Friday, November 7, 2014

I'm a serif kind of gal.

I love typefaces. I fell in love with them during my graphic design classes in art school. I think that some of them are so beautiful, they give the words they display more meaning. They are a subtle way to add a level of expression to the words they spell out. "I love you" written in Times Roman is a much different expression than when it's written in Edwardian Script.

I have my favorites, of course, as everyone does. The delicate shifts in weight and graceful style of Garamond has stood the test of time. No one knows the story behind fonts. They just assume they appeared with the first computer. Typefaces have rich histories of how they came to be. I'm assuming anyone can guess that Times Roman was designed as an efficient and readable style for newspapers, but did you know that Baskerville was named after the man who designed it over 200 years ago? Sans serif typefaces are fonts that have square edges to the lines, with no points at the end. They were harder to chisel out of stone because it was difficult to get a square edge; it was easier to create the little feet that serif faces have.

People have been stealing and copying faces for centuries, which got even worse when computers showed up. Helvetica is the modern classic, the clean simple lines are used in hundreds of logos around the world and even on our government's tax returns. Be careful though, it was too good of a design to be left alone. Almost any typeface that starts with an "H" is a bastardized version of the original.

I could go on for hours and bore anyone with this stuff; I find it fascinating while most people just look at me funny and start backing away. I just think people should be more aware of typefaces, they are beautiful works of art that help communicate a message. The computer has made picking a font effortless, so try a new one every once a while. Trust me, anything written in Goudy will seem profound and anything written in Courier will make you look like a knucklehead. It's your choice.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hour of Code

I received some mail about the Hour of Code last year around this time. I had no idea what it was and I was barely interested in it, but I looked through it because I'm always looking for new things to add to my technology curriculum. I went to the website and watched the intro videos and started working through the activities. It took a few minutes, but I was hooked and I knew my students would be too. The Hour of Code introduces students to a skill they might not know they have; the extended linear thinking necessary to work through a problem.

I worked through the first hour and set up classes to use in my classroom immediately. I didn't know much about coding yet, but I knew more than them, and that's all I needed.

What was amazing when my students started working on it was the variety of students who took to it. I knew the bright kids would do fine, but even some of the students that, shall we say, "struggle" were able to grasp the concepts and really excel at this task. Since they so rarely get to be good at something in school, they embraced it all the more. It made me so happy to see them excel. A student that is often suspended was one of my assistants who I would ask to help others when they ran into trouble. I didn't have much to do with it, but I know that particular student felt really good in my classroom.

The big push with Hour of Code is coming up again next month, during Computer Science Education Week, which this year is December 8-14. They have expanded the website to include lots of activities that go deeper than the Hour of Code. They even have differentiated it for younger kids, with limited amount of reading necessary to include the tasks.

It's a year later, and I have now included a lot of programming lessons in my curriculum, and I think the kids love it. They see how this will be a skill they could actually use. I learned a lot, but I have so much more to learn. I presented my lessons at a few conferences, and the feedback has been very positive. I recommend any and every one to try it. It sounds scary, but trust me, it's actually fun. Being a geek can be cool.