As a technology integrator and instructional coach, much of my interaction with teachers is supporting them in their efforts to use technology in their day-to-day work with students. Their technological expertise ranges from novice to advanced, so each collaboration is personalized to take them from whatever level they are currently at to helping them reach the next level. The goal is to push up a notch, not push off a cliff!
Many subjects align nicely with technology. Digital writing is a great way to reinforce grammar and composition skills. Recording reading makes oral fluency more relevant and easier to assess. Interactive activities that layer text, photo, and more provide students an opportunity to create products to showcase their learning in ways that didn’t exist before.
There are times, however, when we need students to engage in learning experiences that may not be directly tied to testing standards. That’s when it gets a little tricky, because we all know how limited that precious commodity of time is with jam-packed schedules and multiple pacing guides to follow.
In Virginia, we do not follow the Common Core curriculum. Instead, we have our own state guidelines called the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs). In November 2017, our state approved Computer Science Standards of Learning for all grades K-8 with specific course standards for the high school level. A quick glance of these standards might give a general classroom teacher heart palpitations as the verbiage is tough to deconstruct if you are not familiar with technical computing language.
Understanding these challenges, coupled with the reality that I am only available in one school 2 days a week (with an occasional 3 day week here and there), I have to get a little creative to find ways to support teachers for their requests while also providing additional experiences that bring non-tested curriculum directly to the students.
Enter the world of collaborative coaching.
Several times a month I sit down with the gifted-talented teacher at my school, Maureen Ambrose, to compare notes on lessons we are doing with teachers and students. When we first began our collaborative planning sessions last year, we mainly touched base to make sure we were on the right track and brainstormed ideas; now we use the time to extend our conversation to creating unique learning experiences for individual classes and grade levels as a whole.
It started with Pirate Day in the fall, where we used a common theme to focus on three learning experiences using technology, one of which was coding with Ozobot robots. Each station was led by either me, Maureen, or the classroom teacher. We offered Pirate Day two days with flexible signup and it was so popular we will offer it again for another two days this spring!
This month, we focused specifically on third grade classes, inviting them to a “Coding is My Jam” learning experience with each station focused on various coding skills. As Brian Aspinall, author of Code Breaker states, “I don’t want all kids to code, but I do want all kids exposed to coding.” (His blog post about going beyond the Hour of Code reminded us of the importance for students to have these experiences all year long, not just in December!)
For Coding is My Jam Day, we transformed our Innovation Lab into a coding studio with three designated areas for each of our activities:
- Robot Coding – Create a sequence code using designated cards, then input the directions into a remote control and watch the Botley robot move from start to finish. If the output doesn’t work the first time, analyze the code and debug to try again!
- Coding is My Jam – Using the Osmo “Coding Jam” block coding kit, work with a partner to create unique beats for various instruments to design a new musical soundtrack!
- Binary Bracelets – Discover the wonderful world of binary code! After a brief overview of the history and purpose of binary code, use a basic binary coding sheet to create an 8-bit code identifying your initials. Then, after planning out your design using a basic storyboard, replace the code with colored beads to string on a pipe cleaner, creating a “readable” coding bracelet. If time allows, you can complete extension activities to create a secret message for a friend using binary code or answer riddles by deciphering the coded answers.
Prior to our coding day, Maureen visited each third grade classroom to read the book, How to Code a Sandcastle, and play an unplugged coding game called “Let’s Go Code” to build a bit of coding background knowledge. It was a quick interactive intro to hook them in for what was to come!
When Coding is My Jam Day arrived, students entered our coding studio and sat on the floor as Maureen provided a brief overview of each station. During that time, I took the classroom teacher to her station and shared details in how to guide students in their learning. We then began the rotations, using a timer on our cell phone to notify us when it was time to switch stations. We made sure to include a brief discussion at the end, emphasizing the challenges and lessons learned in coding.
What I love about this three station model for learning is that every single student in the class gets to experience every activity in a way that encourages communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and even creativity. There is equity in access to the technology and having three adults in the room helps to guide conversations and pitfalls that inevitably occur.
For the classroom teacher, it was a 75 minute commitment (30 minute pre-lesson one day and 45 minutes on the Coding is My Jam day), but hit on several of the Computer Science SOLs which actually maximized the time spent. Best of all, we had no behavior issues for either experience, as all students were actively engaged exploring unique tasks that challenged their thinking in a non-threatening way. We even saw several students wearing their binary code bracelets throughout the week!
While there was a bit of work on the pre-planning side (you don’t host an adventure like this without having a strong plan of action!), the actual day of implementation was relatively easy and provided flexibility for Maureen and I to rotate through the other stations offering additional support. We also captured the learning with quick videos to a Flipgrid grid with three topics for the stations we used.
We look forward to offering additional learning opportunities like this throughout the year and encourage others to give it a go, too. You might be surprised how much joy can arise from three little stations in your day! We also want to give a huge “Thank You” to the Virginia Professional Educators for supporting creating learning experiences such as this and providing funding for us to purchase materials to make this day a success!