In an effort to continue CABOCES’ progressive advances with coding, we have been offering CodeMonkey as a way to teach computational thinking and core computer science concepts that will prepare our students for the careers of tomorrow.
CodeMonkey is an engaging online game that teaches real computer programming to children as young as nine. Through fun challenges, teachers can introduce basic computer science knowledge to students and better prepare them for the 21st century.
Computer programming might seem hopelessly complicated, but it is actually a lot like walking—you just have to take it one step at a time! Programming is just like giving instructions, and when using CodeMonkey, adults and students alike discover how people write commands in computer languages called code, and how code is broken down into step-by-step procedures called algorithms. Patience, attention to detail, and the ability to foresee different circumstances and outcomes can turn lines of text into useful programs and activities!
The CodeMonkey curriculum is built as a self-paced online game, where students advance through a progression of challenges. In each level, students write real code to program a monkey to catch all the bananas on the screen. Each solution is checked and graded automatically, and the students receive personalized instructions and hints that help them advance at a pace right for them.
Recently, the 5th and 6th grade students at Genesee Valley decided to help that monkey find those bananas! Class time was spent going through the program and teaching the nuances of CodeMonkey and then having the students begin their coding adventure at their own pace. Laughter, shouts of, “This is so fun!”, problem-solving, and even a bit of frustration were on display…all of which are part of learning.
As the students progress, they will being to understand computer programming language, covering topics such as objects, function calls, arguments, loops, variables, arrays, with 300 levels available total. To assist with this, CodeMonkey provides a unique curriculum that accompanies the teaching process step-by-step. Additionally, CodeMonkey provides a teacher’s dashboard where instructors can keep track of their students' progress in real time, as well as see the actual code they wrote. CodeMonkey also provides a cheatsheet so teachers will have the solutions to all challenges.
So what are you waiting for? Contact us and give CodeMonkey a try!
By: Alexandra L. Freer, CABOCES Learning Resources
Was it “Chutes and Ladders”? “Battleship”, perhaps? How about “Chess” or “Uno”? Everyone had a favorite game growing up. What was yours? Maybe “Super Mario Brothers”? Go ahead, take a minute and think about it. Name that game you spent hours on, strategizing about, and maybe even cajoling others to play with you. Got it? Great! I knew you had one.
For many children, adolescents, and even teachers, playing a game, especially a videogame, is a preferred pastime. Something about a game keeps players engaged as they try over and over again to accomplish a skill, complete a task, or advance to a next level. The challenge can be all-consuming as players spend considerable amounts of time gaming, even seeming to lose consciousness of the world outside the game. Why do games merit such attention? It may be because games meet students in Lev Vygotsky's (1978) Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The difference between what a learner can do without help and what he/she can do with help, the ZPD exists between what is known and unknown, where classroom teachers attempt to meet their students with new knowledge, and new learning occurs. It is the instructional sweet spot.
Games intuitively capture a player’s attention at his/her ZPD, as initial rounds capitalize on a player’s prior abilities and skills, and each additional level forces him/her to learn a new skill or acquire new knowledge to be successful. Despite the glazed-over eyes and tears of frustration that can accompany a string of losses, the player returns again and again, each time with a little more understanding of the key to mastery.
But how is it that games feed a player’s engagement despite multiple unsuccessful attempts? Bruner Wood (1976) expanded on Vygotsky's work to suggest that supports, or scaffolding, within the ZPD can be removed as soon as skills become automatic. Wood referred to scaffolds as, “Those elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner’s capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence” (1976, p.90). One element of successful learning is the ability of the teacher to engage students in the content long enough to provide the scaffolds and supports needed for students to succeed in the ZPD.
To achieve engagement, games captivate players emotionally, enticing them with the quest to be played. Game designers hone in on a player’s desire to succeed or win by building the sense the player can triumph through fair play. This embedded emotional element mesmerizes players and leads to deep engagement and the acquisition of skills and content, and tickles the player’s intrinsic desire to succeed. The strong emotional connections of games further enhance a sense of engagement with their task. Fear, surprise, disgust, pride, triumph, and wonder all act as engagement keys for game play (Farber, 2015). “Designers can customise an experience best suited to unlock certain feelings” (Farber, 2015, p.60), making even stronger connections to the game and creating a commitment by the player to continue.
Both Vygotsky and Wood describe recognizable parallels to players that self-select games in their ZPD. Gamers learn rules using peers as supports, play, and soon--without help--experience gratification as they play, and even lose. As players develop, they select games requiring a variety of skills or, as skills become automatic, games that are more challenging. Games players find too easy or too hard lie outside the ZPD and lack the keys to engagement, causing players to become passive or give up. Ralph Koster, author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, points out, “The definition of a good game is therefore one that teaches everything it has to offer before the player stops playing” (2013, p.46). Koster asserts both the educational and entertainment value of games by writing, “Basically, all games are edutainment” (2013, p.47).
Games, almost in any form, are so good at engagement, maintaining attention, and advancing a skill that they also make terrific teaching tools and have led to the game-based learning philosophy. “Game based learning describes an approach to teaching, where students explore relevant aspects of games in a learning context designed by teachers. Teachers and students collaborate in order to add depth and perspective to the experience of playing the game” (EdTech Team, 2013).
Through game-based learning, teachers pair the benefits of games with learning in their classrooms. Andrew Garvery, a middle-level English teacher at Randolph Central School and professed “gamer”, is one teacher using the blended game design curriculum Zulama to bring the engagement of game design to his students. Andrew’s students are answering the questions, “What is a game? Why do we play them? Is a game a representation of society? How is society represented in a game?” (Garvey, 2016). His students are not using a traditional educational games approach to master vocabulary or key components of content, rather games are the engaging content in his class. Students in Andrew’s classroom are, by design, becoming game designers.
Games, through many of the strategies highlighted below and built within Zulama’s curriculum, become everyday pedagogical tools in the learning process.
Whether your favorite game is Monopoly, Minecraft or Mancala, when you are gaming, you are a student and learning is happening. Almost magically, the game has placed you in your Zone of Proximal Development and, chances are, you can’t get enough, even when you’re losing. Incorporating game-based learning strategies to instructional design can bring the magic of the game to the heart of learning in any classroom.
EdTechReview, Editorial Team. (2013, April 23). What is GBL (Game-Based Learning)? Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://edtechreview.in/dictionary/298-what-is-game-based-learning
Entertainment Software Association. More Than 150 Million Americans Play Video Games - The Entertainment Software Association. Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.theesa.com/article/150-million-americans-play-video-games/
Farber, M. (2015). Gamify your classroom: A field guide to game-based learning. NY, NY: Peter Lang.
Garvey, A. (2016, March 10). Zulama Webinar [Online interview].
Koster, R. (2013). Theory of Fun for Game Design. O'Reilly Media.
Vaillancourt, Beverly. (2014). Zulama: Game Design, Game Principles, and Emotional Design Elements. Used with permission.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Child Psychiatry, 17, 89−100.
By: Tim Cox, CA BOCES Instructional Support Services
The coding initiative has taken hold in many of our elementary classrooms throughout the Cattaraugus-Allegany region, through the use of Bee-Bots, iPad Apps for Education, programming course platform Zulama, Lego League, and many more. Many of our teachers are breaking away from the ‘shuttering’ that ensued from the mere utterance of the word “coding”. Coding, at its heart, is simply providing a set of directions that one must follow. It encourages critical thinking and problem solving skills in our students.
On March 16, Mrs. Hamer’s Kindergarten embarked on their first hands-on coding experience under the expertise of technology integrator Mark Carls. cooperative learning groups of 4-5 students, under Mark’s guidance, programmed our Bee’s to maneuver through the grid provided.
Mark was very enthusiastic when describing his work with our students commenting, “Some students grasped the concept of the bees right away and I was able to provide more complex pathways almost immediately, while some students needed more direct support with one step programming tasks. All in all, it was great! The kids were very engaged and enthusiastic about using the Bee’s. Every student wanted to touch them and in our small groups they were able to do just that.” Through this one activity, Mark was able to provide students with an enriching differentiated critical thinking task.
Mrs. Hamer’s Kindergarten class is eagerly awaiting Mark’s next visit when they will be applying their knowledge of coding with the tangible Bee-Bots to coding with the Bee-Bot App.
“Why does he keep saying that?,” was what one of the boys whispered to his friend in the elementary library. He had, what I would call, beige hair, and an inquisitive look on his face. His partner had an amazing ability to use the computer mouse. To him, the computer mouse was a part of his hand. I think first boy was talking about the fact that Wendy Sprague and I kept saying over and over “if you work hard you can actually get smarter.” After a brief introduction and an explanation of their first learning adventure, all four students used computer programing to get the solution. Some students were able to complete the learning adventure faster than others, even though learning is not a race and we all learn at different rates of speed. Whatever you do, please don’t tell them they were learning.
Wendy is a librarian at the Cuba Rushford school district. She has embraced computer programming and robotics in her schools. The learning of new things does not come easy to everyone and I think it is safe to say that that might be true of Wendy as well. Wendy is a great example of a life-long learner and a follower of the research headed up by Dr. Carol Dwick from Stanford University. Dr. Dwick has done scientific research to prove that if people work hard and believe that hard work can make them smarter and can increase your intelligence that the actual weight of one’s brain gets heavier. This weight change occurs due to the increased number of neurons, or thinking connections, created in your brain by learning. It is important for students to get a good night sleep because the neurons are solidified during sleep. The book called “Mindset” by Carol Dwick is a great resource for anyone and it discusses her brain research.
It is only natural for, what some might believe as, unconventional learning to occur in the library. With the easy access to information online, no longer can the library just be a place where information is archived and stored. Libraries are becoming more and more places where information is created to find new facts, invent products to help people and publish things of all kind, not just books.
Fifth grade students at Cuba Rushford used the computer programing language called Scratch, which can be found at Scratch.MIT.edu. This coding language consists of “drag and drop” blocks so no “hard coding” or syntax is used. So, instead of students making sure they capitalized using “camelCode” or that they used a semicolon instead of a colon, could put there mind work totally on the logic. Lots of logic goes into computer programming.
Students seemed to enjoy computer programming and I can’t wait till I can go back to Cuba Rushford to do some more teaching and learning with Wendy and her students. Programing is extremely fun, engaging and it teaches a lot of important skills that can help in any classroom. I can’t wait to see what the students come up with.
By: Rick Weinberg, CA BOCES Professional Development
Next school year, Cattaraugus Allegany BOCES will be hosting a Coding CLC. CLC stands for collaborative learning community and the idea is to have people share ideas around coding. Basically, teachers, or any school employee, interested in coding will come to a meeting and discuss how coding is and can be used in the classroom. There will also be direct explanations and content being facilitated by CA BOCES professional development staff. The content will center around computer programming, coding, video game creation and computer game design. If you are interested in participating in this CLC, coding and/or the Hour of Code week, please contact Laurie Sledge (814-376-8357 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the year 2020, which is now 5 years away, there will be 1 million more well paying computing jobs than students to fill them. Pioneer is taking a great first step in preparing students. All students should have this opportunity.
By: Rick Weinberg, CA BOCES
“Wow. Mr. W. look what I did,” said Evan. “Oh yeah...Look at what level I’m on,” said Julia. Evan and Julia think they are playing a game. In some ways they are playing a game. The game teaches Evan and Julia, and students like them in Ms. Grube’s class, some basic ideas. The students learn the concepts of repeating, functions, if: then statements and looping. These concepts have to do with logic and they also are foundational skills for computer programming.
By the year 2020, statistics say that in America we will have 1 million more computing jobs than students to fill them. The fascinating thing is that the year 2020 is only 6 years away. All of the students in Kirsten Grube’s class just love working on the iPads. They are very engaged. Students work in centers and spend about 15 to 20 minutes a day learning to be young computer programmers.
Computers are everywhere and that makes some people want to avoid them. I just don’t think you can avoid computers any more. Businesses involving agriculture, automobiles, manufacturing, healthcare and entertainment, just about every thing somehow involves computers. Avoiding computers is about as equivalent to not using a school book or a pencil and paper. More and more jobs are requiring graduating students to know how to use computers as a tool to complete work. To a bit of a lesser degree, right now, not only will students need to know how computers function, students will have to be the ones who engineer the computers to be a better tool for others.
Some of us, in my generation, took computer programming, around the 1980s, in high school. Some of us took to it and some of us did not. In many cases in high school, back in the 80s, students where just thrown into BASIC computer programming. Many of us had a bad experience with programming because we did not learn some of the necessary foundational skills to programming. What happened to many students in the 80s was the equivalent of being thrown into the language class Spanish 4 without having Spanish 1, Spanish 2 or Spanish 3.
That is not what is happening in Cattaraugus Little Valley. Some students, from an early age are learning how to make a computerized robot make a square on a computer screen. Some students are learning that if they don’t want to write out code over and over again, code that does the same thing, then they can use a loop. I have no doubt, that one day, we will hear about Evan or Julia, or some other student, who has helped to put people on Mars, contributed to cars that drive themselves or invented a micro controlled nanoparticle that cures cancer.
By: Rick Weinberg, CA BOCES