Apr 27

106. How I failed my teacher evaluation

and learned from it.

The best way to improve is by challenging ourselves to go beyond what we think we are capable of.  This is uncomfortable because we are likely to fail.  It’s human nature to be embarrassed by our failures.  It’s hard to take risks.  But the lessons we learn through failed attempts teach us how to adapt and excel.  We should celebrate our failed attempts because of how those hardships and challenging times shape and mold us.  If we do only do what is safe, we won’t excel at anything.  Our capabilities will never reach their potential.  We remain an inferior version of ourselves.

I’m convinced that this is the main reason why most teachers never reach their full potential.  Administrations typically don’t challenge their teaching staff to try things that go beyond what they think they are capable of.  Teachers don’t earn high marks for the most unsuccessful attempts, even if those attempts are trying out new and potentially revolutionary teaching methods or techniques.  Most teachers believe they can only earn high marks for choosing safe and easy lessons that run smoothly, and follow the mold of traditional classroom routines.

I believe that I am in a rare situation with the administration at my current school.  I failed miserably at a lesson I was recently evaluated on, yet I was evaluated on what I learned from my failures, not the fact that I failed.  It allowed me to ask questions to gain insight from my administrator.  Here’s what happened.  I invited my administration team to join my class in a Google Hangout with Kodable co-founder Grechen Hubener.  I’ve done many Hangouts, and thought I was well prepared.  I felt confident that it would be a successful class.  Students were ready with questions and had a place to take notes on a shared Google Doc.  When the Hangout started, the audio wouldn’t work.  I was super embarrassed and flustered trying to troubleshoot the audio, checking the settings, signing out and back in.  Precious class time was ticking away and I was wasting the time of my students, Grechen and my administration as they stood by watching.  Finally, Grechen Googled the issue and suggested that I try using a different browser.  I exited Chrome and signed in to Firefox.  I had to update the browser’s plugins, but that finally fixed it.  I think it took more than 20 minutes to fix the issue, but it seemed like more than an hour.  You can imagine that this totally threw off my lesson plans!

During my post-evaluation conference, I did not receive low marks for wasting a third of the class trying to troubleshoot technical issues.  (To this day, I still don’t understand why the audio on Hangouts worked every time before that and has worked every time since.  It seems like a freak incident.)  I was encouraged by my administrator for attempting a lesson that had a lot of potential for failure, but also had potential for high impact on student learning and engagement.

I was asked to reflect on what I learned, and to explain what I would do differently in the future.  This allowed us to have a meaningful conversation that helped me become a better version of myself.

My takeaways are that I’m learning how to stay calm and think clearer during high pressure situations.  I’m learning how to be better prepared even when I think I’ve already crossed my Ts and dotted my Is.  I’m learning that even when I’m flustered and can’t think straight, others are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, so I don’t need to beat myself up repeatedly over those things.  I can keep taking risks, and I can use failed attempts as stepping stones for greater things ahead.

In contrast, I didn’t say that I would try something safer and easier next time, so that I could be more comfortable and feel more successful.  Yet this is what happens when teachers feel like they have no room for failure (whether it’s self imposed or imposed by administration).  They do what is safe and comfortable and never become the best versions of themselves.

Go ahead, share your failures (or reflections from those failures) in the comments below.

Permanent link to this article: http://mulloverthings.com/2015/04/how-i-failed-my-teacher-evaluation/

Apr 21

105. Apps for Coders (16 apps)

In this post I’m going to recap the four previous posts where I reviewed four different categories of computer programming apps.  Most of these apps are great for kids or those beginning to learn how to code.  In case you missed those posts or want a broad overview, here’s the quick recap:

1.  Game Design Apps

These apps are best suited for coders who want to design and play 2D platformer video game levels and don’t necessarily want to code:  Floors, Sketch Nation, GamePress

apps for coders design apps

2.  Learn Code by Playing Games

These apps are best for learning computer programming concepts through solving puzzles or completing challenges: Lightbot, Kodable, Cargo-Bot, Cato’s Hike, Code Blast, Daisy the Dinosaur, Tynker, Robot School, Move the Turtle

Learn Code by Playing Games - 8 apps

3.  Apps for Coding Games

These apps allow coders to create games or interactive stories using block-coding style programming languages.  These are great for creative open-ended projects:  Tynker, Hopscotch, Scratch Jr., GamePress

4 Apps for Coding Games

4.  Plain Text Editor Apps

These apps show programming syntax or allow coders to type out the code into an editor.  Codecademy, Codea, CodeQuest

3 plain text editor apps for iPad

I hope you enjoyed this summary the types of apps for coders that you will encounter.  This list of apps isn’t exhaustive, and you’ll see some overlap in the categories.  I wanted to share the apps I have on my iPad and have used in the classroom with my students.  I’ve made my recommendations for apps in each category in previous posts, but please disagree with me.  I look forward to responding to your comments!

Permanent link to this article: http://mulloverthings.com/2015/04/105-apps-for-coders-16-apps/

Apr 13

104. Plain Text Editor Coding Apps

If you’ve read my previous posts, “Video Game Design Apps“, “Learn Code by Playing Games“, or “Apps for Coding Games” you may be wondering if there are any apps that teach or allow “real” coding where you type code as plain text in an editor.  There are lots of plain text editor apps out there, but most editors are for on the go coding that sync with your Dropbox or can be shared to your computer.  This is a problem is you don’t have access to a computer and want to run code.  I’m going to highlight apps that do not depend on running the code on your computer.  They are stand-alone programming apps.  Two are for beginners and don’t have real plain text editors, but one is a must-have app for anyone serious about coding on an iPad.

3 plain text editor apps for iPad

Plain Text Editor Coding Apps for iPad

1.  CodeQuest (iPad) $1.99

link to website

CodeQuest is a game intended for ages 6-8 that teaches the difference between HTML and CSS.  It does not allow users to type in a plain text editor, but shows sample code syntax.  It attempts to show what different code does when building a website.  There are 9 levels where some levels have nothing to do with learning how to program, but use HTML and CSS as themes for the levels.  I don’t feel that the app is worth $1.99 due to the small amount of learning the app offers and how quickly it can be mastered by children.

plain text editor apps codequest code editor apps codequest screen

2.  Codecademy: Code Hour (iPad & iPhone) Free

link to Codecademy’s website

Codecademy’s Code Hour app is a basic introduction to programming that might be useful for those new to coding.  It isn’t a plain text editor, but introduces programming syntax.  The app can be completed in an hour and probably won’t be very useful after that.  This app is free, so you might consider downloading it.

Text Editor Coding apps - Codecademy icon codecademy screenshot iPhone

3.  Codea (iPad) $9.99

link to website

Codea is the only app I’ve found where users can write code in an editor and also run the code on the iPad.  The app includes lots of sample programs so that you can edit ready-made projects, and a large library of assets that can be downloaded to the app.  The keyboard includes special characters and shortcuts that make it easy to add code into the editor with touch gestures.  This is a full-featured app that was used to program the entire app “Cargo-Bot“.

Codea uses the programming language Lua, which is also used in Corona SDK (Software Development Kit) to enable users to develop apps quicker and easier than with other SDKs.  If you are new to programming and want to learn Lua, Codea provides links to the Wiki site and Forum where you can go through some of the tutorials.  It’s worth the $9.99 if you plan to use the app regularly.  The app is updated on a regular basis and keeps getting better when new features are released.

plain text editor app Codea icon plain text editor app Codea screenshot

Conclusion

If you want an iPad app where you type code into a plain text editor and run code on your iPad, Codea is your best option.  However, it might be difficult for kids under the age of 13 to pick up this app and figure it out on their own.  For younger kids, I recommend learning some of the puzzle game apps or block coding language apps (i.e. Kodable, Tynker, GamePress) that I wrote about previously:  “Learn Code by Playing Games“, or “Apps for Coding Games”  I hope you found this post useful!  Thanks for reading :)

Permanent link to this article: http://mulloverthings.com/2015/04/104-plain-text-editor-coding-apps/

Apr 06

103. Apps for Coding Games

There are many programming apps, such as Video Game Design Apps and apps where you Learn Code by Playing Games.  Those are great apps if you like game design or solving puzzles, but if you want to create and code your own custom game using a block coding interface, these apps for coding games will be your best options.

4 Apps for Coding Games

Four Apps for Coding Games

1.  Hopscotch (iOS only) Free

Link to Hopscotch’s website

With Hopscotch, you can learn Hopscotch’s block coding language (like Blockly) with the guided tutorials of such games as “Flappy Bird”, “Food Fight”, or “Fire Bunny”.  You can also create your own unique games from scratch using the objects provided.  Hopscotchers can explore and share creations in the Hopscotch gallery (showcase).  This is a really fun app that, like others, takes a bit of time to get the hang of, but is definitely worth checking out.  You can read more about how I teach with Hopscotch here: Hopscotch Computer Programming App for iPad

Apps for Coding Games Hopscotch Apps for Coding Games Hopscotch Screenshot

2.  Tynker (iOS, Android, Web) Free (In-app/school purchase)

Link to Tynker’s website

Tynker has both “Create” mode and “Play” mode.  Play mode takes users through a series of challenges that teach Tynker’s block coding language.  The first course is free, and additional courses can be purchased starting at $2.99. On the “Create” side of Tynker you can build many different types of games or animations from scratch.  The character builder allows you to create semi-custom characters that can be added to a game.  Tynker has a teacher dashboard where students’ progress can be monitored and teachers can easily grade or troubleshoot student work.  Students can sign in with Google, which can save teachers time setting up student accounts.  Games can be shared on the web within a class “Showcase”.  Tynker is the ideal app for classroom use because of its versatility and useful teacher dashboard.

Learn Code by Playing Games - Tynker app Apps for Coding Games - Tynker screenshot

3.  Scratch Jr. (iOS only) Free

Link to Scratch Jr.’s website

If both Hopscotch and Tynker seem like they would be too difficult for you or your students to use, but you still want to create a custom game or story, then Scratch Jr. might be your best option.  Scratch Jr. is intended for ages 5-7 and uses a very straightforward block coding language.  This being said, there are lots of built in backgrounds, characters and objects to make a unique and interesting project. This app does not have a gallery or showcase to share or play games made by others.

apps for coding games scratch icon apps for coding games scratch jr

4.  GamePress (iOS only) Free

Link to GamePress website

GamePress is a unique app in this category because it wasn’t created for schools; however, my middle school students love coding games with this app.  It has many rich features and is fully customizable.  First you might notice that the canvas where you design the game is infinitely expandable.  You can zoom in and out to design a large level.  Each object has properties that can be changed.  Each block of code also has properties that can be changed.  This makes the app fairly complex, but also very versatile.  The app comes with a huge library of assets organized into folders, but you can also import your own images from your iPad or Dropbox.  I recommend using the Sprite Something app if you want to create your own assets to import into GamePress.

The app has an interactive tutorial that can help you get the hang of using its interface, but you might need to visit the help forum or GamePress YouTube channel for additional guidance.  The app has an arcade of user created games that’s accessible if you log in with an account.  Some of the apps in the arcade are not suitable for young children and cannot be forked (they’re play only), therefore I don’t allow my students to log in to the app.  Games are stored on the iPad, but the game file can be shared via email and imported to GamePress on another iPad.

Apps for Coding Games - Gamepress App Icon Apps for Coding Games GamePress Screen

Conclusion

Of all the apps out there, GamePress is the most robust block-style coding app.  I highly recommend GamePress for ages 13+.  For younger kids who want to program games, Hopscotch and Tynker are both great options.  Scratch Jr. is ideal for ages 5-7.  The main advantage of Tynker over the others is that its teacher dashboard makes it ideal for managing groups of students and accessing their work all in one place.  Also, it is the only app of the four that is available on iOS, Android, and the web.

Permanent link to this article: http://mulloverthings.com/2015/04/103-apps-for-coding-games/

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