Saturday, March 15, 2014

What I Learned at EdCampME, part 2: After the Hour of Code

First off, I just want to say that the Hour of Code is awesome.  In early December, as part of Computer Science Education Week, thousands of classrooms and millions of students from across the country took an hour to experience computer science by engaging in activities that allowed students to learn and practice logical and computational thinking skills.  In my schools, we had six classrooms take up the Hour of Code challenge in grades kindergarten through five.  In these classrooms, we primarily used two web-based resources:  Light-Bot and Scratch, and the students LOVED them!  What was so great about the Hour of Code was the fact that it ended up being so much more than an hour; most of the classrooms I have worked with have continued or are looking to continue along with the Hour of Code, especially Scratch.  I love the Hour of Code for helping to reinforce the purpose of computer science education down the road while providing a series of activities that students can engage and channel their creativity in.

However, the Hour of Code has also left me wondering, what's next?  How do we continue the momentum and support the students who really want to go to the next level with these activities?  Good thing there's EdCamp!  At last weekend's EdCampME, I got to meet Jay Collier, who is program director for Project > Login, a business partnership designed to engage and connect students with technology-based careers in Maine.  Jay helped lead a great conversation about next steps after the Hour of Code.  One of the resources he talked about was the MIT App Inventor, created by many of the same folks who created Scratch.  With a similar interface, the purpose of the website is to provide a child-friendly way to design apps for the Android platform!  You can even test them out on an actual Android smartphone!

When I was elementary school, I loved staying after school for computer club.  While those computer clubs were about playing educational games (Oregon Trail, anybody?), we also talked at this session about computer clubs where the entire purpose was to engage in coding and programming on the computer.  The beautiful part of this idea is that there are so many free, web-based resources out there for students to use (Scratch, and Gamestar Mechanic are examples that come to mind) that, as long as you have computers in the school, you could start one of these clubs with little to no additional cost.  We also learned about CoderDojo, an organization with clubs all over the world designed to provide spaces for students to learn coding for free, together.  What I like most about the CoderDojo concept is their model for asking questions, which has three steps:

1. Ask the person next to you;
2. Ask another student;
3. Ask an adult.

I am really looking forward to using this model in a variety of settings, including LEGO Robotics and using Scratch in the classroom.  For our upper elementary students, it is important that we reduce their dependence on us, as well as encourage students to work collaboratively and independently.  I believe the model above is an effective step toward accomplishing all of that.

I think that this session will help me roll out some new activities and programs with students in the near future.  If you are/were involved with Hour of Code in your school, I'd love to hear the next steps you are looking to take.  Who knows, maybe there's an opportunity for collaboration?

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