12th Code Club Starts

I started my 12th session of 4th-grade Code Club last week.  Just like last year, we are going to start off with Snack Discussion. During this first meeting I went over my expectations, rules, and plans for our future meetings:

Meeting # Meeting topic outline
1 First meeting – Rules & goals, intro to Scratch
Ist learning project
3 2nd learning project
4 3rd learning project
5 4th learning project, begin designing your own project
6 Design review
7 Begin individual/pair project
8 Continue work on individual projects
9 Finish work on projects
10 Showcase of projects – Parents invited!

Then I asked them what their goals for Code Club were.  What did they want to learn – because I can present lessons that help them meet their goals.

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What my Code Club wants to learn to make with Scratch

For some, they just want to learn to make Sprites move around using the arrow keys. Others want to make something like a Fortnite or Surviv.io Battle Royale game.  I told them I wouldn’t allow any first-person shooters and I have a general ban on weapons (although I have made the occasional exception for a toilet paper cannon, and a laser gun for shooting blobs).  My 7th-grade helper helped me out by describing the work it would take to “code” the whole landscape of Surviv.io Battle Royale and generally expressing his opinion that it would take too much work to do something of that scale.

I have two former Code Club members as helpers in this session.  I sent out an email last month to the Tech Integrator and other STEM teachers at the high school looking for a possible high school volunteer for Code Club. When I didn’t hear anything, I sent some emails to my first Code Club parents.  Those students are now 9th graders, but I heard back that they are busy.  One younger brother (my 7th-grade helper I mentioned above) was willing to help out. Yay. He arrived (he is really tall now) and asked if it was the same format as when he was in Code Club.  Yep.  I haven’t changed much of the format.  He agreed that it worked as he enjoyed making his own project during the second half of the session.  A fifth-grader and Code Club member from last year also showed up to help.  Once I confirmed with one of his parents that he was allowed to stay, I had two helpers.

I usually start with a maze project or Chatbot.  I decided to start with a Chatbot.  I use Code Club world project directions and I like the first project to be an easy one so they can get used to the direction format. Whenever someone needed help, I’d make sure they had at least looked at the directions.

Other times when someone needed help, I’d have to encourage my helpers to jump in.  I think they had a good time and were helpful.  I heard them complain once about the coders not saving.  “You should save! Often.” I heard the 7th grader say.  I think the students were deleting the whole Sprite when they wanted to make a costume change rather than changing costumes from the costume tab.  I think I’m going to talk about the Sprites and their properties (and saving) next time.

I’m also going to introduce Space Junk as a learning project. It will meet their goals of learning to use arrow keys and the obstacle avoidance games. We are off to a good start.

Computational Thinking

I’m redesigning a coding unit in my New York Academy of Sciences STEM Education in the 21st century online course. I’m building off my Trick or Treat project and the Math Quiz game project that I have taught in the past, infusing the lessons with essential STEM skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.  The course is really helping me think about my learning objectives for the students. It is also helping me understand the importance of this types of activities – beyond that they are engaging for students.

Concurrent to the course, I’m actually running the unit in two math classes, co-teaching with the classroom teacher so I am able to fine tune the lessons and reflect on what went well or not so well.  Last week we finished up the Trick or Treat project (lesson 1 and 2) just before Halloween.  Here is the project instructions document: Public Trick or Treat instructions. One teacher expressed how organized the project was and how the handout made it easy for her to help students. (All this planning is paying off ) I also had a sample project that I modeled with and had the students brainstorm ideas for different actions when “trick” or when “treat” was selected.

I changed my handout for the next lesson when I heard that students felt they were getting out of learning because it was so much fun.  I wanted to make their learning visible to them.  They needed to know how much computational concepts and thinking they were actually doing. I came across the Creative Computing Curriculum Appendix on Computational Thinking and crafted this reflection page to help my students see what they were learning: Public Scratch: Reflecting on Learning  I went over all the concepts and we talked about how we had already used some of them and some we would use later.  We talked about the different practices, especially testing and debugging.  I was impressed with reflections they did.  I can see that they can identify the concepts and practices they are using as they learn to code.

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4th grader’s reflection

In addition, we spent time on testing and debugging.  I used this project to model how testing and debugging work (I even told the origin story of debugging) and I had a worksheet for them to fill out while testing.

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Reflection on revising

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This student knows how if-then-else blocks work!

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For 3rd grade I simplified it a bit, and still got awesomeness.

 

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 https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/340589577/

(I’m going to just hit send so this doesn’t end up like the numerous other draft posts I’ve written lately.)

Finite State Machine

My monthly middle school library code club met this week on April Fools Day.  I thought it would be fun to make a joke or prank project but I wanted to give some boundaries to the students, too. I was a little bit worried that we might end up with some inappropriate projects.

I kept thinking about one project that a middle school student made during the Winter Carnival coding sessions.  In addition to his animation, he had a simple button on the screen that said: “Don’t press”. Of course, users are going to press it.  Pressing it made a really annoying and alarming sound. I thought this type of project would make a great April Fools project for my group.

When I started to make my own version of the “Do Not Press” project,

I realized that I wanted different things to happen: first one thing would happen, then something else, and so on. Each time you pressed the button something new would happen. I would need a way to check how many times the button had been pressed and use that to decide what would happen. I needed a finite state machine (at least a very simple one).

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A finite state machine, FSM, is a basic computer science concept for controlling the logic of a program. The concepts center around keeping track of the state and what it takes to move between different states. This example is the simplest form of FSM. Now I had a lesson to teach the students and a fun prank project for them to make, too.

Using a single variable to keep track of the state of the project can come in handy for many types of projects. I had a couple of the coders in my mind who would find learning this concept useful in the programming they like to do.

The coders did find the project fun.  A few of them expanded on my starter project and a few them took the concept and used it in their own original way.

I only wish I had not made the final state check “if state > 3” but “if state = 4” in my example.  That would have made it easier for the coders to add on more states.

CS Concepts in Elementary Grades

2018 January Tech Expo LOGOThis last week I led a professional development session titled “CS Concepts in Elementary Grades” for my district’s Tech Expo.  It was one of several dozen sessions available for teachers during the day. I had just a handful of teachers at my session.

 

I started with this video from Code.org. It introduces “why CS?” better than I can.

Next, we took a quick look at the CS Standards at http://www.csteachers.org/page/standards, just to see that there are standards and where to find them.

Then it was on to try out Scratch.  (One teacher had mentioned this is why she signed up for my session.  She wanted to learn Scratch.)  I introduced Scratch by going over these concepts:

    1. Stage
    2. Sprites
    3. Script, Costume, Sound tabs
    4. Block menu

Then I let them try out the Virtual Pet project using the Scratch cards from https://scratch.mit.edu/tips.  I picked the Virtual Pet project as it hits all the concepts I wanted to introduce.

 

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Code from a student-made Virtual Baby project

 

These are the concepts I think are important for elementary students to be introduced to:

    1. Computational Thinking
    2. Algorithms
    3. Commands
    4. Events
    5. Initial Conditions
    6. Decisions / Conditionals
    7. Iteration, Loops and Forever
    8. Coordinate knowledge
    9. Data and variables
    10. Debugging – Checking for errors

I had one Kindergarten teacher attend my session, so I handed her an iPad with Scratch Jr. on it.  She had a great time playing and exploring Scratch Jr. while the rest of us working on our Virtual Pets.

The Virtual Pet project turned out to be pretty complicated for a first time Scratcher. They had a hard time with Broadcast and Recieve, just like my Code Club members when they tried the Virtual Pet project. I guess I knew this would be a difficult concept but it is so powerful. I like all the things you learn when trying this project out, even if it is a bit overwhelming.

After some success, we moved on and I showed them some student work.  I wanted them to see examples of how to incorporate Scratch into their curriculum.

    1. Intro to Scratch was independently made by one of my former Code Club members https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/177914932/
    2. Infinity and Beyond shows how a research topic (math topic in this case) can be shared using Scratch https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/22933952/
    3. Apple Inventory is another case of using Scratch to demonstrate understanding  https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/66568488/
    4. Math Games by students for Hour of Code week  https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/3616910/
    5. Winter Fun is an introductory project I’ve done with students https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/3664546/
    6. Spirograph Studio (reminiscent of the old Turtle paths play)  https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/3984733/

 

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Using Scratch to show your math solution.

 

I have many more, but as we were running out of time I quickly went through some Debug-It projects I found on the Scratch site.  I think it is important that teachers feel confident in helping students when they get stuck.  Knowing how to debug Scratch projects can help.

Debug it

  1. https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/23267245/
  2. https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/24269007/
  3. https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/2042712/

I didn’t really pick the right Debug it projects for my attendees.  These were more challenging for my audience than I thought they would be.  I wish I had chosen easier ones or left this for another session altogether.

I hope my session left them with an idea of how to start using Scratch in their classroom.  I also hope they will reach out to me if they would like support facilitating Scratch projects in their classroom.  I worry that they were a bit overwhelmed with all I presented. They were a pretty quiet bunch, but I guess I’m used to a room full of rambunctious 10-year olds.

Oh, and I also compiled this list of resources:

Resource List

ScratchJr:  http://www.scratchjr.org/

Scratch online: Scratch.mit.edu 

Teacher accounts https://scratch.mit.edu/educators/

Scratch cards & Educator Guides https://scratch.mit.edu/tips

Offline editor https://scratch.mit.edu/download

Starter Projects https://scratch.mit.edu/starter_projects/

ScratchEd online community http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/

Creative Computing Curriculum using Scratch http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/guide/

Code.org Teaching Computer Science Fundamentals PD

https://studio.code.org/s/K5-OnlinePD

Code.org Lessons: https://code.org/student/elementary

https://code.org/educate/curriculum/elementary-school

CS4NH resources:

http://www.cs4nh.org/resources/framework-standards/

CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards, Revised 2017

http://www.csteachers.org/page/standards

CS for All Teachers 7 “big ideas”:

https://www.csforallteachers.org/computer-science-principles

CodeClub.org:  https://codeclubprojects.org/en-GB/scratch/

K-12 Computer Science Framework: https://k12cs.org/