Don't buy what's flashy. Buy what works. If you're trying to start a coding program and want to get kids into code, it should be the mantra you live by. The overall goal has to be learning, and I think it's so important that you start with that concept because there is a whole lot of flash out there. It's almost like we need a change of mindset already.
We are in such an interesting place when it comes to Education Technology. It's almost a transitional phase. It feels like the instructional materials and tools market has all but died with only a few startups surviving through the inevitable culling down to the big boys. Just look at your own school for a second. I can almost guarantee the dominant player either starts with a G, M, or an A. You probably even have more than one.
If G, M, and A are there, it becomes incredibly difficult to compete, and that has a direct effect on where startup innovation goes. It means it goes to more fringe categories and coding falls into that category. It's something we all know is essential, but it's not mandated yet. That lack of mandate also means there is a flash, but only a few provide substance. Don't get fooled. These five tips will help you pick something great, and I might be able to help with that...just saying.
1) CORE connection
A core connection is the place you have to start, yet most people don't. Unless your school has a dedicated STEM program or innovative teacher, it's coding curriculum is more than likely done in special times (like the Hour of Code) or a specialized class. Neither is necessarily bad, but neither will get the world to where we need it to be.
How do we change that? We have to get down to what code is: a CREATIVE tool. We have to let kids use code to tell stories, build games, create websites, and much much more. There is tons of research out there that proves student creation is one of the most significant ways to learn. Why not combine it with a future-ready skill?
I think some teachers would tell me that it's just not possible. They may not understand coding, or they don't like the extra factors that come with student creation like the time it takes and the grading that comes with it. All of those concerns are things we can overcome! Some tools make the coding easy, and the hard teaching parts that go with it can be overcome through some automation. In the end, it's all about doing what's best for kids.
This is the one that drives me the craziest. Deciding the ceiling is absolutely critical to choosing hardware on a limited budget, but it also applies to software. It's all about seeing how many applications you can use with a particular product and unfortunately, the flash of today's world is getting in the way of seeing the ceiling.
When you start with a particular coding product, you should always be asking, "What can I do past the base function?" and "What can a kid build?" It's easy to see where this an issue with robots. There are super popular robots out there that do a basic function well, but once you get past that, things fall off a cliff. When you buy hardware, ask yourself, "What can the kids build to go with it?" Software has a similar question: "How many DIFFERENT things can kids build in a platform?"
If you ask those questions, things began to come into focus. Coding platforms, robots, and hardware should never be purchased for the pre-built stuff and functions to get you started. You should buy them because they have that stuff to make it easier on the teacher, but they ALSO have a whole world that can let kids make.
Play is good, but at some point, a teacher is going to have to show some mastery from the student. They need to be able to measure the student's performance and adjust the instruction accordingly. They also need to be able to intervene if there is an issue. Coding platforms and software need to be able to do that, and it's almost more important that it's there than in a standard CORE (like Math) concept tool.
The importance of using data to adjust instruction is just good teaching. It lets teachers find those problems areas and help students through them, and it enables them to personalize the instruction to fit students needs. With code, mastery becomes even more critical because issues may not be immediately apparent to a teacher through observation.
4) A Progression
Coding is such an important skill that the natural progression has been to bring it to children as young as pre-schoolers. Of course, that doesn't mean that these kids are coding C++ and HTML yet. It's more about the skills of coding. It's the way coding teaches you to problem solve and think. It's teaching that skill of creation. Starting kids early allow them to progress just like they would with a language. There are no preconceived notions!
While there are A LOT of tools out there that teach basic computation skills, the key is finding one that allows for a progression to real text code. Not every kid is going to be a programmer but making that connection to it is so important. You want kids to be able to see what the overarching goal of learning code is, and where they can go with it. You never know...you might have the next Steve Jobs in your room.
What does this mean you are looking for? To start, many places begin with block code, but not many convert that block to text. Block code is supposed to simulate text commands in a more straightforward format, but the conversion is not exact. Many companies out there have just run with it and said that's ok. They have not taken the time to translate it. Find the right one that lets kids see that translation, let's kids see where they are going, and it gives them the overall why of coding. It's a great way to connect it to the real world.
The other thing to look for is a real progression of skill. There are tons of apps an tools that just put you in a workshop, and say go. They don't outline a sequence of skill that builds on what you previously learned. Just like reading, kids aren't going to start being experts. They are going to learn a little, and then a little more, and a little more. Having a clear delineation of that path makes it less likely they will get lost. If you can have that clear path, kids can quickly build into coding Java, Python, HTML, and other languages
Think back to a time you started using new technology in your class. What's the hardest part? From my perspective, it was never the actual content. It was always getting folks started with new technology, and I think that coding products tend to be especially tough because some engineers build them in a way that would help them learn.
The first thing I always look for in a coding product is simplicity, and one of the main places to start looking is how many clicks does it take for kids to be able to find stuff. This becomes especially noticeable when doing block coding. Students need to be able to see and sort through blocks with ease. Depending on how many blocks there are, you may have to have some menus, but if a kid always has to click to find things, it loses a lot of the focus.
The other thing to consider with UI is how much you can do in one place. There are so many coding products out there that do one thing well, but it just stays in that one thing. The apps that come with robots tend to be an excellent example of this. They do that one thing well, and then you have to go to another app to do anything else. If you think about it from a classroom perspective, that's a significant time suck. If you can do a bunch of stuff in one place, you eliminate that time suck.
Good teachers are experts. To be a good teacher, you have to have some passion about your content. You might be an expert in early childhood education, or you might be an expert in a specific subject. What is difficult though is being an expert in one specific topic, Teachers have to be broad, so that's why it’s always good to have ways to bring other experts into your class. It's also always good to have different viewpoints.
That's the whole point of this post. Below you will find my top 5 ways to being other experts into your class. Some of them are easy, but others might require you to step out of your comfort zone to ask. If it's all about what’s best for kids, isn't that something we should be doing anyway?
Skype in the Classroom site is great. You can find experts, authors, and even other classrooms to connect and work with. You can also put your name put there to see if you can get someone specific. It even has plans and guides to get you started. There are of course other video conferencing platforms out there, but Skype is the one that gives you the runway to get started quickly.
2. Your Local University:
No matter where you are, there is usually a local university that is within a mornings drive from you. Yes, if you are super rural it might be a long drive, but it's doable. These universities can be great places to find experts. You just have to be careful who you get though..
University lecturers typically aren't best folks for kids, but some of the researchers and others around the University can be. They can have an expertise in a topic that a regular teacher just can't. I am thinking of folks like the head of the engineering design lab who can talk about their prototyping process and the machines they use. Folks like that can just add to the classroom, and they should be pretty easy to connect with.
3. Your Community Members and Parents
Schools and community should go hand in hand. It becomes a different mindset to think about schools as community centers, but if we can shift that way it will do more for improving poor-performing schools than any initiative we may come up with. Using the communities expertise is a great way to bring in experts.
I think sometimes finding the right experts here is obvious, but I think there are other solutions you may not even be thinking of. Schools in rural areas could bring in people like local farmers to talk about technique with FFA kids. There are just so many options. It's just a matter of finding them.
Brining experts into your class is kind of a common sense thing right? Well, it would make sense that there would be a company that does it for profit, and that company is called Nepris. The whole point of Nepris is to make things as easy as possible. The best thing about it is they do all the work.
Nepris tends to be very STEM-focused, but that definition can almost apply to anything. It has ways to request a specific topic and person, but it also has some pre-setup talks and videos you can use. If you need something that is just easy and you have the budget, this might be the way to go.
5. Social Media
Social Media has its ups and down but where it can have a significant impact in the classroom is its ability to bring experts in. Instagram and Twitter especially tend to be the actual person responding, and even if you are scared of the kids being there you can always ask that person to be part of your class. It could even start pretty simply.
You could start by simply tagging an expert in some of your existing classroom activities. Many times experts feel great about being tagged in school activities, and they will respond accordingly. I have seen a high school ELA teacher get an author this way, and I actually had the former head of Google HR respond when someone tagged him in a post after one of my sessions.
This blog is written by David Lockhart who is all about coding. If you want to chat about your school's coding and STEM goals. Schedule a time HERE.
This week was one of those weeks that you could say just gave me a swift kick. I didn't have the best week sales wise, but what was worse if my MacBook Pro started a boot loop where after a few minutes it would just boot up again, it meant I had to take my laptop in, and what was worse is that I had a ton of presentations to prepare for. I was preparing g for a long week.
Why is losing my MacBook such a big deal? It’s because at this point I can't imagine using anything other than Keynote to make my presentation go. Keynote is just that big of a deal to me. I think it had great features to tell a story, and it's one of the main reasons I won't give up a Mac anytime soon.
My love for Keynote is just one that's developed over time. I started as a PowerPoint user, but as I got into the EdTech game, it became pretty apparent that all the big names were using. I began experimenting with it, and I eventually moved all my presentations to it. I, however, was only getting started.
To quote a Star Wars line, “I had an awakening in January of 2016.” That’s the year I saw Adam Bellow do a “Hacking Keynote” presentation at FETC. From that, I became committed to using Keynote to tell a story, and the two main features that pushed me to it were Magic Move and Instant Alpha. I started using both, but it would still take me a couple of years to move into a favorite format. In fact, I am still working on that.
Let's start with Instant Alpha because it's the easier of the two. The basic concept of this is that you remove the background for pictures you add into Keynote. Seems like a simple concept right? Well, it is, but Keynote is the only one that I know that does it quickly and natively. Instant Alpha becomes a great way to add to the look of your presentation, but it is also a killer storytelling feature. Being able to remove the backgrounds, lets you put those objects in a scene and make them look like they are part of it. You can then move them with Magic Move.
Magic Move is the real killer feature though. The basic idea of it is that you can use a slide animation to move objects around a scene. To give you an idea, let’s start with a circle. You can put the circle in the top left corner, copy the slide and add magic move to it, and then move the circle to the right corner on the second slide. When you play the presentation, it will like the circle moves from left to right. It’s just a flat out fantastic storytelling tool.
Magic Move basically gives you the power to make slides similar to stop motion animation movies. One of the best ways I have seen it used was to imitate the flight of a drone over an audience, and of course, it was one of Adam Bellow’s slides. All he did to do it, was use some screen grabs to create blocks over the background, hide some of the pictures behind them, and use Magic Move to get the flight. I know that might sound like a lot, but the hardest thing is coming up with the creative idea to do it. Once you have that, you're golden
My Keynote love wasn’t done with Magic Move and Instant Alpha though. In the summer of 2018, I got started talking with my good friend Jennifer Williams, and she showed me the beautiful slides from the Ed Tech Rabbi Michael Cohen. What I saw was beautiful slides that had a hand-drawn look to them, and it made me think both, “How did he do it?” and “How can I make my slides better?” What it made me realize is that I could quickly move my Keynotes to my Ipad and experiment with sketching using my Apple pencil. It has brought me to a whole different place with slide design, and I have a long way to go.
The Rabbi’s slides have put mine in a design redo. I am not anywhere near where he is with the hand-drawn look, but I have started to add a few pieces of my own. I think if you ask anyone about slide design and presentations, it’s always a process. Mine is still ongoing.
If you want to learn how you can get you kids coding, CLICK HERE