5 ways to celebrate this year’s Hour of Code

The Hour of Code is a global movement by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org to teach students about coding and computer science. The event takes place during Computer Science Education Week, which is Dec. 9-15 this year.

Code.org has a database of free one-hour tutorials and activities that introduce students to coding and computer science. You can search for activities by grade level, subject area, comfort level with computers, and the type of classroom technology that’s available to your students, among other criteria.

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If you want to build on the momentum you’ve established with these initial Hour of Code tutorials, or you’re overwhelmed with the number of choices available through Code.org, here are five great options to consider in your school or classroom.

SAM Labs

SAM Labs takes a kinesthetic approach to teaching coding for students in grades K-8. SAM Labs classroom kits contain interactive electronic blocks that connect wirelessly to the SAM Space app, making abstract coding concepts more tangible for students.

Each block represents an input or an output, such as a motor, a light, or a light sensor. Students use the SAM Space app to connect the blocks together. For example, if they connect a light sensor and a motor, the motor will run faster as they shine more light on the sensor.

The SAM Space app allows for blocks to be coded together in a simple and intuitive way. Visual, flow-based drag-and-drop coding allows students to take their physical blocks, drop them into a virtual canvas, and connect them together to create projects.

For the Hour of Code, SAM Labs has released a free ebook, “Implementing a District-Wide Coding Program,” as well as free Learning to Code lessons that help students in grades 4-8 learn block-based coding in a virtual canvas called Workbench.


Nepris is an online platform that connects students virtually with STEAM professionals, so students can learn firsthand about STEAM-related careers. They can also see how the concepts they’re learning in class are applied within real-world settings.

For this year’s Computer Science Education Week, Nepris has scheduled at least eight video chats with coding and computer science professionals. Students will have the opportunity to learn what it’s like to be a software engineer, what skills are required to do the job effectively, and more.

Students can take part in these discussions live, as they’re happening, enabling them to ask questions of the presenter—or they can view a recording of each event.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy offers video tutorials for teaching students ages eight and up how to program drawings using JavaScript by designing their own snowman, as well as how to make webpages with HTML tags and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a web programming language. Students finish the web programming tutorial by making their own greeting card.

In addition, students ages 12 and up can learn how to manipulate data in a database and make their own custom store—and students who are interested can extend their learning with videos that show them how to use variables, make animations, store data in arrays and objects, group their code into functions, and more.


With more than 100 million registered users worldwide, Minecraft is a popular way to introduce students to coding and computer science.

Minecraft offers four basic coding tutorials for students in grades two and up. The tutorials are available free of charge and work with all “modern browsers and tablets,” Code.org says.

Schools using the educational version of Minecraft for Windows, Mac, and iPad devices also have access to a free Minecraft Hour of Code lesson that explores artificial intelligence (AI) in addition to basic coding concepts. The lesson, called “AI for Good,” challenges students to train a computer to identify what causes fires, remove materials that help fires spread, and then bring life back to a forest destroyed by fire—all with code. The lesson was inspired by Microsoft’s AI for Earth team, who use AI to help solve global environmental challenges.


CodeCombat allows students to learn coding in a scaffolded environment as they program a computer game by typing actual Python and JavaScript commands into a browser window.

In CodeCombat’s 2019 Hour of Code activity, students progress through multiple game levels. At each level, students will be given some starter code. They must finish the code to have their character complete a certain task, then run the simulator to check their work (and make changes if needed). The activity culminates with students using everything they’ve learned to create their own game from scratch.


10 network and physical school safety resources

School safety is paramount to administrators, educators, parents, and students across the country. Teaching and learning can’t occur when school staff and students feel unsafe in their classrooms and school buildings.

School safety encompasses both physical safety and network security, with the lines often blurring between the two–careful network monitoring can detect threats to students’ physical safety, whether from one student planning an incident against one or many other students, or a student contemplating self-harm.

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Here, we’ve compiled a list of resources to investigate as you pursue tools and resources for physical and network security.

1. NetSupport’s NetSupport School is a complete classroom management solution offers assessment, monitoring, collaboration, and control features. NetSupport DNA offers school IT asset management with internet safety to help keep school networks and students protected.

2. FrontRow’s ezRoom Trio is an all-in-one classroom media solution with premium sound quality and scalability. Pre-installed options handle HDMI switching, voice reinforcement, voice commands, integration with school bells and paging system, emergency alert buttons, automation, projector control and management, and much more.

3. Lightspeed Systems’ Relay Platform offers cloud-based filtering, device management with app controls, monitoring to keep teachers focused on students and not screens, protection with the ability to flag inappropriate content such as cyberbullying or self-harm, and analytics capabilities.

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Could Minecraft disrupt traditional instruction?

Minecraft, which hit its 10-year anniversary this year, is currently the second best-selling video game ever—only beat out by Tetris. The game is what’s called a “sandbox,” where players move around freely and use pixelated “blocks” to build whatever they want, from functioning virtual computers to a replica of the entire country of Denmark. Over 100 million people play the game, and estimates suggest that kids under 15 are the biggest demographic.

As with many trends that become massively popular among kids, K–12 educators can’t help but take notice of the game. And yet, Minecraft generally hasn’t gone the way of Tamagotchis and other fads that get banned from school. Instead, ideas abound for integrating Minecraft into the classroom.

Related content: 5 ways to use Minecraft in the classroom

Disruptive Innovation Theory explains how rudimentary products and services take root at the margins of a market, and improve over time to compete in the mainstream market by enabling greater access, affordability, and flexibility. In light of Minecraft’s migration from outside school walls to inside classrooms, could Minecraft disrupt traditional instruction? The answer hinges not only on the game itself, but on how and why educators leverage it to shift instruction.

At the classroom margins: not your standard edtech tool

When Minecraft took off as a popular game in 2011, it racked up players, and also began to gain a reputation as a space where kids were learning together. Parenting experts lauded Minecraft’s subtle ways of helping kids learn about resource management, patience, perseverance, and teamwork. Informal learning communities launched Minecraft summer camps or library-sponsored competitions. Minecraft was emerging as a learning platform that was never designed to compete with edtech—in many ways because its first priority was to appeal to players’ own interests, not to teach them something predetermined by the creators.


5 things to remember in the case of an active shooter

We live in a time where we need to educate ourselves and our families on unfortunate events. It’s important to empower your loved ones to take action in active shooter situations, even amidst pangs of fear.

This information is designed to highlight important conceptual aspects of readiness training. The conditions that would necessitate the initiation of an emergency action plan are unpredictable and dynamic.

To determine the best course of action a variety of circumstances and factors must be considered on an individual basis. The principles of evacuation, barricade and protection are paramount to minimizing casualties. The purpose is to preconceive potential options to help determine how you could respond to danger.

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The motivations, weapons, locations, and response to a hostile event are unpredictable. Whether you are dealing with a situation involving an active shooter in a school, a disgruntled employee, a person with criminal intentions, someone in mental health crisis, or other events, there are things that can be done that mitigate violence and potentially reduce or eliminate casualties.

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6 reasons why this district uses a student safety platform

When we started talking about a 1:1 computing initiative, one of the biggest concerns we heard from administrators, community members, and parents was, how were we going to monitor students digitally?

After all, it’s one thing to know what students are doing when they’re sitting in a classroom, but giving them devices—and online access both in and out of school—presented a whole range of new challenges.

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Once at home, for example, those devices become “personal devices,” and are used for everything from web browsing to writing notes (via Google Docs) to sharing photos with one another.

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3 ways districts can prepare for ransomware attacks

With summer now a distant memory and students across the country back in the swing of things, school districts have been facing a rising danger. This year, schools face an increased threat of falling victim to ransomware attacks.

Ransomware is a specific type of computer virus that locks digital files and blocks access to computer servers–effectively shutting down entire operating systems–until a ransom is paid to those responsible for the attack. This dangerous type of extortion has been increasing in prevalence and while it was once generally aimed at corporations, hackers have recently begun shifting their focus to new targets, including government agencies and school districts.

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As an educator, if you haven’t yet heard of ransomware, chances are you will soon. According to a report by the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, there were more than 120 cybersecurity incidents that targeted K-12 school systems last year and the trend doesn’t show signs of slowing. During the summer of 2019 alone, ransomware attacks affected school operating systems in states including Nevada, Alabama, New Mexico and Louisiana.

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The eSchool News School Safety Guide is here! It features strategies to help you create and maintain safe and secure learning environments, both physical and online. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!


The constant quest for school safety

Securing K-12 schools takes a multi-prong line of defense. The physical campus needs to be fortified against live, in-person attacks, while the school needs to shield its IT/network from cyberattacks, protect sensitive data and monitor threats against all three.

Statistics paint a disturbing picture.

A report by the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center found that there were 122 publicly disclosed cybersecurity incidents at K-12 schools in 2018. Most involved data breaches where bad actors—including students sometimes—obtained unauthorized access to private information.

In about the same timeframe, the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network found that at least 3,380 threats and incidents of violence were reported in K-12 schools in the 2017-2018 academic year—up 62 percent from the previous year. Shooting threats led the list (38.8 percent), followed by generalized or unspecified threats of violence (35.8 percent) and bomb threats (22.5 percent).

There are no national standards for making schools safer, but plenty of debate. As of November 2019, the National Conference of State Legislatures found that 167 bills had been enacted and eight resolutions adopted. School safety measures are decided primarily on a local or state level, resulting in a patchwork of regulations. For example, the Education Commission of the States found that only around 30 states allow security personnel to possess weapons in school and only about 42 states are required by law to conduct safety drills. Two recent initiatives, however, could significantly impact all K-12 school districts.

Trends in school security

First, in the wake of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Congress passed the STOP School Violence Act, which authorized the use of $50 million annually “to help districts implement improvements to school safety infrastructure.”

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Developing successful personalized learning literacy programs

As a former kindergarten and first grade teacher, who later taught struggling readers in grades three to five, I was acutely aware of the reading instruction gaps that we weren’t filling. I saw those gaps firsthand when my first-grade students became third graders and were clearly missing some very important reading skills.

Adopting the Simple View of Reading model, and understanding all of the components of it and teaching reading according to science, was one critical piece that I had missed with my early readers.

I entered the educational workforce during the time when adults all over the country were still focused on battling the whole language vs. phonics war. It became about the adults winning and the only thing that happened was that our kids lost. They lost in a big way too. An educator’s job is to provide whatever a child needs whenever they need it.

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My teacher training was not rooted in using effective diagnostic tools to identify specific weaknesses. If it had been, I don’t think I would have had as many struggling readers. This resonated with me in a real way because I could literally see the students who were impacted by those gaps. I could see that I wasn’t explicit enough, I wasn’t systematic enough, and I didn’t hone in specifically on those students’ weaknesses and deficits.

To address these gaps, school districts in Ohio are partnering with Educational Service Centers (ESCs) like ours to implement personalized learning that supports third grade reading mandates. As part of my role at the Trumbull County ESC, my first step was to design a consortium literacy plan involving six districts and apply for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant through the state.


6 reasons to use a social learning platform

There are several different curriculums available to teachers who are working with students who have pragmatic language disorders, but up until recently I hadn’t really found one that was flexible and personalized for my students. Working with autistic and mildly intellectually impaired students (“eligibilities”), I’m always on the lookout for educational resources that incorporate different learning resources and functionalities.

Unfortunately, I usually come up short. That’s because most of the available curriculum is too structured and stringent. I’ve worked with a number of different psychologists and school counselors who like to stick to the books, which are extremely linear in nature. Instead, I really like to be able to pick and choose the skills that I think a specific student (or, a group of students) needs at a certain time in the school year, versus simply following a curriculum page by page.

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When I learned about Everyday Speech’s Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum, I was instantly interested. Incorporating video modeling—an evidence-based strategy using video recordings to model a desired skill—the platform teaches social competencies that help students adjust to school, cope with the ever-changing social environment, navigate their emotions, and make informed social decisions to solve problems.


eSchool News launches School Safety Guide

We are excited to bring you the latest in the eSchool News Guides series. eSchool News Guides are full of resources, tips, trends, and insights from industry experts on a variety of topics that are essential to the classroom, school, and district.

The December Guide, the eSchool News School Safety Guide, offers expert insight on the top ways school leaders and educators can create safe physical and online environments for students. It also covers IT and network security, and offers expert advice to help IT leaders keep school networks safe from cyber threats.

In the guide, we take a look at how schools and districts are deploying safety platforms to keep students secure. Plus, we look at how expanding digital environments open the door for potential network security breaches.

Have you dreamed of finding a solution that will help you prevent physical safety incidents and threats to students before they occur? Maybe you’re looking for the best way to keep your school network secure, and you want a solution that can support your district’s individual needs. In the eSchool News School Safety Guide, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular physical and network/IT resources.

We highlight examples of how real educators built safe learning environments, we’ve included examples of how network security breaches can immobilize your school networks (and how to avoid those), and more.

You also can find a complete list of school safety partners and companies in the guide.

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eSchool News School Safety Guide

The eSchool News School Safety Guide is here! It features strategies to help you create and maintain safe and secure learning environments, both physical and online. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!

We’ll release a new guide at the beginning of each month, and we’ll feature content focused around each guide’s topic throughout the month. Stay tuned for eSchool News Guides on STEM learning and makerspaces, online/blended learning, and more. Each guide also offers a comprehensive index of all the companies involved in that month’s specific focus area.

We hope you’ll share this eSchool News School Safety Guide with your colleagues and use it to learn a bit more about how school leaders and educators can be more proactive about safety and security.

P.S. – If you missed the eSchool News Robotics Guide or the eSchool News Digital & Mobile Learning Guide, you can find them here.