11 coding resources for the Hour of Code
Computer science skills are becoming more and more important to success in today’s economy, and this importance is highlighted during the annual Hour of Code. A number of resources on Code.org and other sites can help students of all ages and skill levels develop coding skills.
The Hour of Code, which can occur at any time during Computer Science Education Week (Dec. x-x), is a one-hour coding activity during which students choose from self-guided tutorials that work on browsers, smartphones, tablets, or even work without computers at all.
Last year, more than 15 million students in 170 countries participated in the Hour of Code, and Code.org hopes to get 100 million students coding during this year’s Computer Science Education Week. In fact, more girls tried computer science in those seven days than in the entire 70 years prior to the event, said Kiki Prottsman, executive director of Thinkersmith, during an edWeb webinar highlighting Hour of Code coding resources and activities. http://home.edweb.net/part-hour-code/
“Computer science is the way the world is going—it’s the new literacy,” she said. “Not only does it teach you have to program the machines we’re using today, it also teaches you a whole different set of problem-solving skills.”
Fewer schools teach computer science now than 10 years ago, though, despite the prediction that more than half of new jobs (60 percent) in all of the sciences will be computing jobs. Bringing computer science education to younger grades will help combat the common middle school mentality that students view themselves as “no good” at coding.
Time of often a challenge, Prottsman said, which is why the Hour of Code can help—it’s just an hour, and there are a number of resources available to help students jump right in and start coding.
PBS launches math series for kids in ‘Odd Squad’
Consider this math problem: PBS leaves the train station headed west under a full head of steam to find a new series to teach math to youngsters. Tim McKeon and Adam Peltzman leave a train station at top speed headed east with an idea for a show that features an agency run by kids who use math to deal with oddities in their home town.
What is the sum when they meet?
The answer can be seen Wednesday, Nov. 26, when "Odd Squad" joins the PBS morning lineup. The quirky live-action series follows two young government agents who use math skills and collaboration to investigate weird and unusual phenomena.
McKeon, who sidesteps a question about his own math abilities when he was younger, explains the primary factor that went into making the show was to teach that math doesn't have to be boring.
"I feel like I have become quite passionate about math. A lot of people say math is boring but there are really exciting and funny ways to teach math," McKeon says.
The solution was to focus on strong storytelling, something McKeon and Peltzman have done in past shows such as "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends," "The Backyardigans," "Wallykazam," "The Electric Company" and "Adventure Time."
In one episode of "Odd Squad," the team helps a local basketball team that has a problem with the number 13. Along with talking about addition, the story ends with a member of the team getting to live out wish.
Making the show starts with a long list of math topics that include addition, subtraction, temperature, time and basic geometry. There's also a list of crazy and odd things. Items on the two lists are matched up to become an episode.
Sometimes the matches are easy, such as using the efforts to capture a Blob as a way to teach liquid measurements. An idea about how the adults in town spontaneously break into song took a little longer to find a math match. The answer was a story about patterns.
When McKeon and Peltzman first pitched the idea for the show, they were asked if it could be animated. The simple answer is yes. But McKeon is certain the show is better as a live-action production.
"I love animation. You can draw anything. But, to have something odd happen isn't so spectacular because it's like you could just draw it," McKeon says. "To actually have the odd thing happen in a real world, it just sort of pops a lot more, and it's just more interesting."
The world they've created is a place where kids run the show, often coming to the aid of adults, and are equal and not judged by race or sex or financial status.
Teach your students the right way to Google
As in decades past, proper research methods are an essential skill for today’s students. At a time when most students (and adults, for that matter) are accustomed to heading straight to Google to answer all of their questions, being able to sagely sift through the good, the bad, and the ugly of search results is key to creating independent 21st century thinkers.
However, even when used properly, Google is not always the right resource. On its website, the Kentucky Virtual Library provides a detailed, student-friendly interactive map of the research process, called “How To Do Research,” which spells out the steps for making the most of the research process, from planning to searching to taking notes and ultimately using gathered information effectively. Many educators like the map because it doesn’t focus exclusively on web research, but instead provides a broader list of tools—think library catalogs and reputable magazines—that can be just as helpful for students.
Learn how to search
Print resources undoubtedly still have a place at the table, but it would be futile to deny that the ability to locate and evaluate online sources is an equally valuable skill. Do your students know how to find and refine effective search terms? Do they know how to filter results using advanced search options? To that end, Google’s Search Education site offers a plethora of beginner, intermediate, and advanced search lesson plans related to picking the right terms, understanding results, narrowing a search, searching for evidence for research tasks, and evaluating the credibility of sources.
In addition to the Search Education Lessons, Google also offers a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) titled: “Power Searching with Google.” (The course is taught by Dan Russell, a senior research scientist at Google, who is also the man behind SearchResearch, a blog about all things search and research). If you have limited time, you may find the Power Searching Quick Reference useful, and the explainer video emporium Common Craft also offers a short video on web search strategies, which students might find easy to digest.
Obama praises educators’ efforts to end digital divide
President Barack Obama recognized school superintendents from across the country on Nov. 20 whose efforts to expand classroom technology means it no longer takes 20 minutes for a student in rural Alaska to log onto the Internet and that one in a poor district in California can get Wi-Fi near home.
About 110 school leaders attended the National Connected Superintendents Summit on digital learning. The event was part of the administration’s five-year plan, ConnectED, to have 99 percent of the nation’s students connected to high-speed broadband Internet in their schools and libraries.
Less than 40 percent of public schools have high-speed internet.
“There is no greater gap right now than the digital gap, and if we close that gap then we have the potential to level the playing field for students like nothing we’ve seen before,” Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, said in remarks to introduce the president. “This is a game changer.”
School leaders need to be innovative in how they work to eliminate “digital deserts” that are most evident in counties with low-income schools, Carvalho said. In Miami-Dade, 74 percent of students live at or below the poverty line.
The school district sought partners such as Microsoft and raised $7 million to outfit 350 schools with Wi-Fi access and bump the number of digital devices in the district to more than 150,000.
Schools also need to balance working with a student body that is increasingly “hyper-connected, multi-tasking rapid consumers of information,” Carvalho said. “We knew if we did not engage with them on their terms, many of them would be lost.”
Obama said it is crucial for schools to bring the world to every child’s fingertips through improved technology, because this generation of students’ digital savvy means they will lose interest in school otherwise.
“In most American schools, teachers cannot use the cutting-edge software and programs that are available today,” Obama said. “They literally don’t have the bandwidth. And even in schools where there is high-speed Internet, so often there aren’t enough computers to go around, so only a small percentage of our classrooms have the 1-to-1 ratio of students to computers or tablets.”
Obama pointed to Superintendent Mary Wegner, of the Sitka School District in Alaska, which is only accessible by train or boat and where it used to take students 20 minutes to log on to the internet. The students recognized the need for better access and petitioned the school board. Now they have Wi-Fi that allows them to use Skype or FaceTime to learn from experts all over the world.
A bond measure in Coachella, Calif., where every student is on a federal program that provides free or reduced-price lunches, is the reason that each of the district’s 20,000 students have an iPad tablet computer. Darryl Adams, superintendent of Coachella Valley Unified School District, said he also is working with Comcast to provide internet service to low-income families for $9.95 per month.
Obama applauded such innovative techniques.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said America has to compete with countries such as South Korea, which replaced textbooks with digital content, and Uruguay, where every student is assigned a digital device. But the playing field also has to be leveled within the United States, Duncan said, as he spoke of a North Carolina teen who is the first in his family to go to college.
Study reveals steps to kindergarten prep
An intervention that uses music and games to help preschoolers learn self-regulation skills is helping prepare at-risk children for kindergarten, a new study from Oregon State University shows.
Self-regulation skills--the skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task and persist through difficulty--are critical to a child’s success in kindergarten and beyond, said OSU’s Megan McClelland, a nationally recognized expert in child development and a co-author of the new study.
“Most children do just fine in the transition to kindergarten, but 20 to 25 percent of them experience difficulties--those difficulties have a lot to do with self-regulation,” McClelland said. “Any intervention you can develop to make that transition easier can be beneficial.”
The results of the new study are notable because positive effects of an intervention, especially one that aims to improve self-regulation and academic achievement, can be difficult for researchers to find, said McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
The intervention was most effective among children who are considered at highest risk for struggling in school--those from low-income backgrounds who are learning English as a second language. In addition to a positive effect on self-regulation, the intervention had a positive effect on math achievement for English language learners.
“The math gain was huge,” McClelland said. “English language learners who were randomly assigned to the intervention showed a one-year gain in six months. This was in spite of the fact that we had no math content in these games.”
That indicates that children were more likely to integrate the self-regulation skills they’ve learned into their everyday lives, McClelland said. It also supports previous research finding strong links between self-regulation and math skills.
The study was published recently in “Early Childhood Research Quarterly.” Lead author Sara A. Schmitt conducted the research as a doctoral student at OSU and now is an assistant professor at Purdue University. In addition to McClelland, the other authors of the study are Alan C. Acock of Oregon State and Shauna L. Tominey of Yale University.