Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nutcracker? No, I meant Codecracker

Where else can you celebrate CS week, ring in the holiday season, and incorporate bubble sort into a dance performance?  Watch this video to find out...
Code and dance? No problem!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Just App it!

One big thing I've been working on this year is to try to get more middle school girls interested in STEM.  The representation of women in STEM fields and, in the field of computer science in particular, have been well publicized. Even locally here in the state of Arizona at our large public state university, Arizona State University, less than 20% percent of the engineering majors are female. Organizations such as NCWIT and Girls who Code are working to increase the 12% representation of women in the field of computer programming.  Here in my district, I have had my middle school girls working with high school and college girls via telepresence to create apps using App Inventor and to learn some basics of html and Python.  It has been an empowering experience for them and they have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of creating using code.  Perhaps just as important as the app inventing and coding my students have learned, if not more important, is the invaluable experience they have had of being mentored by girls who are into computer science and its applications.  Here is a video from the app inventing middle school girls group where they share the highlights of their experience.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Red Planet Research

Look anywhere in the news lately, and you'll see that Mars is making a comeback.  There's the MRO and the recent Comet Siding Spring that made a close flyby of the red planet.  The India Space Research Organization has also recently launched their very own Mars orbiter.  So when I found out about the Mars Student Imaging Program out of Arizona State University, I thought to myself that this would be a great opportunity for my students to pursue their passion for exploring and researching space.   Completely student-driven inquiry tied in with authentic research and feedback from a planetary geologist - what could be better than this?  Plus, all culminating in two days at ASU on the campus working with the geologist and collecting their very own image from the THEMIS camera.  But, before the two-day culmination on campus, we had a big learning curve.  We had to first learn about Martian geology and learn about the features on this planet.  We also had to familiarize ourselves with the instruments used to collect images and data as well as the JMARS database.  In many ways, it was like learning about a whole new world and learning a foreign language.  But at the same time, it was also about taking what we know about our planet Earth and making connections and comparisons to what we already know and extending it to what we do not know.

Probably the most challenging part of the process was identifying our inquiry/research question.  With a group of 20 students and diverse interests, we had questions ranging from the craters to Olympus Mons to the Valles Marineris.  We ended up consulting with ASU and the planetary geologist who then gave us feedback and insight on our possible questions.  In the document attached, you will see not only our final question, but the research that accompanies it.  As you can tell, the process was full of reading, writing, researching, note-taking, summarizing, making inferences, drawing conclusions, collecting data, analyzing data...Wow.  What an amazing journey.  We have yet to experience our two days in person with scientists at ASU and I'm sure that will bring even more stories to tell.  
Here is the link to our research on Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system discovered so far.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

App, app and away..

Earlier this school year, I found out about the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, a competition open to middle- and high-school students where they innovate an app concept.  I really liked the word 'innovate' because the challenge made the point that the app concept that the students come up with need not necessarily be something entirely new, but something based on existing ideas...with added twists.  My students first had to identify a problem in their local community in one of the Verizon Foundation focus areas:  healthcare, sustainability or education.  They then had to research this problem and come up with an innovative app idea that could help to address this problem.  Not only so, they had to research other similar existing apps and clearly articulate how their app was distinct.  In writing the responses for the competition, they reflected on not only their research, but also on the form and function of their app.  They got to dream big!  Using Scratch, they created a prototype design of their app and created a 3 minute video to submit as part of the application.  So many skills were integrated into this one project - writing, research, reading, collaboration, communication, coding, math, technology, video production, script-writing, performance...the list goes on.
Here is their video submission presenting their innovative app concept.