Superhero Remix

The art teacher and I collaborated again this year with our superhero animation project.  3rd-grade students sketched their ideas for a superhero in art class then we used computer lab time to draw their superhero and background in MS Paint.  The next step was importing the files into Scratch and adding the code to animate them.

The students were engaged and worked hard. They could see where the project was going because they had seen last year’s example videos.  Some of them were familiar enough with Scratch to add a bit of flair (or music) to their animations. I saw more color effect changes and even helped implement other effects like this use of the whirl effect to animate Red Jelly Man:

One improvement that I tried to implement this year was the use of additional costumes to create the illusion of animation along with the moving of the Sprite across the screen. This was most easily accomplished by duplicating and then modifying.  Modifications generally included a slight rotation of the whole Sprite or to just an arm or other body parts.  Little changes really enhance the overall effect of the animation.

 

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Boring man has 2 costumes to look like he is walking

 

 

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Only Snakewoman’s rattle changes in the costume changes.

 

 

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Mr. Moo deploys his mini-moo with costumes varying the distance between hero and sidekick.

 

Another student’s Animal Man had 8 different animal costumes, all drawn by the student for his shape-shifting superhero.

Another technique we added this year was some simple backdrop animations.

 

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Thundergirl moves in front of lightning that comes and goes via code on the Stage

 

I’m very pleased with the second round of the Superhero project.  You can find all the movies here on my YouTube playlist.

Note: The students were able to add the project video of the animation to their digital portfolio without having to convert from the .flv format.  The actual Scratch projects are not shared online but completed using Scratch 2.0 offline editor.

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Coding Their Own Way

The students have begun their independent projects for our showcase in May.  They are really into their projects already.  At our last meeting, I met with (most of) the teams or individuals to go over their Game Design Document (GDD).  Over time I’ve been adding things to the GDD to make it more comprehensive but it has gotten a bit unwieldy.  Students don’t always fill it all out or their ideas don’t fit in with the description. I definitely need to reflect on the GDD and figure out what should remain and what can go.

Let’s go back to basics.  Why do I have the GDD?  Is it for the students or for me?

To make a project that takes multiple weeks to complete, but has a hard deadline, you’ll need a plan.  Planning is part of the engineering design process. In this sense, the GDD is for the students.

If you are working in a team, the need for a plan is crucial.  Who will create the backdrops? Who will code the Sprites? Do we agree on the gameplay? A team definitely needs a GDD to define roles, divide the labor, and to communicate ideas.

How do you know if it is a project that can be done in 4 weeks? What parts of the game are you not sure how to code? What should you work on first?  These questions are why the GDD is for me.  I see myself as the project manager for these 10-year-olds.  I want to ensure a project isn’t too large: “There will be 5 levels and a boss level with an army attack and when you die you turn into a zombie with a special power and then….” Yikes. I want to see that team members have communicated their ideas and agreed on the design. I want to make sure each team member has a job to do.  I want to know what parts of the coding will be tricky for them so I can find some examples of code to help them.

All of the projects this time seem pretty well thought out. There are no “try not to laugh” projects.  No Makey-Makey projects either, sadly.  There are a couple of maze games, two games with gravity, one animation, one karate game, and some adventure games.

One or two of the projects aren’t very complicated and I worry that they’ll finish too early.  I shouldn’t, though.  It will be good to have a couple of more polished, well-tested games for the showcase.

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This student is going to use this as her independent project and make a “Flappy Bird” type game.

I can’t end without sharing a few screenshots of student work.  The previous week I showed the students how to use the Tips tab to get step-by-step instructions on different games.  I suggested they try the “Make It Fly” tutorial.  This was an optional project and many chose that time to work on their GDD instead.

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This shows interesting graphic editing skills and some good coding.

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Makes you smile.

If Math Games, Then Hour of Code

Computer Science Education Week is upon us and my first batch of 4th grade Scratch math games are shared.  More will be completed tomorrow.  3rd graders have also been working on math games within my Scratch teacher account. I need to post those on our school website, too.screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-7-39-55-pm

I’ve been noticing a subtle misconception showing up with how my student are using the ask and answer blocks in their math quiz games.  When introducing the ask and answer block, I state that the two blocks work together. I talk about how the ask and wait is a Sensing block and is waiting for the user to type something and that something is held by the answer block.  I specifically say that these blocks come in a pair because I’ve had other issues with students type “answer” in the operator instead of using the answer block.

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This year, I guess, the students have more complicated scenarios with multiple Sprites in play.  They set up one Sprite to ask the question.

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and another Sprite to face the consequences of a right or wrong answer.

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The logic seems okay unless you realize that other Sprite is not waiting for the input.  That is subtle for them to understand.

I realize that the answer block is a global variable and can be separated from the ask block. The code below works on a separate Sprite from the one asking.

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However, my solution for the students was to create two broadcast messages: “correct” and “incorrect”. The broadcast event block is a powerful tool and a good block to get to know. Fourth grade teams were able to work on separate Sprites and code the ask/answer decisions in one and the receive broadcast events in the other and put them together to make cool projects.

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Then, of course, there is what happens when you show a certain 4th grader how to make random math fact variables:

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Yikes! I’m not sure how Scratch does it, but I love the fail soft aspects that make this a super awesome programming platform for kids.

More about Hour of Code as the week progresses.  I’m really looking forward to the week’s events.

Defining Initial Conditions and Sprite Senses

The second week of my two Code Clubs went better than the first week and some fun, creative Scratch projects were made.  I am pleased.

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Wednesdays’ club made maze games using Scratch 2 Offline editor.

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I talked about defining initial conditions.  If you are going to move the Sprite through the maze you’ll need to set up where you want the Sprite to start.  I was able to reinforce this notion with those who set up other items for the maze runners to touch and then have those item “hide”.  If you change the way the Sprite looks (hide), you’ll need to set up the way the Sprite starts off looking (show).

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I also talked about conditionals and ways Sprite can “sense” things.  They’ll get more practice with this concept again with next week’s project.

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Most students were successful and their maze games were very creative.  I think a number of students were surprised by their success. Unfortunately a number of the games weren’t saved or saved “temporarily” on their desktop which isn’t permanent in student profiles. We will go over this again.  One student noticed this on Friday but was able to re-create her game during her free time that day.

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One thing I noticed that would make our time together even better is if the students relied more on each other’s help.  I mentioned to the student that this is a club and we are going to work together to learn, but I’m going to re-iterate that next week  and specifically have them ask an elbow partner first, then ask for help from me or Josh, my high school volunteer.  This will help later when they will be doing their individual or pair projects and will need to be more independent.

Thursday’s club went better, too. They tried Felix and Herbert from Code Club World’s archived Scratch projects.  Of course they all put their own spin on things, being a creative bunch.

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 6.43.46 PMI also talked about conditionals and ways Sprite can “sense” things. They were also more successful although it took them a bit longer to buy into to the project even though I showed them the example working project.

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They were really interested in getting the costumes to change to simulate walking or flying.  They also wanted to learn to add a score.  They weren’t phased at all by switching to Scratch 2 Offline editor.

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One student said he had been playing with Scratch all week whenever he had a chance.  Two others said their parents had downloaded Scratch at home.  This group showed a more collaborative spirit.  I helped one student get a “soundtrack” to play in the background and he helped others add the code to their projects.

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Another student announced he knew how to add a timer and was willing to show others.Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 6.41.04 PM

They are a bit exuberant bunch for a group of twelve, and I still don’t know all of their names or have complete control at all times, but I asked them if they had a good time when they were lined up for release and they all very enthusiastically replied, “Yes!”

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I do enjoy this, you know. Just saying.

Lost in Space and Finding a Hook

First week of Code Club, year 2, is in the books.

On Wednesday, eighteen 4th grade students joined me in the computer lab to learn some Scratch. I also had some support from my colleague and 4th grader teacher, who came to support one of his students, and my high school volunteer.

Code Club lasts 75 minutes.  I like to take the first 15 for snack, a learning concept, and Q&A. I don’t remember too many questions from Wednesday.  I went over expectations, a lot, it seemed, the nuts and bolts, an overview. They seemed to be most excited with the fact that they could work with partners to make their own game at the end the 10 weeks. I was really calm – or at least I kept an outward appearance of composure.

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Then we started in with Scratch.  Scratch 2 Offline editor was installed so we used that to try out Code Club World‘s Lost in Space project.  As a beginning project, it was hard.  I just handed it out and said try it.  If they wanted to try something on their own, I was okay with that.  “As long as you are doing Scratch.” Meanwhile I sat between a couple of students and helped them plow through the project step by step.  One of them was sitting at the computer with the projector. When she finished a cool step and her rocket ship zoomed toward Earth changing color as it went, everyone got to see it.  More students seemed eager to get their rocket ship working then. And that’s how I hooked them.Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 8.57.11 PM

There is a lot to learn right at the beginning when you sit down to start something new – like a new program, a new technique, a new procedure. You need time to explore. You need to be able to struggle a bit.  You need a bit of support and a bit of freedom. I hope that is what I gave them.

Towards the end of our time together I started to doubt myself.  I could sense frustration. They were looking for more help. Things weren’t working as they expected. They weren’t getting results. Maybe I made a mistake.  Maybe I should have led them through their first project, step by step, making sure everyone was following along.  Maybe it was too soon to let them work through a project by themselves.  Were they going to like coding?  Were they hooked?

And all too soon, our time was up.

Shortly afterwards someone asked me how it went and I had mixed feelings. I was still thinking I should have taken a different approach. After some reflection, I feel letting them work through the project on their own and struggle is what I wanted for them. Next week when I talk about the Stage, Sprites and coding in steps, they will be a bit familiar with the layout of Scratch and it may make more sense. That’s my hope.

I solicited some feedback, which seemed generally positive. I also received some random, unprompted “I love Code Club” responses from coders on Thursday. Today, during indoor recess/free time, Scratch was the thing to do or be seen doing.

Year 2 – Double the Fun

Code Club is back on and starting this week, double time.

On Wednesday 18 fourth graders will join me in the computer lab for the start of another 10 weeks of coding and game making. On Thursday I’ll go to the other elementary school in my district and be joined by 12 fourth graders to start their Code Club for ten weeks of coding and game making.  I’m excited and nervous.  I know the 4th graders joining me on Wednesday.  I’ve had them in the computer lab since they were in Kindergarten, some of them at least. They come with all different abilities, personalities, interests, and challenges.  I don’t know the 4th graders from the other elementary school, but I imagine they come with the same variety of personalities, interests, etc.

Other than doubling the number of Code Clubs I’m offering, we’ve also had some other changes. We had Scratch 1.4 in the computer lab last year.  This year I’m upgrading to the Scratch 2 Offline Editor.  I’m hoping this will make following the Code Club World projects easier.

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 8.42.57 AMNow I’m trying to pick a good first project. I like both Rock Band and Lost in Space (from Code Club World’s Scratch 1 projects).Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 8.44.44 AM

I also had good success with the Maze/Obstacle course project from the first meeting of the second round of last year’s code club.  I would have to redo the document for Scratch 2.0, though, and I may not have time to get it ready for this week.

I’m trying to remember my objectives for learning for these new-to-coding students.  Other than orienting them to a new open ending program that Scratch is, what is the take away from day one?

My tag line on the sign up sheets say, “Use Scratch to learn to code, be creative & have fun!”  Maybe that is enough for day one.

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If Ask, Then Answer

Last week was the first week with the full complement of code club members, new and returning.  We filled the computer lab again.  I had a Code Club World project that was new to all of them called Chatbot. I picked this Scratch project because it introduces “ask and answer” code blocks and “if statement” code blocks. Also, the project wasn’t your typical video game.

Chatbot is a new project that has just come out of “beta” testing so it used some aspects of Scratch 2.0 that aren’t available to us as our lab has version Scratch 1.4 installed.  For example the characters the project says to choose from are all 2.0 sprites.

Sprites from Scratch 2.0

Sprites from Scratch 2.0

So I wrote a couple of my own versions of the project to demo to the students and let the students pick a sprite of their choice for the project.

Chatbot Star, a Scratch ver 1.4 demo project

Chatbot Star, a Scratch ver 1.4 demo project

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Another demo of mine

It seemed to be a basic project that with a bit of creativity on the student’s part could become really fun.

I also liked that the project introduced the “join” block.  It reminds me of the Java print command.  The students noticed that if you want a space between the things you are joining, like words and the name variable, you have to actually add it.

Join blocks in action

Join blocks in action.

The project didn’t take too long.  Some students were finished and wanted to work on last weeks projects or projects from the first session, others were really getting creative with Chatbot.

Alex, my high school volunteer, and I were noticing how smoothly things were going.  There was energy in the room, but it was all focused on the tasks at hand. We stopped to enjoy the moment where everyone was enjoying themselves and playing with Scratch.

My husband asked if anyone asked the question “What’s your favorite color?” and had the Sprite change it’s color effect to match the answer.  What a cool idea.  I’m not sure how to do cases in Scratch, so I just went with if statements.  I’ll ask my high school student volunteers (yes, I’ve got a second high school student this term). It’s very exciting.

Favorite color cases

Favorite color cases

Here are a couple of innovative Chatbots from Code Club students last week:

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This coder drew her own Sprite like Scratch 2.0 Tera with different costumes for different emotions.

Extensive conversation from a veteran coder

Extensive conversation from a veteran coder