Really getting into Coding with Scratch

It has been too long since I have written here (there are dozens of unfinished posts over the past 3 years, but few published). I am now in Vietnam and teaching ICT, rather than a classroom teacher, and it has been a whirlwind of difference. It is a much bigger school, but as I teach most of the students I get to know them all and it allows me to be the kind of teacher that I normally am.

Big change as been, other than having access to Google again, the amount of coding that I teach using Scratch and it can be upwards of 15 hours a week. I feel that I now dream in Blockly and ‘if then’ or ‘forever’ loops. It is like being immersed in a language and it has increased my knowledge beyond all belief.

Year 1 throughscratch-music 3 are using the offline editor and are learning to make instruments play a tune or making balls bounce around the screen and play a recorded sound when they collide. Year 4-6 are making playable video games and now beginning to realise that they are able to create games in their own time (such as the final scratchgame).

Scratch has recently introduced Educator Accounts, for which you need to apply and get approval (a day to wait), but this now allows you to manage multiple online classes, reset their forgotten passwords, add or remove students and sign them up without the need for email addresses to login – such a time s
aver and it may help me keep my hair a few more years.

There are scores of resources out there, any question that you have is answered by a forum post or YouTube tutorial and once you give it a go your students will love it. I know that when they get to Secondary they will be problem solvers, better at logic and reasoning and have a good understanding about how code is laid out and how to change variables and create loops and conditionals.

My first successful game (Even though it has a glitch or too)

//scratch.mit.edu/projects/embed/140541688/?autostart=false

This game was created by a student as part of his International Week homework to teach visiting year 2 and 3 students about Ecuador in a fun way.

//scratch.mit.edu/projects/embed/136647435/?autostart=false

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Education’s best kept secret – teaching at International schools. 

I assume that all who read this blog are teachers or somehow involved in the education game. What might make me different to you is that I no longer teach in my home country, but choose the life of a teacher in the international school world. This stint has been for 2 years and I can’t see it ending any time soon as it is providing a life far richer in experience for my family and I than could ever happen back in New Zealand. Yes there are things that we miss and the distance from family and friends is difficult, but I would not change it for the world.  

 

You see, as I write this post I am sitting at a quiet restaurant next to my hotel in the quiet Vietnamese town of Hoi An – a place I had never heard of, let alone thought I would ever visit. Christmas holidays were spent in Rome, Florence and London and last year we traveled to Singapore, Taiwan and many places throughout our home base of China. While we are travelling around the world and exposing our daughters to different cultures, cuisines and ways of life we are still paying the mortgage back home and saving some money for a rainy day. 

My daughters are receiving an world class education that is on a par with unaffordable private schools back home. Working hard and focusing on your learning is the norm and expected by both students and teachers. They are learning to speak Chinese in an environment where they get to speak the language every day. Their school trips so far have been to Cambodia, Fujian, Vietnam and Brazil – not quite a hike through the beech forests of New Zealand, but unforgettable life experiences. 

As an educator there are draw backs; professional development can be hard to find and you may have to learn a new education system, but when learning and students are the focus it is easy to find a work around any problem. A few friends and I are in the process of planning Nanjings first EdCamp, so I guess PD is what you make it and blogs and Twitter are always there to inspire and challenge you. 

So I guess the point of this is to say, if you are stuck in the grind of teaching back home, feel like a new experience and challenge send me a message and I will be happy to answer any of your questions. It’s not the right choice for all, but it might be the choice for you. 

Lost in Translation

It has now been one month and one day into my journey into illiteracy where, if I leave the bubble of my home or work, I am in a world that I am unable to communicate with. It is exciting, it is challenging, it is frustrating and I knew exactly what I has getting myself into. It is the times when you order 6 dumplings and receive 60 that you can only hand your head in your hands in shame or laugh at the situation that you have gotten yourself into.

Some days you just do not want to get out of bed.

It is the Sophia Coppola classic that I draw the title of this post from and I firmly believe that you can love or hate the movie, but once you have experienced living in a completely foreign country you find a new respect for the film.  When you walk down a street that has more people there at that time than your entire hometown you redefine the word insignificant to mean ‘you’.  I had a conversation with a university student in a Chinese bookstore, where I was buying children’s flashcards of fruit and vegetables, and he said to me “I have never seen blue eyes, except for in the movies” which explains why people follow and watch like I am the pied piper playing a tune for them.

Now, if this is what I am experiencing as a teacher at an International school, then imagine what my students are going through. They may see it as an adventure like I do or maybe they find it to be an incredibly stressful transition, but it is my job as their teacher to attend to their mental well being before I even think about their academics.

Happy student = learner

Menu at the Local Restaurant – I know the cost and that I am welcome, but what am I eating?

Within my class room I have a variety of levels of English Speakers from some to a lot to fluent, but I also have a new student arriving next week who speaks fluent German and French, but not English.The EAL department at school ran a workshop during our in service days before the students arrived.  This short one and a half hour workshop truly opened my eyes to the experience that many of my students like this new student could face every day.

The first activity was fun where they had taken a limerick and translated a handful of key words into a different language and in pairs we were to decode into English. We knew the format of a limerick and some of the words (it was Italian we found out later) were similar to English. We felt quite chuffed about what we had achieved and felt we had an insight into the life of student who was learning English as a second language.

The second activity had no introduction as the EAL teacher just switched language on us to Chinese and began to teach. Many of us looked at each other in dismay, as we knew that she was asking questions as the two or three in the group who spoke Chinese were responding. Slowly I was able to pick up enough words to realise that it was about identifying body parts “How many eyes do you have?” and a simple response of one or two was required.  Next she used a flow chart to teach the characters for each of the body parts we had learned. My head was hurting and even though I had found some success in the lesson I wanted her to stop, but the point was clear  – being a student in a class who does not speak the main language of the classroom is difficult, exhausting and scary. As teachers we must do all that we possibly can to make that language transferal as smooth as possible.

The key skills that I took away from the session were…

  • Pace – not too fast.
  • Clear voice
  • Visuals – we teach early readers to use visuals to get clues for when reading new words and in this case there is no difference – Colour code, writing and images all go hand in hand.
  • Patience
  • A smile
  • Break the learning up with different tasks.
  • Form a connection with the student.
  • Try everything, not just the strategies that worked with a similar student the previous year.
  • Ask for help of others when it seems that nothing else is working.

It is not an easy process, but slowly the classroom will change from the Charlie Brown “Wah, Wah, wahh” into something much more and hopefully with planning and care the child will find a love of learning and school.