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.

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.

Forever, Until Done

I’ve been noticing interesting uses, or misuses, of Scratch’s ‘forever’ block.  I applaud Scratch for it’s fail soft policy and understanding the desire of 10 year olds to test things, especially to their limits.

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Nested forever loops will get the job done

The ‘forever’ block seems pretty self-explanatory and perhaps that means I don’t introduce it properly. My students tend to use it in 3 ways: repeating actions, for event listeners and for looping background music.

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Repeating an action forever

I introduce the forever block after introducing the repeat block.  Once they know about it, there is no going back!

In many games you wait for a certain action to happen to respond to it. One way to do that is to code some ‘if statements’ and set them in a forever loop, like an event listener in other coding languages.

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Listening for the win condition

Many, many students want use it for play background music for their games.

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Two dance tracks in a forever loop.  Both seem to work, together.

And I think it is with the ‘play sound’ block where things gets confusing.  I am a proponent of ‘play sound until done’ in a forever loop, and the Scratch Wiki concurs, but it seems to work without the ‘until done’ if it is the only thing in the forever loop.

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Even without the ‘until done’ this code plays the whole song in an infinite loop

Other things I’ve seen makes me wonder. Why did the Scratcher feel the need to use the forever block?  Was some other code interfering with their action?

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What would cause the need for show in a forever loop?

Or are they just testing things to see what works and what fails.

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Forever and ever and ever and ever, just in case repeating 10 to the power of 109 times isn’t enough!

Thanks Scratch for not failing them.

Don’t Laugh

The projects for our showcases are finished and have been published on the Scratch site and I’m compiling them onto our school Code Club page in preparation for our final meetings this week when the parents come to see what we have been up to.

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Chatbot and Pong game in one project

There are some pretty impressive projects.  And the students’ hard work is evident.  Maze games, Chatbots, Races, Survivor games, Pong types:

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Space Pong – hit the portal that matches the ball color.

Then there’s The Epic Game where there are 4 games in one project.  The two girls working on this one came in at recess to work on it and were really motivated to meet their goal of finishing it.

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The Epic Game – it took epic effort.

They learned a lot about game flow, how to use broadcast effectively and how making one seemly insignificant change can break everything. And about testing, testing, testing. I thought I would need to show them Rik Cross’s Cheat Codes, but their chatbot like game flow let us quickly get to the game that was having issues.

I’m really proud of all of these projects and coders, even the two, possibly three, Try Not To Laugh projects.  Yes, it seems we have a dancing llama infection.  The first TNTL project was a dancing llama project from Showcase #2 called Super Awesome Llama Man. I wasn’t that impressed with the project makers plan or effort, but it fit his personality and every single 4th grader who sees it seems to think it is hilarious in it’s absurdity. This year the llama man Sprite is back in a couple of Try Not to Laugh projects.  Also is a walking taco and troll face.

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Llama is back – TNTL

I okayed one TNTL project but when two students project derailed because they couldn’t agree on how to proceed with their joint project, I okayed their change to a TNTL project.

 

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So many llamas

I tried to find funny gifs other than the llama, but they all love the llama.  Really, it’s not funny anymore.

 

Managing Code Club

Overall, I’m loving the independent projects that my two Code Club groups have chosen to create for their showcases.  They are working hard, mostly, and progressing. As project manager, I’m not stressing about the coding that is happening.

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Pair programming at recess

So instead of writing about managing the coding, I’d like to talk about behavior management. Here’s some things I’ve noticed:

  • Code Club can be loud. Scratchers want to listen to their sound assets and want others to listen, too.
  • Scratchers want to sit by their friends and share what they are doing.
  • Scratchers want to have fun while they are learning and
  • Ten-year olds enjoy the silliest things.

I don’t find anything wrong with these things. This is an after school club, not a classroom. I enjoy the energy and enthusiasm of a room full of Scratchers.  However I do need to have control of the energy level and keep the chaos in the “fun” realm.  I know what level of noise I can stand and manage.  There are also some behaviors that push my buttons and times when I miss catching behaviors before they create problems.

Here’s a couple of things I work towards:

  • Develop a routine.  This is important enough to spend valuable time on.  We gather at the beginning in a group, even if I’m not introducing anything.  We check in with each other and set a plan for the 75 minutes. It helps settle the students into the club.  I’d like to be better at setting up a routine at the end.  I’m usually working with students on last minute coding crises right up until the parents show up.
  • Get to know the students.  I know the HSS Code Club students and they know me – we see each other at school but the students from my other club I have to get to know quickly. They don’t know me either.
  • Set expectations. While we go over expectations during our first meeting, I rarely restate them unless something comes up. I do expect everyone to follow school rules, and respect others. “Friendly reminders” about those rules can serve as a warning.
  • Be yourself.  I’ve seen and tried a number of different classroom management styles. Some work for me and others don’t feel genuine when I use them.

For all that I’m a generally upbeat, cheery person, I do get grumpy and irritated. Too much noise makes it difficult to work on coding.  Spinning around in the chairs or messing with the things in the computer lab – not okay.  Playing with the whiteboard until it flakes out, argh (This issue became a discussion point at the beginning of the next meeting). Deleting someone’s code – hasn’t really happened on purpose but apologies must be made.  I had to remove a student from Code Club one day, but we worked it out and the student was able to return the next week. I have to thank the school staff and administrators for their support for this one.

To close, I’ll state that every issue is different and, while I don’t always handle them as best as I could, there are not enough switch statements to code responses to all possible behaviors. In fact, I don’t think Scratch has switch/case statements.