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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Forever, Until Done

I’ve been noticing interesting uses, or misuses, of Scratch’s ‘forever’ block.  I applaud Scratch for it’s fail soft policy and understanding the desire of 10 year olds to test things, especially to their limits.

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Nested forever loops will get the job done

The ‘forever’ block seems pretty self-explanatory and perhaps that means I don’t introduce it properly. My students tend to use it in 3 ways: repeating actions, for event listeners and for looping background music.

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Repeating an action forever

I introduce the forever block after introducing the repeat block.  Once they know about it, there is no going back!

In many games you wait for a certain action to happen to respond to it. One way to do that is to code some ‘if statements’ and set them in a forever loop, like an event listener in other coding languages.

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Listening for the win condition

Many, many students want use it for play background music for their games.

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Two dance tracks in a forever loop.  Both seem to work, together.

And I think it is with the ‘play sound’ block where things gets confusing.  I am a proponent of ‘play sound until done’ in a forever loop, and the Scratch Wiki concurs, but it seems to work without the ‘until done’ if it is the only thing in the forever loop.

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Even without the ‘until done’ this code plays the whole song in an infinite loop

Other things I’ve seen makes me wonder. Why did the Scratcher feel the need to use the forever block?  Was some other code interfering with their action?

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What would cause the need for show in a forever loop?

Or are they just testing things to see what works and what fails.

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Forever and ever and ever and ever, just in case repeating 10 to the power of 109 times isn’t enough!

Thanks Scratch for not failing them.

A New Start

My two Code Clubs have started up again. There are 20 students and 2 high school volunteers for each club.  The first meeting has happened. Students learned about Scratch, had fun and I’m excited for both clubs.

This is my 3rd year. It’s session #6 & #7 of Code Club for 4th graders in my city. I know all the students from my school but only 2 of the students from the other side of town.

One thing I worry about, now that I have been coaching Code Club and teaching Scratch to elementary students for three years, is forgetting what it is like not to know how to program in Scratch, not to know what a Sprite is or know that the Stage has no movement blocks, etc.  I don’t want to assume that they know what I know and I want to present concepts that will be relevant to what they do understand. (I realize this concern is not unique in the teaching profession).

I have on the calendar for the first session of Code Club: “First meeting – Rules & Goals, Intro to Scratch”.  So I decided to morph the Rules & Goals and include a bit of the first step in thinking like a programmer.  Defining rules & goals is a big part of what a programmer really does.  I tried framing the rules in pseudo-programming language with the students as well:  If the day is Wednesday and the second bell rings, then it is time for Code Club.  When you open up Scratch, forever have fun.  I’m not sure I got my point across.

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I presented the Maze game to Wednesday’s club because I knew they had used Scratch before as 3rd graders. They struggled a bit.

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Most of them were able to get their Sprites to move around using arrow keys and set up the maze background.  Some were able to get the conditional sensing color code working.

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Puff magic, a working maze game

And this one below added a squirrel that spins around the screen changing colors of the hero. Cool.

On Thursday I introduced Scratch concepts to 3rd & 4th grade programming newbies and blew their minds with the possibilities Scratch offers through simple blocks of code. The energy was thrilling and left me pumped.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-5-22-51-pmAfter introducing the same concepts of defining rules in code, (and Code Club) the first thing we tried was Motion blocks (ie moving a Sprite with the spacebar). And then we added Looks (ie change color).

 

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screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-5-26-41-pmAnd finally, the awesome: Sounds forever!

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In reviewing all of Thursday’s projects, I found those kids had some serious fun with Scratch last week!

I can tell I haven’t blogged in a while and I struggled to write this coherently and in a timely fashion.

A New Plan

(I know, 3 blogs in one week.  Bear with me. This one is short)

I spent some time over the weekend hashing out the project plan and learning objectives for my two code clubs.  I feel better with a plan and ideas in mind and on paper.

I also revised my expectations for last week.  My learning objective for the students last week was to get to know Scratch and the code blocks that include Events, Motion, Looks and Sound.  I have to remember there’s also a new costume editor they will have to get a feel for as well as the notion of the Stage and Sprites and how they are different.  That’s actually a lot. I think the majority of the students have got a grasp on some of those concepts. (If they haven’t forgotten them in the meantime)

One student came up to me today and said, “I wish Code Club was everyday!!” What an awesome sentiment.

This week I’d like to focus on Initial Conditions, Conditionals and Sensing blocks. To that end, I’ve updated the maze project to use for Scratch 2.0. And we will try it out tomorrow.

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Scratch 2 Maze Project – Google Docs

I wonder if I’ll have time to mention the “Think like a Programmer” ideas of make one change, test it, make another change, test it?

Then next week both clubs can work on the same project.