Computer Science Education Week and The Maker Studio

2014 was the second year of the Hour of Code during Computer Science Education week organized by code.org. This has been the week when students can get access to coding if not being taught in the classrooms on a regular basis. This is the week when teachers embrace an hour of coding if they haven’t done so already. The challenge of course, has been to continue coding in K-12 classrooms on a regular basis. And this continues to be a challenge, even though it is a district which is the heart and birthplace of the Silicon Valley.

When thinking of coding most people imagine a person on a computer and working by himself/herself solving lots of problems. We all know that two brains and better than one and that talking about problems actually helps develop multiple strategies. We also know that getting students excited to just the right level enables them to learn better, rather than just being quiet and sitting at a desk. However, if coding is a one person activity at a desk, how can we achieve this optimal level of excitement and how can we facilitate collaboration and excitement about the topic?

That is where the Maker Studio (Barron Park’s Makerspace) comes in handy. Not only did almost all the classes work in the Maker Studio for their coding, they worked in multiple stations. Not only were the students exposed to coding at different levels and used multiple resources, parents and visitors passing by stopped to take a look; we were able to host students from another site in the district who were able to avail the facilities and the configuration of the room just lent itself to collaboration. At the end of the super busy week, despite feeling exhausted, that rewarded feeling just had my adrenaline pumping in terms of the student learning. The first day was so energizing that I wrote a blog post on the same. Click here for the entry.

So what was different about coding in the Maker Studio and what was different about the Hour of Code this year?

Let’s start with some of the prep: All the volunteers wore these Tshirts:

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The front

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The back

Not only did the adults wear these, but the fifth grade helpers wore them too.

A new website with resources was set up for teachers, students and parents. Click here to access it.

A field trip was set up for two grade levels from another site in Palo Alto, Juana Briones. It gave students an opportunity to collaborate across the schools and for teachers to collaborate across the sites.

Two family events were set up during the week, one during the day and one in the evening. During the morning, the parents could observe and join various students at work with coding. Our evening family event was covered by the press. Click here for the article.

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First graders in the Maker Studio during the Family Event

Here you see first grade students, parents, the Instructional Aide for the Maker Studio, Leena Gill (and a key player in the success of the week), one of the TOSAs from the district, Laura Hull, and parents visiting enjoying the bee-bots in action in the Maker Studio. On the SMART Board is the video where Obama tries coding for the first time. The same robots, Dash and Dot, were on the table where Obama sat so the students were super thrilled.

Parents trying out Dash

Parents trying out Dash

In one of my first posts on the Maker Studio, I had written about furniture on how we had lowered the tables. Well, all I did was put all those tables together in a squarish configuration and put away all but three chairs for the sewing machines. This freed up more than half the classroom space for maneuvering the robots (read the first day robot write up here). Here students are working on Scratch Jr on their iPads. It made it easier for those teaching/guiding the students and for the rest.

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Joining the low tables to form one large collaborative center

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Comfortable seating and collaboration in the Maker Studio

We had help from several people: Grechen from Kodable who has consistently come and assisted various grade levels and family events; Jen and Kevin from Tynker; Elliott from Trinket (Python programming). June Lin (and engineers and founder) of Wonder Workshop, the makers of the Dash and Dot robots.

Another factor that played a role was the excitement of the teaching staff. Everyone was open to trying new things and trying out various coding platforms. And the robots had this charm that they got everyone hooked, young and not so young, various learning styles, skills and abilities. The good weather the first part of the week meant that we could all use the robots out in the yard.

The openness and accessibility of the space meant that anyone passing by, students across grade levels interacting with each other, learned a great deal from each other. So, if third graders were programming the robots, the first graders could learn just by watching. They could see each others projects. The adults were so enamoured by the coding, that they wanted to try their hand at it, no matter what their age and their profession (parent, teacher, substitute teacher, etc).

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The youngest Python programmer of the week at age 5. He made 909 circles of different colors.

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The oldest Python programmer that week at age 62 – her first lines of code!

At several times, there were multiple grade levels, multiple groups of students and adults working and meeting in the Maker Space. At one point the PTA was working on the Silent Auction planning. I asked them to take a look around all the learning and at the fact that they were meeting there and thanked them profusely for the money they had raised for the same.

For the coding with the robots, that will need a separate blog entry, which will be my next one, seeing the usage across the age groups.

It was a week of intense learning and fun. If only every week could be such to leverage the student’s motivation and engagement connected to reading, writing, math, science and more…

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About Smita Kolhatkar

https://about.me/smita.kolhatkar
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