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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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!

 

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.

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.)

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.

Don’t Laugh

The projects for our showcases are finished and have been published on the Scratch site and I’m compiling them onto our school Code Club page in preparation for our final meetings this week when the parents come to see what we have been up to.

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Chatbot and Pong game in one project

There are some pretty impressive projects.  And the students’ hard work is evident.  Maze games, Chatbots, Races, Survivor games, Pong types:

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Space Pong – hit the portal that matches the ball color.

Then there’s The Epic Game where there are 4 games in one project.  The two girls working on this one came in at recess to work on it and were really motivated to meet their goal of finishing it.

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The Epic Game – it took epic effort.

They learned a lot about game flow, how to use broadcast effectively and how making one seemly insignificant change can break everything. And about testing, testing, testing. I thought I would need to show them Rik Cross’s Cheat Codes, but their chatbot like game flow let us quickly get to the game that was having issues.

I’m really proud of all of these projects and coders, even the two, possibly three, Try Not To Laugh projects.  Yes, it seems we have a dancing llama infection.  The first TNTL project was a dancing llama project from Showcase #2 called Super Awesome Llama Man. I wasn’t that impressed with the project makers plan or effort, but it fit his personality and every single 4th grader who sees it seems to think it is hilarious in it’s absurdity. This year the llama man Sprite is back in a couple of Try Not to Laugh projects.  Also is a walking taco and troll face.

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Llama is back – TNTL

I okayed one TNTL project but when two students project derailed because they couldn’t agree on how to proceed with their joint project, I okayed their change to a TNTL project.

 

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So many llamas

I tried to find funny gifs other than the llama, but they all love the llama.  Really, it’s not funny anymore.