Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Assessing Coding in the Classroom

Probably the number one two question I get! “But how do I assess this?”
Right after: “This is fun, but I have a curriculum to teach…”
Here are some thoughts that I hope will help educators gain the confidence to integrate coding throughout the curriculum.

Mathematical processes
So… my first question is, are you assessing these at the present time? Would you like to? In the front matter of the Ontario math curriculum document we find a set of seven mathematical processes students need to learn and apply as they work to achieve the expectations outlined within the five strands. The need to highlight these process expectations arose from the recognition that students should be actively engaged in applying these processes throughout the math program, rather than in connection with particular strands.
The mathematical processes that support effective learning in mathematics are as follows:
• problem solving
• reasoning and proving
• reflecting
• selecting tools and computational strategies
• connecting
• representing
• communicating
It is a simple but creative process to develop a rubric for observing these processes in a class of students working on coding projects.

Curriculum expectations
Given the range of coding activities now available - Hour of Code, Scratch, robotics devices, Swift Playgrounds – it is very easy to pick any subject and see how a wide range of expectations can be met, from Art to Math to Language and more.
Looking at the primary math curriculum for example, in Math alone, we see expectations for estimation, positional language, addition and subtraction, drawing simple maps, and using a grid to show movement. Once you have taught your students how to use the menus in Scratch or Scratch Jr, you will see how effective a game can be as a learning activity or as consolidation in any subject.

Global Competencies, or Deeper Learning
Recently Steven Floyd posed the following suggestion on Twitter:


Here is a link to the provincial discussion document: 21st Century Competencies.

Board Improvement Plan
If you are with the Near North District School Board, our Multi-Year Plan highlights the value in linking to deeper learning and global competencies in the following two sections:
Achieving Excellence
“Develop and promote deeper learning competencies”
Excellence in Teaching and in the Learning Environment
“The Near North District School Board is committed to creating opportunities for students to develop the skill and knowledge to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly global and digital world.”

Cathy Montreuil
Assistant Deputy Minister and Chief Student Achievement Officer Ontario Ministry of Education
Cathy has addressed the TELT Contacts on more than one occasion, and each time she has a powerful message. In one, she summed it up as “Don’t wait for us!” Our curriculum is a large and complex series of documents that takes years to update. Teachers can feel comfortable in integrating coding as a valuable teaching tool, without this being spelled out in the documents.

2016 Ministry Statement on Coding

Ministry Resource for integrating coding


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Adventures in coding

When I set out to support a Grade 1, 2, 3 class with the Coding Trek program, I had no idea where my path would lead. It turned out to be a world with few limits, flexible spaces, cooperation and accomplishments!
This fit in nicely with the existing classroom culture of strong collaboration, celebration of success, and sharing of ideas.
I really grew to appreciate the Coding Trek program for the way it set out the steps in our learning process. Having registered as a teacher, I had access to several weeks – or months -  of activities, accompanied by explanatory slide decks and brief video tutorials. At this particular school, I was with the class from 11:15 a.m. to about 1:00 p.m. for three consecutive days.
We were all newcomers to Scratch Jr, the platform for Coding Trek, and we each had our own iPad to work on.
I was amazed at how easily the children took to Scratch Jr and were able to follow the colour-coded menus. On the first day, we explored most of the basic tools, talked about the green flag, and made a variety of personal projects. In some cases, we had to configure the camera or microphone on a device, but this all worked out. Did you know you could use the camera to place a photo inside the outline of a sprite?
We saw that many of the students were deeply engaged with simply adding sprites, drawing, taking photos etc., using the stage as a canvas instead of creating actions and interactions, so we challenged them to add some movement before the end of the class. They all decided that they had had so much fun that I should come back for Day 2.
We began the follow morning with a Coding Trek “coding unplugged” activity. The teacher was a willing demo robot! Then the students were partnered up to work on this activity for 15 minutes or so, one Robot and one Controller, and then switching roles. Given the age range of the students it was interesting to see how this spatial activity reinforced counting, directionality, and estimation.
Next, we moved through 10 Coding Trek challenges. These were designed to review the tools they had learned the previous day. We were more methodical, asking for a “thumbs up” before moving to the next activity, to ensure that all the students had the same understanding of the basics.
The day finished with some free time to work on personal projects – by request!
On both Day 1 and 2 it was great to see these young children using tech tools with ease, tools that I am often directly teaching to older students and adults. They often asked to Airplay their device to show their work or answer a question. Without asking for help, they used Siri to enter text onto their screens. They seemed to intuitively know what they could type for themselves and what they should dictate.
I was very apprehensive about Day 3 due to the fact that the next Challenges all involved implementing multiple tools in multi-step processes. The next few activities were interchangeable in terms of level of difficulty, so I consulted the teacher as to whether she would prefer a literacy or math focus. We went with math.
Day 3 we would make Mental Math Machines!
I looked over the Coding Trek materials and played the demo video in advance. It used speech bubbles to pop up and display the math question and three or four possible answers. I decided that if I were playing this game, I would want the questions and answers to stay on the screen and not just flash. So, I made a second version of the game with text boxes. The popups were still used for response messages such as “Great answer” or “Try again.”
This enabled me to show the students both versions, talk about the fact that in technology there are always multiple ways to accomplish something, and that they are all usually correct.
Before starting to make their Mental Math Games, the students were given very few instructions. The main tool that was taught on Day 3 was the red icon to add a new screen.
Much to my surprise, there were very few expressions of frustration. They all simply got busy and either succeeded on their own or asked for help as they would in any other class.
They also devised new adaptations, such as the youngster who discovered that with the keyboard on, emojis could be added into Scratch Jr. So, a new, more visual question became: how many burgers are there?
Students surprised me in many ways.
One child seemed to really take to coding and was having great success. I thought perhaps he was a grade 2 student. In conversation with the teacher I learned that a week prior he had celebrated his sixth birthday.
I approached the teacher to mention another student who was completely at ease with not only using Scratch Jr, but discovering new ways to use the tools. It turns out that that child is not usually academically successful.

As well we both were very interested and impressed with the language that the students used to communicate with each other, ask questions, offer advice and describe their projects. For example, by Day 2 they often referred to the narrative line or action screens of their game in “story” terms.
Finally, after three mornings of learning, it was time to take a break. The teacher brought up a favourite winter-themed dance video, with some animated Santas. They all hopped up and got ready to try out their best moves. First, though, one student took a good look at the screen, turned to me and said, “Wow, that’s a lot of coding to make that video.”
The teacher and I were thrilled that this connection had been made, and the student was asked to share her comment with the class – and I got to chime in that the person who made the video did it as their job.

By this time, all the students had a very thoughtful look on their face, as they thought about the possibilities of a job in computer programming.