Turtle Power, Hour of Code and $10,000


A few weeks ago I woke up, checked my email, and neatly snuggled in between all those fun work messages I read the following: “Congratulations Jason and thank you for organizing the Hour of Code school-wide! We’ve selected your school to win $10,000…”

So here’s the story on how that rolled out.

Code.org is a non-profit organization on a mission to put computer science on the map for millions of kids. Code.org was founded by Hadi Partovi, a computer science advocate who began his career at Microsoft and from there went on to become a strategic advisor or early investor in startups like Facebook, Dropbox, airbnb and Zappos. His new organization, Code.org, suggests that if we are to prepare kids for their future, then we must start placing a greater emphasis on computer science in our schools. According to Code.org, computer-programing jobs are growing at 2x the national average. This means by the year 2020, we will have 1.4 million jobs requiring computer science skills.

But another problem is that computer science is not even recognized toward high school credits in many states (including my home state of Nebraska). That means youth within my Lincoln community are not receiving this experience or preparation for the future, or even if they are working toward programing, they’re not getting any credit for it.

This is where Code.org steps into play. During Computer Science Education Week (Dec 8 -14), Code.org challenged the world with their “Hour of Code.” Their goal: Get 100 million students worldwide to spend just one hour learning about computer code. In addition to providing web-based learning activities for kids to learn how to program and code, the organization also incentivized schools to get on board by giving away money to schools who came up with plans to get their school involved with the Hour of Code.

Now to be honest, I have no idea why Campbell and I took home the $10,000. But this is what I do know: One school in each state was awarded a $10,000 prize from Code.org to be use toward computer hardware and a focus on computer science. So, how did I end up winning? Maybe it was because we got a head start on coding earlier in the year, or maybe it was because my school district is actively creating and working toward implementing computer science curriculum. Maybe winning the 10 grand was shear luck, or maybe it was because I tweet a crazy amount of cool things that the kids are doing in our computer lab. You can take your pick; I kind of like the last guess.

So how did my kids at Campbell spend their time during Hour of Code? Three weeks prior to the Hour of Code week, I had my students on Code.org Course 1 learning introductory coding. Here students dragged and dropped simple code to preform basic algorithms with familiar characters, including those from Frozen, Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds.

From there, we talked about programs, loops and repeat features built within coding languages. We had some unplugged coding activities like using x and y coordinates to program movements and we conjured up some pretty crazy whole-class dances with custom moves (our algorithms) and loops.

y the time the weeklong Hour of Code rolled around, Campbell students were ready to take all that we had learned and use it within MinecraftEdu. I used a Minecraft mod called ComputerCraft. Basically, the mod harkens back to the days of the Logo turtle, but blends this logic-based programing into the learning-friendly medium of Minecraft. With this turtle mod (ComputerCraft), students programed their own ideas and even recorded them on a sheet of paper - making the learning more concrete and enabling them to program at home without a computer. Students used drag and drop movements and actions so that the turtles mined into the earth, built stairways into the sky, and dug a series of holes only to have the turtle turn around and fill them back in. One student programed a hide-and-go seek turtle, another had the turtle build a rectangular house foundation, while another even synced up their turtle to drop materials onto a pressure plate which activated a redstone circuit, which ever-so-awesomely was programed to launch fireworks into the air.

Here are a few of the student-created goodies I shared via Vine and Twitter.


Lastly, I will leave you with how Campbell is planning on spending the $10,000. Ultimately, my principal and I decided on two initiatives: 1) Get iPads into every classroom that didn’t already have them, and 2) Computer Science goodies that will probably find a very comfortable fit within my computer lab. Below are the three pending purchases for my lab:

Makey Makey 

Makey Makey is a device that enables a user to program computer inputs with everyday objects. It is a brilliant (and super cheap) way to help kids start thinking like programmers.

“The MaKey MaKey Standard Kits are an Arduino-based device that lets you turn nearly anything into a computer key. Just attach the included alligator clips to food, people, liquids, Play-Doh, or any other somewhat conductive material for a whole new level of interactivity and fun. Imagine for a moment that you could turn nearly anything into a game controller or keyboard. What would you do? Create a drum kit from oranges? Play Doom with your alphabet soup? With the MaKey MaKey, it's possible!” – From MakerShed.com

Dash & Dot Robots 

From MakeWonder.com - “Kids can define how they want to play. Whether your child is into having make-believe tea parties, building elaborate forts, or adventuring with friends, Dash & Dot will be there every step of the way. Empower your child to program Dash & Dot into anything they imagine.

We set a low floor but a high ceiling for coding. Blockly is a drag-and-drop programming language that snaps together like puzzle pieces. Start by sending simple commands, learn programming concepts as you play, and progress to creating more complex algorithms.

It’s a big world out there, and Dash & Dot are ready help you explore. Program them to squeal when you pick them up, navigate around sharp corners, or be on the lookout for approaching siblings or pets.

Dash & Dot are even more fun with add-ons. Play a song on Dash’s Xylophone, take videos using the smartphone mount, and add bricks (including LEGOTM) to them with Building Brick Connectors. Transforming Dash & Dot is easy with accessories and a small dose of creativity.”

Kano Kit

Kano kit is a computer you build and code yourself. It is built from a Raspberry Pi and customizable for a variety of coding and programing experiences. It is portable, it is programmable and it provides for powerful learning.

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