Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Coding and STEM Careers in FACS

The students in Mrs. LoBianco's fifth grade FACS classes are working diligently on their Career Awareness unit.  Mrs. LoBianco wanted some additional emphasis placed on STEM careers and 21st Century Skills.  This was a perfect time to bring students down to the library to learn how to code.  Computer coding is a skill necessary for many careers within the STEM field.

Prior to arriving in the library, Mrs. LoBianco shared many different videos outlining what STEM careers are and the skills needed to enter the field.  Students paid special attention to the 21st Century Skills needed to be successful in today's job market.  Some of these skills included showing independent initiative, learning from mistakes, demonstrating originality, and keeping an open mind.

On day one of coding in the library, students were reintroduced to the concept of 21st Century Skills.  They were then given the opportunity to hone these skills by participating in coding activities on Kodable, a coding app for iPad.  Kodable allows students to learn coding skills and directionality by navigating "fuzz balls" through various mazes.  As the levels progress, the coding skills needed get more complex.  The only guideline that students were given is that they were not able to ask adults for help.  If they were stuck on a level, their options were to work through it or ask a classmate for help.
Students found a comfortable spot to work on Kodable.

Some students chose to work together as a large group.
After students were given ample time to delve into Kodable, it was time to come back as a group and tie our activity back to our conversation about 21st Century Skills.  As a group, we talked about the different skills needed in order to be successful at Kodable.  Students were able to see that Kodable, although fun and engaging, was actually preparing them for skills they will need for their future careers!

Students completed a short reflection based on their experience.  We were curious to hear what students enjoyed about Kodable, what they found to be difficult, and their top three 21st Century Skills used during Kodable time.
This student believes using a variety of techniques is important for coding.

This student was creative and thought of many different ideas to tackle the coding challenge.

From reading the reflections, we observed that students used many skills during Kodable.  Some of the skills used included generating ideas, using information, showing independent initiative, learning from mistakes, and using a variety of techniques.  The majority of students enjoyed using Kodable and many students liked tackling the challenge presented by coding.

For a blind student in the class, Kodable was not going to be a great option.  Instead, he was able to use homemade arrows (made from rulers and popsicle sticks).  With the help of his teaching assistant, they used the arrows to create coding sequences for navigating to different points in the library.  He says that coding involves good listening skills.
Homemade arrows for physical coding.

A reflection for the physical coding activity. Concentration and good listening were key!
For the second day of the coding activity, we chose to use a different type of coding device - the Bee Bots.  Bee Bots are a tool where students can manually punch in directions.  The Bee Bot will then follow the code to a desired point on the Bee Bot mat.  Students were first introduced to how to program the Bee Bot.  Next, students created their own coding sequences.

As an additional challenge, we had Bee Bot mats set at an increasing level of difficulty.  The first mat contained a start square and a stop square without any other obstacles.  For students looking for a more difficult task, we introduced the lava mat.  There were numerous squares which contained "lava" - it was necessary to program the Bee Bot to avoid all of the lava squares.

Before students could test their hand at the Bee Bots, they first needed to record their coding sequences.  Here is an example of two different coding sequences through the lava mat:
Two different coding sequences.
Once students created their coding sequences, they were invited up to the mats in order to test their code.  Some students created successful codes, while other students were able to see the errors in their code.
Programming the coding sequence into the Bee Bot.

The Bee Bot avoids the lava squares!
At the end of this activity, the students again worked on a short reflection.  We were eager to learn if the students coded the Bee Bot successful.  If not, we wanted to hear about what could be improved upon for next time.  We were also interested in hearing why students thought coding was an important skill.  Lastly, we wanted students to leave any tips or thoughts for students that may want to try coding in the future.  The students shared excellent observations during this reflection.  It was nice to hear that students enjoyed using the Bee Bots, even though the activity was challenging!
This student shared that there are many job openings for people that know how to code.

This student shares that perseverance is the key to coding!
Mrs. LoBianco's students showed a high level of perseverance and engagement throughout this activity.  We were happy to be able to introduce coding concepts to students.  We hope to see many fifth grade faces at Maker Club so they may continue to work on their 21st Century Skills!


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