Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Coding Camp Recap

Last week a colleague and I had a great time hosting our district's first ever coding camp for rising fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Until we attended a free workshop by code.org, we had a long list of resources and ideas. After the code.org workshop, we decided to lean heavily on their amazing tools and also use little programmable robots called Ozobots. We structured each 4 hour day around a concept and word of the day. Here is what we did each day:

Day 1: Algorithm

We started with some unplugged activities by code.org - Paper Airplane Algorithms and Graph Paper Programming. Both of these help students practice the idea of algorithms and sequences. Starting with these allowed us to quickly see who followed directions instinctively and who needed help. After the unplugged stuff, we got everyone logged in to accounts we created for them at code.org and we started online activities as part of Course 2. We finished the day with about an hour of drawing mazes for the Ozobot's to color track. Kids loved that the robots followed colored lines and that they could use colored switches to change the robot's motion.

Day 2: Loop

We started with an unplugged introduction called Getting Loopy. Students learn a dance that has repeating motions [Shout out to Kristen Landers who I heard speak two week's ago: She told me that Kidz Bop streams at slacker.com so you get music kids will sing and dance too but you don't have to worry about language]. Then we worked on loops at code.org. We took a break from computer work with another unplugged activity called Binary Bracelets. Kids spell out their first and last initial in white and black beads and string them onto elastic cord. We used white beads that change color in sunlight; that was a fun surprise when we went outside for snack. We finished the day with using drag and drop block coding to code the Ozobots.

Day 3: Debugging

The first activity was unplugged - a relay race where kids had to program as a team and sometimes debug each other's work. Then we worked on debugging modules on code.org. We gave the kids a lot of time on Day 3 to create a design for their tshirts. They used the Artist modules to create whatever they wanted. As they struggled to make their designs, they had to do much debugging to get exactly what they wanted. This day was the big payoff because we envisioned them making a quick design and calling it quits, but it was just the opposite. They worked so hard to write code to create letters and beautiful patterns. They asked to skip snack! We returned to Ozobots at the end of the day. Kids created mazes on cafeteria trays for the Ozobots to run the next day.

Day 4: Conditionals

To show what conditionals are, we played some card games with rules they invented. Then the kids worked on the conditionals modules. While they worked, we ironed their tshirt designs onto their tshirts so they could all wear their art work during the coding exposition we had during our last 30 minutes. Then we worked on Ozobot mazes. Then we prepared for our Expo. The parents came back for the last 30 minutes of camp to see the kids collect their Course 2 certificates and demonstrate their new skills.

A few takeaways:

Code.org is a spectacular resource with so much more than games for the Hour of Code. With four courses to work through, curricula for using computer science to teach math, and science, and, of course, computer science, and a new app lab, it is a vast, generous resource. Teachers can create classes, monitor progress, inspire students.

We loved watching the kids help each other, especially during their free creation time. They would ask each other how to do something and sometimes just hover behind someone, quietly observing another student's process. Kids felt so proud to help each other. We mostly walked around and cheered them on; we certainly did little instruction.

Left to their own creation devices, the kids far surpassed anything we could have imagined they would create when we made our agenda for the week. It was great fun to be in that environment and watch them develop an idea and carry it off.

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