Wednesday, December 7, 2022

A Handful of Resources for Computer Science Education Week

This week is Computer Science Education Week. I've long thought that every student should have some experience with computer science. After all, computer science is what powers so much of what kids do in their daily lives today. I was introduced to some computer science concepts when I was in elementary school in the 1980's through the use of Logo and that experience is still beneficial to me today. 

If you would like to have your students get a little computer science experience this week, here are some good resources for you. 

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 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! 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 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 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

Final note: Anyone who is truly interested in using computers in the classroom should take the time to read Seymour Papert's Mindstorms.

Free Winter-themed Physical Education Lesson Plans

As I wrote at the start of this school year, OPEN Phys Ed is the resource that would be at the top of my bookmarks if I was a physical education teacher. One of the many things that I appreciate about OPEN Phys Ed is that there is an emphasis on lesson plans and games that can engage children of all ages and athleticism. I also appreciate that OPEN provides free lesson plans and activity templates for all seasons of the year. As a case in point, OPEN recently published a new collection of winter-themed physical education lesson plans

Winter Wonderland is OPEN Phys Ed's of more than two dozen activity templates and free lesson plans that have a winter theme. In the collection you'll find elementary school and middle school lesson plans for fun phys ed games like snowflake maps, polar bear caves, and snowman & sunshine (links open PDFs). All of the Winter Wonderland materials are available to download as PDFs and as Word documents. 

Applications for Education
In the winter it can be hard to stay active because of the cold and or lack of daylight. Winter Wonderland games could provide a fun way to keep kids active during the winter months even when kids can't get outside.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Interactive Math & Science Simulations for Online and Offline Use

PhET is one of my favorite resources for math and science teachers. In fact, it's included as one of my Best of the Web picks for 2022. One of the many things that I like about PhET math and science simulations is that you can use them with or without an internet connection. That's something I recently mentioned to a former colleague and friend who had reached out to me for some help. To help him out I recorded this short video about how to use PhET simulations without an internet connection. 

Video: Free Math and Science Simulations for Online and Offline Use

PhET simulations can also be embedded into Google Sites. Watch the following video to learn how to do that. 

Free Webinars Today and Tomorrow

Today at 8pm ET/ 5pm PT Rushton Hurley and I are hosting the last live episode of Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff. After two and a half years of hosting these live webinars we're changing formats in 2023, but we wanted to have more live session to end 2022. I hope you'll join us! Register here

Tomorrow at 3:30pm ET I'm hosting Best of the Web 2022. Join me for a live presentation of my favorite new and updated ed tech tools of the year. I'll demo my favorites and answer your questions about them. If you can't make it for the live presentation you can watch the recording on Thursday. It will be posted on Free Technology for Teachers on December 8th. 

Come to the live presentation of Best of the Web 2022 and you'll get a special discount link for 50 Tech Tuesday Tips. 50 Tech Tuesday Tips was curated from more than 400 editions of The Practical Ed Tech NewsletterIn 50 Tech Tuesday Tips you will find ideas for lots of helpful things that you can teach to your colleagues and to students. Throughout the eBook you'll find tutorials and handouts that you can pass along in your school. 

Some of the many things you'll find in 50 Tech Tuesday Tips include:

  • What to do when a web app isn't working as you expect.
  • Building your own search engine.
  • How to create green screen videos.
  • Improving instructional videos. 
  • Streamlining email management.
  • Creating educational games. 
  • DIY app creation.
  • Podcasting tips for teachers and students. 

Biographies in Infographic Form

Last week while looking for a Canva template to create the copyright guide that I distributed in my Practical Ed Tech newsletter I came across an interesting template titled George Washington's Biography. It's a relatively simple template that students could easily modify to create a visual-heavy biography of just about anyone including themselves. 

Applications for Education

Take a look at the template and you'll notice that it's not intended to be used to create an exhaustive biography. Instead, it could be a good template for students to use to summarize a handful of key moments and events in a life of someone they've studied. I might have students use the template as a means to organize those key moments before writing a more in-depth biography.

Take a look at my playlist of 51 Canva tutorials to learn more about how to use and share designs made in Canva.