Tag Archives: computer education

Coding Journals for Computer Science

coding journals

I’ve been having lots of fun learning to code with Scratch over the past month. It inspired me to write blogs about the benefits of teaching programming skills and computer science standards. But it also prompted me to ponder about teaching practices associated with coding. Many of the resources I researched suggested that students write coding journals or logbooks.

Some technology curriculum even incorporates learning journals as an essential component. A case in point is the Robotics unit of the Prince Edward Island Career and Technical Education Curriculum. Students write routine, specific journal entries and these are included in assessment.

Journal writing is a common task for primary students to build writing fluency. But journals can also be a powerful tool for learning programming, consolidating of coding skills, and self-reflection for young people in junior, middle school, and senior grades.

Guide Students to Reflect Upon Learning

Reflection can be difficult. Providing guiding questions can help students think about the coding experience. In TechnoCode, a STEM project by TechnoKids, coding journals log entries are part of the coding experience. Open-ended questions, rating scales, and checklists guide students to reflect upon their learning. It is valuable to include prompts about the design process, debugging, coding block usage, and attitude towards programming.

coding journals

Include guiding questions to help students reflect upon learning when using coding journals.

What to Use to Write a Coding Journal?

OneNote, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs are common tools with which students are familiar. The app used should be easily accessible for students at the beginning, during a coding class, or as an end of class activity. Anything that can generate a text file and can be kept open on the desktop will work. Students should be able to open the learning journal file as ideas come to them.

Why Write a Coding Journal?

There are many benefits to support writing a coding journal. In addition to the basic journal writing learning objectives of improving written communication, coding journals can:

  • Articulate ideas
    Students write about their creative plans, list coding steps, document their work, and/or set realistic goals. Rather than jumping right in and starting to write code, journals can be a tool to plan and organize animations, stories, or games.
  • Build coding skills
    When natural language is used to express the actions that are to be translated into coding language, understanding and retention is enhanced. As they write in their own voice, students build a firm foundation for coding terminology. Listing both the plain text and the programming algorithms can become a personal ‘how to’ dictionary to be referenced as needed.
  • Problem solve
    Debugging is a routine part of learning to code. When students are stuck, they can turn to a coding journal to figure out a solution. Writing about the problem forces the programmer to slow down their thinking and use self-talk to describe the issue and trouble shoot. Each part of the code needs to be checked in a logical manner. This process has been referred to as rubber ducking. The term came from a programmer who carried a rubber duck around with him. Whenever he had a problem, he would explain it to the duck. In listing the code line by line, he would often find the error and fix it. In this case, the journal becomes the rubber duck to which the author is ‘speaking’.
  • Reflect and track progress
    A programmer can write down all the attempts made to solve a problem in a journal. When the journal is reviewed afterwards, it represents a progress report of all the knowledge gained and growth achieved. This is authentic evidence of learning. Written communication of ideas can make a student become more thoughtful about their new skills. A journal can be a form of self-assessment.
  • Express feelings
    The process of coding frequently leads to challenges and trouble shooting. In a coding journal, students can be encouraged to reflect critically on their feelings, whether it is hope and enthusiasm for new projects or detailing frustrations with algorithms that don’t ‘work’. Writing about obstacles can defuse the feelings and modify perspective.
  • Promote collaboration
    Instead of private writing, coding journals can be composed using social media. Blog posts and tweets encourage commenting. As students help each other they build responsible digital citizenship skills while developing programming skills at the same time. Positive support from peers and input from teachers forms connections, fosters teamwork, and boosts confidence.

What to Write in a Coding Journal?

  1. Develop a learning plan
  2. Celebrate successes and new learning
  3. List problems, describe attempted solutions, and explain lessons learned
  4. Describe experiments tried to promote logical thinking and the scientific method
  5. Record creative ideas and inspirational thoughts to remember and tackle at another time
  6. Take notes of questions still unanswered
  7. Complete a self-assessment
  8. Respond to specific prompts, such as:
    • Write about something you still want to learn.
    • Outline a coding task that you found difficult.
    • Describe what you accomplished today.
    • How would you rate your final project?
    • What are your strengths in learning to code?

Next Steps to Coding Journals

Teachers who use coding journals make a convincing case for their value. There are still more issues to think about. Here are a few of them:

✓ Can the student share the journal with the teacher and/or peers?
✓ Should the teacher provide feedback to the thoughts in a student’s coding journal?
✓ Will the coding journal be part of the evaluation of the programming project?

Computational Thinking and Scratch

It is important to develop computational thinking. In my last blog about computer science learning standards, I wrote about the benefits of students learning to program. Coding was once thought to be a mysterious, obscure skill restricted to a few masterminds. But in light of the STEM demands of the future job world, it’s now considered the ‘new literacy’. Learning to code prepares students for the challenges of the careers of tomorrow. Not only are computers an integral part of daily life but learning how to engage with and control them is a powerful leverage that we can give our young people.

Additionally, programming teaches skills that apply to all jobs: logical or computational thinking, flexibility, persistence, problem-solving, confidence, creativity, and collaboration. Best of all, it’s challenging and it’s fun!

What is computational thinking?

computational thinking like a programmer

Teach students to think in sequential steps like a programmer

Computational thinking is the ability to break down a big problem into smaller sub-problems and to arrange them in an appropriate sequence. It’s a step-by-step procedure that is the foundation of science hypotheses and experiments, diagnoses such as medical evaluations and mechanical problems, and even tying up shoelaces. This cognitive, methodical approach to problem solving is the basis of algorithmic thinking: define the steps to complete the task.

How can computational thinking be taught?

computational thinking

Now that there are graphical programming tools such as Scratch and ScratchJr to teach coding to very young students, we should prepare them to think in a sequential, logical way. Before turning to the computer, break down some simple daily tasks into steps.

Here are some offline activities to try. Have students list all the ‘baby steps’, in the correct order, to complete a task. Then you may want to put their lists to the test by having one student instruct another to follow the steps literally as directed!

  • drink from a juice box
  • go out the door
  • put toothpaste on a toothbrush
  • make a peanut butter sandwich
  • get on a bicycle
  • add 2 two-digit numbers
  • shuffle playing cards
  • take out the garbage
  • get out of bed
  • blow up a balloon

They will soon find that ‘Get a balloon and blow’ might have the tester holding a balloon in his hand but blowing into the air. The steps should be broken down into something like this:

  1. Pick up a balloon.
  2. Place the open end of the balloon between your thumb and index finger.
  3. Put the open end of the balloon into your mouth.
  4. Blow into the balloon.
  5. Squeeze the open end of the balloon shut.
  6. Continue to blow until the balloon is full of air.
  7. Squeeze the open end of the balloon shut.
  8. Tie the open end of the balloon into a knot.

Use natural language first

Scratch cat

Before using the blocks in Scratch have students explain, in their own words, what steps are needed to perform a task.

For example, to make Scratch the cat walk and talk to the viewer, use natural language to list the instructions to the cat:

  1. Begin.
  2. Then take 10 steps forward.
  3. Say “Hello!”

After the steps have been explained verbally or written in natural language sentences, then go to the Scratch program and find the coding blocks that will perform those steps.

computational thinking

Preparing students to think logically and plan their ideas using their own words offline first will ensure success as they begin to construct code.

Scratch lessons and computational thinking.

Develop computational thinking skills using Scratch lessons in TechnoCode.

Are you looking for programming lessons for kids?

TechnoCode, a STEM project, includes activities that emphasize computational thinking. The lesson plans use Scratch to build games, puzzles, and animations. The instructional goal is to have students think like programmers. Easy to follow instructions with natural language help students to understand coding. Resources include planning sheets with guiding questions, coding challenges to differentiate learning, and coding journals.

5 New Features in Scratch 3.0

Scratch is the popular, free program that introduces programming to kids using graphical blocks. The MIT team who created Scratch have announced a new version – Scratch 3.0. It’s expected to be out in a Beta version in August and fully launched in January 2019. At TechnoKids, we’ve been working with a Preview version to design TechnoCode and are excited to see some great new updates.

Scratch 3

The new Scratch 3.0 editor is clear and easy to use.

Scroll to See

Often the script area can get crowded if there’s lots of code and it’s difficult to organize on a small screen. Happily, now there’s a scroll bar so you can spread groups of code apart and arrange them without worrying about running out of space.

Bigger Blocks

Scratch 3

The coding blocks are bigger in the new version. This was done to help those who working on tablets so that’s it easier to select and drag them, but I find them easier to find and move on a desktop computer as well. And if you don’t want to use the Blocks Palette to pick a block category, you can scroll through all categories of blocks in a single list.

Sprite Information

Scratch 3

To see or change the name, features or information such as size, location, and direction of a sprite you had to press the i on the sprite icon in Scratch 2.0.

In the newer version, all of this information about the sprite is clearly visible right below the stage. You can easily make changes or refer to it at any time as you’re working.

Choose a Sprite Library

Scratch 3 choose sprite

Now it’s easier to find sprites with multiple costumes. In Scratch 2.0 you have to click on a sprite and see if, under the name, there’s a number of costumes listed or if it there’s only one.

In the newer version, hold the mouse pointer over the Choose a Sprite icon and select the magnifying glass to open the library. By just holding the mouse pointer over a sprite in the search gallery, the sprite is animated through all of its poses if there are more than one.
You can actually view the various costumes rather than just seeing a number.

Sound Editor

Scratch 3 robot

The new sound editor has been changed. Recording and trimming are easier. New categories in the sound library include Space, Sports, and Wacky.

What we especially like are the new sound effects that you can apply – Echo and Robot. Kids will have lots of fun being creative with these sound effects.

Scratch Lessons for Kids

TechnoCode, a Scratch project, has programming lesson plans. The activities support STEM education. The instructional materials include a FREE upgrade to Scratch 3.

Scratch lessons for kids

Introduce students to programming concepts using Scratch.

Computer Science Learning Standards

As educators, we agree that STEM education matters. The focus on science, technology, engineering, and math not only prepares young people for the jobs of tomorrow, but also builds the vital skills of design, logical thinking, problem solving, and trouble shooting. We recognize the need for students to develop computer literacy but more than just being confident users of technology, we want to encourage a culture of innovation. This has in turn generated a specific interest in computer science and programming as an essential component of the technology curriculum.

computer science scratch

Schools have recognized the need for students in all grades to develop a foundation in programming. The appearance of robotics in classrooms, coding clubs, and graphical, block-based programming languages such as Scratch, ScratchJr, and Blockly allow even primary students to develop an interest in being builders and creators of technology.

So now we’re committed to the value of computer science in our classrooms. But what exactly are the fundamental and critical skills that we should be teaching? A set of core guidelines can help teachers to develop computer science curriculum that introduces the fundamental concepts, engages students to develop an interest in coding, and fosters computational thinking, creativity, perseverance, collaboration, and all the other valuable skills that programming provides. Some schools, school boards, and states have written their own standards but if teachers don’t have a required set of learning standards, there are many resources available.

Computer Science Standards

Here’s a list of sites with computer science standards. Is there one that works for you? Or, combine ideas and create your own.

Computer Science Teachers Association

  • clear, user-friendly set of learning standards
  • 3 levels: k-6, 6-9, 9-12
  • Strands: Computational Thinking, Collaboration, Computing Practice and Programming, Computer and Communications Devices, Community, Global, and Ethical Impacts

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

  • includes all areas of technology
  • recently edited to include Innovative Designer and Computational Thinker as two of seven strands, reflecting the significance of process, logical thinking, and breaking a problem into a sequence of steps

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)

  • divided into elementary K-2 and 3-5, middle 6, 7, 8, and high school levels
  • programming and designing solutions first mentioned in K-2
  • high school includes specific standards for Computer Science, Game Programming and Design, Robotics Programming and Design, and many more

Next Generation Science Standards

  • search and download by level or topic
  • science-based, but includes Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science citing the importance of computational thinking, breaking down problems into smaller parts, and real-world applications
  • international; referenced by robotics kits manufacturers such as Lego (Click on Educational Standards to see Common Core and NGSS correlation in this sample) and VEX IQ (VEX IQ Curriculum Education Standards lists learning objectives for its online units)

Prince Edward Island Career and Technical Education: Robotics

  • specific to robotics in Grades 10-12
  • samples of rubrics, rating scales, reflection logbooks, and learning journals

Of course there are many more computer science standards documents online. If you have one to add to the list, please let me know!

Scratch Learning Objectives

If Scratch is part of your curriculum, you may want to refer to the Scratch Skill Summary from TechnoCode. This assessment tool includes a checklist of learning objectives. They are categorized by the headings: applied technology, computer science, Scratch coding, graphic design, and digital citizenship. The document might spark some ideas for developing your own computer science standards.

Scratch learning objectives.

Scratch learning objectives. Checklist from TechnoCode, a TechnoKids STEM project.