Computational Thinking

I’m redesigning a coding unit in my New York Academy of Sciences STEM Education in the 21st century online course. I’m building off my Trick or Treat project and the Math Quiz game project that I have taught in the past, infusing the lessons with essential STEM skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.  The course is really helping me think about my learning objectives for the students. It is also helping me understand the importance of this types of activities – beyond that they are engaging for students.

Concurrent to the course, I’m actually running the unit in two math classes, co-teaching with the classroom teacher so I am able to fine tune the lessons and reflect on what went well or not so well.  Last week we finished up the Trick or Treat project (lesson 1 and 2) just before Halloween.  Here is the project instructions document: Public Trick or Treat instructions. One teacher expressed how organized the project was and how the handout made it easy for her to help students. (All this planning is paying off ) I also had a sample project that I modeled with and had the students brainstorm ideas for different actions when “trick” or when “treat” was selected.

I changed my handout for the next lesson when I heard that students felt they were getting out of learning because it was so much fun.  I wanted to make their learning visible to them.  They needed to know how much computational concepts and thinking they were actually doing. I came across the Creative Computing Curriculum Appendix on Computational Thinking and crafted this reflection page to help my students see what they were learning: Public Scratch: Reflecting on Learning  I went over all the concepts and we talked about how we had already used some of them and some we would use later.  We talked about the different practices, especially testing and debugging.  I was impressed with reflections they did.  I can see that they can identify the concepts and practices they are using as they learn to code.

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4th grader’s reflection

In addition, we spent time on testing and debugging.  I used this project to model how testing and debugging work (I even told the origin story of debugging) and I had a worksheet for them to fill out while testing.

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Reflection on revising

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This student knows how if-then-else blocks work!

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For 3rd grade I simplified it a bit, and still got awesomeness.

 

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 https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/340589577/

(I’m going to just hit send so this doesn’t end up like the numerous other draft posts I’ve written lately.)

Superpower Challenge

Monday was the last meeting of the library code club for the year. It was one of those rare warm and sunny New England Spring days and consequently, we had a small group of six.

I went through all of the different projects we worked on over the school year by looking at the projects in the class studios since October.

October: Animated name/Random stuff about me

November: Pong or Catch

December: Christmas Present game or snowball fight game

January: Scratch 3.0/ Year 3000 and text-to-speech

February: Video sensing

March: more video sensing (by popular demand), timers & timing

April: Finite state machine/ Green up your city

For May, I was going to let them revisit one of their creations from the last year and finish or improve it. This is something they ask for when they leave each month. They ask me if they can work on the same project next time. I’m not convinced that they would have the same passion for a project a month later. Still, it is a good idea to look back and reflect on the projects of the past year.

Meanwhile, an email from Code Club USA came and mentioned their Superpower Activate challenge. That sounded fun to me. Superpowers don’t have to be like in the comic books, they can be simple, like being a good friend, helping people, coding, being a team player, quoting movies, or not getting caught with gum in math class.  I came up with this one for me.

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I wasn’t sure how the superpower prompt would go over, but they seemed excited about it after I presented it and showed them my project. I was sure one student was going to work on a previous project, but later I saw him putting together an awesome superpower project.  Four of them made superpower projects to share in our May studio.

One improved a prior project and turned it into her superpower project and one student created a new project about riddles – which might be his superpower.  We were certainly stumped by his riddles.

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I really enjoy leading this group of creative, middle school coders.  We have a small core of coders who have come each month over the last two year and we often have first-time Scratchers as well.  This makes it complicated to find projects so that everyone can be challenged and successful. The creative prompts and projects I find from the Scratch community, Code Club, & Scratch Design Studio have really been engaging.  They have been designed, as Mitch Resnick says, with low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls.

Something Strange in the Neighborhood

Who ya gonna call? This week we tackled the Ghostbusters game from Code Club level 1 projects.  I slated it for this week since we met just before Halloween.  I gave them a bit of leeway on following the project to the letter and let them pick any ghost sprite, and use any sound. Most of the issues we encountered this time were same as the ones we encountered last week – generally there were issues locating specific code blocks and difficulties following directions specifically enough for the game to work.

Ghostbusters Scratch

But they pick this stuff up so fast and make sense of it, too.  It is amazing.  Some of them are starting to know where they can make their own changes without affecting the game play or where their changes actually can make the game better.

My plan for Code Club this week was to start off reflecting on last week’s learning project and see how everyone felt Code Club was going. As much as I understand the importance of reflection, I don’t always take the time to let the students reflect. This week, though, I wanted to hear their thoughts on how the first learning project went. Unfortunately, reflection time at the beginning, during snack, was derailed a bit by the general, insuppressible excitement level of the students, something that I had been noticing all day – probably due to a trifecta of events this week: Open House last night, indoor recess due to rain that day, and the anticipation of Halloween on Friday.  There was nothing to do but move on to the main event: Coding!

I felt a bit more prepared this time as I had just walked through the Ghostbuster project with a couple of students earlier during indoor recess.  It really helps to actually work your way through a project, or help someone work their way through one. It is a different level of understanding than just reading through it. (Shocker)

When we came to the part to add a sound to the game when you score a point, I did fuel the fire of their enthusiasm by bringing out two microphones and letting the students record their own sounds. Recording from microphones worked surprisingly well despite the noise level of 22 students working in Scratch in an after-school setting.

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For their final independent project, I will want them to create all of their own sounds, sprites and backgrounds.  I may have to scrounge up another microphone or create a schedule for their use.

Boy was it hard to stop at 4:15