Tag Archives: technology skills

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.

Google Docs Keyboard Shortcuts

In a previous post I listed some keyboard shortcuts for Google Slides. Here’s a list of some Google Docs keyboard shortcuts for a PC that may help to speed up your work.

keyboard shortcuts google docs

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Working with a Document
Open a file CTRL + O
Insert a page break CTRL + ENTER
Find CTRL + F
Find again CTRL + G
Find and replace CTRL + H
Insert a footnote CTRL + ALT + F
Find the word count CTRL + SHIFT + C
Go to the beginning of the document SHIFT + HOME
Go to the end of the document SHIFT + END
Print a document CTRL + P
Editing Shortcuts Common to Many Apps
Undo CTRL + Z
Redo CTRL + Y
Copy CTRL + C
Cut CTRL + X
Paste CTRL + V
Paste without formatting CTRL + SHIFT + V
Duplicate CTRL + D
Select all CTRL + A
Text Shortcuts Common to Many Apps
Bold text CTRL + B
Italic text CTRL + I
Underline text CTRL + U
Insert a numbered list CTRL + SHIFT + 7
Insert a bulleted list CTRL + SHIFT + 8
Insert a link CTRL + K
Increase font size of selected text CTRL + SHIFT + >
Decrease font size of selected text CTRL + SHIFT + <
Working with Paragraphs
Left align CTRL + SHIFT + L
Right align CTRL + SHIFT + R
Center align CTRL + SHIFT + E
Justify CTRL + SHIFT + J
Increase paragraph indentation CTRL + ]
Decrease paragraph indentation CTRL + [
Apply normal text style CTRL + ALT + O
Working with Images and Drawings
Resize larger CTRL + ALT + K
Resize smaller CTRL + ALT + J

If I’ve missed any that you use and find handy, please let me know. To see a list of PC, Mac, and Chrome OS shortcuts for computer, android, Iphone and Ipad go to Keyboard Shortcuts for Google Docs.

Keyboard Shortcuts for Google Slides

As you use Google Slides a few times, you can speed up your work by using keyboard shortcuts for some of the functions you use often. Here’s a list of some of the common ones for a PC that you might find helpful.

keyboard shortcuts

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Working with a Presentation
Open a presentation CTRL + O
New slide CTRL + M
Print a presentation CTRL + P
Presenting the Show
Present from beginning CTRL + SHIFT + F5
Present from current slide CTRL + F5
Exit the show ESC
Editing Shortcuts Common to Many Apps
Undo CTRL + Z
Redo CTRL + Y
Copy CTRL + C
Cut CTRL + X
Paste CTRL + V
Paste without formatting CTRL + SHIFT + V
Duplicate CTRL + D
Select all CTRL + A
Text Shortcuts Common to Many Apps
Bold text CTRL + B
Italic text CTRL + I
Underline text CTRL + U
Insert a numbered list CTRL + SHIFT + 7
Insert a bulleted list CTRL + SHIFT + 8
Insert a comment CTRL + ALT + M
Insert a link CTRL + K
Increase font size of selected text CTRL + SHIFT + >
Decrease font size of selected text CTRL + SHIFT + <
Working with Objects
Bring object forward CTRL + ↑
Bring object to front CTRL + SHIFT + ↑
Send object backward CTRL + ↓
Send object to back CTRL + SHIFT + ↓
Move to the next object TAB
Duplicate an object Select the object, press CTRL, and drag

If I’ve missed any that you use and find helpful, please let me know. Next, I’ll make a list of keyboard shortcuts for Google Docs.