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.)

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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.

 

Chatbot Decisions

This week both code clubs did the same project – Code Club World’s Chatbot. I like this one because it is not a game and students can be very creative at asking questions for the user to answer.  My goal was for them to learn about 1) user input, 2) if-then-else and 3) operators. That’s a lot. At a minimum, I think most everyone was able to use the “ask and answer” blocks, the “join” block and try one “if-then-else” block.

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Some were able to add animations at the end which I thought was pretty cool.  Some went back to their previous maze game and added some talking.  Also cool.

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The Wednesday club wore out my high school student with their needs, despite my call for them to ask a neighbor for help first before you ask an adult.Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 7.50.35 AM

Thursday’s club figured out that if the answer is not typed exactly, then the “else” clause runs.  So if the user types “sure” instead of “yes” the program will think it is wrong.  One student had an extra space in the operator clause, as in answer = “yes “.  That bug took a bit to fix.  Another student was looking for a really big number:

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One of the tricky parts to this lesson is a defining variable and setting the answer to it. The students can follow the directions, but I don’t know that they understand why they are doing that or what it going on.  I have to remember these are pre-pre-algebra students.  Still, they will most likely want to keep track of a score or timer, so for now, they will try it and later we will come back to this concept when they need it in their projects.Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 7.49.59 AM

While I love the creativity and extensions this project allows for, you do have to set expectations for appropriateness.  I had to ask a few students to change their responses to the questions.  I like to go around and test out their programs, putting my name in as the answer to “What’s your name?”.  When the response is “That’s a dumb name” or something equally as inappropriate, I get a bit disappointed and tell them to change it to something appropriate.  One student responded, “I didn’t think you’d play the game.” He obviously knew he was being inappropriate but was, at least, embarrassed by it.

Here’s one more creative take on Chatbot:Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 7.15.26 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 7.15.16 AM