February 14, 2016

snippets14/2/2016 - introducing ipad use to children

Apps, articles, thoughts about digital technologies and education ...

I introduced the ipads to my preschool classes using the app Plic, Ploc, Wiz.  This is a simple app for arranging shapes to construct pictures.  This simple app gave the children a chance to focus on how the ipad works and skills like turning the ipad on and off, opening an app, selecting objects and dragging them on the screen.  The app is free and you get access to one illustration.  You need to make an in-app purchase to access other illustrations.

Before we used the ipads we discussed how they worked and how to care for them.  We labelled the parts and talked about what the screen was made from?  I also asked 'what do you think is inside the ipad?'  Many children answered 'games', although a few said 'batteries'.  If you wanted to explore more about what is inside the ipad Little Clickers has a good resource.

Coding in Preschool

At the end of 2015 my preschool classes participated in the Hour of Code.  This event was facilitated by another teacher at my school.  We did this coding session on ipads as we do not have desktop computers in the preschool.  I assisted by reviewing the app choices to decide which were most suitable for preschool and by supporting children to use the apps and Bee-bot robots during our coding session.

What are the benefits of coding for preschoolers?

There are a number of benefits to coding for preschoolers.  Working with coding
  • encourages problem solving
  • reinforces sequencing of instructions and ideas
  • helps children with understanding the world
The Hour of Code has the following links to the EYLF:
Outcome 5.5 : Children use information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking
Children will begin to recognise that digital systems follow commands.
Children will use the Kodable app and Bee-bot robots to describe and represent a sequence of steps needed to solve simple problems.

What we did:

The children in preschool were already proficient with ipad use by the end of 2015 (that is, the end of the Australian school year).
Our session began by considering the questions 'do the Bee-bot robots work by magic?' Through discussion we decided that the robots are not magic and that pushing the buttons tells them what to do.
Then, we looked at the inside of a computer hard-drive and saw the computer's 'brain' and learnt that the instructions that tell a computer what to do must be written in a language called 'code'.
The children then had a chance to practise 'code' by giving the Bee-bots instructions or by writing code in the Kodable app.
How it Went:
Most of the children were excited by the coding session.  However, as you would expect for this age group they did not focus on the one form of coding for the entire hour.  They switched between using the ipads, Bee-bots and looking at the inside of the computer hard-drive.
They were especially fascinated to see the inside of the computer and this could have made a much longer discovery and discussion session on its own.  In 2016, I will plan for children to explore taking apart a hard-drive as part of the curriculum.
The children enjoyed playing with the Kodable app.  They learnt how to use the app easily.  Most of the difficulties arose from helping the children to debug the code they had entered.  The needed to be taught to put in 1-2 steps at a time and see what happened, then add more steps.  Some children had difficulty with understanding that the code would restart from the beginning each time they pushed play.  The final levels of the game, which involve the children in debugging code, proved confusing for the few who reached them.  This occurred because the children needed to fix each bug, every time they wanted to run the code.
The Bee-bot robots were also very popular and I would like to explore having these in the classroom for an extended period in 2016.  The coding apps provide a one-off, game-type experience of how coding works.  Robots offer a way to include giving and following instructions that can be included in day-to-day classroom work.
All the activities gave the children many opportunities for discussion, collaboration and problem solving about coding.  It was clear that coding is not only very interesting for this age group but also provides a social and cognitive challenge.

Coding Apps for Preschoolers

As I mentioned the app we used for our Hour of Code was Kodable.  We looked at a number of apps and I have written up a brief overview of each and described the benefits and drawbacks of each for preschoolers.  The apps suggested by the Hour of Code organisers for the 4 - 5 y.o. age group were:
In this app you provide instructions to guide a robot to light up tiles. No reading is necessary and learning the game is simple.  I thought that the turn symbol on this app (clockwise or anti-clockwise arrows) would be difficult for preschoolers to interpret.
This is the app that we used during our Hour of Code.
The children must sequence arrows to guide Fuzzes through a maze.  I mentioned some of the difficulties the preschoolers encountered earlier.  Rather than, turn arrows, this app had simpler to interpret left and right arrows.  The path-like mazes were similar to the activity we had set up for the Bee-bot robots.
When I tested the coding apps with my own children (6 and 9 years old), this was their favourite.  Children decide what steps are needed to solve the Foos problems.  The problems are varied and playful.  I think that preschoolers would enjoy this app.  We decided on Kodable for our lesson as it linked to how the Bee-bots would be used and we felt that the adults would find it easier to support children using Kodable.
We had also had a number of apps suggested through professional development events.
This is a more open-ended app in which children animate Daisy by entering a sequence of commands.  It is not suitable for preschoolers as the commands are written (rather than visual).
To play you must provide commands to move the Bee-bot through a maze.  This app would have been ideal to use in conjunction with the Bee-bot robots, however, it uses the clockwise and anti-clockwise arrow symbols, which I felt would be hard for preschoolers to interpret.
ScratchJr is an open-ended coding app in which children put together command blocks to make characters move, jump, dance and so on.  The app offers less instruction than Kodable or The Foos to tell children what to do.  But it offers many more possibilities for designing characters, backgrounds and allows the characters to perform a variety of different actions.  Whilst this is not a good introduction to coding for preschoolers, it would provide an excellent extension for those children who are very interested in coding.

Have you done coding with children?  What did they enjoy about it?

What does a balanced technology user look like?

Precarious balance
Image Source: James Jordan
With 2 sons, who very much enjoy using the iPad, Xbox, TV and any other sort of digital technology, I often wonder about what makes a balanced technology user.  How do I help my children to grow up seeing tech as a tool not an essential?
My second biggest parenting worry is eating - are they eating enough?  is their diet healthy enough?  why are they so fussy?  what will they eat today?  This blog, It's Not about Nutrition, helped me to put eating into perspective.  It's not about how they ate in this one meal, or on this day, it's about the habits they are learning about eating that they will take into adulthood.
Technology use is the same.  So, what habits do I want my children (my sons, and those that I teach) to have about digital technologies?
  • I want them to know when to use technology and know when it is not the best choice.  I want them to engage with people face-to-face and build relationships.  I want them to know that technology is not always the best way to learn something.
  • I want them to use technology for a range of purposes - not just for entertainment, but also for learning, creation, interaction and collaboration.
  • I want them to use technology in a safe and healthy manner. The need to know about cybersafety, about good posture when using technology, about protecting their eyes and their ears and when it's time to put the tech away and focus (eg. when they're driving).
These, I hope are the habits and knowledge I can give them so that they can be intentional in their technology use as they grow into adulthood.
What habits do you think are important for balanced technology use?  What strategies do you use to teach these habits?

September 13, 2013

For the dinosaur lover in your life ...

Youtube is a fabulous place to find little videos to inspire learning.  This one is for little dinosaur lovers wondering "What does a paleontologist really do?"

July 21, 2013

Swim in a Waterfall - NT Adventures: Litchfield National Park

We went out camping to Litchfield National Park during the school holidays. 

Litchfield National Park is 130 kilometres southwest of Darwin near the town of Batchelor. The main feature of the park are a number of beautiful waterfalls set in a monsoon rainforest.

There are a number of easily accessible waterfalls in Litchfield National Park.  We went to one of the most child-friendly, Wangi Falls.