Introducing Beetle Blocks to Students

I introduced Beetle Blocks to two math groups last week.  My first group was with six 3rd grade students.  They have done a minimal amount of Scratch coding and probably no 2-dimensional graphing (not to mention 3-D graphing).  I only have them for a short 20 minutes.  Still, they were very excited. The first day was just orientation to block-based coding and the categorizing of the blocks.  The second time we met, I asked them to draw a square.

The first time I started them with drawing lines but they were sometimes hard to see.  In the end extruding was easier to see what was going on and exciting to think about printing on our 3-D printer (if we get the grant).  They knew that a square was 4 sided and 4 cornered so we decided the pattern of the blocks would be ‘move some distance, rotate z by some number’ and repeat 4 times (although I didn’t introduce to repeat block yet)

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Drawing a rectangle with different colored sides

It took some trial and error to figure out to turn 90 degrees each time to make a square.  After that success, I asked about making a triangle.  That was too much and they were having too much fun.

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Without the reset button, clicking the green flag again adds to the triangle design

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90-something degrees

These students obviously just need more time to play with Beetle Blocks. It’s going to be a challenge to find the balance between introducing concepts and just letting them explore. They are all very excited and challenged by the program.

On Friday I introduced Beetle Blocks to eight 4th graders in another math group I just got. These students have more Scratch experience than the 3rd grade (more than half are in Code Club, too).  I didn’t make them draw a square, I just let them explore, after a quick demo of some of the key blocks (like reset).

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I also made sure to introduce ‘extrude’ as a vocabulary word they will need to know when we start talking about 3-D printing things.

They were pretty keen on exploring and were able to code interesting things very quickly.

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4th grade explorer

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Super cool outcome by a first time Beetle Blocks coder

These students collaborated and shared some of their experiments.

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I did help with the coding of the variable here.

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I did suggest the use of the nested repeat loop, and the random number.

At the end of the class a couple students indicated that they would be playing with this at home.  “Now I can either use Scratch or Beetle Blocks at home.” said an enthusiastic 4th grade coder.

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Catch ’em

Week 2 for Code Club happened.

We did an old project game called Felix and Herbert which I’ve done before.  It’s not on the list of current Scratch project at Code Club World, but its simple concept with different movements- follow mouse movements- makes it a good second week project. It is a cat and mouse game and introduces some good game elements such as broadcasting and keeping score.

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I allowed the students to pick any two Sprites – one to chase and one to be chased.  This let to some creative pairings.

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It also became important in debugging to know which Sprite was which. When introducing the project I did point out where it says “Test your project.”  I let them know that this was a big part of programming.  I think I’ll need to emphasize that each time. I notice a lot of creative testing – playing with sounds, looks, speed, scoring, but not much debugging or referring to the project pages when things don’t work.

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At the beginning of Code Club, I decided, we would add a bit of reflection to our meeting. On Wednesday I asked how the first code club went?  What were the successes and failures.  Many noted that they ran out of time or weren’t able to get the sensing of the edge of the maze to work.  I told them that it was a difficult task and if they were able to set up the Sprite to use the arrow keys, that was a success.

With Thursday’s group, I asked them to share one thing they found that they liked about Scratch.  This time I asked for positive responses mostly because they’d only played with Scratch and hadn’t really tackled a whole project yet.

I enjoyed this reflection time.  These are big groups and I don’t always get to connect with each student during our hour of coding.  Afterward Code Club I do take the time to look at the projects they save, highlighting a few here and noting any trending issues. And, of course doing my own reflecting on this blog.

I must say that my volunteers are awesome!  They work very hard fielding questions, debugging code, working with students. Even so, I think the students are asking for help too quickly.  They need to look at the project more closely and begin to do a bit more problem solving themselves.

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A New Start

My two Code Clubs have started up again. There are 20 students and 2 high school volunteers for each club.  The first meeting has happened. Students learned about Scratch, had fun and I’m excited for both clubs.

This is my 3rd year. It’s session #6 & #7 of Code Club for 4th graders in my city. I know all the students from my school but only 2 of the students from the other side of town.

One thing I worry about, now that I have been coaching Code Club and teaching Scratch to elementary students for three years, is forgetting what it is like not to know how to program in Scratch, not to know what a Sprite is or know that the Stage has no movement blocks, etc.  I don’t want to assume that they know what I know and I want to present concepts that will be relevant to what they do understand. (I realize this concern is not unique in the teaching profession).

I have on the calendar for the first session of Code Club: “First meeting – Rules & Goals, Intro to Scratch”.  So I decided to morph the Rules & Goals and include a bit of the first step in thinking like a programmer.  Defining rules & goals is a big part of what a programmer really does.  I tried framing the rules in pseudo-programming language with the students as well:  If the day is Wednesday and the second bell rings, then it is time for Code Club.  When you open up Scratch, forever have fun.  I’m not sure I got my point across.

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I presented the Maze game to Wednesday’s club because I knew they had used Scratch before as 3rd graders. They struggled a bit.

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Most of them were able to get their Sprites to move around using arrow keys and set up the maze background.  Some were able to get the conditional sensing color code working.

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Puff magic, a working maze game

And this one below added a squirrel that spins around the screen changing colors of the hero. Cool.

On Thursday I introduced Scratch concepts to 3rd & 4th grade programming newbies and blew their minds with the possibilities Scratch offers through simple blocks of code. The energy was thrilling and left me pumped.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-5-22-51-pmAfter introducing the same concepts of defining rules in code, (and Code Club) the first thing we tried was Motion blocks (ie moving a Sprite with the spacebar). And then we added Looks (ie change color).

 

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screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-5-26-41-pmAnd finally, the awesome: Sounds forever!

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In reviewing all of Thursday’s projects, I found those kids had some serious fun with Scratch last week!

I can tell I haven’t blogged in a while and I struggled to write this coherently and in a timely fashion.