9 great free activities for Hour of Code

Annual Hour of Code, during Computer Science Education Week, encourages educators and students to participate in one hour of coding

hour-of-codeComputer science skills have enjoyed more time in the spotlight as educators, policymakers and celebrities tout the importance of coding and programming skills. This year’s Hour of Code reinforces computer science’s growing importance.

The Hour of Code asks students, teachers, and anyone who is interested to devote at least one hour to coding during Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 7-11).

Participants can choose from guided tutorials or can join in scheduled Hour of Code activities that education or community groups have organized.

According to Code.org, the group behind the Hour of Code, there will be 1 million more computer science jobs than students by 2020, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics projections. But activities like the Hour of Code can help more students sustain an interest in computer science.

Following are 9 resources to help students and educators participate in the Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week.


Math instruction meets a personalized approach

One school is using a personalized and blended math curriculum to help students meet learning goals

math-instructionMobyMax, a provider of personalized and blended learning curriculum for K-8 students, is helping educators at Georgia’s Screven County Elementary School personalize math instruction to meet the learning needs of every child.

Like most educators, fourth-grade math and science teacher Derek von Waldner teaches students who have a wide range of abilities: Some begin school well below grade level, while others are ready for more advanced work.

“I use MobyMax for differentiation,” the second-year Screven County teacher said. “That’s where MobyMax is really awesome—students who have different needs can learn at different levels, even though they’re in the same class together. One kid could be working on fifth grade math, and another could be working on second grade math.”

von Waldner’s students all have Chromebooks for use during class. For part of the school day, they work through the MobyMax software individually while he circulates throughout the room and offers help.

“I have some students who are way above a fourth grade level, and they’re able to work at their own pace with relevant content while I can go around to the other students and help remediate,” he said.

He also uses the data from MobyMax’s progress monitoring reports to group students by ability during small-group instruction.

Using MobyMax to deliver highly targeted instruction has benefited all of von Waldner’s students—from his lowest to his highest achievers. In just the first nine weeks of school, on average, he said his fourth-grade math students achieved a six-month grade-level increase, performing three times higher than normal in math.

For the lowest students, “it’s pulling them up to grade level,” he said. “For me to sit there with a student and get him up to grade level in nine weeks would take all of my time, whereas MobyMax is filling those gaps quickly.”

To learn more about Screven County’s use of MobyMax, download a case study at http://spotlight.mobymax.com.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


App of the Week: Where fun storytelling meets coding

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated with help from Common Sense Graphite. To read the full app review, click here.

What’s It Like? Codeable Crafts is a clever reworking of introductory coding, combining simple crafting (coloring, stickers, cut-out shapes) with visual block-based coding to get kids making animations and telling stories. It begins with a brief tutorial overview showing kids how to decorate and animate charming animal templates. Then, kids choose from My Sketchbook or My Storybook to start creating. Kids color and affix stickers to the templates in the sketchbook, and choose finished creatures to star in animated stories in the storybook, choosing from a small set of basic coding blocks to create sound, movement, and text. They put the blocks together like puzzle pieces and tap “play” to watch the finished story.

Graphite Rating: 4/5

Price: Free

Grades: K-3

Pros: Easy-to-use tools make creating simple animations a snap.

Cons: A small set of tools means drawing and coding options might feel limited.

Bottom line: Kids get a simple peek at computer programming principles by animating stories using code blocks.


Virtual platform targets global education

The new online education and creativity platform delivers live, online courses in the areas of language, arts, music, and STEM

global-educationA new virtual classroom education platform from Coolcher offers online classes taught by teachers from around the world.

The classes can be scheduled to fit with any school’s calendar. For a one-time fee, schools and after-school centers get access to all courses for an unlimited number of classes for one year, giving students the opportunity to enjoy unique courses, and interact live with not just the teacher, but also with their peers from around the country.

“We created Coolcher as parents who were looking for courses that help our daughter learn more about her heritage, but were unsuccessful in finding anything,” said Jatin Grover, the founder of Coolcher. “With this new platform, we hope to bring the whole world to kids around the U.S.—a whole world of new and unique subjects, and a whole world of new cultures.”

The platform also connects homeschoolers with other students and homeschoolers who are taking the classes at the same time. The virtual classroom environment gives homeschoolers a connection with more students, bringing with it enhanced collective knowledge and creativity.

“More and more, every high-paying job requires not just skills but creativity, and to boost creativity the development of the right brain should begin at an early age,” said Grover. “Our unique courses in creative areas and multi-linguistics speed up the development of students’ right brain as well as giving them tools for college preparedness by teaching world cultures.”

Coolcher courses are community-led, and the company is always looking for teachers who bring a creative approach to their lessons. Teachers who would like to be added to the Coolcher portfolio to work with kids around the country and the world can share information about themselves and their courses at coolcher.com.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Learning Upgrade launches interactive whiteboard courses

New Teacher Upgrade math and ELA lessons combine a front-of-class solution with individual instruction using songs, videos, and games

whiteboard-coursesLearning Upgrade has launched new whiteboard courses to provide a whole-class solution that makes lessons convenient, rigorous, and collaborative for teachers.

Teacher Upgrade courses offer a new way for teachers to engage with an entire class of students through interactive, whole-class activities accompanied by differentiated individual lessons. Each Teacher Upgrade lesson incorporates exciting songs, videos, and games that engage even the most reluctant students.

Teachers play the lessons using a computer and a data projector or interactive whiteboard, such as a Smart Board or Promethean board. Students solve problems by pressing buttons or moving objects on the screen with a pen or finger.

With more than 500 standards-aligned lessons that support student mastery, educators can easily launch Teacher Upgrade from the “students” or “courses” tab on their teacher dashboard. With quick access to high quality lessons that cover every standard, teachers are able to avoid searching for content and focus more time on effective teaching.

Teacher Upgrade includes every lesson from Math Upgrade K–8, Pre-Algebra, and Algebra; as well as English Upgrade 1–5, Reading Upgrade, and Comprehension Upgrade courses.

“Teachers have asked for a simple way to access all of our musical lessons for whole-class instruction. We are excited to offer Teacher Upgrade to meet their needs,” said Vinod Lobo, co-founder and CEO of Learning Upgrade. “Providing teachers with rigorous lessons that engage all levels of learning abilities and styles is paramount. The new Teacher Upgrade lessons are a great way to help a wide variety of students—including special needs students and English learners—reach mastery at their grade level.”

For more information about Learning Upgrade, or to register for complimentary access to all of their resources, visit them online at www.learningupgrade.com.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


K-8 tech use increases, and libraries get Future Ready

Catch up on the most compelling K-12 news stories you may have missed this week

news-picEach Friday, I’ll be bringing you a recap of some of the most interesting and thought-provoking news developments that occurred over the week.

I can’t fit all of our news stories here, though, so feel free to visit eSchoolNews.com and read up on other news you may have missed.

In this week’s news:

The 21 best apps for autism
The experts at Common Sense Graphite, a national nonprofit, curate their best apps for working with students on the autism spectrum.

K-8 classroom technology use increasing
Technology use is increasing, with 4 out of 5 teachers saying they will use classroom technology more frequently during the 2015-2016 school year.

Every Student Succeeds Act shifts more power to states
While a “new and improved” version of the hotly-debated No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) would still require reading and math testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school, states would have much more leeway when it comes to defining teaching and learning objectives and outlining accountability measures.

Is your library going Future Ready too?
During the past year, more than 1,900 superintendents have signed the Future Ready Pledge, part of a broadly-defined initiative to promote digital transformation in American schools. Superintendents across the nation are signing on the dotted line with a commitment to promote and support digital ways of teaching, learning, and leading.


The blended learning model every district can try

Public school districts can move to online learning in incremental steps — just one day a week

blended-learningThese days it seems most school-wide blended learning programs are taking place not in traditional public education, but in charter schools—for one big reason: Charter schools are able to essentially start from scratch. They can be designed around pre-packaged online curricula or the sorts of adaptive software that are being developed to support learning in math and language arts. Some take the added step of creating all or some of their own learning materials.

In more traditional K-12 public schools on the other hand, there’s a long history of the way teachers teach and the way students learn—stretching back to the 19th century—that can make innovation difficult. There are structures in place that support the current way of doing things. And, moreover, particularly in successful suburban districts, administrators, teachers, parents, and students see the current system as one that works. Change that would allow for blended learning in public schools requires a major culture shift.

In that light, the obvious question is, “Why blend?” Why bring online learning into the fray of a traditional face-to-face institution? For many charter schools, the answer is remediation. Some of the newer pieces of adaptive software such as Achieve3000 and TenMarks use algorithms to identify a student’s current baseline knowledge so that instruction is neither too hard nor too easy, providing students with a more personalized experience.

For public schools where remediation is not the only goal, putting part of the curricula online offers something else: flexibility. This is personalizing to make room for a type of growth not possible in a one-size-fits-all classroom. If some of the more rote sorts of lessons (think lectures, reviewing math facts, etc.) can be offloaded to the computer, which happily repeats, what else can happen in a school day? What other experiences can students have? And when the teacher can provide more options than one large group activity, what sorts of deep, authentic learning can occur?

Parents remember bells ringing, textbooks, and the teacher as ultimate authority. Public education won’t become flexible overnight, nor should it. There’s a history that must be valued as much as it is questioned. The community must come along on a journey to change a culture that can be prohibitive with regard to the very thing it is meant to promote: learning.

Next page: Introducing the 4/1 model


Students break single-venue learning world record


Students designing in 3D on Makers Empire in one of the classrooms at Baptist Rainbow Primary School.

After many months of planning, more than 900 students from more than 50 schools gathered at Baptist Rainbow Primary School in a new Guinness World Record for the greatest number of people attending and participating in a software lesson at a single venue.

The Guinness World Record event was organized by The Association of IT Leaders in Education (AiTLE) in conjunction with Baptist Rainbow Primary School, DTSL and Makers Empire.

Students arrived on Saturday morning and went to their allocated classrooms for the event. Each student was recorded and given a wrist band with official nominated stewards and witnesses present. The school’s internet broadband was upgraded especially for the event, with each classroom fitted with video and audio communication and wifi infrastructure by Cypher Martin.

Students from kindergarten to secondary school and technical colleges were then taught simultaneously the importance of “water” to mankind with presentations from Erwin Huang, Kenneth Lo (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University) sharing the University’s student projects with communities in Cambodia. To nurture students’ creativity, students were then led through a 3D design lesson using Makers Empire 3D design software by Lap Leung, Makers Empire co-founder, and Chris Leung, DTSL Marketing Director.

To celebrate the schools and students participation in the Guinness World Record breaking event lucky draw prizes of a Tiertime 3D printer, Tinkerine 3D Printer and Makers Empire 3D Printing Learning Program for schools along with DTSL professional installation and training services were awarded. Each participating student and volunteer received a commemorative 3D printed souvenir medal sponsored by DTSL.

AiTLE Chair Albert Wong said “There are many people in the world who are not able to receive drinking water ever day but with advances in technology, solutions utilizing 3D design and 3D printing are simpler than ever before to help solve problems related to efficient and effective use of water resources. AiTLE would like to thank all the participating schools, partners, sponsors, all of the witnesses, stewards, volunteers, parents and students for all their hard work and efforts in making this event possible.”

“The community of Hong Kong is uniquely placed to share its experience and learnings with its large dense population and limited water resources. Over many years they have carefully managed effective water usage. Students at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University have also undertaken projects that have assisted less fortunate communities in Cambodia sharing their knowledge and skills to help improve their quality of life.”

Baptist Rainbow Primary School Principal Chu said “We want our kids to look at the world and say, ‘These are problems that need to be solved. We can use our creativity to solve those problems to make the world a better place’.”

DTSL Business Director Jack Wu said, “This record breaking event demonstrated that schools and students have no limit to their creativity and innovation. In using the latest 3D printing tools schools and students in Hong Kong can be confident that they are either staying ahead or keeping in step with their peers abroad.”

Roland Peddie, co-founder CTO Makers Empire said, “It was fantastic to see so many different schools and students designing in 3D on Makers Empire 3D design software whether they choose to use their iPads, Android, Windows or Mac devices. The Guinness World Record breaking event reinforced the support we have in place for the diverse school learning environments and infrastructure requirements we see in schools and districts.”

Lap Leung, co-founder Makers Empire said, “What an event! Students will be able to remember this Guinness World Record breaking event for the rest of their lives. More importantly, through 3D design and 3D printing, they develop design thinking principles along with critical analysis and problem solving capabilities. To have students from kindergarten participating and designing in 3D is simply amazing!”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


New grant will provide active learning spaces to schools

Steelcase Education grant leverages classroom space to implement new teaching practices

active-learningSteelcase Education on Dec. 1 launched the second annual Active Learning Center (ALC) Grant, a program to provide active learning spaces to schools across North America. Applications are being accepted online through February 12, 2016.

The ALC grant program leverages classroom space to implement new teaching practices, centering on student focus and collaboration. Up to 15 grant recipients will have the opportunity to install one of four learning environments featuring Steelcase Education’s state-of-the-art furniture and technology.

“Research has shown that active learning environments positively impact student engagement,” said Sean Corcorran, General Manager of Steelcase Education. “Our 2015 grant recipients have already seen improvements in student focus, and we are eager to partner with more educators who are committed to providing inspiring environments in order to enhance student learning.”

New this year, technical and trade schools are eligible to apply for the ALC grant, in addition to grades six through twelve, colleges and universities. Schools are also permitted to submit applications for library and media center spaces this year. Steelcase Education will award up to 15 schools with a new classroom, valued at $62,000.

Applicants to the program are asked to describe the desired pedagogy they plan to employ and how the new active learning classroom will positively impact teaching and learning. Grantees will be selected based on their commitment to active learning strategies and how they plan to measure student success and share their learnings with the broader education community.

As part of the ALC program, grantees receive training from Steelcase leaders on best practices for the new technology and furniture. Grantees will also participate in a community of practice with fellow grant recipients to share insights and best practices.

Last year’s program garnered over 500 applicants and twelve recipients from North America. All classrooms have been installed and are being used by teachers and students. Grantees included P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School at the University of Florida, Ohio State University, the University of Arizona and Forest Hills Northern High School in Grand Rapids, MI. Research from the inaugural group of ALC grant recipients is underway and will be released in 2016. More information on the 2015 Active Learning Classroom Grant can be found here.

“We are honored to be part of the inaugural class of ALC grant recipients,” said Dr. Lynda Hayes, director and university school professor at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School at the University of Florida. “Our new classroom allows us to support students in a variety of learning and teaching styles that encourage flexibility and movement and positively impact the dynamic between teachers and students.”

Winners of this year’s grant will be announced in March 2016.

Material from a press release was used in this report.