Every Wednesday afternoon, 22 fifth-grade students gather in the Intermediate Commons, many playing on tablets or chattering about the day they just had. Other kids are exiting the building and going home for the night. These 22 students are staying for an opportunity to learn computer coding through a program called CS First - a free program through Google.
CS First - Getting Started
CS First stands for Computer Science First. To start a program, you just need a leader called a Guru (me, Mrs. Schwartz), computers, students, and a curriculum. All of which are FREE. The Guru goes online and chooses one of the 9 units (Storytelling, Art, Fashion & Design, Music & Sound, Game Design, Social Media, Friends, Animation - in beta, or Sports). We started with Storytelling because it came recommended as the first one. I received all the materials in the mail for free. This includes passport books, badges students earn for completing sessions, the script, and solutions for the work they do that day. The cool thing is that the Guru doesn't even need a background in coding to get started.
Gurus have access to a dashboard, where they can manage their clubs. It allows me to see student progress, display a timer with directions for the day, and see training materials.
Learning Through Trying
Day one of the club was kind of a mess - I will be honest. Many of the kids had never had exposure to coding and it was a struggle. Some left feeling defeated or that they would be unable to do the activities. Even I left feeling in a little over my head!
It was a week before we met again, and everyone had some time to forget what had happened 7 days ago! Students came in and we rehashed what all had happened at the last club meeting. When they got started on the second day, it was so much better. Students were helping each other, talking about coding, and really trying to understand what was going on with their computers. A moment I felt really good about was when a student I knew struggled in core subjects, was able to be asked for help multiple times by other students. He was able to shine that day. That's what this club is about.
Some students took it and ran with it - going home over the weekend and making very intricate coding. It was so impressive seeing what they were able to create on their own. Kids were entranced by the amazing projects the others were creating. Other kids were being patted on the back for just being quick and awesome at figuring out problems.
CS First has a G+ Shoutout board, and the students are encouraged to write positive notes to each other. I then stick them in their passport books before the next session. Some go to the whole group, so they are on a large poster and displayed before each meeting.
I'm Not Feelin' It
After the 4th meeting, I could tell that some kids just weren't into it like some of the others. I had a meeting with my group, telling them they weren't obligated to come back. Computers and coding are not for everyone. I just leveled with them and told them there are sports teams and clubs for so many other things, I wanted to start something for kids that liked computers - something they didn't have as a choice before. Our 5th meeting is tomorrow, and while I hope they all return, I will not be offended if some don't. It is important at this age to learn what you love and what you don't.
Finishing It Out
CS First Club has 5 more sessions left - 4 of them are going to be guided by the given curriculum, the last being a celebration of coding and their projects. I want them to see what they have learned and how far they've come. This club has been amazing. The hour goes so quickly and the kids have been so great about learning something new. I am excited to see what many of these kids do in the future!
Please take a peek below at a couple of videos I took of student work.
When Mrs. Thompson asked me about doing something different than reading packets and answering questions for their state project, I was eager to find something interactive and exciting for the students to try. Enter Animoto.
Animoto is great for musical slideshows. It's easy to use and makes attractive shows. We wanted to take it a little further though. Some groups wanted to make Chamber of Commerce type videos, with speaking instead of music. After thinking about it, I went with using Audacity (a great FREE program that records audio).
Students put their images into Animoto to create the slideshow. Audio was next, and some chose to use subtitles with music in the background while others recorded their audio. Those that recorded their own audio opened Audacity (note: have the microphone plugged in BEFORE opening Audacity, or you get a weird humming sound when you record) and created side-by-side windows of Audacity and their video. Students pressed 'Record' in Audacity and 'Play' on the preview, recording their voice as they watched the video. Afterward, they exported the audio as an MP3, inserted into the song section of Animoto, and produced it. Voila! Videos created! Check them out below.
When the idea of digital volunteers was presented at the #gafesummit I attended, I knew that was something I could easily take back to my school. One teacher in third grade really took to the idea. This year Mrs. Westhoff has been using digital volunteers for her students' papers they type in Google.
The first papers they sent out they were nervous for feedback. She sent out an email that identified what the students were working on and then the specifics the people should be editing and revising. These editors have been teachers, administrators, school board members, and community members. It has been great to get different people involved in what our students are doing.
Here is the email she sent out for the last paper they shared...
"Thank you so much for volunteering again to be a Digital Volunteer. My students have been working so very hard on "Animal Reports" and should have received it this morning. A little background: My students brainstormed various animals, chose one, and completed research in four main areas- general animal facts, habitat, interactions, and babies. After the report was written, students then supported their text with appropriate nonfiction text features.
Things to look for / comment on:
- introducing a topic or new information
- nonfiction text features support understanding (and not too many)
- information given are FACTS (not opinions)
- concluding statements
- Grammar: includes but not limited to capitalization, punctuation, use of commas, spelling common words and homophones correctly
- General comments such as areas where the student did well in
You will receive a notification in your inbox notifying that a student shared their document with you. Next, comment away!
If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know at any time. If you could have them done by next Friday, March 11th that would be fabulous! Thank you again for your time and enthusiasm. "
Her class just sent out their papers for this second round of digital volunteers. They asked to have their volunteers look at their papers this time because they like getting the outside feedback. It is important to share work outside the 4 walls of their classroom, so they can see that their work matters.
Think about digital volunteers for your classroom! It took me about 10 minutes to look through and comment on 2 papers - not a big time commitment for such a great experience for students.
Fifth grade teacher in a 1:1 iPad classroom, sharing my journey with technology in the classroom