Hot off presses in the September 2023 issue of TESOL Connections!
At the end of the school year, my friend and colleague Katie Miller and I were approached by TESOL Connections to write a piece based on our TESOL Int’l Portland presentation Try, Fail, Succeed, Repeat: Taking Risks in STEM.
It’s my first publication since grad school and first ever co-authored. It was a dream to write with Katie. Here’s to firsts! It’s amazing how words and ideas pull together cohesive when you have first hand knowledge, experience, and excitement!
I am THRILLED to have the honor of joining the amazing CodeVA nonprofit as a faculty facilitator!
Their mission is to bring CS education opportunities, resources and training to make CS equitable to all Virginian children. What a perfect match. A special thank you to Kristin Hott and Megan Graybill for connecting me with this opportunity! I am excited to learn from like-minded educators and share my passion for integrating computer science in English language instruction. I haven’t left the classroom! I’m still an ESL teacher! In fact, here’s my personal goal to expand my #CS teaching toolbox for project based learning this year in my classroom:
This year’s goal is to explore…. Micro:bits! A Micro:bit is like a mini physical computer board which combines coding, craft and creativity to teach physical computing, engineering, computer science, and electronics. I have the Invent to Learn Guide to the Micro:bit book but am closely following Micro:bits on Twitter/X for integration ideas.
Limiting the Limitless Opportunities
As a computer science learner myself, how do I select what to platform to use and for what?
I select one primary platform to explore and integrate in a unit project a minimum of once a semester. I do this 1) to keep me focused and 2) also to provide continuity for my students. Unlike most high school teachers who have their students for one semester only, I have the privilege of teaching & keeping mine throughout their tenure. This means that I do try to avoid duplicate learning experiences and units for the same set of students.
I don’t limit myself, however! If a compelling CS integration opportunity arises like it did with our World Cup unit, then we’ll go for it. For example, after an introductory project or two first semester with micro:bits, second semester I want us to use both the Edison bots and micro:bits in a project where the students put on a parade on a yet to be determined subject. I’m fascinated by this re-tweet.
In this lesson series where we create a maze game in CS First for Google, what more appropriate warm up than to give students a traditional maze to work through. I began too easy, then the next day, a more difficult one, the last day, what I considered a difficult 3-D maze. Timed the students and watched them fly! This gave them an opportunity to explore the challenges and emotions of mazes before we explored their place in literature.
Then, in an ESLified version of unplugged to plugged, ELs are intentionally given opportunities to grow in the four language domains, listening, speaking, reading, and writing, to advance their English. I find poems to be extremely accessible for English learners. They’re succinct and gripping. Because much of academic, elevated language has cognates in Spanish, poems are more accessible than one might think. We began with “Joy” by the celebrated Harlem Renaissance author Clarissa Scott Delaney.
ReadingPoem 1 – “Joy“
“Joy” is accessible on Newsela.com. We began with a sticky note warmup and attached it to the image below. Using the sentence frame _______ bring me joy because ________. students thought and shared with the class their answer to the prompt: What brings you joy?
We read the poem in a choral read a few times over the course of the lesson series. We sketchnoted the phrases. We explored the literary devices. Then we separated the poem into two parts–the first 8 then then last 3 lines. We explored the flexibility of the last 3 lines and moved that emotion of being scared and lost to the front of the poem-a more chronological approach.
My students rewrote sections of the poem adding what brings them joy. Made their own comparisons. Explored synonyms for “bewildered” like “confused,” “unsure,” and “uncertain.”
Reading Poem 2 – “El Laberinto/ The Laberinth”
One of my deep desires for my students is that one day they will have access to a heritage Spanish class so they enjoy the beautiful authors of Latin America. And they all have the ability to interact with grade level (above grade level!) content with the appropriate supports. Watch this in action.
Jorge Luis Borges is a Argentinian author who had a degenerative eye disease which progressively left him blind giving his poem El laberinto (Spanish for maze) a different significance. I placed the translation side by side and we made bilingual connections about all the ways he refered to the maze. I told my students to hunt for and underline 6 phrases. They’d bring the poem back to me until they found them all. Then they wrote them in a list below.
Write to the End
Using elements from both poems, I created sentence stems for my students to complete. Students used the maze phrases from El laberinto to complete the sentences then selected their synonym of choice to replace “bewildered.” They wrote their final drafts on a maze they completed earlier and the joy of having written something so complete and inspired by such greats.
Now code your own maze!
With a firm exploration of mazes’ place in literature and culture, we opened up our last Game Design set of modules, “The Maze Game.”
At this point, we had completed both the character story and the racing game, so students had some base familiarity with coding. That is the beautiful thing about coding- when integrated with even some regularity, students build on the same skill and further their competency. Nearing the end of our school year, they were ready.
We made connections to ELA story elements and learned about equivalency across disciplines. In English language arts, a setting is where the story takes place and in computer science backdrop is where the story takes place. With this, we reviewed and discussed the utility of phrases like “in other words” and “that is” which can cue us in to an alternative explanation. This is a key comprehension strategy for ELs as they may understand one explanation over another because of cognates and vocabulary knowledge.
Students, with the support of the guide sheets when needed and video tutorials, created their own maze games. They customized them by selecting different add-ons. Then, to cap it off, with our final part of the project, we had a speed dating structured presentation where the students got to show off their games to their peers and try to pitch them to the game company. Knowing that they would present to their peers helped motivate some. After this speaking activity, I had a couple students tell me it was the best project we have done all year. Amazed.
Whether on the recess playground or behind a controller playing Mario Cart, racing is as old as time and every human has experience in this game, making it a natural extension for a first foray into competitive Game Design with CS First for Google, Racing Game!
Support students with a physical copy of lesson 2 in CS First for Google’s Game Design Solution Sheets. It breaks down the steps visually and incrementally, providing a reference for the process.
Students learn how to code characters to move in 3 directions: left, right, and forward using 3 keys. Character 1 is an elephant, and the student codes the elephant to move with pressing the up, right, and left arrow keys in game play. Character 2 is an lion, and the student codes the W, A, and D keys to control the character in game play.
They learn to rotate by experimenting with degrees (the language of math), and have the opportunity to input different values to adjust their character’s movement. The CS First tutorial video leads them into the very basics, where they encounter a pit stop–inefficiency. The lion moves clunky. Then in the next value, they fix the inefficiency and code the character to move more smoothly. This experience that CS First provides–first a basic code then a refinement to the code to improve it–is an planted learning experience. How often does an app on your phone work, but then there’s an update? The update results in a minor adjustment that makes for an overall better experience for the user. They experience the work of a computer programmer, with guidance, here in this sequence. How does this benefit students as English learners? Language can be rudimentary–communicative–and then refined. Help students make this connection between the disciplines computer science and language learning give them an awareness of how learning works and practice in another discipline’s context.
After coding the first sequence for the up arrow (forward movement), the CS First video shows them how they can more efficiently do this for the next two left and right arrows: duplicate/copy. This is key in computer science, learning how to copy and paste code minimizes effort–and also reduces the likelihood of making errors. Some tasks are similar enough that they can be duplicated and changed only slightly. Students who laboriously go back and forth and code the sequence with the direction blocks one at a time see a higher margin for error than those who duplicate and paste. The SEL lesson here is keeping an eye for well functioning code and applying the code to a similar function. It brings efficiency, reduce the margin for error, and overall lower the workload. Computational thinking in action.
After coding the first player, comes player number two! This extends the practice and empowers our future programmers. They are now experienced coders and coding player two goes much faster.
For students who are more experienced in coding or ambitious, CS First for Google allows for extensive customization with its fun add on tutorials. Add crashes! Sabotage! Sounds! Celebrations! Racing fans! New racetracks!
Wave the checkered flag! Yay!
The project is capped off with a speaking activity. Students present their racing game to each other in a “speed dating” fashion. They are given the conversation guide below, and their classmates rotate to them. They have approximately 3 minutes with each classmate. We review the language of the script and notetake on it. Then I model the conversation with a student in front of the class. I set a 3 minute timer, and they present their project to a classmate. Then a new classmate. Then another. Students get extensive practice with the language of explaining their project, evaluate their work, and give advice to someone about to attempt the project. It’s a winner!
The Racing Game is a great first game design project showing precision needed without overwhelming a beginning coder. In the process, students realized that their characters needed to be coded to stay within the boundaries of the race track or be penalized for leaving the track. Some students begged to customize and upped the challenge in their game by having an enemy character hunt them during the race. Students more proficient in computer science went further–they added sound, customized characters, and more.
Next up? The last in our series, Part 3: A Maze Game. My favorite lesson series yet.
Intro to Video Game Design. Sound fun? Dooot dooot dooot doot doot DOOOT! Look for upcoming posts on a unit that’s been brewing in my head for a year.
I was exploring Code.org’s CS Discoveries course and they recommend to begin a video game design unit with the first three lessons on problem solving in computing. In this unit, students collaborate and communicate. Through experience, students learn the 4 steps of the problem solving process: define, prepare, try, reflect. Students learn to modify and adjust based on research and experience. They write and record their answers and then extend the process to a variety of problems and puzzles. Check them out here.
Their first lesson is a challenge. Several possibilities are presented:
Students work together to create the aluminum boat that can hold the most pennies.
Students work together to create the tallest paper tower using only 20 sheets.
Students work together to create a bridge out of spaghetti that can hold the most books.
Students work together to build a newspaper table that can hold the most books.
We made paper towers. My students worked in groups of 3. Who could create the tallest paper tower using only 20 sheets in 15 minutes? Before I set the timer, they had 5 minutes to record on chart paper– Step 1: define, & Step 2: prepare. Step 1 was crucial to the project and I fielded lots of clarifying questions. Can we use pegamiento (glue)? Nope. Just paper. What about grapas (staples)? No, only paper. Then the laughing. How in the world! With step 2, there was more of a need for help. With them excited to begin, I held my rooms of 18 teenagers the best of my ability and encouraged them to draw a diagram or write some key words and phrases of what they would attempt.
Ready, set, GO! They should have trusted themselves. Within minutes they were folding paper, experimenting with 3D shapes, considering reinforcement, balance, and surface area. They were laughing, sneaking looks at what their friends were doing in other groups. “It’s okay to do that guys, you are researching designs and outcomes!”
To finish, students wrote their reflection on how it went. This provided a great opportunity for those who were a little more reserved in the process to contribute. This activity elevated creativity, technique, and design, highlighting often hidden assets of some more quiet or beginning students.
Day 2-3: Idiom Challenge & Puzzles
I introduced Problem Solving Idioms in a Quizlet set. Even though idioms are an advanced skill, my beginners and intermediate students are capable. Additionally, they need exposure and I have some who are leaping up into advanced proficiency and I wanted to challenge them. Then I challenged my 2 beginner/ intermediate classes to a competition. I also challenged my other 2 classes of advanced students to their own competion. The rules were simple. Any attempts to verbally use the idioms in their speech the most before spring break wins donuts. Let’s get back on track!
First, a Word Search. We made cross-linguistic connections. In Spanish, it’s called “Sopa de Letras” or “Soup of Letters.” The Spanish paints a visual for me! Familiar to all, I found that they hadn’t stopped to think about the prepare/ plan step. What strategy do they follow anyhow? There were a variety of responses. I set a stopwatch. And once again, we timed ourselves to see who finished fastest. It was exciting to see students shine.
Then we filled out the problem solving table for the Word Search.
Next, a Birthday Party Seating Chart. Ah my teenagers could identify here. All the friends are invited but some pairs are fighting and some want to be seated with their BFF or novio(a). I modeled. I “sat” the first pair and “separated” the second pair of exes, then released the students with a stopwatch to see who finished fastest. Then they filled out the problem solving chart in the back.
Day 4: Prep for Problem Solving Journal
I had the students create their own problem solving journal with a colored sheet for a cover, 3 sheets of white paper, stapled, with their first page, re-written as a guide. We will use this for our video game unit to record the application of the problem solving process, Step 4, “Reflect” to be guided by an insert Mood/ Emotions Table printed for their journal. Each page will name the challenge and the four steps will be completed, with support, by the student.
Extra!: The problem solving process has already crossed over into our other learning activities! Several occasions when reading, students have asked, how do I say this word? I refer back to the process. Step 3! Try! Then they smile and jump in with their attempt.
“Holly. Next year, we are co-presenting,” Katie Miller informed me at Pittsburgh TESOL 2022. Katie, or as I knew her, “Duda” is my friend and colleague from graduate school. We graduated together in 2007, 2 of a cohort of dedicated students of linguistics, self-named “the trenchers.” We were in the trenches of phonology, syntax, and sociolinguistics, the beast of the Applied Linguistics program second semester. We attacked it together- study marathons, pizza and $2 pint nights at Cogans, and nerdy language jokes binded us all.
I hadn’t seen her in person for about 15 years, but serendipity and purpose re-united us in Pittsburgh. I knew she had presented virtually at TESOL on an ESL pre-engineering class she taught the year and was also teaching a fundamentals math class. She is the E and M in #STEM and I’m the T.
So here we are, year 3 of her, me, then us at TESOL presenting on STEM education with English learners.
Our presentation highlights one of the best outcomes of why we would teach coding and STEM to ELs: it promotes resilience, persistence, and a tolerance for problems–all of which are needed in learning a language. Learning a language is a long haul, not a semester class. It necessitates a learner’s mindset. How can we as EL teachers cultivate this mindset? STEM.
We organized our talk around 3 points: the problem of fear, opportunities to “fail” in STEM, and strategies to help our students “fail forward.” One of my favorite outcomes of preparing for this presentation was our discussion on how do we support our #EL students in our content? What kind of framework do we follow?
One, teach the language. For EL teachers, this is our strength! Tap into what you know. Teach the imperatives, the complex sentence structure, vocabulary development from general to specific to technical, multiple meaning words, problem solving language. Choose the language demand required of the lesson and go! Ways can include creating language guides with sentence stems, visuals/ gifs which explicitly explain and demonstrate vocabulary, conduct surveys, & pre-teach and play games with the vocabulary. Often to play games I’ll create sets in Quizlet and later export the Quizlet sets to Blooket. 7 minutes of a lesson used to practice, play, and apply. Check out an example set here, words like strength, weakness, puzzle, improve, develop, overcome, suggestion are cross-curricular and need-to-know in all disciplines.
Two, embed more opportunities to fail in the lesson sequence. In computer science, we introduce concepts with a real world activity first which later extends into a coding activity. Unplugged 🔌 to plugged💻. These are fun and build excitement, which carries over into project.
Three, leverage interactive support. In the WIDA world, interactive support is one of the 3 primary ways we can support ELs. In computer science, it’s known as peer programming. This can look different. One student can program and the other can offer guidance, input, and problem solve sitting by their side. Another way is one student can write code, another can read the code and predict what will happen, and then they test it together. Students work better together figuring out a puzzle. They help each other, learn to ask for help, and build relationships in the process. Both my loud and quiet students are all in when I assure them as I’m giving directions/model expectations, “You’ll get to talk soon, I promise, guys.”
Last, teach and embed social and emotional reflection. Teach them to move beyond, “I felt good” to “I felt accomplished.” Include sequence and extension, “At first, I felt _______. After its completion, I felt _____. Students can journal, participate in a poll, turn and talk, identify a feeling on a gradiency and then expand their choice with the why behind they feel. They try, fail, succeed, repeat–and know what they’re experiencing. CheckoutDuda’semotions/ moodstable below!
My current lane is secondary ESL, however my first experience in preK-12 was in the primary grades. My National Board Certification is in English as a New Language (ages 3-12) and I spent 9 years teaching primary with a focus on sweet ESL students ages 4-5. To renew my original certification, I crafted a coding lesson for a group of “borrowed” students at the local primary school. Here are the slides that I created to support my lesson. Feel free to use them!
When I observed prior to teaching the guest lesson, I saw that the students were reviewing life cycles—YES! There’s an opportunity for sequencing! Perfect. What subject matter? Animals? Plants?
Corn! A big lump with knobs, it’s got the juice! No–that viral Tiktok video came out a year later. I had a better hook.
I pulled the kids into the lesson with a big bag of Maseca, which has a picture of corn on the front. Maseca is corn flour, primarily used by my hispanic families to make tortillas. In fact, they will often call corn flour by it’s company name, just as in English a person will say, do you have a Kleenex meaning facial tissue, they will say I bought Maseca, meaning, corn flour.
I then taught the life cycle of corn with beautiful images by Mommyhood Montessori Learning, purchase yours from her store on teacherspayteachers here.
In this lesson, I focused on the skill of debugging, that is, problem solving. For English language support, I taught the students to first identify what was missing and then, explain where it belongs. These students were Level 2 students and needed opportunities to extend their discourse. Explaining is one of WIDA’s Key Language Uses, it’s a prominent use of language across the curriculum as we see here in the Language of Science Standard and also, I’d add, the language of computer science.
Each student identified what was missing then we explained in chorus, “______ is missing! It is not where it belongs. It belongs after the ______.” See one of the five images on missing stages below.
After the students practiced verbally identifying and explaining, we moved into the coding portion of the lesson. At what stage does the Harvester pick the corn? When it is ripe. I took them to Code.org’s free PreReader Express curriculum and introduced them to Lesson 5: “Programming the Harvester,” the students would program the harvester to pick the ripe corn.
Now these primary EL students had practice problem solving, they simply needed some simple, explicit vocabulary instruction before we watched the tutorial. We learned code, blocks, and attach.
Next, Code.org’s tutorial on the Harvester:
Result? The students were more than prepared! Using the same language that we used with the life cycle activity, when they encountered a bug (CS for an error), they identified what block was missing, explained that it was not where it belonged, and solved the problem, “It belongs after the ____ (in the code!).”
The students identified and explained in two contexts–the life cycle activity and coding. The coding reinforced the WIDA Key Language Use, explaining. Students learned the Language of Science and had an introduction on how to code!
Upon reflection, my one piece of advice would be to split this into two 30 minute lessons. I fit it all into one, and we would have loved more time to code! If you’re a primary ESL teacher, try this lesson out, and let me know how it goes!
Many of us would self describe as being a liason, advocate, or my favorite, school mom. There can be an invisible barrier between our language learners and monolingual student body and faculty. This is not an unfamiliar role. It is this very role, which is exciting! EL teachers are uniquely positioned to carve out a door to coding for our students.
I recently had the privilege of meeting such passionate educators in Prince George County in Maryland who are about to launch into a semester long class through Loyola University on integrating coding in English language learning. I’m also thrilled to present soon at the 2023 Virginia English Supervisor’s Association on Coding for ELs. The movement is beginning!
If you’re reading this and an ESL teacher, you are familiar with language acquisition supports because you regularly utilize them as you craft your lessons. What are some opportunities for language development in a coding lesson?
Today let’s dig in to tutorial videos. Before I start my students on a coding assignment, they watch an accompanying tutorial video.
I have found that tutorial videos for CS platforms like CS First for Google and Code.org do not assume background knowledge. Further, they are unparalleled in their step-by-step, explicit breakdown. They are created for those with no coding experience. This approach is unsurprising– computer scientists are computational thinkers who regularly communicate with machines whose algorithmic needs demand explicit, precise, perfect directions. Their slow, careful explanations are a boon for our students! Boom!
These tutorial videos are listening practice. These platforms often make their videos accessible in an alternative format. CS First for Google, for example, makes its videos downloadable. Code.org publishes its videos on YouTube. This provides opportunity for the EL teacher to embed comprehension questions in educational platforms. I link them in Edpuzzle or Nearpod.
The kinds of comprehension questions I embed teach my EL students the importance of context, multiple meanings of words, and difference between general vocabulary and technical vocabulary usage. Check out an example with my commentary HERE!
Some questions read:
The best synonym for “sprite” in computer science is______.
Click the code tab and select the “Looks” menu. The word “menu” here means ______.
A. a list of appetizers, lunch, drinks, and dinner options.
B. a list of direction options that can be selected.
Blocks from the event menu tell the computer when to run code. This can be best described as:
For the first and only time ever, the FIFA World Cup occurs during the school year. Usually held in the summer, the heat of the host country Qatar had FIFA move the soccer tournament to the early winter for its balmy 85-90 degree days. In the summer, temps reach a scorching 120 degrees!
This makes for a lot of passion in the classroom! But where there’s excitement, there’s opportunity. It’s been a springboard for a thematic unit where we have explored symbolism of flags, geography, politics, predictions & justification, competition, idioms, surveys, data, graphs, and more.
As we approached #CSEdWeek2022 and #HourofCode during our unit, Tynker.com promoted its Coding Cup by BYJU. Sounded like a great extension and an opportunity to revisit coding!
Explicit vocabulary instruction first! To support my students, I taught & reviewed some key terms in a Quizlet set.
They included soccer vocabulary: players, jersey, to train, to be on defense, striker, goalie and also CS subject & process vocabulary: strategy, evaluate, loop, command, upgrade, conditional logic. Students repeat the vocabulary 3x. We identify its equivalent in Spanish, discuss its definition with a visual, and sometimes, an example turns out a laugh–A loop is like what I see some of you doing in the hallway on a bathroom pass! I see you walk around and around and around over and over again!
To warm up, we loved the Kahoot! World Cup sponsored by Tynker. Even the most diehard futball fans had to think about the regulation size of a soccer ball and the sequential order of the last 4 World Cup hosts–I mean, were they even born 12 years ago in 2010 when South Africa hosted? Well, done.
Creating the team and designing the jerseys was a win–“I’m going to make Honduras!” I overheard.
Next, the training. The students coded their players moves in the training modules. They would have enjoyed being able to challenge each other to a match, not be relegated to play against random teams, but it was still highly enjoyable. I know, though, if they had that option, they would never stop coding!
We ran out of time so we extended our hour of code into the next class. I fronted the next lesson with an unplugged activity to explain the concept of conditionals. I had the students prepare a game in the mode of the classic children’s movement game red light/ green light. Each student wrote two direction cards for the game following the sentence frame “If_______, then_______, otherwise (else)_______.” Most questions written were strategic! “If you have a bird as a pet, take two steps forward, otherwise take zero steps.” Then they lined up and followed the directions as I read the directions.
This eased my students into manipulating conditionals again. Now there was a more solid understanding of what a conditional required, e.g., If I have the ball, then shoot. Else (Otherwise) move to the ball.
What I would have loved to see would be to be given access to the analytics without a paid prescription, so I could centralize tracking my student’s progress through the modules. Code.org offers theirs free, so I was really left wanting. No doubt it would be great to have a paid account! I’d explore Tynker’s Coding Cup with my students again–sooner than 4 years from now when there’s the 2026 World Cup!
It was a fun time being interviewed by DIESOL hosts Ixy Reyes and Brent Warner on the DIESOL Podcast, which highlights #edtech for ESL. Listen HERE to episode 74!
We talked across the country coordinating three time zones! The message emphasized how accessible it is to integrate coding in EL instruction and why we in the EL community should open up to computer science integration.
I enjoyed particularly talking about why EL teachers. We traditionally come from world language and ELA backgrounds, and computer science seems techy, mathy, and left-brained.
We EL teachers are a unique set, on the forefront in the education community with supporting language development and content knowledge to speakers of other languages. This means we are particularly positioned to forge new pathways of accessibility for our students in areas of study where they would historically have had limited to no access.
Important for EL teachers to realize is computer science and coding is crosscurricular. And we teach language through content. Coding itself integrates with and enhances the core subjects ELA, science, social studies, math, and more! (Social & Instructional language, art, and marketing anyone?) The WIDA standards are the language of ELA, the language of science, the language of social studies, the language of math.
Let this grab your attention, EL community!
With such a connection, there is opportunity. Let’s break open opportunity for our students. When you include coding in your instruction, you are not just integrating coding–you are teaching language in the subjects. Our students leave our class with extensive language practice, increased content knowledge, and have explored a new discipline.
Advice to Start
Become the student again. Explore. Try. Fail. Succeed. Positioning ourselves in this role is powerful for us and our students. As learners, and can share this learning experience beside our students. We can! EL teachers, let’s go, let’s code!