Graphic Novel Review- Secret Coders Series

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I love graphic novels, books about gaming, and books that promote problem solving.

Other Gene Luen Yang Graphic Novels

When I was in the English classroom, one of my favorite books to recommend to students was Gene Luen Yang’s Level Up. I loved it and so did my freshmen students. It was one of those books that I could hand to a hesitant reader and they would just gobble it up! American Born Chinese was also a favorite because it was such a quirky bildungsroman story about being an awkward teenager. Even though it is about being a Chinese American, the heart of the book is about being uncomfortable in your own skin. (AND ISN’T THIS WHAT EVERY TEENAGER FEELS?!?!?)  But I digress…

Secret Coders Series

So you can see why I was stoked when First Second offered to send me the first four books of the graphic novel series Secret Coders.  I read them quickly and then passed them on to my 8 YO. As I’m writing this review, she is re-reading them. She just LOVES this series.

I asked her, “What do you love about it?”

She said simply:

  • It’s about coding
  • It’s a mystery

And that is exactly what is so awesome about Secret Coders! In this series, the main character Hopper moves to a new school only to find that she is surrounded by puzzles and mystery. Working with her new friends, she learns the Logo language and has to program a robotic turtle to draw patterns that unlock the clues to her school’s past. Meaning, she has to use logic and math to problem solve, create art, and solve each puzzle. This book is exemplar at gamifying math and programming. Plus, it shows how math is ART. This type of directional coding is good for laying a foundation with conditional statements across platforms and troubleshooting/persevering.

One of my favorite things about this series is that Yang includes puzzles for the reader to solve like this one below:

“Go ahead. Give it a shot. Try to write a program that can do my homework.”

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A Little History Note:

Wait…Logo? YES! This book is based on the Logo language created by Seymour Papert, Wally Feurzeig, and Cynthia Solomon. This language was a learning tool that was later developed to program a robotic turtle that held a drawing pen. Students use math to program the turtle to take simple shapes that create intricate designs. Read more about the  Logo history here.

More Coding Books for Kids

There are lots of great coding books out there to get kids interested. Here are just a few. Please share your favorites in the comments.

Thank you @patrick.benfield ! #papert #logo #papertforthepeople #latergram

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3rd Grade Monster Paper Circuits with Chibitronics

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Last week Mrs. Merritt wanted to have her class create some monster paper circuit cards for Halloween. She shared a lesson and template with me that she found online. It was a great template, but instead of just assembling a template with a pre-done drawing, I suggested having the students create their own monster drawings to accompany the glowing monster eyes.

Since I always start with a template and then have students draw, my plan was to for students to use a parallel circuit template first. Then after having a successful circuit creation, they could draw monsters to go around the lights.  However, Mrs. Merritt was one step ahead of me! Her amazing students had already drawn monsters…and I’m so glad they did! It challenged my thinking and the way I normally attempt paper circuits with kids.

All of the students had very different drawings, so the placement of the battery and LEDs would have to be determined by each student on an individual basis (and in under an hour!)

I came to Mrs. Merritt’s room on Halloween and asked the students if they could define parallel lines. Serendipitously, they’d just learned that parallel lines are two lines that never intersect. (We repeated the mantra over and over throughout the session, that the two lines could not intersect or they would have a short circuit.)

I shared that we would be working together to create a parallel circuit to light up the monster drawings created the day before. To help guide them, I showed the students this great tutorial from Jie Qi. I also had a copy of the parallel circuit template available at each table group as a reference.

Students had to draw out where to place the battery and draw the positive and negative trace. Once they’d drawn the circuit, I gave them copper tape and a battery. (Mentioning over and over not to pull all the backing off the tape, but rather affix the tape slowly and press down on the tape with a thumbnail to make a smooth connection.) Once the two parallel lines looked manageable, I handed them chibi stickers.

About twenty minutes in, I got a little worried because the kids were having a lot of problems creating their own circuit and finding success. I looked at Mrs. Merritt and said, “Oh, I should’ve warned you that this might be frustrating at first, because a lot of kids are going to run into problems.”

And run into problems they did! But the motivation to get those monster eyes shining brightly pushed our kids to persevere! To help debug, I showed students how both “legs” or copper pads of the LED had to touch a circuit trace and how to add tape to try and fix or debug their faulty paper circuits. Sometimes, the students problem was only that the copper trace wasn’t touching one side of a battery. Once a student understood how to get a working circuit, they quickly turned to help a friend. It was amazing to see them struggle and then turn around and become the teacher. By the end of our short time, they all had at least one LED working. It was pretty phenomenal! Plus, by creating their own circuitry instead of following a template, they seemed to have a better grasp of how paper circuits work. One kid kept repeating, “I just want one LED, because I don’t want the second LED to steal the power.”

It was a fast and furious making session, and I’m so happy to see such young makers push through and problem solve to find success!

Here’s a Clips video I made throughout the one hour session. You can see how each circuit is different and how much debugging went into some of their work. Plus you can see almost every drawing in this quick under a minute video:

What are your favorite paper circuit activities to try with students? What other ways have you integrated paper circuits with your curriculum?