A Binary Dance Party

Like many schools, we participated in Computer Science Education Week. Unlike many schools, my students spent longer than an hour on these activities. We started during #CSEdWeek but students continued to refine what they started during that week and are currently working on documenting what they created.

Our Middle School students created dance parties using Code.org’s Dance Party. Two of the students in 7th grade decided to challenge themselves to see if they could create something completely different with the Dance Party platform. One student wanted to create a binary encoder and the other wanted to create a calculator. As the projects progressed, the student trying to create the calculator decided to switch and create a binary decoder instead.

As the students have told me, these are “proof of concept” only – they wanted to show that it was possible to do it. The encoder works with letters A-F (though a few other letters do work or do some things) and encodes to upper-case letters even if you type lower-case letters. The decoder works with the binary for most upper-case letters, though there may be a few letters which don’t decode correctly.

Binary Encoder
Binary Decoder
To use the encoder, type in 4 letters. You may use a space if you wish to type less than 4 letters. I have been told that only the letters A-F work correctly and they will always encode to the binary for the upper-case letter. Once you have entered the letters and/or spaces, you will see colors flash on the screen:

  • Dark Grey or Black = 0 (zero)
  • Light Grey or White = 1 (one)
  • Gold = end of byte marker
  • Red = End of all letters
To use the decoder, type in one byte of information in binary and then press Enter. For example, type 01000011 and press Enter to see the letter C displayed. You must reset and run again in order to enter each byte. The decoder will work for most upper-case letters.

Try these out and see what you think!

If I Could Only Use One …

This year in the Computer Lab, all of my classes spent some time learning to code or learning coding concepts. As I look back on what they accomplished and learned and think about what I want to do next year, I had a thought. If I could only use one app/program/website, what would it be? Honestly, if I had to pick only one, it would have to be Scratch.


This year, 2nd grade through Middle School used Scratch, among other programs, and I love the flexibility it offers. Here’s some of what my students did in Scratch this year:

Drawing Shapes
Many of the grades created a project that would draw shapes. This was a great project to use for multiple grade levels. 2nd graders could guess and try and when it didn’t work, try again. 3rd graders could think about the math involved and check their guess by multiplying the number of times the loop would repeat by the angle of the turn. 4th graders and above could divide 360 by the number of times the loop would repeat and calculate what the angle of the turn should be. Middle School students could use variables to set the number of sides and set the color to use based on a random number. Check out our Shapes Studio to see student examples.

All About Me
Who hasn’t done an All About Me poster or writing assignment with students? I know I have done these in PowerPoint and in Word. Why not let the students program something about themselves. That’s exactly what my 2nd-4th grade students did with their All About Me projects. This was completed right at the end of the year and unfortunately we ran out of time but I see great possibilities here. What about “All About” a main character in a book or a historical figure?

I don’t know about you, but most of my students love video games. I love that Scratch lets them create their own games! This year, 6th grade ended the year by creating a game of their choice. They ran out of time but had a lot of fun and learned a lot about controlling sprites, keeping score, winning and losing games, etc. You can check out their games in our 6th Grade Scratch Studio – also in that studio are their Shapes projects and a 10-block Challenge Project where they had to create something using only 10 specific programming blocks.

Mission Projects
Every 4th grader in California does some kind of Mission Project. Each year in the Computer Lab, I use Mission Research to help teach students about not plagiarizing and how to credit sources, etc. This year, I decided to expand on that and my 4th graders created a project in Scratch about their missions. Scratch could be used in almost any curricular area and I plan to have more grades do curriculum related projects next year. If you want to check out this year’s projects, head over to our 4th Grade Scratch Studio (which also has their Shapes and All About Me projects) to see them.

If you want to see all of the projects my students did this year in one place, check out our 2013-2014 Studio.

Do you see now why I love Scratch? The possibilities are endless!

You do have to have a log in to save work on the Scratch website and yes, you do need an email address to set this up. My students don’t have individual accounts – at least not for school; some of them do have accounts they have set up at home. I have a single account for the Computer Lab but you could easily have one per class or one per grade, for example. At this point, you can have multiple computers logged in to the same account but my students actually work offline.

We have Scratch 1.4 installed on the computers in the lab and 2nd and 3rd grade have been using that version to create their projects. Next year, I will probably install the Scratch 2.0 offline editor rather than continuing to use version 1.4. For 4th grade and up, students just use the Create option on the Scratch website and Upload (open) and Download (save) their work to their computer in the lab. This is a great teaching moment about why it’s “upload” to open your work and “download” to save your work. When a project is finished then I log in and let the student save their work to the class account. The big thing missing when working offline is the backpack but the few times we have needed this, I just log the student in and when they’re done using the backpack, have them log out again. If you want more details on this, check out my Using Scratch With Class Login Instructable.

Now back to that if I could only use one thing. Yes, it would be Scratch but Scratch isn’t perfect. What is?

  • Scratch isn’t good for students who aren’t reading yet. Scratch, Jr. is scheduled to be released soon but it’s going to be an iPad app which won’t work in our lab.
  • It’s been another teaching moment to have 2nd and 3rd graders use Word to write their text for Scratch so they can fix spelling errors and then use Copy and Paste (must be CTRL+V in Scratch) to move the text into their Scratch project. It would be nice to be able to have spell check built into Scratch to avoid that though.
  • I love the way that the activities at Code.org let you see the code you are writing when you use their block programming environment. This would be awesome in Scratch and in my opinion, would create a truly great transition from block programming to a more traditional programming environment.

Luckily, I don’t have to use only one app/program/website to introduce Computer Science concepts and coding to my students. Even though I have many choices, Scratch will still be one of my primary choices!

Are you teaching coding to your students? What would be your ONE choice?

It Was Just One of Those … Years!

I was really excited about the online collaborative projects amd activities that I had scheduled for my classes this past year. Some of them we had done in previous years, both successfully and not so successfully, and some were new projects that my students hadn’t done in the past.

This just seemed to be one of those years where the planets were out of alignment and many of the projects just didn’t work out the way I had envisioned …

1st Grade: Describe A Snowman

My 1st Graders in 2009 did this activity and it was very successful. They loved making and describing the snowmen and trying to recreate our partner school’s snowmen and then seeing the results. I was excited to have this year’s 1st Graders involved in this activity. My students created their snowmen and recorded their descriptions. Then, we waited for our partner school to post their descriptions and my students recreated their partner classes’ snowmen. Unfortunately, our partner school never recreated my students’ snowmen which was a real disappointment for them.

Will I do this one again next year? Writing skills are being emphasized school wide in the upcoming year so having 1st graders involved in an activity where they have to describe something in detail fits in well with this. That means that this activity is on the “let’s try it again next year” list and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that our partner class participates fully.

2nd Grade: Monster Project

I really love the Monster Project and my students have enjoyed participating in it in the past. This year my students loved drawing their monsters and worked hard on their descriptions; writing and editing with their classroom teacher and then typing and editing again in the computer lab after our 6th graders tried to recreate their monsters. I uploaded the descriptions to the Monster Project wiki and we waited for our partner class to post their descriptions or redraw our monsters but sadly it never happened. Eventually, one of the project organizers had some students redraw my student’s monsters but unfortunately my students never had the opportunity to try to recreate someone else’s monster. Since our monsters didn’t get redrawn until May, I never had the chance to have my students reflect on their experience with the project.

Will I do this one again next year? As I mentioned above, writing skills are being emphasized school wide in the upcoming year so, yes, this project is back on the list for next year. I may have both my 2nd & 3rd graders do this since my 3rd graders didn’t get the whole experience when they were in 2nd grade.

4th & 6th Grades: Progressive Story Project

Both my 4th & 6th grade students had fun writing their contributions for the Progressive Story Project. Each class actually progressively wrote their part of the story in the Computer Lab by moving from computer to computer to add to multiple stories and then voting for the best story starter as a class. My 4th graders drew their pictures in KidPix with two students sitting together at a computer and taking turns to add to the drawing. My 6th graders used the drawing tools in Google Docs to work on their pictures at the same time. Unfortunately (and you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), one of the classes on the 4th grade story never sent in their pictures and none of the classes on the 6th grade story added to the story at all so it began and ended with my class.

Will I do this one again next year? Bet you can guess, can’t you? Yes, I will do this one again because it is a writing project and the students did enjoy the creation process and my 4th graders loved it when we read the entire story. I’m not sure if I will do it with 4th grade in the upcoming year or not because 4th grade is joining the Virtual USA Project but I’m definitely doing it again with 6th grade!

5th Grade: Time Zone Experiences

This was the third year that my 5th grade students participated in the Time Zone Experiences project. This year, they enjoyed creating their podcasts for the assigned times and listening to and commenting on the podcasts from the other school. However, due to schedules and other commitments at our school and at the other school involved, there just wasn’t much interaction this year between the classes.

Will I do this one again next year? There’s definitely writing involved with this project and learning to comment on wikis and work asynchronously with others, but after three years and moderate success with the project, I think it’s time to move on. Sadly, it’s never really gotten off the ground and I think it is a great learning experience but I’m planning to do A Week in the Life Flat Classroom Project with 5th Grade in the upcoming year.

8th Grade: Digiteen

This was the first year that I had any students involved with the Digiteen Project. I had followed it in years past and was always somewhat intimidated by it but decided it would be a great project for my 8th graders. I do a lot of Digital Citizenship related activities with my Middle School students and spent the first part of the year reviewing and introducing the tools my 8th graders would need to know to work on the project. Even with that review and their past experiences, my students floundered and felt lost at times. I don’t feel that this was a failure but it wasn’t the success I envisioned either. My students could definitely have used more prior work on researching skills and the fact that I only see them twice a week for 45 minutes each class was a big issue. It was difficult for them to complete the work that needed to be done in that short amount of time. I think that the Action Projects were the most successful part of the project for my students.

Will I do this one again next year? I still love the idea of this project but I am not planning on doing this again this upcoming year. Based on some things that happen at our school at the end of the year, I feel that it would be better for my students to be involved in the Digiteen Project at the beginning of the year and my incoming 8th graders will not be prepared for the project. So, my plan is to spend the time on research skills and wiki editing and other tools with my 7th graders in the upcoming year so that in September of 2012 they will be ready for the Digiteen Project. I am going to try to do some kind of Digital Citizenship project with my 8th graders this year either on Edmodo or maybe via a blog. If you would be interested in joining us, please email me at stmcomputers@gmail.com.

So, that was our adventure in how not to participate in collaborative projects. I refuse to let this scare me away from trying again with some of the same and some new projects for the upcoming year. I’m just crossing my fingers that it won’t be another of those years!

Year End Reflections #2: Monster Project

Another class and another collaborative project – this time, it was my 3rd grade class and they were participating in the Monster Project. I felt this project was a lot of fun for the students and they learned quite a bit about being detailed with their writing. I really appreciated the lesson plan ideas on the Monster Project wiki and used many of these with my class.


I began this project by having the students watch the Schoolhouse Rock video Unpack Your Adjectives:

The video was a fun review of adjectives and the students enjoyed it. Then, we read the book Many Lucious Lollipops by Ruth Heller and created a favorite food adjective web in PowerPoint.  Once these were completed, I took two of them and read just the words describing the food to see if the students could identify the food – one of them was easy to identify and the other was more difficult. We then took some time to figure out what words could have been used to make it easier to identify the second food.

Drawing The Monsters

The first drawing class started out with the book Go Away Big Green Monster by Edward R. Emberley and instructions on how to draw their monster. We discussed how it would be easier to describe their monster and for their partner to re-draw their monster if they used simple shapes like circles, rectangles, triangles, etc. Even though the students were told to keep their monster simple, some of the students used non-standard shapes and some of the fancier paint brushes in KidPix. I had planned two class periods for the drawing portion of this project but we actually used more time than that due to absent students and accidental saving of a blank picture on top of a completed monster.

Describing The Monsters

The first step in describing the monsters was to create an adjective web for their monster by coming up with describing words for each monster body part. I created a template in PowerPoint and printed this out for student to use with their monster.

Monster Template

Some of the students completed this quickly while others had a more difficult time with it. It took two class periods for all of the students to have this completed. One thing I noticed in this process is that in some cases it would have been better for the student to describe their monster in a way that didn’t include using adjectives. For example, one of my students drew a monster that looked like a wave coming out of the water. He described it with adjectives like blue and curved, etc. but it would have been much easier to redraw if he had just said it looks like a wave coming out of the water. Next year, I will emphasize that sometimes you can describe things not only with adjectives but in other ways too.

I then added a Monster Prompts template to each student’s computer and they used this in Word to write their monster descriptions. This step took more time than I thought it would due to student absences, lack of Word and keyboarding skills and difficulty in the actual writing process. After doing this in the lab, I feel that the actual writing process should be done with the classroom teacher instead of at a computer. It is difficult for the younger students to compose in Word. Next year, if we do this project again, I will have the students write their descriptions with their classroom teacher and just type them during their time in the computer lab. I have already mentioned this to the 3rd Grade teacher for next year.

My Turn

After the students were done with their monster creation and descriptions, I combined all of the descriptions into one Word document and exported all of the pictures out of KidPix as JPG and resized them according to the instructions on the Monster Project wiki and then added our descriptions and our monster pictures to the wiki and updated the main page on the wiki to reflect where we were in the process. I think this was a really great idea on Anna and Ann’s part so that you could easily tell where your partner school was. The timing between our two schools was pretty good in getting the project completed and online.

Drawing Their Partner’s Monster

Before the students redrew their partner’s monster, I printed out two monsters from last year’s project along with their descriptions. I purposely picked one monster that was described really well and one that did not have a really great description. We then went into KidPix as a class and drew the monsters from their descriptions only and crossed out each sentence of the description as we went. The students were amazed at the monster that was described well and how it matched the original. They were frustrated with the second description because it was missing information on colors and some of the body parts. This is when I saw the light bulb truly go off for them. Some of them realized at that point things they might have left out of their own descriptions or ways they could have drawn their monster to make it easier for someone else to recreate. Next year, I will do this same thing before we ever draw the monsters and maybe even repeat it before we write the descriptions.

Each student was given the description of a monster drawn by a 3rd grade student in Mintot, ND. They were really excited to try to draw their partner’s monster. Some of them discovered that the descriptions were detailed and made it easy to draw what they thought the monster should look like. Others discovered that things like the color of their monster and other important details weren’t there. Good descriptions or not so good descriptions, everyone finished their redraw within a few class periods and then I uploaded the redrawn monsters to the wiki.

Reviewing & Reflecting

My students were all really excited to see what the students in Minot, ND had drawn from their descriptions and to see what their partner’s original monsters really looked like. We took two classes to view these and I heard a lot of “But they didn’t draw what I said” and “Wow that looks like my monster” and “Hey that’s pretty close”. After we had looked at them all, we talked about why there were differences especially in colors. It’s hard for 3rd graders to understand that even though your blue and their blue are different that doesn’t mean that they drew it wrong. It could be that they used a different drawing program and the blues in there are just different than the blues in KidPix. We spent some time reviewing some of the monsters and descriptions to see where things had gone right and where they had gone wrong.

Each student then used PowerPoint to write and then record their reflections on the project. They had to answer the following questions or complete the following sentences:

1. What did you enjoy most about the Monster Project?
2. Was there anything you didn’t like about the Monster Project?
3. I did a good job describing my monster’s
4. I used describing words like
5. It was difficult for my partner to draw my monster because
6. If I could do this project again, I would
7. What words made it easy to draw your partner’s monster?
8. What words were missing or wrong that made it hard to draw the monster?
9. What do you think they should have added?

This step in the process took 3-4 classes to complete because the students had to think about their answers and write them in complete sentences. After they had their written answers completed, they had to actually record their answers in PowerPoint.

Sharing Reflections Online

I then combined these into one big presentation but I wanted to just take the recording from the first slide for each student and put them all on one slide and let people click on the voice they wanted to hear and then continue through the other slides. I created this in PowerPoint and it worked great. I typically upload and share PowerPoint presentations in SlideBoom because it keeps voice and transitions and animations, etc. This time it didn’t work, however, since the ability to click on the speakers went away when I uploaded the presentation which meant you couldn’t hear what the students had to say – so it was on to Plan B for this one.

Aha, I thought, I’ll use VoiceThread since I had read you could upload PowerPoints and I hadn’t ever tried that. I haven’t used VoiceThread much this year. I currently only have a free account and I used to have all of the computers in the lab logged in to the same account using different identities. Since that’s not an option anymore I just didn’t do much with VoiceThread after the first semester this year. I decided to see if it could handle what I needed by uploading the PowerPoint presentation. Sadly, it couldn’t since all I ended up with was the images and they all had speakers on them since my students had inserted recorded sound on each slide. So back to the drawing board but I knew there had to be a way to get the images and recorded information from the PowerPoint into VoiceThread so here are the steps I used to transfer my PowerPoint presentation to VoiceThread:

1. Save the presentation as a web page. This exports all of the sounds files for me. It exports other things too but I was interested in getting the sound files.

2. Take all the speakers off the slides and then save the presentation as jpg images. This saves all my slides as individual images.

3. Upload all the images to create a new VoiceThread. It might be a good idea to rename the files before uploading since it names them slide1, slide2, etc. which means slide2 will come after slide 10 and not right after slide 1. I didn’t and just reordered them in VoiceThread.

4. Using each of the student identities that I already have under my account, upload the sound files as comments on the slides in VoiceThread. I did change the pictures for each of the student identities to match the Monster Project since this class had not done any other VoiceThread project this year.

Voila! A VoiceThread from a PowerPoint including the recorded information on the PowerPoint.

Ann Oro had also created a VoiceThread for reflections from the teachers on the project and I spent some time adding my reflections to that too. I am interested in hearing what everyone else has to say about the project. One slight disappointment I had with the project was the fact that we didn’t get to Skype with our partner class. We were attempting to set this up but they were out of school about a month before we were and I hadn’t realized that fact and we didn’t get this set up before they were out for the summer.  I think this is a wonderful project to teach the students about descriptive writing and to get teachers involved in an online collaborative project.

Snow in California

The Snowflake Bentley January activity on the Winter Wonderland Wiki sparked an idea for me for grades beyond 3rd. As I was researching Wilson Bentley and snow to create lesson plans for Kindergarten through 3rd grade who are participating in the Winter Wonderland project, I ran into a site by Rick Doble. As part of his work, Rich has exhibits of snowflake images which he digitally altered from Wilson Bentley’s snowflake pictures. This became the jumping off point for the projects I did with my 4th & 7th Grade classes.

First, I read the book Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin to each class. This is also available in a video format. After reading the book each class created a timeline of Wilson Bentley’s life. 4th Grade used the PowerPoint template available on the Winter Wonderland Wiki and 7th Grade created a timeline in Microsoft Excel.

After the timelines were complete, the students then download one or more of Wilson Bentley’s snowflake pictures from the Snowflake Bentley web site. Using the filters and effects in PhotoFiltre, the snowflake pictures were digitally altered to create something new from Wilson Bentley’s image. This could be done using other programs such as Gimp (Open Source) or Paint.NET (free image & photo editing program) or Photoshop or many others. We have PhotoFiltre installed on all of our computers because of a project I did with it last year so we used this application.

Once the snowflake images were complete, each student created a slide in PowerPoint with their image(s) and then wrote and recorded a poem to go with their images. I then combined all of the slides into a single PowerPoint presentation for each grade which I uploaded to SlideBoom. Here is the finished 7th Grade project:

I feel this was a really successful project overall. Since timelines in PowerPoint and Excel were new concepts, they kept the students engaged and they all enjoyed finding pictures to illustrate their timelines. The students all seemed to enjoy using PhotoFiltre and I didn’t get too many “how do I” questions during their use of it. They were very willing to just try things to see what it did especially since there are multiple levels of undo available. Most of the students also enjoyed creating their poem though a few did struggle with this especially in 4th grade where I required a Cinquain poem. This was also an easy introduction to narrating a PowerPoint presentation since it was a single slide that needed to be narrated. I would love to get better quality microphones for all of the computers so that the sounds levels could be consistent on projects like these.