Kids must code on iPads

hopscotch flappy

An important 21st Century skill

This post is about a topic and app close to my heart. Computer programming is the engine of modern life and dream maker for tens of thousands. More and more countries are introducing the subject as compulsory schooling at surprisingly young ages. The UK is introducing a national school programme in september this year whilst also funding yearofcode.org to increase momentum. Code.org is pushing an international message with big-name endorsement. Even small countries like Estonia have their 5-year-olds taking their first steps into logical problem solving. A site I’ve used for years is codecademy.com

estonia codeWhat learning to code offers young people.

Even I was surprised at how much my students have enjoyed their first experience of coding this year. In a number of ways, coding offers a ideal learning experience. Students receive immediate feedback from any attempt and can see the results of their endeavours without the need for teacher feedback. If the challenge is set at the appropriate level, coding automatically becomes a perfect example of gameification. It naturally encourages students to ask “what can I do next?”

code club ukAccessible to anyone 

Coding is problem solving and like any puzzle, it seems to immediately engage kids as long as the puzzle pieces are easy to play with and move around. That’s where Hopscotch comes to the rescue! I have been teaching coding for 10 years and have never seen such an immediate impact on engagement than that of touch-screen draggable commands. Hopscotch is a free app that has an online community to share your coding projects with. It’s easy and intuitive to play with and is appropriate from about the age of 4 or 5. You do not have to know anything about coding to give this a go with your class and of course there are Youtube video lessons.

hopscotch screeen Quick & keen

My colleague and I had written a typical coding introduction for our 12 & 13 year olds using Hopscotch but very quickly realised that the app negated traditional approaches as it was so intuitive. The students were creating shapes, drawings and characters within 20 minutes. They just wanted to play, discover and create and our teaching unit was far to slow. Obviously, we let them go for it!

codecademy“Let’s make Flappy Birds!”

Within the first hour, a 12-year-old had already realised the the ‘world issue’ that was “the death of Flappy Birds” could be solved with Hopscotch. It was great to see the students all working together and keenly sharing their discoveries. One student realised the the Emoji keyboard allowed for 100s more characters, another worked out how to colour the background in as sky and grass. The only element I had to directly help with was keeping score.

We were also amazed to get recognised by the folks at Hopscotch!

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hopscotch appPersonalised learning

One benefit of coding your own apps and games is keeping it personal. Students started twisting the Flappy birds concept into fish games or car games and it was as if I’d completely disappeared from the room. When using Hopscotch, students are constantly problem solving, working collaboratively and thinking creatively.

What’s coming next?

I have watched the development of this app and can’t wait to see the next version. There are a couple of significant programming tools missing but I am sure they’re on their way in future releases.

Here is a help sheet I produced from from my classes coding and I hope it helps.

Flappy Birds and code for other games in Hopscotch

hopscotch flappy

“School work is no longer school work when it’s recognised outside school” – @iPadWells

@ipadwells & OC on Hopsctch Blog

Teaching Math on an iPad

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mathiPad

1. HIGH SCHOOLS

AS IT WAS…

In my High school, one of the last departments to realise a use for iPads was the Math department. Note: As a UK born New Zealander, writing Math and not Maths is difficult but as most my readers are american, I’ll persist!  Also…. I’m not a Math teacher, so sorry if I upset anyone.

Their thinking was that Math had to be hand written and there was no digital functionality beyond a calculator that suited the learning of Mathematical problem solving.

Certainly things like movie making, animation and group work did little in the genuine learning of Math reasoning. Plus the age-old excuse that the exam was hand written and so experience was needed and the iPad was only a distraction from this vital practice.

THE CHANGE BEGINS…

ExplainEverythingThe first change came with using the app Explain Everything. This is often a comfortable first step into new pedagogy as it mimics the whiteboard but offers new functionality and workflow. This allows Math teachers to hand write their mathematical working whilst recording the lesson, including their voice. Uploading these skills videos to Youtube saves hours of time in the classroom repeating oneself and allows students to come preprepared or review after a lesson. Either way moving some or all of the standard Math teaching online saves time.

LET THE FUN BEGIN!

Now what can a Math teacher do with more time and a little more imagination? Here’s another popular starting point in the shape of a TED talk by Dan Meyer (Math teacher). He explains how challenging the students more and using multimedia to do this can hook the students into a genuine interest in Math, as apposed to the compulsory one they currently have to show:

After watching Dan’s talk, I realised that Math teaching could be more about students finding their own problems to solve in rather creative ways. Students could be freed from the classroom to challenge each other with videoed problems and limit the information provided. Remember the iPad’s app store can provide apps that just about take any type of measurement and mostly for free (See below).

“Best Math App” lists like this one focus on that Math Dan talks about that kids have to learn in school without worrying about why they might need to know it. In my mind, it now becomes less about finding the best Math teaching / learning app and more about building a set of measurement tools for life. These tools can then be used to make Math learning come to life and seem relevant.

MEASUREMENT APPS

MathApp1 MathApp2 MathApp3
Easy MeasureThere’s math to be learnt in the way this app works alone! iHandy LevelGreat general carpenter’s tool Measures HDLots a measurement tools in one including Seismic!
MathApp4 iphone-camera-icon MathApp5
Sprint TimerFilm moving objects / people with time stretched image Film with CameraJust video things happening and students find the maths! Home Design HD – Free
Lots of Math possibilities in planning and developing building models

For most students, this applied Math approach is far more meaningful and fun and can highlight the subjects significant place in their lives. Something that is not always apparent in traditional Math teaching.

2. ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS (PRIMARY)

The ‘real-world’ approach mentioned above could certainly apply to any student from about the age of 8. Before that, the library of basic Math and Number apps in the store comes into it’s own! Apps make Math fun from an early age and remove the fear factor whilst giving the all important instant feedback.

Nearly all basic Math apps are free and it’s just a matter of trying them out, Start by typing “Math” into the App store but sorting by popularity. Here’s a selection of the most popular. I personally liked the simplicity of “Summed Up” ($0.99) and the animation & game concept in “Hungry Fish”. I included Hopscotch, which is a kids drag and drop programming app as it allows kids to experiment with algorithms in a fun way and try out a lot of Math on the way.

mathapps3

SPECIAL KIWI SHOUT-OUT

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 9.50.48 AM100s Board ($2.99) is  ‘simple as’ (as us Aucklanders would say) but in it’s simplicity comes flexibility and a nurturing of children’s natural talent to invent their own games. It presents a simple 100s board and will highlight numbers to help young people count in 2s, 3s, 4s etc. It also has coloured & monster counters that you can place on numbers to invent games with. It hides numbers as well as highlights on touch. My 8 year-old immediately started inventing games for my 6 year-old including  “Higher-Lower” where in 7 goes, the youngest had to find the chosen number, whilst all prior guesses were highlighted. The face that it’s not a game in itself is actually a bonus as it extends kids’ imagination. Check it out!

100s Board is made by fellow Kiwi @MattJamesThomas.

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SUMMARY

The age and ability of the individual student will decide the best approach, be it applied discovery of Math or more rudimentary game play. Regardless, the iPad has much to offer in Math learning and I hope this helps those Math teachers who weren’t sure where to start.

Gaming as School Assessment?

What can schools learn from why millions of people of all ages are turning to online gaming and online virtual environments? I’ve been reading this book by Jane Mcgonigal on the effect of and reasons why millions of people of all ages are turning to online gaming and online virtual environments. Here’s Jane at TED summarizing the book in 15 minutes. The basic premise is that the continuous feedback and desire for self-improvement becomes the drive to continue.

It goes as far as to say that games that have a definitive end and can be won are less appealing. A classic example is “Tetris” which became one of the most popular games in history regardless of not being able to win it! It never ends, you just continue to challenge yourself to last longer each time, whilst receiving continuous visual and sound feedback.

Gamers just want work and learn! The more work the better. World of Warcraft has clocked-up 6 million gamer hours in about a decade! (That’s as long as humans have been upright!) It takes 500 hours of play to reach the highest levels in the game and this is now seen by gamers as a small amount of work time!

The constant desire to get more work done within the world, whilst continuously “levelling-up,” and the fact that one’s levels are shared across the system is what drives the engagement. The other thing going on in these games is learning. the students only really score points if they show they have learnt something new. I’m wondering if we can bring that level of drive & dedication to work and learn into the school environment.

So I thought I’d have a go!

Here’s an idea for a mobile app system used by teachers and students that could work in many schools to drive student engagement but also provide individual student performance analytics to the school.

Allowing for my previous blog posts, I must add that this would only work in a student-centred environment where students were self-directed on large enough projects that the teacher is free to only offer 1-to-1 guidance and have time to truly assess how each student is developing.

Step 1 (Objectives)

The school decides on about 8 core requirements for life in the 21st century. Skills that it feels students must be assessed on across all their school-life and students can then “Level-Up” on each day/week.

These might be things like:

  1. Creative Thinking

  2. Independence

  3. Leadership

  4. Physical skills

  5. Collaboration

  6. Sharing

  7. Language depth

The school could outline a matrix of examples of how students might behave and think to Level-up in each requirement.

Step 2 (Technical)

Classes are set up on a database system accessible through mobile devices by everyone in the school. An app is created with both a student and teacher version. A website also collates the data for the school leadership team.

Step 3 (Levelling-Up)

A Mobile app is used by all the teachers to simply issue points on-the-fly to each student. Any evidence at any moment, either in the classroom or when marking work in the evening can gain points in any of the identified core requirements.

The app design is key and is simple to use. The class list is shown and clicking on a name brings up 8 large buttons that allocate a point on each click to the student for any of the core requirements identified by the school.

TEACHER APP (MOCK-UP)

Step 4 (Feedback and Socialising)

Students download the student app and can login to view a live self-profile and see the levels increasing day-to-day. For fun they can design an avatar (maybe to illustrate a future career) and possibly even share their thoughts on their scores with other students in the school. Socialising about your levels using the app would also be key to the engagement. Students who have Levelled-Up in Creativity, for example, might share what they did to show creativity. Their peers might then attempt to model the same behaviour.

Step 5 (Student drive)

Students start to question at all times in the day how they might show evidence of creativity or leadership etc,  knowing they’ll receive the feedback on the mobile app almost immediately. They also understand the core skills are cross-curricular and essential to life in general. It also pushes the idea that any moment of the day is an opportunity for self-improvement.

…anyway, it’s just an idea and please feel free to make the system and become a millionaire! However, I might spend some time next year developing it.

STUDENT APP (MOCK-UP)