Tag Archives: stem

Design a Coding Unit for the Classroom

STEM learning objectives are being included in many school, district, and national curriculum standards. As a result, educators are challenged with creating engaging and challenging instructional materials to teach computer science skills. But most teachers don’t have a technology background, much less knowledge of programming. Here’s some help. Whether you’re using ScratchJr, Scratch, HTML and CSS, or Python and the Turtle Library, the activities will be similar. Following are some basic strategies to consider when you start to design a coding unit for the classroom.

Practice Sequencing Algorithms Offline

Design a coding unit to include offline exercises. This will develop computational thinking. A starting point for instruction is to build algorithms. An algortithm is a description of the program. It uses words and symbols to sequence the instructions.

The logical order of coded instructions is critical. To build this skill, instruct students to physically act out and order a list of directions in simple, everyday language first. For example, if a programmer had to write a program for the task of putting a piece of paper into the trash, it may have the steps:

design a coding unit

Have students act out the steps they listed to check them. Or, have a list of mixed up steps that students must unscramble to place them in the correct order.

Start Simple

When you design a coding unit, move from simple to more complex code slowly.

Don’t offer a complete set of instructions in code and have the students copy it and run it to see the result. This may intimidate young programmers and even make them think that coding is too difficult. Moreover, they won’t learn what each part of the code does.

Instead, write a few lines. Then test the result. The instant response will create a connection between the coding and its function.

coding for kids

In TechnoWhiz, primary students are introduced to ScratchJr by using one block at a time to move the character on the stage. They observe the resulting motion. Then they combine a series of blocks to create a script and see the effect. Next, they add more characters and move them, and learn to loop their actions. By the end of the project, they are able to make an interactive, one-of-a-kind racing game with a background, formatted text, and characters moving at different speeds, dancing, and talking!

Use Trial and Error

Invite students to experiment with values to figure out what works. Try a number or value. Does it need to be higher or lower? Test often to see what works.

Encourage exploration. For example, when using Python and the Turtle Library, circle(50) draws a circle with a specific size. Students can explore by changing the number to a higher value and a lower one. Or code left(90) to turn the turtle symbol. Then change the value to see what angles the turtle turns. The repeated experimentation will result in learning that can be applied in subsequent activities.

Teach Debugging

Don’t wait until mistakes are made. Early in the project, create errors with intention. Have students ‘break‘ the script, then fix it. As a result, they will recognize mistakes that may be made later in their own programming and be more likely to correct them independently.

design a coding unit

Apply Skills

Introduce a skill, repeat or review it, and then transfer it to another application using the program. Avoid teaching a concept in isolation. When students re-use skills in different contexts, they will accumulate their knowledge and be able to apply it in their own creative projects.

teaching coding to kids

For example, in TechnoTurtle students learn to use Python to control the movement of a turtle symbol. Then they apply their skills to write scripts to draw pictures and to move the turtle through a maze. In other parts of the project, they learn about variables. Then they use this concept to create Mad Libs and to produce an interactive carnival game.

Show Samples

Demonstrate how a completed project might look at the beginning of a lesson. This will serve multiple purposes: students will have a clear idea of what they’re making, they will be inspired to create their own unique version, and the sample can be a coding reference guide to use if trouble shooting is needed.

In TechnoHTML, a sample web page about skateboarding sparks student interest and demonstrates the skills they will learn using HTML and CSS:

design a coding unit

  • Formatting text
  • Adding images
  • Making lists
  • Linking to sites

Provide an Opportunity to Share

At the completion of the project, ensure that students have an authentic audience. This helps students to connect their work in the classroom to the real world and see a purpose for their efforts. Their peers are a perfect audience. Celebrate the finished projects and encourage interaction and feedback. The digital nature of programming projects makes it easier than ever to share work with classmates, family, and friends.

design a coding unit

For example, in TechnoCode, middle school students place their collection of completed animated scenes, stories, mazes, and games into an Activity Studio to share with others.

Then they invite feedback and recommendations for improvements.

Reflect on Learning

Finally, give students an opportunity to reflect on their experiences in learning to code. In either written form in a journal or as a class discussion, ask:

  1. What did you like about learning to program?
  2. Is there anything in your project that you would like to change?
  3. What do you wish you knew how to do?
  4. Have you learned anything about yourself?
  5. What advice would you give to a beginner programmer?

design a coding unit

In TechnoTales, students in grades 2 to 5 use five simple reflection responses to gain some insight into their learning.

The young programmers used Scratch to design a story with four scenes, multiple animated characters, a plot with a dilemma to solve, and a happy ending!

Design a Coding Unit

TechnoKids has elementary and middle school programming projects for Scratch Jr, Scratch, Python and the Turtle Library, and HTML. Before starting to design a coding unit of your own, try one! Visit the TechnoKids online store.

design a coding unit

TechnoKids has programming projects to teach ScratchJr, Scratch, Python, and HTML and CSS

Robotics and Coding in the Classroom: A 10 Point Checklist for Choosing a Robotics Kit

robotics and coding in the classroom

This checklist is for teachers investing in kits to teach robotics and coding in the classroom. It’s a follow-up to my previous posts where I listed some tips on how to pick robotics kits. Here’s a quick summary to check before making a choice.

Does the kit specify age or grade suitability?
How many students can use one kit?
Are teacher and student support materials provided?
Are the pieces age appropriate and durable for repeated use?
Are the parts powered by batteries and/or charged with USB cables?
Does the kit allow for creativity and open-ended challenges?
Is the robot programmable?
Is the coding software compatible with your device(s)?
Will the coding skills learned be transferable to subsequent programming curriculum?
Are there supportive online reviews or testimonials from teachers?

Robotics and Coding in the Classroom

robotics kits for the classroom

The reasons for teaching robotics and coding in the classroom are practical and compelling. Students need to be prepared for the workplace of tomorrow with career readiness skills such as innovative and critical thinking, planning, problem solving, perseverance, and teamwork. They also need specific skills that will be in high demand in the future: facility with computer skills, logical reasoning, and a basic understanding of coding.

Integrating robotics into a STEM program with a fun, well designed, and affordable kit is a perfect start.

Tips for Choosing Robotics Kits for the Classroom Part 1

So, you want to invest in robotics kits for the classroom. Here are some observations we made while recently trying out some kits for a STEM program.

robotics kits for the classroom

What’s the Intention?

To start, think about how you plan to use robotics kits for the classroom.

  • In what type of setting will you use the kit?
    • In a computer lab environment?
    • Learning center activity?
    • A robotics club?
  • Will it be used by multiple grade levels?
  • Does the kit lend itself to teamwork?
    • If students are working in small groups, is there a task for each student? For example, one child can control the parts, another reads instructions, a third can be the assembler, and a fourth could handle the programming.
  • Is the kit affordable? Consider how many students can work on a kit at one time, and how many kits your school can afford.

About Kit Components

Robotic kits for the classroom can be expensive. Consider the quality of the kit before you buy.

robotics in the classroom

  • Flimsy or cheaply made parts will not stand up well in a classroom environment. Look for parts that are made of sturdy materials that can be used, taken apart, and used again many times.
  • Does the kit, or company, have good reviews? For example, LEGO is a reputable robotics manufacturer.
    • Is a warranty provided?
    • Can you easily purchase replacement parts if needed?
  • Does the kit require a power source?
    • If there are programmable controllers and motors, they may all require batteries. You will need to have a supply on hand or invest in rechargeable ones.
  • Some parts may need to be charged.
    • Does the kit come with adequate USB charging cables?
    • Allow time to charge! You may need to complete charging on a daily basis.
    • Don’t forget, if you opted for rechargeable batteries, these need charging too.
  • Age appropriateness is important. Look to see how parts fit together. Do they snap together easily? Do they require tools like a wrench and screwdriver? Are there mechanical parts like motors and sensors that may be too challenging for younger students?
    • Too many small parts are difficult to assemble for small hands.
    • Large kits may require several hours for complete assembly.
    • Smaller parts, motors, and gears may be more appropriate for senior students.
  • Are the parts easily disassembled? Can a model be taken apart quickly and easily to construct something new in a timely fashion? Will the parts last for several years?
  • Does the kit include any extra components?
    • A play map can teach coordinates and open-ended movement tasks.
    • Are additional add-on kits available to extend the usefulness of the base kit?

About the Storage Container

Some of the kits we looked at ranged from flimsy boxes and single use bags to hard plastic storage bins with dividers inside for parts. Consider how to store and track all the parts.

  • Ideally you want a storage container that has sections in it. You may find some that are shaped to the part so you can tell right away if something is missing. This makes it much easier to keep inventory.
  • A durable plastic bin with tight fitting lid is better than a cardboard box. The lid can double as a workspace area keeping the small parts from ending up on the floor. The lip, or rim, of the lid keeps everything contained.
  • If your kit comes with small parts that are in single use bags, this can be a nightmare once those bags are opened. You may need to replace them with resealable sandwich type bags.

robotics kits for the classroom

Robotics Kits for the Classroom to be Continued

And there’s more to consider! In my next post, I’ll list some considerations about teacher and student support materials as well as the programming software.

Stay tuned!

Add a Video Using Google Sites

One sure way to make a website engaging for viewers is to add video content. When creating a page with Google Sites, you can almost seamlessly insert a video using YouTube. A huge and easily searchable website, YouTube is a great resource to find theme appropriate clips to share. Here are a few tips for inserting a video using Google Sites into a web page.

  1. Search YouTube FIRST
  2. video using google sites

    When creating a web page using Google Sites, under the Insert tab you’ll find the YouTube tool. You can click it to go directly to a window that allows you to enter keywords to search right in YouTube.

    But DON’T! The problem is that you’ll see lots of images of results but won’t be able to preview the actual videos.

    Instead, open a new tab in the browser and go to YouTube. THEN enter your keywords and browse through the results. When you find one, view the whole video to critically determine if it is what you’re looking for. Be sure not to post a video that you haven’t thoroughly previewed.

  3. Pick a Short Video
  4. With the proliferation of videos online, it takes a really compelling sample to hold the attention of your audience. Check the length of a video. Try to find a clip that is only a minute or two (or less!) long. Of course some topics require longer explanation, but be aware that your viewers may not watch the whole clip unless it is especially fascinating or unique.

    When you have found a video you like, copy the URL.

  5. NOW Search YouTube Using the URL
  6. Return to the browser tab that has your Google Sites web project. Now pick the YouTube tool under the Insert tab. In the dialog box that appears, instead of typing keywords, paste the URL you copied from YouTube.

    Paste the copied URL from YouTube into the search box

    Click Search. Your video will appear, click on it, and then click Select. That’s how easy it is to add a video using Google Sites.

  7. Format the Video
  8. You can now customize the clip:

    • Click Settings to choose:
      • how you want the controls to appear
      • the color of the progress bar
      • whether the viewer can see the video full screen in another browser tab or will watch it only on your web page
    • Drag the video to position it on the page.
    • Hover over the left side of the video to pick Section Background. Choose an option.

  9. Preview the Web Page
  10. Select the Preview tool and see what the video will look like when it’s published. Remember the nifty responsive design feature of Google Apps – click each of the three options: Phone, Tablet, or Large screen to view the layout on different devices. Now you can again preview the whole video clip if necessary.

    video using google sites

    Add a YouTube video to engage viewers in your website

    TechnoSite Web Design Project for Kids

    TechnoSite

    In TechnoSite students become web designers.

    All of these tips to add a video using Google Sites and much more are included in TechnoSite, a web design project designed specifically for teachers of elementary grades. Empower your students with STEM skills as they construct professional looking websites for any curriculum topic, area of interest, sport, or hobby. Everything you need is included: Teacher Guide, Student Workbook, Assessment Tools, Sample Websites, and more! Find out TechnoSite details, view samples, and see the project learning objectives here.