To Code or Not to Code: That is the If-Then-Else

Credit: Fox

Credit: Fox

 This is the key to a new order. This code disk means freedom. – Tron

There has been a lot of interest and talk lately in teaching children to code in school.  One only needs to look at the recent push from Computer Science Education Week and the “Hour of Code” to realize that the topic of coding is something that has garnered much interest in the education and business world. I’d like to examine the phenomenon in more detail.  First, I’d like to provide a little of my history to help you better understand where I’m coming from in this quandary.

Greetings, Programs!

It was 1982 (too bad it wasn’t 1984 or this would be an even bigger nerd post) and I had just witnessed  a cinematic work of genius called “Tron.”  I was immediately immersed into the world of computer programs, programming language, and imagery that inspired a lifelong love of computers and programming.  I was only six years old (a first grade student) but I was ready to learn more.  A lifetime of chronic asthma had already ensured that any sports were well out of the question for me.  My father loved computers and I remember having a Commodore 64 hooked up to our television.

Over the next 10 + years I didn’t really go for any of the typical things that young boys are supposed to go for, instead I logged onto BBS systems, had handles, worked as a sysop, squelched users, went to GWBASIC classes with my dad, taught myself HTML and designed my own web pages, Learned Joomla, WordPress, and PHP, became a Technology Coordinator and teacher, lets just say that I’m a huge proponent and user of technology and that most of what I’ve learned has been self taught. You would think that I’d be a huge proponent of this Coding movement… but I have a confession… I’m on the fence.

There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

Okay, so just about everyone I know is talking about the merits of learning coding. Bill Gates, Code Academy, veteran teachers, hipster teachers (cringe), parents etc. But I have to wonder is Coding as they have attempted to introduce it worth its salt?

Here is the major problem I have with this initiative.  We have a bunch of students, we participate in Computer Science Education Week, and we have our students participate in the hour of code.  Okay, this is great, right? Kids have been shown the backdoor to the underpinnings of the internet, computer programs, iPad apps, etc.   They now have exposure to the “real world” in which they live. But where is the continuation of this initiative in the classroom?  I’m sure Hamlet would identify this as the rub. For all of you teachers that have participated in the Hour of Code, how many of you have continued to teach coding? Has it found its way into your daily conversations, lessons, or other learning opportunities?  I’m willing to bet that for most it has not.

If you are one who has managed to continue, I highly applaud you and I want to hear from you! Please share with the rest of the educational community how you have done this.  What I have observed from school to school is that there was a lot of hype about it and now it is woefully forgotten.  If this is the case, then it was a waste of an hour. It took time away from instructional minutes to help these students master the skills they will need in the future.  I’m not so blind as to say coding isn’t a necessary skill, I just think an hour of introduction is a waste and that we should dedicate more time to coding.

When I was a technology coordinator the term had very loose definitions.  Some were nothing more than glorified babysitters that taught typing.  I actually developed a curriculum of and about technology.  I taught coding as a yearlong course.  We used Scratch to develop our own programs.  My 8th grade students created their own webpages using only a text editor (no dreamweaver here).  I believed in the fact that they could learn but also understood that they needed to consistently hone this skill.  An hour is not enough time to help these students do much other than develop an awareness of coding. If this is the mission, fine. Mission accomplished. But I’d rather spend that hour helping a student that is reading below grade level work toward better fluency.

I’d like an honest response from the community.  How many of you that took part in the Hour of Code and are still teaching coding? Lets hold up the mirror and say, was this worth it, and if so, why?

I great article by Sean Blanda is on 99u.com and can be found here:You Don’t need to learn to code + other truths about the future of careers.  My take away is that “The smartest workers will be able to leverage technology to their advantage and be able to recognize the big-picture ways to utilize it.” But what does that mean? Well, let me try to put this into perspective.  I have no idea what takes place to really make most of my automobile operational. However, I know how to use it.  Should I learn how to be a mechanic? No. I only need to know how to effectively utilize the technology to get what I need from it.  I need to leverage this knowledge to the best of my ability.  I know a little about autos, but not enough to fix them. Should I take an hour of auto repair and expect to be better off?  Maybe, but I’d much rather have a year of instruction that is interwoven throughout my ELA, Math, Science, SS, etc. How much better off would I be if I had actually spent this amount of time on the topic.

I know I’m usually the one to push for change.  After all, this is Revogogy right? But I think that the change that we have witnessed is too little to amount to much good. I don’t want an hour of code; I want a year of code or more. Lets step up and make this a reality. Lets make it work within our Common Core curriculum. Why start small? Lets dream big and make a real difference.

End of Line

So that’s it. Its my rant, my angry shaking fist to the universe.  Let us do more than just an hour of something.  Lets stop falling for these novelty movements. I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail on this. There will be pushback. But honestly, lets do more. Even if you don’t agree with my statements I think you would agree that we should do more than we currently are doing.

After all, if you apply actual coding to the picture above of the Home Sweet Home, you’ll notice its an infinite loop. Its not accurate. If it were in basic it is missing some key components.  “print” should be in the code lines. I’m a major nerd but if you’ve only had an hour of learning would you catch that? Or is the gist that it means home sweet home (non-infinite loop) enough for the average person to know?

Please share your thoughts on this topic. I’d love to hear the pros and cons (just be civil okay?) I admire intellectual discourse to a heated tear down.  Also, I’m beginning at times to feel that I’m talking to myself on this blog. I value comments and others can learn from your insight. So, please leave a comment. I welcome your thoughts and the I/O it will create on this blog.

Lesson Planning Moves to the Cloud

A New Kid in Town: Planbookedu

Planbookedu Logo

It’s been quite a while since I’ve added any posts to this blog. The reasons are many but chief amongst them is my work on my dissertation research, enrollment in a new certificate program with LMU, and my first year as an administrator.  For my lack of posting, I apologize… now onto the good stuff…

Nine months ago I spoke very highly of Hellmansoft’s Planbook.  It integrated well with my mac, my iPad, and dropbox.  I still highly recommend the program, however within the time that it takes to bring an infant to term a new lesson planning software has been born.  I introduce to you, Planbookedu. This is the first cloud-based lesson planning solution that I have found to truly be versatile and simple enough for my faculty to embrace and use.  By no means am I denouncing Hellmansoft’s planbook… instead, I offer this review of planbookedu for those who are trying to move an entire faculty (with those who traditionally resist technology) to interactive electronic planbooks.

While I was quite comfortable utilizing the Helmansoft program, I knew that, for some, setting up the lesson plans… creating the schedule…. and the use of CSV files to import standards would be too much for some people to handle.  I was looking for a solution that was as close to the Helmansoft planbook as was humanly possible while providing a format and interface that was intuitive and easily adapted to the everyday teacher (including tech resistors). I also wanted to ensure that there was an easy way to share lesson plans with anyone and to have a centralized repository for the lesson plans so that administrators could easily review them.  After many trials I found the solution, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in revolutionizing their lesson planning.

What’s this? It’s Free?

That was my reaction… when I first looked at the website.  They offer a free plan (with a few features missing that are offered for a paid subscription) so testing out the planbook is really a no-lose situation.  What do you get for free?  lets take a look under the hood:

  • True cloud lesson planning – No software to install – and 24/7 access to your plans
  • Awesome rotation options such as: Weekly, A/B, A/B Week, and 4-6 day rotations
  • WYSIWYG editor -for ease of implementation and use
  • Supported by all major browsers (I’ve used firefox, IE, and Safari with it)
  • iPad and iPhone supported

Not too shabby for a free trial.  Of course they hook you with all the great features that you get when you subscribe to the paid plan. Oh before I forget… you can get a free 14 day premium trial when you sign up for the free plan… that is what got me hooked!

What’s this, the paid plan is super affordable???

Most of the solutions I looked into cost a great deal of money.  If you’re at a school that has the funds then that’s great.  If your at a school that is watching its budget, then you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck.  Here is the rundown of what you get with the paid subscription:

  • Everything in the free plan
  • Ability to attach files to your lesson plans
  • Common Core, State, and Custom standards (built in – No CSV files necessary)
  • Ability to embed your planbook in your website
  • Ability to share your plans with anyone for any specified timeframe
  • Print from browser in single page or two page layouts
  • Export to MS Word or PDF extensions
  • Built in Spell checker
  • Unlimited number of planbooks

Okay, sounds great… but the question is, How much? If you’re looking to purchase it as an individual… its only $25 a year… wow! dirt cheap. For the price of five coffees at the local coffee shop I can have a year’s worth of lesson plans in the cloud.  Hold on… it gets better… Group Discounts are available   the price plan is as follows:

  • 5-14 users $22 a year
  • 15-49 $19 a year
  • 50-250 $16 a year
  • anything over that call them for a quote

In my situation the $22 a year plan worked out great.  For a faculty of 10 the price for a year is only $220.  Outstanding!

There’s one more really great thing you say???

yes… just when you thought it couldn’t get any better… it is completely able to be integrated with Google Apps for education! that means that your faculty will not need to remember new login names or passwords… its all accessible from within google apps.  This was one of the major selling feature that had me hooked. A simple email and they had me set up with my entire faculty.

How does it hold up?

After only one day of training with the faculty (and a great video tutorial from planbookedu) they were off and running.  We’ve been using it for four weeks now with no major issues. Even the most technology resistant teacher has found the ease of implementation and use to be outstanding.

For administrators, we have the ability to view every teachers’ lesson plans as they click the “turn-in” button and to review the standards they have entered.  The ability to attach files to the lesson plans means that worksheets, blackline masters, etc are easily accessible.  If a teacher is absent there is not mad rush to find their plans or to go to the emergency substitute teacher lesson plan folder.  The administrator can simply print up the plans and give them to the substitute.  Even better, they can download any files that have been added by the teacher… no more looking for worksheet pages.   I also envision leaving an administrator account open for accreditation committees so that they can view all of the lesson plans at will as they make their recommendations for school accreditation.

An active Social developer

Another great feature is that “liking” the planbookedu page on facebook gives you direct contact to the planbookedu team.  they are very responsive to suggestions, requests, and questions.  When I was going through the installation process they were extremely responsive and quick to answer and help with any questions I had regarding implementation.  I can’t say enough good things about their product or their customer service.

Your Input

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions about planbookedu.  Have you tried this product? What do you like and dislike about it? How do you think it compares to other lesson planning software? Share your thoughts. This is an exciting time to be in education!

 

Ps. Here’s a video of planbookedu in action:

 

T-shirt Design In the Computer Lab!

JK

Art and Computers
Every year the 8th grade students create a design for their class t-shirt.  For the most part these are usually scanned drawings or signatures with the school initials and a “Class of 2011” etc. listed on the front.  This year, the parent in charge of the screen-printing process asked me if I could be in charge of helping the students create their designs.  I was delighted to accept the request.   As the middle school fine-arts teacher and the technology coordinator, I saw a wonderful opportunity to have students work on a project that would directly impact their reality.  Thus far, this has been the process…

1.    During art class we discussed how screen-printing works (placing the ink in layers upon the surface of the shirt)
2.    We visited websites such as www.threadless.com to examine how modern artists design t-shirts that have high impact with students their age
3.    Then the students were asked to create a rough sketch of an idea they had for a t-shirt

Now, this was great for an introduction in the art class… but I also teach their technology class.  Enter the wonderful world of open source!

In the 7th grade students were introduced to GIMP and Inkscape.  These lessons were basic lessons to familiarize the students with the operation of the programs and their uses. During the next computer class we reviewed the difference between bitmap and vector drawings and how Inkscape could be used to help design their t-shirts.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of Inkscape is its ability to have students work with different layers during the creation of their design. Demonstrating the layering process helped the students to understand and visualize exactly how the ink would be applied to the selected t-shirt.

Today’s lesson was great because I was able to demonstrate how to take a portrait and convert it into a single color rendition for screen-printing… if you’re interested in this process… then read on…

Step 1. Demonstrating the process

Because this was an introductory lesson and I wanted to generate a great amount of interest I began the lesson by demonstrating to the class the process of converting a portrait of a person into an image that could work for a t-shirt.  – The students became very excited and were ready to jump right in…

Step 2. Locating an Image

I wanted the students to get used to the process before working with their actual photographs of themselves, so I asked them to use the Internet to find images that they would like to try to convert. I advised them that a close-up of a face with a light source from an angle would work best.

Step 3. GIMP Begins it all!

After locating the image, students opened it in GIMP… I will now demonstrate the process:

Here is the image opened in GIMP:

JK1

Next, we used the Lasso-selection tool to outline the background and then pressed the delete key to delete the background from the image, and then used the square selection tool to draw a square around the entire picture.

JK2

Next, we selected the “Color” Menu and Selected “Desaturate” and clicked “OK” on the menu that opened up.  This resulted in a desaturated version of the image (basically a greyscale appearance).

JK3

Now we need to adjust the contrast and brightness. To do this select “Color” then select “Brightness-Contrast”.  This opens up a menu with two slider bars.  Move the contrast slider all the way to the right and adjust the brightness until the image looks right. Click “OK” and save the file.  Next, click on “Edit” then “copy” and you can close GIMP

JK4

Step 4.  INKSCAPE TIME

Open the Inkscape program.  Now that Inkscape is open use the rectangle tool on the left to draw a colored rectangle on the first layer and rename the layer “t-shirt”  This represents the actual shirt color. I chose Red.

JK5

Once this is done add a new layer above the shirt layer  you can do this by clicking on the plus sign in the Layers window.

Paste the image you put on the clipboard in GIMP into the new layer you created

JK7

Click on the “path” menu at the top of the screen and select “Trace Bitmap”  This opens a new window in which you must click on “Update” then “OK” After you click on “OK” close the window.

JK8

It looks like nothing happened??  Oh… but it did….

Now use your “select and transform objects” Arrow tool on the left Click on your image and drag it to a blank area of the canvas.  You have now created a screen-printable version of your photo!

JK9

RESULTS:

The students loved this lesson and began working with drawings as well as photographs.  As they continue their progress on this lesson I will post some images of their work.   We also had a great discussion about Open source (that’s right GIMP and Inkscape are Free) and Copyright issues.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?
So, what is your experience in working with GIMP or Inkscape?  Have you used these in your classroom?  Have you found any other methods that work for designing t-shirts? I try to keep most of my classroom software open source so the students can download and use the same programs at home. Have you used any other open source programs that work for this type of project?  Have I missed anything? I’d love to hear your thoughts!