New Year, New Scratch

Creative Coders Club on Monday was one of our best sessions ever.  The kids were really creative and funny and fun to work with.  The kids that came were all returnees and familiar with Scratch.  It was their first time working with Scratch 3.0 and despite a few grumblings about where familiar tools went, they were able to create some creative projects.  For such young people, they really seem upset about the changes to their coding environment.  I’m sure they will get used to the new version and not look back.

When I was looking for a project this month I noticed the tutorial from Cartoon Network on Animating an Adventure Game.  I knew the Creative Coders had been wanting to make an adventure-type game.  I added this option to our January studio and went through the tutorial myself so I could field any issues.  It has some fun character Sprites but turns out to be a simple “collect the gems” game. I felt it was a nice option for the club.

I also looked at the Scratch Design Studio for January.  I’ve been looking at the prompts each month since the Scratch Conference in August, hoping to find one that would work for this club.  The current theme is the Year 3000.  I felt it would really bring out their imagination and creativity.

I started out our meeting with a “Happy New Year” and a question for them. Did things seem different now that it was 2019 or did things just seem the same?  I told them that when I was their age, computers weren’t for kids and that 500 years ago books weren’t for kids either.  Then we brainstormed about what the year 3000 would be like.  That was the first hook.

Then I read them the Scratch Design Studio description.  I really liked some of the questions it asks, like what will food be? like or how will we dance?  It sparks the imagination. They shared their ideas and I had a difficult time getting them to not share all at once.

Next, I showed them the project I made about the year 3000.

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My sample Year 3000 project

The other hook was the text-to-speech extension in Scratch 3.0.  screen shot 2019-01-08 at 9.29.24 pmI had read that some of the tools from Scratch 2.0 – like music and pen blocks – had been moved into the extensions section.  When I went looking, I found the text-to-speech extension.  It is easy to implement and works great.

 

I knew it would be a hit with the Creative Coders, and I was right.  (My only worry would be about the appropriateness of the middle school students – and I let them know, a few times, what my expectations were).

Everyone incorporated text-to-speech in their project and everyone used it appropriately. Whew.

There is not much time in an hour to imagine and create a project but the kids managed to work hard and when I told them they had only 10 minutes to get something ready to share, a few of them revised their big ideas into something manageable.  Two (of ten) said they would finish later.

In the last ten minutes, I showcased the projects they made and added to our January 2019 studio.  We laughed and enjoyed each other’s creativity and imagination.

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The very funny “So boring” Year 3000.

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Another very funny text-to-speech Year 3000 project.

I highly recommend trying out the text-to-speech extension blocks and the different voices.  It is a little tricky to have the “text-to-speech” and “say” blocks sync up (like closed-captioning) but is worth it to be able to see and hear the project.

I hope some of them submit their projects to the Scratch Design Studio and I hope next months SDS theme is just as fun.

Happy New Year and kudos to the Scratch team for a great new version!

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Fractions to Decimals

I created a Scratch lesson for my 7th grade math class this week. It is a starter project but I wanted the students to have a bit of practice with Scratch before we do a more complex math modeling project in November.

(First a bit of background – I’m student teaching middle school this fall and should have a 5-8 Math teacher certificate by the end of the year.  I’ll be back at my elementary computer lab position after that and I’ll run my code clubs in the winter.  I’m still leading Creative Coders Club at the local public library once a month.)

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The 7th graders have been learning about expressions with variables, integers and rational numbers. For this introductory project I had them create a fraction to decimal converter. Have the user give two integers and use division to give back the decimal.

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Basic code for project (with spelling errors).

I set up a Scratch teacher account with classes for the each section of 7th grade math then put the class invites into our Google Classroom.  This worked well since we were using Chromebooks.  I’m not sure how students who already have a Scratch account would be able to join our Scratch class, but the students seemed okay with making accounts.  I gave a few suggestions on setting up account names.  The only hiccup we had was when they went back to log in a second time, many went through the class invitation again and then couldn’t log in without setting up a second account. (I hope there is a way to remove those extra accounts.)  Adding a direct link to Scratch in our Google Classroom and giving clearer instructions alleviated this problem.

I set up a studio for each class but I gave them the exact same name.  This confused me later when adding projects to the studio I couldn’t tell which went with which class. Luckily you can easily change studio names.

Rational Number Period 1

Rational Number Period 4

After the first day of working on the project, I decided that I needed more formal assessment of this project so I adapted a rubric from the Scratch Ed one here and set up some test cases for the students to use to test their projects.  Testing is an important part of programming.

Students seems engaged and excited to be working in Scratch. I’m pleased with the turnout of completed projects and quality of the work.  There are some missing instructions and spelling issues but even I spelled denominator wrong in my example and a student had to point this out to me. A number of students came in during study hall to work on their projects.  One student who was new to Scratch and our school just had the biggest smile when he learned about the color and whirl effect options.

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New coder excited about Scratch

And one of our struggling students went above and beyond with her project.

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Excellent project

One issue I inadvertently avoided was the fact that Scratch will round decimals to two places in say blocks unless they are inside join blocks.  The Scratch Wiki mention of the Offline Decimal Trick  is the only reference I found in support of this feature.  Fortunately my directions were for student to use the join block to join “The answer is ” and the answer.  This allowed the students to see all of the interesting repeating decimals and weird rounding that appears from converting rational numbers into decimals. I didn’t notice this happenstance until I was helping some students finish at the last minute and we took a short cut for the last line and just put the answer in a say block. It took me a while to figure out what was going on.

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Without the join block, decimals are rounded to 2 places.

Here is the lesson I designed: Decimal Scratch Project If your students are really new to Scratch it might be advantageous to print the first page in color so the students can see where to find the blocks. (I guess I’ll have to update this when 3.0 is released.)

I wondered if any student would try to divide by zero.   Scratch will return the answer “Infinity” in this case which could lead to an interesting math discussion.

Summertime MakeyMakey

Last Tuesday was the fourth and final session of the summer Creative Coding Club at the public library.  It was MakeyMakey time.

The library now has four MakeyMakey devices available to check out! Combined with the eight I borrowed from my school, we had enough for each person to have their own. The library also has Colleen and Aaron Graves’ book 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius. I spent some time looking through it ahead of time and ended up building the marble maze project. It had just the right “difficulty to fun” ratio for me.

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I also gathered some supplies, built a couple of pressure switches, and made conductive playdough (I made a gluten-free version with chickpea flour and the kids thought it smelled odd).  I put a few example projects into our Summer #4 Scratch class studio.

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Starter MakeyMakey projects

At the library, we had a fully stocked supply table, thanks to Kathy, and I set up a homemade dance mat (foil and cardboard), the marble maze, and a playdough button piano as examples.

I often find it difficult to introduce and explain what a MakeyMakey device does in a clear, efficient way.  It is much easier to show the MakeyMakeys in action then let the students explore. Three of the students had used MakeyMakey devices before (at our session in May) so they helped me explain to the others.  I did try to hit the key concepts about making a complete circuit or connecting yourself to earth and what to code to get a response.

The best thing about this session was that we had the gift of time.  Extra time to play and explore.  We were just doing this one open-ended thing – playing with MakeyMakey devices and Scratch. The whole time. 90 minutes. It was lovely. We were on Summertime, where you could dive into a project and not worry about constantly moving on to the next thing.

One student had a banana, a potato, a cucumber, and a ball of playdough connected to her music project. Another student made playdough buttons to play his Moonhack project from the previous session.  Another made a 2-player rocket race game.

At one point I walked by two of the girls and they both just had the biggest grins on their faces while playing banana pianos and adjusting their code.

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Staying connected to earth was tricky. I made a playdough ring for my finger but that didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. Other students had other ideas.

One student, near the end, told me he failed. He’s my big idea kid, always exploring the boundaries and testing even bigger ideas. A simple banana piano? Forget it. He thinks up complex ideas and tries them out. He and I both weren’t phased by his declaration, and I didn’t try to help him “be successful”. I just nodded and sat with him for a second in case he wanted to explain where he had failed but he just went on to try some other idea.

My one takeaway on this session was how lovely it was to have time to explore and not hurry off to something else. I enjoyed this slower paced session and they did, too. I have to remember not to over schedule our time and stop worrying about them running out of things to do.

We did stop to share and admire what everyone was doing and then the pizza arrived! Great way to end.

I hope some of these Scratchers check out one of the library’s MakeyMakeys and spend more time exploring the possibilities.

Workshop Reflections

I’ve been reflecting on my #ScratchMIT2018 conference Saturday workshop.  I had a lot of information and student work to share and I did that. It was a nice size group of educators from around the world. The people who attended were great and some were definitely excited about it.

I spent more time talking about my design review process than I expected. When we finally broke into groups, people seemed engaged when they were looking at my students’ work and thinking about how to support them.

This was my first time presenting a workshop at such a big conference and I learned a lot. One thing I could improve is my facilitation of the discussion. I need to prepare better follow-up questions and do less talking.

I made four different packets of student work to share. Different groups looked at different packets which I thought would facilitate more varied conversations but I was the only one who knew all the work and that hindered the whole group discussion.  I should have at least brought up the finished project under discussion on the screen so that the rest of the group could have a frame of reference.

One project that we discussed was Penguin Trivia. It was noted that its design document matches the executed project well.

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I could have followed up with what “supports would you put in place for this student?” Since her communication and time management skills seem strong, she could have used more support on game flow code examples and more time testing and debugging. (Although this is always true)

Another example project that was brought up was Thee Annoying’s Return. In this example, we thought the student could improve how he communicated his project.Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 5.41.08 PM

Someone noted that he says there are no rules, but clearly, there are. So what clarifying questions should we ask during design review so we know he has thought carefully about his game?

The design document serves as a way for students to think deeply about their project before embarking on its creation. The thing with creative adventures is that plans change. That’s okay. The design document is a guide. There were some helpful suggestions about how to refer the student back to the guide during the creating process as a self-check-in. Older students may be able to reflect on their progress and assess the status of their project themselves.

Some other great ideas came up during the discussion.  One was having a peer review in the middle of the process as a way for students to support students.

Another idea was to have a checklist of things that should be in the project.  I’m not sure if this would be a general or project specific checklist, but it would aid in assessment, either way.

One problem we weren’t able to solve was having the time to meet with each student/group when the numbers are large or the time is short. I generally rally some additional help on Design Review Day so I know everyone’s project gets at least a quick approval so they can get started. I do check in with students each week to see where they are, where they are going, where they are stuck, etc.  There are a lot of pieces to project management, but the benefits of letting students pursue these passion projects are huge.

Overall, I am happy with how it went and I’d enjoy running it again.

Project Management Workshop Design Document

Project Management from Design to Showcase

This is the title of my Scratch @ MIT 2018 Conference workshop coming up this Saturday. I’m excited and honored to be given the opportunity to share some of my experience working with students to create the original Scratch projects, some of which I have written about in this blog.

Session description:

Managing a class (or club) of students working on individual Scratch projects is complicated.  They have big, creative ideas for their projects. They want multiple levels, gravity, complicated animation, and character interactions in their very first programmed game. We, on the other hand, need these projects done on schedule, for the parent showcase or before grades close. This is project management. How can we, as educators, honor student creativity and voice while dealing with the practical realities of limited time and guidance?

In this session, we will look at elementary student game design documents and find ways to support the conversion of these documents into a working, Scratch-coded final product. Participants will work in pairs or small groups with actual game design documents from my 4th grade Code Club members.  They will discuss and interpret what the student envisions and develop a plan to help the student be successful. A formal plan will help gauge if the student is on target to finish on time.

We will discuss issues that come up during different stages of the process such as helping students communicate their ideas about their project, and think programmatically. We will discuss different ways to code animation, how to find resources, and dealing with student expectations. We will talk about facilitating students working in pairs, time management, and debugging.

(This is my original wording and may differ from the conference program)

Title: Project Management from Design to Showcase
Date: Saturday, July 28
Time: 11:00a – 12:00p
Room:  E15-207 (Wiesner Room)

When I finished writing the description last winter, I was in high spirits because it sounded like a workshop I would want to attend.  I’m hoping to facilitate interesting discussions centered around supporting students and their creativity.

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I’ve gathered the student design documents I want to share and am putting the final touches on my presentation.  I’ll share everything here in a post before the workshop on Saturday.  For now, here is the current version of the design document I use with my 4th-grade Code Club students.

Summer Creative Coding Club

This July I’ve been leading a 4-week coding club at the public library for middle school age students.  It is a 1.5-hour session for up to 12 students. Kathy, the children’s librarian, is my co-leader. She sets up the library space, takes care of the sign-up list, and prints project resources we use, in addition to supporting the students during the sessions.  We worked together during the school year, co-leading Creative Coding Club, which met once a month, and because of its success, we are planning to offer it again this fall.

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We have this great space at the public library (although the projector doesn’t have the greatest quality display).

In early June we decided which projects to present during the 4 summer sessions:

1) RockBand/Pong  (both good intro to Scratch or refresher projects)
2) Chatbot  (one of my favorites. We have done this one before but it is very open-ended and worth repeating)
3) Flappy Parrot (a favorite of my 4th-grade code club and one I haven’t done in the library setting)
4) Makey-Makey (piano and cardboard- a great way to end)

Session #1

About a week before our first session World Cup soccer was making news headlines which got me thinking about all the sports-themed Scratch projects my students have made. So I went looking and found a Code Club resource with a soccer theme which Kathy printed. (our Creative Coders is a registered Code Club).  Kathy also had the Scratch Music cards available as well.

I created a class studio Summer #1 and added a remix of the Code Club resources for Beat the Goalie.  It has the assets (Sprites and background) ready to add code blocks following the guide.  I wanted to add an example of a music project, too, so I made this one and coded up the baseball theme “Charge”.

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My example music project

I liked the idea of giving the students two options each week. We have both returning Creative Coders and new-to-Scratch coders (plus a long wait list) for our sessions. To start with two projects of varying complexity will provide students with choice.  We hoped this would promote more creativity in their projects.  Plus, the session is longer and there could be time to try both.

For a first meet up, things went well.  There are always technical challenges just getting students on the library Chromebooks and into the Scratch class accounts.  It was also a challenge at the end to get them to stop and share their projects with everyone.  But overall they were engaged, creative and supportive of each other.

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The studio filled up with an even mix of music and soccer projects.  Since it was a bit chaotic at the end during the time we wanted everyone to check out each other’s projects, I took some time at the beginning of the session #2 to share the projects from session #1. They seem to enjoy seeing their project displayed on the screen (and me struggle to play their game).

Session #2 

Along with Chatbot, I introduced the Pen blocks and added a couple of examples from Scratch Started Project resources in the Summer #2 studio – this gave them a second choice of projects, which worked well during session #1.

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 10.43.02 AM.pngStudents are starting to take advantage of the class session studio to look at the examples, remix the resource projects and share their final projects for the group. I finally feel like I am putting some of the features of the Scratch teacher/class account to good use.  Both projects were hits with the students.  Kathy noted it was exciting to see them working so intently on their projects and then be so proud of what they created!  It is why I keep doing this.

Session #3

Coming up! I received a ‘final notice’ email (and saw on Twitter) about Code Club’s Moonhack 2018 project, so I’ve added it as our second option for session #3, although we’ll be coding a few days after the anniversary event.  This will be a new project for me, so it should be fun.