Part 2-The Global Codeathon
We had chosen the date of May 17. We only had 2 months to get this off the ground.
The first thing Michelle and I did was to form our team. My husband and COETAIL graduate, Dan Slaughter volunteered to be a part of the team. We then recruited Heidi Kay who helped start our schools Coding Club.
First task: Define the idea.
We decided that the main purpose of the event is for elementary students to connect, create and compete with other elementary kids around the world. With this in mind we decided to call the event the Global Codeathon.
Second task: Find interested schools
We started with a simple flyer which explained our idea. We then made a website, sent word out via Twitter, Google+, and at our presentations at EARCOS and ASB unplugged.
We began to get some initial interest from schools but not commitments. Timing was tight and coordinators needed to get their schools approval and see if their students were interested.
Third Task: Get students interested and schools committed.
To gain some momentum we asked our coding club students to help us create a promo video.
We also started putting together useful documents for schools such as flyers and posters that they could print and letters they could send to parents.
Then we began my favorite but most time consuming aspect of the Global Codeathon. We began contacting the interested schools and discussing questions and ideas with them. This communication started out mostly through e-mail and then eventually moved to Skype Callls and Google Hangouts. It was exhilrating to speak with teachers and tech coordinators around the world who had similar interest in integrating coding into schools.
This was the point where our team felt the pressure.This was when our idea would either stay as nothing more than an idea or it would materialize to a global event. As schools started to commit this idea started to become a reality. One by one schools took a leap of faith and committed. I felt such a kinship to the participating schools around the world. We all believed in a common idea and were willing to take a risk on it. None of us knew for sure what the event would look like. All of us had to put ourselves out there to Heads of Schools, to parents and to students by participating in the first event of this kind. All of these schools around the world took a huge risk and in doing so they made an idea come to life.
Fourth Task: Plan the logistics.
Connect: One of our biggest questions was how would we actually connect. After gathering feedback from participating schools the plan for the day began to take shape. Many of the participating schools had beginner coders and were interested in having us lead sessions. Schools were also keen to be connected to other schools worldwide rather than just UNIS. We decided that in order to do that we would use Google Hangouts. This way schools could hear us leading a virtual session but also see other participating schools around the world. In order to aid in the global collaboration and to help answer questions we set up a backchannel and we recruited several experts to man our backchannels. That way students could ask questions virtually and have their question answered. We also had lesson materials and helpful tips available on our website in case connectivity was a problem. We decided to start with one big Google Hangout where students around the world could say hello to each other.
Create: Next we would split into intermediate and beginner sessions which schools could tune into or run themselves. Finally we would finish by letting students play each others games on Scratch via Scratch Galleries and by having a select student from each school share their program in a closing Google Hangout.
Compete: Competing was a bit tricky. We knew competing would be a great motivation for some students and could inspire students to code year long much the same way that an athlete spends time preparing for a tournament.
However, we also were weary that competition could ruin the event for some students. So we decided to make the competition aspect optional. In order to give students time to make something more interesting we felt they needed longer than the 2 and a half hours they would get on the day of the Codeathon. We released the theme of "Superheros" to all students 2 weeks prior to the submission deadline.
One of our highlights of this entire event was that Dong Nguyen (the creator of Flappy Bird) agreed to judge the Advanced Competition. He even donated Flappy Bird T-shirts which we used as prizes. It was amazing to see Dong Nguyen comment on students games and give them useful feedback.
5th Task: Plan and pray that it will actually work
The first time you try something is always more scary because no matter how well you plan for it you can't anticipate what may actually happen on the day. One thing we hadn't expected was that we would crash our own website by directing everyone to access lesson materials on it. Thankfully the problem was fixed in a relatively timely manner and we all did what teachers do best. We adjusted and made it work.
The day of the Codeathon was amazing to me. Watching the students wave at each other from all around the world was one small moment which encapsulated what we had been working toward. It had actually happened. Students from all over the world really were connecting.
Their connections were meaningful. Weeks later students continue to comment on each others programs and give each other feedback. Students were proud of what they accomplished and inspired to try new ideas.
Final Task: Reflect
Reflection gives you the chance not only to learn from your experiences but also a chance to grow from them. So of course we held meetings, spoke with students and sent out a survey to participating schools. With the information gained we have started to look at how to go forward with this event in the future. The Global Codeathon will be held again next year on May 16 and hopefully for years after. Because if there is one thing we learned from all of this it is that it we have only just begun.
The kids had all gone home, Google Hangouts had been turned off and laptops set in charging carts. My fellow coordinators stood beaming and then we did something we hadn't done in weeks.
We stopped and took a breath.
It had worked. Through the collaboration of 15 schools we had pulled off what only weeks ago had felt like the most ridiculous idea we had ever had. 200 kids from 15 schools around the world had come together for the first ever Global Codeathon.
We took a breath and thought back for a moment at how we had gotten to this point.
For myself the story of the codeathon goes back to when I was first introduced to teaching coding in schools. As chronicled in my earlier post I was inspired to learn coding with a small group of students after watching the video "What most schools don't teach." The result of my first experiment with teaching coding was enough to convince me of it's benefits. I found that by teaching coding, my students were improving many skills such as art, design process and math. In my previous post I reflected;
"I remember one day when I was teaching coordinates, one of my coders raised his hand and explained to the class what the X and Y axis were. I asked how he knew that and he told me he had learned it while working in Scratch."
What probably excited me the most about teaching coding wasn't the increase in student math scores it was the endless possibilities it opened for students. I found that student's creativity and problem solving increased.
"The reason I have come to love teaching coding is not because I enjoy coding, it is because I love the possibilities it gives my students. It takes the box of a pre-made app or program away and lets students be the creators."
The more time I spent teaching students coding the more excited I got about it. This was not just something to teach kids because we hope they'll grow up to become rich programmers, it is something to teach kids because we want to open up possibilities to them.
But still the question lingered; How do we get this into schools? One approach is to integrate coding into the curriculum. Another approach is to teach coding outside of the classroom. I have found that both approaches are valuable and necessary in their own way.
Integrated: As I integrated coding into lessons, students learned to code through content such as math and science. This not only increased their coding skills but was also a powerful way to teach specific math and science concepts. Students then went on to demonstrate their understanding of other concepts through coding as was demonstrated in the PYP Exhibition.
Outside the Classroom: Three teachers and myself founded the Coding Club as an after school activity where students met once a week to learn and improve their coding skills. It had become a popular after school activity. Like many schools around the world we participated in the Hour of Code. Our Coding Club students ran the Hour of Code for elementary students and teachers who wanted to be introduced to coding. The event was very successful. Students and teachers went away from the hour excited about what they had learned and eager to learn more. It was a great start but I knew we could do more. All around the world schools had participated in the Hour of Code. How could we learn from each other? How could we build on this momentum?
Going beyond the Hour of Code:
It started as a conversation. Justin Hardman from 21st Century Learning and I met at the Vietnam Tech Conference and started discussing our mutual interest of integrating coding into schools. He talked about how great it is that athletes get to meet each other at tournaments and he wondered if we could give coders a similar experience. His idea was for kids to meet up with kids from other schools and code together in a hackathon style event.
I loved the idea but because I work with Elementary kids I knew traveling internationally to something like this wasn't an option. So I began to dream about the idea of having a codeathon virtually. There were thousands of schools around the world who had participated in the Hour of Code or were teaching their kids to code. Some schools had after school coding clubs like ours, others had done a one time event and would be looking for a next step. It made sense to get those kids together to learn from each other and inspire each other. A codeathon would be the type of exciting event that could inspire kids to code on their own. If this went well then students would have something to look forward to every year. This could also help get coding into classrooms. With a group of students capable of coding at various schools my hope was that teachers would then feel more confident to give coding a try.They would see the benefit of coding first hand and would have a group of coding helpers ready to assist other learners. I was excited by the possibilities so I brought my thoughts to Michelle Matias (UNIS's Elementary Tech Coordinator) and the idea of a virtual Global Codeathon was born.
The Codeathon Part 2-"Taking an Idea Global" to be posted soon
Mindy Slaughter is a classroom teacher at UNIS Hanoi. She started learning to code when some of her students wanted to study it for the PYP Exhibition. She has since help start the Elementary Coding Club and is a founding member of the Global Codeathon. She believes coding opens the doors for student creativity and is working to integrate it into the curriculum.