Tag Archives: coding

4 ways twitter bots can help save the world

The Good, the Bad, and the Bot

What does it look like when twitter bots work towards improving our world?

Bots have a rightly deserved rap for being used nefariously, but much less attention is paid to when they’re used in ways that enhance the world. And you may have students for whom the exercise of writing a bot can unleash their specific creativity and introduce them to the idea that writing code can be used to effect positive change.

twitter bots

Let’s take a look at four functions for twitter bots that can actually improve the world.

Wait, slow down. What’s a bot?

Great question. A bot is an account you create on twitter that tweets automatically. You can set it to tweet when:

  • a specific set of conditions are met;
  • or when the value of a variable changes;
  • or to just tweet out a specific string of text at intervals.

Bots exist on other social media platforms, like Facebook, but today we’re going to be looking at the ones on twitter.

But aren’t bots a bad thing?

Like almost everything else online, they sure can be. A few years ago, social media platforms including twitter had much more relaxed rules about bots, which led to some people creating many bots that were designed to impersonate real people, with the aim of influencing political elections. There’s evidence this may be ongoing.

But this form of coding — creating a small tool that can do repetitive action indefinitely or quickly parse large data sets — shows no sign of going away. It’s a coding exercise that shows no sign of wanting to return to Pandora’s Box, so it’s up to us squishy, breakable humans to figure out how to use it to make things better.

1. twitter bots performing radical self-care

One of the most pernicious aspects of social media is how it can be a massive time-suck. This can be good (waiting at the doctor’s office) and bad (um, any other time). Sometimes you just need a responsible bot to step in and remind you of the world outside your screen.

Meet @tinycarebot and @Yayfrens.


The two bots have a very simple, paradoxical purpose: to make twitter a more human place.

Additionally, most of their tweets encourage the user to work towards a healthy online-offline balance; that’s right, they exist online to help users remember to get offline.

Self-care bots you and your students could build:

  • A basic compliments bot;
  • A specifically class- or school-based compliments bot.

But what about a twitter bot that fights bullying? You can build a bot that’s set to search for certain terms and take actions based on them. So, for example, a bot keyed to search for the term “meanie”, could simply respond to each instance with “Hey, that’s not okay. We’re all here trying to be nice.”

Can someone build this for us, like, yesterday? Tia, you beautiful people, you.

2. twitter bots supporting civic engagement

One of the things twitter bots are best at is monitoring a data set and taking action when it changes. How does this make them good at civic engagement?

Angelina Bethoney wrote the twitter bot @LawsMass, which monitors which legislation is currently being worked on in Massachusetts. She made the code open-source, and encourages other people to write legislative bots for their own states. A good and easy way to keep paying attention to what’s going on in government.

twitter bots

Vermont does not currently have an Open States twitter bot. Hint, hint.

Another type of civic engagement bot is the popular “_edits” bot. Popularized by @NYPDedits and @congressedits, these bots simply make note of when the encyclopedic powerhouse wikipedia is edited. And by whom. As wikipedia continues to allow anonymous edits, bots like these that track edits to a range of IP addresses (such as those assigned to the NYPD, or Congress) provide valuable information.

What kinds of civic engagement bots could your students create?

  • How about partnering with your local school board in creating a bot that tweets out meeting agendas, guests and changes?


3. twitter bots creating art

Even though everything’s terrible, it’s still okay to make tiny, beautiful things. Maybe even because everything’s terrible. And you can make twitter bots that create and share tiny arts.

Meet the @BowieLyricsBot, and @grow_slow.

@BowieLyricsBot does what it says on the tin: shares a lyric from a random David Bowie song at one-hour intervals.

twitter bots

(Synchronicity: when two bot tweets appearing together in the timeline add up to a larger whole. Now all we need is a Police lyrics bot.)


@grow_slow, on the other hand, shares a daily photo of one plant, growing slowly.

@MuseumBot is a bot that tweets a photo of one item from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection each day, along with accompanying details.

They’re small, powerful acts of tiny art that interrupt the unending flow of misery current news cycle on a user’s feed with the reminder that things can still be beautiful.

What kind of tiny art could your students share with the world?

  • A photo of a classroom bulletin board each morning;
  • A collection of student art that’s added to at regular intervals;
  • A photo of a random place around the school paired with a motivational quote.
  • In partnership with a local museum or historical society, artifacts from their collections.

Bots like these are relatively simple: they pull one piece of data from a larger data set and send it out into the world at regular intervals. The biggest challenge with these will be with assembling a data set in a uniform format to pull from.

4. twitter bots monitoring remotely

Need to know when a specific condition changes? Think of a door being opened, then closed. A light turning on and off. A cat going in and out. Wait, wha–

@PepitoTheCat is a bot whose sole purpose is to record when Pépito, who is a cat, goes out at night, and when he comes back home. That’s it. It’s brilliantly simple and powerful. It performs two valuable operations. One, it records data based on these conditional events. And two, it’s creating a new record with all this data that can be examined later.

Think about how your students could implement something like this as part of a science experiment:

  • How often does the temperature drop below a given value in the turtle tank?
  • How often does the heat lamp turn on or off in the chicken coop?
  • Overnight, how fast does water evaporate?
  • How much snow did we get today?

These are super fun. They work by connecting with tiny science-y (yes it’s a word) sensors and recording data from them. So, in Pépito’s case, there’s a sensor on the door flap that registers every time the door is opened. This, in turn, triggers a camera to take a photo. The photo is then tweeted out with its timestamp.

Folks who are looking for next stage arduino projects, projects that actually do something? Right over here.

But remember, these type of bots are also collecting data while they tweet. They’re doing the work of building a data set for your students to later analyze. Remember @grow_slow?

Wait, this is starting to sound complicated.

A twitter bot like Pépito’s certainly needs some additional parts and a little more thought than one that simply cranks out quotes from your favorite Agatha Christie novels.

What kind of bot could your students create? What problems do they want to use it to solve?




Celebrating learning at Richmond Elementary School

4th grade researchers share Capstone Projects with community

celebrating learning at Richmond Elementary SchoolThis past Wednesday, 4th grade scholars at Richmond Elementary School, in Richmond, Vermont, shared the results of their research with their families and community. They opened the doors of their school to family and friends for Celebrating Learning at Richmond Elementary School.

I had a chance to attend the event and spoke with some of the students about their research work.

Continue reading Celebrating learning at Richmond Elementary School

2 tools for building hidden object games with students

Tie video game authorship to language learning

2 tools for making hidden object games with studentsLast time we looked at how hidden object games can support language learning, and how to assess students’ work with them. The next logical step, of course (some students might say it’s the first logical step) is to provide students with the tools to build their own games.

Let’s look at 2 tools for building hidden object games with students.

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Hour of Code at Essex Middle School

Students report enjoyment and challenges learning programming

Hour of Code at Essex Middle SchoolA huge congratulations to everyone — students, teachers and families — who participated in this year’s #HourofCode! The students from the Edge team at Essex Middle School were kind enough to share their reactions to trying coding, and a little bit about what they worked on.

Continue reading Hour of Code at Essex Middle School

4 great online tools for the Hour of Code

Global day of coding coming in December

4 great online tools for the Hour of CodeDecember 8th – 14th, students and educators around the world will be taking an hour to try their hand at computer programming. With coding being in such high demand, the #HourofCode is designed to jump-start an interest in computer programming in schools and find a way to work this new literacy into the classroom.

The #HourofCode website offers an educator how-to section, but we thought we’d share what we’ll be using come December.

Here’s 4 great online tools for the Hour of Code.

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5 off-beat ways to use QR codes in the classroom

By now, almost everyone’s familiar with QR codes, the distinctive-looking black-and-white graphics which, when scanned, take the scanner to a url. No? Not sounding familiar? Then how about:

5 off-beat ways to use QR codes in the classroom

If you have a phone, iPad or tablet with a QR-scanning app installed (we like Barcode Generator/Reader for Android, and Scan for iOS) open it up and center your cross-hairs on the image above.

QR codes can link to websites, event notices, coupons, blog-posts, podcasts — if it’s online, you can embed it. The QR code above links to a particularly compelling documentary video made by Montpelier’s U32 students, about school consolidation in Vermont, but that’s a story for another time.

But with QR codes becoming near-ubiquitous in our everyday environment, how can you make them new again?

Here are 5 off-beat ways to use QR codes in your classroom.

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New podcast ep: Making web apps at Williston Central

Vermont middle school educator created app at camp

Vermont middle school educator created app at campIn this episode of our  podcast, we’re going to be hearing from math educator Jared Bailey, who spent his summer vacation building a web app for his students, so they could have their homework assignments, practice drills, schedule and his contact info all in one place. As could their parents.

Bailey’s ethos was simple: he wanted it to be as simple as possible for students and their families to install the app on their mobile devices, and he didn’t want to deal with licensing issues or necessarily learn a ton of code. He just wanted his app to be convenient for students.

Continue reading New podcast ep: Making web apps at Williston Central

Teaching how to code with Processing

teaching code with Processing
This past summer, we hosted another successful year of Tarrant Code Camp, where campers from all over Vermont came together to learn iOS development, website design, gaming, robotics and art.

Yes, art.

UVM Computer Science professor Robert Snapp taught campers how to code through the use of Processing, a programming language that translates code into visual and audio movement. But can students really learn to code by creating art? And what can you do with Processing after camp, anyway? We tackle those questions, along with the best way to explode a human head, in this episode of our podcast, “Code is art”.

Give it a listen.

Continue reading Teaching how to code with Processing

Vermont Hour of Code Wrap-Up



That’s a wrap, people!


We finish up our coverage of Vermont’s epic participation in Hour of Code this week with one last Storify.


Don’t miss the kickoff and mid-week coverage as well, and make sure you’re signed up to get notified when Code Camp 2014 registration goes live, because spots are going to go fast.


Now, let’s let Orchard School in South Burlington take us out to the weekend: