4 Ways to be Part of #HourofCode 2015 at my Library

Happy #HourofCode week!

For my library, this week is an anniversary. One year ago I began incorporating coding into our programs for kids and teens. Being able to code is a 21st century skill and fun, so the library is a natural place to offer opportunities to try coding and resources to take learning one step further. Coding lets kids and teens create media, instead of just consume it, which gives them a new platform for storytelling. Coding, and even hacking, also allows them to understand, actively participate in and help shape community conversations, many of which happen in the digital environment.

For those of you who may still be a little fearful of dabbling in code, just go for it! Use the idea of designing kid/teen programming as an excuse to learn a new skill. Be a lifelong learner! The basics are easy for most and the results are worth it.

So what am I doing this week? There are 4 ways to be part of the Hour of Code at my library:

  • Design a basic video game at the weekly Maker Club on Thursday, Dec 10, 3:30-5:30 (for ages 10-13) (We’ll be using Scratch, the Code.org tutorials, coding apps on our iPads, a Made w/Code tutorial featuring character from the movie Inside and Out. (We’ll also introduce kids to our new programmable Sphero balls at the Maker Club next week when we’ll integrate building with LEGOs to make challenge courses for the balls.)
  • Try Code.org’s Minecraft or Star Wars online coding tutorials loaded on the Kids’ Room computers. We’ve added icons next to the icons for Minecraft on the computers’ desktops in attempt to attract our afterschool Minecrafters. These free tutorials – and more – can also be accessed from anywhere HERE.
  • Create digital stories with code and the new PBSKIDS/ScratchJr app on the mounted iPad in our Kids’ Room (recommended for ages 5-8). This app is available for many tablets.
  • Check out a book on coding or programming to take home. We’ve created a list of the coding books for kids and teens that we have in our collection.

Planning a coding program and need help getting started? Check out this webinar on the #HourofCode I recently presented with my friend Daniel Cornwall at the Alaska State Library.

We’ve also created links on our website to other free resources that kids, teens and adults can explore on their own. They include:

hour-of-code-logo
codeacademy
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khan_academy
scratch_cat-250x77
codehs-250x99
edx-logo-250x100

Hour of Code: Coding for Girls

Intro to Coding for GirlsOn Saturday, I hosted a program which was part of the International Hour of Code Week (aka Computer Science Week) at my library. If you didn’t host a coding program during the celebratory week, or haven’t ever, I highly suggest you do it this week, next week or any time. The tools built for the event are available year round. Here’s why you should join the movement to get kids coding: The program combined kid appeal and learning of valuable computer skills, as well as motivated kids to create, not just consume, digital media in an informal learning environment. In less than two hours, kids were creating their own digital stories, images or tools. On top of all that, it was just plain fun.

I’ve hosted several tech related programs at our library and I regularly integrate digital media into others, even storytime. So, a coding program was a natural next step. The smart people involved with the Hour of Code make the process of introducing the concept of coding to kids pretty simple so I had the tools I needed. But how would I customize my program to meet the needs of 8-12 year old kids in my community?

I started by looking at who attended the tech programs at our library, at local schools and around town. What was already out there? What did kids want? What kids were already getting access to essential computer science (not just digital literacy) skills? What was missing? Where were the gaps? After doing some research, I started also asking where are the girls?

While the Digital Divide in terms of access is decreasing in many parts of the US, thanks in part to digital media in schools and libraries, the digital divide in terms of participation (also known as the participation or opportunity gap) is wide. (Daugherty, 2014) The participation gap involves knowing how to use the digital tool effectively to participate in, and define, our digital world.

Nationwide, girls are significantly underrepresented in Computer Science education and IT jobs. Locally, the situation is similar. Few girlsparticipate in tech-specific programs at the library and in local schools in any great numbers (outside of events sponsored by the Girl Scouts), yet knowing how to code opens up many more opportunities to create, learn, build and participate. They do however come to other programs at the library in large numbers. I had a gut feeling about why there was such a difference in girls’  attendance at the different types of programs, but I decided to do some research. After all, I wanted girls to come to the program, and more importantly, get a taste of coding and what they could do with it. After all, diversity fosters innovation.

The Research
I found excellent research results in the report, Girls in IT: The Facts, created by the National Center for Women and Information Technology and funded in part by the National Science Foundation. I also found the Made With Code site, part of the Google Initiative to create opportunities that inspire girls to code and explore Computer Science. The report Google published, Women Who Choose Computer Science- What Really Matters, discusses what influences girls who choose to learn about coding and pursue Computer Science.

Designing a Program for Girls
At the library we try to offer programs for everyone. We host storytimes for preschoolers, sponsor events for teens, coordinate an adult book club, lead a LEGO club for kids 7-12, share stories and crafts with remote neighbors in our outreach storytimes and deliver books to homebound patrons. We both design programs for our regular patrons and those who are infrequent or first time visitors. I like to think of this as providing equal access to information while also providing equitable service. Each patron needs something a bit different. I saw the girls coding program as one of many ways we connect community members with information.

There were some fundamental decisions I made to attract girls to this program.

  • Made the program for girls only so no girl was the “only girl” (along with an adult they wanted to bring to encourage joint media engagement and get adults coding too)
  • Lead the program myself, a female mentor
  • Featured nontraditional coding tutorials that include girl characters and female mentors
  • Paired girls together so the learning process was collaborative
  • Created a lab type of environment so each team could work at their own pace and have several opportunities to explore a tool deeply or move to another one, depending on their interest and expertise
  • Fostered the social aspect of the program- the opening activity we did together got girls talking and gave everyone a chance to to get to know each other in a fun way

Yes, most of these individual program elements could easily apply to any program, and will when I repeat the Intro to Coding program for boys and girls in February. But, in combination, it created a program environment that research shows makes girls feel more comfortable and supported so I decided to try it.

The Program: Made w/Code: Intro to Coding for Girls

Equipment
While I led the program myself, I definitely needed help from the intrepid IT department and a couple of coworkers. I also needed quite a list of equipment for the event and things like secure wifi in the room we were using for faster access.

  • Laptop and large monitor for viewing initial mentor videos
  • Supplies for making peanut butter and jelly sandwich (see below)
  • 10 iPads with Hour of Code apps preloaded (App List: Intro to Coding for Girls Program Tools)
  • 5 laptops
  • Router for boosted wifi to run tutorials
  • Splitters and headphones (1 splitter and 2 headsets for each computer)
  • Take home sheets with coding resources
  • Paper and pencils for writing notes
  • Snacks

Program Plan (2 hours)

  • Introductions (5 min)
  • What is Coding/Programming (5 min)
  • Why a Program for Girls (5 min)
  • P, B & J- Coding Unplugged* (10 min)
  • Nontraditional Mentors/ Coding and the Arts: Made w/Code video about Miral Kotb & ILuminate (see video above) (5 min)
  • Tutorials from the Hour of Code: Frozen or Angry Birds (in teams) (45-60 min)
  • Break (5-10 min)
  • Coding Apps (5 min intro)
  • Free Time (15 min)
  • Share-What the Girls Had to Say (5 min)
  • Clean Up

*To better explain the concept of programming and demonstrate what code is, I pretended to be a highly evolved robot that they would program to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, based on this classic lesson plan. I laid out the supplies in front of me (jar of peanut butter, jar of jelly, bag of sliced bread, knife, plate) and then had the girls tell me what to do- the very specific instructions that make up a program. There were times when I obviously didn’t understand and they had to debug the program. It was hilarious and effective!

What the Girls Had to Say
9 girls and 4 adults attended the program- the perfect number. I didn’t have girls pre-register and it turned out to be the right fit anyway. The next program will require registration and I’ll target the same number because I’ll be leading the program solo again. Here are some of the comments girls had for me:

  • When is the next program?
  • The dance video with all of the lights was cool!
  • I don’t get to play on an iPad. I loved the apps and getting to play the app I wanted.
  • I liked the variety of apps and tutorials, so we all found something we liked.
  • The Peanut Butter & Jelly game was fun!

My Thoughts
The program went very well in general. The group was the right size and the girls meshed well. They were comfortable together. It was wonderful to see parents and grandparents learning and exploring alongside their girls. I loved the cooperative spirit and the real interest the girls had, several of whom I had never seen at a library program before.

My biggest issues? They were technology-related, of course right? Some of the issues can be fixed for next time, some are issues with Alaska’s broadband. Having unplugged tricks up my sleeve was very helpful.

Community Response
This article about the program appeared in a local paper.

I co-presented this webinar, Hour of Code: All Year Long, for Alaskan librarians interested in finding out about the Hour of Code and the Intro to Coding for Girls program at our library.

While we received a lot of interest in and positive comments about the program, one parent contacted me to complain that her son could not attend and challenged my decision to hold a girls only program. In all regards, the program created lots of conversation in the community.

 

Daugherty, Lindsay, Dossani, Rafiq, Johnson, Erin-Elizabeth, and Oguz, Mustafa. “Using Early Childhood Education to Bridge the Digital Divide.” Rand Corporation.  2014. accessed at: http://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE119.html

Planning an Hour of Code at the Library

During the week of December 8th, our library will be participating in the 2014 Hour of Code. I’m still designing the after school program we’ll be hosting, but the idea is to introduce kids to the basics of computer programming in the informal learning environment also known as the library. Kids need to learn programming, whether it’s at school, the library or at home. It’s a 21st Century skill. Hour of Code

I’m always looking for ways to help kids see what’s behind the digital media we consume, what we can create with it, and what’s next. Learning to code, or just seeing what it’s all about, is a great example of that. Fortunately, kids are curious and many are fearless so introducing something new, like coding, in a fun, informal way usually works out well. I also recognize that the use of digital media in intentional ways offers motivation that crosses over to other learning areas like reading. For example, motivated Minecraft players check out every available Minecraft book in the library, over and over again.

The Hour of Code site offers great resources for planning so I started there. Combined with the free online tutorials they offer, I’ll also be incorporating several free and paid coding iPad apps that I have tested. This will be the inaugural program for the fleet of iPads my library received from the Alaska State Library and the Online With Libraries Initiative (OWL). We’ll be using laptops along with the iPads to provide additional access during the program(s).

I’ll admit that I know only a little about programming. It’s on my list of 2014 professional development goals and I’m slowly figuring out the basics. Unlike my brother who was working as a programmer at 15, I was not interested as a kid, teen, or even youngish adult. I’ve been learning as I introduce the concept to my own kids and kids at the library. It’s a fun way to learn! The kids see me exploring, problem solving, and even getting frustrated as we figure it out together. I figure I’m promoting lifelong learning.

For now here are a few coding apps that I’ll be introducing kids to in December. As I’ve reviewed them for inclusion in the Hour of Code program, I’ve thought about why I didn’t learn to code and how I can make the experience different for kids in my community. For example, what will inspire my daughter, and girls her age, to dive in?

Have any suggestions for my program or an experience to share? Please send them my way! I’d love to hear what other libraries have planned.

LightbotLightbot App
Developer: Lightbot Inc.
Platform: iOS (Mac, iPhone/iTouch, iPad), Google Play, Amazon (Kindle Fire), Windows, Web Browser (Hour of Code free lite version)
Cost: $2.99 (Lightbot One Hour Coding iOS and Android version are free- see note below)
Ages: 5+, recommended for ages 9-11

Lightbot is a 3D game-style app that teaches the basic concepts of programming. Each of 50 levels is played in order and teaches young coders to use commands to solve puzzles by moving a whimsical robot from square to square and lighting up specific tiles. The app introduces programming vocabulary and encourages an understanding of procedures, loops and conditionals. The app includes coins and stars to show progress. No in-app purchases, ads or social media links. Background music can be toggled on/off and instructional text language can be changed in the home screen. Lightbot Jr., a simpler version designed for younger coders, is also available.

Note: Lightbot One Hour Coding, a special iOS and Android version released for the 2014 Hour of Code event, is temporarily available and offers a limited, free version of the full app.  It includes 14 levels.

KodableKodable App
Developer: SurfScore
Platform: iOS (iPad only)
Price: Free, with in-app purchases for additional levels and classroom subscription
Ages: 6-8
Kodable is a colorful, richly featured app that introduces kids to programming in a 2D game-style format. The stars of the app are fuzzes, fuzz balls exploring the universe. Young coders guide the fuzzes around the Kodable world by using drag and drop directional arrows (commands) to move the fuzzes along squares and collect coins. (Note: The orientation is slightly different than in the 3D oriented Lightbot app mentioned above and will require a shift in thinking if moving from one app to the next). The free version of the app features 45 levels that are completed sequentially.

Narrated tips and a small hand hover over correct commands if help is needed. Music can be turned off in the settings menu on the home screen. The free version of the app has in-app purchases for additional levels and links to the classroom version. Up to five profiles can be made within the free version. The app includes access to valuable teaching guides for adults as well as settings to lock and unlock levels for individual coders.

TynkerTynker App
Developer: Tynker
Platform: iOS (iPad)
Price: Free, with in-app purchases for additional games
Ages: 8-11

Tynker is a unique app in this list because it combines the game play format with game creation. The non-competitive game portion of the app involves programming Codey, one of several kid-friendly characters, to move across the screen towards the end goal- a candy prize. Drag and drop commands are moved from a bank on the left to an ordered list at the top of the screen. Basic command blocks, like “walk” and “jump,” are clicked together in an order below the “on start” block to form a sequence of commands that Codey will follow. Repeat blocks can also be used at different levels, introducing the loop. When Codey starts, the command being used is highlighted in the string of command blocks, making the connection between what Codey is doing and the code written. If the code doesn’t accomplish the goal then Codey stops and the coder can go back and edit the code. A variety of games can be purchased as in-app purchases, but the Codey’s Quest comes with the free version. Paid puzzles with additional characters, include Lost in Space, Dragon Journey and Lazer Racer.

After playing with Codey, or one of the other characters, the Tynker app includes opportunities to build or modify a game using the same drag and drop coding blocks. This part of the app is about exploring, playing, and testing. The app offers immediate feedback with the ability to run a test and see if, for example, the newly designed character dances if tapped or sound effects play. Coders will get to see behind the game.

Doing a quick math problem, provides access through a parent gate to puzzle settings, where the puzzle solution and a button to reset a puzzle can be found, and a link to the Tynker website for more information about online coding courses for kids.

Internet connectivity is not required to play the games, only to download sample games in the game creation area. The background music can be turned off in a drop down menu found within each game.

Other iOS apps to check out:
Codecademy: Hour of Code
The Foos: Code for an Hour FREE
Hopscotch, Programming Design for Everyone: Coding for Kids

Sites to check out:
Hour of Code – MIT App Inventor
Microsoft- Hour of Code
Computer Science Education Week