Code.org Review and Coding Resources

A few seasons ago I attended a coding event hosted at the local Apple store. There wasn't a whole lot to the event, Apple employees helped participants work thru a Hour of Code module while in the store. It was well attended and organized, every participant received headphones and a certificate of completion. Overall, I thought the event was very successful and provided my first introduction to Code.org.

I all started with my absurdly early arrival to the Apple Store for a kids Coding Event. We had a full HOUR to spare while we waited for our time slot. I wondered around aimlessly for half the time of course because the store is magical but eventually of found myself on the Code.org website. Jackpot: I found a list of free workshops for educators that welcomed home educators. The SIX HOUR workshop I would attend later that week isdesigned to help educators understandhow to teach coding and how the website can help.

I wasshocked the event was even open to home educators. Usually they are not. And it was free. A FREE SIX HOUR TRAINING. Can't beat that. I walked in already impressed I will admit but the training itself was absolutely spectacular.

 I can not say enough about how knowledgeable and professional our trainer was. I learned a lot about the resources the site makes available for teachers. There are complete lesson plansand what's called "mat/floor activities". These activities are designed to teach basic coding principles AWAY from the screen. We practiced teaching a concept to the group, then discussed the challenges we faced.

I felt very supported as an educator in the training and fully capable of teaching coding when I left the room, a far cry for the worried momma I was when I signed up. I am not unfamiliar with coding and I have tried teaching my son to code with a few coding websites and one great book but nothing has worked as well as Code.org because of the additional support the website makes available. The videos that are incorporated into modules are also great conversations starters because they showcase what real people do with their knowledge of coding, even if they end up becomingsomething else like a professional basketball player.

So far we have done exactly four floor activity andall have beensplendid. They felt like a little game the two of us were playing. We laughed and talked, it was slightly enchanted.

Some other benefits of the training: goodies and some Code.org pride. I am very much Team Code.org after the training.  Participants spoke very highly of the organization and the founder. There was even a teacher there sporting Code.org gear he ordered. Yes, I was very impressed that he liked the organization enough to go and buy gear.  

At this point in our coding journey Code.org is the right program for us because it is the most engaging for my son and supports me as an instructor because truth be told I had no idea how to teach this subject to him.  I have tried other great programs that just haven't worked for us as well. Here is a list of a few programs (and two books) that we have tried. I put the books first because I like them both. The first book, I one I recently found at Barnes and Noble, is a workbook and I am currently obsessed it,  I wish it was much bigger. Writing out code is invaluable especially for kids that are easily distracted once computers come on.  The second it one that I liked and may return to in the future but it's not suitable for us right now.  

DK Workbooks: Computer Coding (HIGHLY RECOMMEND)


Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming

RoboMind Academy
 

Scratch

If you are not interested in a semi-formal/formal coding course there are about a zillion apps and webpages that have activities.  Apartment Therapy has a great list. I am excited to see Sphero made this list. I have been wanting to test this out as a learning tool since the first time I saw it. That desire only intensified after checking out the webpage. Process with caution, this will jump on your must have list and if your anything like me that list is already long.
 

Say Whaaa?: A lesson on Questions

Given our political climate I decided to make a strong commitment to focus on critical thinking and research skills this year in order to raise a strong independent thinker.  We are doing a year long themester on narratives. 

Vocabulary Words

Open-ended Questions - questions that will solicit additional information.

Closed-ended Questions - questions that result in "yes" or "no" responses.

Assumption/Assuming - an assuming that something is true

Imply - to express (something) in an indirect way : to suggest (something) without saying or showing it plainly

Bias - an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment :  prejudice c :  an instance of such prejudice d (1) :  deviation of the expected value of a statistical estimate from the quantity it estimates (2) :  systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others

I recently taught a few lessons on questions as part of our unit on research. I decided to start here so he has the tools for critical analysis and the vocabulary for discussion and writing. First, we listened to the Big Universe, Big Questions episode of Brains On!. I choose this episode because many of our science lessons last year focused on space and because interviews are a form of research.

I used the Socratic method of teaching for things like this because I have found it to be the most effective method for fostering critical thinking. Each lesson has vocabulary words. He is required to write the vocabulary words and be able to use them in written and verbal responses.

Conversation Questions:

  • We have learned about two types of questions, Open-ended & Closed; Which type of question was used most often during the podcast?
  • If you met a friend at the park what type of questions would you ask? Why that type of question? Can you give me two examples of questions you might ask?
  • Why is it important to do research before conducting an interview?
  • Do you think assumptions are always bad?
  • How can assumptions influence the questions you create?
  • Do you think bias is always bad?
  • How can bias influence the questions you create?
  • Bias is a systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others. What do you think that means? 

Tasks

Listen to the podcast again. This time stop to talk about new observations using the new vocabulary.

Write each vocabulary word and a definition in your own words.

Write 5 interview questions, examine your questions for assumptions and bias. Are they closed or open? Do they imply anything, if so examine what they imply and how it may effect the interview.
 

Our minds are great at filling in the spaces others leave behind, but do we have the critical thinking skills to really examine what we are being told and the purpose the narrative serves?

 

 

Homeschooling as a single parent.

When people imagine a homeschooling mom, the image is very rarely a black woman. Certainly not a single black woman. Yet we exist and as usual there is freedom in the margins. I recognize that I am fortunate enough to work from home; otherwise homeschooling would not be possible for us. 

One year in the game and I have learned some valuable lessons about how to balance work, education and family time. Self-care is certainly more of a work in progress. I certainly have not learned all there is to learn but I have come a long way. My three main takeaways have been:

Keyboarding Without Tears

Keyboarding Without Tears

Fraction Bingo

Fraction Bingo

  1. Teaching time is not always quality time.  I started my journey thinking the time I spent teaching him would be the vast majority of the quality time that we needed. Two birds with one stone. WRONG. Sure some activities can pass as quality time. Art and nature exploration mostly. Then there are the games that go along with learning. Fraction Bingo and Story Cubes were a tremendous success. But my personal philosophy about education means that I am intentional about not making every unit a game. I do a lot of instructing, this is the Distributive Property of Multiplication and this is how it works. This type of learning NEVER gets confused for quality time. 
  2. Work hours are for practice. I decided to fight the battle against electronics during work hours. Eight hours is just to long to sit in front of a screen. Two hours makes me feel nervous because my son defaults to watching shows on Youtube. I encourage him to find how-to videos for simple machines and experiments but he rarely listens. I have to work, which means I need to focus. Getting my son to understand that has been an uphill battle. We have instituted a system that works well for us. Work hours are for practicing/reviewing past lessons, reading and creation. I have seen tremendous improvements in his reading and math because that is what he spends most of his day doing on most school days. He is also much more engaged with his inventions and LEGO builds when there is a prompt/challenge. This inverted method makes our days more productive and our nights more focused. 
  3. A system for attention. There is no way a child is going to work independently for eight hours. I needed to create a system for giving him attention so he does not make up ways/reasons to get it or feel isolated when I am busy with a deadline. Here is what we have so far:
  • Unlimited hugs: at some point I realized that for my son this was VERY important. It seems like this is a check in for him. I can't say I fully understand why this works so well but it does. It's just what he needs. 
  • A thumbs up or funny face: same explanation as above. 
  • Timers: When I need undivided attention I put on a timer. This lets him know how long he has to wait to tell me whatever interesting fact he just learned or picture he drew. We are still getting used to this system but I like it. 
  • Set times for meals: He eats a lot and I get wrapped up in my tasks so this is big. I few prepping food a break not a chore intentionally so I don't get annoyed when I have to stop what I am doing and cook. It is a time for us to reconnect and relax. He often helps me make food or reads to me while I prepare the food. Honestly this is the time that means the most to me, no matter what we are doing. 

The only way I can manage to be centered enough is to make time to clean daily. That is certainly not always the case, which is the difficulty of being the only adult in a home. If you don't do it it's probably not going to get done. When I feel overwhelmed I rely on mindful meditation and gratitude to realign me. 

Ever once in a while someone will suggest that it would be easier for me if my son just went to a traditional school. Why take all that on when you are already a singe parent? First, I don't view single parenting as the great tragedy of my life and traditional school is a whole different type of stress that in Chicago I found unproductive and detrimental for both of us. I know some homeschoolers go into all this research to support their decision; I have decided to stop doing that for the most part because the bottom line is my decision is what works best for us at this time. Some days it's stressful and I am a mess but I never have to feel weird about it at pick-up. 

LEGO Zip-line in the old apartment set up.

LEGO Zip-line in the old apartment set up.

Funny Faces.

Funny Faces.