Thursday, June 5, 2014

Kindergarteners Learn to Kode with Kodable

kodable1.JPG     On Thursday May 15, I entered Kirsten Grubes’s room at Cattaraugus Little Valley school.  Ms. Grube had a substitute and since I was entering a kindergarten classroom we had to forgo any introductions and attempt to match the activity level of about 14 six year olds.  I never did get the name of the substitute.
     As a helper at one of the centers, I teach students the fundamentals of programming using the app called Kodable.  At kindergarten Kodable requires students to follow directions, which is good and can be a bit of a struggle with this age group.  I know this because I am pretty sure Kyle was not supposed to march around the room, growling like a monster while gently banging his crayon box on top of his head.  Oh well, we won’t tell Ms. Grube.

These students get so excited when they see me enter the room with iPads.  I often hear “He’s here. He’s here,” upon entering.  With Kodable students have to make their “Smeeborg,” which I call a fuzzball, move across the screen and eat coins. Grechen Huebner, co-founder of Kodable, describes the game like this, "Kids have to drag and drop symbols to get their fuzzy character to go through a maze so they learn about conditions, loops and functions and even debugging,"  The code is read in order and it does not execute until the student pushes the play button.  If the student has the code correct, he or she gets all the coins, completes the maze and goes on to the next level.  If the student is “off the mark” then the student is prompted with an “opps” and asked to try again.  Students are learning a great deal of valuable skills
kodable2.JPGWe have just been using the free Kodable app but there is a pay version, which is $6.99.  It seems like, as of now, the free version is working just fine.  It may be necessary for the pay app someday, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.  For schools who want to buy the app and are part of Apple’s volume purchasing program (v.p.p.), if the school district buys 20 or more apps than they get them for half price.  And now, with how the v.p.p. is set up, the school district owns the app and can deploy it to different iPads anywhere in the school, as long as they don’t use more that what was purchased.
Many of these students can’t tie their shoes yet so why are we teaching them to be computer programmers?  "Ninety percent of schools just don't even teach it [coding or computer programming].  So if you're a parent and your school doesn't even offer this class, your kids aren't going to have the preparation they need for the 21st century," says Hadi Partovi, co-founder of the nonprofit "Just like we teach how electricity works and biology basics, they should also know how the Internet works and how apps work. Schools need to add this to the curriculum."  At Cattaraugus Little Valley we are making some initial steps in adding these important computing skills into the curriculum. 

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.