Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Computer Science Day 6 - Their First code.org Experience!

Well, we've reached that point! Fifth graders are finally on laptops, plugging away at solving puzzles using algorithms!

Today's lesson began with a quick refresher on algorithms from our last session, when students used grids and programming commands to make pictures. For homework, students had to design their own multi-colored picture and write the algorithm for how to make it. Today, we switched algorithms with a classmate and followed their program to re-create the picture.

Many students struggled with this. Algorithms quickly got complicated, since pictures were in at least two colors. I don't know if students had enough time to really practice and understand how multi-colored pictures work. I think next time I teach this lesson, all our examples will be multi-colored, just to get students really familiar with that notion.

We talked about "Off By One" errors and how one small mistake early in the code can have disastrous results. Students worked with a partner to try to identify and fix these mistakes, and there was a valuable discussion about errors - were they made by the person following the program, or were they made by the person writing the program? I could see a bit of discomfort on students' faces when I told them that, on the computer, the only one who can make mistakes is the STUDENT writing the program; some of these fifth graders aren't used to being incorrect!

Once we had homework out of the way, we got onto code.org to work through Course 2 Stage 3. Aside from some Wi-Fi issues in one classroom, it went off without a hitch! We had signed up students beforehand and printed out little slips of paper with login information (we had students also write this info in an assignment planner as a back-up), so all they had to do was grab a laptop, go to the URL, click their name, and enter their secret words!

One of my favorite things about having the students complete the code.org puzzles in class is looking around the class at everyone's face. Students who are normally disengaged or disruptive are completely enthralled with their screen, figuring out the best way to solve the puzzle. As the class progresses and puzzles get more difficult, the noise level tends to rise a bit as students check in with each other trying to figure solutions. Kids are fully engaged and excited, all the while learning some valuable skills and honing their problem-solving abilities.

I might have to think through a different format for these posts once we're totally immersed in the online environment, since there's really not a ton to say about this lesson. Code.org videos taught the important skills, and I didn't have to come up with any clever ways of keeping kids engaged since they already WANTED to be learning!

Next up is another pencil-and-paper lesson on algorithms again. Code.org has a lesson on paper airplanes, but I'm still trying to weight the benefits and the drawbacks of teaching students better ways of creating distracting objects...
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