Monday, May 8, 2017

Not Just a Book: Outdoor Learning Fosters Early Writing

As we've been exploring outdoor learning, we've been inspired by the book Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis to learn with natural materials. Our student teacher, Kim Williment, planned a fantastic learning experience focused on this book and sticks. All the JK students brought a stick from home, and after reading the book, we explored a variety of math concepts--ordering our sticks by length, using our sticks to measure distance, counting the sticks, and forming numerals with them. Next, the junior kindergarten kiddos were very excited to come up with their own imaginative ideas for their sticks! We used the app Book Creator on our classroom iPads to create our own version of Not a Stick.

Take a look at Not a Sandbox written by the SK class, also inspired by this book.
The SK class decided to write a book about sandboxes as we don't have one on our playground, and we would really like to get one. Together with our student teacher Mrs. Williment, we brainstormed all the creative ways that a sandbox would help us learn and took pictures using an iPad. Next, we uploaded the pictures to Office 365 One Drive (follow this link to get your own free educator/student account) and used SMART Notebook to create a digital book. Next, we exported the pages as JPG files and uploaded them to Mixbook. The exciting thing about using Mixbook is we can embed the final project on our blog and classroom Facebook page and get it professionally printed too! We are sharing this book with our parent advisory council in hopes they will fund our sandbox project. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Walking for Polar Bears, Part 2: The Big Day

With the fundraising well underway and a developing knowledge of climate change, it was time to plan the actual event. We had decided at the project's inception that the walk would take place at Brandon University, as I really wanted to expose my young learners to university at an early age. Also, it made more sense to bus our students to Brandon than make my big kids from BU drive out in separate vehicles. However, no project is without some bumps in the road...

Mrs. Obach and I had a big discussion about whether or not it was reasonable to bus kids to Brandon in a project designed to raise awareness about climate change. Did it make sense to put more vehicles on the road when that was the very thing we were trying to stop? We thought the best way to handle this issue was to take it to our students. Leah's Grade 1 class had an excellent debate using the "tug of war" strategy  and raised many valid points about why we should travel to Brandon. In the end, we decided it was better to take two buses than multiple cars, and the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages.

Early in the project, I had asked Dr. Duncan about using the walking track at BU's Healthy Living Centre. However, the director of the centre felt that 21 big kids, 21 kindergarten kids, and 23 Grade 1 students was just too many to accommodate. What to do? With unpredictable Manitoba weather in a busy city, was walking outside a wise or safe idea? My kindergarten class brainstormed alternative locations, and we called Shoppers Mall Brandon and Keystone Centre. However, it didn't seem like a good use of time to walk in one location then travel to BU for learning activities after. This problem was solved by my big kids at university. They proposed walking around campus, going in and out of buildings to keep warm. This also gave our students a great overview of the entire campus. Problem solved!

In the days leading up to the actual walk, the JKs partnered with my big kids to create a green screen movie using the app Do Ink. My junior kindergarten class had taken a special interest in climate change and developed the understanding that by helping the earth, we also help polar bears. This movie showcased what we can do to slow climate change.

We also participated in a fantastic video call with Mr. Andy McKiel and the Hamiota Grade 1 class. Andy had travelled to Churchill a few years ago with a Discovery Education team to get up close and personal with polar bears. His amazing pictures and interesting information about polar bears absolutely captivated our young learners. Thank you so much for sharing!

Perhaps what was most exciting was the work my big kids did at BU. I wanted these future teachers to gain first-hand knowledge of project-based learning as it is so well-suited to multi-age/multi-level classrooms. They followed the project through all its stages, and then they stepped up to plan the events at BU. We made a list of what tasks needed to be accomplished, and the students worked in groups to complete them. We looked at each task and discussed what curricular outcomes would be met and how students of diverse abilities could be accommodated. I felt it was a real "a ha" moment for a lot of my students as they realized how interdisciplinary and inclusive project-based learning is!

One group was in charge of mapping the route we would take for our polar bear walk. A PDF of the campus and a Microsoft Surface pen was a fantastic tool!
 Another group of big kids developed a schedule for the day.
 Another group was in charge of advertising and contacting the media.
 One group had the brilliant idea that we needed a photo booth! And we also decided that a polar bear mascot for the walk would be amazing!
And finally our big day arrived! It was an amazing day that couldn't have gone better--take a look at our video!
This was one of my all-time favourite projects as it was such a unique collaboration among two classrooms, Brandon University, and World Wildlife Fund Canada. Together we raised $243 for polar bears. Everyone involved saw what a difference we can make when we work together. My young students built knowledge about polar bears and climate change as well as strengthened their early literacy and numeracy skills, and my big kids developed their abilities in a project-based learning approach. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Walking for Polar Bears, Part 1: When Little Kids and Big Kids Collaborate

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that my littles love helping animals. Before Christmas, my JK students planned and executed a fantastic Reindeer Rescue Art and Craft Sale to adopt five reindeer from World Wildlife Fund Canada. And when they returned from Christmas holidays, their interest in and desire to help polar animals hadn't faded one bit. So when I received an email from WWF Canada about an upcoming polar bear walk (founded by a 7 year-old boy a few years ago), I knew without a doubt they'd be interested. What I didn't realize was just how big this project would grow to become and all the stakeholders who would join us!

I knew that my SK students had felt a bit sad when they heard all about the JK's reindeer project from them at daycare, so I decided that both JK and SK classes would be a part of our new polar bear project. The JKs asked the SKs if they would be interested in working on a polar bear walk project, then the SKs decided to Skype Mrs. Obach's Grade 1 class and ask them if they would like to join us too. When this project began in January, I had just started teaching pre-service teachers in the Faculty of Education at Brandon University. My kindergarten students were very interested in my "big kids", so I asked them if we should invite the big kids to help with the project. My JK class made a little video that we shared with my BU students and they agreed to work with us too! My big idea surrounding the project had two components: my little ones would engage in project-based learning to develop important skills, meet curricular outcomes, and make a difference in the world. My university students would monitor the evolution of the project through weekly updates and collaborate with our classes to plan a polar bear walk, increasing their comfort level with project-based learning. It worked beautifully!

The most powerful tool we used for our collaborative project-based learning was Microsoft One Note (a web and app-based digital binder/notebook tool). With my kindergarten learners offering suggestions for the sections, I created a notebook for us to document and share our learning and plan our polar bear walk.  We shared our One Note with Mrs. Obach's class and both of us were able to contribute a variety of content--photographs, links to resources, videos, and text. We were able to use the pens on our SMART Boards to print information into the One Note as well, which was great for our beginning writers. Each day we began our learning by reviewing the facts and resources in the One Note notebook, and it was a game-changing way for us to collaborate on such a large project. At university, I regularly shared the notebook to show the big kids what was happening in the project and discuss the learning taking place. This was the perfect way to build my big kids' knowledge of project-based learning, and demonstrate how it is such an effective approach for meeting the needs of diverse learners.
As it often is, knowledge construction was a key component of the project. We needed to learn all we could about polar bears, understand what was happening in Canada's north, and find out how we could help them. We read books and watched videos, recording important facts in our One Note. A video call with Andy McKiel and Mrs. Obach's class was especially enlightening. Mr. McKiel had spent a week in and around Churchill and had a wealth of knowledge and stunning photographs to share with us. As always, Skype was an important tool in our project-based learning. We had regular video calls with Mrs. Obach's class to share our knowledge and plan the walk.
My SK students used Duck Duck Moose's Draw and Tell app to share their emerging understandings of polar bears. Check out the sample below.
video
As we built understanding about polar bears and the challenges they face, our project splintered in two directions. The JK students were really interested in investigating why the ice is melting, and I was really impressed by their insights. (Why don't we just use cold water and make more ice for polar bears? If the ice is melting, it must be because it is getting hot in the Arctic. Why is it getting hot?) We did some research and learned that garbage and pollution are making "bad air" that is causing the earth to heat up. These higher temperatures are melting the ice. The JK students made the connection that helping the earth helps polar bears! They decided to make a video to encourage others to help the earth to help polar bears. Green Screen by Do Ink and Pixabay were invaluable in creating our video. We included the big kids from BU in our video as well as the SK class, and we used Do Ink to green-screen a variety of copyright-free background images from Pixabay.

The SKs decided to scale up our impact and raise more money and awareness for polar bears. Since time was of the essence, I went with their first idea--let's sell Timbits! We decided to sell two Timbits and a white ribbon pin that people could wear to show their support of polar bears for a toonie. In 20 minutes, we sold out and raised $100 to add to our polar bear walk fundraising! Although this was a quick little activity, we fit in a ton of learning.
-shared writing to draft a letter home to families
-printing signs
-surveying classrooms to find out how many students in each and recording the numerals
-cutting our notes in half, counting the correct amount for each class, and labelling them with the correct number and grade
-using non-standard measurement (cubes) to measure the length of each ribbon
-developing scissor skills as we cut 50 pieces of ribbon
-oral language skills as we worked at our sale
-counting the toonies by 2s and loonies by 1s to see how much money we raised
Throughout this process we planned our walk...which was not without a few challenges! Learn more in a future post.



Monday, January 30, 2017

Teacher Wellness Series, Part 4: What Yoga Teachers Do When They're Sick

Well it finally happened. After 8 years of teaching kindergarten and two years of a daily yoga practice, I have a rock solid immune system and I'm seldom sick. But after a non-stop Christmas season, airport/airplane travel germs, and a 60 degree temperature change returning home from Cuba, the inevitable occurred. Sore throat, runny nose, and just generally feeling yucky. So what do I do when I'm sick to make myself feel better and hopefully recover as quickly as possible?

*Please note that these are my personal wellness practices only and not intended as medical advice. Please do not attempt these yoga poses and practices unless you are already familiar with them and have a regular yoga practice. At all times, listen to your body and do what feels best for you.*

Gentle Yoga Practice
Although I'm not exactly eager to get on my mat, I do know that I'll feel SO much better if I do. It's not the time for a vigorous vinyasa flow practice, but gentle poses held for a minimum of ten breaths make a world of difference to my ability to breathe and think clearly while boosting my energy.

Immune-Boosting and Cold-Fighting Yoga Sequence

Mantra: I've read that chanting in Sanskrit and "OM"ing produce vibrations that loosen mucus in your nose, throat, and lungs to keep everything moving. I begin my practice with the mantra I learned at my first yoga training that invokes bliss, divine consciousness, and truth. Or, calling the sound "OM" several times in a row is equally effective.

Breathing: kapalabhati (skull-shining) breath is a warming breath that cleans out the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system. Follow this link for complete instructions. I usually do four cycles of 25 breaths each.

Joint Mobility Series: in my hatha yoga teacher training, we began every asana practice with a series of movements to warm up all the joints in the body. I usually repeat each movement about ten times in a comfortable seated position on my mat.
1) Raise to chin to ceiling, inhaling up, exhaling down
2) Look over each shoulder (inhaling across, exhaling as you look over your shoulder, torso remains stable)
3) Chin to chest, inhale up to the shoulder, exhale back down to centre. Inhale up to the other shoulder, exhale back to centre. Full neck circles are an option if you have that mobility.
4) Extend arms at shoulder height, palms face the ceiling. Inhale, touch fingertips to tops of shoulders, exhale to extend arms again.
5) Arms circles: can extend arms fully and circle forward, then backward, letting breath flow. Or, you can touch fingertips to the tops of shoulders and point elbows to the front. Draw circles with your elbows, exhaling down and inhaling as you circle back around. Change directions.
6) Gently shake out hands and wrists. Extend arms in front, inhale to make fists. Exhale as you shoot fingers out.
7) Wrist circles, letting breath flow. Change directions.
8) Extend legs long on mat. Contract toes on your inhale breath, extend on your exhale breath.
9) Inhale to point toes to the ceiling. Exhale to point them away from you.
10) Ankles circles, letting breath flow. Change directions.
11) Draw knee into chest on the inhale breath. Kick your leg out on the exhale, completely releasing your leg as you kick. If you have knee problems, support your leg under the knee as you do this. Ten times, each leg.
12) Take legs wide, feet are flexed and toes point to the ceiling. Ground down firmly through sit bones. Inhale to lengthen through the spine, on the exhale circle chest low over your legs and the floor. Change directions.
13) Bring legs into butterfly pose and flutter knees to reduce any tension in the groin.

Helpful Yoga Poses: hold for a minimum of ten breaths
-uttanasana (forward fold). Usually I do half sun salutations, beginning in tadasana, then flowing through upward salute, forward fold, half lift, repeating several times. If you are feeling up to it, work through a few full sun salutations.
-step back to plank, lowering to your belly
-crocodile, sphinx, and cobra, moving from a gentle to more intense backbend.
-bow pose: stretches your neck, chest, stomach, and back. Opening your neck and chest will lead to better breathing. -camel pose: will open up your back and chest even further while clearing out your passageways.-balasana (child's pose)-stretch onto your belly, then roll over onto your back -bridge pose: a mild yet effective way to open your chest, in addition to sending fresh blood to your head. I usually repeat this pose three times with variations, sometimes interlacing my fingers beneath my lower back to enhance chest opening.-wheel pose (if I'm feeling up to it)-apanasana (hug knees to chest)-headstand (salamba sirsasana): one of the most difficult yoga postures, yet it is incredibly energizing and detoxing to let stagnant blood rush from your toes, filter through your heart, and drain into your head.

-balasana (child's pose)
-savasana 
-meditate for a few minutes
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-and don't forget to conclude your yoga practice with a few OMs...inhaling fully through your nose, and releasing your breath as you call the sound "OM" through your mouth

Essential Oils 
I am having a passionate love affair at the moment with all things Saje. I love many of their products (their oil blend Yoga is constantly on the go in my house) and I turn to their cold and flu remedies when I'm down and out. I diffuse their Immunity oil while I sleep to clear my nose, and I also use their Immunity oil roller under my nose, on my temples, across my sinuses, and on the glands in my neck. The smell is soothing and helps to clear my congestion. No one has any issues with fragrance in my classroom, so I diffuse Immunity throughout the day there as well. The kids love my diffuser! Learn more about Saje's cold and flu products here.

Use a Neti Pot
This is an ancient yogic practice that has entered the modern world. Neti pots are available in most pharmacies (such as Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada) and come with packages of salt to which you add distilled lukewarm (or previously boiled) water. Bending over a basin or sink, you pour half the pot through one nostril and let it run through and out the other one. After you've irrigated one nostril, you blow your nose and do ten little puffs of air through each nostril individually and then through both nostrils. Then repeat on the other nostril.

Why use a neti pot?
-it thins out and flushes mucus from the nose
-helpful in treating sinus infections, allergy symptoms, and colds
-it leaves you feeling refreshed and breathing easier
-learn more here

Staying Hydrated
I try my best to push fluids constantly. Lots of lemon water (cold and warm) as well as tea. I'm a big fan of David's Tea all the time, and when I'm sick I turn to their Cold 911 and Throat Rescue teas.

Rest
It goes without saying, but lots of rest is key to a speedy recovery. Take care of yourself and consider spending a day at home in bed. And remember, teacher friends--self care is a priority and a necessity--not a luxury--in the work that we do.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reindeer Rescue Wrap Up

Well Christmas might be over, but we still had a few loose ends to tie up in my classroom. On the last day of junior kindergarten before Christmas holidays, we held our Reindeer Rescue Art and Craft Sale. Check out this earlier post to learn all about the project's inception, and take a look at what we accomplished since then!
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We used shared writing to draft letters to our school families to let them know about our upcoming art and craft sale. In our letter, we shared why we were doing this project and how and when they could support it. 
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Great scissor skill development, as well as a mini-lesson on the concept of half. We cut all the notes in half! 
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We visited every classroom in our school. The first time, we asked how many kids were in the classroom. Then we returned to our classroom and counted that many notes, bundling them and printing the grade and number of kids on each bundle. Then we delivered the notes. Such good practice in being brave and knocking on doors, asking questions, the number sequence, 1-1 correspondence, and printing numbers. 
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We were each responsible for doing some advertising. All of us called three people to tell them about the sale!

And finally the big day of the sale arrived. In the morning we set up our classroom and decided who would work at each station. We practiced what we would say to people when they came to our classroom. We made signs for each table so people would know how much everything cost. We did our best to copy the letters and numbers--great visual-motor coordination! 
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This was difficult but we did it! Our signs looked terrific, and our teacher was so proud of us for doing it independently. 
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Ready to sell some crafts!
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These handprint reindeer were very popular items! 
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We asked our families to donate cookies and sweet treats. This was a very popular table and all the JK kiddos wanted to work here! We decided to take turns. 
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Ready for our shoppers to arrive--we are so excited!
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Our sale was busy from the beginning and we sold nearly everything in no time at all!
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We went home with our parents after the sale, and our teacher locked up the money so we could count it after Christmas holidays!
When we counted the money, we discovered that we raised $181.25. Mrs. Caldwell decided to donate a little bit extra for an even $200. 

We visited the WWF website to find out how many reindeer we could help through the symbolic adoption program. We found out that we could adopt FIVE reindeer. We were so excited! We decided to use Skype Audio to call WWF in person and talk to them about our Reindeer Rescue project. We talked to a really nice woman and she congratulated us on our hard work. She said that it was so inspiring to see little kids making such a big difference in the world. Mrs. Caldwell got a bit tearful when she said this! 
And then last week our adoption kits came in the mail! We received five plush reindeer, adoption certificates, information about reindeer, and some nice posters. It was like Christmas all over again!

We are very eager to do some special activities with our reindeer. We might use them as reading buddies or take turns taking them home and photographing their adventures. Stay tuned for our next project--we're learning about other polar animals now and we have some big plans in the works! 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Reindeer Rescue: Project-Based Learning in Junior Kindergarten

I don't usually do a lot of project-based learning with my four-year old junior kindergarten students (at least not this early in the year). This year is different though--I have a stand-alone JK class of 14 very eager little learners, and it just seemed right to launch a Christmas project. My goal was to shift the focus away from Santa and getting presents to helping others and making a difference, while strengthening early literacy and numeracy skills. So, last week I asked my JK students if they would like to help people or animals as a special kind of Christmas gift. They were excited, and we immediately started brainstorming whom we could help.

Sometimes I can predict the outcome of these discussions, but not this time. My little ones were very adamant--reindeer needed our help. Reasons included:
-sometimes reindeer get lost and can't find their way home
-sometimes Santa's reindeer get hurt or stuck in snowbanks when delivering presents
-reindeer might get eaten by predators (excellent vocabulary) while they are sleeping
-people shoot reindeer

These were all very valid reasons in a four-year old brain, but I was not so sure that we could spin them into a difference-making project. As so often occurs in our project-based learning, we decided to do some research. We began by visiting World Wildlife Fund's website, and guess what animal needed help? Reindeer! We were interested to read that some species of reindeer were endangered due to climate change and industrialization in the north. Over-hunting is also an issue with the world's reindeer (caribou in Canada) population. Not to mention getting lost and not being able to find their way back to Santa at the north pole. This was a project with potential!

As soon as my kids saw that we could adopt a reindeer through World Wildlife Fund, they were sold. Adopting a reindeer costs $40, so our next discussion turned to fundraising. How would we raise $40? Answers included:
-going to the bank and asking for money because that's all you have to do
-asking our parents for money
-and finally a winner--selling the reindeer watercolour paintings that we painted last week!

And that was the beginning of Reindeer Rescue Art and Craft Sale! We decided to make a bunch of reindeer Christmas ornaments and art projects and sell them on Wednesday, December 21. We also decided to sell cookies. So far, our to-do list includes:
-make posters to advertise
-make a movie to advertise
-pick out projects on Pinterest
-make art projects and crafts
-invite people to come
And today, my students had the idea that we could write a song about reindeer. We decided to write an alphabet rap to promote helping reindeer and our sale, which was an excellent opportunity to work on our emerging rhyming skills.
We also began working on crafts today, and during playtime, some children chose to paint popsicle sticks and puzzle pieces brown for our first tree ornaments. 
In the next few days, we plan to build knowledge about reindeer by listing what we already know and posing questions for what we'd like to find out. I'm hoping to find a reindeer expert who can Skype in to our classroom. Stay tuned for more updates on our Reindeer Rescue project! 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Hour of Code: A Quick Guide to Coding in Kindergarten

Computer Science Education Week and Hour of Code are nearly upon us. How are you planning to participate in your classroom? Read this Q & A about coding and young children to help you get started! 

What is coding?
-basically, coding is computer progamming. It is when we give directions to a computer to make it do something. Computers exist in many forms (your mobile phone, iPad, washing machine, thermostat, etc) and they all use code to function. 

Why do you teach coding to kindergarten students?
-fun coding apps and activities introduce children to computer science at a young age, before they are intimidated by the idea of "programming a computer"
-coding exposes children to many exciting future career opportunities
-coding develops important skills such as problem-solving, creative thinking, ability to sequence, follow directions, and give directions. These skills transfer over to other subject areas and positively impact young children's overall development. 
-coding promotes tenacity, as children often experience failure and have to persevere to solve coding challenges 

What is "unplugged" coding?
-unplugged coding activities are a great way to begin with young children 
-students don't need to use technology to experience the benefits of coding, allowing you to develop the skills without a lot of additional screen time
-we begin by giving each other oral directions and following them to walk a path around the room or move a bingo chip on a number or alphabet grid 
-we transition to drawing our own code blocks and getting our friends to follow them (more on this later)
-this is an excellent way to build expressive and receptive language skills and students' ability to sequence 

What are your favourite coding tools and resources?
-excellent apps for young learners are Kodable and The Foos 
-both tools are available for multiple platforms and are supported with some good educator resources online
-neither require reading which is important for kindergarten students' success
-in Grade 1, my friend Leah Obach also likes Tynker and Scratch Jr
-some tools can be played online, which makes it easy to project over your computer for collaborative learning and exploration 
-other tools are app-based only, and I recommend airplaying them using an Apple TV or software such as Reflector
-Code.org is a goldmine of information, tutorials, and web-based coding activities (most are too difficult for little ones, but the first few levels can be done together on the SMART Board). 

Once again, Mrs. Obach's class and my kindergarten class are co-hosting a Kids Who Code Code-a-thon at Hamiota Elementary School for Hour of Code. We've been collaborating via Skype to plan this day of coding, and working hard in our classrooms to become experts with our designated apps. Take a look at what we've been doing in kindergarten this week! 

Unplugged coding is this simple! We used three squares on a SMART Notebook slide, then dragged different actions into each box. If we want our friends to repeat the action, we print a number beside it. 

Unplugged coding in action in senior kindergarten
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Mrs. Obach and I decided that my kindergarten class would become experts in an app called The Foos. At the code-a-thon, we will teach the Grade 1s and our special guests how to code using this tool. Mrs. Obach's students are in charge of Tynker and Kodable. Here are the simple tutorials we've created in SMART Notebook to teach our friends about The Foos.

The characters:
The coding blocks and how to use them:



Coding and computer programming can sound scary, but it really is this simple. Consider following these steps:
-try some unplugged coding activities as games or movement breaks
-have your students make coding blocks together, and then on their own
-download The Foos and Kodable to your devices (they're free)
-take an hour for you to play around with them (you'll get hooked and not want to stop)
-introduce it to your students by airplaying a device (The Foos is web-based too, although it is a simpler version) and working through a few levels together
-give your students time to explore and play on the devices. You might consider having them work in partners, or creating a coding centre with 4-5 learners at a time.
-come together as a group and discuss any challenges and how to solve them
-there you go, you just did MORE than an Hour of Code!

Good luck, and stay tuned for another post about our Kids Who Code Code-a-thon!