After 20 years in education at my local elementary school, I have a new position in the fall at my local high school. I will be their Digital Learning Specialist (Tech Integrator) and CS teacher. It is really a dream job for me. I get to help teachers with their technology (my “superpower”) and teach kids computer science (my “passion”). I’m so excited for the fall.

I’ll be teaching two CS classes in the fall- Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A, and I’m using code.org‘s curriculum for both. Last year I assisted in teaching AP CS Principles and it was the first time AP CS Principles had been taught at the school. I made room in my schedule to be in their class every Thursday (plus any other special activity day as my elementary schedule allowed). It surprised me how much I enjoyed working with the high school students (half of whom I taught coding to in elementary school).

In preparation to teach code.org’s AP CSA curriculum, I spent a week in Maine at an EducateMaine-sponsored 5-day workshop. It was excellent. It was intense. I’ve just returned from it and while I’m tired, I’m still really excited about getting into the classroom and presenting the content to the kids. During the week I met other high school CS teachers and built a new personal learning community network.

The code.org’s AP CSA curriculum is new this year. Our workshop facilitators piloted the program last year and this summer is the first time code.org teacher training workshops are being offered. At my school, most of the students who were with me in CS Principles will be taking AP CSA, so while I was at the workshop I could envision pain points in the lessons based on my knowledge of those students.

There is a lot of vocabulary in AP CSA. At one point halfway through the workshop we played vocabulary Bingo from the vocabulary list of the first two Units alone and it was a struggle. Of course, we’d had 3 days with the terms. The students will have more time and practice with them through the course. It is good to know this before the year starts so I can plan vocab review activities and encourage the students to keep a journal or binder for vocab. I’ve already asked one student her best strategy for learning vocab and this was her reply:

I think it would be best if all students have some sort of notebook/ composition book where they write in all the vocabulary as it comes up in one section then when they move to a unit start another page and label it. In this way they can customize what they write about each thing such as adding examples or an analogy when helpful. Then at the end of the unit go through all the vocabulary and make sure we have each and every term.

AP CSP student going into AP CSA

The other CS teachers in my CSA cohort noticed the vocab-heavy curriculum, too. One created and shared with us the Unit vocab lists in GimKit. I hadn’t heard of this tech tool and we got a chance to play a quick round of virtual Capture the Flag. I think the students are going to like this vocab practice tool!

Me in a GimKit of Capture the Flag

I learned that the AP CSA test consists of multiple-choice questions (50%) and free-response questions FRQs (50%). The code.org curriculum introduces, scaffolds, and provides a lot of practice with FRQs. The AP test is all paper and pencil so the students will need to practice handwriting Java code, reading Java code, etc.

I’ve still got some more to learn and prepare for the start of school, but I feel I’m in a good place and have the support I need (or know where to find it) for AP CSA. Hopefully, this feeling lasts through to August.

CS Teachers at the Portland SeaDogs vs NH Fisher Cats Minor league baseball game. Photo by Angela Oechslie.

Do you want to know more? Well, I had to learn to accept non-closure at this CS Summer Institute, too.


Virtual Showcase 2022

Last week was my 13th showcase of projects for my 4th grade after-school Code Club and my 2nd one that was held virtually. We made it. After three weeks of working on their major independent project and some online meeting craziness, they presented 14 final (or near-final) projects.

For our virtual showcase format, a project was presented by the creator, then the students played or enjoyed the project, and finally, they gave a quick positive feedback comment while the next student got ready to present. We had 14 projects presented in one hour. Amazing.

Code Club Showcase project thumbnails

The final projects show a great deal of creativity and variety. It is incredible how much work went into some of these projects. I am very impressed with this group of students and grateful they all took the club seriously. I know it was not an ideal situation to learn to code in an online group but these kids were pretty motivated. They were also pretty self-sufficient and knew how to advocate for themselves to get the help they needed. They were also very patient when waiting for me to help them.

I enjoyed watching their projects progress over the weeks. Here are a few projects I am particularly impressed with: The Pipe is a maze game with a cool introduction, a couple of levels, and a secret code level.

I also like Cheesy Puffs clicker: This is a clicker game with a lot of flair. I knew this coder wanted to make a clicker game so I provided some material in our classroom to support him. I think he also found other clicker games on the Scratch community to get some ideas.

I am also really impressed by Shielder. I’m not sure how this was created but I don’t doubt that the student who created this could create this.

These next four really reflect the creativity and personality of their creators.

The quality of these projects is no different from any other showcase from other Code Clubs. It is just that this virtual code club felt like a lot of work because of the virtual nature of helping students with their coding issues remotely, but the results are gratifying. I hope they find more coding opportunities in the future.

Virtual Code Club Projects

I’m running another round of my after-school 4th grade Code Club virtually again. We are halfway through our 10-week session and have one more learning project next week before the students start working their final showcase projects. Students from the other side of town have joined us with their Code Club coach, Ms. G, just like last year.

I had 19 students sign up and 4 from the other side of town and we average 16 students online each week. We’ve used breakout rooms to divide the group to be able to help more students while they are working through the learning projects. We’ve offered two different projects one week – Maze and Flappy Parrot to give the students some options. We are using Google Classroom to communicate, post materials, and share Scratch studio links. A few students have dropped out because the virtual environment is too hard or stressful to manage while learning to code. I’ve offered my time in person during recess to support students in person.

Favorite things example

We started with our favorite things projects the first week to get to know each other. It helped to work through some basics of Scratch, signing in, sharing to studios, etc. as well as a refresher on Google Meet protocols – raising hands, chat etiquette and presenting. Then 2 Chatbot, 3 Space Junk, 4 Maze & Flappy Parrot, and finally next week, Create your own world. Many of my favorite projects! Ms. G would create and share a studio. I would create an example or starter project and post the material to our classroom.

Flappy parrot or Mazes week

Make your Heart Grow with Scratch Jr

I like to use February to promote kindness so I had my first-grade classes create Be Kind projects in Scratch Jr as a final project. I used this project to teach the send and receive messages blocks.

The first graders started in Seesaw with a video about being kind online and a music video from Sesame Street about Kindness and then a group discussion and a Kind Kids drawing prompt from Tracy Piltz on Seesaw (I may have played the music video a few more times as well). The next time we met we reflected on our kindness drawing and started creating an animated version in PBS Scratch Jr.

I reminded them that they could draw their own background. After creating or adding the background they needed two Sprite characters – I generally encouraged using people showing kindness to each other but being kind to animals is also good.

Kindness projects by 1st graders

A lot of them wanted to animate asking questions like “Do you want to be friends?” or “Do you want to play?” and then having a response so I showed them the “send a message” code block and the reciprocal “receive a message” block for the response. They did a pretty good job of coding those up.

I made sure to have enough time to share their projects after adding a title and naming their project. I encourage good naming habits. ScratchJr defaults to a Project # which I try to compare to having a library full of books titled Book #.

I’m thinking of making them into an animated movie to share with the school community but it is time-consuming to record all of the projects on the iPad and compile them.

I was having so much fun with this kindness project that I had Kindergarteners make Valentine’s Day animations – or Be Mine projects. In my K classes, I introduced (again?) Scratch Jr.’s drawing and editing tools to draw hearts. They struggled a bit with the order of choosing the drawing tool, drawing then switching to the fill bucket then back to the drawing tool but it was a good exercise.

After making the hearts we added a character to receive them. Then we used the blue code blocks to animated our valentines. I introduced the pink “grow” block to add growing to the movement of their Valentine hearts. It was so fun to say over and over “make your heart grow” to the little 5-year-olds. It was a bucket-filler for me and the kids had a great time – after some initial frustration learning new stuff. Some of them even experiemented with other pink blocks like “shrink” and “hide”. We didn’t have time to share the projects but their teachers came around and saw them.

K example Valentine animation

Choose Your Adventure with Scratch Jr

I’m enjoying teaching Scratch Jr during the 1st-grade classes’ weekly tech time. I still have my go-to Scratch Jr projects that I’ve blogged about but I’ve tried some new things out so far this year that I have enjoyed.

I like to fit my projects into the 1st-grade curriculum so when the teachers told me they were working on defining characters of a story, we used PBS Scratch Jr to create our own characters and animate them. When they started learning about the setting of a story, I had the students create a Choose Your Adventure (CYA) project.

1st grade CYA projects that were shared to my iPad

This was such a great project that I did this with all four 1st grade classes and we took the time to share the projects. (Re: -sharing: I have the students (with some help) Airdrop their projects to my iPad. My iPad is “mirroring” onto the classroom projector board. I get their “presents” and run their program for everyone to watch and enjoy. I ask the author to tell me which choice to make first)

In terms of coding, the Choose Your Adventure project introduced the “Start on Tap” and “Change Page” blocks for my 1st graders. I start the lesson by introducing what a choose-your-own-adventure style book is and talk about letting the player get to make a choice between two places to go. We then pick a starting background and choose two more adventure place backgrounds – now they have 3 pages.

Example character code

Next, they choose two characters for the first page. These are the characters the adventurers tap on to make the CYA adventure. The coding of these characters starts with two blocks – the gold “start on tap” followed by the red “change to page #”. Once they have the first page set up with navigation, I send them to those other pages to independently create the coding for the animated adventures. While they are creating characters and coding on those pages, I can circulate and help students. I generally ask them to test the program when I stop by their desk to see how it’s going.

Depending on the time, we can stop there and finish up on a second meeting. Otherwise, I have them go back to the introductory page again and add a title, like CYA, and some more code to the characters to let the player read the choices. These blocks are “start on the green flag” and “say”. The iPad keyboard has a text-to-speech button for the students to say the words if they don’t know how to spell them. (A super iPad feature for K and 1st grade). Other students may want to record their voice announcing the adventure choices.

Once their projects are tested they save them as CYA – I tell them that saving their projects as Project 3 is like having all the books in the library listed by number. “I want to read book 35 today.” And that generally gets them to rename their project.

I was really happy with the quality of coding and understanding of going to different pages. Some of them added “start on tap” to other pages to continue the adventure.

Other projects that 1st graders did this fall were Spooky Forest and Sunrise, Sunset from ScratchJr Curriculum activities. I’m planning to introduce Meet and Greet this year as well.

Last Fall’s 1st grade “Spooky Forest” and “Sun and Moon” projects

Next up is my own Be Kind project – with a tie-in to Digital Citizenship and February’s Be Kind online.

“Be Kind” projects from last year

New Approach

I tried a new approach with my intro to Scratch coding for 2nd graders this fall. I have decided I am tired of my winter scene project. These 2nd graders are using Chromebooks this year and I also didn’t want to set up 3 classes and 45 accounts in Scratch for one foray into coding. They do have some prior experience coding with Scratch Jr on iPads.

I decided on a favorite thing project where they could make their Sprites interactive with “When Clicked”. That is very much like the interactive winter scenes project but allows more creative scope. I also decided they would just save their projects to their Chromebooks. I would have them add them to a shared Drive or something and put them in a Scratch studio in my teacher account.

Thanksgiving was approaching so I framed the project as Thankful Things. I found a Seesaw activity called “Things to be Thankful For!” by Debra Locke that included a Kid President video and asked the students to respond with 5 things they were thankful for – like people, food, animals, clothes. It made the perfect project design plan. Students did a nice job with the prompt, too. (Seesaw is our K-2 LMS)

The second class time was an intro to Scratch and adding all the Sprites from our thankful plan. I allowed for some time for this. From their plan I knew some of the things they were thankful for wouldn’t be found from the Scratch Sprite library and I wanted to give them time to customize or draw their own. I mean, there is a taco Sprite but no pizza Sprite and who’s not thankful for pizza? For these 7 year olds, though, sometimes the Sprite options are too much fun and distracting to even remember what things they are thankful for. Luckily for the students, I was mostly interested in getting them using Scratch and doing some coding over following the Thankful theme.

We did add some simple “when clicked-do something” coding. We only got one or two coded and had to finish up on the third class period. Their code stacks are still very simple, but enough (especially with sounds and color changes) to make it exciting for them.

Logistically, it was tricky for the 2nd graders to load the previous project file each time – but it is tricky for them to do a number of things on their Chromebooks having only 3 months of experience with them. It did work well with prompting. They would download the Scratch project at the end of class and it would save to their device. We have one-to-one Chromebooks. Then they were able to upload the project file (.sb3) from their recent downloads when we met the following session. I was hoping they would be able to use Seesaw to upload and share the file with me, but the .sb3 file type is not something Seesaw accepts. In the end I made one account in the teachers name for each class inside my 2nd grade class and when their projects were complete, I would log in and add their project to the studio. This took more work in the moment. I had one person show the finished projects on the projector and that allowed students to see each others while giving me time to get to each student as they finished. The part that slowed me down in going to each student to help them share their project to our 2nd grade studio wasn’t the logging in but having to wait while the student thought of a title for their project.

It took more class time to do a first project this way but the results are projects that show more creative expression and individuality. They were excited to share their projects with their classmates.

Virtual Code Club revisited

Sometimes when it’s been too long since my last post it’s hard write about everything to catch up and I put off writing. Now it’s been longer so I’m going to just write and get started again.

This summer I thought my library club would be able to return to an in-person Code Club for middle school students 10-13 in the fall, but that didn’t happen and we’ve been holding our monthly meetings virtually.

In October I prepared to introduced the how to make a mouse trail video by Zoe/Zinnea, on the Scratch Team YT channel. A super fun, easy project with lots of room for creative play.

@ScratchTeam YT Channel Mouse Trail tutorial

I created a starter project in our Fall studio and also was prepared with alternative ideas including the Scratchtober SDS prompt.

Scratchtober design studio

I had one kid come to the online meeting. The same single kid that has been joining all summer long. She and I were a bit disappointed no one else joined. Coding is more fun with friends. We made the best of it and created cool mouse trail projects and hoped more kids would join in November.

In November I was really thinking if only one person comes that I should pause Code Club until we can meet in person. I prepared the Silly eyes project from Code Club. I love getting email from Code Club with new projects to try with my Creative coders! The silly eyes are separate sprites that swivel to point towards the mouse. I had seen and tried this type of animation years ago (Read a book project) but it was nice to have the step by step project directions for the students. I added RPiFoundation’s Gobo Watching as an example or remixable project to our club’s Scratch studio but didn’t have much hope anyone would show up. And….

Five kids showed up to code! Four made silly eyes projects and one tried the mouse trail project. Yay for Code Club. I guess we will keep meeting and persevere.

My Code Club’s November projects

Teaching Getting Unstuck

Last year I had the amazing opportunity to pilot the Creative Computing Lab’s Getting Unstuck curriculum with a fourth grade class. Our weekly coding sessions is what got me, the classroom teacher, and the students, through the year, honestly.

I started the class off with some introductory Scratch projects in the fall to get them familiar with Scratch online and some of the basics in preparation for starting Getting Unstuck in January. I created a class and Scratch usernames with my Scratch teacher account. The students use Chromebooks and Google Classroom so it was easy to share Scratch studio links, project instructions and GU journals whether we were remote or not.

Our starter projects for the fall were: Trick or Treat, Butterfly Gardens, and a Maze (for #CSEdWeek2020). These are some of my favorite, go to, introductory projects but they are all step-by-step, follow along projects that produce similar results. The creativity is limited and comes with boundaries. Still a great way to introduce Scratch and what you can do with it.

In January we started with the Getting Unstuck “When Clicked” module. I showed the introduction video, went over the design journal and we brainstormed about project ideas. We were going to look at the Inspiration studio next but ran out of time for that session. I met with them once a week for 30-40 minutes. It worked but modules took longer than I anticipated – mostly because the students, generally, wanted more time to work on their projects. At first it was hard to get them to share their unfinished projects in our class studio. I told them to consider them works in progress, or WIP, and that they could indicate that in the directions, notes or title. From my Scratch teacher account, I can’t look at projects unless they have shared them. Putting them in the design studio helps too.

Our first GU studio – so much creative coding!

In February we started the Getting Unstuck “Color Sensing” module. This one went better but the students had an idea of the process – how the journal works, the work flow and expectations. They had some experience sharing and reflecting. I also had a better understanding of the size and scope of projects they could create in the time I was giving them. Some of the students had such big ideas for projects and, as any coder knows, it always takes longer than expected to complete. Most of my students are novice coders but they were able to show so much expression, voice and creativity within this framework that I was happy to give them a little bit more time. I was also glad to see more reflection and more community (commenting and supporting each other) this time around.

Our third and final module was Getting Unstuck “Broadcast” module. I had planned to try the “Random” module as adding randomness to my projects is one of my favorite things, but I realized that my students weren’t ready. They were ready for broadcast and receive. One student had needed it for an earlier project. The students did a good job with this difficult concept and the GU unplugged activity really helped. The students had improved so much. They were seeing their own perseverance and growth (and writing about it in their journal) and were really enjoying giving and getting comments and especially the coding!

Commenting within a supportive community

That’s a quick overview of my experience. I also supported by the creators of the curriculum at the Creative Computing Lab and the other teachers piloting the project which was so helpful.

If you want to learn more, there’s a Getting Unstuck launch party! This party will take the form of a Twitter chat, using the #GettingUnstuck hashtag, on August 10 from 6–7pm EDT.

Code Club’s virtual future

Today may have been the last virtual library code club. The librarian and I are planning an in-person meeting for next month, outside under their tent where we will do some Makey-Makey Scratch coding. Then in the fall we will try for in-person in the library coding. It looks like we’ve made it through.

After the winter of monthly projects themed around Code Club’s protecting the planet, I changed the topic to space related projects. I found it worked better to keep one studio over a couple of months with more projects in them than have a different studio per meeting.

The virtual sessions never had more than 5 kids per meeting. Most kids came back a couple of times in a row. New students from my school code club started coming in the Spring.

My virtual library code club’s Winter studio
My virtual library code club’s Spring studio

In the Spring I was inspired by the landing of the Mars Rover Perseverance and side-kick helicopter Ingenuity that our first off-world project was to explore Mars like NASA’s Ingenuity, the first helicopter on another planet. So we tried to “Create a video game that lets players explore the Red Planet with a helicopter like the one on Mars with NASA’s Perseverance rover! Use Scratch, a visual programming language and think like NASA space-mission planners to design your game!”

We used the starter project Mars helicopter starter in our Off Planet studio. 
And the online instructions: JPL Code a Mars Helicopter Video Game.  For fun I suggested they use the text-to-voice extension blocks to have the helicopter announce Mission Success.

Ingenuity on Mars project start from JMGSTEM

Then we created a side-scrolling moon vehicle project using the project starter Moon Buggy from the Moon Hack 2019 guide. This one was difficult to complete in the time and virtually.

The last virtual session we tried using the video sensing blocks to create a space project. I put some sample video sensing projects in our Off Planet studio and suggested we test these and then change the theme to make a space version.

This seemed to work well but some of the student’s technology had trouble getting the video sensing to work. I know they all had cameras because – they were on a video call with me but maybe that maxed their device or the permissions for using the video camera in Scratch weren’t set.

Creative Video sensing space themed projects

I must remind myself that simple projects that have a lot of room for creativity work the best. It’s always about the low floor and wide walls, whether in-person or virtual.

Code Club Showcase Like no Other

I just celebrated my 12th Code Club Showcase, virtually. Last year’s Code Club went virtual after three weeks due to the Pandemic and our school switching to remote learning. There was no Showcase because what the students needed at the time was a fun weekly code break and not another virtual project to work on. We were all overwhelmed.

This year, while we are now back to full-time, in-school learning, code club had to be held remotely due to school protocols. Students were more amenable to this set up this year and we reached our max during sign-up and had about a 60% retention from week to week. That meant at least 10 coders online for one hour each week.

Luckily, I was able to send home printouts of our Code Club learning projects for the students to work from. Those school Chromebooks have really small screens. I don’t like to code using them and I wouldn’t want to have to split my screen to see the learning project and Scratch at the same time. I sent home a variety of project resources, more than we had time to work through, in case the students were interested in learning on their own.

Virtual Code Club Chatbot projects

From Code Club I use the projects Felix and Herbert, Chatbot, Balloons, Scratch Cat Goes Skiing and Create your own world. I also used the Scratch cards for Make it Fly and virtual pet. This is a mixture of my standard learning projects (like Chatbot and Virtual pet) and some based on what the students told me they wanted to make (Create your own world). I put in Scratch Cat Goes Skiing as an example of a vertical scroller for a couple of reasons. One we were meeting in February and two I needed a break from the side-scrolling Flappy Parrot project.

Scratch cat goes skiing projects from virtual code club

I used Google classroom for announcements, meet links, materials and the Game design document, GDD for planning the Showcase project. It worked out well. Most students completed the GDD and I was able to find Code Club projects or Scratch cards to support their ideas. A couple of the girls didn’t have an idea for their Showcase project so I showed them (at school) what I projects I had available and they choose the virtual pet and space junk type projects to work on.

They worked on their projects for four weeks. I was able to help debug during our meetings. The students were pretty comfortable with sharing their screen so I could see their code and what was going on. There were a few tricky bits of debugging that I got caught up in each week. If we couldn’t solve it together during the meeting, I would work on the problem and post the fix (if I found it) in Google classroom. I let a couple students work on their projects in the lab during a rainy recess. This just reminded me how much better coding together in person really is. I hope we can get back to it again.

For the virtual Showcase, students took turns introducing their project and giving hints or background on how to play and why they made it. It was very informal, no parents, just all the club members. Then we would play their game. I encouraged students to “heart” like the project and leave a positive encouraging comment like a cool, or I like your music, Sprite, theme, etc. In school I ask them to provide more detailed, helpful feedback, but this wasn’t school but a club, so friendly feedback was all that was expected. Everyone did great. Everyone was positive and encouraging.

Showcase of projects from Virtual Code Club 2021

When we finished sharing and enjoying each others showcase projects, I share a studio I had put together a my pick for the Best of Code Club Showcase projects. During the prep for our showcase, I had gone back and picked a favorite project from each of the previous Showcase of Scratch projects and maybe one or two more that I find super fun.

Best of Code Club Showcase projects

It was a delightful way to spend our last virtual hour together.