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Twitter: @ireneb2011
Classroom Twitter: @BoyntonsBuzz


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hour of Code

The number of computer science jobs is expected to outnumber computer science students by 1,000,000 by the year 2020. With that statistic in mind, GCISD challenged teachers and students from across the district to participate in an 'Hour of Code' last week.
Our class had some experience with coding because a few weeks ago scholars learned to code a Roamer Robot to navigate through a giant maze. During that engineering investigation, I noticed that the skill of coding demands problem solving, effective communication, and perseverance; something I always want to promote with my scholars. My scholars love working with coding apps on iPads - they especially like Tynker, Bee-Bot, Kodable and Daisy the Dinosaur. So, as I was thinking about this challenge, I knew I wanted to do something a little different, something with a new kind of coding challenge. Among the resources provided by GCISD for this challenge, I came across an 'unplugged' version for teaching coding called My Robotic Friends.
Through the My Robotic Friends investigation, scholars built upon their code writing skills but also learned a very important new skill: debugging. Learning to debug code fits in so nicely with the 'improve' stage of the engineering design process! 
My Robotic Friends requires that scholars build a cup tower then write code to guide their 'robot' partner in rebuilding the exact same tower using only code language.

We practiced one sample together then partners got to work.

As you can see, the kids were totally engaged! They were imagining, planning, building, testing and improving, and then reimagining all as a natural part of this investigation. 

To make this investigation even more fun and to add a bigger collaboration piece to the learning, I invited fellow kinder teacher, Sandi Hill (HES), to learn with us. We have collaborated with Mrs. Hill's class before and it's always a big hit with the kids. We decided that each class would write a code for a cup tower for the other class, then tweet it out on Friday morning. Once receiving the code, classes would build the tower, then tweet back a pic. I have to say that on Friday morning, before the kids were even unpacked, they were asking, 'Did you check Twitter yet?'!
Here is the code we sent out:
And here a pic of the challenge sent to us:

Clearly the codes look different! I didn't even know what to do with this code! We looked at it together and noticed a pattern of 'step backward' commands. We hadn't used any of those in our own code writing. We quickly realized that we NEVER wrote commands for the robot to move the hand back to the starting point! It was time to debug! So, we made the changes to our code and resent it.

We then got to work on building the cup tower using the code sent to us from Mrs. Hill's class. We noticed that they only used 1 'pick up cup' command when moving up multiple levels - so we helped them debug that. 
During this process one child said, "This is great! They helped us debug our problem and now we're helping them!" #collaboration

A little while later, this tweet came through:

By the end of the day, we hadn't received a tweet back with a pic of the tower code we sent to Mrs. Hill's class, so the excitement of this project lives on until Monday!

As a final project, Scholars were asked to share their learning by creating a PicCollage that included both code and a pic of a new cup tower.

As I sat back and watched (yes, watched - they didn't need me), I reflected on how far this group of kindergartners have come over the last 9 months. In this particular task, they had all the technology, engineering and collaboration skills necessary to be independent and successful. #selfregulatedlearners

Special thanks to @SandiHillie for playing with us! I always learn new things when we collaborate!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Beavers: An Integrated STEM Unit

Now that I have had some experience in planning and teaching STEM, I am really trying to be intentional and reflective about integrating each of the components of STEM in order to build a learning experience that will engage students as well as teach the curriculum at a deep level.
So, for this post, I have outlined the learning experiences of this unit through the STEM lens.

The Launch:

The Science:
The beaver's challenge to learn about beavers and dams took scholars directly to research. A RAN Chart (Reading and Analyzing Nonfiction) was used to record information thought to be known, with opportunities to confirm or disconfirm during the research process. It also provided an organizational tool where new learning and questions were recorded. This chart facilitated our research and information collection.

The two most useful books we found while researching were:

We also used the app World Book of Animals.

We also watched a few video clips and this one is by far the best. We watched it over and over!

Scholars learned a great deal about the appearance, habitat, diet and survival of the beaver...all part of the science curriculum.

The Technology
Technology was integrated into this unit regularly. When the focus was on the appearance of the beaver, scholars used the Doodlecast app to label the parts of the beaver then record their understanding of how the Beaver's body is adapted for survival. 

Summarizing information is a challenging skill so I worked with small groups of students using Haiku Deck to summarize important information at the conclusion of the research.

We used a new game based classroom response system called Kahoot to assess learning.  The kids LOVE it! The quiz show structure gives immediate feedback (a nice opportunity for a quick reteach to clear up misconceptions) and it compiles a 'leader board' as well as the declaration of a winner. Following the game, teachers can access and print the results, nicely organized on an Excel spreadsheet. 

The Engineering
As a result of of their research, scholars were well prepared to engineer their own beaver dams. We took a nature walk to a nearby park to collect the materials...sticks and stones. Model Magic served as the 'mud'.  

Scholars worked with their parents at our annual school-wide STEM night to plan, design, create and test models of a beaver dam.

The Math
As part of our research, scholars learned that a large beaver could be four feet tall. Kindergartners really do not have a concept of what 48 inches is, so I made a paper model of this large beaver and scholars compared their own height to that of the beaver telling if they were taller, shorter or the same height as the beaver.

The integration of math in this particular project was a bit slim. As I reflect on the unit as a whole, this is an area I want to improve upon. I think that I could have planned for comparisons between beavers and other mammals...or other animal groups. I could have arranged for animal cut-outs to be measured with cubes and counted, ordered and compared. Certainly, I will be more intentional in planning the math component in future integrated STEM projects.