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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.