Mar 192014

IMG_3535Whilst no grade in our elementary school has fully embraced the idea of passion projects, genius hour, itime etc there has certainly been an interest in the idea of putting aside time during the week for students to explore and develop their own interests outside of the curriculum.

Following a grade 2 visit to grade 7 to play and rate their games created using Scratch, a number of grade 2 students expressed an interest in learning how to create the games themselves. (My grade 4 class, who have spent 6 months developing their coding skills, also visited the grade 7s but with a focus on the coding aspect of the game. They came back inspired and ready to set about designing their own increasingly complex games.)

And so began a great collaboration, with grade 4 students acting as mentors for the grade 2s. They have initially been paired up for 1:1 coaching with a hope of moving towards just a couple of older students being available on rotation for questions and feedback during the daily grade 2 itime. The grade 2s left the first session very excited to have created their own Flappy Birds game. After reflection the grade 4s recognised that they needed to take a step back and created a set of guidelines:

  • don’t take over
  • let them explore
  • help them read the instructions
  • let them make mistakes
  • answer their questions
  • use words to guide them, don’t do it for them
  • model coding yourself by working alongside each other on your own projects

We’ll see how it goes! We will rely on the tutorials that worked so well for introducing coding to grade 4. However, we will have to see how it goes as they move through the more complex levels.

Any suggestions for resources for coding with grade 2 students gratefully received!

Mar 192014

IMG_3101After an introduction to basic coding with my grade 4 class through a maths activity looking at patterns in the times tables I was keen to explore the potential of coding as part of our curriculum. The timing was perfect. October 2014’s Hour of Code initiative prompted a flurry of on-line educational resources ideal for the novice teacher and student. An Hour of Code became a buzzing week of coding as the students worked independently through on-line tutorials using familiar games such as Angry Birds and Plants vs Aliens.

The students successfully completed all levels and now had a good grasp of how  repeat-loops, conditionals and basic algorithms work.  So what next?

We spent a couple of weeks exploring Turtleart and Scratch by looking at existing games, animations and designs then deconstructing the code. The students had some time to create their own simple patterns or animations.

Next, I felt it was time to start moving beyond coding with blocks and look at the coding languages. In consultation with our tech integrators I opted for HTML. Our students have their own WordPress blogs and, starting with something familiar, began by looking at the HTML tags in their blog posts. They then worked through the code academy tutorials.

What started as free-time Friday (the last period on Friday as free choice which in reality was the same 3 or 4 students still not completing the work they were behind on whilst the rest played the same computer games they play at home) is now written into our timetable as Coding. My students love it! Sometimes the students have free-choice, sometimes we work on the same project. For example, we all worked on creating and sharing our own Flappy Birds game.

What I observe:

  • students setting their own pace for their learning
  • problem solving
  • logical thinking
  • perseverance
  • risk-taking
  • collaboration
  • creative solutions
  • testing and refining ideas

Questions I am left asking:

  • How can coding fit into our units of inquiry? Or does it matter that it doesn’t when so many other skills pertinent to the PYP philosophy are being covered?
  • What next? How do I keep my students engaged and moving forward with their coding skills?
Dec 042013

Schools, by their very nature, are busy places. The best classrooms and institutions hum with the sound of students, teachers and administrators sharing ideas and co-constructing learning.

Teachers are particularly busy managing the traffic that crosses their desk be it real or virtual.

At our school we use technology to facilitate so much of our learning. Not only for students, but also for collaboration between educators.

Whether its the use of email, twitter, wordpress, google docs or wikis, we, as educators, share an incredible amount of knowledge. The unprecedented about of wisdom available can lead to a feeling akin to that of a hamster on a wheel.

It’s not surprising that when teachers come to meetings they find it hard to tune out all the digital noise. It seems, in today’s meetings, technology is omni-present. You would be hard pressed to go to a meeting where there wasn’t at least a digital projector.

As we sit here ourselves, co-constructing this article, we fight the urge to respond to the most recent email notifications or SMS alerts. So how can we collaborate if we aren’t present with those we are trying to collaborate with?

This year as I, Nathaniel, have transitioned to the role of Grade Level leader we have migrated a lot of our administrative documents and meeting agendas to Google Drive. Having agendas on Google Docs has been incredibly powerful but we have certainly encountered drawbacks:

    • If one person is assigned the role of taking minutes, then why are seven people typing?
    • Is everyone engaged in the discussion?
    • What’s the purpose of the meeting: housekeeping or collaboration?
    • Is this collaboration?


Here at WAB we have two types of team or grade level meetings: housekeeping and collaborative planning and reflection meetings. We have found that the use of laptops and online resources like Google Docs have been invaluable for housekeeping meetings.

However, recently we have questioned whether laptops or devices are hindering collaboration.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 2.43.37 PM

Straight away, when we all sat down there was an incredible sense of connection between the team. You could actually see everyone rather than just their eyes peaking over their laptop lids. The meeting was not all roses but some really deep discussion about the unit took place. People came in with some apprehension and were clearly out of their comfort zone.This did lead to some pauses. It seems today the default, whenever people are uncomfortable, is to plug in. Hopefully, without being able to reach for a device people used the time to think and reflect.



In a world full of digital connections, how can we make sure we maintain personal connections? We hope to reflect upon and refine this process for our collaborative planning meetings; exploring our various roles and employing the seven norms of collaboration.

Dec 042013

Looking around for investigations for our multiplication and division unit I came across a great activity exploring visual patterns, called spirolaterals, in the times table.

Through this inquiry students:

  • practice times tables
  • visually represent patterns in numbers
  • look for patterns
  • make predictions
  • test and refine predictions
  • make generalisations
  • share ideas
  • challenge each other’s ideas

Thanks to Cristina Milos for sharing this activity on Twitter!

IMG_3094Very briefly, the spirolateral is a visual representation of the pattern created through adding the digits of the multiples in a times table.  Initially I had the students draw the patterns by hand.

The patterns produced reminded me of the only tech tool I had available to me as a student teacher in 1991 – the Valiant roamer – based on Logo and guaranteed to impress my tutor.  Ask around and these days you get pointed in the direction of Scratch and Turtle Art. Whilst a handful of students had experience of coding using Scratch, either through personal interest or the school’s after school activity, Turtle Art proved to be preferable due to it’s smaller number of functions (aka distractions).

The first lesson focused on learning how to use the program and the students quickly reproduced what had been painstakingly hand-drawn. 

Here are my observations on the pros and cons of using coding for this activity:


  • created patterns quickly
  • less prone to human error with counting squares
  • errors in the pattern quickly spotted and easy to fix
  • lots of collaboration with helping each other out when trouble-shooting


  • more mistakes made with simple maths – times tables, finding digital root etc
  • fewer aha moments – maybe as they didn’t watch the pattern slowly emerge or more likely that they were too focused on and excited about the programming itself
  • less collaboration on mathematical findings

We returned to the same activity and used their 1-9 times table spirolaterals which were now accurately constructed and neatly organised on their blogs. With a focus on looking on the patterns, rather than learning how to code, students discovered generalisations that we are still trying to explain.

So – next time will I start with coding and not have the students draw out their patterns first? Probably not. However, I am aware of the fact that the novelty of coding influenced the focus and direction of the lesson. This has been a great way to authentically introduce my students to coding and I am currently exploring the endless possibilities for integrating coding into our maths curriculum and beyond. I’d love to hear what you are doing.