Monday, January 13, 2020

Every Week is the Hour of Code in Minnetonka Elementary Classrooms

Our Tonka Codes program is now in its sixth year. Starting last year, coding was added to the elementary report card. There is always coding going on in Minnetonka elementary classrooms, so in a way, every week is the Hour of Code. However, each December we participate in the International Hour of Code along with schools around the world, and last month was no different. We set a 5,000 hour goal for the Hour of Code week and students in our district ended up with a total of 6,481 hours of coding! Every single school coded higher than one hour per student on average. A big thanks to our participating teachers and to our Elementary Tonka Codes Teacher on Special Assignment, Tarah Cummings, for leading this effort! 

Below is a sampling of what I saw while visiting each of our six of our elementary schools during the Hour of Code Week and posted to Twitter. A few of our schools organized special coding parties and events with parent volunteers. Many teachers paired up with buddy classes in which older grades helped younger students with coding such as fourth graders helping kindergartners. There were also high school volunteers who helped elementary students learn coding. One of the common themes I saw was collaboration and communication. Very rarely is coding done in isolation--even when students are individually doing a task or working on a program on their own device, they are almost always trouble shooting with others and helping one another out. 

In addition to these highlights, almost 50 elementary teachers shared what they did by posting a summary and photos to our Elementary Coding Schoology Group. There were so many great coding experiences! As I wrote at the start, these happen weekly for our for K-5 students since coding is part of curriculum. To learn more about coding in Minnetonka K-12, please see some of the related posts listed below:

Monday, January 6, 2020

15 More Examples of Meaningful Coding Across the Middle School Curriculum

Back in December during the International Hour of Code, we asked all of our middle school teachers to include a coding activity tied in with their curricular area and share with all teachers what they did by posting to a Schoology Group. Below is a sampling of what was done at both of our middle schools along with some of the photos they submitted. As you can see, there was great variety and creativity involved and teachers tied it to their curriculum, from language arts, music, math, science and more. A big thanks to our participating teachers and to our middle school computer science teachers, Lisa Reed and Michelle Pease, for encouraging colleagues to explore the opportunities for integrating coding into their curriculum. 
  1. My 8th grade geometry students used Spheros to calculate polygon interior and exterior angles, and programmed their bots to draw pictures. 

  2. I had my 7th grade Comp Math students work on coding the coordinate plane. Students were able to learn about the coordinate plane and coding through this Codesters activity. They had a great time! 

  3. 8th grade Global Studies students at MME coded flags of the world today! Fun times coding Libya then going for more challenging flags of Ukraine and Germany. Some students designed and coded their own flags.
  4. Students are currently reading The Cay by Theodore Taylor in 6th grade LA class. The book lent itself well to a connection about WWII, Alan Turing and the Enigma code in spirit of Code Week! They learned what encryption is and how to decrypt messages just like Alan Turing did during WWII in the fight against Nazi Germany. Students attempted to decrypt the attached cryptogram, and some were successful! Those that finished could extend their knowledge of Cryptography with Swift Playgrounds: Cipher. The conversations spurred from this lesson were not all focused on coding, but the life of Alan Turing brought rich conversations about history, persecution, and humanity that brought great value to the class. 

  5. My classes are participating in code week this week. Today we did a coding Breakout EDU. Tuesday and Wednesday we are using Spheros and Thursday we are doing Swift Playgrounds. On Friday we are ending the week with a coder speaker.
  6. In my social skills class we did an hour of code using Breakout Edu. The students had to work in partners to problem solve various puzzles and codes. It was a great way to observe collaboration skills and their ability to persevere through frustration!

  7. I had students code a health super hero that would rescue someone from drug use. My 6th graders were really creative. One student coded a grandma figure that went into schools and talked to kids about how drugs have aged her. And even though she looked old like a grandma, she actually was not as old as she looked because of her drug use. So fun to see their creativity!

  8. 6th Grade LA coded Homophone stories - the requirements were three sets of homophones that were different and a story that made sense! Many kids had a lot of fun with this!!

  9. 7th grade Spanish Immersion LA students created story maps to retell fairy tales. They programmed Ozobots to follow their story maps.

  10. In 7th grade life science, students had the opportunity to explore the website tutorials. Many a Flappy Bird game were coded this day.

  11. In 8th grade earth science the students played with the different Hour of Code Activities! Some of them created their own games! 

  12. In Band 8, we worked on coding the music of Franz Lizst. A great activity to do right after the concert!!

  13. In Language Arts, students created a PSA with 

  14. In comp math students were coding a snowman with coordinate points. 

  15. In our language arts hour of code, students are coding mini narratives! Students code to establish character and setting in a short story.
To learn more about coding in Minnetonka K-12, please see some of the related posts listed below:

Monday, December 30, 2019

EDTalks: Screen Time & Student Well-being, January 13 @ 6pm

I'm excited to join Erin Walsh from the Spark & Stitch Institute as we give two inspiring EDTalks on technology and student health on Monday, January 13,  2020, 6:00-7:30pm at the Icehouse in Minneapolis. Register here. Here are the details:

It's Complicated: Students, Social Media and Mental Health 
Students spend an average of 53 hours each week on social media and other technology – more than any other activity but sleeping. While many assume technology is inherently bad for student mental health, evidence suggests that it can either boost or undermine what young people need to thrive. As more and more schoolwork goes online, both the opportunities and challenges are magnified, and educators need to learn how to respond. Erin Walsh will describe the key ingredients for digital wellness and share strategies to help students thrive in a world of screens.

Presenter: Erin Walsh, M.A, is co-founder of Spark & Stitch Institute, which translates brain science into practical strategies for parents and educators who want to raise courageous and connected kids. A national consultant on digital media and youth, she is co-author of the 10th anniversary edition of the bestseller, Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen, and lead program facilitator for Youth Frontiers, where she directs retreats for educators on the science of stress and why connection unleashes learning.

Raising Tech-Healthy Kids   
Tablets, smartphones, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and more... technology is a central part of young people’s lives today. Keeping up can be challenging, but a positive and well-informed approach can have a big impact on a child’s future and in creating new habits that lead to digitally healthy individuals. Learn simple tips to help both kids and adults balance the use of technology in our lives.

Presenter: Dave Eisenmann, M.A. Ed., is director of instructional technology and media services for Minnetonka Public Schools and a former classroom teacher. Dave has spoken to over 65,000 students, educators and parents about digital wellness and technology use. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Saint Mary's University Minneapolis, where he teaches classes on technology integration. 

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Monday, December 9, 2019

Minnetonka Third Graders Go to Space (Virtually) in a Weather Balloon!

Last week third graders in Bettina Grund’s third grade Spanish immersion class at Clear Springs Elementary visited outer space! Not literally, of course. They used our new ClassVR headsets to leave earth in a weather balloon, rise up into the upper levels of the atmosphere, and eventually end up in outer space. Once they made it to space, they visited the sun and some of the planets in our solar system.

I was with them on this virtual field trip and students were so excited and engaged. They worked with a partner and took turns wearing a headset. I noticed two students girls, Ellie and Evie, who were holding hands as they took turns using headset for a few minutes at a time. I sat down with them and asked them about their trip. I learned that they had been studying the solar system already in class prior to this journey. Evie showed me her science packet about the solar system and explained that they learned about satellites, planets, orbits, seasons, and phases of the moon among other things. Ellie explained that they had made moon viewers using a paper plate with a hole cut in the center and illustrated the various phases of the moon on the plate around the hole. They liked learning about the planets and especially enjoyed this virtual field trip. 

While riding the weather balloon ClassVR uses virtual reality providing a 360 degree environment to look around. When viewing the sun and the planets, the ClassVR experience uses augmented reality. So this means that a mini version of each planet appears to be floating in front of the students while they simultaneously saw their classmates and the rest of the room. For students who were not viewing something while their partner was wearing the headset, they could watch along on the screen up front. On the screen, the teacher was displaying her ClassVR dashboard, in which she can see what everyone is looking at or display one person’s view. She could also guide the tour by having everyone see the same thing.

Bettina explained that using these headsets was an activity that she opted to give a try. She found it fairly easy easy to use and this was the second day the students had spent about a half an hour of class visiting the solar system. This activity was combined out only with science but also language arts after the students learned solar system Spanish vocabulary using iStation. The ClassVR experience fit in nicely as an extension to deepen their learning.

Thanks to the Minnetonka Foundation, 24 Class VR headsets were purchased this year. Eight headsets are stored in one portable case, so the three cases are available for our teachers to check out and use all together or in smaller sets. 
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            Monday, November 25, 2019

            Minnetonka Hosts Harvard Weekend Code Academy

            Over 30 students attended a Harvard Weekend Coding Academy at Minnetonka High School (MHS) this past weekend. Students of all abilities spent 14 hours working with two students from Harvard to learn the fundamentals of the Python coding language. In addition to learning coding techniques, students developed critical thinking, problem solving, and collaborative skills. They also met new people, collaborated, and had fun!

            The event was organized by Charlie, a MHS senior interested in majoring in coding in college, who had attended a more in-depth Python coding camp at Harvard this past summer. There he heard of the opportunity to bring the experience to his own school over a weekend. He contacted The Academies at Harvard, which is a branch of Harvard Student Agencies, a non-profit business run by Harvard undergraduate students. They set up and take care of the website and registration fees, and Charlie worked with our MHS coding teachers, Nick Bahr and Theresa Hendrickson, to advertise it at school. Charlie put up signs, made morning announcements on the school news show, advertised it on social media and in the school newsletter, and enlisted the help of some parents to spread the word. 

            For the class two college student instructors from Harvard, Shaik, a New York City native and econ major, and Clarence, also from New York and a computer science major, flew in to Minnesota for the weekend to teach the course. Both instructors are teaching assistants in courses at Harvard. Shaik explained that instructors need to go through training and show mastery of all course content as well as have prior experience working with students (such as during the summer coding camps held on campus). Languages and frameworks that can be covered in a Weekend Academy include Scratch, HTML, CSS, Python 3, Jinja and Flask. This particular course was a series of online activities that challenged the students to solve various Python coding tasks. Students learn to use Python in steps as they problem solve and compete each stage. 

            For example, one student named Becca, a MHS junior, was working on Else statements, called Elif statements in Python. She was working to get the words Fizz and/or Buzz to appear in a string of numbers when multiples of 3 and 5 existed. If a number was both a multiple of 3 and 5, students needed to get Fizz Buzz to appear, but not Buzz Fizz. She was enjoying the challenge of coding these “If not this then that…” problems. Becca is currently in the AP Comp Sci Principles year long course at MHS. She’s interested in computer science for a future career and wanted to “dip my toes in and test the water.” Another attendee, Sophie, was a sophomore who also had prior coding experience and wanted to enhance her programming skills. She is currently taking AP Comp Sci 1 and knew some Python from 7th grade. She is good at coding, sees it as a growing field that will be high paying, and wants to see more women get into STEM careers.

            Not all attendees were currently enrolled in coding courses. Freshmen Ketav and Will both thought it would be fun to learn to code and so they signed up. Will, who skipped a Saturday swim team practice to attend, is considering a coding career because he knows “software developers highly sought after.” I heard similar stories from other attendees like Autumn, a junior who loves metalwork and plans to be a marine. She was new to coding with no prior experience. She started at MHS last year and therefore hadn’t taken coding starting in elementary school like most of her classmates. She was working on replicating a half pyramid of blocks (like the one pictured from the Mario Bros. video game). She said it was “fascinating...somewhat difficult in a way, but once you get through it it’s pretty cool.” 

            All of the students seemed to learn a lot and enjoyed the experience learning to code in Python.

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            Friday, November 22, 2019

            20 Examples of Makerspace Projects in Minnetonka Classrooms

            Minnetonka's Makerspace, called "The Hub" is now in its third year. Makerspaces are “are informal places or materials for creative production in art, science, and engineering where students of all ages blend digital and physical technologies to explore ideas, learn technical skills, and create new products” (source).  The Minnetonka Foundation has invested in materials and equipment at each of our six elementary schools plus our two middle schools. More about the Foundation here. Read more about the original launch here.

            To encourage teachers to integrate the materials into their curriculum, professional development has been offered over the past two years, including August classes and even through a summer online course. Teachers have had opportunities to use the materials during these trainings to get more comfortable with the possible activities and gain ideas on how to use them. One page guides on how to use materials in The Hub were created. Some of our Spanish and Chinese immersion teachers even provided translations for the task and challenge cards that were created during the initial curriculum writing phase of year one. We also have a Schoology course for teachers to share ideas with one another. 

            Tarah Cummings, part time Teacher on Special Assignment for The Hub, took 20 ideas our teachers shared using The Hub materials and put them together in a great Adobe Spark VideoAs you watch the video, you'll see some of the great ways that our teachers are integrating Hub tools into their curriculum in actual projects and lessons that have been taught at the elementary and middle levels in a variety of content areas. 

            Each year two sites host a family event with The Hub, too. They were typically held on a Saturday and encouraged the parents to participate with their children to try out various Hub materials and activities that promote coding and making. You can read more about that here. Many of the makerspace activities and materials in The Hub also involve coding and robotics materials. You can learn more about Tonka Coders and Makers in these related posts:

            Monday, November 11, 2019

            Relay, a Great Screen-less Starter Phone for Kids

            Relay (image source)
            A few years ago I wrote that it was best to wait until at least middle school to get a smartphone for a kid. I still believe that and don't think smartphones are needed in elementary school, but understand that some parents may like the ability to contact their kids and/or see where their kids are at any moment--did they remember to ride the bus home, are they at the park, how can I find them to let them know that our plans changed, etc.? There are certainly times where knowing this for our own current and former elementary aged kids would have been really helpful and/or provided peace of mind for my wife and me!

            Over the past couple of years a few friends with elementary aged children have opted to purchase a Relay. It basically is a push-button cellular walkie talkie with GPS and an accompanying parent app. The Relay costs about $45 plus a $10/month subscription fee. Parents and kids can contact one another to talk. The device blinks if the child has a voicemail. Pre-programmed approved numbers can be added. Parents can view the location of the RelayGo on a map in the app, set up alerts marking off a geofence, listen to missed messages and get alerts when the device's rechargeable battery power is low. Kids can name their device, add music and a few other things like a "daily joke" channel, translation channel and voice changer. An armband and a case with lanyard and carabiner can also be purchased. It's water resistant.

            A Minnetonka employee and parent using Relay explained to me that she and her husband wanted to start their fifth grade daughter on a screen-less communication device and not a smartphone. Their daughter wanted to bike on her own this summer. They wanted her to be able to be independent yet also keep in touch with her. The Relay was a way to build trust. They found it to be a great tool. She did mention that calls on WiFi were clear but initially they had to teach their daughter to not hold the Relay right next to her mouth when speaking on the cellular connection so they could understand her. 

            There are other options beside the Relay. Companies like Verizon offer the Gizmo kid's watch for about $130 with a two year contract. I have seen a few elementary students wearing these. If you have experience with them, let me know what you think. 

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