HTML, JavaScript, Python, Oh My!

This week in ECMP 355 we learned about coding! Coding, or computer programming, is essentially a language for machines — it is a precise set of instructions that tells a computer exactly what to do. Coding is what makes it possible for us to create and use computer software, apps, and websites. Learning how to code means learning how to read and write in “machine language”.

Coding is starting to make it’s way into the classroom (check out the #CodeinClass hashtag on Twitter), as it is becoming an increasingly important and beneficial skill for students to have.  For one, many young people are making their living from computer programming on platforms such as Android and iOS. In fact, roughly half the highest-paying jobs in America now require some basic knowledge of computer programming. Aside from making a living, coding also provides students with valuable life skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and digital literacy.

So, for homework, we had to learn how to code — or at least give it a shot. We had two options: We could code a short project using Scratch (a kid-friendly computer programming language), or we could take part in one of the Hour of Code options on Code.org. I chose to do the Hour of Code.

I took three separate screencasts during the Hour of Code to show my learning progress throughout. In the first video I work through puzzles #1 and #2. Puzzle #1 was easy, but the angles tripped me up on puzzle #2 (my geometry teacher would be so disappointed). It took some thinking, but I was able to quickly fix my mistake to complete the puzzle!

In the second video I work through puzzles #5 and #6 after being introduced to the “repeat loop” block which allows you to repeat a line of code x number of times. In puzzle #5 I had to figure out how many time to repeat a given line of code in order to draw a flower.

In the third video I work through puzzle #8 where I was introduced to the “function” block. A function is another type of programming tool to help you avoid repeating yourself. I used the function block to draw three colourful flowers without having to write out the code each time.

The final puzzle, puzzle #10, was a free-for-all — I was allowed to design whatever I wanted using code. Check out what I made:

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Hour of Code Certificate

My Hour of Code certificate of completion

So, how did it go?

To be honest, I went in with  a negative attitude. I had seen formal coding language before (like the HTML view on WordPress) and it always looked intimidating — how was I supposed to replicate something like that? Plus, many of my friends who have taken computer science complain about how hard coding is. I was expecting to hate every second of it. However, I was surprised at how fun it was to learn how to code!

The Hour of Code was challenging, but in a good way — I was forced to think and problem-solve my way through each puzzle. Sometimes it was frustrating when my code didn’t work, but it also motivating — I actually wanted  to back and find where I went wrong so that I complete the puzzle. I also really liked working with Blockly. Code is usually written in text, but Blockly uses visual blocks which you can drag-and-drop to write a program. Underneath I was still creating code, but Blockly just simplified the formal code language which can be overwhelming and confusing for beginners.

After taking part in the Hour of Code, I can totally see the value in teaching coding in schools. In terms of the Saskatchewan curriculum, coding can connect to units in both the Math and Arts. Ed curricula. I even think that coding can connect to English Language Arts. There are many different forms of language; students use a different type of language when they are at home with their families vs. hanging out with friends vs. in the classroom. Coding is just another type of language, only digital, and I think it is important to give students opportunities to practice and develop all these types of languages. Aside from direct curricular connections, I also see how coding can help students to develop important life skills like problem solving, reasoning, and patience.

Overall, I really enjoyed learning how to code; I felt a sense of empowerment and pride afterwards, and I had a lot of fun. However, before I go and integrate coding into my classroom, I need to learn more about it, spend more time practicing, and find good resources. I know what I’m doing this summer!

Know of any good coding resources for students? How/where do you integrate coding into your classroom? Please share with me below!

 

 

 

 

 

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#EdTech: Are We Trying Too Hard?

When it comes to #edtech, are we trying too hard? This is a question that has been weighing heavily on my mind lately.

A few weeks ago, my good friend Robin and I co-wrote a post on the pedagogical value of Snapchat — one of the most popular social media apps used by youth today.  Snapchat can be used to live broadcast school events, to communicate with parents and/or students, to showcase student learning, and much more.  However, just because Snapchat has potential educational value doesn’t mean that it is the best learning tool for my students.

We seem to do this a lot; we feel pressure to stay up-to-date on the newest, hottest tech tools, so every time a new website, app, or social media platform come out, we feel the need to “edufy” it to make it usable in the classroom.  This brings me back to my original question: Are we trying too hard? Do all these new technologies really have a place in the classroom when there are a million and one technologies already out there? Are we, in some way, just trying to “have an in” with our students?

Before I go any further, I’d like to clarify something: I am not arguing against the use of Snapchat (or any other new tech tool for that matter) in the classroom.  As I mentioned before, Snapchat does have educational value.  What I am arguing, however, is that we as teachers be more critical of the technologies that we implement into our classrooms and the ways in which we implement them.  I strongly believe that technology integration needs to be planned and purposeful; there needs to be a reason for doing it — it should not be random.  This TED-Ed article outlines three questions that teachers should ask themselves before using technology in the classroom:

  1. What is the primary goal, and how will this technology support it?
  2. How will this technology choice broaden students’ perspectives?
  3. How is this technology choice going to help my students learn?

Teachers can (and should) use these three questions to evaluate a new tech tool before integrating it into the classroom.  Teachers should also use these questions to evaluate the tools they already use to determine if they are still effective.  Amie Reid, a fellow ECMP 355 classmate and someone who is pro-technology, recently wrote a blog post in which she argued against using Twitter in the classroom.  Amie made some excellent points (in a very creative fashion, might I add), but one in particular struck me:

“My 14 yo says Twitter (like Facebook) is old news. She doesn’t tweet.  She uses Instagram, Snapchat, etc. So why force this tech on Ss?”

I think Amie’s point nicely addresses why we need to be critical of the technology that we use in the classroom — both old and new.  Twitter and Facebook may be tried-and-true edtech tools, but these technologies are becoming obsolete to youth.  So, as Amie asserts, why force do we still these tools on our students? Surely there are more engaging apps that we can use to meet students’ learning needs other than Twitter and Facebook.

I guess my point is this: Instead of “edufying” every new technology that comes our way, maybe we should spend our time and efforts making good use of a few technologies that we know are engaging and effective learning tools for our students. This is not to say that we should never try out new technologies, of course we should, but not everything has to be turned into an edtech tool.  In my opinion, the whole point of edtech is to support and enhance student learning — it should not be used just for the sake of it.

 

 

 

EdTech and Chemistry

As we have been learning in ECMP 355, there are tons of amazing edtech tools out there that can be used in the classroom; there are communication technologies like Remind, Edublogs, and Kahoot, productivity technologies like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Evernote, and presentation technologies like Haiku Deck, Nearpod, and Touchcast — just to name a few. While these tools are great, and ones that I will most definitely integrate into my future classroom, as a chemistry major and huge science nerd, I wanted to know if there are any technologies that are designed specifically for a chemistry classroom.  So, I have been doing some research.  These are a few of the resources that I have come across so far:

1. 3D Period Table via Chrome Experiments

I found this resource while browsing the #chemchat hashtag on Twitter, and it is way too cool.  This tool provides a 3D visualization of the periodic table.  When you click on an element, it gives you some basic information like the name of the element, its atomic number, atomic mass, and electron configuration.  You also have the option to “explore an atom” which provides a 3D atomic view of the particular element. Since atoms cannot be seen with the naked eye, students often think of atoms in terms of the static 2D Bohr Diagrams they learn to draw.  However, the “explore an atom” option would help students to visualize what an atom looks and acts like in 3D space. Overall, I think the 3D periodic table is a helpful tech tool for students, and it fits perfectly in the Atoms and Elements unit in the Saskatchewan Science 9 curriculum.

 

2. Interactive Periodic Table via The Royal Society of Chemistry

This interactive periodic table is similar to the Chrome Experiments’ 3D periodic table. This resource allows you to manipulate the periodic table to highlight the different groups, periods, and blocks.  You can also “adjust” the temperature to see how the physical state of each element changes.  If you click on an individual element, it links to a page that lists the chemical and physical properties of that element. One of my favourite features of the site is the “Visual Elements Images” feature in the top left-hand corner; when you click, it changes the periodic table such that each element is represented by a picture that describes the history how it was discovered. Super cool!

 

3. Interactive Chemistry Simulations via PhET

This website offers simulation activities that demonstrate different complex chemistry topics like concentration, molecule polarity, and acid-base solutions.  Aside from chemistry, the site also has simulations that explain concepts in biology, physics, Earth science, and math.  I think these simulations serve as a great learning tool — they allow students to explore and apply the content that they learn in class. Another bonus is that the simulations are versatile — they cover content that corresponds to science outcomes from grades 9 to 12.

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“Acid-Base Solutions” — an example of one of the chemistry simulations offered.

 

4. Science Journal via Google

Science Journal is another tool that I discovered through Twitter (hashtags are a great thing, aren’t they?).  Science Journal is a free Android app that turns your smartphone or tablet into a data logger that can record measurements from the device’s various sound, light, and motion sensors.  The data can not only be recorded over a period of time, but it can be plotted on a graph, annotated with notes and photos, and compared against other measurements taken at a different time.  I have not tried the app out myself, but I think it sounds like a neat edtech tool — it’s like having a lab notebook in your pocket!  Although Science Journal would work for a variety of experiments, I think it would be particularly useful in “Properties of Waves” unit in the new Physical Science 20 curriculum.

Know of any more good edtech tools to use in a science/chemistry classroom? Share with me in the comments!