You Totally Have Time for #HourOfCode

It’s here!  This coming week is the big Hour of Code.  You might be thinking, ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that?’ Or, maybe you’re like me, thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is my superbowl!”   Either way, whether you have an entire coding curriculum in your classroom, or have never even understood what the heck the coding revolution is all about, there is something out there for you to encourage your kiddos to try… no planning, no purchasing. Just an activity that will get it started.  There is likely a kid or ten in your classroom that thinks in the visually goodness way that coding speaks to. Trust me, often kids that are struggling in some areas, find success in coding.  Doesn’t that make it worth trying in the classroom?

Here are five ways to incorporate Hour of Code THIS week…. or the week after, whether you have one device or a class set.

1.)  Paper Coding.

On index cards, create arrows of Turn Right, Turn Left, Forward, Backward.  On the floor, use the floor tiles or use masking tape to create a grid.  Depending on what you are learning about in class, create a game board with the grid.  For example, Oregon Trail?  Add obstacles on the grid like a river, a rock, a moutain– all things students will have to navigate around.  Students write the program by laying the cards out, and another student follows the program by moving through the sequence on the floor. Young students could practice letter recognition, find numbers by rolling a dice, or even sight words.  Older students could create their own board with a historical topic, make cards to draw a task like, “Navigate from the mountain, across the river, and stop at the bridge.”    Oh, there’s no device even involved.  Just teamwork, creativity, collaboration… and fun.  This could also work on a small scale using grid paper and moving objects.

Fractus Learning offer these FREE PDF printables for coding games and some great suggestions for other paper coding!

Space Paper Coding Example

2.) Websites has three amazing ready to use tutorials that kids can partner up and try out for some collaborative fun, or dive in on their own.  Minecraft, Star Wars, and Frozen make the tasks fun and interactive, but the idea is to introduce kids to the basics of coding.  Do it along with your students and you’ll be surprised at how much fun coding is.  It’s certainly not just a boring bunch of numbers and letters like I once thought.  No experience necessary.

Scratch.  Scratch has to be one of the most underused and overly awesome things online.  I know why – it’s a bit confusing to a teacher that doesn’t have a lot of spare time to take a look at coding sites.  But have no fear!  Scratch has you covered– they offer FREE Scratch Cards for you to download and print.  And guess what, with NO experience on your part, you can hand these to your kids, and ask them to figure it out. And you will learn right along with them.  Once they start discovering what Scratch can do, they’ll be hooked.   Scratch also has an amazing little set of easy tutorials to help kiddos begin to understand coding.  Be sure to check out last years “Create a Holiday Card” tutorial… it’s a fun one, too.   So how can Scratch fit into your overpacked curriculum?  The skills it reinforces, among them creativity, collaboration, problem solving, also include tons of math skills (number sense, time, measurement, angles, shapes), could easily be used to reinforce understanding in a science or social studies topic, or could be a springboard to a creative writing project because of the interactivity. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination!   NOTE: Scratch Jr. is also available as an app, and definitely one to check out for the younger crowd.

3.) Apps

Hopscotch:  A great app to begin coding with. Similar to Scratch.
BeeBot:  Now you can code with BeeBots on an iPad, whether you own the BeeBot robots or not.

Daisy the Dinosaur: Created by Hopscotch, another fun one. Daisy is cute, too.

And to look for a few more, check out Common Sense Media Coding Apps.  This is a must use site for vetting apps and websites for the classroom or even your own kiddos at home.  Excellent rating systems and they keep it up to date.

4.) Videos

What is coding?   Great little intro for primary and elementary ages.

What is coding?  Good intro for Upper Elementary.

Should Everyone Learn to Code?   Very cool way to show kids the possibilities of the cool careers that coding involves.  Would be excellent for upper elementary and middle school.





It’s So Wrong

Every once in a while I get fired up.  Like, you borrowed my Sharpies and broke the tips… THAT fired up.  On the drive home today it was one of those moments.  Why?  Because this week has been AWESOME.  I mean, like, learning on fire awesome.   It’s left me thinking, why doesn’t this happen at all schools?  How can we get everyone back to authentic learning?

002Science and social studies are far too often tossed aside to squeeze in time spent reading boring stories from basal texts. Why?  Science and social studies ARE great reading content.  Why can’t that reading be “reading class” if you must label your subjects?  Writing could tie into the Science topic or the Social Studies through writing diaries, journals, lab reports.   Writing letters?  Write to Congressman about causes you care about, write to family to ask about where they live.  Blog. Share writing with the world… what more authentic way to check your grammar is their than hitting “Publish.”

While the world debates things like “Is it STEM or STEAM?” or “Where do I post the list of standards I’m teaching?” we’re missing precious moments.  Moments kids will never get back.  Moments where they could be dreaming, growing, being curious, creating, and most of all? Learning.

School should be a place where kids are running to get in and not wanting to leave when it’s over.

001Kids should leave school with more ideas than they bring with them in the morning.

Kids need to experience that feeling of making something… whether it’s a book, a poem, a cardboard castle. That exhilaration of DOING and BUILDING something you worked on?  It inspires more learning.
I don’t even think this probably makes sense.  But today, at the end of a long day, when a kid was thrilled with his amazing historical artifact he was building, his eyes were all lit up and he said, “I’m so beyond excited about how this is turning out,”  I thought, “Me, too.”

And then I drove home. Thinking about all the kids in schools across America that need the opportunity for their eyes to light up, and instead get handed a test booklet or a laptop to take more tests.  And that’s really even more wrong than broken-tipped Sharpies.








MAKE Reading More

article-2345458-187B8C72000005DC-425_634x624Yesterday I came across a screenshot from Willy Wonka, the original, and I thought of how the movie both inspired me and creeps me out at the same time. So many bizarre moments, yet so much imagination.  From zooming through that creepy tunnel to the scary orange makeup on the Oompa Loompas, I still want to run through that edible room and eat whipped cream from a mushroom cap. And as a kid who did not enjoy reading (sorry folks, it’s true, I despised reading) I loved Roald Dahl books.  So what does all of this have to do with making in the classroom?  It gave me an epiphany.

Source: Stanford D School

Source: Stanford D School


Design thinking! Yes, the process:  Empathy. Define. Ideate. Prototype. Test.   It lends itself to real-world problem solving, but little kids love imagination.  Why not combine the two?  What if kids were asked to meld together their favorite books with big problems, and solve them…  Design a new candy machine for Wonka.  Invent a contraption that keeps Charlie from bumping his head on the fan in the Fizzy Lifting Drinks room.   Ask students to find a problem in the story and solve it with their own invention.

While I think the beauty of design thinking is in the real-world application of it, I also think there is beauty in getting kids to interact authentically with fiction.  You’re opening the door to creativity, imagination, a new level of comprehension.  And I have to admit, the non-reading kid stuck inside me would have loved the chance to do this.
I love thinking about how we can inject more chances for kids to practice empathy in the classroom and what better way than to use these larger than life characters to help them understand someone else’s point of view.

These character cards I created for my own school, you are welcome to print and use with your own students, could help kids (and you!) get started with the process.  But in the long run, have them develop the character profiles, think about the problems the character has, and you’ve just created a more authentic way for kids to build character trait profiles about favorite books.   It’s not just about listing a few things about the character, but really understanding WHO they are. Because, when you are designing for someone else, you really have to dig into WHO they are.

And even IF they are an imaginary character, it can lead to a really powerful learning experience for students.  Filled with problem solving, building, collaboration, sharing, presenting, and most of all? Fun.

And a little fun now and then… well, Wonka himself said it best…nonesene

The Launch of a Makerspace

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.18.11 PM

This past week our learning space transformation was revealed and The Launch Pad is open for business.  My fingers are still stinging from the glue gun burns and fingernails stained with enamel spray paint, but the ribbon was cut and the door was open for our teachers and students.  As kids were coming in, seeing the room for the first time after months of anticipation, I got to watch their eyes light up, again and again.  And that?  It’s what learning should be.   Shouldn’t we blow kids minds sometimes (or as Kevin Jarrett said… often?), and then give them opportunities to blow our minds, too?  Of course we should.













I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this classroom.  It’s a cross between the classroom I dreamed of having when I was an 8 year old buried in a pile of worksheets, and the classroom based on awesome planning and learning from the team of innovative colleagues I’m surrounded by daily.  People who push me, inspire me, support me, and who remind me what matters.


The days, weeks, and months ahead will be filled with challenges, rethinking, integrating, transforming, making, creating, and most of all…. learning.   It’s exciting to think about all that lies ahead.

On the giant Apple Watch hanging on the wall is a quote by Steve Jobs that reads, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”  The kind of work that drives you to reach into your soul, wakes you up in the middle of the night with ideas you have to write down, and pushes your thinking until your brain hurts in the best way possible.   Work where creativity is not only invited, but innovation is expected.   Work that will be messy, and difficult, and hard.  And it’s that very thing that makes it awesome and totally worth it.






classcastle4I used to have a wall in my classroom where I had the game “Castleopoly” hanging on the wall. I won’t go into what I used the game for, so how wrong I now feel I was for focusing so very much on bribing my students to “do the right thing,” that’s another post for another day.   I woke up yesterday morning thinking about that game and I wondered, what if there were a maker version of Monopoly.  So I made one… Makeropoly.

And now I’m trying to figure out how it could be used for some creative fun.  A regular ol’ game of Monopoly is fun, but should this one be a traditional style Monopoly where players collect cards?  McDonald’s style Monopoly game where you try to complete your gameboard by trying out the items on the cards?  Instead of collecting properties, players try out the things they land on?  Should the items on the cards be actual things that are available for players to use in the space?

Maybe to get of “Jail” aka “Makerspace” you have to draw a “Makerspace” card and create something.

I’m creating “Creative Challenge Cards” and 8 “Tool Box” Cards. Those will be fun, quick challenges to build, create, and use Design Thinking in a fun way.

So why am I sharing this when it’s not even a fully developed idea?  Because I was hoping you would help.  I’ve created a Google Doc where we can crowdsource our ideas for this game. In return?  I’ll finish it up and package it as a printer friendly PDF and post it here for free use in your own school, home, or space…


I Stand With Ahmed


Here’s to the kids,  restless and dreaming,

to create something new, their sparkling eyes gleaming.

The kids who will think outside of the book,

In a place curiosity keeps making them look.

Deeper and farther, thoughts big and small,

beyond just a grade, ideas from them all.

Build and design, remix and revamp,

Their passions deserve an approval stamp.

The kids who build clocks of wires and parts,

The kids for who making beats in their hearts.

School for all kids, no matter the learning they love,

Whether it’s deep in the ocean, or the stars high above.

We can’t wait any longer to change what we do,

There are kids who are waiting, and counting on you.

Dreaming and doing, and thinking and more,

Engineering designs, and innovation galore.

Let’s make the space where they all can thrive,

One where creating means coming alive,

For every kid with ideas, let it be said,

For the love of all learning, I stand with Ahmed.

For the record, I Stand With Ahmed.  And it’s time for schools to become the places we know they can and they need to be.  Kids ARE waiting.