Search This Blog

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Minecraft Pi Gold Detector hyperdoc lesson

I created this hyperdoc for a 4th grade class using lessons from MagPi's Minecraft Essentials edition and Craig Richardson's Learn to Program with Minecraft book. It was meant to be part of a cross-curricular unit on the gold rush.

Unfortunately, we didn't get through the entire lesson in the time we had for the project, but I decided to share the hyperdoc anyway, in case someone else wants to try it with their class. If you do give this resource a go, I'd love feedback on how it can be improved!

Minecraft Gold Rush Hyperdoc

Monday, May 8, 2017

Speaking Math, part 2: Improving math performance in 4th grade by focusing on language

Recently I partnered with a 4th grade teacher to co-plan & co-teach a fractions unit. The purpose of this partnership was two-fold: I would get some much needed classroom time to experiment with teaching strategies to support our students performing below grade level, and she'd have another teacher in the room to work with groups of students while she worked on implementing a couple of new instructional models that she wanted to get up and running.

Our work together was framed by 3 major goals:
  • Improving language support in math & language acquisition for students
  • Develop strategies for differentiation (through the lens of UDL & by integrating blended learning models)
  • Improve confidence, grit, and independent problem solving skills in students
Language in mathematics has been a struggle for not just our English language learners, but for all of our learners. This year, I've worked with a handful of teachers on using explicit language instruction in math lessons to help improve math performance. 

Small group work
Has our work been successful? Well, in just 4 weeks, about 50% of 4th graders (many of whom were performing 2 grades or more below grade level) showed growth in the Numbers & Base Ten math strand (based on iReady data) and, as reported by the classroom teacher, students' language has improved immensely as they not only continue to use their math vocabulary more confidently during math time (including students who didn't used to participate in the past, but now feel safer to do so during Number Talks), but also in other content areas and situations, as they make connections related to the math language they've learned.

How'd we do it?

Instructional Practices Reimagined :
Started implementing number talks regularly as lesson opener--
  • This mental math activity is a natural opportunity for students to practice academic language as they're required to explain their thinking and defend their responses orally (Math Practice Standard 3)
  • We also wanted students to practice accountable talk & listening skills, so we started every number talk with a 2 minute review of sentence stems that students could choose to use when speaking, as well as sign language they could use to agree or disagree silently while others were sharing
  • Students needed to practice multiplication skills, so rather then assign more flashcards or fact practice websites, our number talks were around multiplication equations, with a focus on helping students develop stronger conceptual understanding, number sense (flexibility with numbers), and place value understanding
  • We also used this time to work with students on thinking creatively in math and determining strategies for solving problems
Living word wall
Language supports built into lessons daily--
  • During number talks and mini-lessons on new content, we embedded explicit instruction in key math vocabulary for the day. 
  • Each mini-lesson started with a review of the day's learning target, which included vocabulary analysis 
  • Our goal was to teach to multiple modalities, so vocabulary instruction included:
    • Visuals
    • Choral reading
    • Total Physical Response (TPR)
    • Hands-on, realia and/or modeling of definition
    • Sentence stems/frames & vocab card reviews
    • Word wall prominently displayed and referenced during number talks and lessons
Begin Implementation of Blended Instruction--
Flipped lessons
  • Teacher used EdPuzzle to flip instruction with interactive videos (shared to students via Google Classroom)
  • Reflex Math and Zearn were also thrown into the mix from time to time
  • Students were grouped into heterogenous groupings based on data from a unit pre-assessment (custom built around 2-3 essential standards using Illuminate)
    • Teacher worked through practice problems with small groups
    • Others worked independently on their flipped lesson and were encouraged to ask groupmates questions first to keep teacher table time uninterrupted
Multiple Means of Representation (UDL)--
  • Transfer of learning occurs when students are able to make connections among and between concepts; stronger connections are made when multiple representations are presented or accessed
  • Content was regularly presented in visual, auditory and kinesthetic formats
  • Seesaw was also implemented as a tool for: 
    • Allowing students to share their thinking in a variety of formats (text, video, audio, drawing, etc.)... and as a way for the teacher to collect daily formative assessment data that could be quickly analyzed and used to guide planning of the next day's lesson
    • Giving more timid students, or those unsure of their language skills, a safe place to share their thinking instead of having to speak up in front of the whole class (when Seesaw was used during number talks in lieu of whole class discussion, student participation went from about 25% to 100%)

Outcomes & Successes

  • Number Talks & Fraction Talks
    • Students loved the number talks and looked forward to them each day
    • Often these number talks turned into teachable moments and mini-lessons, and served as a great form of formative assessment
    • LOVE hearing students use the accountable talk already
    • Students who don't normally participate in math & participating and excited
  • Hands-on math
  • Using fraction strips & vocab cards
    • Students performed better on math problems when given opportunities to touch, move, manipulate physical items (in our case, fraction strips)
  • Students are slowly becoming more confident problem solvers
    • We trained the students to use the lesson input charts, number talk posters and flipped lesson videos as resources when they get stuck during independent work time
    • They also use the word wall to help themselves read instructions that previously they would get stuck on
  • Seesaw
    • Students LOVE Seesaw & were motivated to participate in math when using the tool
    • Quiet students felt more comfortable sharing their ideas when recorded into Seesaw
    • Daily exit tickets were easy to manage and quickly assess when posted in Seesaw
  • Students' attitudes about math improved!
    • And as attitudes improved, perseverance improved
    • Comments overheard during our revamped unit:
      • "I love math!"
      • "I almost gave up on myself, but I didn't and then I figured it out!"
      • "That started out hard today, but then I got it and it was actually kind of easy!"

Next Steps

  • Differentiate Flipped Content
    • Now that students are used to the blended routine, it would be great to move from all students receiving the same content to pushing out differentiated content to the different level groups 
  • Integrate Collaborative Work and/or Hands-on Exploration into Blended Work
    • In order to train students on the blended model, and to ensure that teacher table time was uninterrupted, students mainly worked quietly on digital tasks during this first iteration of blended instruction
    • Important next steps would be to integrate opportunities for math talk and hands-on learning into collaborative/independent work time away from teacher table
  • Build in Student Choice
    • Student choice is one of the three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and refers to the practice of giving students choice in how they express their learning; students get to "show what they know" in a way that's most comfortable for them
    • Guided choice (in the form of choice menus or similar) can be used in the beginning to help students figure out what format they are most comfortable using

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Intro to RaspberryPi Physical Computing Task Cards

A couple of week's ago my district hosted our 3rd Annual STEAM Showcase-- a festival of student STEM, music and art presentations, as well as hands-on learning and activities led by students, teachers and community partners.

I setup a hands-on Pi-Top station in our coding playground and wanted students and parents to be able to experience an introduction to physical computing with the Raspberry Pi, so I created self-guided "Physical Computing with Scratch" task cards and set up the breadboards ahead of time. Families had so much fun programming LEDs, buttons and PiCameras in Scratch that the last attendees didn't leave until almost an hour after the event!

Below is a link to the cards I created, including the Python version. Enjoy! And check back later, as I I plan to update the task cards in the coming months with a couple more activities. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Culture, Relationships & Innovation-- Reflecting on CUE17

Culture, relationships and innovation were three of the prevailing themes at this year's CUE conference, and the ones that resonated most with me during my time in Palm Springs.

From design thinking to personalized learning, digital storytelling to STEM, UDL to the arts, the common thread running through most presentations this year was that relationships and culture are the backbone of innovation in our educational systems. 

I think Thomas Murray wrapped it up best in his session on the last day of CUE-- "Innovation cannot happen in a toxic culture."

Toxicity is non-issue at CUE events, and as such, the innovation & ideas seem to endlessly flow over the course of our 4 days at CUE National. Surrounding myself with positive, passionate, like-minded people always seems to unleash my creativity.

On a similar note, Taylor Mali compared CUE National to the Blind Melon music video, "No Rain"-- "When I'm with teachers, I feel like I've found my community of bee people."

People and relationships are indeed my favorite experience at a CUE conference-- being around my bee people or, (as Jon Corippo likes to call us) my fellow lone nuts, had me re-energized and inspired by week's end. Whether it was participating in the inaugural TOSA Playground, or the impromptu Raspberry Jam that my #Picademy friends and I were able to arrange on the fly, being with my tribe always reminds me why I do what I do.

So how, then, does that all translate back to my school sites and district? 

For me, I think that's where empathy comes in. Both Jo Boaler and George Couros centered their keynotes around innovation via empathy. As a Teacher on Special Assignment (or ToSA), developing relationships with the teachers I support is key, and being able to empathize is a major part of the work that I do for, and alongside, my teachers.

This, however, is not the same as succumbing to the naysaying and negativity that can sometimes run rampant in staff rooms. On the contrary, this means empathizing with how others might be feeling and using that information to shift the conversations and emotions in the room. As we talk about innovating education, we have to think first about the culture at our sites and in our district. Thomas Murray reminded us that it's everyone's responsibility to set the culture of a classroom, site and school district. It is a culture of creativity, problem-solving, and support that will breed innovation.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Future Meteorologists-- Building & Programming Digital Weather Stations in 5th Grade

Recently a 5th grade teacher asked if we could use the Raspberry Pi to have students build something for their weather unit in science. With all of the weather happening in California this year-- and damage due to flooding, mudslides, potholes, collapsing roads, and more-- weather is very much a relevant topic for us right now.

Using SH pinout map to connect
Excited about the idea of connecting our project to current issues in our community, I thought a digital weather station would be appropriate, built around the essential question, "Why is it helpful for a community to be able to predict coming weather?"

I worked with a small group of students who, after some whole group exposure to programming with Raspberry Pi, were some of the students most interested in doing more coding & physical computing work. We used the Sense HAT with its built in, and easy to program, sensors so it was just a matter of helping the 5th graders program the HAT to collect some atmospheric data, share that data on the LED matrix and then decide what other features to include.

At the start of our project, we hit one major set back-- trying to figure out how to connect the Sense HAT to the Pi without, 1-- sliding it directly onto the GPIOs (the heat of the Pi itself interferes with the temperature sensors on the Sense HAT) and 2-- without using up all of the GPIO pins (the students were using a really nice Raspberry Pi touch screen display, that needs two pins for power). I decided to have students use individual jumper cables to connect their Sense HAT to the Pi, but it took me a long time to figure out how to do this properly, and that set us back a week or so. Once I finally figured out how to set this up, I created a pinout map for the students to use and we were on our way again!

Students planning their LED pictures
I played around with the idea of having certain weather pictures show up on the LED matrix depending on the current air pressure-- a sort of weather prediction (not the most accurate, but we used the average San Jose air pressure as a benchmark and had certain pictures show up based on higher or lower air pressure readings). The students liked that idea, so we moved forward. To help students understand the way the LED matrix works, I created a planning doc that students used on their own time to "draw" their pictures ahead of time, plan their variables and record RGB codes so they were ready to write those into their code with me.

Students also wanted to include the Sense HAT joystick into their project somehow, to make it a bit more interactive, so we added a line of code to make a joystick press the event that would run the program (actually, this is only partially working the way that we want, so it's still a work in progress).

This being their 3rd Raspberry Pi/coding in Python project, I wanted students to be able to work more independently this time, with their teacher and I acting more as coaches. I put together a hyperdoc that students could use to try and walk through the project themselves, including both science resources about weather concepts (science images & media courtesy PBS & PBS LearningMedia site) and step-by-step directions for writing the code.

Next steps for this project-- we made sure to have all collected data print in the shell window in addition to the LED matrix so that students could collect the data at the end of each day in order to
organize, analyze and graph the information.

Their classroom teacher also wanted to make sure that students focused not just on their final project, but also on the learning process and reflecting on failures that finally led to their success. We asked students to keep track of the challenges they met along the way (which were numerous) and I included independent reflection opportunities within the hyperdoc.

As always, it was great to see the kids so excited about their completed project, once we got everything up and running. Next steps are preparing students to share their work and process at our district's upcoming STEAM showcase!

If you want to try this project with your students, below is a link to the hyperdoc that we used. Feel free to make a copy and edit it to meet your own needs.

(click link above to view/make copy of original document)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sense Hat pinout for Raspberry Pi

Recently I wanted to attached a Sense Hat to my Raspberry Pi without using all 40 GPIO pins. My plan was to attach an additional output device to the pins to use at the same time as the Sense Hat. I'd also read that if I was going to use the temperature sensor on the Sense Hat, the temperature of the computer itself tends to interfere with the temperature readings of the atmosphere when the Hat is plugged directly onto the GPIO pins.

One option-- buy a pin header with extra long pins. Easy access to GPIOs! As I mentioned above, though, if you want to use the Sense Hat for reading the temperature, the Pi itself can interfere when your Hat is too close to the Pi board. If you don't need any of the other GPIO pins, it is also easy enough to use a GPIO cable extender to connect your Sense Hat without attaching it directly onto the Pi itself.

But, if you want to attach additional outputs to your Raspberry Pi, using all 40 pins for the Sense Hat can be a bit of an inconvenience. The good news is, the Sense Hat really only needs 11 of the pins in order to work-- the trick is knowing which ones!

As I started Googling around, a number of people recommended just using the Sense Hat schematics to figure it all out. If you are an electronics novice, though, like I am, the schematics can be tricky to navigate. is a helpful site and got me close, but unfortunately, the Pinout site did not include 2 crucial pins in their diagram (I think assuming those with more experience would already know to include those). Luckily, I found some help from the Raspberry Pi community on the official website discussion forum. From there, I created my own diagram to help me remember which specific pins I needed in order to use my Sense Hat without using up all 40 GPIO pins.

That diagram is below for your use!

(It does not matter which 3.3V, 5V or ground pins you use just as long as you include those.)

What it looks like all hooked up:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Kinder Breakout FAIL-- my First Attempt In Learning

Today I tried my first BreakoutEDU with a class of Kindergarteners. It was, well, interesting, to say the least.

We did not breakout... we didn't even get close. Students were engaged, and enjoyed the game, and there was some learning happening, but it was a bummer to have only solved one clue in 30 minutes. And while it would be easy to get frustrated with this minor set back, I am choosing to use this as a learning opportunity.

(HUGE thanks to @annkozma723 for sending me her K/1 remix of Patty Harju's game very last minute-- great game for littles!)

First off, the Successes:

  • I found a Kinder class to play with! 
    • Love when a teacher is willing to let me take a risk in their class and try something new.
  • The Kindergarteners were engaged
    • This particular learning situation had them hooked and ready to work
  • Students persevered
    • This was the first time that this class of Kindergarteners were presented this type of open problem solving. Sometimes, it is easy for students to get frustrated when they're not sure what to do, but this group as a whole stuck with it, showed grit in the face of a difficult problem and kept trying without giving up!
  •  Students got along well and tried to help each other
    • The class I was working with was at one of our sites with traditionally more challenging student behaviors. In reflecting on the game afterward with another TOSA & one of my assistant superintendents, both commented that it must have been very challenging behavior-wise with the Kinders. 
      • On the contrary-- except for one minor behavior infraction (and nothing I wouldn't expect normally in a Kinder class) they were so excited about the challenge that they tried hard to be focused and on their best behaviors!
Challenges & What I Learned:
  • Students struggled with the lack of step-by-step directions
    • Although this is the ultimate point of the game-- getting students to think more creatively and try to solve problems on their own-- I think this group needed more scaffolding up front then I provided. 
    • I would also do (or at least start) the Breakout whole class next time. Next time I think I might start by solving the first clue whole class first, so that they better understand how to think about the puzzles & challenges.
  • The box
    • They were intrigued by the locks, and so excited that all they wanted to do was play with the locks (even before they had a code to use)
    • Next time I'll keep the box up high and be in charge of trying the combinations that students come up with
  • The Kindergarten students needed more instruction on how to work together as a team
    • Although they did get along well together during the game, they didn't have strategies for working as a team on a project
    • Next time I visit a classroom of students that I don't know well, I'll come with very specific rules or strategies for working in teams
It's always a challenge to walk into a room of students that you've never met before & try something brand new with them, especially when that task doesn't look like more "traditional school work." And although the situation felt a little like a fail at first, I now see the experience as a "FAIL"-- First Attempt In Learning. I have better ideas as to how to scaffold the experience for young students experiencing their first BreakoutEDU, and am still excited about the learning opportunities that the game can provide for our littlest learners.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Physical Computing in Grade 2-- From analyzing primary sources to creating them!

I've been excited in the last year and a half to introduce primary-level students and teachers to programming and digital making with Scratch Jr., Scratch and, most recently, Raspberry Pi. My most recent project was with a grade 2 teacher interested in seeing how well her students would do with physical computing. She'd done some physical computing on Raspberry Pi for the first time over the summer at a workshop that I'd co-hosted, and she loved the idea of bringing some of the work we'd done together into the classroom, but wasn't sure what that might look like with 2nd graders. And so, we partnered up and brainstormed ways that we might integrate some physical computing and digital making into her class.

The result?

A 3-day project in which 2nd graders built push-button cameras with Raspberry Pi computers and programmed them using Scratch.

The project aligned with a grade 2 language arts and history unit on understanding how the past can influence the present. 2nd grade students began with a short analysis of two primary source artifacts (photographs from the March on Washington 1963, courtesy of PBS LearningMedia*), and a discussion on what we can learn from the artifacts that we analyzed.

Then, we asked students if they could design a modern-day camera to capture the best artifacts possible, what features would that camera have. Their responses ranged from making sure our camera had a lens and button to including a verbal and visual countdown so that people knew when to smile.

Once students had generated a significant list of features that they wanted our camera to have, I announced that I just happened to have some of the tools that we'd need to build our own cameras (wink, wink!), and we jumped right in to our project.

I started by introducing students to the Raspberry Pi computer, some of the parts of the computer that they'd need to know, and a couple of safety tips. I asked them what was missing from our computers & what we'd need in order to use our computers (the students did an excellent job of naming all of the peripherals that we'd need in order to communicate with, and receive information from, our computers!) Then we started passing out peripherals and put students in charge of arranging keyboards, monitors, mice and cords while I attached Pibrella hats onto the Raspberry Pis. (Pibrellas are a great alternative to connecting individual LEDs and buttons to the Raspberry Pi-- perfect for physical computing with young students.) Once teams thought that they had everything hooked up correctly, the classroom teacher and I checked their station set up before letting them power up their Pi.

From there, we walked through programming our devices whole class. A little lesson, a little programming, another mini-lesson, some more coding... and so on. Until every team had a functioning push-button camera!

(Prior to this unit, students had done some introductory lessons with their teacher on as well as a lesson with me on using Scratch.)

The excitement in the room was contagious as students learned about how a computer works; discovered how coding is used to make electronic devices function; explored math topics including algebra, algorithms, and fractions in order to program their cameras; and saw their creations some alive. The selfies were just too cute!

If we had had more time, I would have loved to integrate some of the additional features that students suggested-- i.e. adding an audio countdown to camera (easily programmed in Scratch), putting our camera on motorized wheels, creating cases for our cameras, etc. But with the limited time that we had, the 2nd graders impressed me immensely with what they were able to accomplish, and the knowledge of coding and computers that they demonstrated after just 3 days of learning.

*PBS LearningMedia is a fantastic free resource for videos, primary source artifacts, audio clips, lesson plans, educational games, interactive media, professional development, and more!


Lesson Materials:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Teaching Kinders to Speak Math

Color-coded lesson chart
One of the challenges that many of our students have in math is being able to read the problems and use the academic vocabulary--especially in our primary classrooms. Last week I partnered with our literacy TOSA, Eve Lindsay, and a Kindergarten teacher at one of our Title I schools to teach a math unit, with a focus on language acquisition.

Our district currently uses Eureka Math in K-5, so we used the materials that we already had and designed a lesson around the math standards that the classroom teacher was preparing to teach:
  • K.MD.1-- Describe measurable attributes (in this case capacity)
  • K.MD.2-- Compare objects based on measurable attributes
  • SMP 6-- Attending to precision
Our plan was to build in language supports and embed differentiation that would meet the needs of all learners, from those that spoke no English to others who were reading at almost a 2nd grade level. Below are lists of the math and language acquisition strategies that we built into the unit to help students better understand the math content and to give them the language that they would need in order to read simple math prompts and engage in math conversation.

(Click here to view our full unit plan)

Math Strategies:

Realia, images, resource chart
  • Realia-- using real life objects to let students explore the idea of capacity
  • Choral counting-- students need LOTS of practice counting, so we embedded opportunities for students to count as often as possible
  • Number line-- during whole group lesson & independent work
  • Math lesson chart-- document big ideas on a chart while teaching so that students have a resource to access during independent work time
  • Hands-on/concrete exploration-- give students time to play with manipulatives (or in this case rice and cups) to help them construct meaningful understandings of abstract mathematical ideas

Language Strategies:

TPR for academic vocabulary
  • Total Physical Response (TPR)-- linking a physical movement to academic vocabulary
  • "Say it with me"-- a lot of choral speaking during whole group lesson
  • Counting syllables-- have students count syllables with teacher as they say new word
  • Sentence frames-- we had these available during whole group and independent work time in various forms so students could access them as needed to put together entire sentences using academic vocabulary
  • Vocabulary-- color coded word cards & images to support the meaning
  • Color coding-- we color coded important vocabulary on the lesson chart and used the same color coding on sentences frames and worksheets to help students remember the words while they were learning to read them
  • Repetition-- we opened and closed every lesson with a review of vocabulary, reciting meanings and acting out TPR every time


  • Realia/hands-on-- the rice, the scooping and the pouring gave students some much needed sensory time and a chance to work on motor skills
  • Cutting/Pasting-- we changed a circling activity to a cutting/pasting activity not only so we could customize the images that students compared, but also to give the Kindergarteners a chance to practice using scissors and glue, and more work on their motor skills
  • Writing-- our day 3 activity also asked students to write the words more/less so that they had a chance to work on not only spelling, but also fine motor skills involved in using a pencil and forming letters
  • Movement-- strategies like TPR get kids up and moving! Activity helps get the wiggles out and keeps the blood flowing... less chance of students getting tired and distracted when they're moving.

Hands-on learning
Using data from a pre-assessment that we gave at the start of the week, and teacher feedback regarding students that she was concerned about academically (either in math, ela or both) we put together a short list of focus students whose growth during the week would help us determine the success of our unit.

Feedback from the classroom teacher was so complimentary! By the end of the week, our target students were already using complete sentences (without prompting!), including academic language, to accurately define the mathematical concepts we'd introduced that week.
Specific growth that we noticed among the majority of students included:
  • A shift from depending mainly on the terms bigger/smaller toward using more specific adjectives to compare the size of objects (i.e. taller/shorter, heavier/lighter, more than/less than)
  • The ability to identify (either by pointing, choosing, or with words) items that have capacity and those that do not
  • The ability to identify (either by pointing, choosing, or with words) which of two items has more capacity and which has less capacity
  • Students were able to, at the minimum, use the words "...has more capacity..." accurately when comparing two objects
At week's end, 22 out of 24 students completed our culminating task with proficiency. We determined that only 2 students would need additional instruction in describing and comparing objects using measurable attributes. A huge win? After just 4 days worth of TPR, repetition and realia work, students were able to use new academic vocabulary correctly and independently, and they were able to identify that academic vocabulary on paper when prompted.

Success story! 
This Kinder has very little English, but was using brand new academic vocabulary correctly, 
and without prompts or supports, after just 4 days of instruction!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Traffic Engineering in TK with Raspberry Pi

This week, TK students at one of my elementary sites became traffic engineers with the help of Scratch and some Raspberry Pi.

Coding and digital making in Transitional Kinder??* Indeed!

Honestly, I wasn't sure if it could be done, but the first time someone suggested to me that physical computing and Raspberry Pi was only for older kids, I took it upon myself to prove them wrong. Children will surprise you, and I'm a firm believer that when the bar is set high, and with the right supports, kids are perfectly capable of doing some pretty amazing things.

My TK physical computing plan? I decided to use Pibrellas (so we wouldn't need to worry about loose wires or who would do the wiring), pre-create the Scratch blocks that the students would need to use to program their LEDs, and set up the Raspberry Pi stations already opened to Scratch and the partially written code. Students would work in small teams of 2 or 3 and take turns dragging the pre-written blocks into the correct order to make their lights blink they way that they wanted.

I integrated this lesson into a unit on "Community Jobs" that students were already working on and started off by introducing students to traffic engineering as a community job. We talked about how engineers use coding to program traffic lights in order to manage traffic flow.

Before this lesson, students had some coding experience, having been introduced to coding concepts
already by their classroom teacher, using both lessons and the OSMO Coding kit. Building off of what they already knew about coding, I introduced Scratch and our coding goals, and we did some hands-on planning before programming on the computers:
  • First, the teams organized print outs of red/yellow/green lights into the blinking sequence of their choice.
  • Next, I guided the teams through putting printed out Scratch cards in the order we needed to make our lights blink one after the other. We talked about the importance of wait blocks and looked for patterns in our code.
  • Finally, students were ready to get onto the Raspberry Pis and program their LEDs.
    • One student suggested that if they got stuck working in Scratch they should use the plan that they had just created with the printed blocks to help them (score!).
  •  At their stations, the teams were introduced to the Raspberry Pi computers (with Pibrellas already attached); we were lucky enough to have 4 adults in the room between classroom teacher, aid and coaches, so each station also had an adult helper.
  • I had pre-written the first part of the code for students, and already laid out the labeled "broadcast" blocks that students needed, so all they had to do was to put the "redon/off, yellowon/off, greenon/off" and "wait" blocks in the correct order.


  • I had expected students to struggle with reading the blocks, but luckily there were enough readers in this group of students that they had no trouble differentiating between the words red, yellow, and green on the Scratch blocks.
  • The biggest struggle was with learning how to use the mouse; most of these 5 year olds were used to touch screens, but not 3-button mice.

The Results:

Every team was able to get their LEDs turned on! Some teams even had time for me to teach them about loops, and others started playing with the order of the lights to see if they could extend the coding lesson on their own. 


*For those that aren't familiar with what TK is, the abbreviation stands for Transitional Kindergarten. Not to be confused with either Pre-K or Preschool, TK is an option for children who do not meet the "5th birthday before September 1st" requirement for entering Kindergarten in California-- an introduction to Kindergarten for the "young 5-year-olds".

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Encouraging Perseverence & Creative Thinking in 4th Graders with 3-Act Math

Student work
"Why did you choose to build your model that size?", I asked a small group of 4th grade students using linking cubes to recreate the cross-shaped table that I had shown the class during Act 1 of our 3-Act task

"Um, I don't know..." one student replied as she continued building the model.

"How is this model going to help you solve our problem?"

"We're going to count up the cubes and figure out the area."

"Ah ha, we're trying to figure out the area. Okay. But is your model the same size as that table? Will they have the same area?"

At this point in the conversation I found myself guiding students to think about scaling concepts, in terms of multiplication and division. Not the original plan when I started teaching the lesson, but that is the beauty of a 3-Act math task-- the open problem solving and inquiry-based format means that the math instruction can often take spontaneous turns in whatever direction the students' work and conversation leads us.

Act 1 "Mystery Picture"
In this particular task ("Piles of Tiles" by Graham Fletcher), students were presented with a picture of a cross-shaped table on which a handful of 1 inch squared math tiles were placed along the edge of the table. The question-- are there enough tiles in the bag to cover the whole table? 

The classroom teacher had asked me to come in and demo a 3-Act. Her goal is to help her students become better problem solvers in math, to help them think more creatively in math and to engage them in more meaningful math tasks. 

This was the students' first 3-Act task, and most did have a hard time getting started. It's still not typical for a math teacher to ask students to dive into a problem with little guidance and without a textbook chapter title hint at the top of a worksheet cluing them into which operation(s) to use. When I asked students what they thought we should do first, I received quite a few blank stares. Fair enough. The one thing most students did know right away-- they wanted to use the manipulatives I had put out! 

Linking cubes were everywhere as students started recreating the shape of the table. They weren't quite sure why they were building the table, but they did know that building that table and filling it in with cubes should help them. It was from this "playing" that the conversation above was spawned-- I asked students to think about the dimensions they were given (60 tiles long), and then think about a number that could be useful when building their models. 
  • One group said "6!" right away, seeing the 6 in the 60, but it took some prying for them to think about 6 as a factor of 60, and that being the reason why 6 could make a good size scale model.
  • Another team, overhearing my conversation with the other, then suggested that 12 cubes as the length of their scale model might work because it is also a factor of 60-- nice!
One student in the class started solving the problem by drawing a model and breaking the cross-shape into five small squares. From there she confused the dimensions, but her thinking was on the right track. It took everything I had not to give her too much information and to instead ask the right questions to get her thinking about where her mistakes were.

We ended my demo lesson that day without closure. We did take time to reflect on our work up to that point, and shared some of the students' thinking so far, but we still had not solved the problem-- another jarring situation for the 4th graders. They expected me to give them the answer that they hadn't figured out yet-- not so much. Instead, their classroom teacher excitedly explained that she would be taking over the lesson the next day, and would let the students continue their work on the problem. The students' reactions? Cheers and applause.

That's right, 4th graders were cheering for math.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Constructing Colonial Technologies in Minecraft Pi

Yesterday I wrapped up my first Minecraft Pi programming unit with a class of 5th graders. I was looking for a group of students to try "hacking Minecraft" with on our Raspberry Pis, and their classroom teacher wanted to take last year's Minecraft Colony project and kick it up a notch-- we found a match!

The progression of the unit:

  • Day 1-- Scratch project
    • The first day that I met with the 5th graders we started with a Scratch project. The students had already been introduced to coding via lessons and some had dabbled in Scratch. I wanted to spend our first lesson building off their background knowledge to teach a couple of programming concepts that we'd use in our Minecraft projects.
    • Using a hyperdoc as their guide, students were challenged to create animations about fractions in Scratch.
    • In the process, we discussed coding and mathematical topics we needed for our Minecraft project including loops, coordinates & number lines, algebraic thinking, wait/sleep time, and events to name a few.
  • Day 2-- Code Monkey
    • I wanted to lead up to text-based coding with some guided practice.
    • Students used Code Monkey-- a gamified way for students to learn how to write commands for a sprite, or in this case a turtle, using text. 
    • Using Code Monkey helped students learn the importance of spelling, punctuation and syntax in coding.
  • Day 3 & 4-- Intro to Minecraft Pi and Python
    • Using resources from the Raspberry Pi website and my experience at Picademy, I put together an introductory lesson for the 5th graders on "hacking Minecraft" (an evolving work in progress). 
      • Students learned how to teleport, post a message, set a block, and set a rectangular prism of blocks using Python.
    • Over the course of two class periods, students worked in small groups and learned about the Raspberry Pi computer, inputs/outputs, variables, x/y/z coordinates, loops and conditions.
  • Day 5-- Create a Colonial Technology in Minecraft Pi
    • Students' final task was to use what they'd learned in their history units and in our coding lessons to construct and describe a colonial technology in Minecraft.
    • Students first reviewed how to post messages and set blocks in Minecraft Pi using Carrie Anne Philbin's videos.
    • Then, students were required to sketch out a building on grid paper, with dimensions, that they wanted to construct, either independently or with partners.
    • Next, students had to plan out the code that they would use to construct their first colonial building.
    • Once the students' plans were approved, they got together with their project group to start coding.
    • After programming their first building, they moved on to constructing a technology that they thought was important to colonial America. Students had to decide the best (most effective) way to construct their technologies using Python. 
    • Some of their ideas included:
      • Setting a cuboid and then cutting out parts of the cube to shape their technology
      • Programming their character to drop blocks behind them and then moving their character around to quickly construct the shapes they needed
      • Another team set blocks manually to create their colonial tool, but successfully programmed a message to appear and describe their technology

What students learned:

  • How to debug, edit and revise their work
  • 3-dimensional coordinate planes and how to move along the plane
  • Basic algebra concepts
  • What variables are, and their role in writing code
  • Events, Arguments, Conditions, Loops
  • Grit and persevering through challenging work
  • Basic Python commands
  • How to draw on information from multiple sources and how to read and comprehend informational/technical text

What I learned:

  • 10 year-olds CAN program in Python-- they were amazing!
  • Groups of more than 3 students per Pi was too many. I like students programming in teams, but more than 3 students per group and it's hard for the kids to find something for everyone to do (I'd already experienced this issue with a younger set of students, and it was confirmed with this older group).
  • 30 kids was a lot to try to teach coding and physical computing to all at once. I think my threshold is about 24 students. More than that for these lessons, and I could use a co-teacher.

Lesson Resources:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A peek into the 1st ever #K2CanToo event

Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the first ever #K2CanToo conference as a facilitator-- a learning event especially for TK-2 teachers and other educators supporting primary level classrooms. The brain child of instructional coach, Susan Stewart, the event centered around instruction in STEM topics and the special needs of our littlest learners. There was something for everyone and sessions ranged from digital citizenship to makerspaces, inquiry-based math instruction to robotics & coding, makerspaces to NGSS in the primary classroom.
Lots of opportunities for personalized learning

Small class sizes, and the #HelpDeskEDU unconference running all day, provided opportunities for personalized instruction for attendees. Hands-on learning, and plenty of collaboration and creation time in sessions, meant that many teachers left the conference with not just new ideas but with redesigned lessons prepped and ready to implement on Monday.

I had pleasure of leading two sessions: one on inquiry-based math instruction in K-2 and another on Seesaw, the Learning Journal app.

Think they're too little? Think again!
In my inquiry-based math session, participants took part in a 3-Act math task for littles; explored ways of using Dot Talks and Notice/Wonder to incite conversation and math talk; considered bringing in inquiry and critical thinking with Which One Doesn't Belong tasks; discussed ways of providing young learners with opportunities for open-ended math exploration with Would you Rather? Math; and learned how we can make math relevant by teaching math content in context. Math tends to be the subject in which teachers have the hardest time shifting instruction; we're so used to teaching facts and figures the same way that we have for more than a century that doing things differently means major mindset change. It was exciting to see all of these primary teachers ready to challenge their students, and themselves, to think differently about math!
Hands-on learning

My Seesaw session was a packed house and teachers were excited to learn how they and their Seesaw to communicate, collaborate, demonstrate learning, create, analyze, become more independent learners, and share all of this classroom goodness with parents and, potentially, the world. Teachers left the session with their Seesaw classrooms up and running and ready for students.
students can use

It was an inspiring weekend, and I look forward to seeing the #K2CanToo movement grow!

The #K2CanToo crew!