Getting Them Ready

We’re already half-way through the fall Code Club session for 4th graders. Now is the time when they start working on the design of their own project.  Having the opportunity to create their own game is pretty much why they come. My job is to get them ready to be successful in this venture.  To this end, I try to present lessons that help them learn programming concepts that they will want to use in their game design.

After eight Showcases and 108 projects, I feel have an idea of the essential programming concepts students will be using in the games students like to make.  We move fast and don’t get the chance to do more than introduce these concepts – it’s more learning to code than learning computer science.  It’s a start.

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Get the taco to the Scratch cat

Here’s what they will want –  A Sprite they can control with arrow keys to move around their game.  (The maze game).  A Sprite that can chase after them (Cat and Mouse).  Both of these projects introduce sensing as well  – in the maze game you are forever checking if you touch the sides and in both, you are forever checking if you won.

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You’re the banana. Don’t let the monkey eat you.

They might want to keep track of a score or set a time limit.  (Ghostbusters)

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Click on the Sprites when they appear to get points.

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From experience, some of them will want a game with gravity. It’s a concept that I don’t usually spend any time on but this year, from talking with the students, I could tell there will be some platform games in the works.

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I used Code Club World’s Flappy Parrot project to introduce gravity.  It also reveals the animation trick of moving the background while the main character stays in the middle.

I wasn’t sure if they would be able to handle this project, but they worked through it well and I felt they were successful.

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Flappy robot costumes – hand drawn wings

This last week we did the virtual pet project from the Scratch Tips.  I printed some of the Scratch cards of the project as well.  Virtual pet introduces broadcast & receive which is an important but difficult concept.  Broadcast & receive is powerful but requires planning and keeping track of your Sprites. This level of thinking is just developing for them.  They struggled with broadcast and receive, but mostly with the motion blocks because they were modifying the placement of Sprites to fit their creative take on a virtual pet but couldn’t translate that to adjust the go-to blocks properly so they got some strange movements they didn’t understand.

All in all, I like this progression of projects: 1) Maze game, 2) Felix & Herbert, 3) Ghostbusters, 4) Flappy Parrot, 5) Virtual Pet. It presents a variety of game types and hits some good basic concepts.  It leaves out a few of my favorites, though, like Chatbot. I also feel they need more basic coordinate knowledge (move, go to, glide).

(The problem with not blogging regularly is that when you do, you have too much to say and the blog gets really long, for which I apologize.)

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Your Name Animated

To start off the school year, I thought it would be great to have 3rd graders work on a Scratch project and I’ve been wanting to try the animated name project from Made with Code for a while now.  You can find the resource cards here. (I printed a couple of sets) Animating your name seems like a good beginner project but not one that I do in Code Club.  And who wouldn’t want to play with their name in code?

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We started off by creating a backdrop for the Stage with the drawing tools in Scratch. I didn’t want them using one from the library, but to make their own.  Then we brainstormed ways to animate the letter Sprites – bouncing, turning upside down, changing color, spinning, growing, making a sound, etc.  This got them thinking about the possibilities. Next, we started adding letter Sprites.  Each Sprite was coded to be interactive by using the “when this Sprite is clicked” event block and adding an action to it.

 

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Example of 2 different letters interactivity

 

I used the resource cards to support students who preferred directions to be written out or visual or struggled to keep up with the general pace of the class.

Each third-grade class added their own flair to the project. One teacher decided to take photos of the students with a green screen background.  The students added themselves as a Sprite to their name project and animated themselves.

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I can’t share any of the actual student works as they include both the name and photo of the students.  We are going to record a video of the project like we do with our cloud project and include it in the students’ digital portfolio.

Another third-grade was finishing up the name project so close to Halloween that we incorporated the Trick or Treat project in with the animated names.  I didn’t present this part very well.  I needed to explain the difference between adding a costume to a Sprite and adding a separate Sprite. A lot of students made this mistake and there was general confusion.

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My next task is to finish the rubric for this project (which I should be doing right now).  The students enjoyed this project but we need to wrap these up.

New Code Club Starts

I am collaborating with the children’s librarian in my city to run a monthly code club for kids 8-12.  Our first meeting was last Monday.  We had six kids show up.  I knew three of them from two years ago when they were in my after-school 4th grade Code Club.  It was great to see them again.  The other three were mostly new to Scratch.  One of the coder’s grandmother stayed for the session and we set her up to play and learn Scratch, too, and she jumped right in a made a Chatbot project.

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I knew we were going to be using the library’s Chromebooks, so I set up a teacher account and a class along with some student accounts.  I figured a few of the coders might have a Scratch account already.  One said he did but didn’t remember it.  They all ended up using one of the class accounts.   That made it easy for sharing their projects at the end of the session.

Chatbot is one of my favorite projects from Code Club World.  It requires only one Sprite and Stage, is interactive, and the projects can become very creative very quickly.   It introduces the conditional block “if then, else”, a powerful, useful coding block for decision making.  It also introduces the ask-answer block pair as a quick way to introduce interactivity. The expert coders sort of remembered Chatbot but were very happy to revisit it.

By the end of the session, everyone was successful in setting up a Chatbot and coding an “if then, else” block at the least.  Some added more complexity with movements and costume changes. It was fun to see the different, creative takes on Chatbot.  The coders shared their projects, even though some were not complete and we played them all through.  I put them in our October project studio and liked them all.

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I thought the English/Spanish Chatbot project was a great idea – it could be a cool way to show what you’ve learned from Spanish class.

We asked the club members what types of projects they wanted to work on in future meetings.  I heard ideas ranging from Ghost Busters, Pong, anything with horses, to a platform game. Good ideas!  We are hoping more kids sign up and we can grow the club a bit.

It was great to be back working with Scratchers.  My after-school Code Club starts up next week. More new Scratchers.

Scratch Alternative Presentation

In one fourth-grade class students had a US state presentation project as one of the last assignments for school this year. I received the okay from the teacher to allow a student to make his presentation using Scratch.  He was a Code Club member and I knew he had the programming skill and drive to complete all the requirements for the project using Scratch.

While the rest of the class used Google Slides, he made this great Scratch interactive project to share.  He worked hard and I was impressed with the results.Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 1.30.49 PM

He set the project up like a Chatbot project and used broadcast to change the backdrops. He also asked questions to keep the audience engaged.

I was available to help with the coding, but he worked pretty independently.

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I would have liked to see more picture Sprites. We also discussed recording some audio for a portion of the presentation but ran out of time. He made a bibliography backdrop but it didn’t get included in the version we uploaded. Before he presented this to his class, he made some last minute changes that are saved in his account offline and not published.

He has his own Scratch account now and I know he will continue to code and create in middle school.  That makes me really proud.

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He had a rough end of the year within his classroom and with the dynamics of some of the other students so I was glad to be able to give him some flexibility with this assignment and let him do something he enjoys and show his coding skills.

I would like to think that Scratch would be an acceptable presentation format for other school projects like this.  I have been thinking along these lines for a while and now have proof that it can be done and can show teachers what the results look like.

Superhero Remix

The art teacher and I collaborated again this year with our superhero animation project.  3rd-grade students sketched their ideas for a superhero in art class then we used computer lab time to draw their superhero and background in MS Paint.  The next step was importing the files into Scratch and adding the code to animate them.

The students were engaged and worked hard. They could see where the project was going because they had seen last year’s example videos.  Some of them were familiar enough with Scratch to add a bit of flair (or music) to their animations. I saw more color effect changes and even helped implement other effects like this use of the whirl effect to animate Red Jelly Man:

One improvement that I tried to implement this year was the use of additional costumes to create the illusion of animation along with the moving of the Sprite across the screen. This was most easily accomplished by duplicating and then modifying.  Modifications generally included a slight rotation of the whole Sprite or to just an arm or other body parts.  Little changes really enhance the overall effect of the animation.

 

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Boring man has 2 costumes to look like he is walking

 

 

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Only Snakewoman’s rattle changes in the costume changes.

 

 

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Mr. Moo deploys his mini-moo with costumes varying the distance between hero and sidekick.

 

Another student’s Animal Man had 8 different animal costumes, all drawn by the student for his shape-shifting superhero.

Another technique we added this year was some simple backdrop animations.

 

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Thundergirl moves in front of lightning that comes and goes via code on the Stage

 

I’m very pleased with the second round of the Superhero project.  You can find all the movies here on my YouTube playlist.

Note: The students were able to add the project video of the animation to their digital portfolio without having to convert from the .flv format.  The actual Scratch projects are not shared online but completed using Scratch 2.0 offline editor.

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.

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.