January 16, 2018

How to Teach Computer Science if You're Not a Computer Scientist

This is the second installment of a three-part guest post series from Technology Integrationist Angie Kalthoff analyzing computer science in the K-12 education system. Read part one: Are We Too Late For Computer Science Education?

How to teach computer science if you're not a computer scientist-1.png

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. 

“I can’t teach computer science because I’m not a computer scientist.”

That statement may seem valid, but it's inconsistent with our views on other subjects. 

Do you have to be a mathematician to teach math?

Or a published writer to teach someone how to write a sentence?

Or a historian to teach students about the Civil War?

Any teacher can incorporate computer science into curriculum. I’m going to tell you how.

Computational thinking

People always talk about how kids should learn how to code. Yes, but it’s more important to introduce computational thinking to students at an early age. Computational thinking is not coding or computer science. It’s important to know the difference.

In the simplest terms, computational thinking is taking big problems, breaking them down into smaller problems and solving them.

This excerpt from Digital Promise’s “Computational Thinking for a Computational World”  explains the differences.

“Coding is the practice of developing a set of instructions that a computer can understand and execute.

Computer science is the study of computers and algorithmic processes, including their principles, their hardware and software designs, their applications and their impact on society.

Computational thinking is ‘a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science.’”

Computational thinking in the classroom

Look at the standards we are already teaching, then design learning experiences that tie in computational thinking concepts and approaches.

Don’t build lessons around a cool coding platform or fun robots. Build lessons around the ideas, and use the tools for hands-on investigative exploration.

You can categorize lessons in two ways:

  • Plugged
  • Unplugged

Plugged lessons
Plugged lessons require student access to a device like a laptop, Chromebook, iPad, tablet, etc. Many plugged lessons involve block-based coding platforms to help students learn computer science concepts. Code.org, Kodable, Scratch JR and Scratch are a few of my favorites.

These resources allow students to collaborate on pair programing lessons. Pair programing in an app like Scratch JR teaches valuable computational thinking skills as students create programs for characters to move across the screen. Students learn to spot patterns and remove unneeded information (abstraction) as they evaluate the efficiency of their programs and fix mistakes (debugging) that occur.

Unplugged lessons
Unplugged lessons do not require students to access devices. Sites like CS Unplugged, Kodable’s lesson library and the unplugged lessons in Code.org’s CS Fundamentals help make real life connections around new concepts.

Computational thinking can be a foundational element of unplugged lessons.

For example, planting a seed or making paper airplanes teaches students about “real-life” algorithms. Have students learn programing by turning their friends into robots or teaching a robotic turtle how to access a jewel.

Challenge your students
Here’s a simple unplugged lesson that you can challenge your students to solve with computational thinking.

Suppose you have a friend with dirty hands. To help your friend, you need to:

  1. Decompose the problem (dirty hands = problem)
  2. Break down the steps required to successfully wash their hands by creating an algorithm for them to follow.

If the friend had never washed his or her hands before, you couldn’t simply say “wash your hands.” You would need to provide step-by-step instructions.

This lesson and others like it require children to think about the way they think. It’s an easy way to introduce the concept of computational thinking.

Stay tuned... 
In the third and final post in this series, I will dig deeper into lessons, share plans and provide valuable advice I've learned from my experiences working with teachers in the classroom. 

January 4, 2018

Squirrels LLC Verifies Largest Prime Number Ever Discovered

Squirrels built a supercomputer in 2015 to help find the largest and rarest prime numbers ever discovered. We're excited to announce today the discovery and verification of a prime number that's over 23 million digits long! 

The newly discovered prime number is 277,232,917-1. It's calculated by multiplying 77,232,917 twos together and subtracting one. 

This type of prime number, which takes the form 2P-1, is identified as a Mersenne prime. For example, while the smallest traditional prime numbers are 2, 3, 5, 7, etc., the smallest Mersenne primes are 3, 7, 31 and 127 calculated with P values of 2, 3, 5 and 7. 

Squirrels' supercomputer contributes computing power to the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS). This search is a coordinated global effort that combines the power of thousands of computers to find the largest prime numbers ever discovered. 

Squirrels supercomputer

Squirrels was also one of the groups tasked with verifying the new prime number. This marks the second time the Squirrels supercomputer contributed to a Mersenne prime discovery. It previously helped verify a prime with more than 22 million digits in January 2016.

"We are happy that we are able to contribute not just to the prime search, but to many educational and research projects," Squirrels founder David Stanfill said. "I hope our contribution can help inspire the next generation of curious thinkers."

The next major GIMPS goal is to find the first 100 million-digit prime number. That one comes with a $150,000 award. 

How to get involved 
Anyone with a moderately powerful computer can download the free GIMPS software needed to contribute to the search and potentially earn money for new discoveries.

K-12 educators are bringing the prime number search to the classroom to get students excited about the power of mathematics and teach them about collaborative computing. 

Learn how to get started at https://www.mersenne.org

Learn More
Read the full GIMPS press release for complete details about the latest prime number discovery and user contributions.

Prime number.jpg

December 22, 2017

Squirrels LLC Introduces New Class of Alpha Squirrels EdTech Experts

The next Alpha Squirrels class adds 10 EdTech experts from three countries (U.S., Canada and the U.K.) and eight states (Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Ohio). Our Alpha Squirrels program now includes more than 125 education professionals from around the world.

Meet the newest members: 

Check out our full list of Alpha Squirrels team members!

What is the Alpha Squirrels program?

The Alpha Squirrels program brings together a community of like-minded individuals. Alpha Squirrels are experts and advocates in education who attend and speak at industry conferences around the world. They share expertise with fellow education professionals and have the opportunity to influence the direction of our technology advancements. 

Alpha Squirrels receive free licenses of Squirrels products such as Reflector Teacher and AirParrot 2 to use in classrooms or during presentations. They also receive first notice of new product releases.

Want to meet an Alpha Squirrel? Over the next few months, you can catch some of the Alpha Squirrels at FETC in Orlando, CUE in Palm Springs or ISTE 2018 in Chicago.

Alpha Squirrels benefits include:

  • Squirrels-sponsored conference attendance
  • Squirrels-sponsored speaking engagements
  • Opportunities to appear in video interviews
  • Feature on the Squirrels blog or social media accounts
  • Product training
  • #SquirrelsChat moderation
  • Welcome package including T-Shirt, coffee mug/tumbler, sticky notes, water bottle, headphones, pens, pencils
  • Chance to visit Squirrels headquarters

The entire Squirrels team congratulates all of our new Alpha Squirrels! We’re excited to do big things together in the education community. 

We will begin the selection process for the Spring 2018 Alpha Squirrels class in March 2018. Apply today at alpha.airsquirrels.com.

Are you a teacher or EdTech professional interested in becoming a certified Alpha Squirrel? Contact Emily Carle Hafer at alpha@airsquirrels.com for information about our next class of Alpha Squirrels.

December 20, 2017

#SquirrelsChat Recap: Computer Science + Coding in the Classroom

Students need certain skills to survive and thrive in our digital world.

Problem solving. Critical thinking. Designing. Creating. 

These are the skills that worksheets and busy work simply cannot provide.

But coding can.

The December #SquirrelsChat took a dive into the topic of coding as innovative educators shared strategy, real-world examples, advice, resources and more for teaching computer science. This chat focused on the first three practices of the K-12 Computer Science Framework.

Building an inclusive computing culture

Considering the needs of all students is essential to producing an inclusive computing culture. Start by involving all students and make coding part of everything they do. Build it into the curriculum, form computer science teams, create after-school clubs, etc. This allows all students to experience coding, incorporate it into what interests them and increase their enthusiasm about the topic.

Collaboration in the classroom

Effective collaboration can lead to better computing outcomes in the classroom. Give students opportunities to work together, talk, build and create. Encourage leadership and team building by allowing students that have more experience to help and teach others.

Applying computational skills

Being able to recognize opportunities to apply computational thinking is a skill that is central to coding. Let’s take a look at a few real life applications from educators using this approach in the classroom.

Hour of Code

This year, 153,941 events registered for the Hour of Code. This global movement is a way of bringing awareness to coding and an introduction to computer science. Anyone can participate in and organize an Hour of Code event. Here are some first-hand experiences.

Coding and computer science resources

There are many computer science resources, programs and applications that help educators jump into coding – Kodable, Minecraft and Code.org to name a few. Take some time to research the tools that make it easy to introduce concepts to students. Remember, start small!

Related reading: Are We Too Late for Computer Science?

How to bring computer science into the classroom

Implementing computer science into the classroom is daunting. Many educators don’t know where to start. A good place to begin is to connect with others, do research, don’t be afraid to ask students for help and jump in. Coding is fun, it’s everywhere and anyone can do it!

Want more great insight into the world of education?

Join #SquirrelsChat every first and third Thursday of the month starting in January 2018. You can stay up-to-date on topics, moderators and any time/date changes by following us on Twitter (@Squirrels). 

Coming up on January 4: Tasks Before Apps with host Monica Burns.

December 8, 2017

Are we too late for computer science education?

This is the first of a three-part guest post series from Angie Kalthoff, Technology Integrationist at a Minnesota public school district. In this series, Angie analyzes where the K12 education system stands with computer science education. 

Students often get their first dose of computer science education in high school. 

For many, that’s too late.

Studies show that if students are not exposed to computer science by fourth grade, stereotypes about people who are not good at science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) begin to form. These social stereotypes deter girls and students of color in particular from entering the computer science field.

This is a problem.

Computer science introduces critical literacies, such as coding, and skills that are fundamental to the development of college- and career-ready students in the 21st century.

How do we fix this?

We can provide earlier access and opportunities while highlighting self-efficacy in computer science. Students should begin learning computer science as early as kindergarten. That will help build a diverse computing landscape.

Introducing computer science in kindergarten will help prevent education stereotypes from forming during the time when students are curious, learning about the world and developing their interests.

Why not bring more technology experiences into our primary classrooms?

Based on a study of classroom teachers’ experiences, the primary motivation for teachers to use technology is the belief that technology will make them better educators and positively impact student learning. 

While most teachers believe that technology benefits students, few of them successfully integrate technology into their curriculum in a meaningful way. My colleague and friend, Diana Fenton, is working to change this by introducing her preservice teachers to technology integration best practices and computer science education early in their college experience.

Resources
Teachers who are not able to take Diana’s class can use the following resources for professional development opportunities:

TPACK
Teachers who are currently in a classroom setting can follow the TPACK model for guidance on technology integration. By working together, we combine our skillset in the following areas: Technology, Pedagogy and Content Knowledge, which encompass TPACK. My district encourages this type of co-teaching.

Challenge yourself
I didn’t think that I could introduce computer science at the beginning of the school year when I was a kindergarten English language teacher. That’s an important time for developing relationships and establishing routines.

Then I challenged myself to think of how one of those routines could incorporate a computer science station in small group rotations. I saw the progress we made with computer science integration and decided to introduce it even earlier the following year to see what we could do with a whole school year.

Coming Up...
Stay tuned! In the second installment of this three-part series, I share how computer science lessons are integrated into our classrooms and how they connect with state standards, the ISTE Standards for Students and the CS Framework. 

To dive deeper into the research, visit the following resources:

Google. (2014). Women who choose computer science—what really matters: The critical role of exposure and encouragement.

Mountain View, CA: Author. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-E2rcvhnlQ_a1Q4VUxWQ2dtTHM/edit

Huebner, G. (2017, April 20). Coding for Kids | 5 Reasons to Teach Kids to Code. Retrieved November 07, 2017, from http://blog.kodable.com/2014/07/07/5-reasons-to-teach-kids-to-code-2/

Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T., Glazewski, K. D., Newby, T. J., & Ertmer, P. A. (2010). Teacher value beliefs associated with using technology: Addressing professional and student needs. Computers & Education, 55(3), 1321-1335.

Young programmers -- think playgrounds, not playpens | Marina Bers | TEDxJackson [Advertisement]. (2015, January 20). Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOQ-9S3lOnM

About Us

Squirrels is a software development company based in North Canton, Ohio. We create high-quality, budget-friendly screen mirroring and device management software that’s compatible with today’s most popular devices. To date, our software can be found in hundreds of thousands of classrooms, businesses and homes. Follow our blog for all the latest product updates, Squirrels news and technology insight!