Category Archives: Integration

Coding to Create Curriculum

A wonderful thing happened during the 2015-16 school year. Somehow, I managed to email my 3rd-5th grade teachers about Hour of Code and at the perfect time. Essentially, every one of my teachers was looking for “something” to do with their students. As a result, all students in grades 3-5, as well as our 6th and 7th graders, not only participated in coding activities during Computer Science Week, but also many of the students continued to work on activities throughout the school year — both as a part of their classes and on their own. Needless to say, I say thrilled, but I also knew that we had only begun to scratch the surface. Some haphazard activities age a long way from formally including computer programming and coding literacy as an integrated part of our entire K-8 curriculum. So, as I headed to ISTE 2016, one of the many things percolating in my brain was find a tangible hook to get my teachers excited about bringing coding and programming into their classrooms. Enter Jake Lee and his brilliant use of coding to teach content!

I honestly think I had a ridiculously good streak of luck when it came to selecting my ISTE activities. While I did pick a few knowing that the speakers were fantastic, for a vast majority of my sessions, I based my choices on descriptions and my gut. That is particularly true of my BYOD sessions because I chose them months earlier. Jake Lee’s session on coding was no exception. I entered hoping the session would give me a few ideas as to how I could get my teachers to embrace coding in their classrooms. Instead, Jake’s session provided the answer, essentially in its entirety, and he even provided an abundance of resources and curricular material between the session webpage and his iTunes U course that explores classroom coding in even greater detail. It was stunning to realize both the magnitude of Jake’s generosity and the simplicity of his solution.

Although Jake certainly does “teach” coding to his first graders, his deeper purpose is providing them the coding skills so they can enhance and engage in their own learning. The coding becomes the vehicle through which they engage in other content, not to mention the problem solving, organizational skills, collaboration, design elements, and decision-making that are inherent in the process of coding. Jake begins his coding instruction in an analog state. First, he has his students play Robot Turtles, a wonderful board game created with fundamental coding skills in mind and funded by Kickstarter. The next stage is also “analog” in that it does not require a device or computer, but it does involve a robot — Bee-Bot — on which the the students directly enter graphic commands to program it. As it becomes clear that the students understand the fundamentals of programming and the pre-planning required to create an accurate program, he moves them into a digital environment. First, they use apps like Scratch, Jr which allows the students to create actual programs using on graphic commands. It is also at this point that Jake transitions from “learning to code” to “coding to learn.” After the initial introduction to Scratch, Jr, Jake’s coding activities always have a purpose to them. While coding is fun, students can get stuck there, and Jake wants his students to realize the wide array of things students can do with their code. He has them create introductions about themselves and presentations about other content areas. He has even allowed his first graders to create an app designed to help the Kindergarteners next store recognize sums of five. By coding to all areas of content, Jake makes the material not only integrated, but also provides authentic “literacy” in coding and its process of creation.

The final step in Jake’s classroom is the introduction of full-blown robots — Jake uses Dash from Wonder Workshop. Not only is Dash durable and resilient, but also all of the apps from Wonder Workshop are free, intuitively designed, and logically build upon each mastered skill. It is with Dash that Jake’s “coding to learn” approach blossoms completely. Once the students master the basics of programming Dash and maneuvering the robot through a maze, Jake turns them lose, both to take on lessons he has created (like “Silly Sentences” where Dash must select a noun, a verb, and an adjective to make some wonderfully bizarre statements — Jake’s students are also responsible for generating the word cards) to activities of their own design that always incorporate other content (Jake and his students created their own robot-based addition game called Capture the Kingdom, and his students programmed Dash to do a bee pollination, “waggle” dance). Throughout our session, Jake continued to underscore, especially with Dash, that the purpose of all of his activities was NOT for his first graders to learn beautiful, elegant coding (he repeatedly described the actual coding for the “waggle” dance as frightening), but instead for them to be empowered by their ability to code so that they are actively engaged in the own education across all content areas.

I left Jake’s BYOD session electrified by the possibilities his insights opened for me. And, in the subsequent days, my enthusiasm has only grown. While I am still plotting how my school will find the funds for at least a few different “robot” options and scheming how I will introduce the coding possibilities to my teachers without overwhelming them, I am overjoyed that I have a clear picture of how to bring coding into my classrooms without disrupting the existing curricular activities. Rather than trying to replace what is already happening, or asking teachers to squeezing in “one more thing,” my focus will be getting teachers to link coding to existing learning and activities. I am wise enough to know that even that will result in growing pains and periods of frustration, but it is a much smoother road than the one I had been conceiving that would have put coding at odds with other grade level content. Best of all, I have a plethora of resources from Jake Lee and tangible, viewable evidence that using code to learning not only works, but that it actually allows students to thrive and to be far more invested in their own learning. And, even if I can not find the funds for Bee-Bot, or Dash, or Ozobots, or Sphero, or any other robot, the fact is that unplugged/analog activities like Robot Turtles and apps like Scratch, Jr will still allow my teachers to bring coding into their classrooms and to use those things as tools to facilitate their content areas. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant! It is easy to see why Jake was selected as an Apple Distinuished Educator and why he is sch a fantastic teacher. I extend a huge Mahalo! to him, and I look forward to the adventure ahead of me!


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Filed under Classroom, Coding, Collaboration, Computers, Creativity, Education, Excitement, Insights, Integration, ISTE, Robotics, Student-centered

Principal Power a Priority

In the past few years, educational institutions are finally getting to see data demonstrating how much impact technology, and specifically one-to-one programs (where every student has a device that she or he brings home at night), are having in schools. The most comprehensive of these has been Project RED which studied and surveyed 1,000 schools across the United States. One of the most telling discoveries that they made is that one-to-one programs have almost no discernible impact for a school, unless at least 4 of 9 key implementation factors are in place. And, when at least 4 of those 9 factors are in place, the school significantly outperforms all other schools.

Of those 9 key implementation factors, however, none is more important that visible, active championing of the one-to-one program by the school’s administration, particularly the principal. Having witnessed that reality personally at three different schools, I agree with their findings 100%. I worked for over 20 years at a high school, and spent a significant amount of my time over my second decade there advocating for a one-to-one program. When the school finally did implement one, I watched as it completely ignored all of the Project RED findings. Most frustrating was that the school’s leadership not only failed to champion the use of technology (placing that responsibility solely on the shoulders of an understaffed technology department), but also the principal chose instead to actively champion the position that no teacher would ever be forced to use technology. Needless to say, the school will soon be entering its 3rd year of their one-to-one program, and while some teachers have done miraculous things with technology, other still never use it in their classrooms. As a result, some students constantly use their devices to improve their educations, while others simply use their device to improve their high scores and to tweet their latest purchase.

In contrast to that experience, I have seen the impact technology can have when the principal does actively champion its use. I started the past school year at a Catholic grade school as their technology integration specialist, and my principal brought my there specifically with the mindset that we would work towards a one-to-one program in the middle school. Unfortunately, Catholic grade schools function at the whim of their Pastors, and the Pastor at that school was determined to see our principal fail, so we were blocked at every turn as we attempted to move toward a one-to-one program. But, even with that opposition, I was able to significantly increase the use of technology in all of the classrooms, both within the middle school and in K-5 classrooms. Because the faculty knew that the principal was moving the school toward a one-to-one program, each teacher had an impetus to do more with technology. Certainly, some were extremely resistant to adding technology, but I never had to force anyone to do it. Instead, we let each teacher move at her or his own pace, and when a teacher did want to try something, I went out of my way to assist that person and to make the process as smooth as possible. As a result of that, teachers clearly gained confidence in their own abilities as the school year progressed. Sadly, the negative actions of the Pastor and his staff drove the principal out of the school, and I began to seek actively employment elsewhere because I knew that whoever the new principal would be that individual would not be nearly as supportive of integrating technology.

Fortunately for me, I found a new job as the technology coordinator at a different Catholic grade school, and I was able to start there before the end of this past school year. At this school too, I was brought in with the idea that I would move them towards a middle school one-to-one program. The difference at this school, though, is that I was seen as the final piece of the puzzle, rather than having to build the case from the ground up. My new school had been actively discussing a one-to-one program for 2 years before I arrived on the scene. But, once again, the primary reason for those discussions was the active, vocal championing of technology by the principal. As a result of her advocacy and enthusiasm, the entire staff has been open to finding new ways to integrate technology into all of the classrooms. And, even though I did not start at the school until the last week of March, the school is making tremendous technology additions to its K-5 classrooms and will be one-to-one in its middle school when school begins this fall. Certainly, my presence played a role in making the decision to move forward, but the primary reason we are able to do this is the outspoken support and enthusiasm of my principal.

Project RED’s study and continuing work, as well as other research begin done in technology integration, provide excellent guidance and insight for the use and integration of technology into classrooms, but I firmly believe that any technology venture, and especially a one-to-one program, is doomed unless the school’s principal is an outspoken supporter of the idea. Without her or his backing, teachers simply do not feel the same level of responsibility and commitment to the changes. Certainly, some teachers will fully embrace the opportunity to build more technology into their daily classroom interactions. But, there are far more teachers who will be on the fence and will need a nudge to pursue new classroom activities. And, there will always be a small group who will resist technology integration even if the principal is an advocate. The only thing that will get those individuals to explore ways to use the added technology is implicit and explicit expectations from the school’s top administrator. Otherwise, those teachers will no motivation to chance what has always worked for them in the classroom. In the end, innovation and creativity with the technology will come from teachers, but the initial push to add technology and to move to a one-to-one program has to have clear and obvious support from the school’s principal.

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Filed under Classroom, Insights, Integration, Leadership, One-to-one, Technology

Engaging, Integrating, Enhancing

Greetings! My goal in this blog is to join the ever-growing legion of educators who are looking for ways to improve student learning through technology tools. For me, the central principle in all of these efforts is the creation of transformational classrooms. Although any classroom can be transformational, tools of technology make it significantly easier to make school an interactive and collaborative experience. I hope that this space can be a place where I (and others) can explore the multitude of ideas and concepts that are being taken throughout the world. I also plan to maintain an expansive and expanding list of other educational and technology-minded blogs that are exploring similar ideas and concepts. I am excited about the possibilities and welcome any and all comments because it will only be through numerous collaborations that educators will find viable solutions to educating students in the 21st century. I encourage anyone who stumbles on this space to join the conversation.

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Filed under Classroom, Collaboration, Integration, Technology