Major Project Reflection – Coding in the Classroom

I can’t believe we’ve already reached the end of this semester. It’s crazy to think about how much our personal lives have changed since the first class on January 7. In the first two months of this semester, I was still coaching sports, teaching in my physical classroom, going to the gym, shaking hands with people, and even my first trip to Disneyworld! The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly changed our lifestyles and routines. This pandemic has given me a lot of opportunity to reflect and think about many different things, especially in regards to educational technology. When this is all over, I’m curious to see what structures or practices will change in education. I’m hopeful that we can critically look at our experiences and practices post Covid-19 and make some positive changes to education. In regards to my major project about coding, I accomplished most of the major goals I set at the beginning of the semester.

As I wrote about in my first blog post, I’ve been very skeptical about coding over the past couple of years. For me, most of that skepticism has come from not seeing meaningful curriculum connections when coding. I’ve been privileged to attend multiple PD sessions about coding but still couldn’t fully jump into it. I can honestly say that my learning through this major project has given me the skills and confidence to spend some more time coding in my grade 5/6 classroom. I can see value and purpose and I look forward to seeing where I can take this in the middle years classroom. I’ve actually had multiple students ask if they can learn some coding during this supplemental learning period.

The Learning Journey

To start my major project, I spent hours reading and trying to make sense of the terms of service and privacy policies for Scratch and Micro:bit. As we had just heard Mary Beth Hertz speak, these ideas were still fresh on my mind. This was honestly the first time in my life I dedicated more than 10 seconds to a policy for a tool I was using for my personal use. As I wrote about in my blog post, these policies are full of legal jargon, confusing, and not really enjoyable to read. Even though the read wasn’t that great, it was truly a rewarding experience to go through this process. It really make me think and reflect on my practice of using digital tools. As we shifted into online supplementary learning, I was questioning these things and applying this learning to the process. Whether its for personal or educational purposes, I still ponder the question: What’s the value of our persona data?

Once I was finished with the policies, I shifted into the fun stuff of my project. I spent a lot of time coding on both Scratch and Microbit. During my coding experience on Scratch, I was able to get a solid understanding of how the coding software works. I gained a good understanding of most of the functions and addressed common challenges I foresee in the classroom. I think that Scratch is a tool that can easily be used in the middle years classroom.

Once I was finished exploring with Scratch, I shifted directly into Micro:bit. To be honest, I think this was the most enjoyable part of the entire coding experience. I had a great time coding with Micro:bit and I look forward to sharing this with my students. As I highlighted in my blog post, I spent a lot of time exploring and troubleshooting common challenges that I would come across when using in the classroom. I’m very hopeful that I can get my hands on a few Micro:bit’s and explore this with my students.

As I could have spend my entire major project simply just coding, I had to spend some time addressing my other goals for the project. I researched and explored ways to connect coding with Saskatchewan grade 6 curriculum. Through this process, I was able to find authentic connections to ELA, Arts Ed, Science, Math, and Social Studies. I know for a fact that there are so many other ways to connect coding to the curriculum. Through some collaboration on Twitter, I was introduced to some new ideas and resources I hadn’t come across in my research.

Lastly, I explored and did some research on the Saskatchewan Robotics and Automation curriculum that was introduced last year. I was able to get a strong understanding of the structure and key components of this curriculum. This learning gave me the confidence and re-assurance that coding should be taught and explored in our elementary schools.

In conclusion, I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to explore coding for my major project. I was able to develop and advance my technical skills when it comes to using coding software in the classroom. In addition, I found that “proof” I’ve been searching for over the last couple years. I can see the value of using this in my classroom. More importantly, I think this learning will benefit many students that I have a major influence on. I look forward to the day that I can introduce and explore coding with my students.

Exploring the Robotics and Automation Curriculum

As part of my major project, I wanted to spend some time exploring the Saskatchewan Robotics and Automation Curriculum. Although this is a high school curriculum, I thought it would be valuable to see how my students can continue using the skills learned in the middle years when they move to high school. In addition, I though it would be valuable to identify some important concepts and find way to incorporate this into the middle year. I believe that approaching coding and robotics as a continuum is far more valuable than random coding activities.

It appears that this curriculum was introduced to school divisions in the fall of 2019. According to a CBC article from September of 2019, “School divisions are responsible for determining what schools in their jurisdictions will offer these courses,” an email from the ministry said. “Divisions assess local needs and make programming decisions accordingly.” When I read that, I’m curious as to how often these programs are offered in our high schools across this province. In addition, do our schools have the necessary tools and resources to successfully offer these programs? Resources for robotics are not cheap and I worry they would not get the adequate funding to create a strong robotics program.

As I am an elementary school teacher, I do not know if these courses are offered regularly in our high schools. Please leave comment below if you can provide some insight on this question.

What is this course about?

The focus of this course is on design, construction, operation and use of autonomous and/or radio-controlled robotic devices. In addition, a focus is placed on the computer systems necessary for their control. Project based learning, design thinking, and inquiry learning are used to help students explore the processes and skills needed to design devices that they can control. Students can explore technology, automation, and robotics in this course. Lastly, computational thinking and coding skills will be developed to help them control their robotics or automated devices.

How should robotics and automation be taught?

The curriculum suggests two different course configurations for each grade level be developed; one with an autonomous focus and one that reflects a radio-controlled focus. An autonomous course would focus on the programming a robotic or autonomous device to perform pre-determined tasks. Some examples of this that are also used in elementary school include Ozobots or Edisons.

The second type of course they suggest is a radio-controlled focus. This is when the actions of a device are not pre-determined and need to be controlled by an operator. An example of this would be a robotics competition, where students control a robot to perform specific tasks. There was a group of high school students from the Trojans Robotics Team that traveled to Houston for a robotics competition.

The curriculum also allows teachers to create a course with a mixed focus of both components.

What are some key components of robotics and automation courses?

Computational Thinking: A broad set of problem-solving processes which provide a new entry points for new ways of thinking. Teachers should highlight the essentials of computational thinking, which include decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithm design.

Elegant Code: It needs to be simple and easy to understand. Developing an algorithm which simplifies code will make it more efficient. Writing elegant code involves carefully analyzing the problem and creating a balance between a minimal amount of code and the code being reusable.

Reusable Code: Teaching students how to find the bit of code they want and to interpret how to adapt it is a valuable part of learning to code.

Visual or Block Based Coding: Students that use visual coding environments have shown greater learning gains and higher level of interest in future computing courses. Students should also use text based editor as they are more similar to what professional programmers do. There is value in using both types of coding.

Design Thinking: This is a process for creative problem solving that uses human-centered approach to innovation. Design thinking is inherent to the project based nature of designing and actualizing a robot or device. This also empowers students as makers and creators who solve problems by using working devices.

In conclusion, I think there are many good reasons as to why there should be robotics and automation classes offered in all of our high schools. For one, many students will likely pursue a career in a technology field that will utilize the skills developed through this course. Whether it be computational thinking or text based coding, these skills will be very valuable more many students. This is the perfect time for them to prepare and develop the proper skills to be successful in the professional world. I have personally used the design thinking model in my classroom and had great success with it. This model allowed my students to identify real world problems and take the appropriate steps to address it. Through this model, it allowed my students to think about problems in a different way, collaborate with their peers, and create products to fix these problems.

I love forward to seeing this curriculum being offered more frequently in our high schools, as Dean mentioned on Twitter. As a middle years teacher, I plan to further develop my students skills to be successful in these programs.

Ethical and Legal Issues In Education

As I embark on my personal journey through supplemental learning, there are many ethical and legal issues that a teacher must consider when putting together supplemental curriculum to be delivered online. In my personal experience over the past couple weeks, I agree that this is not an easy task when we consider these two things. The reality of the current situation is that teacher’s are working extremely hard, stressed out, and trying their very best to put together something meaningful for their students. In a situation such as our current reality, where teachers are expected to develop supplementary curriculum to be delivered online in a relatively short period of time, I find it difficult to judge a teacher’s decisions, even if they are stretching copyright law a little bit. There’s no manual or guidebook for this experience. And for that reason, we must be empathetic and supportive of our colleagues during this difficult time. As a profession as a whole, I think we have many things to learn about the legalities when using other people’s work in the classroom.

In my personal situation, I can critically look at the situation and see that I’m privileged when it comes to developing a curriculum to be delivered online. Technology has been embedded in my teaching practice since the start of my career, I’m in a graduate level course on educational technology, and I have 1:1 technology in my classroom. Even with my experience with technology in the classroom, this process has still been a great challenge for me. I can only imagine the stress many teachers are experiencing during these times. As I continue on this journey, I am challenging myself to consider some of the moral, ethical, and legal issues when developing curriculum to be delivered online. More importantly, I am hoping to find ways to support my fellow colleagues during these difficult times.

As Curtis mentioned in his video, we have to remember that not all of our students have equal access to technology and the digital divide is something we must think about as teachers. The digital divide is, “A term that refers to the gaps in access to information and communication technology.” Over the past week, I have been working with parents and students in my class to get a better understanding of what their personal technology situation looks like at home. Through this experience, I’ve quickly learned that every student’s situation looks significantly different. Some students have a laptop, others have a tablet, and some simply have their parent’s old phone. There are students that must share a laptop with 3 of their siblings, some share with their parents, and others have no technology whatsoever. The digital divide in my classroom of 26 students is significant enough to create major challenges when trying to learn online. In saying that, there are much greater challenges in many of our schools where kids come from poverty and low socio-economic status. As someone mentioned on Twitter (I can’t remember who said it…), this unequal access to technology is a societal issue that needs to be addressed to change the digital divide. I think this issue goes far beyond the walls of elementary school and applies to people in all walks of life.

http://www.cbc.ca

Another ethical issue I connected with during our class was the issues that come with copyright in the classroom. As Laurie said in her video, “With this instant access, students can easily copy and past without putting any thought into what is free and what is copyrighted.” I will be the first person to admit that I’ve definitely been guilty of this bad practice in the past. As I have become more aware of this issue, I’ve been trying to teach my students the proper ways to get information and images online. This year, I’ve really focused on pushing my students towards Pixabay and Creative Commons when they need images from the internet. From my experience, most students in grade 5/6 often have no idea that grabbing images from Google and putting them into their Adobe Spark videos is considered illegal.

Pixabay

I have always taught at schools with a large number of EAL learners so I really enjoyed reading Melinda’s blog post about plagiarism with EAL students. As Melinda said, “I also think we often misjudge our students’ level of language proficiency and just because someone sounds fluent we assume their academic language as well. Sometimes the very high expectations do force students to fall into the trap of plagiarizing to prove themselves to our society.” I know that I’ve been guilty of this in my own classroom, with EAL students try to prove themselves to me. This post was a great reminder to me about the challenges that EAL learners face when they come into our classrooms. Before we assume any bad intentions, we need to put ourselves in their shoes and understand the challenge they are facing in our classroom.

Lastly, the conversation around Fair Dealing in the classroom was very beneficial. As Curtis mentioned, the Fair Dealing Decision Tool is a very valuable resource for teachers to use when considering materials in the classroom. Earlier in the day before our class started, I was brainstorming some ideas for language arts for supplemental learning. The book I was hoping to use was completely recorded on YouTube. Now that I’m more aware of these things, I definitely understood that this book is not supposed to be recorded on YouTube in this manner. Although this series of videos would have been very convenient to developing my resource, I decided against using it as I know this is in clear copyright violation. During times like this, where teachers are expected to create quality digital resources, I think it’s a great challenge for teachers to follow copyright law and execute their plans or goals in the digital space. I am curious as to how teachers are dealing with copyright law and issues!

Connecting Coding to Saskatchewan Curriculum – Grade 6

When I began this project, I had many different goals that I hoped to achieve by the end of the term. I identified one of my goals as being far more important than the others. That was my goal of finding authentic and meaningful connections to Saskatchewan curriculum when coding in the classroom. I’ve been struggling with this question for a few years now, which has caused a lot of hesitation and uncertainty when it comes to coding. As coding in a grade 5/6 classroom can be very time consuming, I need to justify using this additional time on this skill. For this part of the project, I analyzed the Saskatchewan grade 6 curriculum to find meaningful and authentic connections. Through my research and connecting with a few people on Twitter, I was able to discover some authentic and meaningful ways to incorporate coding into a grade 6 classroom.

Arts Ed:

CP6.11: Investigate and use various visual art forms, images, and art-making processes to express ideas about identity.

  • As evidenced by Santa Barbara High School in San Diego, coding in the classroom can be used to teach many of the same skills traditionally taught on paper. Whether that be colour, light, or perspective, coding software can be used to teach these same curriculum outcomes. In my personal opinion, I think could be a beneficial alternative for many students, as many of them lack the traditional visual art skills. In my personal experience in a visual arts classroom, I would’ve found a lot more success had this been an option when I was in school.

Career Education:

CC6.1: Investigate various aspects of careers and their requirements.

  • Coding is a natural way to get students thinking about computer science and the various careers one could pursue with a computer science degree. I think that coding is a natural fit within computer science, as students are able to explore some aspects of the career through use of coding in then classroom.

English Language Arts:

CC6.7: Write to describe a place; to narrate an incident from own experience in a multi-paragraph composition and in a friendly letter; to explain and inform in multi-step directions and a short report explaining a problem and providing a solution; and, to persuade to support a viewpoint or stand.

  • As shown in Google’s coding curriculum, coding activities can connected with the elements of narrative writing. The grade 6 ELA curriculum calls for students to create narratives that include plot, setting, and character detail. Not only are students able to work on curricular outcomes, this allows students to use their creativity and critical thinking skills in a unique way.
  • For those looking to take it even further, CoSpaceEDU can be used to retell stories and further develop stories.
Eric McCalmon Grade 5/6 Classroom

Math:

SS6.4: Demonstrate understanding of the first quadrant of the Cartesian plane and ordered pairs with whole number coordinates.

  • As suggest by Tina Noel, there are many Scratch lessons that can be directly connected with mathematics. In the Saskatchewan grade 6 math curriculum, students are required to learn about coordinate grids. Students could use their coding skills to move across the grid and learn more about axis, ordered pairs, and plotting points on a grid.

Social Studies:

RW6.2: Contribute to initiating and guiding change in local and global communities regarding environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

  • As suggested by Jenn Stewart-Mitchell, students can participate in a project where they tackle climate change issues and use micro:bit’s to create tangible solutions to real world problems. At the same time, students are able to dive deeper and learn more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Climate Change Action Kit

Science:

EL6.2: Investigate the characteristics and applications of static electric charges, conductors, insulators, switches, and electromagnetism.

  • Through the use of a micro:bit, students can further their understanding of how conductors and and switches work. Micro:bit provides an excellent lesson plan on how to achieve this in your science classroom.

After doing some research, it’s clear to me that there are many meaningful ways to incorporate coding into a grade 6 classroom. In addition to the direct curriculum links, students also learn many other valuable skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, problem solving, and perseverance. If we want to truly develop these skills in our students, coding appears to be one of the many tools we can use to develop these important skills in our students.

Please let me know if you have any other project/assignment ideas that you think would be beneficial in the middle years classroom!

Coding With Micro:bit

When I choose my major project back in January, I decided that I wanted to further my understanding of Micro:bit. I have attended a few PD sessions over the past year that included Micro:bit’s as part of their coding presentation. I was at a PD earlier this year and received a Micro:bit to use in my classroom. Up until this point, it has sat in my desk drawer and I haven’t given it enough attention. So here I am ready to explore and learn more about Micro:bit’s!

Micro:bit 101: The Basics

“The micro:bit is a tiny computer that makes coding tangible and promotes digital creativity”

Micro:bit Box
Computer, USB, & Battery

What’s the cost?

Unfortunately, there is a cost associated with using micro:bit, as you need to buy the tiny computer. There are a variety of companies that sell the Micro:bit in Canada. For the kit pictured above, it looks like the price starts around $27 according to Elmwood Electronics. Once the micro:bit bundle has been purchased, the coding software is completely free. I see the cost of purchasing the micro:bit the biggest challenge when implementing this coding program in the classroom. I don’t think you would need a micro:bit for every student in your class, as they can use the simulator prior to downloading their coding to the micro:bit.

Coding Experience

As I did when experimenting with Scratch, I wanted to simply explore the program without using tutorials or support videos. I used this approach again because I like to put myself in the positions of an inexperienced teacher who’s tight on time or a student exploring coding for the first time. In saying, it looks like Micro:bit as many different tutorials for a user to go through and code. I will take you through my my experience of coding using micro:bit.

Initial Coding Screen
  • When you start a new project, you are led to the screen above. On the left hand side, there is a simulator where you can test your coding. I like this feature as it allows you to preview your coding prior to downloading it on to the micro:bit. As you are unlikely to have a micro:bit for every student in your class, this allows everyone to see the product of their coding. Students could potentially share a micro:bit and take turns downloading their coding onto the tiny computer.
  • The block section in the middle of the screen is very clear and concise. The blocks are easy to find and can be dragged into the coding area.
  • It has “On Start” and “Forever” blocks to make the start a simple process. You can easily remove those blocks if you are not going to use them.

Coding Sample
  • As you can see above, I was able to code a variety of things fairly easily. I was able to code the message “ECI832” when your press A on the micro:bit. The leds will light up and show the message.
  • When you press B, there would be a string message that says, “I Love Coding.”
  • Lastly, when you shake the micro:bit, a smiley face appear.
  • Overall, this coding software is very user friendly. I see this being a major positive when using this in the classroom, as it can be quite the task to have 25-30 students learning how to code.
Simulator

Downloading code to the micro:bit

First thing you will need to do is connect your micro:bit to your computer using the USB. Once you have done this, you click the download button located underneath the simulator on the bottom left of the screen. This will create a “.hex” file in your download folder. Once the file has downloaded, you can put the code on the micro:bit in two different ways:

  1. Right click the file and select “Send to.” You then select “MICROBIT (D:)”
  2. Simply drag and drop the file to the MICROBIT (D:)

Once the file has been downloaded on to the micro:bit, you are free to disconnect the micro:bit from the computer and plug in the battery pack. It will also perform the same tasks while still connected to your laptop. The video below will show you the end results of this coding experience. Enjoy!

Miro:bit Coding Example

Literacy in the 21st Century

As I think about the term literacy, I can’t help but think about the traditional forms of literacy that have dominated the school landscape for so many years. When I think about my years as as student, this is how I often think about literacy. Traditionally, literacy has been popularly known as, “An ability to read, write, and use numeracy in at least one method of writing.” Although these skills are still part of the core skills taught in school, I think it’s important to expand our definition of literacy. As technology has evolved and become a major part of our lives, we need to consider and understand the importance of digital literacy. According to the American Library Association, digital literacy can defined as, “The ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” For a person to be “fully literate”, I believe that a person must possess digital literacy, in addition to the traditional forms of literacy. Not only do students require digital literacy skills, physical literacy plays an important role in this complex conversation.

Digital Literacy

https://medium.com/literate-schools/redefining-literacy-in-the-21st-century-139894b14fd4

It’s difficult to say exactly what digital literacy is because it’s constantly evolving and changing. When I think about this concept in my role as a teacher, it becomes more clear of the skills and activities to help students become digitally literate. According to Common Sense Media, some important skills for students to learn include:

  • Searching effectively: We need to be teaching our students how to evaluate quality, credibility, and validity of the resources they are using. In addition, students need to know how to give proper credit when using digital sources. An example could include using Pixabay opposed to Google Images when using images in presentations. I also came across Canada’s “Notice and Notice” regime regarding copyright law.
  • Protecting their information online: Students should learn basic internet safety skills, such as creating strong passwords, using privacy settings, and respecting other’s privacy. In a simple and practical sense, I think that students should have understanding about sharing other’s images. As Victoria shared this week, there is a difference between consent and assent.
Twitter –
  • Understanding digital footprints: Kids need to understand that all of their online interactions contribute to their digital footprint. They need to ensure they are doing their best to create a positive digital footprint.

Overall, those are just a few practical ways to teach students how to be digitally literate. More important than digital literacy, being literate in the 21st century requires a person to, “Be willing to constantly learn about and adapt to many different areas of life, subjects, and environments.”

Balance is important

As with anything in life, I believe that balance is important when thinking about literacy. Even though I’m a huge supporter of technology, I can also see how this increased technology use, both in our personal lives and education, is having a negative impact on our physical health. That’s why I believe that physical literacy must be part of the conversation if our goal is develop “fully literate” people. According to the International Physical Literacy Association, “Physical literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.” As a teacher, I can see how little importance is placed on physical literacy, as other areas such as digital, reading, and writing are constantly thriving. As teachers, we must see consider the overall benefits that physical literacy will have on our students.

Sport For Life

In the fall of 2019, I was lucky to take a course called, “Exploring Well Being Through Health, Outdoor, and Physical Education” with Dr. Nick Forsberg. For me personally, this class was extremely rewarding as it was a strong reminder to me about the importance of physical literacy and using the outdoors in education. Through this course, we learned about the idea of The Nature Principle, which is essentially using nature to improve our health and well-being. “Research describes the restorative power of nature – its impact on our senses and intelligence; on our physical, psychological, and spiritual health; and on the bonds of family, friendship, and the multi species community” (The Nature Principle, 2012). When applying these ideas to literacy, there are so many reasons to consider physical literacy and the outdoors when talking about literacy. An increased use of physical activity and the outdoors will likely improve the skills in other areas, such as reading and writing.

Outdoor Ed

Conclusion…?

I think the idea of creating a “fully literate” person is a very difficult task. As a society, we place a certain amount of importance on certain literacies (digital, writing, reading) as other’s are pushed to the backburner (physical, financial, artistic). Being a teacher, I think it’s important for me to find a balance among all of them and find ways to effectively develop these skills in our students. This is definitely not an easy task, as there is increaded pressure to develop certain literacies, such as standardized assessments in writing and math. Overall, I think a balanced approach to teaching literacy will create well-rounded, healthy students.

Digital Citizenship In School – A Teacher’s Perspective

As I reflect on the school’s role in teaching digital citizenship, it’s quite clear to me that we must continue developing these skills and understandings in our students. For last week’s class, Matt and I created a video that focused on the school’s role in teaching digital citizenship. We are both big time supporters of digital citizenship in the classroom, as we have experienced the positive and negatives that come with an increased use of technology in our students.

Mike Ribble – Digital Citizenship

What role should schools play in teaching digital citizenship?

Why?

“In Canada, 99% of young people in grades 4 through 11 access the internet outside of school.” – Technology is very much a part of kid’s lives these days. Whether they are using it for educational or entertainment purposes, it’s in every aspect of their life. That alone is a good enough reason to teach digital citizenship, as they need the skills to use this technology effectively. Technology is not going away anytime soon…or ever. So I think we must embrace it and further develop the skills in our young people.

“Students are generally proficient at basic use of technology, but are not necessarily critical users and lack the skills to be safe and responsible online.” – I’m sure at some point you’ve heard, “These kids are so good with technology these days.” While that statement is true 99% of the time, a student’s skill set must go beyond simple being able to use it. Students must be taught to critically analyze images, stories, tweets, and the news. They also need to be taught about privacy and digital law, such as using creative commons to legally use pictures in their presentations. They also need to be taught how their information is used by big corporations to target advertisements towards them. That’s a small sample of all the things they need to be taught to be good digital citizens.

“Active Digital Citizenship & Participation” – One of the most important jobs as a teacher is to create caring kids who stand up for one another, participate in their community, and become positive members of society. How does this look in the digital world? Students must be taught that the digital world is actually the real world, there is no difference. Therefore, their actions, behaviours, and words online should resemble the person they are when not using technology.

How?

For digital citizenship to be effective in school, I believe there needs to be a strong effort to embed these topics and concepts into all curricular areas. If I critically analyze my current practice, this is an area that needs some improvement. At the start of every school year, I often take my students through a series of lessons and activities focused on digital citizenship. Although these resources and activities are exceptional and have been developed by strong education technology leaders, I need to continue working on incorporating these concepts in all subject areas. As shown in Finland, these strategies can be extremely valuable in developing strong critical thinkers when using technology. Some basic examples include:

Regina Catholic Schools Approach to Digital Citizenship – Dean Vendramin & Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell

Overall, there’s an incredible amount of information to support digital citizenship in the classroom. As the world deals with fake news, disease, political turmoil, and many other issues, we need to properly prepare our students to live and participate in this world. If we fail to properly educate our students, what does that mean for the future of our students? More importantly, how can we develop strong leaders that leverage technology to maximize their positive contributions to society?

Starting Simple on Scratch

Where to begin! Over the past few years as a middle years teacher, I’ve briefly dabbled with Scratch here and there. Nothing major and I have definitely not been using the program to it’s fullest capability. Lucky for me, I get to focus my major project on a few coding programs that can be used in the classroom. Even though I’ve used a little bit of coding, I still consider myself to be a beginner with a lot to learn about coding. Not only do I have a lot to learn about the actual process of coding, I have a lot to learn about curriculum connections and the pedagogical thinking behind coding.

For my “first” experience using Scratch, I wanted to simply explore the program and see what I would notice. I choose not to read any articles or watch any videos, as I figured this would be an authentic way to experience the program. Would anything stand out to me? Would I have any major challenges? Would I be able to create anything interesting? Here’s how it went!

As I have used a little bit of Scratch in the classroom, this screen wasn’t a total surprise to me. I’ve been on this screen a few times and yet, I’m still confused as to what I should be doing at this point. Is there truly a “starting point?” I don’t really think there is a specific place to start. To get my bearings, I played around with some of the functions and tools on this page. As I have done a little bit of coding, it didn’t take me long to figure out a few features on this page. For a beginner, I foresee this page being very intimidating and challenging for someone logging on to Scratch for the first time. There are many different functions and buttons that I think would be very confusing at the beginning. A few questions I could see include:

  • Where do I put the code? – In the big box, in any order… I think
  • What is a sprite?The character that you can move
  • How do I get this sprite to move?I put in random blocks hoping something would eventually work. Start with an event and then motion block.

The first thing I changed was the background, as the white one wasn’t doing much for the setting of my story. I changed this background by clicking the backdrop option in the bottom right corner. You have the option of using a stock background or upload one of your liking. I used the boardwalk option, as I figured my sprite would enjoy a walk across the boardwalk on a nice summer day. Also, I’m getting sick of winter so this was made me feel better!

Changing the backdrop

Moving the sprite (character) is very simple as you can drag and drop wherever you would like it to start. You also have the option to input x and y coordinates to change the location of the sprite. These coordinates will be beneficial later in the coding process, as you can return your sprite to the original location or somewhere else.

X & Y Coordinates for Sprite

So now that I’ve established a setting and character, I decided that I wanted my sprite to walk across the boardwalk. During his walk across the board, he got very excited and leaped into the air. After his leap, he said that he wanted ice cream and then continued to walk across the boardwalk.

Basic Coding Sequence

Some things I learned in this section include:

  • Make sure you start your sequence of code with an event. I wasted time putting in motion code blocks assuming it would just magically work. In my example, the movement begins when I click the little green flag above the work area.
  • I created a second event that would return my sprite to the original location. This was very helpful as I was developing the sequence. You can use the original X and Y coordinates to return your sprite to the original location.
  • The glide block makes for better transitions than the move block. You have control over the speed and the precise location you want the sprite to travel. The move block is very abrupt and you have less control over where you would like the sprite to move.
Scratch – Project #1

In the end, I was able to successfully create a very short sequence of coding. I know it’s nothing spectacular, but it’s definitely a good starting point in terms of my understanding of the coding process. Going forward, I hope to create a more complex coding sequence with multiple backgrounds and sprites.

Stay tuned for more!

My Digital Identity… Or Lack Of?

In this week’s class of #eci832, we focused on the idea of digital identity. We participated in a cyber sleuthing activity, which I found to be very rewarding and a good reminder about how much information one can find about you online. In a very short period (20 minutes) and sporadic method to our search, our group was able to find out a significant amount of information about someone we had never met. Some of the things we discovered in this activity were:

  • Professional information (Ex: Where she currently teaches)
  • Biographical information (Ex: Where she is originally from)
  • Information about her family and interests (Ex: She likes curling)

As I was working through this activity, it reminded me of a assignment that I completed during my undergraduate studies in ECMP355. I haven’t Googled myself in a few years so I took some time to complete this activity. Here’s a few things you would find out if you Googled Trevor Kerr:

Twitter: When you scroll through my Twitter page, it won’t take you long to figure out that I’m a teacher and a master’s student. I’d say over 95% of my content is professional. Whether it be for a summer book chat or this master’s class, most of the content is geared around education. You will find very little personal information about me on my Twitter page, outside of a few retweets and a couple posts about books that I enjoy.

If you dug a little deeper, you would find an old Twitter page I used in my classroom. On this page, you will find the general reminders and a few examples of stuff that was happening in the classroom

School Division Page: You will also come across my my school division teacher page. On this page, you will find out that I teach grade 5/6 at St. Kateri. You will also find a copy of my classroom procedures, laptop procedures, introduction letter, and a student timetable.

A couple years ago, this public page would have given viewers a greater glimpse as to what was happening in my classroom. You would find homework, pictures, updates, and other information. The problem, there weren’t that many parents actually looking at the page. As you can see the message, “Seesaw will be used for all communication this year.” When I realized that parents, the most important stakeholder in their child’s education, weren’t using this page, I shifted over to Seesaw and had great success with this tool.

Some other things I discovered:

  • Flag football and ball hockey statistics
  • 2008 Leader Post article about high school football

Overall, I didn’t find anything exciting or negative when cyber sleuthing myself. The reason for this… I don’t contribute anything to the digital space unless required to for a class or a school project. My last post on Instagram was July 2018 and Facebook goes back even further than this. I’m 100% a lurker, as I spend many hours reading or consuming media online.

Implications for the Future

It would be unwise to not consider my current practice in regards to shaping my digital identity. Through this learning and deeper reflection about my digital identity, I have come up with a few questions that I need to consider carefully. These questions include:

  • If applying for a higher position or a new job, will I be a less desirable candidate due to my limited digital presence?
  • Should I spend more time crafting a positive image of myself in the digital space?
  • How does one find a healthy balance between lurking and sharing in the digital space?
  • What assumptions would an employer make if they were to look me up online?

I know that maintaining and developing my digital identity is a very important aspect of living in the 21st century. For me, it’s about taking a leap and having the confidence to contribute in the digital space.

Students’ Digital Identities

As a teacher, I have often used the idea of the digital footprint when teaching my students about their digital identity.

For me, this concept has given students the ability to critically look at their content and behaviour online. Through this teaching, students are able to recognize the ways in which they are positively and negatively contributing to their digital footprint. Students are also able to see how every single thing they do in the digital space will contribute to their digital footprint. I think that students often fail to see how their actions online will follow them for the rest of their lives.

I truly believe that teaching about digital identity has a very important role in our current educational system. School is a very social place, and many of these social interactions and relationships develop outside of the school on various types of media. Through my experience as a teacher, I have witnessed many students not understanding the implications of their actions in the digital space. Students need to continue developing the skills and understanding about their actions online and how this can have a drastic impact on their future.

I also believe that student’s need to be taught ways in which they can contribute to a positive digital identity. As technology continues to develop and have a greater role in everyone’s life, students need to be aware that this digital identity could and will have a major role in their futures. Going forward, students must know that their employers are likely going to look them up prior to hiring them. Will their digital footprint increase or decrease their odds of landing a job?

Where do I go from here?

In conclusion, I don’t have a clear answer as to where I will go from here. I can honestly say that I’ve been here before and told myself, “You need to contribute more on Twitter!” A few days will pass, a few Tweets will be sent out, and then I’m back at the place of simply being a lurker online. I’m very hopeful that this class will be the push I need to continue developing a positive digital identity. I think it’s about gaining the confidence to share in such a vast space. As I continue to make connections and build that confidence, I hope to take a small step towards becoming a regular contributor in the digital space.

Scratch, Micro:bit, and Dig Cit: A Closer Look at Terms of Service & Privacy Policies

“I agree to the Terms and Conditions” – Yeah yeah…

“I agree to the Privacy Policy” – Ahh, they are watching us anyway…

As a major user of the internet for the past 20 years, I can’t imagine how many times I’ve agreed to terms and conditions and privacy policies for a variety of websites, apps, or tools. In terms of using technology for my personal life, whether it be for Facebook, Snapchat, or WordPress, I’ll admit that I’ve never read more than a single line of these long-winded pages. I honestly don’t have a good reason as to why I skip the reading and simply click the box. After a quick reflection, I came up with these very simple reasons as to why I don’t these policies. Here are a few reasons:

  • They are way too long. Who has the time or patience to read all of this information?
  • The legal language is confusing. To the average consumer, this legal jargon is confusing and takes some serious concentration to actually comprehend. You might want to consider hiring a lawyer to explain this to you in lame man’s terms.
  • To be honest, I don’t even think about clicking the box. I’ve been so accustomed to these policy messages, I just bypass them so I can quickly create my account.

I’m aware that those are simply lazy and bad habits when using the internet. It took a major project in #eci832 to finally get me exploring and thinking about the implications of these policies. Going forward, I think my slightly increased awareness about terms of service and privacy might cause me to stop and think for a second before clicking the box.

When using programs and resources for educational purposes, I can honestly say that I only look for one thing. “How old do they have to be to use this program?” If they are old enough, I continue on my way and use this program in the classroom. When they are not old enough, I log on to my school division website and look to see if there is a permission form for that particular program. This is problematic, as I truly don’t know what these companies are doing with student data and information. As an educator, it is my responsibility to ensure that I am keeping my student’s information and privacy safe in the digital world. When thinking about Mike Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship, there is great opportunity to teach students a few of the elements as they are signing up for programs. These include:

  • Digital Law: Are there any legal implications when using this website? What laws exist in our country when using the internet? Are my actions online exempt from the law?
  • Digital Security and Privacy: What happens to my information when I sign up using my full name, age, address, and gender? Who owns this information? Why is my information valuable to companies or corporations? What can I do to protect my privacy and security?

Now getting on to my major project… It was quite the experience trying to understand the terms of service and privacy policies of two programs commonly used in education. I’ve highlighted some key points and personal thoughts when analyzing the policies on Scratch and Micro:bit.

Scratch:

Terms of Service:

  • Scratch is open to children and adults of all ages. This is beneficial for teachers as they don’t need to worry about additional permissions. Also, I find that many programs or applications require students to be 13 years of age, which can make finding valuable educational technology challenging at times.
  • The Scratch team may change the terms of service from time to time. I believe this is quite common in most terms of service agreements, as they control all aspects of the program. This is important to understand as things can change without you even knowing it.
  • “All user-generated content you submit to Scratch is licensed to and through Scratch under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. This allows the Scratch team to display, distribute, and reproduce your content through their channels.” Once you create on Scratch, it essentially becomes available for anyone in the world to share or use. If students create personal content, such as uploading a picture of themselves to the Scratch software, this is freely available to anyone in the world with access to Scratch.
  • In order to save or publish your content on Scratch, you need to create an account. As most projects will take an extended period of time, students will need to create an account to save their work. At this point, students need to be aware of the information they are sharing when creating an account.

Privacy Policy:

  • During account creation, Scratch will ask for a username, country, birth month, year, gender, and email address. If you are under 16, they ask for your parent or guardians’ email address. Through this process, Scratch will be able to gather quite a bit information about students. I can see students using their personal email, even if it states it must be their parents.
  • When you use Scratch, third party service providers collect information about you and your device, through cookies and web server logs. By using Scratch, you consent to the placement of cookies and similar technologies. They information collected includes IP address, network location, what browser you are using, device IDs, and other information. Using specific technologies, Scratch will have the ability to locate where you are in the world. How does a third party service provider use this information to their advantage?
  • Scratch shares personal information to third-party service providers. As age, gender, and other personal information is being gathered, Scratch shares this information with these companies. How do these companies benefit from this information?
  • Data retention: They take measures to delete your personal information or keep it in a form that doesn’t allow you to be identified when this information is no longer necessary for the purposes for which they process it, unless they are required by law to keep it. This area isn’t that clear to me as I’m unsure if they actually ever delete your information. How long does it take Scratch to process it?

Micro:bit

Terms of Service:

  • Your creations on Micro:bit are stored locally. When published on the website, you agree that all of your contributions are available for others to: freely use with attribution on a non-commercial basis, share, copy, and redistribute in any medium. Once your work is published, it’s essentially free for anyone to use. Another reminder for students to understand how their creations can be shared worldwide.
  • You must understand and inform children that posting personal data, sharing contributions that infringes other’s intellectual property rights is a breach of terms of use.
  • Micro:bit can modify, suspend, or discontinue all or part of the service without giving you any notice. Be aware! Make sure you abide by the terms of service.

Privacy Policy:

  • Although anyone can use this resource, it’s been designed for users between 8 and 14 and the educators who use them. This is quite valuable for middle school students, as software can be quite complex for them to understand at times.
  • On Micro:bit’s main site, they enhance the privacy in the following ways:
    • They don’t associate your IP address with any information that can identify you personally. They don’t store personal information such as your name, age, or email address in cookies.
    • They do not use geo-location data from your device but may be able to determine your approximate location from your IP address.

Overall, I learned many things when reading the terms of service and privacy policies on Scratch and Micro:bit. There were definitely times where I had to reread some items 5-10 times, as the legal language made it quite confusing to understand.When I was rereading for the tenth time, I started to think of all the ways this benefits these companies. I think many companies do not want their consumers to read the terms of service and privacy policies, as this could potential hurt their ability to generate profit for their company. If people and students fully understood the privacy implications of signing up for a service, I’m sure there are some users that would choose to not use a service. This leaves me with one final question that can be applied to our personal lives or the lives of our students…

  • What’s the value of your personal data?