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.

 

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 7.36.58 PM

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/

 

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 7.32.51 PM

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/

 

 

Tales of Hour of Code 2016

Hour of Code or Computer Science Education Week was well received by the school this year. Every class from Kindergarten to 4th grade had the opportunity to work on one of Code.org’s Hour of Code tutorials during their computer lab time. This is Code.org’s third year of promoting a week of computer science education and I’ve supported them each year by introducing these tutorials to my students.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-7-27-21-amThis year Minecraft and Moana were the big hits, as well as Angry Birds and Star Wars.  The tutorial options are a great way to give students choice in the learning and they are so fun.  Students can’t believe they can play Minecraft at school.  I like the new Minecraft Designer tutorial.  I felt it gave the students a peek at the code behind the game and allowed them a lot of freedom of choice and freedom to be goofy.  What 8 year old wouldn’t want a chicken that lays diamonds!  Meanwhile they don’t even realize how much they are learning about how to program.

20161207_141456

1st grade Hour of Code activities

I do like to see who has that algorithmic thinking skill and is able to solve the tutorial puzzles independently.  For 2nd graders in general, Moana and Minecraft have pretty difficult concepts, like algorithmic planning, iteration and events (in Minecraft Designer).  Some of them look to each other for help, sometimes I have to read the directions to them, sometimes I have to be Steve or the boat so they can see how it turns in place and moves forward.  One 2nd grader surprised me at how easy the tutorial was for him.  I called him a Coding God (they are studying Ancient Greek Gods right now). He thought that was hilarious. I hope he signs up for Code Club when he is in 4th grade.

 

In addition to general class Hour of Code activities, my three math enrichment classes completed their Scratch math games.  That’s 27 new math games coded by 8-10 year olds. Here are the 4th graders, and 3rd graders studios. This week they played each other’s games and gave feedback in terms of Two Stars and a Wish, as I have done in the past.  I love this step in the game engineering process.  The students have to take the time to notice and test each game and learn to give good feedback.  I’m hoping we get time to improve the games based on the feedback they receive.

20161208_103326

I will leave the option of Hour of Code activities for the rest of December – making it Month of Coding at our school!

There are so many tutorials at Code.org/learn.  I may have to try a few myself. I’ve been meaning to learn Javascript.

Maze Race Game

Last week’s Code Club took a lot of planning and preparation.  I’m going to write about it in 2 parts. Here’s part 1.

I introduced one last project for Code Club on Wednesday.  I wanted them to learn that Sprites can sense what they are touching, like a color, or the stage’s edge, or another Sprite. Collision detection is a fairly basic element in many computer games and not trivial to code for in many programming languages, in my opinion. Scratch makes it fairly intuitive. I found three different instructional resources that teach the creation of a maze or race game in Scratch.

Code Club World has a Boat Race project in beta form. It is so new, in fact, that when I went looking for a project of this type, it was only available from Code Club (for UK clubs only).  Looks like a fun project and I want to try it next time.

In Jeremy Scott’s “Starting from Scratch” guide, there’s a maze game that introduces collision detection. I like this resource from the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  It explains basic computer science concepts and ideas that the students will be exposed to using Scratch. That helps me use the correct terminology and know the “why” do I teach this behind the “how” do I teach this. The maze game instructions looked easy to follow to me, but it wasn’t in the Code Club format that the students had grown used to.

Maze game.

Maze game -use the arrow keys to reach the dragon. Don’t touch the sides.

I also came across Simon Haughton’s website and in his second Scratch lesson he has a car racing game. The goal is to cross the finish line without driving off the track.  Driving off the track sends you back to the beginning. I like how he has the students make their own race track in 3 simple steps: Flood the stage with color,  draw or erase the “track”, and draw a finish line in a different color.

My take on Race Game

I used his instructions first with a group of 4th grade students who have been learning a bit about Scratch during school.  We didn’t have time to do any extensions, like adding a timer, enemies or sounds, but a couple of students added a “crashed” costume to their car. Turns out if the new costume is bigger or a different shape than your original, you may be touching the edge of the track even when sent back to the start.  Another student was starting to add an oil slick, like my water hazard, before we ran out of time.

Unsure of how much coding time we’d have in Code Club this week, because we had a guest speaker coming talk about software development, I decided to started with Jeremy Scott’s Maze game instructions. We used the maze gif resource for the stage but I let them choose any two sprites for explorer and target. One student spent the whole time editing the sprite to his satisfaction -a graphic designer in the making, perhaps?  Next we set up the arrow key controls on the explorer sprite and added collision and target detection.   By the end of Code Club some were able to start a second level of their own design.

Second level student example

Second level student example

cp maze

Second level, student example

The jump to using different sources for instruction was hardest on my volunteers.  Our speaker stayed to assist and I had my high school student there as well. I had experience fielding questions with this after my 4th grade class earlier that day, but my volunteers were grasping the concepts at the same time as the students. Also the handouts weren’t as readable as they could’ve been. After a rough start, things settled down and the students seemed pretty independent.  Hey, I think that’s success right there.

What about that guest speaker, you ask?  That’ll be part 2.

Everyone is Doing It

About a half dozen years ago my school district went through a “consolidation” where some schools closed and a new school was built. The result was that my school’s population got younger. I went from teaching graphing with Excel to fifth graders to mouse skills to Kindergarteners.

Click on the star-side

Click on the star side

But gee, those Kindergarteners are so cute and so effervescent.  What a blast to find little online activities for them to try.  We love StarFall.com and ABCya.com and ToyTheatre.com and the list goes on.  BBC & PBS Kids and well as some textbook publishing companies all have interactive games on the web for free.  There are even more resources if you have monies to pay for a subscription or don’t mind setting up accounts for your students.

During that first year, I searched long and persistently to find free, appropriate, educational, curriculum related web-activities for my younger students to use during their computer lab time. My success varied. What I did come across was a number of little learning games, simple enough in their construction that, I thought, perhaps, even I could make a game like that.  That became a motivator for me, something I could challenge myself with. So when I was unable to find online resource on a specific topic I envisioned or for different parts of our curriculum, I imagined I could just write my own.  It seemed everyone was doing it.

I was also inspired by ABCya.com story.  Here was another person, like me, looking for good resources on the web and when he couldn’t find much, started making the resources himself. The ABCya! site has grown into a great resource and achieved many accolades.  Their stuff just keeps getting better and better with each iteration.

abcya

While what I’ve been able to do can’t compete with the likes of ABCya!, I did start making my own games.  You can find them at MrsPollardsGames.com.  My original plan was to learn how to make games, then teach some older students (like high school kids) to make resources for the younger kids.  We would use the little ones ideas and artwork and the older ones ability/desire to code (and I would facilitate the collaboration).  Sounded like fun and learning all around.  (And I naively thought I could just do it.)

As it turns out, it’s more complicated than I thought to make even the simplest of games. When I started with this idea a lot of the resources that I found online were FLASH games and the .swf file extension of these assets were made with Adobe ActionScript.  So I decided to learn it.  My daughter drew the pictures for me and I wrote my first game in 2010 – the Farm Game.

Count the farm animals.

Count the farm animals FLASH game

I can only make one or two games in a year. As much as I enjoy the process and the sense of accomplishment in producing a new game, it just takes so much time and energy. It really challenges my ability to think like a programmer: break down the game into logical steps, specify the outcomes, plan game play, set up the objects, think about the outcomes, animate, test, debug.  I can credit part of my success in this endeavor to the software engineer who is my spouse.  He doesn’t like Adobe’s FLASH environment, but he helps me with ActionScript, the object-oriented programming (OOP) side. He’s great at making me think through all the logical steps and suggesting what I should test to figure out why things aren’t doing what they are supposed to.  Books help, too.  I’ve amassed a few ActionScript animation and game building guides.  I took a Java course online to learn more about that type of programming (a MOOC on OOP).  I suppose if I created more games and spent more time at it, I’d get better at it.  I just don’t think I can teach it to anyone else. I need too much help with it myself.

And the web is changing.  It’s not enough to have a little game on a web-site.  It has to be mobile ready, use rich, dynamic web-design, etc, created by acronyms like JSON, HTML5 & CSS, AJAX, etc.  I won’t be able to keep up.

But it’s okay, because I’ve got a new challenge now with Scratch.  It’s a different vision than the one I started with, but I am teaching kids to code and it is a blast.

We didn’t have Code Club last week, but we do tomorrow.  And it’s all about animation…. Stay tuned.