, but didn’t force it.
I made a few tweaks to Genius Hour to better fit second graders. These projects were more successful when students worked in pairs. I thought 100% autonomy would provide more engagement, but found that students got stuck during the research phase when working alone. I also fond that one month seems to be the Goldilocks length for second graders. Flexibility is essential, but seven weeks seemed to be too long for a seven year old to stay passionate on a topic with the intensity I wanted.
Students were engaged in projects like I’d never seen before. We know that student choice and autonomy make a huge difference in learning, but I felt the difference in my classroom when students were working on their Genius Hour projects. The desire to learn outweighed barriers. There was no leveled reading when researching–my struggling reader (1.2) learned how a car engine works on his own. At that point, students owned their learning. They didn’t need me to learn something; they just needed an environment that provided support and focus.
In my new position as Director of Technology, our senior admin team is talking about bringing the tenets of Genius Hour into faculty learning. Following Google’s model of 20% time, we’re trying to figure out how to give teachers time during the day to work on projects they are passionate about. I’m excited to see how we can create space for all learners–elementary students, high school students, and teachers–to follow their passions and share their learning with others. If you’re doing Genius Hour with your students or with your teachers, I’d love to hear about it.