Friday, April 23, 2021

Blackbird Fills a Gap in Programming Instruction

Blackbird is a new platform for teaching programming to middle school and high school students. Blackbird is positioning itself as a platform that fills the gap between using a blocks-based service like Scratch and writing code in an IDE. Blackbird doesn't use blocks or even offer any blocks. Instead, Blackbird provides a series of interactive lessons in which students write JavaScript. 

Blackbird lessons are arranged in progressive units. From the first lesson students are building a game they can customize to their heart's content. When they've finished all of the lessons students can move onto a "workshop" where they can work on independent projects that you can observe from your teacher dashboard in Blackbird. 

There were a few features that stood out to me during my first run-through of Blackbird. First, students can get choose how much guidance they get on each lesson. Second, students' progress is locked in place as they go. Third, from your teacher dashboard you can see how much time your students spend on each activity. 

Students can use just the basic instructions for each lesson or click on the definitions and "deep dives" embedded within the instructions. Those definitions and deep dives give students an explanation of what they're writing and puts the explanation into an applicable context. 

Blackbird units are composed of progressive lesson sequences. When a student completes a lesson with 100% accuracy the code they wrote for that lesson is locked. It's locked because the next lesson will build upon their correctly written code. Locking the previously written code in place prevents students from accidentally changing their existing code and thereby impacting what they're currently working on. 

Blackbird - How It Works from Blackbird on Vimeo.

Applications for Education
While it's helpful to have some prior coding experience, Blackbird can be used by teachers who don't have any prior coding experience. Blackbird provides detailed tutorials and lesson guides for teachers who don't have coding experience. Furthermore, teachers can do the exact same lessons and activities as their students to learn alongside them.

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. 

DIY Wind Turbines and How They Work

Earlier this week TED-Ed published a new lesson titled How Do Wind Turbines Work? The video covers the basics of how the turbines harness the power of wind to generate electricity. The basic math of wind turbine design is also explained to viewers of the video. Overall, it's a fine lesson but not the most detailed of lessons. If you want students to learn more about how wind turbines work, consider having them build their own small wind turbines. 

Microsoft's Hacking STEM website offers a detailed project guide for building model windmills and wind turbines. Not only will students build the windmills, they'll also capture data generated by their windmills. The data is captured in real-time through the use of Arduino and the Data Streamer add-in for Excel. Students then analyze the data to evaluate the effectiveness of their windmill and wind turbine designs. 

Microsoft's Hacking STEM windmill activity is great if you have the time and resources required to do it. If you don't and you'd like a little less in-depth windmill project, take a look at Instructables. There you will find dozens of windmill and wind turbine projects ranging from relatively simple cardboard creations to full-fledged turbines capable of powering appliances. 

Finally, if you haven't seen the TED video of William Kamkwamba sharing his story of building a windmill, you need to watch it. It's the basis of the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. Featured image taken by Richard Byrne while driving between Amarillo and Abilene, Texas in June, 2016.

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