1) Hour of Code: An Introduction to Coding for Students
Berkeley students and teachers continue to stretch themselves outside of their comfort zone with technology by trying new tools and learning new skills. This was once again evident during the days leading up to Winter Break when many classrooms participated in the Hour of Code to commemorate Computer Science Education Week; students were introduced to the fundamental building blocks of computer programming through hour-long coding activities (available on the Hour of Code website).
Lots of Berkeley elementary and middle school students joined the over 500 million people worldwide who participated in this 4th annual code.org initiative (“Hour of Code Around the World”). Here is a sampling of participation from across our district.
- Students in Nancy King’s class at Cragmont completed a whole week of code with many students enjoying the activities so much that they continued them at home. Nancy reported students enjoyed: Lightbot, Pong, Alice in Wonderland, Code Monkey, Google Logo, Flappy Bird, and Hack the Code.
- At Malcolm X, Amy Cottle showed videos about coding and discussed how it connects to future jobs. Students chose a coding activity and many were drawn to my personal favorite, the new Google Doodle design activity. (Note: The Google 4 Doodle contest begins on January 8th!)
- Megan Abramson-Ward at Thousand Oaks led a code.org “unplugged” (paper and pencil) activity as well as one online.
- Shawna Suzuki reported to me that parent volunteers at Emerson have organized Hour of Code schoolwide for the past four years. She shared that: “This year was the best ever because of the improved sites, our access to chromebooks, our experience, and amazing parent volunteers.” I watched second graders participate in their second (!!) annual Hour of Code. Last year they programmed Moana. This year a group of parent volunteers led them through the new Minecraft: Hero’s Journey activity.
- Patricia Coe at Longfellow has done Hour of Code for years in her computer classes. Since they’re already working on computer programming projects, she launched Makey Makey, an electronic invention tool that allows users to connect regular objects to computer programs.
- Most math classes at Longfellow also participate each year. I observed the third annual Lightbot competition on iPads in Crystal Paschel’s class (Lightbot is also available as an Hour of Code activity). Melanie Ford organized Hour of Code resources for students and teachers on the Longfellow Library website.
- A number of teachers including Alessia Cook and Jessica Mejia-Smith (both at John Muir), Carla Inniss (Oxford), and Steve Conley (King) bravely launched Hour of Code for the first time. The fifth graders at John Muir made animated winter greetings and students in Steve’s classes created their own Google logo.
Many teachers dedicated more than one hour to coding as the students enjoyed these activities so much.
Even though Computer Science Education Week has passed, the Hour of Code activities are available year round at: https://hourofcode.com/us/learn because it is never too late to take the leap and start coding!
2) Making Education Relevant and Interactive through Technology (MERIT): A Professional Development Opportunity for Educators
The Hour of Code is often the first time our students and teachers experience computer programming (but hopefully not the last!). After observing and leading a number of Hour of Code activities, I realized students who are coding and the teachers leading them went through the same kind of learning curve as I did as part of the MERIT ed tech professional development program.
MERIT, which stands for Making Education Relevant and Interactive through Technology, is an intensive summer institute with follow-up throughout the following school year. It provides educators the opportunity to expand their technology and teaching horizons. Participants dig into the latest and greatest in instructional technology with the ultimate goal of realizing a more dynamic vision of education. This program provides comprehensive tech training covering filmmaking, blogging, podcasting, design thinking, preparation for Google Certified Educator Levels 1 and 2, and more. Highlights included learning ways to go beyond making presentations in Google Slides, incorporating digital storytelling including how to use a green screen, and all about Hyperdocs (to create student-centered, inquiry-based instructional activities where students explore online content and use tech tools to create something that showcases their understanding).
At the end of the two week long summer session, participants leave not only with lots of experience with different tech tools and well-crafted lesson plans and resources, but also an innovative mindset ready to approach teaching and learning in new and inspired ways.
When I began this role (as a teacher on special assignment in instructional technology) just over a year ago, I eagerly applied to MERIT wanting to expand my skill set and build more confidence. Each day of MERIT brought on new challenges and I found myself still self-questioning as I prepared and presented my final project, “Storytelling through StoryCorps” Hyperdoc. Thankfully my confidence was boosted in part because the MERIT middle school group selected my project, as well as a couple others, to present to the whole cohort. Since that experience, I’ve now presented at a number of local workshops and teachers around the Bay Area have used parts of my StoryCorps project. This enhanced my ability to perform a crucial part of my role–leading professional development (PD)!
The most valuable part of my MERIT experience has been establishing my professional learning network (PLN) and finding what I’m now describing as my “tribe.” My cohort continues to connect through social media, email, online classes, and local conferences and workshops. We get together around the Bay Area to eat, discuss books, work, and play. A MERIT friend even came from San Carlos to freeze outside while watching the final performance of the Berkeley Rep’s The Temptations musical, Ain’t Too Proud, with me on the big screen at BAMPFA on a Sunday night. Our cohort uplifts and inspires one another. We bounce ideas around, share resources, and continually teach and learn from one another.
As a member of the MERIT 2017 cohort, I can definitely say this powerful, transformational experience is well worth the commitment. Interested educators should know from the outset that the program demands a significant amount of time. In addition to the summer program, there’s an orientation in the spring and four follow-up days on Saturdays in the fall and winter. Participants also engage in ongoing PD and continue to learn and share over the course of the year. Also keep in mind that MERIT takes place at the Krause Center for Innovation located at Foothill College in Los Altos. Participants receive a stipend upon completion of the summer institute and the entire program.
Check out the MERIT 2018 website for more information and to access the online application (which involves answering a series of open-ended questions and submitting a letter of support from your supervisor). The deadline to apply is January 26th, 2018.
Note: As the website states, participants range in age as well as teaching and tech experience. Anyone in any role who is excited about taking technology to the next level is encouraged to apply!
Please reach out to me if you have any questions and if you’d like to hear more about MERIT.
– Mia Gittlen, K-8 Instructional Technology TSA