Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Intro to Coding Using Mr Potato Head

It's always nice to hear a student say something along the lines of what I heard today:
"Mrs Leban, why do we do so many fun things in your class?" 

Which made me giggle and reply, "Oh I'm sorry - is that a problem? You need me to scale back?"

But seriously, it's nice to know that the weird things I do sometimes are actually connecting with kids - you don't always get that kind of feedback from middle-schoolers. So I take it and enjoy it when I can.

Today's activity is a super basic intro to the concepts of coding: namely, giving specific and accurate directions. We have students role play and assemble a Mr Potato Head toy. I call it the "Mr Potato Head Challenge!" Here's how it goes:


Students work in table groups of 3-4. You will need one Mr Potato Head "set" per table. In lieu of having enough toys, you could do one whole-class game, or split into larger groups based on what you have available.

Side note: I received ALL of my Mr Potato Head sets for FREE. I asked my PTA to put the word out for Mr Potato Head donations (used or new!) and I got like a dozen in less than a month's time! All I had to do was sort all of the parts out into "sets," which I store in these bins from the dollar store:

Here's how to explain the game to students:

  • One student is the COMPUTER, who puts together Mr Potato Head, and is responsible for following the directions from the CODER. 
  • One student is the CODER, who gives the directions.

If you want to get fancy, make name tags:

The COMPUTER doesn't know what each object is called. It can only recognize colors and shapes, like in Google Draw. The CODER will have to be able to describe the object. (Proper names of shapes, like oval or circle, are ok.)

Pro Tip: Arrange parts in a grid formation, or rows by color, to aid in identifying specific parts based on location/coordinates...

Students will play multiple games, trading roles so that everyone at the table gets a turn. The observers are welcome to help their fellow CODER, if necessary, should he/she get stuck on a direction. What should Mr Potato Head look like when he's done? That's up to the CODER!

In my observations, it's super fun to play the COMPUTER role, because students can purposely play dumb when they receive vague directions: Put this on the top. Turn this to the side. Put this on the face. They really seem to get into interpreting directions in alternate ways, which is actually really helpful when I explain how a computer can only follow the directions that are given, and that computer languages have to be very precise - a mistyped lower or uppercase letter can throw off an entire set of coding commands!

After much hilarity, you can debrief with your class at the end of the activity:

  • What did you learn about giving directions? Was it hard or easy?
  • Discuss with students the concept of coding and how the things that are coded are only as good as the person who did the coding - give examples of microwaves, street lights, etc

This activity is part of a larger unit I complete with students using Google Draw, where students create a "monster" drawing, and then must also type up the directions for a classmate to follow. The unit following this one is on coding, so I find that this unit is a nice way to ease into the concept.

- Mrs L.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Reflections on ICE Conference 2017

I was really lucky this year to attend the ICE (Illinois Computing Educators) Conference not one, but TWO days this year. Special thanks to the folks at WeVideo, who sent me in exchange for doing a presentation at ICE all about WeVideo, which is seriously (in my 100% honest opinion!) the best video creation site for education.

Why do I feel so strongly about WeVideo? Well, the winning element for me is the fact that it's cloud-based and cross-platform! I can use it on my Mac, my PC, my Chromebook, my iOS device, or an Android phone! Because it's all stored in the cloud, I can access it anywhere, any time. Oh yeah, and I can share projects, too. So if I'm working on a project with a partner and he/she is absent, I don't need his/her device OR login, because it's shared with me and I can access it, too! I can't think of any other service that gives me this much freedom!

My other favorite thing about WeVideo is of course, green screen, which I talked about here, and presented at the Google Summit here.

Our keynote speaker on Thursday was Eric Sheninger, who I think is awesome and have been following for several years now via Twitter, so I was pretty excited to hear in person. Friday was Joe Sanfelippo, who was equally awesome! I want to buy both of my administrators his awesome book, Hacking Leadership.

Side note: Eric Sheninger is part of the group that created the "Rigor-Relevance" framework chart, which I cannot look at EVER without picturing the "Conjoined Triangles of Success" from Silicon Valley. Does anyone else have this problem?

You can view my whole presentation here, if you like!

My presentation was first thing Thursday morning, which was excellent because it meant that I was able to get it over with right away (I get super ridiculous nervous), and then relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.

My department chair was there with me on Thursday (Thanks for taking pictures, Deb!), which was awesome because I had a friend to walk around with. We went to a poster session - something that I had never experienced before - which is like a 4 (or more) in one session: there's a table for each concept or presentation. Each group gives a quick summary up front, and then you can travel around to each table for more info... kind of like a professional development science fair? It was a cool concept, but way too crowded and I couldn't even get to the table I wanted to see, which was all about flexible seating arrangements - something I'm very into and have talked about before here.

We walked around the vendor booths (The swag was excellent this year, by the way! I like to collect stickers from vendors...) and saw another session from Eric Sheninger. I ended the day with a presentation on microphones, which I was hoping would be helpful for audio recording for our video projects, but was really technical and covered mostly microphones too expensive for my school budget. Ah well, you win some, you lose some. It was still cool to hear about though!

On Friday after Joe Sanfelippo's keynote, there was a block of time devoted to teachers perusing the vendor booths, so I hung out at the WeVideo booth with John Kline and Jaime Hernandez, who were super rad and gave me my favorite new WeVideo hoodie:

But more importantly, I got to talk with a whole bunch of educators about WeVideo and answer questions from a teacher perspective. It was really great to get to share and help others in their tech education journeys!

The vendor hall closed just before lunch, so after hanging in the booth and answering questions, I went to a session on textiles and circuitry, which is a project that I've been dying to try out! I'd love to start a "Tech Girls" club specifically focused on STEAM concepts, but just for girls at my school. Not only would we do a light up circuit bracelet project, I'd love to try the "ArtBot" machines I observed at the station next to the one I was watching:

Must. Get. Conductive. Thread... and make these super-sweet bracelets!
I feel like it would be pretty easy to adapt our current stash of LittleBits to create these ArtBots with marker legs!

I love getting to participate in professional development like the ICE Conference because it's so relevant and immediately useful to my daily responsibilities. I always leave with a ton of awesome new ideas to implement and share!

What's your favorite professional development activity?

-Mrs. L.

p.s. Did you notice? I finally bought my own real web address! I decided on LebanTeachTech.com, and for now I'm just forwarding it to my Blogger address. I've been playing around with the idea of switching to another blogging platform, but that's all still TBD... 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Ready Player One: Technology + Literacy

It started off innocently enough. It was the morning of February 16th; I was catching up on my tweets, and discovered that it was World Read Aloud Day. I couldn't think of a fun book involving tech to use as a way to participate (yes, I know it didn't "have" to be a tech-ish book, but I like to tie in my subject area when I can...), so I tweeted about it:

Well, I got a reply from Ms. Rubini-LaForest on Twitter with a suggestion to find a section of the book Ready Player One to read aloud. I was intrigued. A quick search of my school library proved fruitless, but my awesome school librarian offered to pick up a copy for me at our local public library. I took her up on it, knowing full well that I am not always very good at finishing books that I start, but I was going to give this a go regardless.

When I actually picked the book up, I discovered that I was immediately sucked into the dystopian tale, and read the whole thing within only a couple of days! Despite my awesomely and surprisingly fast reading, I did not get all of this achieved in time for World Read Aloud Day, but this novel was so good that I couldn't not share it here.

Ready Player One is a young adult novel (I'd recommend a mature 8th grade or above) from 2011 written by Ernest Cline. It is an awesome story (with interesting social commentary and some eerie present-day parallels) of a dystopian future where most of society escapes into the virtual internet/video-game world of the OASIS. When the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, dies, we discover that he has no family to leave his family or fortune to. It is revealed that Halliday has hidden an Easter Egg within the OASIS - and the first person that discovers it will become the heir to his full fortune and corporation. 

Ready Player One begins five years after Halliday dies, and tells the story of Wade Watts, a lowly high school student, and his hunt for the Easter egg. I won't spoil it for you, but hopefully that's enough to pique your interest and get you reading!

The whole novel is filled with 1980's references (James Halliday is a kid who grew up in the 1980's), which makes it super fun for a reader in their late 30's like me who remembers most of these references first-hand. Retro video games, kitschy movies and television, and a whole lot of Rush references -- and more!

In looking up some info on the novel, I was super excited to discover that it's currently in production as a movie directed by Stephen Spielberg. Whoa! And it's slated to come out in Spring 2018. I can't wait!

Do you know of any other fun fiction with technology themes? I loved this book so much, and I'd love to check out more just like it!

-Mrs L.