Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hour of Code

As the end of the event draws closer, I can't help but to keep reflecting on some of my most difficult students doing extremely well with the hour of code. Some of them worked through multiple tutorials within the hour I set aside for them, others were super excited about the lines of code they created. One student decided to download ruby on one of the Linux machines in the computer lab and started to learn that language.

Here is how I presented the Hour of Code to my students; but first some background...

It was cold, snowy and all the students were hoping for a snow day. However, school was on as scheduled, and let's just say that not all students were excited about this. In fact, it seemed that the only thing on their minds was "when are they going to call an early release?" My riveting lesson planned out on weather fronts, was just not going to grab their attention today. Even though we were currently experiencing the results of a weather front, I could sense that students were going to be rather challenging. I had already planned out the hour of code to take place the following day, and have been slowly increasing students interest  in coding over the last few weeks. So, here we are, extremely grumpy  and unmotivated students, and an excited teacher...a match made in heaven, right? How did I deal with this lackluster crew? I was planning on starting the lesson with a writing prompt pulling concepts from the previous few lessons, but instead I put these directions on the board...

Answer the following questions as honestly as you can based on how you feel right at this moment...
1) What is the single greatest video game of all time that carved the path for the evolution of gaming? 

2)  What was the worst game you ever played, and what system was it for? 

3) If you could rate the level of frustration about not having a snow day on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the point at which your inner hulk takes over causing you to spike your controller on the floor) what would it be? 

4) Would you rather learn how to code video games, or continue learning about the awesome meteorologic concepts I had in store for you today? 

I'll give you one guess what 99% of all my students put for question 4.

OK, long story short, I moved the hour of code to that moment, and the buy-in was phenomenal.

Everyone was working well together, the moods were upbeat,  they were excited to learn, and wanted to learn more. A few students skipped the break between blocks to stay in the science computer lab to do more, instead of socializing with friends. I have had students stay behind before to finish up a lab, or finish a thought on a paper, or finish tweaking some design, but usually the attitude is all business. This was different, this was pure enjoyment, excitement, and learning at that Utopian level you read about and build up in your mind, until that first day on the job when you are violently hurled back to reality.

The point is, the Hour Of Code is an amazing tool to engage students in learning and understanding the need for coders. What was once stereotyped as "geek," transformed into something socially acceptable among teenagers, to the point of trending. If you haven't participated in the hour of code, all I can say have one day left for this year, sign up for next year, and in the mean time direct students to codecademy to learn more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sparkline in Google Sheets

Being without internet for a significant amount of time, has changed my perspective of technology use in education. I was victim to this attitude and I see it with many colleagues; since I have access, I just assumed that all my students do as well. As soon as I lost access, I realized that there are still folks out there who have no service at home or have limited access, for various reasons. This helped me redirect my efforts to really enhance technology use in the classroom only, and not push to hard for use outside of school. Not everyone can get online outside of the building. With this new paradigm shift as I finally have service back, I decided to share a nice feature added to Google spreadsheets, that helped make teaching data analysis a bit easier today.

I stumbled upon this great feature today with some students. I had them analyzing weather data for trends to determine how air pressure, humidity, temperature and general conditions are related. They were pouring through three months of data pulled from the Wunderground archives. Students were expected to grab the CSV format data for three consecutive months of this calendar year and dump it into a Google spreadsheet to identify and describe correlations between specific data points. Typically I have students sort data, and create various charts and graphs to help them visualize the relationships, but the new Sparkline feature in a single cell, helped to streamline this process. If you are unfamiliar with this option, all it lets you do is insert a small little trend line in a cell that graphically displays the data selected. Dealing with 3 months of data (which is about 90 days worth of numbers), this tiny visualization quickly showed students if factors were increasing or decreasing. They were then able to use this tiny bit of information to help them analyze larger graphs to draw better conclusions. (On a side note, I still had students struggling with expressing their conclusions through good scientific writing, but they will get there).

So, here's how to use this nice new feature.

  1. Create a Google Sheet
  2. Input some line or column of data
  3. At the end of the cell type "=Sparkline" and let the built in google helper take over from there. 
  4. This function will drop a nice little graphical represnetaion of your data in the cell. There is some information lacking, but it will show you general increases or decreases in data. Students loved it. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Internet Service Provider

For those of you that follow this blog, sorry for the delay in posts, recently. Our internet line outside of the house broke in half in a recent winter storm and we are still without service. It is a frustrating experience when the only provider in the area is Fairpoint, who clearly does not work to try and meet customer need and return service as quickly as possible.

 Here I am; a technology nerd who likes to offer free advice, tips, and tricks about using these tools with students, stuck without any connection to the world wide web. OK, I have a cell phone, but the data package is small, and ridiculously expensive if you exceed your data limit. So, what am I to do without access to the amazing online tools?

It has been an interesting experience, I now understand the frustration of students who also have no service at home for various reasons. It makes me wonder if the push for more technology in education is worth while, when the communications system is so ancient that one storm could render you without service for days, or in my case months. How can I be available to assist my students, who I've pushed to use so many online tools and expect to have classroom updates on Google classroom every night? It has been an eye opening experience to realize that there may be too much technology dependence in education. While I await Fairpiont to finally do some work, which looks like they won't do anything until spring, I need to figure out how to include technology without having access myself. Should be an interesting challenge.