The days are long and the years are short. This is true for parents and also true for teachers. There are never enough hours in a day to complete all the tasks at hand. Yet when I think back to the beginning of the year, I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed.
One of the prompts for the YuleBlog Challenge is to reflect on the last year. As I think of 2017, it will always be the Year of Code. While I have taught my students to code video games each year for a number of years, this was the year that coding went from a single one shot project to something more.
First, I received a grant to purchase a class set of Ozobots. After spending some time learning how to code them, I created a project for my seventh graders (who already know how to do some coding because of the video game project they did in 6th grade) in which they had to code the Ozobots to graph a system of linear equations. They had to solve the system of equations to ensure that the Ozobots would not collide. I also had students code Ozobots to draw a set of Wumps (characters in a video game) to explore the concept of similarity. These tasks gave students real experiences. They had a real reason to solve a system equations. They also extended their coding skills to work with the realities of the physical world. (Friction means that bots don’t work exactly like one would expect in theory).
Second, I partnered with a colleague to sponsor a group of kids learning how to code apps. We spent one afternoon every week learning how to use MIT’s AppInventor software and creating some simple apps. Then, we entered a GameJam. For the uninitiated, this is a coding competition in which the participants are given a single weekend to create a full fledged game/app. We spent Friday evening , Saturday, and Saturday evening with a bunch of middle school teams coding apps for the competition. It was an incredibly long weekend but we ended up with four amazing apps, two of which were winners in the competition. This led to spending another weekend with our winning teams as they presented their apps at the Science Fiesta.
Third, as a result of our experience with the app competition, my colleague and I created an afterschool programming club this fall. We have thirty kids who signed up for the club (and more that want to join). The students have widely different levels of experience and knowledge. We quickly brought differentiation into our work with the club. Our more advanced coders are working on coding an Ozobot to traverse a fairly complex maze. Our beginning coders have learned how to code in SCRATCH and have now started to create some simple video games. In another month, we will start teaching them to code in AppInventor so that they will be prepared for this year’s GameJam.
Finally, I received another grant that will enable me to purchase some additional technological resources. I will be purchasing Lego Mindstorm robots and android devices that we will use with the AppInventor software.
The best things about The Year of Code is the number of kids who are getting the chance to experience computer science first hand as they solve problems and create real things. Hopefully, a few of our girls will discover a whole new future.
While I have degrees in Electrical Engineering and know how to code, that kind of background isn’t really necessary to introduce kids to coding. The block coding used by SCRATCH, AppInventor and Ozoblockly is pretty accessible.