Yes, K-2 Can!

I often hear comments like those below when I talk about teaching programming in Kindergarten through 2nd grade.

“Kindergarten students can’t program. They aren’t reading.”

“How can they program when they can’t type yet?”

“Is it even age-appropriate to ask primary aged students to program?”

You would think these comments would be from people who do not work with students in these grades, but that is not always the case. Computer science and programming can be scary to teachers who have not been trained in what CS is and what it looks like for 5-8 year old students. 

One of the most common misconceptions I run into about programming in K-2 is that programming looks like this:

class HelloWorld 	
    public static void main(String args[]) 
        System.out.println("Hello, World"); 

Yes, that is programming but that kind of programming would not be age-appropriate for primary grades. Fortunately, programming does not look like that for 5-8 year olds.

Programming in K-2 is ….

Visual and block-based

Image result for scratchjr

Hands-on and not necessarily on a screen

All About Sequencing …
Sequencing is an important skill for students in all curricular areas. In reading, sequencing is the ability to recognize the beginning, middle, and end of a story along with being able to retell the events in the proper order. In math, sequencing is important for counting, pattern recognition, and the order in which computation should occur. In science, sequencing is important when conducting experiments and in social studies, sequencing helps students to understand the order of events. Learning to program reinforces the idea of sequencing since programs run in sequence and the order in which code is organized determines what happens in a program.

Cross-Curricular …
Programming in primary grades is often cross-curricular. There are so many ways students can use programming to show what they know across the curriculum. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Use robots to:
    • Identify and spell words (sight words, word families, vocabulary)
    • Retell stories
    • Show math knowledge: for example, roll dice and have students add or subtract values and then program a robot to the correct answer
    • Navigate a map
    • Illustrate a lifecycle
  • Write programs in ScratchJr (or in Scratch, if students are reading) to:
    • Tell an original story
    • Animate a lifecycle
    • Tell about an animal or an important person
    • Animate a word problem in math

Programming in K-2 is also collaborative and creative and teaches students to problem solve and persevere. So, yes, learning how to program is age-appropriate and beneficial for K-2 students and yes, they can do it!

Vicky Sedgwick K-8 Teacher Representative

Thinking about Reflection

I have always loved this quote by Seymour Papert: 

“You can’t think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something.”

It always leads me to wonder what students are thinking about their thinking as they are learning. Are they able to think about and grasp the concepts they are learning as they write a game in Scratch or program a step counter on a micro:bit or build and program a robot? Are they able to understand what they have learned and transfer it to a new programming environment? What can we do as teachers to help our students to think about their thinking so they can understand what they are learning? 

To make reflection a normal part of the process for my students, each student has a portfolio website for sharing and reflecting on the projects and activities they complete during their technology classes. My youngest students use Seesaw for sharing their work. Starting in 3rd grade, my students use Google Sites for their portfolios. This allows the students to not only think about their thinking and reflect on their current work but it lets them look back at their thinking in prior years, as well. 

I decided to use these types of portfolios for a few reasons:

  • Reflecting on and documenting their work may help to meet computer science standards, including:
    • 1A-AP-15: Using correct terminology, describe steps taken and choices made during the iterative process of program development.
    • 1A-IC-17: Work respectfully and responsibly with others online.
    • 1B-AP-17: Describe choices made during program development using code comments, presentations, and demonstrations.
  • Since the students are writing during their computer science classes, it may also help them to improve their writing skills and meet language arts standards as well – CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2: Write informative / explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately …
  • Their portfolio shows their growth over the years.

It can be difficult to get students to think about their work. To help, younger students are given sentence stems to complete or are asked to answer certain specific questions when they post their work. They will also often record their answers rather than typing in their answers like Natalie did when she was in 1st grade talking about Hello, Ruby lessons

Upper elementary and middle school students are still given questions and other guidance to help them focus on their thinking and learning but the amount of guidance decreases dependent on the grade level and ability of the student.

3rd Grade Girl Scratch Project Reflection
4th Grade Boy Scratch Project Reflection

Check out a 7th grade girl’s reflections on working with micro:bits.

While I love using student websites or blogs as a vehicle for students to think about their thinking and reflect on their learning, it’s not always possible to do so. It also does increase the time required to finish an assignment or project. This got me thinking about other less time intensive ways for students to reflect on their learning and serendipitously this popped up on Twitter:

I love the idea of using a simple checklist document to help students reflect on what they are actually learning. This could easily be printed or turned into a Google Form and used as an exit ticket in the last few minutes of class. 

How are your students thinking about their thinking and reflecting on their learning?

Vicky Sedgwick K-8 Teacher Representative

Are You Ready for #CSTA2019?

I am counting down the days to the 2019 CSTA Annual Conference. How about you?

My countdown actually began at the start of the month when we held a special #csk8 Twitter chat about Getting the Most from #CSTA2019. Here’s some of the wisdom shared during and after the chat to help you make the most of the conference!

Why should CS teachers & teachers of CS attend the 2019 CSTA Conference?

For me, a CSTA conference is THE place to be because I don’t have to search the schedule for sessions that are CS related – they’re ALL CS related.

This will be the largest CSTA Annual Conference ever. Come & make history with us!

I think CS teachers & teachers of CS should attend #CSTA2019 because it’s a great opportunity to network. I always meet so many amazing educators at this conference and gain a plethora of resources to use in my classroom.

I went for the first time last year, and really felt like it was the BEST PD/conference I attended all summer. We have so much available freely and online, but there was just something AWESOME about connecting with other CS educators in person.

If you’ll be in Phoenix before Tuesday when sessions begin and you’re not attending pre-conference workshops or the Chapter Leadership Summit, what can you do to get your learning started and/or to network with fellow attendees?

Visit the exhibit hall on Monday afternoon and evening – yes, it’s open before the conference officially starts and during the conference, of course!

My favorite thing before sessions start on Tuesday are the Birds-of-a-Feather sessions on Monday evening – casual conversations with like-minded CS educators! Yes, you can go to these even if you didn’t register for any workshops.

Come early and earn a certification in the Certiport Lab which is open on Monday from noon – 5pm and during the conference, if you aren’t in Phoenix early.

Don’t forget the Welcome Reception on Monday evening starting at 5:30pm.

How do you choose from the 40+ sessions, 3 mini-session blocks w/8 minis, and 12 posters at #CSTA2019?

Posters are new this year. Definitely stop by these to see the amazing projects that CS teachers are doing in their classrooms.

Go for variety. Try some sessions that include ideas/topics that you may have never considered.

If you are attending with others from your school or district, split up and attend different sessions and share what you learned!

Use the filters on program to search by keyword for topics and grade levels.

I’m a planner and like to go through the program before a conference and make a list of all of the sessions I would like to attend and that apply to the grade levels I teach. I can’t possibly go to them all but I can use the list to check for resources that may have been shared later.

What suggestions do you have for networking and social activities after conference hours?

There will be a Whiteboard in the registration area where you can add after hour plans or see what others are planning and sign up if you’re interested in joining. Make sure to check it out!

Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself & to network with others. CSTA Conference attendees are the best! Ask around as to what is going on. Just do it!

Grab some peers to network and celebrate Taco Tuesday. It’s a great way to experience Phoenix like a local!

If you’re doing something with a group, invite someone new along.

Is there anything else you would like to share about getting the most from the 2019 CSTA Conference?

Make sure to exchange contact information with people that you meet at #CSTA2019 … maybe even bring a business card with contact information that you can hand out.

I LOVE learning about awesome, free curriculum available to all CS educators. We will have an incredible array of offerings for our kiddos right at our fingertips in the exhibit hall. The exhibitors do a great job showing off those tools!

Go up and say “hi” to people. Don’t be afraid to join a discussion!

Be sure to play the Conference Game. Not only will it be lots of fun but it will give you reasons to talk to people!

Don’t just sit with friends at meals. Find someone in a session you attend to have lunch with or ask to join others at a table.

There you have it … some crowd-sourced ideas to help you have a great CSTA 2019 Conference. I thank the #csk8 chatters for their ideas and their ongoing support of the #csk8 Twitter chat. I can’t wait to see them and all of you in Phoenix! If you’re not able to be there, make sure to follow all the fun on the #CSTA2019 hashtag!

Vicky Sedgwick K-8 Teacher Representative

You Are NOT Alone!

You might be a specialist in your school and the only one teaching computer science. You might be one of the few classroom teachers at your school or at your grade level integrating computer science into your instruction. You might be the math or science teacher who was just asked to also teach computer science. Your school might be integrating computer science at all grade levels and you and your colleagues have questions about best practices in teaching computer science. You may have been teaching computer science for some time but feel overwhelmed by all the options we have today.

Where can you go to feel supported and ask those questions that come up? Questions like:

How can I fit computer science into the already overcrowded school day? What is the best way to teach 1st graders about networks and the Internet? When should my students be moving from block-based coding to a text-based language? How can I meet the needs of my class when I have students who have never coded and students who are already programming proficiently in one or more languages? And so many more…

In my opinion nothing can beat face-to-face connections and CSTA provides some exceptional options for this. You really must plan to attend the annual CSTA Conference. It is an amazing experience, and the perfect place to meet and make connections with others who are doing exactly what you are. The next conference is scheduled for July 7-10, 2019 in Phoenix, AZ. This conference is only once a year, but you can keep those face-to-face connections going by getting involved with your local CSTA chapter and some regions are starting to hold regional conferences as well!

What about those times between chapter meetings and conferences? If you have questions today, you don’t want to have to wait until your next CSTA chapter meeting or the next conference to get them answered. I have never met some of amazing CS teachers who I consider mentors, colleagues, and friends. Most of my connections with other computer science teachers have been made online even if I have, subsequently, met them at a conference or other event.

Where can you go online to add to your community of computer science teachers? I recommend both Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter was the first place that I made connections with other K-8 teachers of computer science and you can, too! The K-8 Teacher Representatives from the CSTA Board of Directors moderate regularly scheduled chats on Twitter on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of most months during the school year. You can follow along or join using the #csk8 hashtag! Each chat has a specific topic, and the chats are archived if you happen to miss one. The best thing is that the hashtag is used by K-8 CS teachers to share about what they are doing, and to ask questions of other K-8 CS teachers all the time, not just during the chat.

Twitter is awesome, but it is also very public, the length of a post is limited, and it can be difficult to follow ongoing conversations depending on how people reply. We, the K-8 reps on the CSTA Board, wanted a place for an inclusive, online community of K-8 teachers of CS – a place where teachers could share the amazing things they are doing in their classrooms, ask for and give help, and keep conversations going all year. At the CSTA Conference in July 2018, we asked some of the K-8 teachers who were in attendance where they thought this community should be. For most, this was Facebook. In August 2018, the CSTAK8 Group was launched! We would love to have you join us there to help build our community.

You don’t have to be or feel alone. Make some connections online and offline!

Vicky Sedgwick
K-8 Teacher Representative

It’s Conference Season!

Ah, summertime – a time for rest and relaxation. For educators, summer is also often a time for professional development. A highlight of my summer PD each year is the annual CSTA Conference. I love a conference where I don’t have to search the program trying to find computer science sessions. With the start of the conference only a little over a week a way, my conference planning has begun!

Do you make a plan for a conference before you attend? I’m not talking about planning a session or workshop, if you are a presenter. I am talking about planning your experience as an attendee. I do.

Before going to a conference, I read the conference program and create a document of the sessions that I think I would like to attend. I include information from the conference program along with any resources that have been shared for the session. I also try to find links to the presenters which might include their Twitter handles, LinkedIn profile, website, etc. This helps me to follow up after the conference if I didn’t get information from a session during the conference. My list of sessions always includes more than I could possibly physically attend so I rely on crowd-sourcing to get information on sessions I can’t actually attend.

During the conference:

  • If I am attending with colleagues, we get together to make sure to attend different sessions. Then, we all add information to a collaborative document for those sessions. I can then use that to update my document.
  • I share my document on Twitter using the conference hashtag and ask for collaborators. This lets people who are in the room contribute pictures, notes, and other resources from the sessions that I can’t physically attend.
  • I use the document to watch for tweets from those sessions I’m not in and add the information to my document as the conference progresses. If I see people tweet about a session without much information, I will reply to their tweet asking for links to resources so I can add them to the document.
  • I also use the document to see where I want or need to be. I don’t know about you but often sessions at conferences can spark a curiosity that I didn’t have before. This means I might want to change my mind on which sessions I attend as the conference progresses. It’s nice to have all the sessions I might be interested in on one document rather than having to click multiple times to see descriptions of sessions on the actual program.

For this year’s CSTA conference, I have included the sessions from the program that are applicable to K-8 CS on my document. I always try to check my document against the conference program just before the conference starts because there are sometimes room changes or cancellations.

Have you ever missed something at a conference that you meant to attend? To try to avoid this, I add any workshops, sessions, meet-ups, etc. that I am definitely attending, presenting, or proctoring to my Google Calendar. Then, I have reminders sent to me at whatever interval I like which is typically 15 minutes to 30 minutes before something is scheduled to start. This helps me to be where I am committed to be.

What are you waiting for? The 2018 CSTA Conference starts in just over a week. Create your own #CSTA2018 resources document for the conference and add your must attend events to your calendar.

What if you’re not attending the 2018 CSTA Conference? No problem, you can still create your own document of sessions that you would have liked to attend and follow along on Twitter using the #csta2018 hashtag to collect resources from the sessions. I have done this the last few years for the ISTE Conference, which I have not attended. It is amazing what you can learn from a conference even when you’re not physically there. Create your own #NOTATcsta2018 document and follow along virtually!

Vicky Sedgwick
K-8 Teacher Representative

Ethics in K-8 Computer Science

I’m sure you’ve seen them. New headlines related to ethics and computer science seem to appear daily.

What does all this have to do with teaching computer science to 5-14 year-olds? Ethics should be integral to teaching computer science, regardless of the age of students.

With great power comes great responsibility

Our students are creating with computer science which gives them great power. We need to make sure that they also understand the great responsibility of that power. How can we do this? My first resource when I ask myself this question is the CSTA K–12 Computer Science Standards.

Ages 5-7
Yes, even our youngest students need to be aware of the ethics of computing. At this level, the focus is on ownership. Just as our students learn to protect their possessions and respect the property of others off-line, they need to learn to do this online, as well.

  • 1A-NI-04 Explain what passwords are and why we use them, and use strong passwords to protect devices and information from unauthorized access.
  • 1A-AP-13 Give attribution when using the ideas and creations of others while developing programs.
  • 1A-IC-18 Keep login information private, and log off of devices appropriately.

Ages 8-11
As students mature, they are able to recognize and consider others’ viewpoints which provides opportunities to explore the ethics of computing more deeply. We can use current events, like some of those mentioned above, to bring ethical discussions into the classroom. Students create and often share computational artifacts at this level. They should think about the users who will use what they create and the impact it can have on those users.

  • 1B-NI-05 Discuss real-world cybersecurity problems and how personal information can be protected.
  • 1B-AP-14 Observe intellectual property rights and give appropriate attribution when creating or remixing programs.
  • 1B-IC-19 Brainstorm ways to improve the accessibility and usability of technology products for the diverse needs and wants of users.
  • 1B-IC-20 Seek diverse perspectives for the purpose of improving computational artifacts.
  • 1B-IC-21 Use public domain or creative commons media, and refrain from copying or using material created by others without permission.

Ages 11-14
Students at this level can explore bigger ethical questions because they can better understand the perspective of others as well as the perspective of society. This lets them grapple with ethical questions like: Who is collecting data on them and what are they doing with it? What should the students do with data they are collecting through programs they have created? Are the technologies they are creating accessible by all?

  • 2-IC-20 Compare tradeoffs associated with computing technologies that affect people’s everyday activities and career options.
  • 2-IC-21 Discuss issues of bias and accessibility in the design of existing technologies.
  • 2-IC-23 Describe tradeoffs between allowing information to be public and keeping information private and secure.

Interested in continuing discussions on teaching ethics in the computer science classroom? Join us on Twitter for #csk8 chat where ethics often enters into the discussion and check out #ethicalCS.

Vicky Sedgwick
K-8 Teacher Representative

Reading Stories in Computer Science Class

Stories are an entertaining way to introduce or reinforce computer science concepts and help students to understand abstract concepts in a more concrete way. Do you read picture books, chapter books, or short stories to your students in computer science classes? I do. The easiest way to get started is with books that are specifically written to teach CS concepts.
For 5-8-year-olds, Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas is a wonderful place to start. Written to introduce young children to computing, it is a picture book about a “small girl with a huge imagination.” As Ruby goes on adventures, students learn about planning, sequences, algorithms, collaboration, conditionals, loops, and more. The book includes activities that go along with the story, and the official website has resources for educators. Linda Liukas has also written a second book, Hello Ruby: Journey Inside the Computer, which includes activities about the internal parts of a computer.
A graphic novel for 8-12-year-olds that covers multiple CS concepts is Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes. It is the first in a series of books that combine logic puzzles and coding (in Logo) wrapped up in a mystery storyline. The official website has downloadable activities and Logo instruction videos so your students can code along with the characters if desired. Check out the excerpt on the website for a fun introduction to binary. The concepts in the book can easily be applied to any programming language you are using with your students.

The comic book, The Cynja, by Chase Cunningham,‎ Heather C. Dahl, and Shirow Di Rosso was written for younger children, but I like it for introducing Networks and Cybersecurity for Middle School students. The Cynja is a story of a battle between the evil forces of cyberspace and the Cynsei and his apprentice, the Cynja. Code of the Cynja, the second comic in the series, has a female lead character. These are difficult to get in print, but digital versions are available on Amazon and in the Google Play Store.

Don’t limit yourself just to books written about computer science concepts. Working on decomposition skills? Read a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Then work with students to decompose it and build a decision tree. Talk about how conditionals allow it to work and have students create their own “Choose Your Own Adventure” program. The Fly on the Ceiling by Julie Glass is a fun book to introduce the coordinate plane. After reading it, students could create a Scratch project to draw their initials using glide commands with x and y coordinates. Read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and have students retell the story with Bee-Bot or write a ScratchJr project about the life cycle of the butterfly. Look around and see what books are available at your school and find ways to use them in your computer science classes.

Are you reading stories to students in your computer science classroom? We would love to hear about it!

Vicky Sedgwick K-8 Teacher Representative