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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Your Name Animated

To start off the school year, I thought it would be great to have 3rd graders work on a Scratch project and I’ve been wanting to try the animated name project from Made with Code for a while now.  You can find the resource cards here. (I printed a couple of sets) Animating your name seems like a good beginner project but not one that I do in Code Club.  And who wouldn’t want to play with their name in code?

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We started off by creating a backdrop for the Stage with the drawing tools in Scratch. I didn’t want them using one from the library, but to make their own.  Then we brainstormed ways to animate the letter Sprites – bouncing, turning upside down, changing color, spinning, growing, making a sound, etc.  This got them thinking about the possibilities. Next, we started adding letter Sprites.  Each Sprite was coded to be interactive by using the “when this Sprite is clicked” event block and adding an action to it.

 

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Example of 2 different letters interactivity

 

I used the resource cards to support students who preferred directions to be written out or visual or struggled to keep up with the general pace of the class.

Each third-grade class added their own flair to the project. One teacher decided to take photos of the students with a green screen background.  The students added themselves as a Sprite to their name project and animated themselves.

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I can’t share any of the actual student works as they include both the name and photo of the students.  We are going to record a video of the project like we do with our cloud project and include it in the students’ digital portfolio.

Another third-grade was finishing up the name project so close to Halloween that we incorporated the Trick or Treat project in with the animated names.  I didn’t present this part very well.  I needed to explain the difference between adding a costume to a Sprite and adding a separate Sprite. A lot of students made this mistake and there was general confusion.

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My next task is to finish the rubric for this project (which I should be doing right now).  The students enjoyed this project but we need to wrap these up.

Mix in Some Makey-Makey Action

Ever since I got the first Makey-Makey, just before school let out last June, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to introduce them in Code Club.

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First time using Makey-Makey

I gained more experience with them at the Scratch@MIT2016 Convention when I participated in the Code Create Art Alive workshop.  In the Fall, I did introduce the Makey-Makey devices to some 4th graders at alternative recess but not at Code Club or with a whole class.  There was so much coding to learn and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what it would look like. Finally, last week in Code Club, I brought out the Makey-Makeys (we have 7 of them), some bananas, potatoes, foil, junk building supplies and it happened.

We talked about conductors, making a closed circuit, connecting to ground/earth, etc. There were many questions related to dangers of electricity since you plug it into the computer and the computer is plugged into the main current.

I showed them the Makey Makey piano, with bananas of course.  Then I showed them how to use it with games they have already made – like the race game.  For that, I had mocked up a pressure sensor (to step on) from a padded envelope.  It worked really well with the race game.

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Pressure pad for Makey-Makey from a padded envelope.

Then I introduced Whack-a-Potato that I found from the Makey-Makey lessons and also on Instructables.  I made a Whack-a-mole (squirrel) Scratch project and improved my code by looking at Scratcher tarmelop’s Whack-a-Ghost project.

I put together a Google Doc with the instructions for the students.  It is not a polished learning guide, just the basics for them to code up a Whack-a-mole game.

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Whack-a-Squirrel for Makey-Makey play

I few students got to work on the Whack-a-Potato project.  Others wanted to pursue a Makey-Makey music themed project or paint project.  A few just set up a Makey-Makey to work with a project they had already built.

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Makey-Makey Maze

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Building a complex pressure pad

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Potatoes and Tangerines

It was great to see the students try things. I hope this inspires the students to think of incorporating Makey-Makey devices with their final individual projects. I am hoping that is where this will lead.

Poetry Generator

While planning Wednesday’s Code Club during a snow day on Tuesday I came across the Code Club World project Ada’s Poetry Generator.  This is a new project for me and I liked the way it introduced and used lists.   Arrays and lists are extremely important data structures in programming – right up there with loops and variables. I’ve never introduced lists in Scratch before.  I also liked how this project wasn’t a game but had the potential for a lot of creativity and fun.

I mocked up a project with Scratch Cat instead of Ada Lovelace.  (I did talk briefly about Ada when introducing the project.)

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I added some “talking” animation to Scratch Cat by duplicating costumes and morphing the mouth into different shapes.  Then coding the costumes to change when the poem is “spoken”

Some students whined a bit about poetry and not a game but I ignored that because I knew they’d like it once they figured it out.  I’m hoping someone chooses to make a MadLib or something similar for the final project.  If not, I may see if we can use this in some language arts project.

Here are some nice examples:

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Computer generating poetry with lists

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This coder really liked gluteus maximus, and unhelpful list naming conventions.

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Awesome animated mouth

This coder is my animator to be.  He drew and animated the PacMan and Ghost being eaten costumes… then he coded the poem in the last few minutes.

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Future animator

These two below took the morphing a bit to the extreme but the coding (and poetry) is well done:

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I enjoyed reading all the funny randomly generated poems that the students created.  I was glad I choose this project for my Code Club.

Catch ’em

Week 2 for Code Club happened.

We did an old project game called Felix and Herbert which I’ve done before.  It’s not on the list of current Scratch project at Code Club World, but its simple concept with different movements- follow mouse movements- makes it a good second week project. It is a cat and mouse game and introduces some good game elements such as broadcasting and keeping score.

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I allowed the students to pick any two Sprites – one to chase and one to be chased.  This let to some creative pairings.

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It also became important in debugging to know which Sprite was which. When introducing the project I did point out where it says “Test your project.”  I let them know that this was a big part of programming.  I think I’ll need to emphasize that each time. I notice a lot of creative testing – playing with sounds, looks, speed, scoring, but not much debugging or referring to the project pages when things don’t work.

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At the beginning of Code Club, I decided, we would add a bit of reflection to our meeting. On Wednesday I asked how the first code club went?  What were the successes and failures.  Many noted that they ran out of time or weren’t able to get the sensing of the edge of the maze to work.  I told them that it was a difficult task and if they were able to set up the Sprite to use the arrow keys, that was a success.

With Thursday’s group, I asked them to share one thing they found that they liked about Scratch.  This time I asked for positive responses mostly because they’d only played with Scratch and hadn’t really tackled a whole project yet.

I enjoyed this reflection time.  These are big groups and I don’t always get to connect with each student during our hour of coding.  Afterward Code Club I do take the time to look at the projects they save, highlighting a few here and noting any trending issues. And, of course doing my own reflecting on this blog.

I must say that my volunteers are awesome!  They work very hard fielding questions, debugging code, working with students. Even so, I think the students are asking for help too quickly.  They need to look at the project more closely and begin to do a bit more problem solving themselves.

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Scratch @ MIT 2016

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I was at my first Scratch Conference at MIT Media Lab last week (#ScratchMIT2016). It was fantastic!  I met so many awesome Scratchers, educators, researchers, developers and enthusiasts.  It was wonderful, inspiring…  “I came for the workshops and stayed for the community.”

I met the awesome Scratcher Bubble103 and her mom the very first evening and didn’t even know I was meeting a Scratch rockstar.  I met people from all around the globe and had great conversations in between keynotes and workshops and during breakfast and lunch breaks. I have made so many connections, it is quite awesome.  The Scratch team is brilliant, kind and adorable.

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Dinner was quite fun, too.

Here are some take-aways from the conference that I hope to implement during the (fast approaching) school year.

  • read Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms
  • work on parent involvement plan – the keynote about Pathways to Participation helped me understand that I need to support students beyond the school environment.
  • more collaboration with the art teacher.  This is the year when art and math and code will collide!  I’m going to introduce Beetle Blocks and the watercolorbot.  From Art Alive there was the interacting with art using Scratch and MakeyMakey piece that we might delve into. I hope we’ll do more Scratch animation, too.  STEAM on.
  • introduce the development of cheat codes to help debug Scratch at Code Club.  Rik Cross’ workshop Practical Debugging in Scratch  was super informative. Students will enjoy the idea as well.

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    Photo from a @Raspberry_Pi tweet

  • Scratch Jr and the Writer’s Workshop in 1st grade. Scratch Jr has come along way from the first time I saw it and I’m excited about it again. I already have a homeroom assignment with 1st grade teacher who’s tech savvy so this will not need a big sell.
  • Mathematical Simulations in Scratch.  I know my students are NOT high school math level students but I liked the way Patrick Honner was able to embrace the tools the students knew (Scratch) to work on real math problems.  I’d like to try some math modeling in Scratch -like the Monte Carlo method.  I’m going to have to see what comes up in 4th grade math class and the Math Forum Problems of the Week and see if anything looks like a good candidate to model using Scratch.
  • Continue to develop this community. Now that I’ve met all of these people I want to keep in touch whether on the internets (Twitter, Facebook) or at a ScratchEd meet-up.  I am definitely thinking about visiting Mags in Ireland.  Who knows, maybe there’ll be a Scratch conference in the UK or Europe next year.

 

 

This all looks doable and like hard fun.

(Note: there are things I will have to get, too- embroidery machine for TurtleStitch, 3-d printer for Beetle Blocks, more Makey Makey‘s.)

Scratch On!