Girls Love Code!

Girls codeI recently attended an educators share session at the local Google office in my city where educators and Google employees get together to discuss new and innovative ideas in technology and education. It’s a great way to discover new and exciting ways to deliver curriculum to students and a great way to collaborate with other educators. I get excited every time I attend one of these because I get to hear about new ways Google is trying to improve how educators deliver content to learners!

It is here that I first took the leap into the world of code and the team at Google were there to support educators on their journey of discovery. At these sessions educators get to break off into groups for discussion on topics of interest and a topic that continually comes up is girls and coding. How do we get girls interested in learning to code?

I’ve taught coding in the classroom for a few years now and I also run a coding club at my school that is open to a number of different grade levels. If you were to see a picture of us in the yearbook, you may be surprised to see that three quarters of the club is female! I didn’t think much of this at first, until a parent of one of the club members approached me and pointed it out. She shared with me that she worked in the human resources department at Google and that it wasn’t typical to see as many girls interested in coding as there were in my club. She also talked about the ways Google is trying to change the female to male ratio in the profession and how happy she was that her daughter was excited to be a part of the coding club. As a human resources employee of a tech company, she could see how coding had become as a necessary skill for many professions and that students would need this skill in the future! Check out Google’s new initiative Made with Code, a program designed to show girls how computer science is relevant in their lives and to encourage more girls to learn code!

When an educator in my share session talked about the exciting successes he was having with his coding club at his school, he also shared that he was struggling with ways to get girls to show interest in joining his club. After he asked the group for some suggestions, I found myself thinking about my conversation with the parent of the female student and some of the factors that led to a higher female membership in my club.

 

Here are the suggestions I shared with my fellow educator as to how to encourage girls to pursue coding opportunities:  

1.    Use a program that offers lots of choice in terms of topic selection for projects. CS-First is great program run by Google that is very user friendly and has lots of choices that appeal to girls. It uses Scratch Programming to teach a wide variety of topics including fashion, music storytelling, gaming, animation and art. 

2.    Have a female as one of the club leaders if possible. Having a female that is in a leadership role sends a signal to younger girls that computer science is not a male dominated profession. 

3.    Allow girls to work together on projects. Girls are naturally social beings and love to collaborate! Working with others is also a safe way to explore something new and having a friend to work through potential hurdles with, provides a safety net for girls to take chances. Have a look at the Coding Buddy Book resource I designed as a way of introducing coding to students with a friend.  

4.    Have older female students in the school act as mentors in your club. The girls can be there to act as mentors to all students, however, they act as a symbol to new female students that these girls have become experts in coding in a short period of time. It also provides an opportunity for the older female students to take on leadership roles in the subject area, which in turn increases their confidence to pursue computer science as a profession.

5.    Discuss some of the interesting job opportunities related to the field and invite some female guest speakers to speak about how their profession relates to computer science.

6.    Allow lots of room for creativity and exploration. Encourage girls to see how they can express their creativity through coding programs. Allowing them time to explore, rather than simply complete a task or project, is important! 

I hope some of these tips inspire you to think more about how we, as educators, can encourage girls to get involved in coding classes and clubs! Happy Coding!

Below are some coding resources you may find useful when teaching your coding program in your class or club!

Coding Portfolio and Planner

Coding with a Partner Book

 

Top 5 Ted Talks to Teach Persuasive Writing

 

Persuasive Writing Ted Talk Blog Pic 1

Have you ever watched a Ted Talk and been so profoundly moved by a speaker, that you decide to immediately act on the topic of discussion? I watched my first Ted Talk 6 years ago, not knowing it’s purpose, and walked away feeling moved and inspired. As educators, we look for ways every day to inspire our students to have an impact on the world for the greater good. I felt that incorporating Ted Talks into my teaching would not only show my students how others have made a positive contribution to society, but also how important it was to share their message with the world. What better way to teach students how to use Persuasive Writing in the world, than through a Ted Talk!

When planning my Persuasive Writing unit last year, I decided that rather than simply giving my students topics to write about, I would show them a Ted Talk video about each topic instead. I was excited to find that there were many similarities between the structures of a Ted Talk and the Persuasive Writing form of writing and I could use these videos as an engaging tool to teach students! I had a graphic organizer for each aspect of Persuasive Writing: (including a good hook in the introduction, tailoring your argument to a specific audience, addressing possible counter-arguments, including statistics or research to support your view, appealing to the audience’s emotions and providing a strong conclusion) and these aspects were all included in a Ted Talk! Check out the graphic organizers I used for a closer look!

My students really appreciated seeing the connection that Persuasive Writing had to real life examples found in Ted Talks. It provided them with a ‘purpose’ for their writing and this motivated students to produce their very best pieces!

 

Here are the 5 best Ted Talks to teach Persuasive Writing to Kids! If you’d like to learn more about how to incorporate Ted Talks with Persuasive Writing, you can find it in my Persuasive Writing Unit.  Follow my blog for more useful teacher tips and my Inspire to Learn Store for some useful teaching resources!

 

1.   Kids Need Recess – Simon Link

https://youtu.be/Kh9GbYugA1Y

 

2.   Homework Overload – Mikel Garmendia

https://youtu.be/d_qMpV9V9To

 

3.   What Adults Can Learn from Kids – Adora Svitek

https://youtu.be/V-bjOJzB7LY

 

4.   Individualization, Failure and Fun – Cordell Steiner

https://youtu.be/P-djW4uj7rI

 

5.   Kindness – Orly Wahba

https://youtu.be/yn9VxUPlC5g

Teaching Students to Code: 6 Tips to Get Started

Coding for kids has been a growing trend in the field of education in the last few years. Many teachers are interested in teaching their students how to code but are often unsure where to start. Teachers are trained in education, not in software engineering after all! Three years ago, I decided to take a course at the local Google office in my city to see what this whole ‘coding for kids’ craze was about! I won’t lie, I was very nervous. My strengths are definitely in the arts related fields and I was worried that I would leave feeling confused and bewildered. For some reason, the intrigue of learning about computer programming was stronger than my fear, and I decided to take the plunge! I live in Waterloo, Canada, which some refer to as the Silicon Valley of the North, so software companies are a major source of employment in the area. As an educator, I realized quickly that many of the jobs that my current students would be offered in the future, may in fact be related to or require some knowledge of computer coding. Teaching my students how to code would be a valuable skill that they could use in their future.

I was so excited to share what I had learned with my 6th graders upon completion of the course, I threw all of my plans out the window for next day’s class and decided to let them discover what was possible with coding instead. Turns out they were even more excited than I was! A year later, my school district decided to conduct a pilot project to discover innovative ways teachers could incorporate computer coding with common core curriculum standards. I enthusiastically volunteered to be a part of the pilot and was able to contribute some useful tips about my coding journey and shared what I had learned along the way! Read on for some tips to help you get started with coding in your classroom!!

  

1. Find a programming platform that is user-friendly, with topics of high interest for students. I personally love using CS-First as a learning tool to teach Scratch to my students. It includes detailed video tutorials that take students and teachers through a wide variety of projects from beginner to intermediate level of ability. Students also love the topics on CS-First, such as video games, fashion, music and storytelling, so there is bound to be something that appeals to almost everyone’s interests!

2. Use paper pencil coding activities to introduce the concept of computer programming to students BEFORE getting on a computer to write any code. I know this might sound a little mundane to some, but it’s important for students to understand the concept of code before asking them to create their first coding project. You can find many paper pencil coding activities online or  check out some activities in the Coding Buddy Book I use with my students!

coding buddy book oin pic

3. Invite some guest speakers, who are experts in the field, into the classroom to talk about what they do. They could range from individuals who love to create coding projects for fun or people who work in the field. Students may get to see an older student’s finished project and get excited about creating their own, or they may hear from a software engineer from Microsoft, who creates video games for a living. This gives students some context as to how they will be able to take what they learn and create whatever their imagination desires!

4. Plan to have students complete the first coding project in pairs. Learning to code involves a great deal of problem solving, which can be both overwhelming and discouraging when you ask students to complete a project by themselves for the first time. For instance, the very first coding course I attended, I understood a half of what the instructor said! I quickly realized the teacher I was sitting next to (whom I didn’t know) had the same blank look on her face as me and we quickly befriended one another to navigate our way through our first project together! Students are way more likely to be successful (and have fun) when they work with someone else on their first project. For younger students, I think it’s a great idea to work with an older learning buddy or book buddy. In my experience, the amount of assistance younger students need when learning to code for the first time is sometimes too much for one teacher! We can only be in one place at a time! Check out the Coding Buddy Book to see how to go about having students complete a project in pairs! Psst…By working with a partner, the amount of questions and requests for teacher assistance will be cut in half!!

5. Have a spot for students to plan and organize their coding projects that isn’t on the computer! If you don’t try any of these tips, make sure you try this one! If your school is similar to mine, you only have access to a full set of computers a few times per week or once a day. A lot of time can be spent ‘thinking’ when students are meant to be writing code. This valuable computer time will be maximized if students have a location to write down their ideas and plans beforehand. They can use a notebook or portfolio and refer to it when they are creating their project on the computer. My students now brainstorm, plan, revise and reflect on their projects in a coding portfolio. They love having one place to keep everything and I can quickly check their progress without having to log onto a computer! Check out the Coding Portfolio I developed to solve this problem!

Plan, Code, Revise and Reflect

6. Have high school or college students come into your class to assist! This can be a huge help to teachers when first starting out! Not only can they help your students, they can answer any questions you might have as well. Our school district is lucky to have students from two Universities in the area, who volunteer to come into elementary schools to help teach coding to kids. The local Google in my city has also taken time to train high school students in Scratch, to visit elementary school classrooms to teach code.

I hope these tips help you get started with coding in your classroom. Follow me for more blog posts about coding in the classroom!

Stay tuned for my next post: Tips to Encourage Girls to Code! 

 

 

 

How to Use a Bump it Up Wall and Descriptive Feedback to Improve Student Performance

Have you ever thought about trying a Bump it Up Wall in your classroom? I had heard about Bump it Up Walls through colleagues, who said they were an effective tool in improving student performance on assessments, tests and exams. I had also experimented with using more descriptive feedback, rather than just handing out grades in my classroom, but wondered if the time it took to implement, would  affect the time I would have to fit in all of the other curriculum standards I still needed to teach! For years, I spent valuable time, writing descriptive feedback on student tests, projects and essays, only to feel frustrated that when the next assignment was handed in, I realized that my feedback hadn’t been implemented and I had to comment on the very same errors again! I decided I would try something new with students two years ago and I was surprised to find that the results were exactly what I was looking for! I can’t believe it took me 13 years of teaching to figure this out! Blog Picture Math Problem Solving

Two years ago, my school district began to focus on how educators could move students a grade forward on standardized tests. For instance, how could we move those students who scored a C on a standardized test to a B, or a student scoring a B to an A? My principal decided our school would try implementing Bump it Up walls in classrooms, as an initiative to support this overall district goal. When I researched what most Bump it Up Walls consisted of, I became very uncomfortable right away. I realized I would need to display individual student work and label it as excellent, average and poor, with the purpose of students seeing what they needed to add to their work, to improve their overall grade. A knot in my stomach began to form thinking about those students whose work would be labelled as poor or even average. How would they feel about having their work labelled as such, and displayed for the whole class to see? Would this really motivate them to improve their performance? My gut instinct told me no…at least not for my particular group of students. I know that many other educators are ok with using this strategy, which I carry no judgement, but it just didn’t fit with my own teaching philosophy.

I knew I had to think of another way to implement this initiative that would be both positive and motivating to all of my students. I decided I would form groups of students with mixed abilities and teach them to give descriptive feedback to each other, with the purpose of bumping up their work. With the focus on group work, students would collectively receive the feedback and would be more motivated to work together to improve their performance. Students, I found out, care about what their peers think of them ( ok we all knew that) but it turns out that students also care about what their peers think about their work! 

I began by having groups of students complete a math problem and explained the criteria I wanted them to follow when giving descriptive feedback to others. After completing the math problem, students rotated their work through each group to receive some descriptive feedback and saw how others approached solving the same problem. Students then recorded three things on a descriptive feedback organizer about the work: one thing the group did well (thumbs up), one thing they could improve upon (bump it up) and one question they had about the groups work. Students then read over all of the descriptive feedback given about their work and discussed it with their group. They were then asked to think about which piece of feedback would be most helpful to them in improving the quality of their work, and to share it with the class. This allowed us to begin a rich discussion about how to give valuable and constructive feedback to others. I also had students answer all of the lingering questions that others had about their work.

Bump it Up Student Descriptive FeedbackI must admit that the first time I tried this activity, the feedback students gave wasn’t very thoughtful or descriptive. It included things like “you used a good strategy” and “your writing could be neater”. I did have one group that had  something constructive to say and I used this as a jumping point into teaching students about how descriptive feedback was a valuable tool to help each other bump up the quality of their math responses. By the second math problem, students began to really think about the feedback they were going to give and became more accountable for the work they produced. Because they knew their peers would be giving them feedback and that it would be displayed for all of those entering our classroom to see, groups began to invest more time and effort into producing their best work! This had turned into a student led activity where I, the teacher, simply acted as a guide throughout the process!

I decided to still label our bulletin board as a Bump it Up Wall even though it was very different from most Bump it Up Walls. Instead of labeling work as excellent, average or poor, the student descriptive feedback, written by groups of students, was displayed next to each completed math problem. As a way of reinforcing  good feedback, I asked each group to choose only the organizer that had the most helpful feedback and displayed that organizer next to their work. Before completing another math problem, I began having groups visit the Bump it Up Wall to review the descriptive feedback they received from the last math problem and had them discuss how they could apply it to their next math problem.

I have to say that I’ve seen a huge improvement in students ability to determine how they can add details or revise their work to improve the overall quality. They are also much more comfortable giving, as well as receiving feedback from others. One area where I saw improvement, which I wasn’t anticipating, is my students willingness to apply MY teacher feedback that I write on assessments, when I hand back after grading! I’ve seen an overall improvement in the quality of student work and grades as a result. If you’d like to try this activity, you can find a free sample at my Inspire to Learn store on TPT. I also have the full unit, Math Collaborative Problem Solving in my store, which includes all of the resources that I used throughout this learning activity! 

My next goal is to see if I can apply this strategy across other areas of the curriculum and see similar results! I’m definitely glad I took the step to try a Bump it Up Wall in my classroom and the time it took to implement it, along with the descriptive feedback strategy, has actually freed up some time for curriculum teaching! I was surprised to see that because students were taking the time to think about the quality of their work and apply feedback in a more meaningful way, I spent less time having to re-teach various concepts throughout the year!

If you are looking to improve the quality of your students responses and are thinking of trying a Bump it Up Wall, find an approach that fits with your own teaching philosophy and watch your students grow as learners!

St. Patrick’s Day Activities in the Classroom

St. Patrick's Day Amazing Race Clue Book Pinterest Picture

St. Patrick’s Day Activities for Busy Teachers!

It’s that time of year again! St. Patrick’s Day! The one time of year where people across the world celebrate St. Patrick and the Irish culture. I have many great memories of St. Patrick’s Day as a child, however as a teacher, it’s a different story. You see it’s probably the busiest time of year as a teacher. If you’re like me, you are scrambling to get curriculum standards taught before the end of the year, as well as writing student report cards!

Although I personally love St. Patrick’s Day (I’m Irish after all), I started to dread it as a teacher because I am so busy juggling my many other teaching responsibilities this time of year! During my first few years of teaching, I started with the tissue paper shamrocks, hoping to cover some Art curriculum standards. Boy was that a mess and my classroom smelled like glue for a week! After a few years, I moved to my students researching and writing a newspaper article about the life of St. Patrick. Yes, I was still covering some curriculum standards! I realized quickly that my students were bored stiff by this activity. They’d learned about St. Patrick EVERY year since they probably began their education! I knew I needed to come up with something that was fun, covered curriculum standards, was low prep for us busy teachers and a quick ‘go to’ every year!

I finally decided it was time to come up with a fun and engaging way to teach about St. Patrick and the Irish culture for St. Patrick’s Day and my students LOVE IT!!!!

In teams, students race around Ireland figuring out clues about Irish landmarks, myths and interesting facts. In order to move on in the race, they need to write a paragraph about each location using specific success criteria. As you can imagine, they are super motivated to produce their best writing ever! Everyone wants to be the winners of the race! 

I’m sure there are other teachers out there like me, who are looking for something engaging for their students to work on for St. Patrick’s Day! I’ve included the link to the activity on my page if you’d like to give it a try!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Happy Teaching!