Younger Kids have completed their big project in computers, putting together everything they have learned: using the mouse, navigating windows, using the web, doing computer art, and learning the keyboard. Since one of our topic units was dinosaurs, they all searched for dinosaur pictures, then used those pics as a reference to draw and then caption their drawing of a dinosaur. Check out some of their work.
Middle and Older Kids have been working on video projects. We had them do a short weather forecast or news items. They had to storyboard their idea, write a script, video themselves, find or create pictures to illustrate the story, and add titles and music. Check out a couple of the amazing, creative videos.
Younger Kids are using their new familiarity with the keyboard to do simple on line searches. We focused on African Animals. They can read or copy the letters off the whiteboard or a piece of paper, type them into the search bar, click the “Search” magnifying glass icon, and voilà! Pictures and videos of their favorite animal. Some kids went one step further, combining qualifiers with an animal, like “fastest bird” or “largest insect” to learn new things.
We used a kid-safe search engine, Kiddle.com, for YK to do their searches. And our entire school internet is protected by two filtering services to make sure any returned sites are appropriate for kids.
Middle and Older Kids have tried out simple frame animation using a program called Stykz. It lets you easily manipulate stick figures to create animated gifs to watch. It’s fun to play with and is a good lead in to more involved live-action video editing which is up next.
Younger Kids and Middle Kids start the year focusing on letters—the ones on the keyboard. YK are familiarizing themselves with key location using a number of games that increase in difficulty: Key Seeker, Cup Stack, Type Rocket, Keyboard Climber, Alpha Munchies and Keyboard Invasion. MK continue their touch-typing progress on Typing.com. They have a school account that tracks their progress and allows us to monitor their success. Many of them are already using Google docs to do some of their work, so we’ve also done some practical document writing exercises as well.
Older Kids are still practicing touch-typing on their Typing.com account, but have moved on to numbers as well. Spreadsheets allow them to manipulate numbers, akin to manipulating letters in a text document. We learned about spreadsheet concepts like rows, columns, cells and formulas. Then, we practice taking data from a science experiment, entering the data into a table in a spreadsheet, and using that table to create a chart or graph to visualize the result. These skills will come in handy for the science fair coming up!
It’s time for the Hour of Code for 2017. This is a world-wide event aimed at getting students—of all ages!—introduced to the concepts behind programming computers. We’ve participated in this for a number of years, and taught coding at Rivendell in various classes and camps since 2007. We even prepared for this by doing a couple weeks of “unplugged” activities on pencil and paper. They learned about a sequence of instructions, loops, conditionals, and what an algorithm is.
It’s important for students to not just know how to use a computer, but to understand the fundamentals behind how it works. Not everyone will be a coder (just like not everyone will be an artist or musician), but it benefits everyone to have that background. And some will really take to it and become our next generation of computer scientists. Someday they’ll be programming robots, self-driving cars, or the next Google!
Most people know that computers use binary code—ones and zeros—to do all their work. But not many know exactly how binary works. But Middle and Older Kids do now! If you understand place value, you can understand binary.
Normal decimal numbers use powers of 10 for place value: 1, 10, 100, 1000, 10000, or written another way, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, etc. Binary simply uses powers of 2: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, which can be written 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, etc.
The students get small domino-looking cards as an aid to remembering the place values, and converted binary numbers into decimal, then looked up those codes to turn them into letters to spell out a “secret” message… just like a computer would do, only much slower, of course.
One of my favorite projects is our animal mash-ups. Middle and Older Kids learn more about image processing using an on-line Photoshop-like program called Pixlr. Older Kids learn how to composite several different pictures to create our Halloween creatures. Skills like object selection, cutting/pasting, rotating and layer ordering all help to make the mashups. Older Kids have also been using these skills to make slide presentations for their classroom work.
This time of year, we get to my favorite projects: learning about pixels and making spooky pictures. Younger Kids learned how little square dots, or pixels, can make pictures. “Unplugged” activities can be used to learn about computer concepts without even being on the computer. I hand out grids filled with 1’s and 0’s—the kids just fill in the “pixels” with the 1’s to reveal the picture.
Safe passwords are an important part of computer security. But did you know that the guidelines for creating a secure password have changed? As part of Older Kids' learning about cybersecurity, they learned that the old way, with letters, numbers and symbols not only made for hard-to-remember passwords, but usually not very safe passwords either!
Short passwords are easy to crack by brute force: a computer running through all possible character combinations. Today's computers can guess an 8-character password in just a few minutes. And nobody can remember such random-seeming strings of characters. A bad combination—in fact, even the guy who came up with the old guidelines in the first place has apologized!
The new method prioritizes length, but in a way that's easier to remember. Use a short phrase, or a few random words that mean something to you (with capitalization, some special characters, and a number to work with systems that require the "old" guidelines). For example, either
is a far better password than "QW$x59ty". More secure and easier to remember... win/win!