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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Teaching Coding With CS First

This is a guest post from Keith Kelley. Keith is the integrated technology instructor at Sebasticook and Somerset Valley Middle School in central Maine.

"The limit to the system is the number of coders we have, our policy is to hire as many coders as we can."  Mark Zuckerberg

Coding is important and MIT’s Scratch platform has been a fabulous boon to the classroom. The learning curve for the teacher and creation of lesson plans had not caught up to those classrooms yet. Enter Google’s attempt to help fill the coding skills gap through their CS-First initiative.

You do not need to be an expert in Scratch or coding to let your students learn on their own. As I have used it in my class I found students enjoyed the self-paced video tutorials with matching Scratch Starter Programs. I have used the Gaming Theme club to allow my students to successfully code and design their own Games.

They will provide you free materials (badges, lessons, etc..) however all can be done through the CS-First digital interface as well. They have set them up to be clubs with volunteers and after school meeting times, but I easily adapted it to use in my school schedule.

There are a variety of other themes which lend themselves to other core subject areas. For instance, I used the Storytelling Theme as an enrichment activity for my high level writers.

The dashboard is excellent to keep track of students badges, which they earn for completion of watching the video tutorials and commenting on them. It also provides easy way to click student account and open their actual scratch game they made for that lesson. I would recommend adding the name of the student in the dash board to be with their account for ease of use.

Typical Themes run for a 10 hour session with 8 badges and Scratch Games to create. I really like the feature of the kids being able to share their games with their classmates and other students to play. My students have used PC or Chromebooks to access their Clubs (each club has a code the students log into once which creates their CS-First accounts which is linked to a Scratch account)

I have used Scratch to teach coding before but CS-First has added an excellent management piece and ability for students to self-pace. I highly recommend it whether you use it in the classroom or for an after school coding club.

About the author:
A Maine educator for 25 years, Keith is currently teaching Integrated Technology for RSU19. Having taught Language Arts, Social Studies and serving as the School Librarian, this is his first experience teaching IT. Students make Skateboards, Robots, Computer Games, Fly Drones and 3D Print Projects in this class. He earned his Bachelors and Masters Degree in Education at UMaine. He has coached soccer, track, and various tech camps. In his free time he enjoys riding around in his classic mustang with his wife and dogs.

Get in touch with Keith at KeithKelley (at) RSU19.net and see more of his work at Learn 3D.

History of Hashtags and How Teachers Can Use Them


Hashtags are everywhere. They are used in advertising and marketing and appear on all social media platforms. Hashtags even appear in school newsletters and church bulletins. But do they actually serve a purpose?

Hashtags were first used on Twitter over a decade ago as a way to help people who weren't so tech savvy search the site for information. Hashtags are used as a way to organize and promote content and ideas. There are no rules about creating hashtags, but they can only contain upper and lower case letters, numbers, and underscores.

You can search for content on Twitter without signing in or creating an account. Some popular hashtags include #edchat, #ntchat, and #stem. Jerry Blumengarten, Cybraryman on Twitter, has curated a huge collection of hashtags that are used by educators. You can search any of these on Twitter to locate content that is associated with it. This is a great way for teachers who are new to Twitter to find new and interesting people to follow.

Educators also use specific hashtags as a way to meet up with other educators to discuss a variety of topics that impact education. For example, #nebedchat takes place each Wednesday evening at 8pm CST. This is the chat that is led by educators in Nebraska and has become quite popular. Check out this huge list of chats that happen on Twitter. Chances are you will find numerous chats that will be of interest to you.

Don't let hashtags intimidate you. Including them in your tweets will help you connect with people who are looking for information that you are sharing.

Searching using hashtags on Twitter

Delta Math

Delta Math is a free program that allows teachers to combine modules of lessons for their students to complete. The modules cover a wide range of topics taught in Middle School math, Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus,  and Computer Science.

Once teachers set up their account and create their classes, they can provide students with a code to join their class. Students can work through modules at their own pace. The program includes built in graphing and statistical calculators as well as a keyboard that allows the user to write mathematical expressions. There program also shows students the steps to get the correct solution.

Applications for Education 
This would be a great way to encourage students to practice math outside of school. My daughter, who is a 7th grader, loves this program. She says that Delta Math motivates her to practice more often and it makes it more enjoyable.

Favicons: Reclaim Space on Your Google Chrome Bookmark Bar

Our bookmark bars are prime real estate and we need to maximize every millimeter of it. One of the easiest ways to reclaim some of the space on it is to create a favicon for the sites we visit most frequently. For many of us this means our mail, calendar, Google Classroom, and gradebook program. When we bookmark these items, we see a website icon (favicon) followed by short description. The descriptions are unnecessary and take up space on the bookmark bar. We can easily delete the text by right-clicking on the bookmark bar, selecting edit, deleting the text in the name field, and clicking save. All you are left with is the website favicon. Pretty nifty, eh?