Thursday, May 22, 2014

Coding in Kindergarten

For the last year, I've been hearing more and more about coding. At first I didn't even understand what people were talking about on Twitter...then I began to have flashbacks to my Grade 11 computer science class where we did computer programming in BASIC computer language! Hour of Code initiative, with a goal of more than 10 million students trying computer science for just one hour in school during Computer Science Education Week in December, caused me to do some research. But I still couldn't fathom how I would use coding in my kindergarten classroom.

My colleague Leah Obach and I had many discussions about coding, and how we could stretch ourselves to make it part of our early years program. We learned that the benefits can be numerous:
-develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills
-expose and engage all students to computer programming before stereotypes exist--it's too hard, computer science is for boys, "geeks/nerds", etc.
-kids aren't afraid and learn quickly at a young age

I still wasn't certain how to proceed until I read this Edutopia article,  15+ Ways of Teaching Every Student to Code (Even Without a Computer). It shared some tools for coding with young children that I was excited to try--Tynker and Kodable. Tynker is available online as well as an app (free and paid version). Kodable is available soley as an app, and it also has a free and paid version. So I installed both apps on my students' iPads and decided to give it a try yesterday. I didn't give a lot of introduction to my boys and girls, just explained that we were going to learn how to make animals, people, and objects do things on our devices. Instead of playing games, we were going to learn how to make things happen in games, and maybe someday make our own apps and games. 

I decided to try Tynker first, and the students were excited to dive right in. The main problem with Tynker for kindergarten students is that it gives the directions in text format, and doesn't read them aloud. My students are early readers and managed to read some of the basic words, and I read the rest to them. Tynker uses Lego-like pieces that fit together to form a chain of commands that operate the character on the screen (such as walk, jump, repeat, etc). Despite the problem with reading everything independently, my students were very excited to use the Tynker app and were completely engaged for for 25 minutes. I provided support and suggestions as needed, but I really encouraged my young learners to figure things out through trial and error. I also suggested that they could work together if they were really stumped. In our first coding session, I saw some great problem-solving, logical thinking, and basic numeracy/literacy skills in action!

Tomorrow, we will experiment with Kodable, an app that uses a sequence of arrows to move a character through a course. Stay tuned as we compare these two apps for coding with our youngest learners!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Exploring the Hundred Chart with Mystery Number Skype

We have used Skype extensively in kindergarten for a number of years, but we have never participated in Mystery Number Skype. After attending Kathy Cassidy's presentation at Awakening Possibilities last month, I was inspired to put this idea into practice with my colleague Leah Obach and her grade 1 class.

How does Mystery Number Skype work? Well it's beyond simple actually! Each class chooses a mystery number based on whatever criteria you have set. We are currently focusing on numbers 1-100 at the moment. The classes then connect on Skype. One class goes first, and asks the other class yes/no questions to narrow down what the mystery number could be. Once the first class guesses the number correctly, the other class takes their turn. McGraw-Hill's Monster Squeeze app is a great way for students to increase their understanding of how to narrow down a range of numbers.
We share the screen and use the interactive hundred grid in SMART Notebook to give both classes a visual. As it is narrowed down, students flip over the numbers. My students each have their own device to use, so we are using the Hands On Math Hundred Chart app. Learn more about how the app works in this tutorial video. Students were super engaged as they asked questions and coloured in numbers on their device during Mystery Skype.

 We have done mini-lessons on "smart" questions to ask, and these are the questions we are hearing from our students during Mystery Number Skype:
Is it higher than __?
Is it lower than __?
Is it between __ and __?
Is it in the forties, fifties, sixties, etc.?
Does it end with a __?

After three days of Mystery Number Skype, Leah and I have decided that a few new mini-lessons are needed to stretch the students' thinking and question-asking abilities. Topics we plan to address in the next week include odd/even numbers, skip counting patterns, and the difference between "teen" and "ty" (decade) numbers. Leah's Grade 1 class already demonstrates a good understanding of teen/ty numbers, so her students may actually teach a mini-lesson to my students.

Today our classes competed to see who could solve the mystery number asking the fewest number of questions. We tallied each question on the SMART Board as they were asked, which definitely increased student motivation to ask "smart" questions. This provided another role for students to play during Mystery Number Skype as well as some great skip counting practice.

After only 3 days of Mystery Number Skype, I am really impressed by the growth I've seen in my senior kindergarten students' abilities to use and ask reasonable questions about the hundred chart. Their excitement and engagement is through the roof as well. If you're looking for a fun way to connect with another class and develop 21st century skills in your students while boosting numeracy skills, this is it!

Learning and Sharing in Spain and Canada

Repost from my contribution to Mindshare Learning Report, May 2014 edition:

In the past two months I’ve had access to some amazing professional learning. Here are some highlights from my travels around Canada and the world!

March started off with a bang when I flew to Barcelona, Spain, with my colleague and best friend Leah Obach, to attend Microsoft in Education Global Forum. This 4-day event brought together 1100 teachers, school leaders, and education leaders from 75 countries. Leah and I were there to share our collaborative project, Little Hands Extended. We attended fantastic keynote sessions, participated in a 24 hour Learn-a-thon where we developed innovative projects with teachers from all over the world, and celebrated at a gala evening. To learn more, view my video and check out the Microsoft Educator Network! 

 I was home for two weeks, then it was off to National Congress on Rural Education in Saskatoon, SK. My school principal, Brenda Masson, and I presented on our Smart Start Kindergarten program, and took in some terrific professional learning sessions. Highlights included: Jade Ballek and Terry Epp’s session on 21st century learning competencies clearly detailed how their school division is putting pedagogy first. They shared some terrific resources on 21st learning and innovation, connecting through Skype in the Classroom, and using infographics in education.

Kimberly Schonert Reichl’s keynote presentation on educating the heart and mind to develop emotional intelligence shared important connections to academic and interpersonal success. She encouraged teachers to access video resources from the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education, teach mindfulness with the Mind Up! Program from the Hawn Foundation, and infuse social-emotional learning throughout curricula with resources from CASEL.

April brought a fantastic ed tech conference in my home province of Manitoba. Manitoba Teachers’ Society’s Awakening Possibilities gave Leah Obach and I the opportunity to share about project-based learning and the tech tools that support it, while taking in some inspiring sessions. Steve Dembo set the tone for the conference with his keynote message that encouraged teachers and schools to take pride in being first. Dembo stated that cutting edge, innovative teachers and schools are often regarded as crazy but we should wear that crazy label like a badge of honour—the rest will come around soon enough! Dembo also shared some fun and useful tech tools, such as 1 Second Everyday app.
Attending Kathy Cassidy’s session Connected from the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades was an excellent reminder of how ICT tools coupled with strong pedagogy create and support digital learners. Blogs, Twitter, and Skype are Kathy’s go-to tools, and digital citizenship is interwoven throughout learning experiences. Mystery Number Skype, blogging to create digital portfolios, movie-making, and shared reading of blog comments/tweets develop important numeracy and literacy skills in Kathy’s Grade 1 classroom. Kathy suggested Edublogs and Kidblog as two great tools for early years teachers interested in blogging with their students.

Other great takeaways from Awakening Possibilities:
* Nadia Nevieri explained how her school has revitalized morning announcements with engaging video announcements. Learn more here!
* Erin Clarke presented on the many uses of Instagram in early years classrooms 
* Raman Job shared iPhone photo tips and tools: Haiku Deck for presentations, Snapseed and Tangled FX for editing pics, Touch Blur to protect student privacy, and Quipio and Phonto for creating and sharing text over images (memes/quotations).

Chris Lehmann, founding principal of the Scientific Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, ended two incredible days of learning with a riveting closing keynote. His most important points that I felt compelled to tweet:
* Collaboration means doing things differently because we are doing them together.
* Technology should be like oxygen. Ubiquitous, invisible, and everywhere.
* A vision without a plan is nothing more than a hallucination.

And now comes the challenging part—sifting through all these wonderful ideas and tools and deciding how I will use them to affect change in my classroom and school community! Off to Riding the Wave of Change in Gimli, Manitoba, this week, so stay tuned as I tweet from that conference.