A-mazing Fresh Start

For the first week of the 2nd session of Code Club, I asked that only the new members come so that we could go over the basics of Scratch. It would help to orient the new coders to Scratch if the “experts” weren’t there.  I planned on going over material the veteran coders had already learned, so they wouldn’t miss anything and the potential for them to distract the new Scratchers would be eliminated.

I thought I would start by teaching the new coders how to make a maze game on day one. It was one of the favorite types of games from the first session.  You learn the commands to control a Sprite using arrow keys and how to check if the Sprite is touching the walls.

Polar Adventure from Showcase #1

Polar Adventure, a maze game, from Showcase #1

Perhaps it was a bit adventurous for the very first time, but with a smaller group I thought Alex, my high school volunteer, and I could handle it.

Dawn of the Day,  maze-type game from Showcase #1

Dawn of the Day, maze-type game from Showcase #1

I also decided to create the instruction sheet myself.  Inspired by Code Club World project resources and Simon Haughton’s Scratch webpage, I customized my own version.

Maze Project #1 – Google Docs

I spent way too much time writing this up, but Alex was psyched just by the fact that I printed it in color.  Color copies are $$ but soooo helpful when learning Scratch because the code blocks are organized and grouped by color.

Alex also brought over a pair of college students, volunteers who are part of Coder Dojo, to help out. It was a spur of the moment sort of thing. I guess there was a code meeting at the high school with poor turn out so they had some extra time to come help us. The more help the merrier. In addition, a couple veteran students didn’t read the calendar carefully, especially the part about only new students the first meeting, and came to our meeting, so I assigned them to be one-on-one helpers. The helper to learner ratio was nearly even.  It was a nice start to the 2nd session and some great coding happened, like the example below.

Obstacle course by a new member with veteran support

Obstacle course by a new member with veteran support


End Script, Edit, Repeat

Well, Code Club Showcase #1 was a hit, I think.  The computer lab was completely packed with parents, grandparents, siblings…. Wow. Incredible turnout.  So much going on that I’m not really sure how it went.  I got an overall positive vibe in the midst of the chaos. I’m not sure anyone knew what to expect, myself included. I definitely will try a few things differently next time.

Animated story of Tenki Battle designed and created by a 4th grade Code Club member

Animated story of Tenki Battle designed and created by a 4th grade Code Club member

First, I must say I that I was impressed with each student. Not all the projects turned out as they had hoped.  Some didn’t present at the Showcase because they felt they didn’t finish. Some projects had technical difficulties.  The presentations were varied. Regardless, everyone worked hard and did their best to make something and show it off to their peers and parents.

Hero to the Rescue, an unfinished project.

Hero to the Rescue, an unfinished project.

I take responsibly for the chaos & technical difficulties. Those issues could have been minimized with some better planning. I need the students to finish their projects earlier so I have more time to get everything ready ( I thought I had, but they kept making changes to their projects.  I also need to give them time to prepare to present.  To me that means a re-engineering of the game design and review process. The deadline has to be defined and I need to be firm about it.  Every time I asked if a project was done, I invariably got, “not yet”.  Everyone was putting final touches on their projects up until the moment the parents arrived (or beyond). Then it was a scramble to make the project available to access while the creators were presenting it on the head computer.

Run for your Life game with code

Run for your Life game with code

I also need to remember that 4th graders should be given a chance to rehearse before speaking in front of a large crowd of parents and peers. I should’ve made a list of presenters, too. Then I would’ve known ahead of time that 2 groups didn’t want to present.

Showcase presentation

Showcase presentation

Finally, these projects need to be shared and enjoyed by the rest of the school.  Not that I need to drum up interest for Code Club, but it is quite remarkable what these students have accomplished in such a short time, and I think others in our school community should see and enjoy what they’ve done.  I’m very proud.

The Indespicable Giant Baby Head Game

The Indespicable Giant Baby Head Game

Even my high school student volunteer was impressed by some of the projects.  He especially liked and commented on The Indespicable Giant Baby Head Game makers’ unique way of coding for gravity.

Here’s the link to our Showcase studio on the Scratch website: Code Club Showcase #1

It’s Showtime

Tomorrow is our Code Club Showcase. I have invited the parents to come in and try out the games we have spent the last four weeks designing and building.  I think we just might pull it off.

Many of the projects came together last week, thank goodness.  By the end of Code Club, most were nearing completion and about four were deemed done.  Four others I’m still worried about.

One completed project

One completed project

As I discussed last week, I started a list for those who needed help on the whiteboard and between the three adults we were able to address a lot of student concerns. The hour was pretty productive.  Big sigh of relief.  Even those who were not finished did have some time during indoor recesses to work on their projects. There will even be time tomorrow at recess. Some still expect to get some final work done before the parents arrive. Yikes.  Makes me nervous.

Here’s an example of a project that is done. It’s been uploaded to the Scratch website.  It has instructions, notes & credits and even tags.  It just needs to be shared and it’s link added to the Code Club webpage.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 9.56.09 PM

It’s a pretty cool game.  The special sound effect is such a big deal that the author coded this to highlight it’s awesomeness:

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 9.52.16 PM

I had planned to let the Showcase happen in an open house type format, but my parent volunteer emailed me with the suggestion that the students present and tell about their projects.  This is an awesome idea and so I’ve put together this presentation form.

Showcase present notes

Showcase present notes

So now I plan on having the parents sit in front of the computers with the webpage up and the students up in front where their project will be projected on the screen. Each group will explain their work and what they are most proud of – like the sound effect.  Then parents can try it out and we’ll move on to the next presenters. It might take a bit more than 1/2 hour to get through all 14 groups, but it will be worth it.

Rookie Mistakes

After a merited, welcomed, two-week break, we have Code Club again tomorrow.  It’s our next to the last meeting and I’m concerned. I don’t think their “create your own game” projects are ready for the showcase – I don’t think they are one hour away from being ready. There’s a lot of work to do, errors to be found, logic to be thought through, and no rigorous testing has been done. (Do I sound like a software manager a week before a new release deadline?)

I had planned to approach each of the 4th grade coders during school over the last two days and find out how they thought their project was coming along.  I talked to two (out of 23) and they didn’t seem concerned.  I actually think they were confused about what I was asking as if the two-week winter break had wiped out all thoughts about Code Club.  So maybe I’m the only one who’s nervous about this. This is my rookie season as a Code Club leader, I must remember.  Maybe everything will get done on time?

Yeah, right.  Here’s the thing.  I recall the last Code Club meeting as being less than productive.  I believe others also found it frustrating. Besides the fact that it was the week before Christmas and two days before vacation, things didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. Students were stuck, teams weren’t working well together, projects were behaving strangely, stuff was lost, etc. That kind of stuff happens. I expect some of that, I’m not a complete rookie.

What bothers me most is not every student was able to get some help. On the whiteboard, next to the list for using the microphone, a student started a list for those who needed help and added their name.  I didn’t even notice the list until the end. It’s a good idea, really, and we’ll start a list like that tomorrow.  Not really sure what to think, but I feel that I’m letting them down. The list was an interesting expression of frustration. On one hand I expect them to need some help as they are just beginner Scratchers, but perhaps am I helping too much or unevenly. Maybe I haven’t provided enough foundation to give them the confidence to persevere in troubleshooting? Or the projects were too complicated and it was a failure in the design review process. More things to learn.

Truth is, I don’t have that much more experience using Scratch than they do. Problems and questions have come up that I didn’t have the answer to.  For example, a couple of students wanted to add gravity into their game.  Turns out there are lots of ways to simulate this, even more than those listed on the Scratch Wiki for Simulating Gravity (I didn’t even know about the Scratch Wiki until researching the gravity problem).  One team is using a timer to simulate gravity.  Another is using simple direct movement method.

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 10.48.50 PM

I’m sure more stuff like this will crop up tomorrow. Of course, I need to remember – rookie season, rookie mistakes.