What is the place of Papert’s “microworld” of Logo in this era of programming, coding and making?

mindstorms bookOk, let’s spare the suspense here. Yes, I think Logo has a place as a valuable programming language with primary and even intermediate learners today. Papert’s Mindstorms book has had a tremendous influence on my thinking and I must admit to being profoundly impressed since it was written and researched in 1980(!) In this book, Papert explores the potential of “world building” through a computer language that he and his team created called Logo aimed at “world-builders” AKA all learners and explorers.  The digital turtle serves as a learning tool manipulated and programmed by students using specific rules in the Logo environment. As learners manipulate the turtle in creative ways, they are in the act of constructing a world of their own. As a Computer Science teacher in 2015, I wonder what is the place of Logo on teaching and learning in this era of creating, coding, making and of course programming?

In specific, I have been revisiting Papert and his team’s “microworld” of Logo with primary learners using Microworlds Junior. I must admit that the majority of my attention and Computer Science lessons with primary and junior students have been focused on Scratch and Blockly through the code.org site. However, Microworlds Junior especially has been an excellent gateway tool for programming, drawing and digital tinkering for learners in Grade One to Three. When evaluating their projects, I asked our creator to consider the perspective someone “playing” their file using three questions. Is it clear what to do? Is it fun? Can I replay? These questions provided tools for self and peer evaluation and potential next steps although they are certainly not the only criteria for success. In below pictures and videos, students had the choice to create an animation, story or game on a topic of their choice.

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More sample videos using the new Microsoft Sway software.  https://sway.com/s/BGlbiBqM0x8cASfZ/embed 

Here are a few strategies that I hope are inspired by Papert’s research and demonstrate good pedagogy for encouraging creativity, design thinking and help prepare primary learners for more advanced programming skills.

1. Demonstrations are very powerful: Get the turtle moving (forward 10+repeat) on screen and ask simply what should the turtle do next, what would happen if two turtles collided? Answers from students included “turn, dance, turn into a ballerina, explode(!), says “I’m cool” etc.) I found it fascinating to try help make their ideas, no, matter how crazy, work. Finding a way to incorporate their creative ideas using the rules of the MicroWorlds Jr. (pendown, multple pages, if then commands etc.) become an amazing challenge for them (and me as an instructor!)

My hope is that this model of experimentation which encourage learners in our class to adopt a similar approach…

2. Avoid teaching a recipe. “Now we going to get the turtle to draw a square” Instead of show them turtle art websites designed by others and ask them which one they like best (or invite them to re-mix the the program or others or create their own design)

3. Celebrate their achievements: I use my SMARTboard to showcase their progress, constantly video recorded their programs using a camera, iPad, Surface and smartphone (I kept running out of space quicker than I could say “upload to GDrive, Dropbox, OneDrive etc.”)   OR create sites like this one Turtle Art site.

4. Encourage failure as an opportunity – F.A.I.L. is simply the First Attempt In Learning or put another way “We are only working with current best idea.” which I attribute to Heidi Siwak from the #bit14 conference last year.

5. Allow collaboration. I let them help and teach each other so the class is a busy and active one.

What cannot happen is that Logo (or other programming tools) should be used to explore traditional teacher-led pedagogy. If Logo is taught as “content” then I think is loses it potential as an amazing “playground” or “sandbox” for digital play, program creation and innovation.


For further reading on the ideas of Seymour Papert, Logo and Programming…

Check out Jim Cash’s excellent post (backed up by much academic research too!) critically examining the work of Papert in the context of the recent increased interest in the coding and making movement.

and the work of Peter Skillen as a fun and experienced advocate of Logo and the work of Papert.


Here are a few sample teaching slides I assembled for classes.

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Here is the link to MicroWorlds Junior site.

Finally let’s end with…

Gary Stager’s excellent TED Talk on Seymour Papert” Inventor of Everything!

The Surface and Beyond: implementing the Surface Pro 2 with junior students: Part 2 – Communicate

Phase 2 communicate
After having established our vision for the devices, I now focused on efforts to collaborate with our teachers and learning community to get ready for the implementation stage (Phase 3). We are encouraging teachers to use tablets to support a anytime, anywhere and “anybite” (i.e. 5 min.,10 min.,30 min. or ?) model for learning.

In this stage, I offered regular F2F sessions on Wednesday morning, regular correspondence though email, shared documents in Google Drive along with informal discussions and sessions. Eventually, I would love to share and connect with a significant majority of colleagues in school through social media like Twitter or Google+ but I have to go where my audience is. At the moment, our audience uses email for everything. So what did we talk about in those F2F sessions..?

Excerpt from my OneNote binder

One note phase 2

1. ISTE expectations for students

ISTE-Nets-Graphic

The ISTE standards were helpful for providing overall expectations and addressing what students should actually know about using technology in their learning. We also supplemented our discussion on the Digital Citizenship section of the NET-S with Common Sense Media resources. In addition to the ISTE standards, we obviously mapped our activities to support Provincial standards and added more specific skills to meet the expectations of each area i.e. teaching a Grade Four student to correctly cite digital images would fall under the Digital Citizenship banner.)

2. SAMR model
doi:10.3402/rlt.v22.22648

As a group we explored this model as a guide to current and future practices with technology. We saw the benefit to creating  new projects and experiences that redefine the learning experience for students leverage these devices. However, this process cannot happen overnight and perhaps it is more helpful to first define activities and current practices in the SAMR model (i.e. Typing in Word as “substitution” etc.) before moving on to new practices. In other words, we cannot quite abandon all activities that are not in the “redefinition” category but evaluate each activity on its own merits for learning. After all, some substitution activities have value for learning. Eventually, we will strive to have a significant number of redefined activities and experiences never before possible in a traditional classroom. However, we need to work progressively and incrementally with teachers to help them define and work through each stage in order to understand the learning benefits of new and exciting pedagogies that leverage technology.

3. Workflow diagram

eBackpack-workflow-full-blown
I adapted this diagram created by e-Backpack and to use with Google Drive, Blackboard (our LMS) as well as other cloud-based applications to drive our workflow with our Junior students. We found that this diagram helped us envision how the process of learning might look in a tablet environment and invited changes, suggestions and clarifications. This workflow discussion led to further discussion and training ideas on collaborating using Docs, Forms, Spreadsheets or Presentations. In addition, determining the most effective pedagogy and the application from Google  (Lucidchart (graphic organizer) (although I prefer popplet.com),  Kaizena (Voice commenting), Floor Planner and Powtoon (Animated presentation tool) will be areas for future sessions,  discussions and sharing.

4. Lots of other quick tips and resources

At the beginning of the F2F sessions, we took time to learning the in’s and outs’s of the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and explored tips and tricks specific to Windows 8.1. For this part of the PD, I leveraging Twitter and in specific @surface  and @MicrosoftPIL for useful resources and guides.

Here is one of many example graphics that posted in our training resources.

finding your apps on surface

Reflection

What is interesting to me about this stage is that it is now ongoing and never has to end. I can provide links and resources for teachers and vice versa until we all feel comfortable sharing tips and tricks to improve student learning. Helping teachers develop a PLN using Twitter, Zite, Flipboard and other sites would be a valid next step to build our collective and shared knowledge and experience to aid student learning. (Here is a post I like that discusses one vision for “information wrangling.) For me, Zite, Flipboard and Twitter do the trick for anytime, anyplace, “anybite” (Have 2 min?) with next steps being emails to colleagues, or posting to Twitter, Delicious ( links), OneNote (articles and files) and perhaps eventually my blog at WordPress (for hopefully semi-articulate posts:))

For the next round of training and professional development, I would love to create a self-directed course on our LMS where teachers who learn best on their own and often forget (ahem) things eplore once in lessons or professional sessions. (Full disclosure – this is one of my learning styles (or I’ll call it a quirk.)

In addition, working with parents and our wider learning community is also worthy of some consideration too. (That deserves much more discussion.)

Here were some ideas I had for future sessions but I have no doubt this list will change with feedback as well as some ideas from my PLN.

  1. Recording,  collecting and assess student responses i.e. Socrative, Top Hat and Poll Everywhere
  2. Allowing students to tell stories through video i.e. Camera app, Movie Edit Touch
  3. Using tablets for personalized PD i.e Twitter and Flipboard
  4. Using OneNote to collect and assess student learning
  5. Using OneNote (Windows 8 version) for daily lesson plans and materials (stylus at the ready!)
  6. Live sharing of content and learning using NearPod
  7. Leveraging QR codes for students to explore and learn i.e. QR scavenger hunt
  8. Blogging and microblogging with students to share and connect i.e. KidBlog, Scrawlar
  9. Creating teacher-made screencasts using the Surface for use before, during and after class i.e.”Flipteaching”
  10. Collaborative writing using Google Docs (Our “workflow” diagram in action, voice comments etc.)
  11. Using Google Forms to create quizzes, assessments and activities for students

Next up, Stage 3 implementation with the students.

Leadership and Technology: becoming a transformational leader

I learned much in my Leadership and Technology course. (So busy to even update this blog recently.) However, one of our tasks was to create a learning log of my journey which is available at http://arclearninglog5103g.wordpress.com/ which allowed to me exercise my writing and blogging instincts on a new page.  (So hopefully, I am not totally out of practice!!!) My main takeaway was to apply new learning in my role as a technology leader in my school. To me a transformational leader requires vision, collaborative skills, creativity, supported by well founded research and interested in good pedagogy that improves learning.

I also added the text and some of the elements of my Learning Log to my professional blog after some feedback from colleagues. Next up, I begin a Technology and the Curriculum class in May.
highlights here

Thanks!

Programming to think on the Internet of Things

My daughter and I exploring retro games at the Game On exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre.
s c64
Walking around the exhibit, I started thinking about the impact of programming on my life. Consider that we now have a well established “internet of information” where the majority of programming takes place on a specialized device (computer) and are beginning to experience an additional phase of programming on an increasing number of connected everyday devices (through wifi, Bluetooth etc.) AKA the internet of things. Who is going to have the expertise (and time) to connect and program all these new devices in the coming days?!

My first programming memory starts with my Commodore 64 back in the day (ok I’ll own up, early ’80’s). Many an hour (or four+) was spent tinkering and playing with the keyboard, basic OS and removable media of that day (cassette tapes and then floppy disks). This machine helped me learn to program in Basic, Logo and of course play (and manage) many applications and of course many, many games with friends. It was often SO slow that complete games of hockey, baseball, meals or general socializing could take place (while waiting for games like Jumpman, Grand Prix or California Games (among many other good and not so good games) to actually load! In retrospect, I think perhaps more time was spent talking about, finding, saving and sharing than actually playing them…but the chase is sometimes the best part. However, this slow unreliable but well-loved computer taught me much about programming and computer operations like keyboarding and even web browsing through a basic modem (remember the BBS anyone). In this stage, programming was confined to speciality devices like computers and its interest was confined to us geeky kids. (Although, I’ll bet that all the best tech-savvy individuals you know from Generation X group probably have a some history with an Apple III, C-64, VIC-20 or even Amiga etc. but I digress.  (For fun here is a list of the 100 most popular C-64 games.)

My next programming memory takes place in Cambridge in the United Kingdom sometime in 1998. My then savvy girlfriend, now my beloved wife told me that the engineering department was working with AT&T to create a programmable fridge. The fridge would record the contents inside through the barcode  and presumably send the results to someone’s computer. Sounded cool but this was still outside the daily experience of the everyday (especially us on an starving student budget). Although it was early days I would characterize this as a key moment in the “internet of things” as an everyday object (fridge) becomes “smart” enough to connect with another speciality device (computer).

However, the world of mobile devices is where connected devices become quite handy and a ready technology for the everyday. With an increasing amount of devices on the network our smartphones become our “remote control” for the home and potentially the world. In this new phase of programming, the “smart” fridge has increasing functionality, presumably as an app for our phones, making a list so we can check it twice, before we receive a message geo located and timed when near the local grocery store. We can control objects through specific settings and have those objects are set up to predict our needs. (i.e. think scheduled recordings on a PVR but for every object.) This article from Wired’s June 2013 issue called “Welcome to the Programmable World” by Bill Wasik probably best describes up the benefits and challenges in this new phase of programming.

In this new world of “smart” objects, programming skills like designing, debugging and re-mixing are going to become increasing mainstream. In October at ECCO 2013, I have been asked to present about my work with a visual programming language called Scratch in my technology classes. My junior students love Scratch as it is a digital extension of playing, tinkering and creating. I look forward to sharing my experiences, successes and resources with programming. (Here is a link to my Scratch resource page.) The UK education system has already adopted programming as a key revision of their ICT curriculum in 2014. The United States also has a strong movement to champion programming represented at code.org. So I feel in good company support the need for programming in the already busy elementary curriculum.

I look forward to chatting about my Adventures with Scratch in the classroom and especially the increasing interaction between digital and physical objects. (My Makey Makey kit is in the mail and I look forward to exploring this intersection of the digital and physical in the new school year.

Here is a link to my presentation at ECCO 2013. I look forward to sharing, discussing and evaluating new and exciting pedagogy with technology.
ARC BIT_LG_schpxy

Here is a cool info graphic on the Internet of Things with a link back to the original source.Internet of things

My top 5 Avatar creation sites for students

Can you match the avatar style with the websites below?

mrc.2voki sampledoppleacmiiacmrc lego head

Here are my top 5 favourite (Flash-based) websites for creating student avatars. Creating avatars allows students to include personal digital representations of themselves for online or in digital materials without relinquishing any privacy. Plus they are fun to create and a kid-friendly addition to any project, presentation or learning material.
  1. Nintendo Wii – Who doesn’t love creating a Mii!
  2. Lego – A class favourite but try “snipping” only the heads and shoulders to avoid “lightsabers” and other Stars Wars© paraphernalia
  3. Manga – perhaps better suited for students 11+
  4. Bitstrips or BitstripsforSchools.com – Now a Facebook app but a popular choice as all Ontario students have freeaccess to Bitstrips for Schools.
  5. Dopple Me –  Another favourite!

+1 Bonus – Voki – Why not add your voice to an avatar too!

It should come as no surprise that students love creating them and they are great as signatures for wikis, blogs, documents, websites etc. I find them especially useful in Voice Thread or other online sites or games that offer the option to upload a picture. Remember that blank is always an option but a cartoon avatar is fun and safer than a photo. Use the “snipping tool” or another screenshot tool to take a .jpg (or other picture file) of your avatar to share in other sites.  I keep a .jpgs of cartoon avatars in my Dropbox account ready to be used in projects or uploaded to sites. Now if only those the avatar creation sites for The Simpsons and Diary of a Wimpy Kid start working again…

P.S. Did you guess them all? Perhaps you will have to visit each site to find the answer.  While you are there, go ahead and create+save an avatar of yourself too! Consider it your professional development for the day! 🙂 Below is an avatar of one sad little lad in our house with the current states of the TFC, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Blue Jays this year! “Maybe they will win next year Dad!” I am crossing my fingers for him!
sad matty

Cheers,

Anthony

Creating and sharing graphic organizers using Popplet

digital popplet2
Popplet is a great mind-mapping and graphic organizer tool to aid planning and writing. Not only can you add text to your graphic organizer but you can also add a variety of sketches, graphics and multimedia. Collaborating with multiple authors is easy through a shared link as your file is stored in the cloud. (The hidden notes page is great for assessment or feedback from you!) Finally, the presentation mode allows you to create and navigate through a path of views from one “popple” (box) to another through your arrow keys.

Here are a few screencasts I made, that you are welcome to use in your classes. Lots more available on YouTube.(without my squeeky voice through:P)

Creating an account in Popplet

Getting started in Popplet

Student sample –Gr.4 Canadian physical region http://popplet.com/app/#/311851
Gr.4 Muslim Influence on the Medieval Europe – http://popplet.com/app/#/812393
Diversity of Living Things – Educator sample http://popplet.com/app/#/901161

This software is available in Windows and iOS and recommended for students from Grade 4 and up.

My top 3 online curation tools for teachers and students

Traditionally as teachers, before we start a new topic or theme with our students, we collect a variety of educational resources (activities, worksheets, games, posters, models, songs etc.) to share in lessons or provide as resources for students in the classroom. Using technology, we can also provide multimedia and other interactive materials like graphics, slideshows, videos, files, websites, social media  accounts, hashtags etc. to enhance learning in our classroom and perhaps beyond. It would seem then that collecting a variety of traditional and digital materials would be an effective strategy to differentiate learning for students and appeal to our classes full of “screenagers” but not quite teenagers.

Here are three sites to help teachers curate educational digital content for discussion, resources and sharing with students. In online courses or blended environments, variety is important to help the visuals interesting while creating vibrant, diverse and educational rich experiences remain vital. All are useful in flipped classrooms too! All these sites are perfect for sharing by a link but work best when “embedded” directly into an online course/LMS like Blackboard or Moodle.

1. Symbaloo 
One online tool allows you to create a web page of links (as symbols) to sites on specific  theme or topic. (I find that the more specific, the better; (Grade 2 Time rather than Math.) Your symbaloo can be shared to students (or parents) as a link through email, Blackboard, Twitter etc. Your symbaloo page might be filled with links to websites but could also include links to graphics (from Google images), videos (from YouTube), even files (I used a link to a file in Google Drive) or any material with a specific URL.

Below is a link to a symbaloo I created for Grade 4-6 students to practice their keyboarding skills using a variety of tools.

keyboarding symbaloo
http://www.symbaloo.com/mix/keyboardingresources1

2. Edcanvas

Edcanvas is a website for collecting and assembling a variety of media (images, Word docs, Power Point, videos etc.) as a single presentation/webquest for students. Your “edcanvas” can be shared by email or posted on an LMS like Blackboard. Older students (Gr.4 and up) might create their own “edcanvas” to research and presentation their learning on a particular topic.

Here is one I made for a Social Studies/ICT project in Grade 5.

http://edcvs.co/XJuKkl

3.  Live Binders is one of three excellent websites (Symbaloo, Edcanvas being the others)  to help you collect, curate and present a variety of digital resources for students. Teachers have used Live Binders to build up a collection of images, resources and links on a specific topic. Students (perhaps Gr.5 and up) might also create an account and have their own Live Binder(s) for individual or collaborative research and presentation. Finally, the final product is easily shared with students (and parents) through our LMS (Learning Management System) AKA Blackboard, or email, Twitter etc.

Live Binders for Teachers


Featured Live Binders
(check out the ‘Binders by Grade (scroll down on right of the screen)

http://www.livebinders.com/shelf/featured

Honourable Mention: to MentorMob for the ability to create learning playlists. Next on my list to investigate. Thanks in advance for your comments and suggestions.
~Anthony

two min. tech. tip #10 – Symbaloo – a tool for curating content for students

symbaloo

Traditionally as teachers, before we start a new topic or theme with our students, we collect a variety of educational resources (activities, worksheets, games, posters, models, songs etc.) to share in lessons or provide as resources in the classroom. Using technology, we can also provide multimedia and other interactive materials like graphics, slideshows, videos, files, websites, social media accounts, hashtags etc. to enhance learning in our classroom and perhaps beyond. It would seem then that collecting a variety of traditional and digital materials would be an effective strategy to differentiate learning for students and appeal to our classes full of “screenagers” but not quite teenagers.

One online tool that I found useful for collecting and sharing digital materials is a web-based application called symbaloo. This app allows you to create a webpage of links (as symbols) to sites on specific theme or topic. (I find that the more specific, the better; (Grade 2 Time rather than Math.) Your symbaloo can be shared to students (or parents) as a link through email, LMS (Moodle, Blackboard etc.) or  Twitter etc. Your symbaloo page might be filled with links to websites but could also include links to graphics (from Google images), videos (from YouTube), even files (I used a link to a file in Google Drive) or any material with a specific URL.

Below is a link to a symbaloo for my grade 4-6 students to practice their keyboarding skills using a variety of tools. (Unfortunately, WordPress has blocked some the embedd feature from symbaloo but if you click the link below you will be able to access all my clickable keyboarding links.)
keyboarding symbaloo

http://www.symbaloo.com/mix/keyboardingresources1

Feel free to create a symbaloo for your next topic, assignment or theme and share with students or parents through email or blackboard (You can embed the symbaloo directly in a blog or LMS using html code but that is a tip for another day, I think my two minutes are up!)
Let me know how you get on.

Why “Flipteaching” complements Scratch programming

ScratchCat-Large

What is Scratch?

Scratch is a free, visual and kid-friendly programming language where anyone can create fun projects and computer programs. Students snap blocks together (think Lego) to move and/or modify objects, sprites and backgrounds. Pressing the flag runs the program and the fun (or de-bugging) begins!

Why are you using Scratch in your class?

My first experience with Scratch was at the 2008 ECOO conference in Richmond Hill where I heard MIT Professor and pioneer of Lego Mindstorms, Mitch Resnick demonstrate his new Scratch software in a keynote presentation. (His TED talk is below.) I had been teaching programming in my Grade Four and Five Technology classes with other tools but instantly liked the user-friendly Scratch interface. It seemed perfect for beginners but also included more advanced programming ideas like loops and broadcasting. What made Scratch even more interesting to me was the vibrant database of projects shared by authors, ready to be “re-mixed” and “re-imagined” around the globe. I felt that students of any ability could explore Scratch projects, acknowledge their source and remix them. I strategized that their experiences in class would be an excellent “jumping off” point for future programming and tinkering. (This has proved to be true but not surprising with this generation of 21st century learners and tinkers!)

How did a “flipped” approach benefit your students?

This unit was perfect for “flipping” because all the students had different levels of experience in programming. Students were asked to prepare for class by watching videos on my YouTube playlist or our LMS (Blackboard) and then be prepared to create in lessons. Some were content to copy a program from a “recipe” handout with little modifications. Others opted to “re-mix” the program of others while some were keen to create and innovate on the own. I personally felt that ALL these approaches had merit and therefore, decided quickly that I would keep “whole class teaching moments” to minimum (I’m sure the kids didn’t mind that much!) Beyond the usual class management and directing students to all the resources available them, (see below) most classes were dedicated to students working on a personal or collaborative projects.

What resources did you provide for students?
Video Tutorials from the Scratch website – quick projects to help students get started
My YouTube playlist – a collection of instructional videos from easy to more advanced (and fun! Pac-Man anyone?) Student’s contributed with ideas and suggestions for the playlist so I could “whitelist” for use at school. (We use YouTube Edu.) Students often partnered up with one student playing, rewinding and pausing the YouTube clip while the other copied the programming technique in Scratch.
A collection of Programming “recipes” were offered as printouts
Various displays and posters
scratchdisplay1 scratch2

How did you assess their learning?

Assessment FOR learning – Some excellent screencasts and short tasks were used after a few classes to inform future lessons and planning. (sample) Designed by Colin Meltzer
Assessment AS learning – Handout for students provided near the end of the unit to reflect and share their best project.
Assessment OF learning – Ten question quiz using Senteo clickers to test for basic fluency.

Next steps and questions for further study

How will an update to the web-based Scratch 2.0 affect lessons and projects?
Should students present and share their programs to audience beyond peers? younger students?
Are there any new resources, recipes and approaches I can use with this unit?
How can I expand Scratch and other programming opportunities in Grade 5 and 6?

Video resources for further research

What is Scratch?

Mitch Resnik’s TED talk – Let’s teach kids to code

Other resources and helpful articles
Scratch website
ScratchEd – sign up is worth it for learning resources, how-to guides and connecting with other educators and professionals
Wes Fryer’s Blog post – Introducing 4th and 5th Graders to Scratch Software Possibilities
Erin Klein’s Blog post – Computer Coding for Kids!
Michael’s Badger Blog post – Scratch Beginner’s Guide – used a few of the questions for assessment ideas

Overall, this programming unit is a popular one with the Grade 4 students in my ICT classes as it is fun, challenging, collaborative, creative, student-centered and perfect for a flip-teach approach as students have unique interests and levels of programming experiences. I look forward to learning new ideas and programs from others but most especially the students.

Level Up your Typing: a game-based approach to keyboarding for elementary students

Untitled picture
Why teach keyboarding?

Our students today have a variety of input devices (touch, stylus, voice?) but I still find that the QWERTY keyboard is the fastest and easiest input device. (I often feel pretty self-conscious talking to the computer (or tablet, sorry Siri!) when not alone, perhaps that is just me:) In my experience, writing recognition software is still clumsy and more miss than hit with emerging handwriting skills. Therefore, I find that the keyboarding remains the most reliable input device and  a significant part of a good ICT curriculum for elementary students in 2013.

When do I start introducing keyboarding to children?

Starting in the middle of Grade 2 or early Grade 3 (aged 7 or 8) seemed to be the best time  to introduce formal keyboarding  as most students progress toward longer forms of writing. Some students might be ready earlier but in my experience, a significant majority, if not all, demonstrated the necessary dexterity and readiness for more formal typing lessons by the middle of Grade 2. I found this article from Lisa Nielson very useful and comprehensive on this topic.

“Can I level up, please!” Or How I “gamified” keyboarding lessons.

Introducing keyboarding to our students in Grade 2 is rarely a tough sell as they are keen to emulate older students or adults in their lives. However, typing, like most skills, requires dedication, encouragement and practice. For these reasons, I decided to experiment with a “games-based approach” to see if it would help our junior students remain motivated during the long road from novice to fluency.  I decided to start with students in Grade 4, 5 and 6 and created a scale of achievement where students “level up”  after achieving a specific WPM (words per minute) and accuracy (95%). As they “levelled up”, I also offered them the opportunity to “unlock” access to a greater variety of typing games and websites during class time. I also separated the idea of the “levelling up” from academic achievement by putting emphasis on effort and improvement for these relatively novice typists as the main source for marks. i.e. A student who still remained on Level 1, might still be able to receive a “A” if they were putting forth an excellent effort. (So far, this has not happened as all students who all showed dedication found increasing success and “levelled up” their typing.)

Here is a copy of my “levelling up” scale. This is version 3.0. Any feedback is welcome.
Leveling up your Typing 2013
Leveling up your Typing
Current resources:

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (Grade 2 and 3 students)

mavis screenshot

Pros:

  • Lessons are clear, supportive and linear
  • Includes 3 levels (beginner, intermediate (timed lessons) and advanced)
  • Games are very student friendly and good for 7 and 8 year olds

Cons:

  • Not web based
  • Account structure is not ideal
  • Cannot customize at the beginner(i.e. skip student ahead if needed)

Custom Typing  (Grade 4 and 5 students)

customtypingscreen

Pros:

  • Two modes (self-guided and computer-guided)
  • Many differentiated resources for students
  • Excellent reporting system
  • Students can choose activities, lessons, and games and work in a non-linear fashion
  • Teacher can assign specific lessons to a students, class or specific group

Cons:

  • Students repeat the same lesson twice in the “computer-guided mode”
  • The “self-guided mode” can be overwhelming for students
  • Only four typing games
  • The “self-guided mode” could be more kid-friendly

Here are the additional typing sites that can be “unlocked” by  “levelling up” during lessons. I posted this symbaloo on our Learning Management Software (Blackboard) so they can try them at home. (Each “symbaloo” links to website for students, normally one click takes you there, but click my screenshot below to reach the “clickable” symbaloo page.)

symbaloo keyboarding sample

Recording their progress

I use two resources:

1. a simple wall chart with the student’s name, class and level. They give themselves a checkmark when they level up. Not very private(!) I realise but it is SO useful to easily keep track and monitor their progress during the hustle and bustle of keyboarding lessons in the ICT lab.

2. During keyboarding lessons, I display a Class Dojo page on the SMARTboard for them to see and reward themselves with a  +1 typing point. When reviewing, assessing and analyzing student progress, I love that Class Dojo records the date of when the point was achieved. What a great tool for reflection and analysis. “Wow, look how you achieved 2 levels in 1 month! All that time practicing in our custom typing site really paid off!”

+1 typing
Overall, the best part is that I am spending more class time celebrating student progress and achievements. A quick thumbs up, nod, high five or encouraging word from me and students seem eager to independently record their progress on a wall chart and on the SMARTboard though Class Dojo.

Conclusions

When setting up my levels, I started with 4 and had to expand to 10 within a couple of months as some of my Grade 4’s progressed quickly! Initially, most students were keen to “level up” to gain more choice of games and activities. This increased motivation made them increasingly receptive to tips and tricks to improve their speed and accuracy. Although I remained open to feedback, l found that students appreciated the clarity of the system. If they came up a little short in their speed, they almost always responded well when encouraged to try again, complete a different activity,  or to return to the typing assessment when ready.

A funny thing happened at the later levels, I was afraid that some of the students might unlock their favourite game (e.g. the popular Type Racer!) play that game regularly and then have their skills stagnate. However, once the majority of the students began to level up they seemed determined to past the assessment benchmarks. It was a complete reversal as I was now the one offering them the opportunity to play a typing game while they were more keen to complete assessments. It seemed that the process of “levelling up” gave them a tangible achievement goal and they were motivated to keep going. (I guess that is why I had to expand my levels from 4 (version 1.0) to 6 (version 2.0) to 10 (latest version 3.0).

Overall, the benchmarks seemed pretty clear and I was able to tweak my requirements to ensure that the difficulties of each level increased at a appropriate rate. Custom Typing,  Mavis Beacon and typingtest.com seemed to be pretty good resources for typing assessments although you should be aware of the ads at the typingtest.com site. (Although students seem to be too focused on their test to see them!) I hope to update and refine this approach each year. Thanks in advance for any feedback.

Questions for further study and analysis

What place does keyboarding have in the 21st Century ICT curriculum?
What age should student start to learn about keyboarding?
Should keyboarding be expanded to include tablets and mobile devices when appropriate?
How much time should we devote to keyboarding in the primary, junior and senior curriculum?
What tools or software do we need to run a successful typing programme?
Should I add/replace customtyping.com or Mavis Beacon with the web-based QWERTYtown software?

3  influencial articles and resources

Lisa Nielsen’s article-  http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.ca/2011/02/when-should-students-start-learning-to.html

Bryan Miller’s article tackles one of the questions for further study, introduced me to QWERTYtown and gave me another excellent perspective on this topic. http://edudemic.com/2012/11/keyboarding-or-computer-literacy-the-new-dilemma/

Keith Ferrell’s EdTech blog provided me with keyboarding resources and ideas that I shared with students. http://edtechideas.com/keyboarding-sites-for-kids/