Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Seven Sites and Apps to Help Students Learn Coding and Programming

The other day I was in a Zoom meeting with someone who is relatively new to field of educational technology. I was asked about any "must read" books or sites. The first thing that came to mind was Seymour Papert's Mindstorms. Mentioning Mindstorms then took me down the path of talking about Logo and its importance in the development of using personal computers in the classroom. 

Logo was my introduction to programming back in my elementary school days 30+ years ago. You can still find and use Logo and its many iterations today. There are also many other good sites and apps that can introduce your students to various types of programming and coding. Here's a short list of some of my favorite options today. 

MIT App Inventor
The MIT App Inventor is a free app development tool that I've used with students and teachers for over a decade now. It's a great tool to use to introduce students to some programming concepts while letting develop apps that they can actually use on their phones. While it might seem complicated at first glance, after they have mastered a few basic concepts students can create some amazing applications through the MIT App Inventor. Here's my video overview of how to create your first app with the MIT App Inventor. 



Blackbird
Blackbird is a platform that launched in early 2021 to help teachers teach programming to middle school and high school students. Blackbird positions 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. You can see a full overview of Blackbird and read my students' impressions of it right here


Daisy the Dinosaur
Daisy the Dinosaur is a free iPad app designed to introduce young students to some programming basics. The app asks students to create commands for Daisy the Dinosaur to carry out. There is a free play mode in which students can make Daisy do whatever they want. But to get started you might want to have students work through the beginner challenges mode. Daisy the Dinosaur asks students to enter commands in the correct sequence in order to make Daisy complete tasks correctly. Daisy the Dinosaur could be used with students as young as Kindergarten age.

Scratch & Scratch Jr.
Scratch like the MIT App Inventor has been around for over a decade and is still the first thing that many people mention when talking about introducing students to programming concepts. Scratch allows students to program animations, games, and videos through a visual interface. Students create their programs by dragging together blocks that represent movements and functions on their screens. The blocks snap together to help students see how the "if, then" logic of programming works. Watch the video here to learn more about Scratch. And check out the ScratchEd team’s curriculum for teaching with Scratch (link opens a PDF). 

Scratch Jr. is based on the aforementioned online Scratch program. Scratch Jr for iPad and for Android  uses the same drag and drop programming principles used in Scratch. On Scratch Jr students can program multimedia stories and games. To program a story or game on Scratch Jr. students select background settings for each frame of the story. Then in each frame students select the actions that they want their characters to take. Students snap programming pieces together to make characters move and talk in their stories and games.

Snap!
Snap! is a drag-and-drop programming interface designed to help students learn to program. Snap! uses a visual interface that works in your browser on your laptop as well as on your iPad. To design a program in Snap! drag commands into a sequence in the scripts panel. The commands are represented by labeled jigsaw puzzle pieces that snap together to create a program. You can try to run your program at any time to see how it will be executed. After previewing your program you can go back and add or delete pieces as you see fit.

Grasshopper
Grasshopper teaches JavaScript coding through a series of easy-to-follow tutorials. It is available to use in your web browser or as an Android app. It starts off with an introduction to the basic vocabulary of coding before moving into the coding lessons. You have to pass the vocabulary quiz before your can jump into the lessons. Each lesson has a tutorial, a practice activity, and a quiz. You have to successfully complete each lesson before progressing to the next one. If you need to stop a lesson, Grasshopper saves your place until you can resume. Grasshopper offers an optional reminder service that will encourage you to practice on a daily schedule.

CodePen
CodePen is a code editing environment in which students can see how HTML, CSS, and JavaScript work together to form web applications. As you can see in the screenshot that I've included below, the screen is divided into four parts. There's a column for HTML, a column for CSS, and a column for JavaScript.

The best aspect of CodePen is that it is a real-time editor. That means you can change any aspect of the HTML, CSS, or JS and immediately see the effects of those changes in the preview panel. This is a great way to see what happens when a variable is changed in an application. If the change didn't work as anticipated, a quick "CTRL+Z" on your keyboard reverts it back to the previous state. The same is true when you edit an aspect of the HTML or CSS.  

CodePen does have a gallery of publicly shared projects that you can copy and modify. Those public projects make it easy for students to get started using CodePen as I demonstrate in this short tutorial video

How to Use Google Slides in Canva

This is an update to a blog post that I published a couple of weeks ago about the same topic. In that blog post I outlined how to use PowerPoint and Google Slides in Canva. I've since learned a couple of things that warrant publishing an update. 

First, a lot of Google Slides users ignored my previous blog post on this topic because I led with "PowerPoint."  Second, the feature to import slides into Canva is still a beta feature. Being a beta feature it might not be available in all accounts, yet. It also has a file size limitation of 50MB. All that said, here's my new video about how to use Google Slides in Canva



Applications for Education
Canva is one of my favorite tools for creating short video lessons with your existing slides. The process is less clunky than using a screen recording tool to capture your slides as you explain the key points on them. If you're a Google Slides, PowerPoint, or Keynote user who has ignored Canva's recording tool because you didn't want to have to recreate your slides, the method that I demonstrated in the video above is for you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

A Huge Collection of Resources for Fun Phys Ed Activities

OPEN Phys Ed is an organization that hosts tons of great resources for physical education teachers. Additionally, OPEN organizes initiatives to encourage students to participate in physical education activities. One of those initiatives is National Field Day

OPEN National Field Day is an initiative that runs through May and June. It has a social media element that you can participate in to win prizes. If you don't want to participate in the social media component, you can still use the dozens of resources that are associated with OPEN National Field Day. 

Applications for Education
On the OPEN National Field Day site you'll find PDFs, Word docs, Google Docs, and videos that provide instructions for dozens of activities that your students can do as part of your own field day or as part of a regular physical education class. There are individual and team activities included in the catalog of activities. 

What I appreciate about the activities on the OPEN National Field Day site is that, for the most part, the activities are not what I would call "traditional" sports activities. Take a look at the Paper Plane Cornhole game or the the Tennis Shoe Tower game for examples of some of the nontraditional games you'll find for OPEN National Field Day. 

Make a Word Game With Google Sheets - A Fun Way to Learn About Formulas

Google's Applied Digital Skills website is a good place to find lesson plans and activities that you can use to help students learn how to use many features of Google Workspace tools. To capitalize on the recent trend of word games like Wordle, Google recently published a new Applied Digital Skills lesson called Make a Word Game

Make a Word Game is a lesson in which students collaborate in Google Sheets to develop word game that utilizes functions and formulas to randomly generate letters that are used in a word game. Furthermore, students learn how to use functions and formulas to generate scoring for their games. Students don't need to have prior experience using spreadsheets in order to complete this lesson. However, a little prior experience will definitely help avoid some frustration. 

Applications for Education
Google provides some extension activities that students can complete to further develop their spreadsheet skills. Before doing those extension activities I would have students repeat the process of the lesson and modify their input to try to create a thematic version of the word game.

If you're unfamiliar with Google's Applied Digital Skills lessons, here's a short video in which I demonstrate how to access the lessons and distribute them via Google Classroom.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Spaghetti Trees and the History of April Fools' Day

This Friday is April Fools' Day. It's a day that I've always enjoyed a little bit at home and at school. I've always enjoyed the various pranks and jokes that my students tried over the years. Where did the tradition of April Fools' Day pranks begin? If you've ever wondered about that or you want to be ready to answer that question from your students, here are a few short video explanations. 

Mystery Doug is a talking dog who answers questions from kids, he offers a short explanation In Why Do We Celebrate April Fool's Day?



Learn About April Fool's is a short explanation from WatchMoJo that was published ten years ago and is still good.



Perhaps the greatest April Fools' prank of all is the classic Spaghetti Tree hoax broadcasted by the BBC back in 1957. Here's a little interview with one of the producers of that hoax.