Tag Archives: computer science

Add the A to STEM Education

Educators agree that STEM education is essential to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century workforce. The skills they learn in science, technology, engineering, and math subject areas also develop vital skills necessary for success: critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, and collaboration. Although there’s quite a debate about whether the A for the arts needs to be added to STEM to make STEAM or if it’s already there inherently, it’s evident that fine arts, language, and music play a key component in a curriculum to prepare young people to face the complex challenges of the future.

steam career readiness

The Arts are a vital part of STEM education

Education Models for the Future

Traditional school curriculum segregates studies into separate subject areas. However, project-based learning is an instructional approach that blends subjects. Students are faced with an authentic, meaningful, real world challenge. And these are non-Googleable questions! Students investigate a problem and propose viable solutions in an interdisciplinary study. Technology is commonly used as a tool. Whatever skills are required to solve the problem – math, science, language arts – must be learned and mastered. Students need to be able to think innovatively, plan, create, and communicate the resulting project. Usually STEM subject areas are needed, and students build valuable job skills such as computational thinking, initiative, perseverance, and communication.

Where Do the Arts Appear?

To answer these ‘big’ project-based challenges, students need to integrate the arts. Creative thinking and design are a central part of innovation. Being able to imagine an outcome, visualize a product, or communicate an abstract idea requires artistic skills integrated with multiple STEM skills.

Here are a couple of examples of the arts integrated with STEM in the real world:

STEM Education requires the Arts

  • Product Design
    Designing an innovative product may require engineering, mathematical, and scientific problem solving. But it also needs an attractive appearance to make an emotional connection to consumers. These are artistic decisions.
  • Advertising
    When a new product is brought to the market, communication skills are essential. Advertisers excel in persuasive writing. In addition, the creation of new logos requires a knowledge of graphic design. The success of a venture often depends on artistic choices.
Arts and STEM education

Infuse the arts into STEM education.

The Arts in Computer Science

We’ve been working with Scratch recently to develop a STEM project, TechnoCode, that teaches coding skills. The students will learn programming skills as they make animations, games, or interactive stories.

Coding design decisions should be engaging so that the user who interacts with the finished product is intrigued and captivated. Also, artistic choices affect if the project is user friendly and fun to play. Some of the stylistic choices students need to make when programming include:

  • Drawing custom characters
  • Designing backgrounds
  • Adding sensory cues – motion, sound, visual – to build interest, express an idea, and hook the user
  • Creating “Game over” messages that encourage and entice the user to try again
  • Making scoring and timing decisions using aesthetic choices that appeal to players

The brainstorming, problem-solving, and decision making involved in programming demand innovation and ingenuity in design choices. To foster the trailblazers of tomorrow, STEM education needs to acknowledge and incorporate the arts.

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?

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.