Rookie Mistakes

After a merited, welcomed, two-week break, we have Code Club again tomorrow.  It’s our next to the last meeting and I’m concerned. I don’t think their “create your own game” projects are ready for the showcase – I don’t think they are one hour away from being ready. There’s a lot of work to do, errors to be found, logic to be thought through, and no rigorous testing has been done. (Do I sound like a software manager a week before a new release deadline?)

I had planned to approach each of the 4th grade coders during school over the last two days and find out how they thought their project was coming along.  I talked to two (out of 23) and they didn’t seem concerned.  I actually think they were confused about what I was asking as if the two-week winter break had wiped out all thoughts about Code Club.  So maybe I’m the only one who’s nervous about this. This is my rookie season as a Code Club leader, I must remember.  Maybe everything will get done on time?

Yeah, right.  Here’s the thing.  I recall the last Code Club meeting as being less than productive.  I believe others also found it frustrating. Besides the fact that it was the week before Christmas and two days before vacation, things didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. Students were stuck, teams weren’t working well together, projects were behaving strangely, stuff was lost, etc. That kind of stuff happens. I expect some of that, I’m not a complete rookie.

What bothers me most is not every student was able to get some help. On the whiteboard, next to the list for using the microphone, a student started a list for those who needed help and added their name.  I didn’t even notice the list until the end. It’s a good idea, really, and we’ll start a list like that tomorrow.  Not really sure what to think, but I feel that I’m letting them down. The list was an interesting expression of frustration. On one hand I expect them to need some help as they are just beginner Scratchers, but perhaps am I helping too much or unevenly. Maybe I haven’t provided enough foundation to give them the confidence to persevere in troubleshooting? Or the projects were too complicated and it was a failure in the design review process. More things to learn.

Truth is, I don’t have that much more experience using Scratch than they do. Problems and questions have come up that I didn’t have the answer to.  For example, a couple of students wanted to add gravity into their game.  Turns out there are lots of ways to simulate this, even more than those listed on the Scratch Wiki for Simulating Gravity (I didn’t even know about the Scratch Wiki until researching the gravity problem).  One team is using a timer to simulate gravity.  Another is using simple direct movement method.

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I’m sure more stuff like this will crop up tomorrow. Of course, I need to remember – rookie season, rookie mistakes.

Like a Dream

I taught so many hours of code yesterday that I dreamed in code.  (It was the only way to move in my dream.  Thanks Anna & Elsa.)

Code.org puzzle with Frozen characters

Code.org puzzle with Frozen characters

But it was an awesome day.  Three classes of Hour of Code 2014 activities from Code.org, Tynker, & Code Kingdoms for 2nd and 4th graders plus two classes of Scratch and then Code Club after school.  A few 4th graders were with me for couple of these hours, too. I wonder if they dreamed about coding too?

For Computer Science Education Week, or “Hour of Code” week, I had the 4th grade math group I work with write math games in Scratch.  The project idea comes from the Scratch resources on Computers for Creativity‘s website.  The students were paired up and given two math periods to work on the project.   I showed them the two math games that students had made last year:

4th grade math quiz game in Scratch, 2013

4th grade math quiz game in Scratch, 2013

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4th grade math quiz game in Scratch, 2013

I handed out a one page project outline form and a print out of the guidelines to each pair.

Math Scratch Project Outline – Google Docs

With not very much time to work on it, I warned them to keep the project simple.  Get the game working with one math question, then build on it. I also made sure there was a Code Club member in each pairing, so at least one person had some knowledge of Scratch. I then I let them go.

I set their teacher up on Scratch online and he started a math game himself.  That was Monday.  Yesterday my plan was to have them finish up. My friend and co-worker in this class suggested they might need more time.  She had gone home and tried to make a Scratch math game and had some questions.  (How cool it that?  I’ll have to give both adults their “Hour of Code” certificate.)  But it is true,  I did give the students a big, creative project and only a little bit of time to do it.  From what I saw on Monday, only a couple of pairs were making their game too complicated and or not working well together.  We decided to conference with the each pair during the period to see if they had questions, needed feedback and as a general check-in to see if they were going to make the deadline.  First, though, the students “conferenced” and helped their teacher with his math game.

By the end of math on Wednesday, most of the groups were very close to having a working game.  We decided another half period might be warranted.  Then we’ll share them and try them out.

I heard one student say this coding stuff was great and he wanted to sign up for the next round of Code Club.

Oh, yeah, Code Club was great too. Everyone busy working on their own games.  Recording their voices.  Being successful, or at least satisfied, in drawing their sprites and backgrounds. I really enjoy troubleshooting Scratch projects and seeing all the creative and interesting ideas these 4th graders have.  My volunteers are really great, too.