LMS Winter Carnival

Last week I ran two coding sessions at the middle school for their Winter Carnival.  There are a wide variety of activities offered for the 5th- to 8th-grade students during the morning, divided into two 1.5 hours sessions. Options ranged from skiing, dancing, and ping-pong, to cookie decorating, tic-tac-toe, and D&D.  I was invited to offer Scratch coding.

My activity, Coding/Scratch, had this description: “Students will have the option to create a game, animation or pursue a passion project of their choice using Scratch 3.0 coding environment.”

Despite the unlimited options in the description, I wanted to offer some project guidance as I didn’t know the coding experience of those who would sign up. I decided on three projects from Code Club World that in my experience offer students the greatest creative choice coupled with step-by-step instructions.  The first option was Chatbot.  I’ve discussed how much I like this project before and with the added text-to-speech options in Scratch 3.0, I knew this would be a hit. The second option was a “clicker game” presented with Code Club World’s Ghostbusters project.  The third project was the “side-scrolling platform game” Flappy Parrot from Code Club World.  I feel any of these three projects can be accomplished in 1.5-hours with this age group.

In preparation, I went through and created starter versions of these projects. I also set up a Scratch studio for everyone to share their projects. Once the students were logged into Scratch (some had to make their own, new accounts), I invited them to be curators so they could add their projects to our group studio. This part required a bit of administrative time but it is not difficult and works well for everyone to have a single place to go to play each other’s projects. I feel it is important to carve out time to share and showcase what everyone has accomplished, knowing that we all had a limited amount of time and that the projects aren’t perfect or even finished.

About ten students signed up for each session but only one girl in each session.  One of the math teachers joined me- she is eager to learn Scratch and we work well together.  I knew more than half of the students and some of them were with me in past Code Clubs. I think the students had a good time. I definitely feel like we supported their ideas and creativity. I’d love to get feedback from them. I shared the project studio with the school administrators and they thanked me for participating.

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Chungus Run – a creative Flappy Parrot game – good instructions, too 

Some notes from the sessions:

  • Time management is key with short sessions – I posted our schedule – Intro 10min/ Plan 10min/ Code 55min/ Share 15min
  • The project guides were helpful even if only to get them started before they went off on coding tangents.
  • These students showed creative, flexible thinking. Scratch supported their creativity by making coding flexible to their ideas.
  • It is difficult to share something you know is incomplete.  I announced a time check at 15 minutes before we wanted to share, so no one was caught unaware.
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Fishie Click game – former 4th grade Code Club member

Coding projects are like art – they are never really “finished” or “perfect”.  They are “done” when you decide to stop working on them. – I said this to someone who was bemoaning the end of the coding time and another student laughed.  She clarified that she was an artist and understood that fact very well.

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The Majestic Bird – Well done and so annoying!

 

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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!

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.

Catch with Creative Coders

Last week I presented the Catch Game project to my group of coders that meets at the library once a month.  This group has a different vibe than my weekly Code Club.  Some of these coders are a bit older, some were in my Code Club when they were in 4th grade and we have new members each month.

We are also using online Scratch accounts on the library Chromebooks instead of Scratch 2.0 offline editor.  I’ve set up a teacher account and a class. Members can use one of the pre-set 15 student accounts or their own Scratch account if they have one.

Each month I set up a studio for them to add their projects. Then we can all try out and play their projects at the end of the session.   I’ve had a bit of trouble with adding studios.  Sometimes they have not been available to the students to see or to add their projects, but I think I’ve figured out why.  There are two ways I can set up a studio in my Scratch Teacher Account – under My Classes and under My Stuff.  If I can set up a studio inside My Classes, that will automatically allow my students to be curators of that studio.  If I set up the studio under My Stuff then only I am set up as a curator of the studio.  Interestingly, I can see all of the studios from My Studios. The difference appears when I look in the Curators tab.

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We emphasize creativity in their project design and encourage sharing and playing each other’s projects at the end of each session. I like to display each one on the big screen as well, as we want to celebrate each coder’s hard work. So I was a bit frustrated when no one could see the studio I set up.  One student helped me out on Monday by setting up a studio from his student account and adding to it all the shared projects.

 

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Catch the snowflakes

 

 

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1000 bonus points for catching the soccer ball!

 

They are a pretty creative bunch and didn’t have much problem with the project.  One student seemed to strive to annoy everyone with “creative” sound effects.  Others were making the screens fill with falling pugs or watermelons.

One student asked about keeping a high score list.  I think I’ll need to look into that request.  I know I’ve seen instructions about that somewhere.

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.

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.