Entry Points


I make no apologies when I admit my preferences and soft heart for computer science.  Over the years, no other subject has changed so much in content and pedagogical approach.  It’s a terrific computer science teacher who stays on top of all of this.

Over the years, there has been no shortage of debate as to what to teach, when to teach it, how to teach it, …

If you do reading from many blogs who address one concept of computer science – coding – you’ll find that there are a number of posts giving “## reasons to teach coding to students”.  Some talk about it generally so that it could be understood that it should be taught somewhere in a child’s educational career and others specifically make reference to why you’d want to teach coding in elementary schools.  My preference would be, given the large number of places that computers are used in other ways in the curriculum, that the earlier the better.

But the kids aren’t ready!  Really?  How many have helped mom and dad program their smartphone?  How many have their own and have customized it to their liking.  They’re already tinkering and learning.  They are ready.

I’m a firm believer that since we’re big fans of technology, we really want to ensure that students become educated users of the technology, and part of that is to just get a sense of what it’s all about.  Now, I don’t think that we’re expecting our students to create the next great web browser, but there’s so much value in knowing what coding is all about and a sense of how it’s done.  I’ve mentioned it in this blog before but I really believe in the message of Douglas Rushkoff’s “Program or be Programmed“.  Your school’s teacher-librarian needs to have a copy of that in your professional library.

Through the introduction of this awareness, it also opens the doors to the whole discipline where the students just may wish to extend their abilities.

The real question, to me, remains largely unanswered.  Where should coding, as an introduction to computer science, be introduced?  It’s amazing the number of teachers who will agree that it’s a good skill to have as long as someone else introduces it!

I’ve been playing around with Code Monster from Crunchzilla and can see where it may solve the problem for implementation.

Code Monster is a number of things.  It’s an environment to learn about Javascript (not to be confused with Java), it’s a play as you go tutorial, it’s a place to see immediate results for instant feedback, and it’s a conversation with a monster who steps you through the process.

The use of the tutorial provides feedback to the learner and gives an instant sense of achievement.  Recently, I tried it out here at dougpete labs.  (which is really a couch and two recliner chairs with a dog who wants to be part of everything)  Within minutes, my guinea pig made the comment “Hey, I could actually do this … it isn’t all that hard.”  The more I started to think about Code Monster, the more I liked it.

As a beginning learning environment, you’re not presented with a large confusing interface with a tonne of options like you would find in a professional IDE and the concept of the code in one window and the results in another window right beside generates that instant feeling of gratification that comes from writing good code.

With your friendly monster leading the way, learning is quick, efficient, and fun.  The deeper you get into the tutorials, the more you want to experience.

I can see an application like this having multiple entry points in schools:

  • in a computer studies class, an introduction to Javascript with a proceed at your own pace functionality;
  • in an elementary school classroom, where the desire is there to easily introduce coding to students;
  • in a computer club where students learn the concepts on their own in a group setting.

Working through the tutorial with the monster will indeed give a sense of what coding is about and hopefully generate enough interest to take on something else.  There is so much available once you get started – Scratch, Alice, GameMaker – and a good start to coding is a great way to ensure success.

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OTR Links 09/30/2012

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Really Using Web 2.0

This will be a multi-step post of things to do.

First, you need to watch this video.  It’s not your typical 2 minutes YouTube fare.

Hopefully, that’s one of the most inspirational 11 minutes you’ve spent online.

So, what are the implications?  After all, you or your school have a website.  It may be just a template with your school colours but you’re on the web.  You’re telling your parents and your students your staff list and bell times.  If that makes you feel good, then you need to next read this post from George Couros.  It’s entitled “Don’t use 2.0 technology in a 1.0 way“.

Maybe, it’s time to step away from the keyboard and think this through carefully.

As a basis for a discussion, I’d like to consider the classroom instruction “I want you to do a Powerpoint”.  Is that even 1.0?  Well, you could be using your SkyDrive account.  And, if this is a class on how to use Powerpoint, it might be appropriate.  But, is the real instruction “I want you to create a presentation”.  That sheds a whole new light on the discussion.  Your third step is to read this post.  8 Unique Online Presentation Tools for Students.  I know that I read somewhere that someone found these “# ways to” as being lazy.  Maybe it’s time to think that it instead, multiple offerings could serve as a vehicle to open a lot of doors.

Is it necessary that students know all 8?  No, but what if they did or could or would given the opportunity.  Maybe they would find a tool that is more attractive to them or more suitable for the delivery of their message?  What is the ultimate expectation – that students create a Powerpoint presentation for their presentation or that students create a presentation for their presentation?  What does opening the door to other web2.0 technologies offer?  Easy integration of media for their message, online collaboration with their friends, sharing and feedback before, during or after the presentation.  Does it not make sense?

So, let’s head back to your or your school’s web presence and think about George’s thoughts.  Does it take you where you need it to go?  Is it just a dispenser of information?  Or, is it more of a conversation?  Think about your classroom activities.  Do the same principles apply?  I think that George’s post should really make you think and wonder just how effectively you are using things?

John Seely Brown will appear as a keynote and panel discussion member at the ECOO Conference in Richmond Hill in October.

OTR Links 09/29/2012

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

An Interview with Aviva Dunsiger

Aviva Dunsiger is one of the people who I “knew” online for a long time before I actually met her!  Our first physical meeting was at the ECOO Conference last year.  Aviva has been a strong voice in technology in the Ontario classroom.  She’s never been hesitant about exploring and trying new things as long as it had direct benefits for her students.  I had the wonderful opportunity to interview her for the blog.

Welcome, Aviva.  Thanks for taking the time for this interview.  I think many of my blog readers are very familiar with your online digital presence and will read with interest.  Hopefully, they’ll gain some insights about what makes you and your classrooms tick.

Aviva: Thanks for this incredible opportunity Doug!

Doug:  First – you made the Twitter change from @Grade1 to @AvivaLoca.  Can you tell us why you made the name change and how you finally decided on @AvivaLoca?

Aviva: I joined Twitter when I moved from teaching Senior Kindergarten to teaching Grade 1, and even when I became a Grade ½ teacher, I decided to stick with @grade1 because I thought that it encapsulated me as a “primary teacher.” This year though, I made the move to Grade 6, and I knew that my name needed to change. I didn’t want to pick a name that just associated me with a particular grade, as I’ve learned that grades can change. I was really vacillating of a name though, so I decided to harness the power of social media and run a poll on my blog. I provided some name choices, but @avivaloca was actually suggested in addition to the ones I provided. I LOVED it! The name makes me giggle each time I read it, and I love to laugh. I wasn’t really set on it though until one educator said that the Grade 6’s would probably love it most of all. I always say that I do everything for students first, so it was when this teacher said this, that I knew @avivaloca would be my new Twitter handle. I felt like the Grade 6’s had a “voice” in this decision too!

Doug:  This year has been a big change for you.  You’re now in a Grade 6 classroom after years teaching Grade 1.  Why the big switch?

Aviva: I think change is good, and I was definitely at a point in my career where I wanted a change. My administrators are incredibly supportive and were willing to give me this new teaching opportunity, and I would actually get to teach many of my first group of JK students from this school. I knew that I needed to take this opportunity while I had it!

I love working in education, and I look forward to a very long career in it! I don’t know what the future holds in terms of new opportunities though, and this junior experience is a good one. I’m very glad I made the big switch!

Doug:  How’s it going?

Aviva: It’s going amazingly well! I love working with the older students. I have such a bright, engaging, fantastic group of Grade 6 students that constantly push my thinking every day. I know that I’m a better teacher because of this change, and even more so, because of them!

Doug:  In your blog, you have always been very transparent and shared a great deal of your teaching experiences.  One of the ideas you’ve shared recently is that you’re using Royan Lee’s concept of a Thinking Book.  What made you decide to use that?  Are you having success with it?

Aviva: I loved Royan’s Thinking Book concept! I use lots of technology in the classroom, and students often publish their work online. I like to bridge the gap between paper and pencil and the computer, and I thought that the Thinking Book would do this. Students are now brainstorming their ideas on paper regardless of the tool that they use to publish their work. The Thinking Book is also allowing them to see the benefit in pre-planning and thinking in all subject matters. Students really enjoy having this consistent tool to share their ideas, and they’re using their Thinking Books both when guided to do so, and through independent choice. I’m thrilled with the results!

Doug:  Moving from Grade 1 to Grade 6 will also mean moving to a different classroom.  What do you find are the biggest differences between last year and this?

Aviva: I think it’s the marking. It never stops! 🙂 Last year, I had a lot more prep work to do, but my marking was less, or at least it didn’t take as long. This year, it’s reversed. That’s okay though: each grade comes with its own unique bonuses and challenges.

Doug:  In Grade 1, you took many opportunities to merge social media into your teaching.  I’m thinking in particular your experiences with quad-blogging and Twitter.  Are you able to do the same things this year?

Aviva: Yes, absolutely!! In some ways, even more so. Many students bring their own devices that they use in the classroom, which just makes access to these tools even easier. The students will be getting their own blogs next week, they’re already using Twitter to share and connect with others, and they’re using our class blog as well. We also start the Global Read Aloud next week (thanks Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp)), so the students will be using Edmodo as well.

Doug:  What’s the difference between the use and supervision of students using the internet in primary versus junior grades?

Aviva: Students are much more comfortable with the Internet in these older grades, and they know how to use it well. That being said, their ease of use makes supervision even more key. There’s also a big need for “education.” Students realize that many of these tools are public ones, but they need some instruction on what public means. They’re very open to instruction though, and what they can do online is truly incredible!

Doug:  How about other software packages?  What would you say have been the really useful software packages that you’ve brought into your class so far?

Aviva: I really haven’t used much software in the classroom. I’d be open for suggestions though. Many of my computers in the classroom make downloading difficult, so I rely on “cloud computing.”

Doug:  What are you planning for the future?

Aviva: This is a hard question. I definitely plan on being in education. I LOVE teaching right now, and I may continue teaching for the rest of my career. I also love working with other teachers and administrators though, especially in the area of technology in education. I would definitely consider a consultant-type position in the future, if the opportunity presented itself. Being able to blend working with students and working with educators would be ideal!

Doug:  There must be a whole new set of planning and preparation needed in your new world.  We always talk about networks to learn from.  What sort of networking have you used to kick start your Grade 6 experience?

Aviva: I’ve used a number this year. I have a fantastic teaching partner, who I worked with before in Grade 1. She’s been a Literacy Teacher for our Board though, and has lots of junior experience. We have planned a lot together. I’ve also worked with some amazing Grade 5 and 6 teachers from a neighbouring school. We’ve been able to plan together and share ideas. This has been very beneficial. Finally, I’ve had tons of support from my awesome PLN on Twitter! I follow tons of junior teachers, who have been very willing to share ideas and offer support. I can’t thank them enough!

Doug:  Grade 6 is a testing year for EQAO.  That’s not something that you’ve had to plan for in Grade 1!  Do you find preparing for EQAO impacting your lesson planning?  Where are you turning for support?

Aviva: EQAO has definitely been something I’ve been thinking about since September. I’ve certainly looked at all of the previous tests online, and have used what I’ve learned from this exploration in my planning and teaching. Each Monday, my teaching partner and I do an #mcmondays Twitter chat (we even trended two weeks ago) where we tweet out old EQAO multiple choice questions, and students work in partners to tweet the answers. They discuss the different possibilities, and really have a chance to break down the questions. My teaching partner and I also use old EQAO reading passages for reading comprehension activities. This gets the students used to the format that they’re going to see on EQAO. As we told the students, we’re trying to demystify it, so that EQAO is just another thing to do in class. Weekly, we also send home open response questions for writing questions, and we use similar questions in class. We show the students how to approach these questions, and give them a chance to practice the skill. A fellow Grade 6 teacher in our Board gave us a great format for how to answer these open response questions (thanks @michellefawcett), and we taught the students this approach to help them. Between Twitter and real life interactions, there’s always lots of teachers around willing to share ideas and offer help! Yes, EQAO is a definite presence in the classroom, but learning in our Grade 6 classes is about way more than this too!

Doug:  I can imagine that this has been a pretty intense start to the school year.  Are you up for another year of Grade 6?

Aviva: I definitely am! It has been a busy start, but doing something again is always wonderful. It gives you a chance to reflect on what you did before, make changes, and try again. I’m always up for trying again!

Doug:  Finally, you’re part of the Minds on Media event for this year’s ECOO (Educational Computing Organization of Ontario) Conference.  Can you tell us what your centre will be about?  If I dropped in, what would I expect to learn?

Aviva: Strangely enough, my centre will be about documenting student learning in the K-3 classroom. These ideas could definitely be applied to junior classrooms as well though. I’m looking at how teachers can use technology to document student achievement. We’ll be looking at various online tools teachers can use with all students (e.g., blogs, Evernote, the Livescribe Pen, etc.), and how the teachers can use them for documentation as well as how they can empower the students to use them to document their own learning. I’m so excited for this amazing opportunity!

Doug:  Thank you so much, Aviva.  I’m sure that all the blog readers wish you a successful year.  Personally, I’m looking forward to catching up in Richmond Hill at the conference.

Aviva: Thanks Doug! I look forward to catching up with you too.

You can follow Aviva’s adventures on her new blog:  http://adunsiger.com/
If you’d like to read about her learning as a Grade 1 teacher, she previously blogged at: