Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: C-jump Computer Programming Board Game

Review:  C-jump Computer Programming Board Game
A while back, someone who’s name escapes me mentioned there was a board game that could be used to teach some basic programming concepts. I scoffed at it initially, with my own knowledge of programming limited, it certainly couldn’t be done with a board game.

As my experience has increased and knowing what I know about teaching kids to code, exposure is everything. The expectation shouldn’t be that students jump into coding with both feet and begin writing loops and variables in C++.  The goal is to lay the bread crumbs in the hopes that they’ll find it enjoyable or seek more out on their own in the future.  This is where c-jump succeeds.

The goal of the game is to use terminology and syntax similar to languages such as C++ and Java to drive the gameplay and reach the end. It works like a normal turn-based, die-rolling board game, with the added element of commands to obey on most squares.  For instance, if a spot says “x+1” you would add one to the roll and move that many spaces.

The directions that came with the board game were decent.  They covered the spots you would land on.  However, upon replaying the game, we did run into an issue that we were actually playing the game incorrectly. For the ifs and loops, we were only supposed to react to those if we landed on the spot, instead of during a move. Thankfully, the c-jump website cleared this up for us.

I played the game for the first time with two eighth-grade students, both female. They seemed to get into and have fun.  Probably the most encouraging thing to me is that after a few turns, we didn’t need to consult the directions on some of the landing spaces because they got it and it made sense to them.  They also picked up the variable “x” pretty quickly and were able to calculate the additional spaces to move on the roll without struggle.

When talking to the students after the game, they indicated they enjoyed it, and also learned the words “increment” and “decrement”.  However, at least after one play through, the programming logic didn’t seem to be something they understood.  Part of this was due to the fact that the game isn’t actually a program that you could run.  In that regard, you aren’t so much dissecting code of a working program, but rather repeating the same types of programming syntax over and over again.  It would be cool, and possibly more useful, if the code on the board game was a working program (NOTE: The website does refer to this game as being based off the code of a working program). However, that would likely include too many advanced features that would detract from the enjoyable experience of the board game.

Some interesting things that came out: I always took the == as a given for just being equal. However, the students didn’t quite understand why it had to be two equal signs as opposed to one. With my basic background, I know that using = usually declares a variable, but did not explain it to them, and if a teacher is utilizing this board game with no prior experience, they will likely miss out on that detail as well.  The students also saw the while loops as an enemy to avoid.  I thought this was funny, because loops are an integral part of making a program work.  Perhaps somewhere in the directions, or on the board, it could be explained how loops are actually beneficial. I’m not sure students are left with that impression when playing.

The second time I played through this, I was with my brother in law who knows a bit of programming. He helped explain to me some of the syntax and also helped do some double checking of the game play with the c-jump website.  We played a few times, really enjoying it in both cases.  That game is fun as it is easy enough to understand but complex enough that there is a bit of a challenge. A good combination of both.

In my two gameplay cases, the game was well received and enjoyed. The goal of the creator, Igor Kholodov, was to make a game that took the intimidation out of beginning to learn code.  He certainly succeeded. The students were pretty fearless once they got in, and actually were excited to give it a try.  The concept was interesting to them and got them exposure to programming that they may not have otherwise received in any other format.  As someone who is passionate about getting more students to try coding at a minimal level, I would highly recommend this game. It is affordable, has great replay value, and lays those breadcrumbs that can lead to connections later on for kids to continue down a path of computer science.

To check out C-jump and purchase it, head here:

(NOTE:  Special thanks to Igor and C-jump for allowing me to review their product.  It was a joy to play and experience!).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Clean SLATE - Lessons in Starting Over from #SLATE2014

The room is blank. I needed something to match the title
I just returned home today from a few days at a large technology in education conference in Wisconsin, known as SLATE, or School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education.  This was my third year attending, and it is interesting to see how things have changed for me over that time period.

To start with - the biggest reason I attended this year was due to having a presentation proposal accepted. Not only was it accepted, but it was a pre-con, which is a 2-hour session prior to the main event. My topic was on coding and you can check out my slides here. The session itself went well, and as usual, I feel like I learn more than the attendees when I present.  It is pretty apparent the things that work and the things that don't work, so I just need to bring a lot more energy and get people doing and moving more.  But, this post isn't about that, so I digress...

The opening keynote, Scott Mcleod, inspired me.  I was set on fire and ready to go, even though his presentation wasn't as well received by everyone.  I was hoping to keep that energy going.

However, my struggle this year with SLATE was that I had a challenging time finding sessions that really met my needs.  Sure, there were lots of topics that were interesting to me, but ultimately I wasn't learning anything new, or more importantly, wasn't being inspired.

See, the thing for me that I am over are the tech tool dumps. I have nothing personal against them, and they are certainly valuable for many people, but for me, that doesn't help me grow where I'm at right now. The other struggle is when I find a session that sounds interesting, but then ends up being a lot of theoretical stuff without practical examples of how to utilize what is being presented on. What helps me grow are sessions like the one Dale van Keuren had, where he was energetic, giving examples and reasons for why he did what he did with personalized PD at his school. He really helped connect the dots on some struggles that I'm having and suggested solutions for those.
Pictured above:  one awesome dude
After his session we had lunch, expo center time, then session 2. Because I was busy networking, I was late getting to the room of the one I wanted to get to, so it was overflowed into the hallway. It was about a 1:1 path and I was really interested, since I want to move my school that direction. However, I couldn't really hear them, and didn't have any links to follow along, so I stayed as long as I could and then left. I gathered a few notes for my reference, but ultimately didn't leave feeling ready to roll, nor did I have the opportunity to talk to them afterwards like I always do when I'm really curious.
The real reason I was late - my fixation with the hashtag lamp!

The other two sessions were decent. One was on Digital Book Clubs with Matt Renwick - very humble guy with big ideas and an even bigger heart for kids. The other was the way one school does their weekly announcements. Ultimately, I learned a few new things I could potentially use down the road, but nothing that really impacts what I do now, although I did enjoy both presentations.

The best session of the entire conference happened that night. No, it wasn't a concurrent session, it was a brew pub hangout session until past midnight with Jason BretzmannKenny Bosch, and Mr. #Wischat himself, John Gunnell. These two brilliant educators had so much insight and ideas to share that I wanted to run back to my school and try them immediately.  I loved Kenny's approach of asking what part of a teacher's day they hate most and how I can help them get rid of it (I've heard the approach before but appreciated how he phrased it).  We also talked about idea sharing and successful personalized PD and flipped classrooms and toast. It was truly a great time.
Jason and Kenny - the pride of Muskego
Wednesday brought a couple more sessions, my favorite being Joe Sanfellipo and Melissa Emler jacking up the crowd to #gocrickets and really hammering home not just why we need to share our story, but how we can do it efficiently and work for us (such as meeting Danielson domains).  Honestly, this was the most fired up I've ever seen presenters in my life. The passion was flowing and it is contagious. I can only hope to be that passionate when I present and is always something to strive for. Thanks Joe and Melissa!

So, after gathering my thoughts and trying to get them down before I left, I really am left with a lot of things to ruminate.  The combination of a couple key sessions and the late night conversations helped me get what I needed from this.  Then again, for the sessions I did not get a lot out of, maybe I should have taken this advice from David Theriault.  Next time man! Thanks should also be given for my former colleagues from Denmark School District, who ate dinner with me both nights. It was a ton of fun getting to catch up and keep the friendships alive.

Probably the biggest takeaway from SLATE, synthesizing my thoughts from all the sessions, is how I could be doing things so much more effectively. What I really need to do is clean the SLATE and start over. Start over with my approach as a tech integrator. Start over when I think about how to move my school 1:1.  Start over when discussing technology professional development and including more key stakeholders (thanks for the push, Corey Hansen!). Start over when planning how to run a workshop or conference session. I can't stay stuck in the old paradigms of how things have typically been done.  Sometimes, to move forward, you have to kill a few sacred cows along the way. Not everyone will like it, and it will be hard work, but anything worthwhile is. Time to get back that sense of urgency. Our kids need us to be better yesterday, so we have no time to waste. Let's clean the SLATE, start over, and move forward to where we know we need to go.
Sorry Bessie, your days are numbered

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Tips to Startup a Start Up" - #Techeducator Podcast Episode 77 Recap

Start ups are a trendy thing right now, really just putting a new name to the entrepreneurial spirit. But haven't you wondered just what it takes to get a start up off the ground and more than an expensive hobby?  The #techeducator podcast was lucky to be joined by the great leaders of innovative #edtech start ups, including PledgeCents, Crescerence, Storyboard That, and JettPakk. They took questions from the panel and live audience, fielding questions about getting ideas to growing their business to quitting their day jobs. It was a fun conversation that you should check out now here!

Next week, we have our last show of 2014! Join us as we say goodbye to 2014 with a smackdown of our favorite tech tools and tricks from the last year. It looks to be an action packed, fast paced show, so you don't want to miss it! Join us December 14th at 6pm CST for the Edtech Year in Review show!