Monday, May 15, 2017

Discovering Our Superpowers: Teaching Coding to 5th Graders Using Scratch

Coding is a superpower. Technology is becoming embedded in every industry imaginable and there simply aren't enough qualified applicants for the growing computer science field. In order to attract the best applicants, companies are willing to give out generous salaries and the best benefits imaginable: free gourmet food, play rooms, nap rooms, and more. This is all part of the reason we decided it was important to teach our students just a bit about how to code.

 When planning our coding unit, the technology teacher and I were directed to use Scratch (I personally prefer as I find it more user friendly for just learning the basics.) Rather than reinvent the wheel, we went to the internet to find Scratch lesson plans. We found this guide from Scratch and used it as the springboard for what we did with our students. Below is a description of the unit we developed. Each "day" is one 50 minute period. The computer teacher and I co-taught this unit, however it could easily be taught by one teacher.

Day 1: Why Should We Learn Coding?/ Brainstorming
We wanted to stress to our students the importance of coding and how embedded it is in everyday life. To share this information, we went through this PowerPoint with students. After watching the video at the end of the PowerPoint, we had students brainstorm the kinds of things they would use coding to create.

Day 2: Join Scratch and Complete Tutorial

Our next step was to get students into Scratch and familiar with the program. We began by showing this video to students. We then had students use their school computer username and password to set up their account. We had students use our email instead of their parent's email so that we would be able to reset their password if necessary and immediately confirm their accounts. To ensure they used the correct username and password, we created these direction sheets for each student. After students were logged in, we directed students to go through the Scratch tutorial. The major downfall of this tutorial was that students could click through all the steps without performing the actions and complete the tutorial without having any idea how to use Scratch. This meant that we needed to be very specific about how to complete the tutorial and even perform the first few steps for the class to see.

Day 3-4: Ten Blocks Project

To help students build more familiarity with Scratch, we had students complete the "10 Blocks" project (page 30-31 in the Creative Computing Guide). Students were directed to use only the 10 blocks listed on page 31 to build a project. They could use the blocks more than once, but they could only use the blocks listed. To introduce the project, we showed students this video explaining what each block did and how to put their project together. After the video, students logged in, clicked on Create, and began working on their project. We printed out page 31 as a guide for each student and displayed the list of blocks on our projector screen. We found that one day was not enough to complete the project, so we had them work on it for two days. On the second day, students logged into Scratch, opened their folder, and completed their projects. At the end of the second day, we had students write a response to the reflection questions for the project:
  • What was difficult about being able to use only 10 blocks?
  • What was easy about being able to use only 10 blocks?
  • How did it make you think of things differently?
Day 5-7: About Me Project
We wanted the final project to be simple, but allow for creativity. After skimming through the Creative Computing Guide, we decided on the "About Me" project on page 36. We began by showing this video to explain the project to the students. Before we had students begin working on their project, we had them think about what 5 sprites they might put in their project and turn to a neighbor to talk about these 5 sprites. After a bit of brainstorming and discussion, students logged in, clicked on create, and began working on their projects. We allowed students three days to work on this project.At the end of the third day, students shared their projects with a classmate and wrote a response to the reflection questions for the project:

  • What are you most proud of? Why? 
  • What did you get stuck on? How did you get unstuck? 
  • What might you want to do next? 
  • What did you discover from looking at others’ About Me projects

We were a bit crunched for time, since we planned this quickly at the end of the school year, so if I were to do this again, I would suggest using Day 5-7 to only work on the About Me project and using an 8th day for students to present their projects to the class and write their responses.

How are you teaching coding at your school? How have you used Scratch?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Summer Reading Lists

We all know it is important to keep our students reading during the summer, but what do we encourage them to read? Below are links to my summer reading suggestions for Summer 2017

Entering this grade in August/September 2017:
1st Grade
2nd Grade
3rd Grade
4th Grade
5th Grade
6th Grade
Middle School
High School

Be sure to check with your local bookstores and public libraries for summer reading programs and events!

Resources and Book Lists:
Kindergarten- Grade 2: 

Grade 3- Grade 5:

Middle School:

High School/ Young Adult:


Friday, April 21, 2017

It Takes a Village: Tools to Help Keep the Community Informed, Engaged, and Supportive

The Media Center is an integral part of the school community. Media Specialists and Librarians are aware of this, but how do we keep the community informed of all we do? How do you engage your school and the community itself in the Media Center programs? How do you in turn get the community to stand behind the Media Center and support the many programs? Well, below I will tell you what I have done to get our community involved here. I'd love to hear how you get your community involved as well.

  • Web Site: The Media Center website has all of the information about everything that happens in the Media Center. I designed my Media Center website using Google Sites and some HTML coding. I tried to design it to be simple and functional so that parents, staff, and students could easily access what they were looking for. On the home page, I had links to my contact information, newsletter sign up, the school library catalog, the public library website, and useful websites and online sources.
    I also included a link to a page with our schedule embedded and the objectives to lessons currently being taught in the Media Center. Aside from regular Media Center business on the home page, I also included a page for our Monday Morning Makers and Coding Club programs. On these pages, I embedded videos that helped to explain why we have these programs and what they are. I also included written information about the programs and a schedule of events. I taught the students how to use the website and sent home information about the website in our school newsletter. You can access the Pinewood Media Center website by visiting:
  • Newsletters: During open house, parents were able to sign up for the Media Center newsletter. The teachers also sent a sign up link to all their parents. I easily could have sent the newsletter out to all the parents, but I did not want it to be looked at like spam. I did not want it to be irritating. To manage my newsletter, I chose to use the free email marketing tool Vertical Response. This program allows you to create various contact lists (I also use this to send out reminders about coding club) and easily lay out your newsletter with a number of templates to choose from. You can also add a widget into the newsletter for people to share the newsletter on Facebook and Twitter. You can access my March Newsletter here. In my newsletter, I share reading tips, blog posts, and upcoming events.
  •  Blog Posts: Another way that I reach out to the community and to other Media Specialist is through this blog which you are reading right now. I set up my blog using blogger in college and began updating it again a little over a year ago. On the blog, I share about lessons I am currently teaching, recommend books or authors, and share about technology I have found useful. Use the navigation bar on the side to browse through some of the other posts I have written.
  • Social Media: I use Twitter and Facebook to connect with the community and with other Media Specialists. I share short blurbs of information on both, things like cool apps, book suggestions, and Media Center happenings. I also share my newsletter and blog posts through social media. To make things easier and save time, I often schedule my posts ahead of time using a tool called Hootsuite. This allows you to create your posts and schedule when you would like them to go out. I often schedule 2 weeks of posts at a time.
     To increase followers on social media, I often tag others that are relevant to the post and utilize hashtags, especially the school's hashtag. I also include links to my social media profiles on my website and blog and in my newsletter. To engage with colleagues, I find Twitter chats are very engaging.You can find me on Twitter at @LisaNewhouse4 and on Facebook on my page Media Specialist 4 Life.
  • PTO and School Board Presentations: Finally, in person meetings and presentations are also important to engaging with the community. I have made it a habit to attend school board meetings and PTO meetings. I also try to attend a variety of school events. It is so much fun to see the students outside of the normal school day. I have also found that a great way to get the parents and school board invested in programs is to invite them. We have had administrators and school board members visit our coding club and have even presented about coding to our school board. Here is the video that we shared last fall: