#HourOfCode activities around Unit 4

Stephanie Stuart (Unit 4 Director of Communications & Community Relations) has sent out quite a comprehensive list of #HourOfCode activities around the school district.

 

In celebration of Computer Science Education Week (December 7-13), and as part of the District’s ongoing technology and computational thinking efforts, students around the Champaign Unit 4 School District will be participating in the Hour of Code this week.
https://hourofcode.com/us

The District’s Educational Technology Coaches have coordinated a number of opportunities around this week in addition to their ongoing efforts and support of teachers.

Leading up to #CSEdWeek, students at Westview, Barkstall, and Bottenfield participated in Coding Nights, which invited parents and students alike to code together using the Foos Computer Programming Game. Volunteers from Yahoo and Wolfram were on hand to assist and students. Foos and TCBY sponsored these events, and winners will be helping fellow students to code throughout #CSEdWeek at their campuses.

The Central High School Library will be hosting a week-long event during 6th hour, in which kids can drop in during lunch all week to participate in the Hour of Code.  A programmer from Wolfram will visit this Thursday as a special speaker. In addition to the 6th hour activities, the library will also be open after school every day for coding activities.

At Centennial High School, the library will also serve as an open house location for Hour of Code on Thursday and Friday during 6th hour lunch.

Carrie Busey

*   13 teachers have signed up to participate
*   1 class is going to be special guests to help code at Siebel center’s open house Tuesday night
*   5 classes are working with buddy classes – student leaders older students supporting younger in coding efforts
*   Enrichment classes all coding
*   Enrichment classes hung advertisements around the building to get the school excited about coding.

Dr. Howard

*   All 5th Grade classes in library 30 minutes with Wolfram special guest
*   Kindergarten – 5th grade Classroom teachers have hour of code times blocked off in their schedule this week

Garden Hills

*   Kindergarten – 5th grade Classroom teachers have hour of code times blocked off in their schedule this week

Kenwood

*   Regular Coding Times – Special Activity – Coding a Computer Game – Products of Coding Experience on display at the mall 12/12 for community members to try out the Kenwood Games- and learn about CS/CT.
*   Some neat Unplugged activities are planned in addition to their regularly scheduled coding times during the week.
*   All library classes will be coding this week.
*   Maa and Meyer are hosting Code with Kid events. Parents are invited to come in the afternoon to code with their children.
*   Coding/ Computational Thinking practices embedded especially in Language Arts this week as well.
*   A small group of students went to code with the Mayor of Champaign Monday morning.

Robeson

*   Allison Archer and Mary Anne Jusko will be working with 1st grade in the library working with all 1st grade students.
*   Enrichment is supporting 40 minutes of coding with kindergarten and grades 2-5, co-teaching with classroom teachers.
*   Wolfram special guest for 5 classes in grades 3-5.

South Side

*   All grade levels in Library for 30 minutes.
*   Kindergarten whole class Coding puzzles for Number Talks in math on the Smartboard.
*   Fourth grade has done Code.org in the math rotation.
*   Music is coding activities.

There are many more coding activities taking place around the District this week. Please contact the Educational Technology Director David Hohman (hohmanda@champaignschools.org) for more info.

The #HourofCode cometh

Hour of Code 2 Many local schools (and even a church, lol) are preparing for the “Hour of Code” that officially kicks off on December 7th. I just learned of yet another opportunity that is open to the public if you want to learn what all the fuss is about. On December 8th, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm, the Siebel Center will open its doors to learners of all ages. Here is a word from one of the organizers:

“We will have this open to everyone in the community.  It is targeted for school aged children from K-12 but anyone that comes can participate.  We will have some of our staff here, some of our UIUC students, and [a local teacher] and some of her 4th grade class volunteering and helping with the program.”

Heather L. Zike
Undergraduate Program Specialist & Academic Advisor
Department of Computer Science UIUC

 

I am sure there will be many other opportunities as well, both during regular school time after after-hours. I’ll try to list them as I learn specifics.

 

On the topic of learning how to code, I also learned today of a really cool local Python club – I encourage you to check this out:

http://py-cu.github.io/

“Py-CU is Champaign-Urbana’s Python User Group.

We are a bunch of people who want to get together to learn, teach, share and discuss all things related to the Python programming language.”

a glimpse at what is going on

No doubt, most of you have read about several things in the News-Gazette recently, or heard things on the radio. I am not going to go into much detail, but do want to mention them because there is a lot happening. And this will just be scratching the surface.


TODAY: Craft Tech Fair Saturday at Kenwood (from Todd Lash)

I wanted to invite you to come play this Saturday from 1-3 at the Kenwood Craft Tech Fair. The event will include:

  • Widgets and tools showcase (Fab Lab-Jeff talking to parents)
  • Electronic cutters (Fab Lab-stickers, paper snowflakes, etc…)
  • Graphic drawing tablets (Fab Lab-Photoshop or PaintTools)
  • Raspberry Pi Mini-Computer Demo (w/ Adriana from Wolfram/ Tech Time)
  • Scavenger Hunt of the Champaign Urbana Wiki  (InfoCity)
  • Photography Station (Erin Knowles, Parent Volunteer)
  • Makey-Makey Music (Mr. Lash)
  • Computer Hardware (Tech Time Volunteers)
  • Scratch/Code.org Demo Station (Student Volunteers and Travis Faust (Tech Time Coordinator)
  • Minecraft Lounge – Creative Mode
  • Adult Computer Station w/ Printing
  • Foam bracelets
  • Holiday bookmarks
  • Kaleidoscopes
  • Scratch board ornaments
  • Holiday photo frames
  • Snowman puppets
  • Bags for decorating to take your items home ??

Equity and Civic Action at the high schools

First, some really good news: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-12-04/central-centennial-land-honor-roll-doubling-access-ap-classes.html

I thanked both Nicole Lafond and the school district administration/BOE for all their work towards this goal. This demonstrated an excellent collaboration to address real and perceived issues of access. These are not easy issues to deal with, and I am glad that Unit 4 is not shying away from them.

On that note, you have probably already seen/heard the news about the planned peaceful protest at Centennial, but just in case you have not:

Centennial Principal Greg Johnson sent a note to staff and parents that reflected these thoughts as well. There are obviously two sides to this coin; I am proud that so many students elected to voice their chagrin at the injustice in New York and Ferguson in such a manner as to convey a strong message while not resorting to needless violence and spreading more hate. However, on the other side of the coin there are those that take things too far for one reason or another. It is easy to repay hurt with hurt, but it is both better and significantly more challenging to respond with some form of love and/or forgiveness.

Imani Bazzell has been running a series called “Why Black Folk Tend to Shout” on WBCP 1580 AM. While I have not had the privilege of listening to this fascinating series, I appreciate that folks like Imani are getting these things out in the open and provoking discussion. Our prejudices damn us, and we need to learn how to live with each other.

UPDATE: Several related stories in WILL’s Illinois Public Media page, including a video of the car being driven among protesting students:

Additionally, Imani has responded to the City’s investigation into the student who damaged the vehicle’s window, and has posted this elsewhere (still looking for a link):

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/imani-bazzells-response-to-the-city-wrt-centennial-protest/


“Other people’s children”

At Thursday’s PTA Council meeting, three groups were featured that are proving assistance and aid to the needy in our school district. It was a heartwarming display of how people have a heart to reach out and provide essentials for those are lacking. The three groups were:

  • Helping Hands
  • Feeding our kids
  • His Kid’s Closet

I strongly encourage you to learn more about these efforts, or any number of similar work going on in our community. For those that are already involved, I sincerely say “thank you” for all your time behind the scenes and doing what you can to improve the lives of the entire community.


April board member elections

As mentioned previously, I was aware of at least two efforts to form a slate of board candidates for the April 2015 elections. I am still seeking permission to post a number of private emails (being sick has dogged my efforts) as there are many fascinating conversations revolving around why individuals wish to run for the board. One citizen has already made a very public announcement via the NG last week. What strikes me the most is that there is a wide array of specific issues that folks are passionate about, it is seems difficult at times to find the common ground we all know is there. Aside from the “unofficial” news, the PTA Council is making plans to host a board candidate forum in April. I hope all the candidates are able to attend.


Hour of Code

The official Hour of Code begins next week, even though technically speaking, anyone with a web browser can start coding right now, either as a guest or after logging in to track your progress:

http://code.org/

Kenwood has embraced Hour of Code as an entire school, and Mrs. Slifer’s 4th grade class at Carrie Busey will be participating as well. I am sure there are many other teachers/classes getting involved. The last time I visited Mrs. Slifer’s class (this past Thursday), we observed that the students are doing a great job of collaborating without even realizing it. For instance, a student will get an idea that will quickly spread like wildfire throughout the class, and pretty soon variations start popping up. It is really cool to witness. I must emphasize, the focus is not merely about using computers or “coding” per se, but exercising critical thinking and problem solving skills. The computers and the technology is merely a tool to help achieve this goal.

There is a lot more here, but I’ll have to save it for a dedicated post.

Amazing time at Kenwood today

kenwood_stem_topics

I have been in touch with Kenwood Assistant Principal Jessica Pitcher for quite some time about tech stuff in schools, even before her migration over to Kenwood. Since joining Kenwood, we have talked about how Kenwood is doing a full-fledged pilot of eToys with signicant help from the University of Illinois (MTSE and GSLIS). As mentioned several times on this blog, I have been helping out with a smaller-scale eToys excursion at Carrie Busey; ever since hearing about it, I have been itching to get into Kenwood to see how they are “doing” eToys.

 

 

Today I had quite an opportunity. Kenwood had a special event going on, and part of the event was to cram as much STEM stuff with eToys/Scratch as possible. I took some time off work (thanks boss!) and dove in.

(To the left is a partial schedule listing of concepts covered at Kenwood on April 16th)

 

First off, one of my favorite things about walking into any Unit 4 school is how open the doors are. Literally, almost every classroom has the door open. I was greeted at the front door and after signing in, I marched down to my first pick. It happened to be a split 4th/5th grade class, and they were working on creating an advertisement. The teacher left it up to the students what they wanted to sell; they had to come up with something and then attempt to make it flashy and likable. I talked briefly with the teacher and was introduced to a very common theme for the rest of the day; teachers are seeing themselves as facilitators. As door-openers. Not so much the safari guide, but perhaps the travel agent.

 

After that, I had the honor of meeting and speaking with the Kenwood librarian, Todd Lash. As another staff member said, Todd is the Energizer Bunny who doesn’t know when to stop. 🙂 He is full of charisma and passion for teaching kids about technology. He was in-between things, so I only had about 30 seconds of his time – more on him later.

 

I hit up a class that was using eToys to animate a seedling as it grew into a plant. The children had already Read the rest of this entry »

Hour of Code

my_hour_of_codeSomething quite interesting is coming to Kenwood and Carrie Busey this next week; the Hour of Code.

You can read a little more from Stephanie Stuart’s recent Unit 4 news item. Or you can jump right in at code.org (the twitter feed is quite hot at the moment).

I am a CS major, so all this talk about Computer Science is right up my alley. What is most fascinating about this approach is that the collaboration of authors (they drew on engineers at Google, Microsoft, Apple, Dropbox just to name a few small companies) have done a very amazing job at taking the dull, boring, tedious and onerous stuff I learned in high school and college and turned into a fun, intuitive subject matter that anyone can get into. Not just computer geeks. My daughter invited a friend over today just so they could both “play Blockly” (Blockly is the underlying environment).

hour_of_code_example1The “Hour of Code” that kicks off on the 9th starts you with a very well-done video featuring some people you might recognize (Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg just to name a couple), and then gives you a pointer about how to complete the first task. And of course, these guys got rights to use the “Angry Birds” theme, making an instant connection to that mindlessly addictive vice. What I love about this environment is that it is very forgiving, very smooth, very “web 2.0” and quite instructional. You start with a very simple task with a very clear goal, with only a few options to complete that task. And it just builds from there. Before you know it, you are using loops and logic branches (if .. then), and then immersed into the world of “Plants vs Zombies”. How can you not love this stuff?!? 🙂

hour_of_code_example2

The “Hour of Code” deals with just the first ‘stage’ of 20 total stages. Think of it is 20 different lessons, all building upon each other until you get to the end where you have essentially “mastered the basics.” And in my opinion, mastering the basics is a fundamental skill in our modern society. But it doesn’t stop there; the teams that bring you the cute little computer science training with the full sound effects of Angry Birds went a step further and created an “unplugged” version, an entire lesson plan on teaching these concepts with no computer at all. They use another fun, addictive activity that many youngsters will think fondly of – the Cup Game. In the “unplugged” series, a team of students, comprising of one “robot” and several “programmers”, have to instruct the “robot” how to play the game using a limited vocabulary of 4-6 “commands” or symbols. Basic things like “pick up cup”, “put cup down”, “move cup left”, “move cup right”, etc. The idea is for the programmers to come up with a stack of symbols such that the robot can follow the entire thing from start to finish. Not too different than the old punch cards programmers used to use several decades ago. 🙂

Both Kenwood and Carrie Busey have been exploring how to use a program called eToys in their curriculum. Kenwood has done a full-school immersion, while Carrie Busey is isolated to one class. eToys is built on a platform called Squeak. MIT came out with a very similar concept called Scratch, also built on the Squeak platform. Where eToys is open-ended, robust and quite comprehensive, Scratch is very focused, straight-forward and in my opinion, easier to use and teach. eToys is powerful and big, Scratch is simple. The Hour of Code utilizes something called Blockly, similar to Squeak, and looks almost exactly like Scratch. It is written entirely in javascript (unlike Squeak and eToys/Scratch), and the authors have made it available so you can download it to a simple usb stick and run it in a modern web browser.

Congratulationshour_of_code_all_trophiesI had a lot of fun with Blockly. I zipped through the first 20 lessons of the Intro stage, then marched through the remaining 19 stages. Another fascinating element is that the student is almost being tricked into learning core Computer Science concepts. Aside from control loops, logic branches, there are also functions and parameters. But these are hidden, or rather abstracted, behind fun tasks that are short, quick and easy to digest – bite-sized chunks of Programming 101. And beyond that, there is plenty room for creative exploration. One can choose to beat the suggested number of blocks and optimize their “code”, or one can just go crazy and make the subject do totally random things. I really appreciated how there are several stages devoted to artistic expression; this leaves things wide open for those that just want to try things out. There is no “penalty” for using too many blocks in these creative lessons (in the normal lessons, you are constrained by a maximum number of blocks). I had a bit of fun trying to figure out how to use the basic functions available to create the Golden Ratio, ovals and finally a sine wave.

I realize programming is not the end-all-be-all. I realize some kids have different strengths. I don’t know how all this programming stuff will fit into K-12 Education. My excitement revolves around the fact that some really smart people have come up with a totally fun way to open the doors and allow anyone to learn concepts that I labored through. For some, this might open the door to a future career without even having to go to college. For some, this may ignite a passion for computers. Who knows. All I know is that I had fun with it. 🙂

blockly_sine_wave