Thursday, March 27, 2014

Second Graders Learn to Program

Second Graders Learn Computer Programming

IMG_2068.JPGWhen you enter Jill Rickert’s room you quickly find out what is going on in the world of the seven to eight year old learners.  Some kids are wearing bright green that many people wear to support a cause.  Many of the girls have chipped or chewed blue sparkly nail polish and the boys, some of them, just walk about with their shoes always untied.  I just tied a little boy’s sneaker yesterday.  

Typically, I enter Jill Rickert’s room around 9:30, which is right after snack time.  I know it is after snack time because the carpet I sit on is often littered with graham cracker crumbs or little pieces of granola bar wrappers.  I go to Mrs. Rickert’s room to teach her second graders the fundamentals of computer programing and math.  Second graders learning how to program computers, can that be true?  Well, is true.  With the help of iPads and the app, “Hopscotch,” students are learning things, interesting things--and they seem to enjoy it.  Students are learning how to make an avatar draw a square, a rectangle and just yesterday, students had their avatars draw circles.  Student can choose their own little monster or creature as their avatar.  To draw a square, students need to know that squares have 4 equal sides and four equal angles.  The whole concept of a 90 degree angle is really not something they are taught until they are older.  My colleague, Mark Carls, and I have taught students how to draw a square and to draw a diagonal line in the square.  To do this, students had to learn about rotating a certain angle and specifically they had to figure out what half of 90 degrees is.  

Students have had some real “aha moments.”  I recall one day a couple weeks ago when a student created a square, which was the task had given the students.  To keep the student learning, thinking and active, I asked her to “make the lines of her square thicker. She made a mistake.  She changed the line thickness by moving over the “change line width” block to the end of her code.  She could not figure out why it would not work.  Eventually, after thinking it through, she realized that when you change your code at the end, nothing happens because nothing is being executed at the end of the code.  She realized that if she moved the “change line width” to the front of her code it worked.  I heard the student, who was asked to get ready to go to gym, get up, walk over to Mrs. Rickert and say, “I figured it out all by myself.”  You could feel the confidence and self-esteem growing inside this child.

According to statistics at, by the year 2020, there will be one million more computing jobs than there will be students to fill them.  We need to teach our students programming.  It will prepare them for jobs that either don’t exist yet or have already been created  but are just unknown.  For many people just the words computer programming send a chill of fear up and down their spine.  If we continue to teach young children computer programming, that “chill of fear” will be a thing of the past.    

Monday, December 3, 2012

Flip: I Say "No."

This was published to the ISTE Communities Site on April 4th, 2012.  After reading it now, and since I've learned more about "Flipping" I would amend some of my comments, but essentially I stand by what I wrote below.

To Flip or not to Flip

No. Flipping your classroom is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. For most its a waste of time, it does not allow for exploring topics of interest and just changes the order of an already flawed teaching style.

Flip your classroom is very similar to printing off the notes that the teacher used to lecture in class, have students read the notes at home and then come to school to do “homework.” Instead students no longer read the notes but now view a video or some kind of “digital notes.” This is not the definition of technology integration. Some may consider having students doing homework in class as learning by doing, but it's not what constructivists like Vygotsky, Dewey and Montessori had in mind. Once again, with flipping a classroom, teachers are not being constructivists. This is just a different model where the teacher is the leader of the class, disseminating information to students like a farmer feeding chickens.
The problem is flipping the classroom might actually be good for some teachers. It can create a conversation and have the teacher re-evaluate what they do in the classroom, and put real thought into how students learn and if the teacher’s current methods are working. With that said, for most teachers, flipping the classroom is way too low. Teachers can do so much more to create confidence in students, help students to discover their unique abilities and explore topics that students are interested in. For many teachers, going to a flipped classroom from what they already do would be taking a step backward. Many teachers do chemistry labs, go outside to collect data or even photograph a solar eclipse using a weather balloon so that the images are cloud free. To now have students view a video for homework and have them do traditional homework in class would be going from active to compliant learning.
I just spoke with a fourth grade teacher today who collaborated with the schools new media specialists to create what was called a living wax museum. Basically, the media specialist taught kids how to research, write a script, become a character and speak in public. Students had a button on their hands and when the button was pushed they became that character explaining the importance their character had on the world. Some of the living wax museum characters were Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King. This project was so popular it was later opened to the public and “performed” at the local library. Does this kind of rich learning happen in a flipped classroom? I would argue that it does not.

The flipped classroom takes an already broken, didactic, teacher-lead style and changes the order of a flawed style. We are great at rearranging this flawed teaching method. No matter what we call it we continue to control knowledge as if we were still in the industrial age. It is time we shift from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered learning.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Google Changes Background Customization

On a quiet Saturday morning, November 3rd, 2012, I fired up my computer in an effort to do some work.  Often, at least at my age now, formal work and Saturdays don’t mix.  On occasion I will work on a Saturday and, when I do, it is usually just answering some emails on my SmartPhone or checking on what I have going on Monday through a calendar app.  Today I went to Google Docs and noticed a notification.  Basically it was a thank you and a warning.  The thank you was for using Google’s background imaging function and the warning was that it is going away on November 16th.  Google allows people to add their own picture to the background and customize their Google Homepage.  This is ending soon.  Most people would not find this to be such a big deal.  Most people have a pretty picture of a cute, white, fluffy puppy or a setting sun beyond a dock over a lake or pond.  Not me.  I actually customize my background so that whenever I open Google I see my goals for the year shining right back at me. I can't help but see them and find this a very powerful tool.  Now I’ve never read the book The Secret by Rhonda Bryne, but I intend to.  One of the quotes from this book is “what you think about you bring about.”  What better way, for someone who spends many hours a day on a computer to see and think about their goals than customizing their Google background with a screenshot of their goals?  I really have no idea how many times I see my goals, think about my goals and plan to achieve my goals after looking at my customized Google home search page.  This might be very strange for one man in a small Pennsylvanian town to ask this but, hey Google, could you let us keep customizing our search homepage?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


The Breakfast Inventor’s Club was launched but we had minimal success.  With that said, I am not giving up.  Many students did come over and start building with Legos.  Also, I had some teachers say that “my child loved to play with legos.”  I think that many people don’t know that the Lego Mindstorm Kits, that I have, include a small computer called an RCX.  This small RCX computer is programmable.  This small, programmable computer can be turned into a robot that is only limited by the inventor’s imagination.  The other stumbling block that I encountered with the Breakfast Inventor’s Club was time.  Time is a common stumbling block in any school.  Basically, students are not allowed to really go to classes or breakfast until 7:30 and the first class period starts at 7:45.  This is really not enough time for a student to invent anything.  

So, here is what I have decided to do.  Many students wait just inside the school doors for the clock to strike 7:30.  I am going to move the Breakfast Inventor’s Club to the hall near the doorway.  This should give students more time to work/play.  Also, eventually if students decide to come to school early, they will still be able to work on their projects and not violate school rules.  It is also my hope that the Breakfast Inventor’s club will expand to after school.  I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Breakfast Inventors Club Experiment

I had this idea recently.  On the days I’m in the Cattaraugus Little Valley School District I would start a club.  The club would be called the Breakfast Inventors Club.  The club’s goal would be to help students learn by playing, experimenting and programing, while having fun before school starts.
This morning, at 7:30 am, May 30th, 2012, I brought a box of Legos and a project I was working on.  I believe that if you build it they will come.  I also believe that if you build and what you work on is cool enough, students will come because of curiosity and help you build.  It worked this morning.  Basically all I did was sort Lego pieces into gallon bags.  One student came over and asked me what I was working on.  He was so interested that he started programming in MicroWorlds.  Also, I gave him a copy of the software so that he could download it to his computer and work on it.  We are both in the process of thinking up projects.  I want to make a car that follows black electrical tape using a light sensor.  I’m not sure what the student will come up with.  I will keep you posted.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Breakfast Inventor's Club

Today I have decided to do something new.  I plan on having a breakfast Inventors Club with students.  I will be starting little technology based projects in the morning in the cafeteria.  My plan is to start small.  I will start building a project and hope that students will be interested in what I’m doing.  We have a bunch of Lego Mindstorm kits at one of your office buildings.  We also have PicoCrickets and a bunch of materials that could be recycled and used as projects.  I am sure I could probably round up a few computers to run scratch or logo to do programing. Below is a brainstormed list of projects that either the students or I could do.  Students could use both Legos and PicoCrickets, one or the other or none.

1) bike wheel windmill
2) a bike shirt with turn signals
3) a bubble machine
4) a pop can solar heater
5) a robot that follows a piece of tape  
6) Archimedes screw as a solar battery
7) Make a robot that pops a balloon 10 ft away
8) A robot that draws a picture of a house
9) A noise maker that follows light
10) robotic arm that picks up an egg
11) a zip line crane
12) A random number generator
13) A mobile carbon dioxide detector
14) a robotic food grinder
15) a lego cider press
16) mobile rocket launcher
17) Take a picture from a kite that is off the ground
18) a robotic computer keyboard cleaner
19) a Lego Record Player
20) a lego tape cassette player
21) a lego operated rock tumbler
22) a submarine
23) a remote control operated mobile camera with light
24) a programable air freshener
25) a remote controlled black mark remover (from school floors)

My plan is to start this Breakfast Inventor’s Club on the morning of May 30th, 2012.  I will report on how it goes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I Changed My Mind: Google Lit Trips

image from this website
Have you ever written something that you regret writing?  I remember writing a blog post many years ago that had to do with Google Lit Trips and why I thought they were really not great for education.  My feels on Google Lit Trips have changed.  So, now I feel that in some circumstances having students create Google Lit Trips might be an activity that engages students with literature in a way that brings it to life for them and brings in a bit of geography.

Do you ever have students read books that take place in multiple locations or the main characters travel around?  Have you ever considered having students create their own Google Lit Trip.  

So What exactly are Google Lit Trips? 

Below is a description of Google Lit Trips from the website
The short version is simple. Google Lit Trips are free downloadable files that mark the journeys of characters from famous literature on the surface of Google Earth. At each location along the journey there are placemarks with pop-up windows containing a variety of resources including relevant media, thought provoking discussion starters, and links to supplementary information about “real world” references made in that particular portion of the story.

The focus is on creating engaging and relevant literary experiences for students. I like to say Google Lit Trips “3-dimensionalize” the reading experience by placing readers “inside the story” traveling alongside the characters; looking through the windshield of that old jalopy in The Grapes of Wrath or waddling alongside Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’’’s duckling family in Make Way for Ducklings.”

There are two great videos created by a teacher on how to create your own Google Lit Trip.  Here are the links to part one and part two.

The teacher in the video does a short example of a Google Lit Trip for Johnny Appleseed.  The teacher in the video also talked about how she used the Google Lit Trip as one of her center stations.  I feel that the real power of Google Lit Trips is when the students create them.  What better way to meet the common core standard of having students describe characters in a story and explain how their actions contributed to the sequence of events than a Google Lit Trip.