Coding Their Own Way

The students have begun their independent projects for our showcase in May.  They are really into their projects already.  At our last meeting, I met with (most of) the teams or individuals to go over their Game Design Document (GDD).  Over time I’ve been adding things to the GDD to make it more comprehensive but it has gotten a bit unwieldy.  Students don’t always fill it all out or their ideas don’t fit in with the description. I definitely need to reflect on the GDD and figure out what should remain and what can go.

Let’s go back to basics.  Why do I have the GDD?  Is it for the students or for me?

To make a project that takes multiple weeks to complete, but has a hard deadline, you’ll need a plan.  Planning is part of the engineering design process. In this sense, the GDD is for the students.

If you are working in a team, the need for a plan is crucial.  Who will create the backdrops? Who will code the Sprites? Do we agree on the gameplay? A team definitely needs a GDD to define roles, divide the labor, and to communicate ideas.

How do you know if it is a project that can be done in 4 weeks? What parts of the game are you not sure how to code? What should you work on first?  These questions are why the GDD is for me.  I see myself as the project manager for these 10-year-olds.  I want to ensure a project isn’t too large: “There will be 5 levels and a boss level with an army attack and when you die you turn into a zombie with a special power and then….” Yikes. I want to see that team members have communicated their ideas and agreed on the design. I want to make sure each team member has a job to do.  I want to know what parts of the coding will be tricky for them so I can find some examples of code to help them.

All of the projects this time seem pretty well thought out. There are no “try not to laugh” projects.  No Makey-Makey projects either, sadly.  There are a couple of maze games, two games with gravity, one animation, one karate game, and some adventure games.

One or two of the projects aren’t very complicated and I worry that they’ll finish too early.  I shouldn’t, though.  It will be good to have a couple of more polished, well-tested games for the showcase.

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This student is going to use this as her independent project and make a “Flappy Bird” type game.

I can’t end without sharing a few screenshots of student work.  The previous week I showed the students how to use the Tips tab to get step-by-step instructions on different games.  I suggested they try the “Make It Fly” tutorial.  This was an optional project and many chose that time to work on their GDD instead.

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This shows interesting graphic editing skills and some good coding.

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Makes you smile.

Mix in Some Makey-Makey Action

Ever since I got the first Makey-Makey, just before school let out last June, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to introduce them in Code Club.

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First time using Makey-Makey

I gained more experience with them at the Scratch@MIT2016 Convention when I participated in the Code Create Art Alive workshop.  In the Fall, I did introduce the Makey-Makey devices to some 4th graders at alternative recess but not at Code Club or with a whole class.  There was so much coding to learn and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what it would look like. Finally, last week in Code Club, I brought out the Makey-Makeys (we have 7 of them), some bananas, potatoes, foil, junk building supplies and it happened.

We talked about conductors, making a closed circuit, connecting to ground/earth, etc. There were many questions related to dangers of electricity since you plug it into the computer and the computer is plugged into the main current.

I showed them the Makey Makey piano, with bananas of course.  Then I showed them how to use it with games they have already made – like the race game.  For that, I had mocked up a pressure sensor (to step on) from a padded envelope.  It worked really well with the race game.

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Pressure pad for Makey-Makey from a padded envelope.

Then I introduced Whack-a-Potato that I found from the Makey-Makey lessons and also on Instructables.  I made a Whack-a-mole (squirrel) Scratch project and improved my code by looking at Scratcher tarmelop’s Whack-a-Ghost project.

I put together a Google Doc with the instructions for the students.  It is not a polished learning guide, just the basics for them to code up a Whack-a-mole game.

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Whack-a-Squirrel for Makey-Makey play

I few students got to work on the Whack-a-Potato project.  Others wanted to pursue a Makey-Makey music themed project or paint project.  A few just set up a Makey-Makey to work with a project they had already built.

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Makey-Makey Maze

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Building a complex pressure pad

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Potatoes and Tangerines

It was great to see the students try things. I hope this inspires the students to think of incorporating Makey-Makey devices with their final individual projects. I am hoping that is where this will lead.

Poetry Generator

While planning Wednesday’s Code Club during a snow day on Tuesday I came across the Code Club World project Ada’s Poetry Generator.  This is a new project for me and I liked the way it introduced and used lists.   Arrays and lists are extremely important data structures in programming – right up there with loops and variables. I’ve never introduced lists in Scratch before.  I also liked how this project wasn’t a game but had the potential for a lot of creativity and fun.

I mocked up a project with Scratch Cat instead of Ada Lovelace.  (I did talk briefly about Ada when introducing the project.)

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I added some “talking” animation to Scratch Cat by duplicating costumes and morphing the mouth into different shapes.  Then coding the costumes to change when the poem is “spoken”

Some students whined a bit about poetry and not a game but I ignored that because I knew they’d like it once they figured it out.  I’m hoping someone chooses to make a MadLib or something similar for the final project.  If not, I may see if we can use this in some language arts project.

Here are some nice examples:

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Computer generating poetry with lists

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This coder really liked gluteus maximus, and unhelpful list naming conventions.

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Awesome animated mouth

This coder is my animator to be.  He drew and animated the PacMan and Ghost being eaten costumes… then he coded the poem in the last few minutes.

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Future animator

These two below took the morphing a bit to the extreme but the coding (and poetry) is well done:

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I enjoyed reading all the funny randomly generated poems that the students created.  I was glad I choose this project for my Code Club.

Game State – Game Loop

This week we tried out Code Club World’s Desert Race project.  One Code Club member used this for his independent project last round, so we had one expert.  We used his final project to demo the game. Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 11.20.11 AM

Desert Race is a fairly simple 2-person race to the finish.  The main concept in this game is setting a game state variable to control the action. In event driven games is important to control the allowable events – like when to start. And we don’t want anyone to cheat by starting before the start signal.  Setting up a game state variable, ‘racing’, like a Boolean with 0 (not racing) and 1 (racing) is the concept I was hoping they would take in while making a cool two person game.

Defining a Boolean for game state is the first step to building a Game Loop that programmers use when creating more complex games.

Scratch Wiki also refers to it here: https://wiki.scratch.mit.edu/wiki/Game_Loop.

My fourth graders may not ever get to that level of programming here in Code Club, but it is a powerful idea. I have used this programming technique in (non-Scratch) games I’ve created in the past and found it useful.

I also made a quick version of the project adding a bit of 3D perspective with my Space Race project.  The racers (cat and dog) get smaller as they head to be the first to reach the planet.

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The students made some nice games. Many customized their Sprites and a couple recorded their own “win” sounds.

This one below has some almost imperceivable pitfalls that send you backwards (the opposite of a booster).

At the end of the day a few students asked to be able to keep working on the Desert Race project for next week -they needed more time and were enjoying the project.  I think I’ll let them, but I’ll need another project for those who finished or want to move on.  So I asked one of the two girls in the Club what she would like to work on and she said, how about making an ebook.  I asked if she meant like an animated story?  I’d love to focus on animation more – there are some great techniques to making things look like they are moving – I love Tumbling Santa.  Also, I’m thinking I need to show her Bubble103’s Scratch projects.  Maybe she wants to make a tutorial (nonfiction ebook).  There are a lot of How To projects on the Scratch site.  I’m considering these two options for next week.

Also awesome this week was this project:

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This student’s race project was lost when Scratch 2.0 offline editor crashed. He was mostly done and he lost all his code. Instead of recreating it, he made this cool project. (It is a bit glitchy, but neat.)

Spring Code Club Session Begins

Code Club session #8 met for the first time on Wednesday.  There are eighteen 4th graders and two high school volunteers.  This is the second time I’ve had a mixture of students from both elementary schools in my city in one club.  Another thing that is cool about the Spring session is that I have returning Code Club members, or, as we call them, “experts”.  Only 5 students are new to Code Club and there was only one student I didn’t know.

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A New Scratcher’s take on Maze game

After introductions, I asked the “experts” what favorite project they had from the last session of Code Club.  They remembered and liked the Maze game, Space Junk and Chatbot from CodeClubWorld. They also enjoyed the projects they had created themselves, not surprisingly.    I like starting with the Maze game and had already chosen that project for our first meeting.  It’s a simple game with many ways to make it more exciting and complex.

We started out by reviewing the maze design and refreshing our programming vocabulary.  What was the object of the game? How does the Sprite move (arrow keys or follow the mouse were options)?  What happens when you touch the edge of the maze?  How do you win?  Then we talked briefly about ways to make it more exciting – more levels, obstacles, villains, etc.

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Then they got to it. They were fairly independent coders, for the most part, and they helped each other a bit, too. My high school volunteers and I think we will be able to try some more complex coding  projects this round.  It was a really fun 75 minutes.

Thinking ahead, here are some goals for this session of Code Club:

  • Encourage more animation: We have some artists, so I’d like to share with them and encourage more creative uses of costumes for animation effects.

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  • Explore “more blocks”: someone is already exploring defining their own blocks.  I’d like to encourage more of this.  As well as random numbers.

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  • Clearing up misconceptions: We will have to revisit some concepts like the forever block and support better debugging habits
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Find the glitch in this code.

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It seems this “expert” puts everything in forever blocks.

  • And finally – I want to use MakeyMakey‘s this time. I told them I want to use them with our projects – especially our final projects. Those couple of students who have played a bit with MakeyMakey’s were quite excited. I’m really excited (and a bit nervous). I don’t have much experience using MakeyMakey devices, with or without students.  Luckily that won’t stop me.

Coding Helpers

On Wednesday I decided to introduce Scratch to a class of second graders.  Wednesday’s schedule in the lab is such that there is an overlap of about 10 minutes with 4th grade alternative recess.  With the growing interest in coding among 4th graders, sometimes there are 4th graders waiting around for a free computer at the start of their recess.  I decided to put this fact to use rather than let it aggravate me. (They can be noisy while waiting).  I figured they could help me introduce Scratch to these 2nd graders.

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My goal was for the 2nd graders to add a background and a Sprite and make the Sprite do something when clicked.  I sort of sprung the project on both groups but it worked out well.  The 4th graders, as a whole, were very helpful and the 2nd graders were pretty excited with all the choices. It amazed them that a couple blocks of code could make their Sprites interactive.  I was proud of my 4th graders for their enthusiasm and their ability to share their expertise in Scratch with the younger students.  More 2nd graders were able to get support while trying something new.  I’m pleased.

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On other fronts, there are eighteen 4th graders signed up for Code Club.   Sadly, I’m competing with another after school program – Drama Club – so I have only 2 girls on my roster.

 

 

 

Code to Print

Code Club is on a break until the end of February. Meanwhile 4th grade students have been coding during alternative recess opportunities when the lab is available.

I have seen a growing interest in coding in BeetleBlocks now that we have a 3d printer available to print artifacts and I am quite thrilled.  Most 4th graders have had an introduction BeetleBlocks when we used it to print their names (I have one more 4th grade class to schedule), but printing names of their friends or teachers still interests them.

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Some 3d printed names

Some are just curious to print a single shape – cube, cuboid or sphere. Spheres are the hardest to print – even with a small cuboid base, they don’t print very well.  Students seem to love the prints that “blow up” as well as the successes.

I asked the snowman creator to add a cuboid below so the print would be successful, and it was.

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Snowman artifact

Recently I printed a cannon that a student had made in BeetleBlocks for a social studies report on the Middle Ages.  I asked him to break the code into 2 parts – the barrel and the base thinking that would help the print be successful.  It printed out well enough.  We glued it together with a 3d pen.

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Cannon printed in 2 parts, glued together with a 3D pen

What surprises the students the most is the size of the print compared to what they see on the screen.  Even though we went over the the numbers translate into millimeters.  I try not to scale anything but instead make them go back to the code and change it there.

Recently I printed a pair of rings.  There have been some other rings coded but this was the first project that reached the export to print stage. The 4th grader had started on Monday and measured her finger (with the mm calipers) to code a tube of that diameter.  Then we added a sphere on the top.  That was all we had time for on Monday.  On Wednesday she came in with a list of code she had written down.  She had worked on the project at home and didn’t know how to save it so she wrote down the code and brought it to school.  She also measured her friend’s finger to print one customized for her.

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BeetleBlocks rings

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A pair of printed rings

It only took a few minutes to print.  The size will need some tweaking, but I suspect I will be printing more rings in the future.  We’ve shared the project for others to see or use.

In September I wasn’t sure what 4th graders could do with BeetleBlocks and every week they surprise me with their creativity.  I hope to report more on their explorations in the coming months.