Monday, May 7, 2018

Learn Coding at Home:

Coding is a big deal right now, and rightly so. When our kids go into the workforce 10, 15, 20 years from now, they will be immersed in a world of technology. From robotic milkers to creating computer apps, even the simplest jobs will require basic technology skills. Why not give your kids up by teaching them coding while they are young, not only do they learn basic technology skills, they also learn problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity. Oftentimes, coding also breeds collaboration as kids work on projects in groups. Below is a list of some of my favorite coding websites and apps. I also listed a few kid friendly robots that I recommend. 

  • Kodable is a website and iPad app with many levels to teach coding. It is very basic and can be used with even early elementary students.
  • is a leader in coding education for grade school students. There are lessons easy enough for kindergarten students and lessons complex enough for high school students.
  • CodeCombat teaches text coding in a game like atmosphere. Choose your hero and defeat the goblins through code. Some levels require a subscription.
  • Codecademy is made for older students (upper-elementary on) and teaches many types of coding through open courses.
  • Empire of Code is a space game with a mix of strategy, tactics and coding. You can play the game with or without coding skills, but knowing how to code will definitely give you an advantage.
  • Scratch is a program through a partnership with MIT, the National Science Foundation and other groups that allows users to create videos and games through block based coding.
  • Tynker is a website and an iPad app with many different coding games. Some are simple enough for early elementary students.
  • An engaging platform where programming knowledge is acquired alongside 21st century skills through collaboratively playing and solving puzzles, inventing, creating and sharing.
  • Code Avengers allows users to learn coding through a game. There are two available levels: Jr. for 5-14 year olds and Pro for 15+ year olds
  • Hack ‘n’ Slash is a puzzle action game about hacking — reprogram object properties, hijack global variables, hack creature behavior, and even rewrite the game’s code. The only way to win is not to play... by the rules! It uses an interface that looks much like Zelda

iPad/iPhone Apps
  • Kodable: Kodable is a website and iPad app with many levels to teach coding. It is very basic and can be used with even early elementary students.
  • Scratch Jr.: Uses simple drag and drop block based coding to build animations. Because the blocks use images rather than words it is simple enough for early elementary students. This is a simplified version of the PC Scratch app.
  • Tynker: Tynker is a website and an iPad app with many different coding games. Some are simple enough for early elementary students.
  • Lightbot: Code an on screen robot to complete different tasks while learning coding. There is also a simpler version called Lightbot Jr. for younger students.
  • Osmo: Osmo is an iPad attachment that partners the iPad screen with tangible manipulatives. The basic Osmo kit contains the iPad stand, Numbers, Words, and Tangrams. There are additional packs like Coding Awbie and Code Jam that allow you to learn coding. This is great for younger students!


  • Code-a-pillar: The Code-a-Pillar is a caterpillar robot with pieces that you arrange and rearrange to tell it how to move.
  • Beebot: Beebot is a simple robot. Code it using the arrow buttons on top. Create different challenges and try to code it to make it through
  • Cubetto: Cubetto is the friendly wooden robot that will teach your child the basics of computer programming through adventure and hands on play. It works much like Beebot, but utilizes a board and blocks to make the code.
  • Sphero & Ollie: Sphero and Ollie are robots that are coded through the use of iPad apps. They connect via Bluetooth to the iPad. Sphero is a ball robot. Ollie is a cylinder.
  • Dot & Dash: These robots work much the same as Sphero connecting to an iPad through Bluetooth, but have more apps available for programming and attachments to add to its abilities.
  • LEGO Robotics: Do you love LEGOs? Me too! LEGO offers two different robotics kits. WeDo 2.0 is the simplest robotics kit. Mindstorms is the more complex kit.
If you are in the Upsala area, consider signing your child up for COR Robotics Camp as well!

*Some of the above descriptions were copied directly from the app's website.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Be a Financially Savvy Teacher with these Discounts!

There are some perks to being a teacher. Some companies recognize the challenging job we do and offer wonderful discounts. Here are just a few:

Adobe: Receive special educator pricing on various Adobe apps like Photoshop and Illustrator

Apple: Special prices for students and teachers.

BOSE: Save up to 15% on sounds systems and more for your home or classroom.

Cell Phone Providers: Many cell phone providers offer educator discounts including Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

Microsoft: Receive special pricing on Microsoft products, including free use of Microsoft Office 365.

Classroom Supplies:
AC Moore: Receive 15% off your purchase every day!

Barnes & Noble: Enroll with an Educator Discount Card to receive 20% off purchases every day and even bigger discounts on special days throughout the year. Barnes & Noble also offers Book Fairs to help raise funds for school and classroom libraries.

The Container Store: Sign up to receive special discounts to help organize your classroom throughout the school year.

FedEx: Save 15% off classroom supplies, scanning, faxing & copying,  and any print services.

Half Price Books: Get 10% off your purchase every day with an Educator Discount Card

JoAnn Fabrics: Get 15% off every purchase every day for teachers. Enroll online today!

Lakeshore Learning: Save 15% off many items in store.

Michaels: Save 15% on craft supplies and more every day.

Banana Republic: Get 15% off your purchase in store with a valid school ID

Dr. Scholls: Use promo code TEACHFOR20 to get 20% off your purchase at checkout.

J-Crew: All college students and teachers receive a 15% discount when they show a valid school ID at check out.

LOFT: LOFT offers numerous special deals for teachers including discounts, special sweepstakes, classroom grants, and more. Enroll online for more information.

Madewell: Get 15% in store with a valid school ID.

TOMS: Save 10% on all full-priced items

Alamo: NEA Members are able to get a great deal on their next rental car.

Enterprise: NEA Members can get special discounted pricing for their next rental car trip.

Marriott Hotels: Marriott offers special government and military discounts which can apply to teachers in some cases. Call your Marriott Hotel before booking for more information.

National Park Service: With a valid school ID, teachers can receive 15% off entrance fees.

STA Travel: Find special discounts on rental cars, airline tickets, hotel rooms and more.

GEICO: Receive special discounts on your car insurance
Many other stores also offer special deals during National Teacher Appreciation Week or on special Teacher Appreciation Days. What are your favorite educator discounts?

Thank you to VIPKID for helping me put together this list!

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?