Colby, the Code & Go Mouse

IMG_5510Meet Colby, the Code & Go Mouse.  Colby is adorable and chatty and, not particularly surprisingly, quite fond of cheese.  Strangely, however, his favorite cheese appears to be Swiss – go figure!  Colby is spending some time in Mrs. Hoyt’s room at Pine Glen as we evaluate if/how to integrate him into the curriculum across the district next year.

Students create mazes, determine the start and end points, figure out the best way for Colby to get to the cheese, and give Colby instructions by using the buttons on his back.  They can even make him do “tricks.”

While these are all good pre-coding exercises, they also teach and reinforce a number of early education skills that span the disciplines from reading and writing, to math and science, and to social skills and history.  Students work on visual-spatial skills, 1:1 correspondence, planning, predicting, and sequencing. They also learn that Colby does what you tell him to do, which might not be what you wanted him to do!  When Colby goes someplace he shouldn’t or drives off the map, students need to determine where the breakdown in communication occurred, correct the problem, and then adjust everything that comes after that error.

The Code & Go Mouse is similar to Bee-bot, another programmable device for the early childhood/elementary market.  There are a few practical differences, including a significantly higher price for the Bee-bot.  Bee-bot is sold separately from mats or maps, all of which would need to be created or purchased at an additional cost.  The Bee-bot is charged via a micro-USB cable and Code & Go Mouse requires batteries.  I like that the Code & Go Mouse comes with cards that the students can use to write their code before programming it into the mouse.  This encourages students to work together, sharing and predicting how their plans will work out.

A few lessons from our first two times in kindergarten:

  • Toss the box the kit comes in and repackage or all the smaller pieces will disappear;
  • The maximum number of students per kit at any one time should be no more than four and I would suggest limiting groups to three students if possible.
  • Assign roles: maze builder, coder, operator, etc.
  • Always have a small screwdriver on hand in case you have to swap out batteries.  Rechargeable batteries are a good idea.
  • Set up the grid plate on a level surface ahead of time, especially in the beginning before have come to understand that directionality matters in connecting the plates.  Another option is to create a paper grid that students can roll out when they use the kit.
  • Students can become independent quickly in creating the mazes, coding, and problem solving, making this a great resource for independent stations once they are familiar with the process.

So, what’s next?  Budgets and other resource needs will be weighed in order to determine if Colby will be coming to your school and classroom and in what numbers.  If we get the go-ahead, there will be lesson plans developed for introducing Code & Go Mouse into kindergarten and/or first grade.  I also hope to put together a set of kid-friendly rules and instructions to go with classroom stations.

In the meantime, Colby is going to visit a few more classrooms before the end of the year so we can continue to learn together!

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Math & Basketball!

Screenshot 2017-05-03 at 10.08.33 AMDid you know that every BPS teacher has access to Discovery Education?  And Discovery Education is more than just video clips.  Check out this virtual field trip to the NBA where students can learn about the math involved in basketball. The VFT isn’t live, but the Twitter chat later in the afternoon on May 4th is, allowing you to view the VFT in the morning, collect student questions, and have them answered starting at 1:00 EST.  Can’t watch on May 4th?  No problem, the VFT is on demand.  Discovery Education also provides classroom activities to extend student engagement.

Some virtual field trips are live and others are on demand.  Previous topics included the engineering behind safe driving and the risks associated with e-cigarettes.  In addition to the NBA VFT, check out the upcoming VFT on May 11th on The Science Behind Your Food.

Speak with your Learning Commons team, Teacher-Librarian, or Tech Integration Specialist for more information on incorporating the wide range of digital resources available to you into teaching and learning in your classroom.

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Swift Playgrounds – Everyone Can Code

 

 Playgrounds_icon.png

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend Apple Education’s “Everyone Can Code” event, highlighting Apple’s Swift Playgrounds.  Swift is the coding language used to create iOS apps for iPhones and iPads.  What was most surprising, given Apple’s history of closed/proprietary systems, is that Swift now plays well with Microsoft, Android, Raspberry Pi, and other platforms, greatly expanding the possibilities for our students who learn Swift.

Playground_in_action.pngSwift Playgrounds for the iPad allows users to learn to code through lessons that progress from beginner through complex, including the ability for the learner to create their own playgrounds.  Designed for students beginning in sixth grade, I can see the app being used by students as early as fourth grade who are strong readers and/or who have adult assistance.  Through the use of the shortcut bar which provides tap-and-add commands, the app bridges the gap between block coding (where the user selects symbols but may have no understanding of the underlying commands and syntax) and free-typing which often results in typos and syntax errors.  This is especially helpful in the early stages of learning to code. There’s no need to compile Swift code so once you type a line of code, you can see the results immediately. Playgrounds also identifies errors as you type, simplifying the debugging process.

Swift Playgrounds includes curriculum materials designed to be accessible to teachers who have never coded before, providing educational materials so that the teacher can learn along with their students.  Lessons include activities, reflection questions, and journal prompts. You can check out the free course in iTunesU and guides in iBooks.

IBooks_for_teaching_Swift.png ITunesU_Swift.png

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Evernote and Google Drive – Together at Last

Screenshot 2016-05-31 at 11.18.03 AM

Finally, Evernote and Google Drive are working together.  Often, users find themselves torn between using Google Apps for everything in order to have all their files in one place and easily shared with co-workers or Evernote with its host of features that make it a better note-taking/productivity tool.  Oh, and Evernote just looks better, too, if that’s something you care about.  (I do!)

Now, you can search Google Drive directly from Evernote.  Instead of copying and inserting a link, you now insert the file into Evernote.  (You do need to be online to see the file, however, as it doesn’t store the file locally in Evernote.)

Check out the Evernote blog post linked here and then give the beta a spin in Chrome or Android.  Hopefully, we will see the same feature rolled out in iOS soon.

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Google Hangouts In Kindergarten

Hoyt Read Aloud

Earlier this year, I had the honor of being a guest reader in Mrs. Hoyt’s kindergarten at Pine Glen.  The first time was a typical read-aloud of Ms. Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.  I joined the students in the classroom, took a seat in the rocking chair on the rug, and held the book aloft while reading.  I remembered to sweep across with the book every now and then so students could see the pictures.  Since reading to kindergarten ranks high on my list of favorite activities, I had a great time.

 

Hoyt Hangout 3

Last month, we decided to try something different.  I visited the classroom via Google Hangouts in preparation for students using Hangouts and social media as a learning tool.  Through video chat and screen sharing, I read the book Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox.

Just in case we had difficulty with connecting or projecting the book via screen sharing, Mrs. Fallon was on hand with the book.  As you can see in the picture to the right, the screen sharing was a success and by projecting the pictures, all students could see them at the same time.  When I was done reading, I switched back to video chat and I took comments and questions about the book and what I liked to read.

It took the students no time at all to realize how Hangouts could be used to expand their reach.  I was visiting them from the far away place of the computer lab (shhhhh… I was just down the hall!), but they came up with relatives from around the country and the world who they could invite into the classroom.

Later this week, a student’s aunt will be reading to them from Costa Rica.  To facilitate sharing a book on the screen, Ms. Carney provided her with access to the library’s collection of digital books.  Students will not only have the joy of meeting another guest reader but will have a chance to ask questions about life in Costa Rica.  Just imagine what it would be like for them to interview people from around the world!

In the meantime, Mrs. Hoyt will be connecting her students with a kindergarten class at Francis Wyman when she visits there later this month.

The opportunities to expand students’ reach and awareness across the globe are countless with tools such as Google Hangouts.  Where will your students go next?

 

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National Park Service Resources

national park service search bar

Finding multimedia to use in your teaching without copyright infringement concerns can be a challenge.

One source to check out for Social Studies/History, is the National Park Service media collection.

harvesting ice in jamestown

With over 26,000 photos, 2,100 videos, and 600 audio files the National Park Service media collection provides a wealth of material, most of which is in the public domain.  A copyright symbol © indicates that the creator may retain some rights to the work, but in all of the searches I’ve done for materials to use in classroom projects, I have not yet run into that situation.

You can even access one of the more than 110 webcams that NPS has set up around the country, including this one of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.

Burlington Public Schools faculty looking for help in integrating these or any other digital resources into your teaching and learning, please email me at marcus@bpsk12.org or book a time using the online service linked in the sidebar.

 

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Storyline Online

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Storyline Online is a free service by the  SAG-AFTRA Foundation which provides videos of actors reading children’s books.  The selection includes a wide array of popular books, many of which are currently used in BPS classrooms today.  They even include  one of my personal favorites, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, read by West Wing actor, Bradley Whitford.

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Each book and video is accompanied by an Activity Guide which includes lessons, activities, and lists of cross-disciplinary resources.

 

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