Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Stroke of Genius [Hour]

Dalton created a chicken nugget game controller.
Kids bitsboxing during Genius Hour.
In my last post I mentioned the inclusion of a Genius Hour into coding camp. The addition of an extra day this year created some found time in our camp structure. With a plethora of new coding apps and tools coming out all the time, we decided to allow for free exploration of a variety of these tools at the end of camp each day.

Our daily routine at coding camp includes completed the unplugged and computer-based activities provided by code.org. We also schedule time to work with ozobots. When we finished those projects, we set up centers around our room where students could choose coding activities to further explore. Our coding centers included:


As high school teachers managing upper elementary students, we really weren't sure what to expect when we first provided this time. We worried that students would not be able to focus for find enough to do for the full time we allotted. To say we were pleasantly surprised is an understatement. Each day they worked diligently. Some stayed in one place for the entire time, while others moved around, but they rarely had to be reminded of expectations during this time. They couldn't wait to get to Genius Hour every day. In fact, one student said she wished every hour of school was a Genius Hour. Several campers said their favorite thing about camp was something they learned during Genius Hour. Not convinced? Watch this video where Katie describes what she learned through Scratch.

My only previous experience this sort of loosely structured activity or assignment was in a professional development class that I teach about Google at Lake Erie College. After a typical class here, the participants write lesson plans or reflection papers about how to incorporate the tools we explored. In an effort to include Google's "20 time," I encouraged class members to propose a project, focused on a Google tool, and begin it during class instead of the typical lessons or paper. I just finished teaching this class for the fifth time and almost everyone chose the project option this time. Some created school calendars to share with colleagues and schedule events, some set up Google Classrooms or blogs for the coming year, and others leveraged Google tools in ways they hadn't before this class. Regardless of the project, people were grateful for the time to work on something that was meaningful to them. Just like the kids at coding camp.

As summer begins to wind down and my attention turns to returning to my own classroom, I need to think about how I can incorporate Genius Hour in my classroom. Any chemistry teachers doing this? I'd love it if you'd share your ideas.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

When Coding is Your Jam

Last week I co-hosted our second annual Coding Camp for students entering fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. This year our camp expanded from four half days to five, so with that change came some new activities. One of them was the addition of Genius Hour (more on that in a subsequent post) where we encouraged campers to explore an application of coding that interested them. One of the more popular selections was the new Osmo Coding Jam.

Osmo is an attachment for your iPad that allows a child to play with Osmo toys in front of the iPad and interact with the Osmo apps on the iPad. There are nine different apps, with more on the way, that target everything from language arts to math to art. Read more of my thoughts on Osmo here. In a post a year ago, I highlighted Osmo's Coding app. This spring Osmo released Coding Jam, an app that creates music by arranging coding blocks.

I tested out the app before camp. Though the app is very intuitive, users begin with a tutorial mode that asks for certain combinations of the coding blocks to create certain sounds. This is especially helpful for students who are new to coding or new to Osmo. Through this process, a player learns where the blocks have to be placed and how to click them together and turn arrows to create the drag-n-drop style code that is similar to Scratch. As users work through levels of coding challenges, they earn new characters who play different sounds.


In addition to this step-by-step walkthrough, a studio mode allows free play and creation of masterpieces. Here coders can choose characters (and their unique sounds) and use the coding blacks to program a melody. They repeat this process until three character musicians combine their talents to play a collaborative tune. This studio mode is where Coding Jam really surpasses the capability of the original Coding app. The studio mode encourages application of coding steps while simultaneously valuing creation and musicianship. With interesting programmed chord progressions like those from Pachelbel's Canon or a typical blues sequence, kids will make beautiful music where they can change and incorporate many elements. My children, ages 11 and 13, both preferred the studio mode because they were very familiar with the Osmo and Coding apps and wanted to be left alone to create.

Last week at Coding Camp, Osmo Coding Jam was an option for all campers at the end of our sessions. Once a child sat down and started creating, we often had to almost drag them away from the station for parent pick-up. Osmo seems to specialize in engaging, intelligent toys and apps; Osmo Coding Jam definitely lives up to its brand. Check it out for your small coders!