I tried searching for any Professional Development about coding with kids and came across the code.org website. I found a free professional development program being offered in Quincy, Massachusetts. I talked to our Technology Coach, Dianne Mohler, and we both signed up to attend the workshop on December 15, 2015. We were both very excited about the code.org program and introducing it to the students in Lincoln. I liked how it engaged the students with game like puzzles and characters like Angry Birds as well as building on the skills gradually. Code.org also includes unplugged activities to teach students about the basics of computer coding and the important vocabulary without the use of a computer. They also offer various levels of experience (Elementary, Middle School and High School courses).
While at the code.org workshop we had to work in groups on lessons and I met a librarian from North Smithfield, Deana Cook, who was familiar with another coding program from Google called CS First. She used this free step by step program to offer a computer coding club for her students. I later contacted her for more information.
During the training, the Hour of Code day was mentioned also. I decided to sign up and participate with all my students. At the end of the day, we talked to the trainer about the possibility of hosting another PD in our district. When we returned to school, Dianne and I approached our curriculum director with the proposal for hosting a PD in Lincoln and then finalized it with our Superintendent to offer the training at the Lincoln Middle School on February 27, 2016. I also shared the information about the workshop being offered with colleagues on the SLRI listserv.
My next step was to create accounts for all my students (K-5) on the code.org website. Code.org allows you to choose whether you want words as a password or pictures for the younger students. I introduced my classes to the program and shared their login cards with parents. I used the code.org program in the library occasionally but could not complete the entire program and encouraged students to use it at home.
My next step in learning about computer coding was attending the MSL Scratch workshop on January 27, 2016. This was the program that the father had mentioned using with his children. I enjoyed learning about some of the basic block commands and the hands on time to experiment with the program. I created a gliding dragon, breathing fire and chasing a knight. I also liked the opportunity to see what others had created.
When I returned to school, I introduced all my classes K-5 to the basics of SCRATCH and some of the vocabulary (stage, sprites, blocks, script, backdrop...). I allowed students time to experiment just like I did and they shared their creations with a partner. The students learned about various options from each other and also learned to problem solve when something didn’t work the way they wanted it to. Some students were already familiar with SCRATCH and were able to teach other students some tools. It was a little uncomfortable having students know more than me or not being able to give them answers when they were stuck but it was great to see them experiment and problem solve a solution.
Although I was still uncomfortable with my knowledge of SCRATCH, I decided to offer a coding program for my students. I looked into Google CS First, and signed my students up for the Storytelling club. The nice part of this program is that they send you all the materials you need for free. The students get passport books and stickers to reward them as they complete tasks. The program includes videos to teach them the coding they need and then gives them tasks to complete. Each meeting with the students is supposed to be an hour but my club was only meeting at recess for half an hour. This made it difficult, so instead of following the program, the students explored and created on their own with me supervising and helping when I could. The students learned by experimenting and teaching each other. This was again uncomfortable for me but I was learning it is important to let go of the control.
I was interested in learning more about SCRATCH and last summer I had the opportunity to participate in a CS4RI initiative. I attended a two day workshop at RIC and participated with another colleague from Lincoln, Joanne Koczera. We had to use Scratch to complete various assignments such as creating an animated greeting card. We learned about saving and sharing projects in Studios, remixing other people’s creations and various resources to learn more about scratch. (Books, youtube videos, websites). As part of CS4RI, I attended 2 follow up meetings during the school year as well as some of the monthly Scratch meetups. (These are open to anyone and I have shared this information with others).
In December, I again signed my school up to participate in the Hour of Code. I expanded our participation this year by inviting parents into all my library classes to participate with their children. I introduced the hour of code website, various coding websites and how to problem solve with the children without giving them the answers. The parents enjoyed the experience and were surprised what the students were learning even in Kindergarten.
I am continuing to learn about SCRATCH and introducing new things to my students but I am not using it in depth in my classes. However, my district is now offering a before school coding program at all four elementary schools for the first time this year. I chose not to be the teacher for this program but I am glad it has been added as a choice for students. I will continue to introduce and promote coding to my students and encourage parents to try it at home.