By Ben Hurley, Washington County Public Schools
December is Computer Science education month. The first week of December is the kickoff with Computer Science education week December 3-9. The emphasis on Computational Thinking is becoming more prevalent in education today. Coding is a great way to foster those skills. Over the last 5 years I have been using the website Code.org with my 5th and 4th grade students to teach them the concepts of coding. However, just 3 years ago, at my school, we began an initiative to give all students access to these skills by creating a class that students visit approximately 1 time a week for 50 minutes just like they would go to PE, art, music, or media, that focuses on Computational Thinking and specifically, Coding. The elementary age is the perfect time to begin building the foundation for these skills just like any other academic subject. Once a solid foundation is laid than when they go on to middle school, high school and beyond, they will have a leg-up on those future careers.
Mitch Resnick, creator of the Scratch software, in his TED talk shares about the importance of why kids should learn to code. It’s a way for students to create and use their imagination. They continue to have a sense of accomplishment and it supports multiple standards in math and science. The importance of the process of design and taking an idea and creating something functional out of that idea.
Elementary age students need a lot of exploration and hands-on time when learning to code. With so many resources and materials out there, here a few of my favorites for elementary age.
Ben Hurley can be followed on Twitter at @HurleBen and on his website.
By Brian Cook, Worcester County Public Schools
It is next to impossible to avoid technology advancement in a student’s daily life. Technology continues to evolve altering the educational and the instructional landscape of the past. Teachers are digging deeper into the unknown to meet the needs of its students to be 21st Century learners. Pocomoke Middle School (MD) is no different as it continues to take untraditional risks using technology to reap the benefit of preparing students for the future.
Focused on giving students foundational skills in aeronautics, coding, and problem solving, I initiated a drone after school program with the help of funding from ASCD’s Emerging Leaders Innovation Grant. At the initiation the drone program terminology like pitch, quadcopter, gimbal, and throttle were foreign words, but it soon became culture as my students used the terminology tackling the design process and physical construction of obstacle courses that could withstand different challenges given to each student. The failures have been plentiful, but the learning taking place has elevated the drone after school program into the school’s premier after school club.
If you stopped students in the hallways and asked if they were in the drone club, you will get a huge smile as they’ll share a story of one of their crashes and what caused their short setback. Students’ expressions say a lot of about their attitude towards any program. I learned I have one of the toughest jobs in telling students this particular after school session has filled up and they must wait until our next session.
In 2016, when I pitched the idea of starting a drone program I was met with some odd looks when I explained I had no prior actual experience with a drone outside of a reading in a Junior Scholastic magazine used in class. However, I had an administrator that was curious enough to bait me by asking questions; she challenged my thinking on how drones could impact student learning and the role was I willing to play in the process. The following are five powerful ideas brought up by my administrator that allowed me to develop and sustain my after school drone program.
Establish Short-Term Goals
Getting every 11-13-year-old child in the program to be a certified pilot may have been too big of a goal to garner, but it did not stop my passion for building a great program for my students. First it started with what we wanted students to accomplish after being active in one 8-week period meeting one hour each week. Researching other drone programs, it was imperative to have students know basic aeronautic terminology and what it looked like in the air. There was no way to hit every aspect with our age group, but we could prepare our kids to make a smooth transition into our district’s career and technical school.
Our community partner Sentinel Robotics educational division gave us a ton of insight into terminology that I was using incorrectly and gave us a foundation of where to start. Students were challenged to use the terminology when speaking with other students and was required in narratives to support their designed obstacle courses.
Availability to Everyone
Experience has taught me excitement rolls over into the classroom when a child is striving for something important to them. There could not be fear of having struggling students who do not always follow directions as easily as others. Yet teachers tend to develop programs and only want to pilot it with high achieving students. This hurts programs because students quickly make labels and offer dissent towards the program and the teacher facilitating it.
A truly innovative and engaging program must be for all students. In my Title I school students do not always get opportunities available to those with higher family incomes unless it is offered at school. Since our middle school is unique, hosting grades 4-8, I was challenged to offer a shorter version of the program to engage our elementary aged students too. Thus, building excitement for STEM as they move into sixth grade. The drone program is an opportunity to expose all students to aeronautics and give insight into career fields students did not know existed.
Invite people in to see what you are doing with your program. Sometimes when I thought we were being cutting edge, it was great to have experts in the field challenge my way of thinking. The result allowed me to look further into the program to keep improving it. For example, I wasn’t referencing a motor correctly when fixing a drone, and I was asked whether I ever built a drone from scratch. Such a simple question that has lead me into greater research on the types of drones available for students to build; a future goal is to have all our students build drones that can go through a student created obstacle course.
It’s necessary for feedback on your program by experts in the field. One university expert at a nearby university was critical of me not incorporating coding into our initial program because the skill set is one that is often needed in designing programs to support drones as well as other robotics. His feedback allowed us to seek out a coding apps for drones that was implemented the following year. Many students displayed a lot of frustration in stacking the code until they learned to think like a programmer. We sometimes had to draw out to act out the steps and visualize our failures to get the end result we wanted with the code; the ultimate end result was supporting problem solving opportunities.
Integrate Across Contents
I was not able to support this program alone; I needed help from my colleagues to support student’s mathematical development. I asked a mathematics teacher to join me in the adventure when converting measurements into customary units of length; one of the greatest challenges students encountered involved using a measuring tape accurately. The units of measurements were later used as limitations I set forth in developing an obstacle course.
In language arts students broke down numerous informational texts focusing on the history of drones as well as its capabilities in warfare. Measuring the area of a famous battle from their history class, we recreated the warzone area to scale using red solo cups and walked through the battle with and without drones. Students wrote narrative stories from the perspective of the soldiers with their new knowledge from the informational text as well as their experience of flying our drones into the war zone; each child had the opportunity to a drone simulation during this activity.
The initial addition of the mathematics focus was huge to our success. The students in the drone program were our experts in designing the warzone from their experience in developing obstacle courses. Strengthening their confidence with prior experience, students became the teachers to their peers guiding them through the task.
Support Their Technical Growth
When evaluating student coding and flying ability, find opportunities to highlight your students to the greater school community. Our after school program is grant funded and has an outside evaluator who visits the program from time to time. During site visits, we allowed students to vote on the best obstacle courses and have teams of two and three students race through course obstacles and verbally explain the different components of the course as well as the thought behind creating each component.
Invite the unexpected visitor into your fly zone. Whether it is a principal, administrator from another building, or school board member making a visit, select a student to review the fly zone rules as well how the flight controller operates. Allowing students to showcase their talents with aeronautic and coding terminology is a huge confidence builder. Plus, it is a small setting where they are most likely to be more successful.
If you are confident, take your show on the road to showcase student talents to other educators. For instance, in May 2018 I took six students to Common Ground, a regional technology conference hosted in Ocean City, Maryland, to showcase all components of our program. It was an eye opener for students to speak in a large conference room with microphones and teach educators from all over the state how to fly drones, compete in our mini-challenges, and answer off the cuff questions about their drone experiences. The topic of drones as so well received it was earmarked a featured session and done both days of the conference.
Choose Your Pathway
By anticipating and responding to technological advances facing children, innovative schools can be powerful gateways to new opportunities for its students. When one considers the rapid pace of changing technology in education, combined with individual challenges of keeping staff abreast of what is coming down the pike, there is not time for standing still as all teachers work to prepare students for the careers of tomorrow.
Brian Cook is an English Language Arts and STEM after school program teacher at Pocomoke Middle School. Connect with Cook on Twitter at @drbriancook.
By Ali Schilpp, Garrett County Public School
LEGO Travel Buddy is a global collaboration project that started in 2017. I felt that my students needed authentic connections with peers and educators abroad and that is what gave me the incentive to seek out collaborations. It’s so important to learn from other educators and grow your PLN. Working in a small rural district, it is crucial to connect, seek funding and resources to enhance student access. I love to see how digital access can provide my students with exposure to new cultures, people and places. It's the same concept of sharing an object and visually seeing it in another location. It is our take on "Flat Stanley". Global collaborations provide windows (opportunities to observe diverse people and their cultures and develop empathy) and doors (incentive to move beyond one location and seek opportunities, connections and adventures abroad).
Where do I get a LEGO Travel Buddy?
I received my first official LEGO Travel Buddy kit free with a purchase from LEGO.COM shop and took it with me to ISTE in San Antonio and documented the experience to share with my colleagues. The mini-figure in this set has a very distinct space shirt and comes with numerous travel accessories like a camera, suitcase, fishing pole etc. You can still purchase the set on Amazon or BrickLink. Some of the first LEGO mini-figures that we have shared were custom made to look like the participant. I recommend purchasing LEGO Education Community Mini-figures sets if you want to custom make multiple travel buddies! The mini-figures are inexpensive to mail and everyone loves LEGO! We have collaborated with students of all ages, PreK-12 and adults! Also, LEGO is a great representation of our school library where we host FIRST LEGO League projects and teams! Every LTB is unique and they all showcase their adventures in different ways! Adventures range from riding an ATV through the Atlas Mountains of Marrakesh to visiting the ALA International Conference in Dubai to touring the Harry Potter studios in London! Students from abroad who have received a LEGO Travel Buddy have shared information such as “What in the WORLD are you Reading” about their favorite books and where they live!
Need inspiration or just want to follow LEGO Travel Buddy?
Please view the links for sample projects, visit our Going Global MAP and share with your students. Connecting with LEGO Travel Buddy has been a life-changing experience. I highly recommend adding it to your educator/librarian bucket list! Last year, we sent a LEGO Travel Buddy to several different places and made our first connections thanks to the librarians and teachers in Hawaii, London, Australia, China, New Hampshire and Pocomoke Middle in Maryland! We also sent and received postcards from both Sarah Betteridge (Perth, Australia) and Lucas Maxwell (London, England) via AIR MAIL. The postcards are so personal and are displayed proudly in our school library. In an effort to save time and money, we found using digital tools has allowed us to increase our connections instantly and for free! We received beautiful digital postcards from Sarah Betteridge and her students in Australia on a Padlet called “Where in the WORLD do we live?” My students created and shared their own about Garrett County, Maryland using Google Slides! In order to book talk or share information about our locations, our students collaborate on Flipgrid and they post pictures on Twitter.
Current global connections include:
Students have even shared clues using the 5 themes of Geography on a mystery Flipgrid with students in South Carolina! This week, another Mystery Flipgrid location is in the works! I am not allowed to reveal the location but it is a very special librarian that everyone loves to connect with! We are also excited to see what adventures the following librarians will share with us who have recently received an LTB:
Digital and Global Citizens
This is how we become better Global and Digital Citizens, with authentic connections. It introduces my students to new faces and places! We are often surprised that even when our global friends are 4,000 miles away, we are reading the same books! It also inspires us to learn more about our world that we will hopefully have the opportunity to travel. Connecting on Flipgrid and Twitter gives my students exposure to the world beyond the walls of our small community school.
Is there a LEGO Buddy in your future?
After we sent and connected with our friends, we let them decide what to do next. Many of the LEGO Travel Buddies continued to explore. For example, our Hawaiian LTB "Hoa Hele" has traveled over 40,000 miles and is planning an African Safari next! Some passed it on to another teacher or librarian, also a wonderful option. Here at NMS, we are always seeking out new friends and adventures and would love to connect with you. Let us know if you would like to share your own LTB adventure with us by using the #LEGOTravelBuddy hashtag. Our school system allows access to twitter, so this is a great way for us to connect in school where we all have Internet access!
Ali Schilpp is a media specialist at Northern Middle in Garrett County. School Library Journal named her the 2018 School Librarian of the Year. Connect with Schilpp on Twitter at @AliSchilpp