Admiral Grace Hopper & Her Singular Achievements

Public Domain from the U.S. Navy website.

Public Domain from the U.S. Navy website.

In the late 1980s, early in my educational technology career, I attended a one-day conference about technology in schools. Held in a hotel in the Washington, DC area — I don’t remember which one — the conference convened a small number of teachers, identified as early adopters, people from that National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, what seemed hundreds of technology consultants from places like Cambridge, Palo Alto, and various state universities, and one older, somewhat fragile woman far ahead in the front of the room, who attended for a short time.

That was my first encounter with the life of retired Admiral Grace Hopper. She lived for only a few more years after that, passing away at the age of 85, but I remember her face, her eagle-eyed attention, and the reverence with which others in the room regarded her.

Yale University has decided to change the name of its residential Calhoun College to Grace Hopper College, honoring the computer scientist who played a significant role in moving the country (and the world) into the age of technology and who became a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. Hopper received a master’s degree and PhD in mathematics from Yale and was one of the mathematicians  who programmed some of the earliest computers before and during World War II.                                             Continue reading

Hackathon Participants Figure a Way to Identify Fake News

Photo used with permission of Hack Princeton Team

Photo used with permission of Hack Princeton Team

A week or so ago four college students at a Princeton University hackathon  came up with a way to identify fake news on Facebook. You can read about the specific fake news solution at a Business Insider article, Students Solve Facebook’s Fake News Problem in 36 Hours.

A hackathon is an event attended by students who gather for a few days to focus on solving problems by using their programming skills. Collaboration is key. According to Zachary Liu, a manager for the Princeton event, about 600 students attended from over 80 universities.

Photo used with permission of Hack Princeton Team

Photo used with permission of Hack Princeton Team

A hackathon is 21st Century learning at its best. The aim of each event is to identify problems that need solving and encourage students to work collaboratively, using their programming (coding) skills, to figure out potential solutions.

At the Princeton event, and at many other hackathons around the country, there is no charge for room and board, and in some cases buses pick up participants at different schools. Travel costs can be reimbursed.      Continue reading

Why Did It Take So Long to Get More Women in Computer Sciences?

This podcast from National Public Radio’s Planet Money explains how women were early programmers and why their numbers dropped off as the digital age progressed. The podcast was originally broadcast in 2014, but I just discovered it when it was rebroadcast. Also, check out the graph that goes with the program..Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 6.04.52 PM

Women in programming and computer science  are ongoing topics of interest on this blog.

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Teaching Kids to Code With Robots: Great New Yorker Article

Visit the Sphero website.

Visit the Sphero website.

Check out the May 16, 2016 New Yorker for the article A Whole New Ball Game: The Rolling Robot That Teaches Kids to Code. Author D.T. Max, describes how Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson invented the Sphero robot, and he explains how the ideas were conceived, how Sphero was designed, and the long process of promotion and sales. The article also includes explanations about how Sphero and other coding toys aim to help children develop 21st Century skills.

The comments from Sphero creators and from Paul Barberian, who became the first Sphero CEO, provide first-hand descriptions about working with and expanding ideas, connecting with a business incubator, and eventually starting a viable business. Max reminds readers about the Silicon Valley process — empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test — and how this process is crucial to the success of new inventions and in the schools where students  use robot toys to solve problems. The article also includes thoughts from Barberian about how the business is considering expansion ideas, especially thinking about robots that develop personal attachments with their owners — what’s called adaptive personality.              Continue reading

Learning How to Code: Demonstrating How to Learn – Report #2

scratch_logoWe educators offer great gifts to our 21st Century students when we demonstrate that we, too, can learn new things. By letting children see us mastering unfamiliar information, figuring out problems, overcoming challenges, and yes, even making mistakes, we help them develop more comfort and confidence when they make errors and feel like they are not making progress. We adults teach all the time, but we probably don’t model learning new material nearly enough, and the kids notice it.

UnknownAs Ted Sizer wrote in his book, The Children Are Watching, they notice what we do and what we do not do. (A good book, by the way, for teachers and parents to read).

So this year I’m demonstrating how much I have to learn for students in grades one through five who attend my MIT Scratch coding activity. Literally, they are watching me learn how to code Scratch scripts.

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Hour of Code Reflections: What a Difference a Few Words Make!

Image used with permission.

Image used with permission.

What if we encouraged young learners, when they encounter a difficult learning task, to replace the words “I don’t get it” with “I haven’t figured out the problem yet”? Can changing just a few small words make learners more comfortable when they work on unfamiliar or difficult activities?

I’ve spent the last month mulling over this word change idea after participating in Hour of Code activities with young 21st Century learners at my school in December. Watching the children in kindergarten and grades three, four and five solve puzzles and play the unfamiliar coding games was eye-opening, because in each class the majority of students — and some of the teachers — were working on learning tasks that they had never encountered before (definitely terra incognita).                        Continue reading

Learning How to Code: Relearning How to Learn – Report #1

scratch_logo

Check out Scratch!

I am learning how to code, and right now it’s hard. With all of the talk about teaching children to code — I agree, but sometimes the world of education goes overboard on our newly recognized philosophies — I decided to organize a small before-school activity using MIT’s Scratch coding site. There was only one problem with my program idea. I only knew a little bit about Scratch.

So I started the morning activity during the second week of school and by day two, a few of the 10-15 attendees (children in grades 3-5) were ahead of me. “What’s a variable?” one of them asked. “Do you know how to make a game where the sprite (the little person on the screen who carries out the coding commands) bumps into a ball?” asked another. My answer in both cases was no. Sure I knew how to do many beginning tasks in Scratch, but not what these children wanted to know.

Now those of you readers who are educators and parents know that kids often take care of things like this by figuring out things for themselves — and my students did just that, experimenting and trying things out  — but I wondered, “If these questions were coming up on the second day, what would the second week be like?” I needed to master some new Scratch skills and fast.                                Continue reading