Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Hour of Code --- It's HERE! Are you ready?

It's HERE ---
Are you ready??

If you are like me, then you consider CSED, or Computer Science Education Week (December 4-December 10), to be an exciting week!  I teach Computer Science to my elementary students all year long -- but this is the week that we can really celebrate the process of learning to program and code -- and learning all about computational thinking.

If you don't know much about the Hour of Code (it's becoming synonymous with CSED thanks to -- you can learn more about this amazing movement to bring Computer Science into every school using this link.

Here are some of the things that I am considering doing with my students this week.  While this list isn't exhaustive, by any means, of the many resources available -- I hope you that something on this list would inspire you to try something with your students or child.

Online Resources:

Kodable | The Foos | BotLogic | BeeBots (various activities with the robots) and Beebots Online | Scratch Jr Activities (iPads) | Tynker's Candy Quest | Courses |
Wonder Workshop's Dash Robot - various lessons and and ideas from The Digital Scoop | Minecraft Activities

Scratch Lessons (for 3rd - 5th):

Snowman | Google Doodle | Balloon Pop |

Unplugged Activities:

Magic Card Trick (Debugging) (Scratch online version of Magic Card Trick) | Paper Airplane (Algorithm Design) | Cup Stacking (Algorithm Design)

If you are still looking for more -- I would recommend looking through the activities listed on the Hour of Code website.

Happy Coding everyone!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Practically Perfect at Patterns

My goal for 2nd quarter is to introduce my kindergarteners to the different parts of Computational Thinking.  During our first time, we talked about Decomposition, which is taking a bigger problem and breaking into smaller, more workable parts.  Check out my post on this here.
This week we are talking about Pattern Recognition.  Kinders are REALLY good at patterns.  They must have great classroom teachers that provide some really fun lessons because they were ALL over this activity!  The two web activities I used are both found on my go-to collection of awesome games/activities for kids — .

Activity one was a huge hit — Moon Rock Patterns — the kids nailed this!  In this activity, there is a snazzy space ship that shoots across the screen and leaves colored “moon rocks” in its path. The “coder” has to use the extra moon rocks at the bottom to complete the pattern.

The pattern above is from Level 1 — a very simple ABAB pattern.  As the coder progresses through the levels — the patterns get increasingly more difficult.

This pattern is from Level 6 and is a pattern that repeats after the sixth moon rock — ABCDEFABCDEF.  I was really impressed with how well students did on the higher levels.  Way to go, Kindergarten teachers!
The other activity we worked on is Monster Truck Shape Patterns (also found at!)  The kinders loved the sound effects on this …..vrroooom vrroooom!

Just like the Moon Rock Patterns activity — the game starts out pretty easy.  The Monster Truck has to be able to drive across the top of the shape cards.  The coder needs to identify the pattern and fill in the missing pieces so that the truck can complete its ride.  In this example, there is only one shape card missing and the pattern is an easy one — ABA.

As the coder progresses through the activity — more and more of the shape cards are missing.  This provided a great opportunity to encourage students to “guess and check” and be persistent.  If the coder put the wrong card in the missing spot, the truck honks its horn and the card goes back to the card bank at the bottom.  I also encourage my little coders to look all over for clues.  In this activity, it’s sometimes best for them to look in the middle — or even at the end of the shape card line up to help identify what the exact pattern.

This activity also has a really fun super challenge!  After you have practiced identifying the patterns and filling in the missing shape cards, the coder can go into “RACE MODE” and complete more pattern puzzles.  This time, however, they will be racing a PLANE!  My Kinder-coders are pretty competitive — and did fairly well!  How well can you do??

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Abstraction and The Logical Journey of the Zoombini's

Abstraction is another one of the Computational Thinking concepts we talk about during Computer Science classes.  It's an important step  in creating a solution to a larger problem.  Abstraction is defined as "focusing on what is important and ignoring what is unnecessary."

In the puzzles my district uses as the core curriculum, many times students are given a lot of coding blocks and are asked to rearrange and remove any blocks aren't needed.  The focus of these lessons is on debugging and the word abstraction is never mentioned in the directions or hints given within the puzzle.  I mention it, of course -- but find that many of my students don't really make the connection.

One of my favorite ways to talk about abstraction and have students practice this skill is by pacifying Arno, the almost omnivorous Pizza Troll using the program The Logical Journey of the Zoombini's.  

In this logic game, students are asked to create the perfect pizza for Arno.  Each time you play the game he wants different toppings and you have to use the visual and verbal clues given to decide which toppings are "eewwwww GROSS" or which ones he likes.

Arno blocks the path so the Zoombini's can not move on. In order for him to move, the user must use the pizza topping buttons to serve up the perfect pizza. 

As I teach this lesson, I encourage my students to look closely at the pizzas that Arno has been served and what he does with them.  If he likes a topping, but wants MORE, he will save it for later.  (I explain to the kids that I will eat a pepperoni pizza  -- but I really like pepperoni and sausage. They totally get this....)  If Arno, however despises a certain topping, he will throw it into the dump in front of him.

In this example, you can see that Arno is not fond of pineapple or mushrooms. He has thrown them into the dump. The other toppings he likes -- so he has saved them for later. Can you decide what would be his PERFECT pizza??
Using abstraction skills -- we can tell that Arno is not at all interested in pineapple or mushroom.  As the pizza maker/programmer, I would ignore those toppings and not use them in my final recipe/algorithm.  The other toppings are all useful to me -- since he likes them.  I would make a perfect pizza for Arno using peppers, pepperoni, and cheese.
HINT!!!  Presenting Arno with pizzas that only have one topping at a time is a critical act in determining what he likes.  He gives very vague comments if he doesn't like an ingredient.

"There is something there I don't like!"    "Ewwww....Gross!"

If you present a pizza with 3 toppings and only one is an ingredient he isn't fond of -- it's not very easy to guess which one it is.

As the game levels progress -- the student is introduced to two more pizza trolls -- each with their own likes and dislikes.  The pizza machine also expands to produce an ice cream dessert with up to three different toppings.

In the harder levels, you will meet Arno's friends -- Willa and Shyler. Each have their own likes and dislikes.

It's very helpful for students to have some sort of way to take notes and record data as they discover it.  A simple table would be great.  Here is one that I use with my students.  Click here or on the image to see it full size and download it if you like.

Pizza Pass is just one of the 12 amazing Computational Thinking and Logic games that are part of Zoombini's.  In future posts, I hope to share some more of my favorite puzzles in this awesome program.  Zoombini's is available to play on STEAM (computer play) -- or via the Apple App Store or Google Play .

Monday, October 9, 2017

Awesome Sauce

During the last few lessons in Third Grade, we have been learning about Nested Loops.  A nested loop is a loop inside of loop.  We’ve used them in our lessons to move and collect things and to draw shapes and designs.

As an extension, we did the Awesome Sauce Challenge in Scratch.  Students were given nine blocks that they had to use in a program.  They had a start block (when green flag is clicked), a move block, a turn right and left, a repeat block, a change color, a set pen size, a pen up, and a pen down.  Each one must be used at least once.  They can re-use any block any amount of times.  They also have permission to change the variables in the blocks to make each one unique.  They were also encouraged to experiment with using Nested Loops.
The goal was to PLAY and CREATE a unique and amazing digital design — AWESOME SAUCE!!   Check out some of our sauciest creations!!

What can you create? 

Friday, October 6, 2017


I teach Computer Science to some pretty amazing elementary kids.  Much of our time is spent doing lessons, puzzles, and activities from the curriculum.  We use Scratch and The Foos -- we play with Robots. We learn how to think through problems and find the most effective (and efficient) solution.  To do this, we start talking about five parts of computational thinking (Decomposition, Pattern Recognition, Abstraction, Algorithm Design, and Debugging) as early as Kindergarten.
Decomposition was the focus of this weeks Kindergarten lesson.  Decomposition is defined as breaking something into smaller parts.  With the “littles”, I introduced the idea with the following two websites from :  Shapes Construction and Tangrams.  Both of these sites use “smaller parts” to build and create a larger image.  Decomposition in reverse…. so to speak.  The students and I talked about all the pieces and parts that are needed to build a house.
A roof!  Doors!  We need WINDOWS!  You have to have a floor!
After our discussion, I opened the Shapes Construction site and we talked about the design that we needed to create.  The design had been broken into all of its smaller parts and were listed at the bottom.  Our job was to put the design back together.  Boy — did they have fun!

After a few levels, the activity ramped up and students were asked to complete the design with out some of the lines.  They had to look at the “mirror” image and recreate it.  (We had a nice talk about symmetry and reflections.)

Adding to this lesson, I had the kids work on another activity in  This time we went to the Tangram activity.  The concept is very much the same — but this time the students needed to “debug” the shapes.  Many times the shape needed to be rotated to fit in the puzzle.  Students had to identify which shape was needed and then how to make it fit by using the tools to rotate it.  The first level was full of helps — each shape was it’s own color and the targets were clearly outlined.

The upper levels became a little more challenging.  First, all the shapes became the SAME color.  Then, much to the Kinders chagrin — they lost the outline of the targets.  

After a couple of reminders that
“They are the smartest and most amazing kindergarteners EVER!!”
they decided that they could indeed do anything they tried……..and they did.