Friday, December 20, 2013

Reflecting on the Hour of Code

Now that book fair is over (and it was a very successful book fair!), it's time to reflect on library activities over the past couple of weeks, which included the Hour of Code (#HourofCode) and Brad Gustafson's (@GustafsonBrad) World Book Talk (#WorldBookTalk). This blog post will focus on the Hour of Code, while a separate blog post will be dedicated to the World Book Talk.

During the week of December 16th, schools across the world participated in Hour of Code (#HourofCode).'s (@Codeorg) website says that over 19 million students worldwide logged at least one hour of coding during the event. While I didn't register my library's school officially, 3rd and 4th graders completed an hour of code during their library visits that week, because I, too, believe that students needs to know this valuable skill if they are going to become productive members of our society.

The biggest technology problem I face is simply not having enough of it. Ideally, I would have a 1:1 library (one laptop/desktop/device per student), but at the moment, that isn't possible. With only nine student computers available, I struggled to come up with a way to get enough coding time for each student.

Thankfully, has a small collection of lessons for schools with little access to technology. There are some great lessons there, and I chose to use Kodable's (@Kodable) fuzzFamily Frenzy with students.  Thinkersmith (@Thinkersmith) also has a couple of great low-tech coding lessons. I plan on using these lessons in upcoming months.

We started the lesson with a brief discussion about computers. I asked students how a computer knows what to do when it's turned on. We talked about whether the computer knows to do things on its own or someone has to tell it what to do. I could see the lights going off in their heads as they began to realize that computers aren't the super-smart machines that they seem to be.

After the discussion, we went to "Robot School," which consisted of students performing some simple commands I had written down based on Kodable's fuzzFamily Frenzy. I watched them as they practiced the commands and gave feedback as needed.

Students learning how to be robots!

Finally, it was time for the students to code. They spent about fifteen minutes creating a list of codes for their robots and trying to work out the kinks. The great thing about fuzzFamily Frenzy was that students could either use the codes given, create their own, or use a combination of the two.

Most students wanted their robots to dance. So they created their own code for dance.

Aha! "But does a robot know how to dance? Does a robot know what the word "dance" means?" I asked. Again, the light was going off. Now they were really getting it - they were beginning to understand what it meant to code. The connection between computers and what we were doing in the library became stronger; it was meaningful and fun

Creating codes with fuzzFamily Frenzy.

Every now and then I would see a "robot" doing something that I knew wasn't right. For example, some of the coders gave their robots the drop code more than one time in a row. I saw robots dropping, getting up, dropping, getting up, and so on. After looking at the list of commands given to the robot, I saw there wasn't a command for the robot to stand back up on the sheet. Instead, the coder had given a sequence of drop, drop, drop, drop, etc.

Students working on their codes
I had a quick chat with the coder about whether a robot would know that it needs to stand up after dropping if it wasn't told to stand up. "Ooohh!" and the student grabbed an eraser and fixed the problem.

During this hour of code with 3rd and 4th graders, I saw a lot of engagement and students having fun while learning. I also saw a lot of creativity and students sharing their codes with others.

Although the week for Hour of Code has officially passed, we won't be stopping any time soon. I plan on using another low-tech coding activity sometime within the next few months. I've also directed students to the LearnStreet app (@LearnStreet) that is part of Edmodo (@Edmodo) group for our library, so they can code their own Christmas cards and share with their families.

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