Snack Discussion

I’ve started my eleventh 4th-grade after school Code Club session. We’ve met three times and things are going well, but I’ve neglected to blog.  I’m using the same club format and the same projects I’ve blogged about before, so there was really not much to write about.  After this week’s session, though, I found I have something to share.

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Week 2 project: Maze game by a 4th-grade code club member

Code Club starts right after school – literally, the last bell rings and the students walk from their classroom to the computer lab. We start by circling up the chairs and having a meeting time where I take attendance, talk about what project we are going to do, and have a snack. (Snacks are provided by members who volunteer to bring something to share with everyone.)

Since we can’t eat while coding on the computers (school policy and good rule in general), I use this beginning time to talk about computer science, my coding objective for the day, etc.  This group is a very easy-to-manage and attentive group so I have made an effort to start a snack discussion to fill this time. Their thoughts and ideas are helping me craft the club to fit their needs.

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This first day I asked them what their favorite computer/video game was. Their favorite games ranged from themed games like Harry Potter to popular MMO games like battle royale type games.   No real surprise there.

The second week I asked them what types of games or projects they wanted to learn to make. I wrote down their list of ideas.  There weren’t many surprises, but I do have a number of girls who want to make a virtual pet style game, so I’ve added that to the learning projects I will present to them.

This week I asked them what they thought was the hardest part of coding. This was exciting because many of them felt comfortable enough to share their concerns.  I listened and affirmed that all of these were difficult parts.

I have a volunteer, who is a middle school math teacher, and she shared her concern that the hardest part for her was when a student asked for help but only said, “this isn’t working”.  It is true, that it is difficult to figure out what is not working in code at first glance. It would be helpful for the students to explain what they were hoping would happen and what was actually happening in their code.

Some of the other parts they thought difficult were:

  1. finding the code blocks they were looking for.  (I have to remember that they are very new to Scratch.)
  2. using the costume editor. (Another student gave some tips on this – like switching out of vector mode to draw. I thought it was great that they are helping each other.)
  3. coming up with the design of the project they want to make. (I affirmed this was a difficult part. A good design plan makes the rest of the project go smoothly. For some games, the design phase takes 50% of the total time from start to finish.  I also told them that when designing their game, they would fill out a Game Design Document to help them make those design decisions.)
  4. finishing the project/ getting the project to match their expectations. (Wow, these are insightful kids.  Yes, I told them that I and the volunteers would help them manage their project.  First by making sure it was a project that could be done and second, by helping make a plan for them to get it done in time.)

The snack discussion has become a favorite part of Code Club for me.  I hope I can come up with more good prompts.  Maybe I’ll ask about getting unstuck next.

I am also enjoying teaching them to code and playing some of their creative projects, too.  Here are a few screenshots.

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Week 3 project: Quiz-type Chatbot by 4th-grade Code Club Member

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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!

Fractions to Decimals

I created a Scratch lesson for my 7th grade math class this week. It is a starter project but I wanted the students to have a bit of practice with Scratch before we do a more complex math modeling project in November.

(First a bit of background – I’m student teaching middle school this fall and should have a 5-8 Math teacher certificate by the end of the year.  I’ll be back at my elementary computer lab position after that and I’ll run my code clubs in the winter.  I’m still leading Creative Coders Club at the local public library once a month.)

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The 7th graders have been learning about expressions with variables, integers and rational numbers. For this introductory project I had them create a fraction to decimal converter. Have the user give two integers and use division to give back the decimal.

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Basic code for project (with spelling errors).

I set up a Scratch teacher account with classes for the each section of 7th grade math then put the class invites into our Google Classroom.  This worked well since we were using Chromebooks.  I’m not sure how students who already have a Scratch account would be able to join our Scratch class, but the students seemed okay with making accounts.  I gave a few suggestions on setting up account names.  The only hiccup we had was when they went back to log in a second time, many went through the class invitation again and then couldn’t log in without setting up a second account. (I hope there is a way to remove those extra accounts.)  Adding a direct link to Scratch in our Google Classroom and giving clearer instructions alleviated this problem.

I set up a studio for each class but I gave them the exact same name.  This confused me later when adding projects to the studio I couldn’t tell which went with which class. Luckily you can easily change studio names.

Rational Number Period 1

Rational Number Period 4

After the first day of working on the project, I decided that I needed more formal assessment of this project so I adapted a rubric from the Scratch Ed one here and set up some test cases for the students to use to test their projects.  Testing is an important part of programming.

Students seems engaged and excited to be working in Scratch. I’m pleased with the turnout of completed projects and quality of the work.  There are some missing instructions and spelling issues but even I spelled denominator wrong in my example and a student had to point this out to me. A number of students came in during study hall to work on their projects.  One student who was new to Scratch and our school just had the biggest smile when he learned about the color and whirl effect options.

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New coder excited about Scratch

And one of our struggling students went above and beyond with her project.

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Excellent project

One issue I inadvertently avoided was the fact that Scratch will round decimals to two places in say blocks unless they are inside join blocks.  The Scratch Wiki mention of the Offline Decimal Trick  is the only reference I found in support of this feature.  Fortunately my directions were for student to use the join block to join “The answer is ” and the answer.  This allowed the students to see all of the interesting repeating decimals and weird rounding that appears from converting rational numbers into decimals. I didn’t notice this happenstance until I was helping some students finish at the last minute and we took a short cut for the last line and just put the answer in a say block. It took me a while to figure out what was going on.

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Without the join block, decimals are rounded to 2 places.

Here is the lesson I designed: Decimal Scratch Project If your students are really new to Scratch it might be advantageous to print the first page in color so the students can see where to find the blocks. (I guess I’ll have to update this when 3.0 is released.)

I wondered if any student would try to divide by zero.   Scratch will return the answer “Infinity” in this case which could lead to an interesting math discussion.

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.