Building Growth Mindset Through Coding

Building intellectual resilience among students is a core task of elementary education. Posing challenging tasks such as basic coding even at the elementary level pays great dividends and fosters a Growth Mindset among even the youngest students. On December 8, coinciding with the Computer Science in Education Week’s Hour of Code event, the American Library Association and Rosen Publishing released the Libraries Ready to Code video.

Designed as an advocacy tool it aims to increase awareness of the importance of library coding programs, activities and events, such as Hour of Code, “among decision makers, influencers and other stakeholders at all levels”. As part of the Libraries Ready to Code project launched earlier in 2016, the video is the first in a series to come out in 2017.

“Libraries are community hubs for learning a variety of skills relevant to modern life, and computational thinking skills learned through coding are among the most critical,” said ALA President Julie B. Todaro. “By showing what libraries can and are already doing to build a successful future for our nation’s youth, the Libraries Ready to Code video powerfully communicates the infrastructure of expertise and resources found in school and public libraries.”

The Hour of Code initiative was started by, a website and non-profit organization, to encourage K-12 students to learn to computer science and to spur schools to integrate computer sciences classes into the core math/science curriculum. In fact, coding is now understood as a modern literacy essential to a well-rounded education. With so many STEM-based careers, knowing how to code is considered a bonus in the job market.

Since its inception in December 2013, our K-5 library students have been participating in the Hour of Code (see previous posts: Coding: A New Literacy and Coding: Taking on the Challenge of a New Literacy). Every year, there are more and more app- and web-based tools for building student skill sets. For the first time this year, however, my K-2 students started “unplugged”, using some of the engaging activities published by We focused on algorithms (a tough concept for adults let alone K-2 students!) and there are also additional lessons on loops, conditionals, functions, and more. The purpose was to initiate comprehensive “algorithmic” thinking via step-by-step instructions using examples from students’ everyday lives, including getting ready for school in the mornings, how to make a peanut butter sandwich, and how to brush teeth. Without realizing it, students were able to define clear steps to complete a task or solve a problem. We then applied this knowledge to the fact that computers need to be given detailed step-by-step instructions to complete a task — to solve a puzzle.

All my students in K-5 used apps and websites employing visual block coding, making thought processes visible and allowing students to manipulate and control the block commands. Broadly, the learning goal was for students to be able to sequence instructions to achieve simple objectives. Kindergarten students “tinkered” with the Kodable app and 1st-grade students worked through Tynker’s Candy Crush. The 2nd graders completed the new Moana: Wayfinding With Code tutorial on’s site. Since 3rd grade was learning about the solar system, they coded either earth orbiting the sun or the moon rotating earth using the Scratch Jr. app. The 5th-grade students created animated Hanukkah cards on (4th grade students will engage in a longer coding unit beginning in January.)

Lily’s space coding project:

Remy’s space coding project:


Madelyn’s animated Hanukkah card. 


Maya’s animated Hanukkah card.


Through coding, my students become engaged collaborators. This collaboration is entirely natural, not forced or required, wherein students help each other and work through problems together. At times, frustration crept up in each class, presenting an opportunity to talk about perseverance. When I wrote “perseverance” on the board in my 2nd-grade class, a student was eager to explain the meaning of the word. He explained where a teacher helped him understand what it means to work through frustration by focusing and not giving up. While coding is about instilling new ways of thinking and problem solving in our students, the life skills these lessons foster are even more valuable. Every year, I’ve witnessed high student engagement, collaboration, focus, imagination, innovation, and resilience in my students through the introduction of coding exercises. In that sense, coding is not just about computational thinking and problem-solving abilities, but also about maturity and resilience.

Student teaching classmates how to code earth rotating around its axis.

Building the Hour of Code week into your curriculum fosters great opportunities for Growth Mindset learning all year long.

Assessment Need Not Be “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad!”

By Karin Hallett

When I was in elementary school, assessment was all about paper and pencil quizzes and tests. I love the alternative forms of assessment technology affords us today. (Also see my earlier post on Chatterpix: Creative Assessment in the Lower Grades.) While technology integration definitely requires a greater investment of time, especially with the younger students, the possibilities are great. Best of all may be that students do not even realize they are being assessed.

With my 1st grade students, I recently worked on text-to-self connections. This class of mostly boys loved listening to a read aloud of Judith Viorst’s  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day — exuberantly reading along the title line. After reading the story, I modeled several text-to-self connections repeating the same language.


The students easily related to all the “terrible, horrible” things happening to Alexander in the story and practiced making text-to-self connections. I then recorded them using the Tellagami app for iPad, creating a so-called Gami — an animated video, limited to 30 seconds in the app’s free version. I imported an image of the book cover to use as the background, chose a male or female character depending on student’s gender, and then recorded each student.

In the future, provided there is enough time as I am always struggling with my short 40-minute lesson allotment, I would love to have the students use the app themselves from uploading the image, to choosing a character’s clothing, hair color, and facial expression.

Infographics: Reporting Research Visually

by Karin Hallett
Media Specialist
Martin J. Gottlieb Day School

In language arts class, my 5th grade students read A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park (2010). The book tells the story of Salva, one of the thousands of Sudanese “Lost Boys” who was eventually airlifted to the United States in the 1990s. But it also tells the fictional story of Nya, a girl who walks twice a day to a pond to retrieve water. This pond is located four hours away. After reading the story, the students had lots of questions about Sudan and the Lost Boys, providing me with the opportunity for a perfect research project with this group of 10 kids.

Gathering General Information

Our first step was to complete a KW chart by brainstorming what we already know about Sudan and things we want to know. Then, armed with an organizer, students researched some general background information about Sudan. In library class, we had already spent time learning about credible sources, focusing on website evaluation. For this project, I re-introduced the students to the WorldBook Online and Kids InfoBits (Gale) databases as well as the Sweetsearch search engine.



Narrowing a Topic

Armed with some solid background information about the history and geography of Sudan in particular, and more questions based on this information as well as the story, each student decided on a research topic, including The Water Shortage in Sudan, The Two Civil Wars in Sudan, and The Lost Boys of Sudan, and completed a simple organizer focusing on their chosen topic.


Creating an Infographic

Rather than producing a written research report, I challenged each student to create an infographic. We looked at several infographic exemplars, noting their purpose–to present information visually while raising awareness about an issue or generate interest in a topic.

We also noted the different elements of a good infographic:

  • Layout that flows
  • Color schemes relevant to the topic
  • Focus on graphics rather than text
  • Graphics that represent the information
  • Presentation of facts and data
  • References/sources

Students used web-based Piktochart to create their infographics with most of them choosing one of the provided templates as a starting point. Having created My Life as a Reader infographics, students were already familiar with this tool.

Despite our review of purpose and design of infographics, several of my students still included lengthy paragraphs, finding it a challenge to cut the text down to its essentials and to identify a representative graphic. Clearly, creating infographics to present learning is not simply a regurgitation of information but involves the application of critical thinking skills.

While the software makes accessible a decent graphics library, most of my students imported Creative Commons-licensed maps, images, or clipart to include in their infographics. Students properly cited in MLA style their sources. Also, as part of our continuous discussion of creative ownership rights in both digital and print environments, students decided on and included a Creative Commons license on their final product.

infographics infogrpahics

The Civil Wars in Sudan by Jack H.

The Lost Boys of Sudan by Julia D.

The Water Shortage in South Sudan by Allie B.

The Recent History of Sudan by Abigail F.




Great session on STEAM.

STEAM works when standards from all subjects are being taught and learned.

One school created a Purim STEAM carnival. It included students creating games from cardboard boxes, creating costumes with secret pockets to hold candy, and creative ways to transport hamentashen.

Empowering Students With Meaningful Classroom Jobs

Alan November’s “Digital Learning Farm” was the inspiration for my classroom jobs. The idea couldn’t be more simple: people are empowered through meaningful work. Children used to be, in the times of farming, useful and necessary contributors to their families’ farms and other livelihoods. Once children’s work became going to school full-time, that feeling of usefulness and importance faded. Most teachers understand the importance of giving kids jobs to do, and many traditional classrooms do designate roles such as “line leader” and “pencil sharpener”to fulfill these needs. Digital tools offer the possibility of exciting upgrades to these jobs, allowing students to learn through doing while making authentic contributions to their communities.

I am experimenting with how to best structure this so that it becomes a deep learning experience for students. I introduced the jobs to 5th grade a few weeks ago, then introduced and started with 4th grade. I decided that students would need to apply for the job and, once “hired” would have a tenure of about one month.

Available Positions:
Global Connectors:
Tweet, look for and organize possible learning connections, manage maps
Researchers: Research information in response to questions that arise
Official Scribes: Take notes, write weekly summary post on classroom blog
Documentarians: Photo and video documentation of the week’s activities
Kindness Ambassadors: Make sure that all community members are included at lunch and recess, remind community members of habit of the month, model and recognize kindness, give appreciations and remind others to do so
Librarians: Keep classroom and virtual library shelves in order. Add books to class GoodReads shelves, keep GoodRead-Alouds wall updated, set appointments with Mrs. Hallett
Graphic Artist/Designers: Design things for the classroom and class blog- graphics, bulletin boards, displays, etc.

Job Requirements:
Previous experience is helpful but not required. You will be able to learn on the job. Most important qualities: proactive, self-motivated, desire to learn.
All classroom work must be up to date in order to be considered for a job.

Emails from Naomi Shemer

Each afternoon between 1 and 1:30 PM, I receive an email from “Naomi Shemer”.   Not the Naomi Shemer.  From the iPad in our school named “Naomi Shemer”.




One of our founding 21st century learning teachers, Silvia Tolisano, decided when we first got our iPads that we ought to name each one after a famous Jewish person and sneak a little extra learning in.  So we have iPads named “David Ben-Gurion” and “Ilan Ramon” and “Sarah Aaronsohn” and (of course) “Solomon Schechter” and so on.  Awesome idea.

And because of the way our gmail is constructed it also allows you to receive unexpected emails from from names you thought you would never see in your inbox!



Hey!  I just received an email from Naomi Shemer!  How awesome is that!

So…why is “Naomi Shemer” sending me a daily email?

Because my oldest daughter is in Grade 3 this year and according to their class blog:



And that is what happens.  Each day Eliana takes a picture with an iPad of where her clothespin ended up for the day and emails it to both me and her mother.  Besides the ease of communication the technology allows for, what I really appreciate about it is that it shifts ownership from the teacher to the student.  We typically talk about students “owning their learning” – this is an example of our students owning their behavior.

Grade Three is a pivotal year in our school when it comes to a student’s digital presence. We have blogfolios for each student in our school, Kindergarten through Grade Eight. [NOTE: We are in the second week of school here in Jacksonville and all of our blogfolios have not yet been carried on to the next grade.  They are going live as we update them.] But the teachers have primary responsibility for them in Grades K-2 – although reflection is there from the beginning, they function more like digital portfolios than true blogfolios.  Grade Three is when our students begin to assume ownership of their blogs and begin to learn how to be digital citizens.  They are beginning by learning how to comment on their own class blog.



I have written often about why we put such an emphasis on blogging in our school.  And I, myself, have been blocking off for the last couple of years about an hour a week to comment on student blogfolios.  But now I have the opportunity to view the experience wearing my parent hat.  And I can see the idea that “with 21st century learning education need not be bound by time and space” playing out before my eyes in my own kitchen. Eliana was not required to comment on her class blog and her teacher was not required to comment back.  But she was interested as we were cleaning up after family dinner and he was responsive during prep and now their student-teacher relationship has a different nuance than it otherwise would have had.

And both the father and the principal in me couldn’t be happier.