Saturday, December 28, 2013

Squishy Circuits

I gave my 13 year old brother Squishy Circuits for Christmas. Here are his first projects.

AnneMarie Thomas TED Talk: Hands-on Science with Squishy Circuits

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hour of Code....For Teachers?

Wow mom, look what I earned! For one hour of coding, I earned my very own certificate.

SWAG! as the children would say.

All kidding aside, this week is National Computer Science Education Week. The main initiative of the week is the much-acclaimed Hour of Code. Celebrities, athletes, and techies like Mark Zuckerberg promoted the event. It even has its own hashtag, #hourofcode, circulating social media.

The idea, of course, is to make coding "cool". Hour of Code also looks to engage more schools in computer science. According to CSEdWeek, nine of ten schools do not teach computer science. There is obviously a disconnect to the way the world is and school curriculum.

Many policy-makers cite economic reasons for teaching coding. They say computer engineers make a good salary, and the United States needs to be globally competitive. I suppose those reasons move policy, but I think there are more fundamental reasons for kids to code.

Mitch Resnick likes to say coding teaches kids how to learn to learn. Coding teaches intangible skills like trial and error, divergent thinking, perseverance, even collaboration. Coding provides young people a foundation for metacognition, and creative coding classes may allow students to be creators, innovators, and inventors.

There is also a serious lacking of diversity in computer science. Silicon Valley is overwhelmingly white and male. If the rich are the only class exposed to computer science, current levels of inequality are bound to repeat. Schools should provide equitable access for all.

I could list more reasons, but my own Hour of Code got me thinking about something else. Is a teacher Hour of Code just as necessary? How can schools accept some level of coding across the curriculum if teachers have no idea what it is? Will teachers take risks and learn alongside students if they are unaware of the benefits of coding? Can educators inspire students if they are ignorant to resources available to them?

Do teachers have time?

Great teachers learn about the world around them. They make an effort to understand latest technology because this is the world their students live in (if not the world the teacher lives in). While I don't consider myself a great teacher, I do the best I can to hand my students the tools for future success. I think computer literacy, and the thinking associated with it, are the tools. I am also willing to give up control to allow my kids to experiment, tinker, and play with technology, including coding. Students often know more than I do because I am way late on the learning curve. I am just learning the basics of computer programming, or coding. I desperately want to get better.

...But where is the time? Is PD devoted to understanding code? Am I given opportunity to learn cutting-edge skills? Do I have time and resources to practice with my students?

Maybe a teacher, educator, administrator, even politician Hour of Code would help!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Let There Be Light

I waited patiently at the door for my fourth grade science class.

When they walked in, I handed them a sheet of paper. It read, "One free plane ticket to any place in the world."

They all wrote a different destination. Some wrote Mexico, some Las Vegas, Hawaii was popular, and one child even picked Michigan.

We loaded 'the plane' and zoomed toward our respective vacation spots. Suddenly, this clip played on the projector and everything went wrong. The plane crashed and the students scrambled to find supplies.

Each pod of students found a 'first aid' kit in one desk. The bag contained some copper wire, an LED light, and a battery. 

The challenge? Turn the LED bulb on.

The students complained they didn't know how. I told them to play and experiment. I walked around making sure everybody was safe and listened to complaints.

"Tell us how!"

"I don't get it."

"This is too hard."

Suddenly, Robert screamed with excitement, "I did it, I did it!" Robert figured out how to make a simple circuit. His light shined bright.

The kids rushed around him. "Show us how!" Show us how!" 

Robert couldn't answer questions fast enough. 

I failed to mention that many teachers complain about Robert. He doesn't do his work, he always gets detention. Sure, he may be a tough shell to crack, but he was always one of my favorite students. Now, he was a class leader. His smile was brighter than the bulb.

Within minutes, other kids found alternative ways to light the bulb. Some grabbed tape to reduce the feeling of heat. Some figured out how to make a 'switch' to turn it off and on. Some grabbed a box to improve the 'switch'. They wanted to play with their circuits all day. 

Best yet, they refused to let me throw away their creations. 

"I want to bring it home to show my dad."

"I am coming back at recess."

"This is the best."

What a great day for them and me. Did I mention they were in fourth grade?