Specialists' Reflections: Heather French

Specialists’ Reflections: Heather French
Posted on 11/06/2014
By Heather French, Technology Specialist at Cambridgeport

Last year in this newsletter, I covered why it is important for students to have exposure to programming (you can find that article here: http://bit.ly/1p6jhjb). Programming teaches problem solving, pattern recognition, computational thinking, digital confidence, and creativity. Which is why during December 7th - 13th, Computer Science Week students will be participating in an Hour Of Code at Cambridgeport!

This year I aim to provide you with resources for your students to continue to code outside of school. I have found the most helpful “languages” for K-5 to be visual programming languages. This means that instead of writing text like: moveForward(); students are using blocks like this  move forward  or even this  arrow   to tell a character what to do.

Do you have a tablet or smartphone? Students from preschool through third grade can benefit from these app based programs (listed starting with the easiest): 
-Bee-Bot is an app that teaches very basic computational thinking without text.
-Kodable teaches the basics of programming through a leveled self-guided game (also without text).
-By using Lightbot Jr. students learn to write instructions, debug problem areas, and use loops.
-Scratch Jr. is more open to creativity; while only using a small amount of text students can create stories and games.  
-Daisy the Dinosaur lets the user play freely or take on the challenges of programming Daisy using simple text blocks such as “jump”, “grow”, or “spin to concur different levels.
-Lightbot uses image blocks, loops and conditional statements, to solve puzzles.
-In the Tynker app, students have three different storylines to explore where they will learn to use logic and loop variations to help a lost puppy and an astronaut navigate Earth and space and draw complex geometric shapes using simple commands. 

Do you have access to a computer? Computer-based programs that are appropriate for second through sixth grade students include: 
-Lightbot which also has a web-based program that will teach different aspects of programming such as loops and conditional (if-then) statements in a simple format.
-Tynker offers course based programming at three different difficulty levels and includes structured, self-paced, guided tutorials.
-Scratch is a web-based program from MIT and has a great “Getting Started Guide” here: http://bit.ly/1zNq1a0. You can also find great resources when you search for “Scratch Cards” or “Scratch Starter Projects”.
-Many of the Code.org tutorials are also appropriate for this age range. 

Is your student ready for the next level? We are incredibly fortunate to have so many excellent resources in the area.
-ID Tech at MIT for summer programs on game design, app development, robotics and programming.
-The Innovation Institute has after-school and vacation programs based in STEAM, creativity, and problem solving.
-And Empow has afterschool and summer programs that teach and explore programming, robotics, video game design, animation, and audio engineering. 

Need help finding anything mentioned in this article? Do you have questions about where to start or what program is the right fit for your student? Just want to talk about Technology in Education? Feel free to contact me: [email protected].

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