Monday, December 28, 2015

Coding Mania: Creating clubs for K-5 Kids

Last year I hosted my first Hour of Code.  It was a rather last minute thing for me to organize because I wasn't sure if I could pull it off and I wasn't sure there would be a lot of interest.  I scheduled our Hour of Code for a Friday afternoon (because who wants to stay after school on a Friday), reserved a lab for 25, sent out an email at lunch to parents with a Google Form signup -giving them a week's notice about the event. 

Thinking I wouldn't have a lot of interest because of the late notice and day, I was completely dumbfounded when I checked the registration form an hour and half later and discovered I had 51 kids signed up!  I only had 25 computers reserved!  I scrambled to find some volunteers to help me out and started lining up iPads to borrow from classrooms to supplement. 

The kids LOVED it, the volunteers loved it, and I had parents requesting more coding events.  The energy surrounding the Hour of Code was incredible, and while I wanted to do more to encourage that passion, at the end of last year the best I could offer time-wise was coding on recess and suggestions for Genius Hour projects, which many kids happily took me up on.

Fast forward to this year's back to school night

I filed the request for more coding opportunities away in the back of mind as something to work in for the 2015-2016 school year, but as I prepped for the year, I just wasn't seeing a lot of time opening up for it, until, on back to school night I was approached by three different girls in three different grade levels at separate times during the evening.  Unbeknownst to each other, they each had the same request for me: to start a girls' only coding club.

I was pretty flabbergasted.  "Why does the coding club only have to be for girls?" I asked one of them.  Her response: "Boys don't take it seriously like girls do". When another girl approached me, she explained she had signed up for the Hour of Code and then had left because there were too many boys and she felt intimidated.  When I asked another why she maybe didn't join STLP - our technology club, she said it was a "boy thing", and she thought coding could be a "girl thing".  

I began to think back to working with a Raspberry Pi last year.  The group who excelled with it were a group of girls who really paid attention to the details of writing the code to make different features, like a camera, work.  I realized that the girls may have a real need to explore an interest in the company of other girls, and I knew I had to figure out a way to honor that request. 

Part of the issue for me was considering the boys.  I couldn't justify having a girls only coding club and not offer something for boys - especially when the boys have already been grumbling about not having a Boys on the Run club like the Girls on the Run, and the boys have shown a considerable amount of interest in coding.

A Coding Club Plan Comes Together

Time is never on my side, but I settled on creating three clubs for K-5 kids of 23 students.  They each run once a month. We have a girls only club, boys only club and an "everyone" club.  In truth, I expected with offering that many "clubs" that I would have limited sign ups; however, I was yet again surprised by the outpouring of interest.  I had to shut down signups for boys and everyone clubs after about two hours and start a wait list. 

I have a wide variety of age levels and ability levels in these clubs with a respectable group of kindergartners and first graders with varying reading abilities.  Obviously this provides me with quite a challenge.  There are moments where I wonder if I should have limited the club sign ups to older students who can read, but ultimately I feel so strongly in providing all students with the opportunity to cultivate an interest and learn something new as a result of that interest that I just can't bring myself to limiting it.

I group the kids in the lab by grade level so that I can help them in small groups if needed. The kindergartners do require a little more attention at times, but I'm always surprised by how quickly they pick things up - even with their limited reading ability.

Even though clubs only get to meet once a month right now, I am so glad I split it up.  When the girls are coding, the energy is so different.  They are so quiet in contrast to the boys who are often more competitive and a lot more raucous, I can see now why the girls felt intimidated or had the impression that the boys weren't taking coding seriously (although, they are actually taking it very seriously). 

Coding Resources I Couldn't Do Without

To get kids a base of experience, I created classes in Code Studio.  My kindergarten and first graders are working through Course 1, and the rest are in Course 2.  I do give them the option to work through the course work at home, but many of the kids enjoy working through the challenges together during club time. is a great place to start
Since I am working with a variety of age and ability levels in each club, has provided me sanity-saving, age and ability appropriate coursework.  The coursework is, right now (and hopefully will continue be), entirely free.  

As a teacher I can set up classes of students - with only their first names & last initial and assign them appropriate coursework.  Students in older grades are randomly assigned passphrases and students in kindergarten and first grade are assigned a picture for their password.  

I was really worried I would have to read information to students in kindergarten, but Course 1 is excellent for developing readers and includes short video introduction to concepts, picture based programming, and it even begins by having students practice key concepts like mouse skills and drag and drop. 

Cards are available for download from Scratch
Once kids finish up with the assigned course, I plan to introduce students to Scratch and some of the different challenges that are available.  I think the Scratch Cards will be the perfect way to do this. 

ScratchED also has a pretty extensive curriculum available in the draft format and covers a wide variety of skills and interests including:  arts, stories and games. 

For my kindergartners I hope to use some of the other websites, like Tynker and apps like ScratchJR and as they build reading skills I hope to move them into the more advanced coursework on

Book resources that I have dug into some that I think will also be helpful for coming up with projects for the kids once they finish their coursework in are Help your Kids with Computer Programming - DK Publishing, which covers things like Scratch and basics of Python (which could help out with future Rasperry Pi projects) and  Learn to Program with Scratch: A Visual Guide to Programming with Games, Art, Science and Math by Majed Maji.

Where I hope we end up with this

Now that we have started, I really hope that as kids gain skills they can begin working on more involved projects that relate to their particular interests.  I will encourage them to use Scratch and are some really great project ideas presented in Made with Code and through students can branch out based on their interests and create stories, games and art.

Additionally, I have hopes that we can branch out into coding with different types of robots so that kids can see a more physical representation of code that they are writing.

Ultimately, I really just want kids to have a place where they can explore their interests - and maybe a little more time to do it! 


Self Checkout - or why didn't I set this up sooner?

For years I've been hearing about librarians who have a self-checkout station for their students to use, and while I always thought that sounded like a good idea, I never really could get it together enough to set one up.  When I thought about it, it just didn't seem like something that would work in my space.  We only have five student workstations, and I couldn't justify commandeering one of those for checkout only. I use the computer at the circulation desk for both checkout and for my own teacher workstation, so having students check out on a computer where my work email may be up or where something I might be working on might be open, just sounded like too much of a hassle to manage. 

After having an after school coffee meet up with one of my local school library pals, and hearing that she used a self checkout system on her teacher machine that worked, I realized that I was being silly about the whole thing and just making excuses so that I didn't have to give up control.  I left our meeting with a fire lit under me and began to think about what I had available to me to use.


When our middle school went 1:1, I inherited a few Surface tablets.  The tablets are locked down pretty tight with no real way to customize them or add apps, and I haven't done much with them because it requires a lot of extra directions to get them working for our younger students. I realized that they would be perfect for creating a self-checkout and computer catalog stations. The surface tablets are very portable and small, so we are able to put them pretty much anywhere, and the kids can even carry the catalog tablets with them to the shelf to look for books if they need to.  I also had an extra scanner in the back office that we use when we're cataloging extra books that come in, so I didn't have to take the scanner from my desk - when we get backed up we can check out from the normal circulation desk computer and the Surface tablet.  (Seriously, with all this stuff available, I feel really foolish not having done this sooner).

Self checkout station in the library
Using the directions in Follett, I set up a "Checkout" patron that gives access to checkout books.  It's pretty restricted so that all they can do is checkout under this particular account. At the beginning of the day I log in to Destiny on the tablet using the "Checkout" credentials, and we're ready to go.

During their check out time, students in grades 2-5 are now able to self-serve checkout books.  Each student already has a library card that I print in Destiny using one of the standard patron reports, so all they have to do is scan their card and the school barcode.

Minor Issues

The checkout station does pose some problems for some students (just like I guess the self-checkout at the grocery store does for shoppers).  I do have to keep an eye on some classes and impulsive students who don't always stop to check to make sure their cards scanned or their books, but I would say overall there are not nearly as many mistakes as I would have expected.  I'm not super strict on allowing students tons of renewals or to checkout if they have a lost book so I do have a number of overrides per day that I have to assist students with, however, the benefits of being free from the circulation desk far outweigh the occasional override or mistaken checkout.

The Benefits

The biggest benefit of self-checkout for me is that it gets me out from behind the circulation desk, where I often feel trapped.  I no longer have to have groups that need to conference come stand by my desk while I'm scanning books in and out.  I'm actually free, for the most part to roam the library, monitor project progress, help kids troubleshoot and have meaningful conversations about work. With more focus these days on student growth goals, specifically having self-checkout frees up more of my time to collect data, make observations, give constructive feedback and monitor the growth that I was struggling to accomplish over a number of weeks.  

The place really almost runs itself at this point, and in my mind, that's not a bad situation.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Screen Time, Social Media & Minecraft Mania - GET TALK

I'll be giving a GET (Guidance, Education and Technology) talk at my school about different aspects of technology.  I've compiled some research and resources to share with parents.  There is no way I can adequately cover these topics in a 30 minute session, but hopefully it will start some conversations that we can continue.

Hover over the Thinglink image below to check out some of the resources I've put together - or see it [here]