Code Day: How to Build Creative, Collaborative, Computer Programmers in less than 24 hours

By: Elio Grieco

The mismatch between the way jobs actually operate vs. the kind of talent that conventional education aims to produce is glaringly apparent. Working with creative and passionate people is something that everyone should be able to experience. The best way to give others this opportunity is to ensure there are plenty of talented people with which to work. As we enter the dawning age of augmentation and automation, workers need to be creative, collaborative, attentive to details and self-motivated enough to solve a new set of problems with every project.

CodeDay is a 24-hour introduction to that kind of problem-solving through computer programming, where many participants come with little if any background in computer science or programming.

Pitches and Project Scope

Shortly after check-in there is a pitch period where anyone present can propose a project idea.

While it’s possible to narrow the scope of the projects on which teams will work, keeping CodeDay as open as possible allows for ideas we would never have dreamed possible- like The Turing Test (pitched at the time as a “boyfriend simulator”). Any attendee can pitch an idea around which teams can form.

The biggest challenge during open pitch sessions is ensuring that the scope of the project pitched is realistic. Too simple a challenge and the event will be boring, too complex and few will get anywhere near completion.

While choosing and evaluating project ideas seems like it would be straightforward, accurately assessing the scope, and thus difficulty, of a project can be far more difficult and error-prone than it would seem. This is due to an analog of Moravec’s paradox (things that are easy to do as a human are hard for a computer to do) and due to differences in experience for each team and team member.

Project Management

Events tend to run more smoothly if immediately after pitches, kids are rotated through three 15 min mini-lessons about project management, online research methods, and basic programming concepts. These skills help them transition seamlessly to the next step…

After the pitch and intro talks, attendees form groups of their choosing. It’s strongly encouraged to work in groups of 2-5. Larger groups of up to 8 have been tried but they tend to have too many issues with delegation of work, communication within the group, and final integration of the project materials. Not surprising as the same dynamics are at play in tech companies.

Mentorship, Volunteers, and Speakers

Most of the event time is taken by working on group projects and one of the biggest factors that affects the quality and enjoyment of the event is the quality of the mentors. Because of the limited time frame (24 hours) students need to be quick at figuring things out or have access to mentors that can effectively communicate their knowledge in a way that attendees can immediately put to work to solve their current issue.

Mentors must also have a good rapport with attendees. A big part of the outcomes Code Day achieves is due to mentors coming from local companies, and thus being potential future co-workers for the attendees. In this way, they have ‘skin in the game.’ Getting time to casually socialize with the mentors also gives attendees a view behind the curtain of what it looks like to work at various tech companies.

In some cases, attendees were actually in the same building at which they might work in the future once they got hired. It doesn’t hurt that in tech there are ping pong tables, cereal bars, and slides built into such workplaces.

When we had out-of-state mentors for CodeDay that didn’t interact much with our attendees, the event went very poorly and we had few returns for the subsequent event.

Where to find mentors?

I started attending almost every technology meetup I could find in the valley (about 2-4 per week). As we pulled in engaged members of the local tech community, the quality of the mentorship and thus the events themselves increased dramatically. We have repeatedly seen mentors spend 6-12 hours working with a single team to complete amazing projects. These partnerships are usually followed up with internships, job offers, and occasionally, former attendees that end up guiding the whole community.

Tips and techniques for finding, engaging, preparing, guiding, and retaining high-quality mentors could fill a small book. We’ve instituted a number of different practices over time to make this process as smooth as possible. Mentor support consists of pre-event, mid-event, and post-event activities. Comfortable, confident, and engaged mentors are key to a successful event. Finding the right balance between not enough support and too much guidance/mentor time taken is a subtle art that varies with each mentor.

Sample Projects

Though CodeDay projects tend toward video games, projects have included:

  • Video Games
  • Community Reporting/Improvement Apps
  • Finance Software
  • Neural Network (built from scratch)
  • Hardware Projects Utilizing IoT Devices and Neural Control

The Transformations

While we do offer prizes, we’ve decided to keep them quite modest; small, laser-cut wood trophies. We could go the route of offering TVs, game consoles, tablets and computers, but intrinsic motivation is critical to STEM work. Having the “prize” be the event itself and the time you spend with teammates and mentors leads to far better outcomes, especially in the mid to long term.

We’ve seen increased involvement in the community as attendees maintain connections to the companies, meetups and mentors that they meet at the events. In several cases, kids that really have drive and a bit of talent have been offered internships and jobs applicants.

As we enter the dawning age of augmentation and automation, workers need to be creative, collaborative, attentive to details and self-motivated enough to solve a new set of problems with every project.

Elio Grieco

One attendee ended up becoming heavily involved in the cybersecurity community and was even brought on to a federal grant as project manager. The work had a lasting impact on the Arizona cybersecurity community, increasing collaboration between companies, schools, and the state and federal government. Those collaborations lead to events that improved access to Cybersecurity education and jobs for disadvantaged communities and the larger community.

Key Takeaways

For anyone considering taking on a ‘CodeDay’ in their community, here is a checklist of the three ‘A’s’ to consider:

Accessibility and Location

  1. Events should be held at places of business, never on a school campus. We wanted the kids to experience what it’s like to be in an entrepreneurial setting and be in total control of a project. Agency over your work leads to better outcomes and dramatically improves morale.
  2. Events must be accessible. We strove to hold events along Phoenix’s limited light rail system. Co+Hoots was located along this line at the time and worked very well as a venue until we simply outgrew the space with attendance into the hundreds of kids.

Having a strong commitment to accessibility meant that we had to turn down multiple excellent venue options. Though the upside is that we gained access to some phenomenal talent that most initiatives miss due to their inaccessibility. Being truly accessible is hard, much harder than it should be. If you think you are accessible it’s worth asking a few questions:

  • Who can get to the venue?
  • Can attendees get there by themselves or do parents need to take time out of their day?
  • Can parents and students attend given the day and time over which the event is held?
  • Who can get into the venue? Ramps, narrow passages, etc.
  • Do attendees need any expensive gear e.g. computers?
  • Are there mentors available that can help all attendees?

Agency: Project Planning and Collaboration

Some of the most successful projects have occurred when students were given brief training in project management and tutorials with tools such as Git, that facilitate combining all of the digital pieces that make up a project such as code, and both visual and auditory art assets.

Autonomy: Don’t Over-Structure

While having absolutely no structure will lead to a bad experience, ‘hack-a-thons’ thrive when the participants have higher amounts of agency and autonomy. The more it feels like a small, scrappy startup and the less it feels like spending time at school, the more successful your hack-a-thon will be.

CodeDay is a great intro to STEM but it doesn’t occur frequently enough and the event isn’t long enough to really get kids into coding in a serious way. Moving forward, the organizers have agreed that we’d like to pull together a broader community initiative to help kids find their way into tech.

Learn more about CodeDay and how you might start your own by visiting CodeDay Phoenix or egx.org.

Elio Grieco is the Founder/CEO of EGX and partner for CodeDay Phoenix. Learn more about Elio at egx.org.


6 STEM Resources for Every Classroom

For the past six years, I have taught an eighth-grade course in STEAM. As a longtime French and Spanish teacher, STEAM was new to me, and initially, I did not feel like I had enough preparation or knowledge to provide the right activities and learning experiences for my students. Prior to officially teaching STEAM, I thought that STEM or STEAM activities were not something that I could or even should add into my language classes. However, since teaching this course and having done a lot of research, I now realize that we all need to create opportunities related to STEM in our classrooms.

With an increasing need for skills in STEM-related fields and to meet the growing number of careers available now and in the future, our students need opportunities to explore these topics. It is important to spark student curiosity for STEM which might create an interest in a future career but more importantly, it helps all students to develop essential 21st-century and workplace skills.

Knowing where to begin with STEM can bring uncertainty as there are so many choices in activities, tools, curriculum, and more, or perhaps, some of the options may require specific knowledge or skill set, or resources. Regardless of grade level or subject area, we have a lot of quick ways and tools that are easy to use to help us to bring STEM into our classroom.

Benefits of STEM

STEM activities will help students develop the essential skills needed for life and workplace success including social-emotional learning (SEL) skills and the critical 21st-century skills we have been talking about in education for many years.

As we prepare our lessons each day, I recommend checking the information available through the World Economic Forum, to keep up with the types of skills employers are looking for, so that I can plan better activities in my classroom to prepare students. Some of the top skills include collaboration, communication, creativity, problem-solving, and teamwork. There are many options for helping students to develop these skills through the methods and tools that we use in our classroom. With some of the options below, we can find ways to connect the content being taught with incorporating STEM activities in our classrooms.

We can also use some methods like genius hour or 20% time or project-based learning (PBL), which provide students the opportunity to engage in independent work and enable them to develop these essential “workplace” and SEL skills. Trying some design challenges in small groups is great for team building and developing collaborative skills. Earlier in October, Global Maker Day, led by Jaime Donally and an amazing team, provided a variety of maker activities from educators and students around the world. Take time to check out the resources shared from this yearly event! You can find different STEM challenges that can be done in any class or level that will foster the development of these essential skills without requiring a ton of time to get started.

Having more choices available will make it easier to offer learning that meets students’ specific interests or needs and will promote engagement and spark curiosity for learning.

Rachelle Dené Poth

STEM challenges

A few years ago I participated in my first STEM challenge with a team of educators. At first, I did not want to participate, however, after a short time of brainstorming ideas, communicating with the team, and testing out solutions to the challenge, I better understood how these same experiences can positively impact our students. Have you ever done a solo cup challenge? In this challenge which does not require many materials or a lot of planning, the goal is to move a stack of cups to build a tower by only using the rubber bands and string that have been provided. This simple activity promotes collaboration and communication, problem solving and teamwork, while also adding fun into the group learning experience.

Using simple activities like this one helps students to develop relationships as they learn with and from their peers. One challenge that a friend shared earlier this year is to have students write their names using a variety of materials they can find and in a length or height that matches their own. As a follow-up to this, asking students to explain why they chose their materials if there were any design challenges or problems encountered while completing the challenge, helps us and other students to learn about one another. With just these two activities, there are many benefits for developing SEL and fostering a collaborative classroom community. Also, check out the STEAM cafe for activities that can be done at home!

Here are six resources to explore STEM in your classroom:

Cornucopia is a resource that I came across this summer and I like all of the free STEM education games that are for use in classrooms as well as for after-school programs. Some of the options available enable students to manage a plot of land, plant crops, and earn technology upgrades to make their farm a success!

CoSpacesEDU is an augmented and virtual reality platform that helps students to learn about emerging technologies and also build coding skills and more. It can be used for any grade level or content area to have students design a book summary or use it for STEM projects. I recommend checking out the examples available in the CoSpaces gallery.  There are many lessons and plans available specific to STEM.

Grasshopper is a fun way to learn about coding. It was named after Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer science, and is a great choice for beginners. Grasshopper will work well for adult learners who are interested in building their coding skills. Some of the topics available include animations, array methods, fundamentals, web page design, and more. Grasshopper is free on Android and iOS and is also available through the Web.

Hacking STEM has been made available through Microsoft and using Hacking STEM, teachers can explore a library full of lessons and resources to make it easier to bring STEM into the classroom. What I like about it is that there are short, bite-sized activities, master skills guides, and full-length activities to choose from, so educators can find something that works for their students. Every lesson comes with a full lesson plan, relevant standards, a list of materials needed, and estimated costs associated with the activities.

Ozobot has been a favorite in my STEAM class for a few years. Ozobot is a one-inch robot for teaching students about coding. It has several subjects available including ELA, math, and more. You have two choices for coding with Ozobot: using the screen and also screen-free through the use of markers and color codes. Training for teachers is available online and there is also a library full of resources to get started.  

PBS Kids has a ton of options for some building challenges that can be done on or offline. Check out the prompts that encourage students to find items and see what they can build. There are different categories and skill levels to choose from.

As we prepare students for the future, it is important that all students have the opportunity to learn about STEM and discover their own interests in STEM-related fields. Something that I recommend is to choose a few of the options and create stations for students in your classroom. Ask students to select something that interests them and then rotate or let students decide on one area for an independent project for PBL. Having more choices available will make it easier to offer learning that meets students’ specific interests or needs and will promote engagement and spark curiosity for learning.

Choosing an area to focus on will empower them through self-driven learning as they develop SEL skills and learn about emerging trends in STEM.


The Growing Need for Skills in Artificial Intelligence

We are seeing Artificial Intelligence (AI) used in all areas of life and work. Because of the continued growth in and demand for skills in AI, we need to provide opportunities for all students to learn about and understand how AI works. Dave Touretzky, the founder of AI4K12 had stated: “It’s important that children be given accurate information about AI so they can understand the technology that is reshaping our lives.” Artificial intelligence is increasing in all areas of our world and a recent Forbes article shared five industries that are seeing increased benefits from artificial intelligence.

Automotive industry. There is a prediction that there will be 33 million self-driving cars on the road by 2040. To learn more about self-driving cars, I recommend checking out the virtual driverless course from AI World School, which I had been using with my STEAM class.

Ecommerce. Algorithms track our use of certain websites such as Amazon, which then leads to more personalized experiences. Although it can be a bit unsettling at times to see ads pop up on other sites. Have you looked at a shopping site or searched something on Google, to then find similar products popping up on the other websites that you interact with?  Algorithms make this possible.

Finance. AI processes large amounts of data and can instantly complete tasks and transactions that in the past took hours or days and multiple people to complete. There are “Robo advisors” which are capable of building personalized portfolios and profiles for investors and can do so without any human interaction.

Healthcare. For example, diagnosing pathology by analyzing tissue samples using machine learning and algorithms which can help doctors identify problems more quickly and provide care for patients.

Transportation and travel. More than 80% of people regularly use their phones to search local restaurants and landmarks. Algorithms scan the roads and adapt and provide information in real-time. Think about how often you rely on Google to search for a location or information about local landmarks.

These are just five of the industries seeing an increase but AI is used in many sectors of life and work.

What this means for our students

As we consider how to best prepare students for the future, there is one thing that I believe is clear. Regardless of what our students decide to do in the future, it will involve technology. Students will also need a variety of skill sets to be prepared for whatever changes the future brings. An article from the World Economic Forum referred to a “reckoning for skills” and how certain skills will be essential as 1 billion jobs will be transformed by technology in the next 10 years. The Jobs of Tomorrow report stated that there will be an influx of jobs in the areas of artificial intelligence, data analytics, and cloud computing.

Beyond the statistics showing growth in these areas and with the emerging technologies and smart machines that are being developed, we have to recognize the likelihood that many jobs which are currently done by humans will be done with machines.

So what does that mean for us as educators and for our students? What types of opportunities do we need to provide for them and how can we prepare ourselves enough to get them started? First, help students to understand what artificial intelligence is, where we see it being used in our daily lives, what are some areas of the work or in the world that it is making an impact, and what the concerns are that we should have when it comes to AI.

We need to create a space for students to explore, to develop their own understanding and to interact with it, and then create their own AI. Regardless of what grade level or content area we teach, there are resources available for students even as young as pre-K to learn about AI. When it comes to artificial intelligence, giving students the chance to learn and a more hands-on or self-directed manner will make a difference. We need to give students the chance to try something, to fail at it, to adapt, and then to set new goals.

Here are seven resources to explore to find courses, curriculum outlines, and helpful materials for getting started with AI.

Getting Smart Town Hall was a recent discussion presented by Getting Smart on AI and its impact on our lives. Panelists discussed the implications of AI and how to prepare our students, with many resources shared.

AI World School offers three flagship AI courses for different age groups and also, several micro-courses. AIWS also has a virtual driverless car course and is offering summer camp courses. Also available this summer is the AI Covid Warrior contest.

DAILy from MIT offers a curriculum for students to explore AI as well as other activities and a mini-course.

ISTE’s AI and STEM Explorations Network has created four free hands-on AI projects for the classroom guides which are available for download from ISTE and GM. I helped to create a lesson on the use of AI in language classrooms. The guides are available in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

Microsoft AI for Good offers many resources for educators or anybody to look at how artificial intelligence is being used and to also better prepare teachers

Microsoft Educator Center presents educators with courses on learning about machine learning and other AI technologies.

Rex Academy offers many different courses to explore and has an AI and machine learning pathway. You can sign up for a 30-day trial.

It is important for our students to understand these emerging technologies, especially ones that will continue to grow and impact us in the future. We must make sure that we best prepare our students by providing access to resources that provide them with the right information and opportunities to work at their own pace and explore based on their specific interests and needs. It is important that we bring these topics into our classes so that our students can have exposure to learning about them on a consistent basis so that they are better prepared for the future.

For more, see:


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Two High School Students Create STEM Program

By: Sayan Bhatia and Sohil Bhatia 

In 2018 Sayan and Sohil Bhatia co-founded Start STEM Early as a nonprofit organization. Over the past three years, they have been sharing their knowledge and experience with younger students by teaching the basics of mobile app development to students across the nation. Their mission is to increase interest in STEM among young students through curated programs. Early in the founding year of the organization, they taught groups of students on topics such as physics, chemistry, and earth science. They gradually expanded the curriculum to technology courses, and in 2020, during the peak of COVID19, Start STEM Early was able to accelerate its outreach through online programs and amplify its impact.

Realizing that programming was a heavily undervalued skill among young students, their organization created Intro to App Building, a completely virtual 6-week program offered for free by Start STEM Early. Within days of opening the registration, the course had garnered over 400 students from all over the USA. Through the organization’s Intro to App Building program, students embarked on a journey from having absolutely no computer science or programming knowledge, to building 5 full-fledged mobile apps. They received a large number of testimonials and appreciation for the sessions they taught. Currently, Start STEM Early has amassed over 3,300 students from all over the US. In order to further advocate for STEM education, their organization will continue to offer new and unique STEM programs to young students.

From the beginning, Start STEM Early has strived to make a consistent impact on students worldwide. Starting in 2018, the founders faced issues in gaining attraction and developing an audience. Mentoring and teaching 10-15 students, Start STEM Early started with just a whiteboard and a room of students. Over the years, the organization grew its scope. The early days of the organization’s journey included mentoring robotics teams and teaching chemistry to young students in their local community.

The introduction of the coronavirus in 2020, threw the world into a virtual setting. As events, assemblies, and education began to move into this unfamiliar remote scene, both Sayan and Sohil utilized this unique opportunity. By creating courses such as Intro to App Building and Intro to 3D Design, the non-profit gained hundreds of students’ interest. Although these sessions taught complex subjects such as building apps, the format was provided in an easy, and simple manner. Intro to App Building guides students by not only teaching them the basic concepts of computer science but also allowing them to build projects in a fun and creative way. Students from across the nation built apps such as Paint, Pong, and much, much more! At the end of the 4-week program, students were invited to build and showcase apps from their creativity. You can check out some of these impressive apps here.

Students around the world began to easily grasp ideas and concepts of computer science such as user interface, and control structures. With this interest in mind, Start STEM Early hosted their first computer science-based student competition. The competition was held over the course of a week and had over 100 students in attendance. The event featured two different categories for students to compete in. One of which was the Creative category, and the other was the Step-By-Step. Both categories allowed students to compete in a way that was comfortable for their skill level. While some students built projects from scratch, others had the option to learn to build a simple project and then add their own unique aspects.

Each student built apps and projects, with winners announced at the end of the week during the virtual award ceremony. The event featured guest speakers from XBOX and had over $200 in prizes.

For more, see:


Sayan Bhatia is a junior at Redmond High School in Washington and is a developer, entrepreneur, and STEM advocate. After learning software development, he released his first app to the Apple App Store in 2018.

Sohil Bhatia is a sophomore at Redmond High School in Washington. His love and passion for technology began when he developed Water Matters, a mobile app, and an IoT device for tracking water usage.

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Smart Review: Blackbird Education Platform

In the past few years, there has been a noticeable increase in programs related to STEM in education. The push toward bringing more opportunities to students is in preparation for the required skills of the future. According to the World Economic Forum, there is an increasing demand for STEM-related skills for the future, as it has been reported that the United States will need to fill 3.5 million STEM jobs by 2025.  In our schools, we need to provide more opportunities for all students to explore STEM topics, however, there are gaps in the types and levels of the curriculum offered.  Accessibility to programs may be a barrier and for some educators, knowing where to begin might also be an issue, as there are many options available. Blackbird is working to address these gaps and concerns.

I recently had the opportunity to learn more about the new middle school coding program available through Blackbird, the creators of the world’s first educational version of JavaScript. Mike Lynch, a former high school science teacher, now Director of Education for Blackbird, gave me a demo of the platform which recently launched and first middle school-focused code education platform. The Blackbird team ran trials of their program in several middle schools and coding academies in the United States, including in Portland, The Girls’ Place Chicago, and Florida.

The platform was built to address the “middle school gap” and provide students with the opportunity to learn JavaScript, which is one of the most commonly used programming languages. The “middle school gap” refers to the span of time between when students learn to code at the elementary level using block-based programs like Scratch and do not have many options until reaching high school, where they may enroll in more advanced computer science courses, if available.

What makes Blackbird different?

For many educators, there may be hesitation when it comes to coding programs because of a lack of experience or knowledge. In my own experience, I kept to coding programs that I knew and understood enough so that I could provide support for my students. However, I realized that I needed to open more opportunities for them to pass my own knowledge, or I was greatly limiting their potential. What makes Blackbird stand out is that all teachers can use the platform without any prerequisites when it comes to coding. Parents can also support students through this program. Blackbird made this program with teachers in mind, in particular, those who don’t have a background in technology and for use with all grade levels and content areas. They offer professional development online and many resources to support teachers as they roll this out in their classrooms.

Blackbird is an educational version of Javascript that enables middle school students to develop coding skills in a robust and scaffolded platform that is accessible for learning virtually or in person. Lynch said that “Students are focused on how computer programs work and how they can write their own programs.” With the scaffolds in place, all students can build skills and become more confident and interested in STEM fields.

The structure and scaffolded support of the platform makes it so all students and teachers can build skills at their own pace. It allows for differentiation and enrichment through the workshops and built-in supports available for students and teachers. The curriculum was made with a continuum in mind. Students work through modes of computer programming, then move on to completing guided projects, and then ultimately students have opportunities for more creative expression in a sandbox type of learning environment. It is initially structured and scaffolded and then the supports are removed as students build their skills.

There are ten stages with lessons for each stage. It is standards aligned with the Common Core State Standards for Math and English, Next Generation Science Standards  (NGSS), and Computer Science Teachers Association Computer Science standards. Blackbird integrates with Clever and Google through SSO. Teachers have a dashboard where they can track student progress including lessons completed, time spent on each, review errors and even send direct messages to students in response to their questions. The data is easily accessible to teachers, and the way the platform is designed, also leads to increased student engagement in learning. Teachers can give more meaningful, personalized feedback that will help to improve student achievement as well as build their confidence in learning to code.

Students begin by programming a simple game, building from the ground up and progressing with each lesson. Students can work at their own pace and as they progress, there are supports in place for them such as “Show Me” which highlights in red any errors in the code they are writing on their own. They can choose “Steps” to verify the steps in the program and see how the code works. Through the Teacher dashboard,  teachers can see each student’s progress, any hands raised for questions and are able to support students as they work through each stage and lesson.

Blackbird Education Platform:

  • Students learn JavaScript through game and animation creation
  • Can be implemented by educators and parents – without any level of technical expertise required
  • Integrated Learning Management System (LMS)
  • Promotes student-driven learning
  • Provides resources for educators including detailed student reports, class overviews, solutions page with answer keys
  • Offers materials to get started including videos, checklists, course outlines, syllabus, PD resources

It was easy to see how students and teachers would quickly be able to get started with Blackbird as it is designed for self-paced learning whether in person or remotely. Educators and parents can create an account that offers several lessons for free as well as additional advanced levels for a premium price.

Because many jobs will rely on coding in the future, it is important that we provide students with opportunities to explore the possibilities and determine their interests in these areas. We must offer options that will lead to more authentic and meaningful experiences that promote the development of essential skills for the future. With the Blackbird platform, we now have the opportunity to provide more engaging and student-driven, independent, hands-on learning.

For more, see:


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Maker Learning PD in COVID Times: A Transformative Campus-wide Shift in School Culture

By: Mark Barnett & Dr. Michael Johnston

Frankfurt International School (FIS) and Consilience Education Foundation found a way to combat the obstacles created by COVID-19. Together, they ran an asynchronous and synchronous blended learning experience of hands on making, innovation, and design with the facilitator six time zones away and restrictions on the number of people that can occupy a physical learning space. Robust learning for adults that impacts student learning is about personal experiences and self motivation.

This four day learning experience has already impacted student experiences and will continue to help shape the future of learning at FIS to help foster creativity, confidence, and resilience for our young innovators.

Philosophy of Maker Learning and Constructionism

Maker learning is a way of experiencing educational content and subjects through the context of making, designing, fabricating, and constructing. Stemming from the Piagetian idea of “learn by doing,” maker learning allows students to construct tangible artifacts of learning while also constructing mental models and cognitive associations to previous experiences, thus allowing connections between subject matter and skill development. Maker learning requires a pedagogical shift in school culture from instructionism, to guidance and facilitation and also by intentionally designing learning experiences that are conducive to making meaningful connections.

Seymour Papert, inventor of the first programming language for children and inspiration for the LEGO Mindstorms robotics systems, laid the foundation for maker learning in his development of the learning theory called constructionism. Building on the Piagetian term of constructivism, constructionism posits that learning happens most conducively when children are engaged in meaningful projects that allow for the construction of new knowledge in environments that make use of tools and materials as objects to think with. Papert would often share the famous African parable of “teach a person to fish, rather than provide the fish” and believed that education should be no different. We should provide children with the means to learn and the means to be the leaders of their own learning instead of providing a pre-baked curriculum taught through textbooks and lectures.

“Instead of pushing kids to be more like adults, we might do better to remember that they are great learners and to try harder to be more like them.”

– Seymour Papert, from The Children’s Machine

What We Did at Frankfurt International School

2020 has been a challenge to say the least. The world of education has not been disrupted globally in this way since World War Two. What does this mean for next steps? How can we leverage this disruption to move education in a direction that serves the needs of learners in the 2020’s?

Frankfurt International School (FIS) is leading the way in many aspects and has the will and drive to continue to push the limits. When we originally planned the four day Maker Educator Certificate workshop there was no sign of a pandemic and very little discussion around blended, hybrid, DLP’s, asynchronous, and synchronous learning. Our reality has changed, so now what?

The show must go on. We were prepared to run an in-person workshop with all participants in one space, a multi location workshop for smaller numbers to protect the integrity of divisional and campus bubbles, or a maker workshop in 28 different sites from the homes of all the educators involved. We eventually set up asynchronous and synchronous sessions over four days to maximize the direct contact inputs with the support and hands on making, reflection, and implementation planning.

Outcomes

To see 28 adults engaged in creating, playing, prototyping, failing, re-tooling, and trying again was a joy and a stark reminder of the importance of giving time to design and innovate. In a world pressed by time limits, it is no different in schools as subjects, transitions, and schedules drive students from place to place to learn in sometimes disconnected silos. The aha moments were vast in this learning experience for all adults and this will directly translate into the development of skills and attributes for FIS learners of all ages. When one of the teachers shared, “I never thought I could code,” the discussion quickly turned to the connected nature of design and innovation. Throughout the workshop, they were making with cardboard, circuits, coding in Scratch, using a Makey Makey, hot glue guns, and a wide variety of other materials. A group of teachers from various disciplines and age groups shared, “It doesn’t matter whether we are using digital or product design, scissors or iPads, it’s all the same process, and there is so much learning to be had from going through the process, and failing many times.”

FIS is dedicated to lifelong learning and can’t wait to provide these kinds of learning experiences in Maker Fairs and community events, post-COVID, of course. In the meantime, the impact has begun with students integrating design and making into inquiry units, Science and STEM labs, personal projects, Design-for-Change classes, Design Technology, computer science and much more. When a school consistently revisits its practices, seeks commonalities and shared language, and drives forward with new technologies and pedagogies, it truly serves the needs of today’s learners.

Schools like FIS understand that constructionism provides opportunities for learners to lead in their own learning and have paved the way for teachers to design learning experiences that allow for meaningful connections through maker learning. FIS also understands the importance of building an entire school culture that supports the necessary pedagogical transitions that can allow maker learning to flourish. This starts with a strong foundation, supported by professional development, continuous coaching, and self-reflection. In this process, teachers are empowered to become learning designers and learning facilitators, often taking on the roles of the student and maker to master their own crafts. Teachers at FIS have reported the powerful effects of maker learning and are inspired to continue growing, learning and evolving.

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Mark Barnett is passionate about project-based learning and teaching students to create with technology. With 15 years of experience in STEAM and maker education, he has consulted with teachers and administrators all over the world to set up and design impactful learning experiences with makerspaces and related education themes.

Mike Johnston is the Assistant Head at the International School of Frankfurt. He has led workshops for teachers and administrators around the world on sustainability, building global competence, deep personalized K-12 curriculum, and how service learning should not just be what you do, but who you are as a school. 

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Smart Review: Ozobot Brings 1:1 Coding to the Classroom

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Nader Hamda, Founder of Ozobot, about the future of learning and robotics. Started in 2012, the mission of Ozobot is to bring robotics to all classrooms by providing relevant opportunities for students in grades K through 12 & beyond. In particular, we talked about how Ozobot got its start and why Hamda believes it is so important that students learn about coding and robotics. Hamda said that “robotics is ubiquitous in all industries and we need to provide opportunities for it in learning because it will be involved in the workforce.”

As a result of the impact of Covid-19 on education, we need to find beneficial learning opportunities that will work for in-person, hybrid, and full remote learning environments. Hamda expressed that with so many students learning online and the great concern for screen fatigue, Ozobot can help by offering screen free ways for students to engage in coding activities. He also emphasized the importance of helping teachers to feel comfortable with using technology and how Ozobot has helped teachers by providing a seamless integration of coding into their classrooms.

Everyone can code: Reaching more classrooms

Ozobot classroom launched in January of 2020. Schools are now able to provide a 1-to-1 learning experience with Ozobot robots. The company joined the Google for Education Integrated Solutions Initiative and integrated Ozobot Classroom with Google Classroom, the platform used by more than 100 million teachers and students worldwide. Some of the subjects available in the lessons include math, English Language Arts, and more. Ozobot offers two different ways to code, using the screen and also screen-free through the use of their markers and color codes. The lessons are ready-to-run and they are remote-friendly which is great for teachers.

“More students are having the chance to learn about coding from home as well as in the classroom through the new Ozobot 1:1 Program.” There are approximately 30,000 schools working with the new classroom kits now. Each kit comes with 18 robots and in the Ozobot classroom, students use the robot to complete lessons and it then captures data through color and blocks which goes to the teacher dashboard in real-time. Students can work together with a partner and are easily able to identify their robot based on the specific color code assigned to each robot. A system like this definitely helps with keeping track of robots when collecting materials in the classroom.

The lessons in Ozobot classroom are self-directed and each chapter has a video that introduces the lesson with steps for students to follow. Students can submit their work directly into Google classroom.  As the students work with robots, the robots are actually saving the data and returning it back directly to the system. This works very well in a hybrid learning environment, and Hamda says it is “easy to learn and fun to master.” According to the Ozobot team, “having a one-inch classmate with a heart of {code} can help a student’s social-emotional well-being during COVID-19.”

How does it work

To learn more, I had a demo from Adrienne White to see how Ozobot Classroom works. During the demo, it was easy to see how students and teachers would quickly be able to get started with the Ozobots whether in or out of the classroom. It is designed for learning anywhere and for self-paced learning whether in person or remotely.  There are levels for students starting at pre-K, where they code through the use of images, and then the grade levels each offer slightly more advanced coding possibilities.

Ozobots use color and optical sensors to carry out decoding. There are two different ways to code. For screen-free coding, students can draw the specific color-coding or use the stickers or create a code for the Ozobot to follow. Color codes Robots can be coded to change direction, move on a timer, speed up or slow down, and more. Students also have the option to use their devices and Ozoblockly to code. There are over 30 color codes in their specific language. It is device-agnostic so can be used on an iPad, Mac, Chromebook which is beneficial for schools looking for options that will work with multiple devices for students.

In the teacher dashboard, a three-color ID is generated for each Ozobot and then each bot lights up in matching colors, which makes it easy for students to identify their bots. Teachers get live insights directly in their dashboard and can be notified when students need help. Students can push on the EVO to ask teachers for help which will then add a comment to the teacher dashboard. Teachers get a summary of students’ work and can add notes to each student’s progress. For accessibility,  each color has a specific letter which helps students who may have problems with color recognition. Students are able to see the assignments that are due and those that have been completed. There is an introductory video that explains the lessons and tasks that students have to complete.

Teachers can also access one hour of training or take advantage of the lessons available in the library through their dashboard. Teachers can search and filter based on grade, subject, or remote-friendly lessons. Standards are included for addressing the ISTE or common core standards and each lesson includes activities and more resources.

The Ozobot team spent the past two years building the infrastructure and it was built in collaboration with feedback from more than 1,000 teachers. Teachers who are using Ozobots can create and submit their own lessons. Each lesson idea that is submitted is vetted and if it meets their criteria it gets added into the Ozobot classroom program.

Ozobot’s education products include the Educator Entry Kit, which comes with one Ozobot Evo plus teacher training in the 2 Ways to Code for $99. Once educators have tried the product and are ready to bring Ozobots to their students, options include the Classroom Kit for in-person instruction and the new Ozobot 1:1 Program which is flexible for in-person, remote, or hybrid instruction. Interested educators can request a demo at ozobot.com. Ozobot also qualifies for the CARES Act ESSER funds and other federal and state initiatives.

It was amazing to see how Ozobot works and the many ways that students are using coding for their classes in all grade levels. With so many jobs that will rely on coding in the future, it is important to provide students with opportunities to explore the possibilities and determine their interests in these areas.

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It’s Time to Learn AI, And It Just Got Easier Than Ever

It is nearly impossible to avoid AI these days. In conversation, it is described as a tool of the future, a tool of power, a tool of opportunity. Well, regardless of the view towards AI, it is something that is better to understand than ignore and it is something that, with understanding, will create and support countless jobs of the future. Fortunately, knowledge about AI — and the ability to design alongside it — is becoming increasingly accessible.

Tech giants around the world are acting swiftly to bring AI to the edge, and NVIDIA has a head start on many of them. The company started out focusing primarily on gaming, specifically in designing and manufacturing graphics processing units (GPUs). Since 2014, however, NVIDIA technology has expanded into sectors such as data centers, professional visualization, healthcare, and autonomous machines.

As AI proliferates, a new generation of students and developers will play a critical role in teaching and training autonomous machines and robots how to behave in the real world. NVIDIA is now taking its AI thought leadership further through the release of the NVIDIA Jetson Nano 2GB Developer Kit which offers “unprecedented, affordable access to state-of-the-art computer solutions for learning autonomy,” says Emilio Frazzoli professor of Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich.

With this cue card-sized AI embedded devkit, learners of all ages and backgrounds will have access to a powerful machine learning experience that makes creating autonomous robots easier than ever. Get inspired by community projects or follow along to fun step-by-step tutorials, such as this how-to for building a mini DIY autonomous racecar called Jetbot.

With the mutual goal of teaching a wide audience of students about robotics and AI, NVIDIA has partnered with the Duckietown project, which started as an MIT class in 2016 and has since evolved into an open-source platform for robotics and AI education, research and outreach. Duckietown offers hands-on learning activities in which students put AI and robotics components together to address modern autonomy challenges for self-driving cars. Solutions are implemented in the Duckietown robotics ecosystem, where the interplay among theory, algorithms and deployment on real robots is witnessed firsthand in a model urban environment.

Frazzoli added, “The Duckietown educational platform provides a hands-on, scaled-down, accessible version of real-world autonomous systems.”

To encourage educators to adopt STEM projects, NVIDIA has set up a free Jetson AI Course and Certifications program. Teachers can become certified as a Jetson AI Specialist or Jetson AI Ambassador by completing the Jetson AI Fundamentals course and publishing an open-source Jetson project as part of the assessment.

And, for educators to custom-build their AI courses, NVIDIA also offers freely available curriculum and open-source platforms.

The Jetson Nano 2GB Developer Kit has already begun to garner acclaim across the world:

Drew Farris, director of Analytics and AI Research at Booz Allen Hamilton, said: “At Booz Allen, we seek to empower people to change the world. We’re using NVIDIA Jetson to train new technical resources as AI becomes critical for enterprises and personnel leveraging AI to solve the most difficult global challenges.”

Jack Silberman, Ph.D., Lecturer, UC San Diego, Jacobs School of Engineering, Contextual Robotics Institute, said: “NVIDIA’s Jetson AI Certification materials thoroughly cover the fundamentals with the added advantage of hands-on project-based learning. I believe these benefits provide a great foundation for students to prepare for university robotics courses and compete in robotics competitions.”

Christine Nguyen, STEM curriculum director at Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania, said: “We know how important it is to provide all students with opportunities to impact the future of technology. We’re excited to utilize the NVIDIA Jetson AI Specialist certification materials with our students as they work toward becoming leaders in the fields of AI and robotics.”

“While today’s students and engineers are programming computers, in the near future they’ll be interacting with, and imparting AI to, robots,” said Deepu Talla, vice president and general manager of Edge Computing at NVIDIA. “The new Jetson Nano is the ultimate starter AI computer that allows hands-on learning and experimentation at an incredibly affordable price.”

Understanding the inner workings of AI is an essential skill of the present and will extend long into the future as well.

To learn more visit NVIDIA’s website.

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This post is sponsored by NVIDIA. If you’d like to learn more about our policies and practices regarding sponsored content, please email Mason Pashia.

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Bringing STEM into Every Classroom Space

In today’s world, we need to bring STEM into our curriculum and our classrooms. Regardless of whether we are in the physical classroom or virtual space, there are many options available. The benefits of embedding STEM activities into the content that we teach is that we help our students to develop the essential skills needed now and in the future, regardless of their next steps after high school. According to the World Economic Forum, the job outlook for 2022 focuses on skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and emotional intelligence. There will be an increasing need for STEM skills, as it has been reported that the United States will need to fill 3.5 million STEM jobs by 2025.

As many schools may have to transition throughout the year, We need to have some options available that will work well during these times. Bringing in new ideas and innovating is something that will help to keep students engaged during what might continue to be a challenging year.

In implementing a STEM curriculum, many options require specific equipment or access to certain websites, but there are a lot that are available free to educators and students that can be used regardless of where learning is happening. Just taking a strategy like genius hour provided my eighth-grade students with an opportunity to explore a topic of interest and engage in designing something. The benefits are that the topics covered and ideas shared in class will go far beyond simply just the curriculum. It will also help students to collaborate more and build their knowledge in more meaningful ways because they are learning from and with their peers.

Helping students to understand concepts like coding or computational thinking, artificial intelligence, or augmented and virtual reality, are STEM/STEAM-related topics. As a language teacher, I never thought that I could bring these topics into my classroom until I began teaching my eighth-grade emerging technology course and connected it with the language arts. Once I did that, I realized that I needed to create more opportunities that will help students to be prepared for whatever their next steps may be. To do so, I must be willing to try new ideas, to innovate, to take risks, and be open to learning from the students and letting them lead more.

Here are seven resources that I plan to bring into my STEAM course and Spanish classes this year.

1. Ashtrix.Provide students with the opportunity to learn about robotics, coding, artificial intelligence, and more. Available to more than 4,000 students in over 20 countries. The resources are available to students in elementary through high school and even for college-level students. Through Astrix, students can explore these different topics and engage in more interactive and hands-on learning. Astrix offers an Android app developer program for younger students.

2. Code Wizards HQ. Online coding classes available for students ages 8 through 18. With Code Wizards, students can enroll in three week accelerated courses or a twelve-week regular schedule coding class. There are three different grade bands with multiple levels within each that end in a Capstone project for students. Code Wizards also offers an AP Computer Science preparatory course and a high school internship program.

3. Cubit. Provides hands-on learning opportunities for students regardless of grade level or content area. Cubit is focused on project-based learning and provides teachers with resources including sample projects and curriculum to get started with STEAM concepts in the classroom. It offers a drag and drop programming system that makes it easy for anyone to get started right away.

4. Daily STEM. A platform created by Chris Woods where educators and families can find many ideas for exploring STEM activities. One of the features is a “STEM everyday” post where educators share their ideas for STEM activities, a quick way to find ideas in this new school year. Daily STEM also has a podcast that features how educators are bringing STEM into their classrooms.

5. Microsoft. There are several resources available for free for educators to choose to bring the STEM curriculum into the classroom. The options include Minecraft education, Make Code, and Hacking STEM. Educators can find guest speakers, engage in free training online through courses offered, and explore Microsoft partners such as Micro:bit, Kano, and NASA for additional STEM resources.

6. Spinndle. Educators can explore the resources available for implementing project-based learning (PBL), design thinking, social-emotional learning (SEL), and STEAM-related activities into the classroom. Spinndle provides free downloads for student-led learning experiences related to passion projects, STEAM activities, and inquiry-based learning. Choose any of the topics available and have an outline, activities, and materials to get started.

7. Tinkercad. A free online web-based resource for use by educators, students, or anyone looking to get started with some coding, 3D design, and more. Tinkercad is a great option for beginners or anyone looking to build their design skills using 3D objects, even circuits, and additional choices. It is also good for promoting collaboration between students when educators create their classroom space for students to join. There are eight different categories of lesson plans available for areas such as art, design, engineering, language arts, and technology. Lessons come with rubrics, overviews, standards, and a list of materials needed for completion.

As we start the new school year and try to embrace the challenges that may come with it, I think it is important to take some risks with trying new ideas and bringing new learning experiences in for our students and ourselves. When we give students opportunities to engage in more student-driven, independent, hands-on learning, it attaches more meaning and authenticity to the work that they’re doing. It sparks curiosity for their own personal interests and of course, their specific needs can be better met. It also gives students a chance to engage in something different and helps them to build the types of skills that they will need moving forward.

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Empowering Families to Teach Coding at Home

By: Marina Umaschi Bers

With many schools around the country offering distance learning, families are preparing to play a dual role as parents and educators. While they may be comfortable supporting literacy by reading with their children, when it comes to STEAM topics like coding, most of them lack confidence.

A national survey of 2,000 parents conducted by The Toy Association in 2017 revealed that 85 percent of parents consider coding to be a valuable skill for their young children. However, 72 percent of parents indicated that their perceived lack of understanding of technology made it difficult to jointly engage in coding activities with their children. So how can educators empower families to be creative coding partners with their kids? Shift the focus to exposure, rather than knowledge.

Here are a few fun ways that families can collaborate with schools to teach their children coding concepts.

Finding Flexible, Approachable Tech Tools

For parents (or even teachers) who don’t see themselves at tech experts, I recommend a low-floor, high-ceiling approach, meaning that the programming languages are accessible enough for users of all ages and abilities to pick up quickly, and engaging enough so that students can build expertise while creating their own personal projects and learning more complex concepts with time and experience.

For children under the age of 8, the KIBO robotics kit and the ScratchJr app, which were born from over a decade of research by my team at the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University, are both examples of this concept. KIBO uses a programming language based on physical blocks that students can understand even before they have learned to read. ScratchJr, a collaboration between my team and the LifeLong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, uses blocks on a screen.

In our current school situation, the most effective technology will allow both teachers and families to explore coding concepts with students regardless of the setting: remote learning by videoconference, blended learning, in reduced-occupancy classrooms, or homeschooling.

The goal is to have a fun, creative experience that involves child-directed and parent-supported playful learning. These experiences can also begin with items that most families have around the house: smartphones, LEGOs, or even knives and forks.

Teaching Coding Concepts Through Everyday Activities

Teachers should encourage families to wake up their inner children and become playmates for their kids. This time is an opportunity for adults and children to explore together the things they usually don’t have time in their daily lives to explore: They could go around the house and take pictures of objects, then use ScratchJr to create a scavenger hunt or other game.

The key is developing relationships: sitting down with your child, creating together, making a joint project together, engaging in meaningful conversations. If you’re using any kind of technology, it’s important to have a schedule. Even devoting 15 minutes a day can be a great start. The learning can certainly extend beyond those 15 minutes, though. Families can bring computer science ideas into everyday activities. For example:

  • Sequencing can be taught through songs or stories that use repetitions and patterns in which order matters. Once the child learns the idea, they can use it to program a robot to carry out a sequence that navigates it through a maze of household objects or stuffed animals.
  • Modularity is when you break a very complex task into small chunks and then you reuse those chunks. Let’s say you have the kids helping you set the table. You can create a module called “place-setting” that involves putting a fork, a knife, a plate, and a cup in their proper place. That’s a module that you can reuse at every meal and a concept that will carry over into coding lessons.
  • The design process is the iterative cycle of having an idea, making a project to convey that idea, improving it, trying it out again, and sharing with others. For example, children can use LEGOs to create a piece of furniture for their favorite stuffed animals. They can start with an idea, make a prototype, test it out with their teddy bear, and improve the process until they think it is ready to show it to other family members.

Of course, families can’t be teachers all the time, and children need a balanced diet of activities: being outside, interacting with others, even having some time to be bored—because from boredom comes creativity.

Empowering families as creative coding partners doesn’t mean asking them to be experts. Instead, it means helping them see their home as a creative space where they can come together and code together.

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Marina Umaschi Bers is a professor and chair at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, with a secondary appointment in the computer science department at Tufts University, where she directs the DevTech research group. She is the author of the book Coding as a Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom, and is the co-founder and chief scientist at KinderLab Robotics, Inc.

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