CS Concepts in Elementary Grades

2018 January Tech Expo LOGOThis last week I led a professional development session titled “CS Concepts in Elementary Grades” for my district’s Tech Expo.  It was one of several dozen sessions available for teachers during the day. I had just a handful of teachers at my session.

 

I started with this video from Code.org. It introduces “why CS?” better than I can.

Next, we took a quick look at the CS Standards at http://www.csteachers.org/page/standards, just to see that there are standards and where to find them.

Then it was on to try out Scratch.  (One teacher had mentioned this is why she signed up for my session.  She wanted to learn Scratch.)  I introduced Scratch by going over these concepts:

    1. Stage
    2. Sprites
    3. Script, Costume, Sound tabs
    4. Block menu

Then I let them try out the Virtual Pet project using the Scratch cards from https://scratch.mit.edu/tips.  I picked the Virtual Pet project as it hits all the concepts I wanted to introduce.

 

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Code from a student-made Virtual Baby project

 

These are the concepts I think are important for elementary students to be introduced to:

    1. Computational Thinking
    2. Algorithms
    3. Commands
    4. Events
    5. Initial Conditions
    6. Decisions / Conditionals
    7. Iteration, Loops and Forever
    8. Coordinate knowledge
    9. Data and variables
    10. Debugging – Checking for errors

I had one Kindergarten teacher attend my session, so I handed her an iPad with Scratch Jr. on it.  She had a great time playing and exploring Scratch Jr. while the rest of us working on our Virtual Pets.

The Virtual Pet project turned out to be pretty complicated for a first time Scratcher. They had a hard time with Broadcast and Recieve, just like my Code Club members when they tried the Virtual Pet project. I guess I knew this would be a difficult concept but it is so powerful. I like all the things you learn when trying this project out, even if it is a bit overwhelming.

After some success, we moved on and I showed them some student work.  I wanted them to see examples of how to incorporate Scratch into their curriculum.

    1. Intro to Scratch was independently made by one of my former Code Club members https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/177914932/
    2. Infinity and Beyond shows how a research topic (math topic in this case) can be shared using Scratch https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/22933952/
    3. Apple Inventory is another case of using Scratch to demonstrate understanding  https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/66568488/
    4. Math Games by students for Hour of Code week  https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/3616910/
    5. Winter Fun is an introductory project I’ve done with students https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/3664546/
    6. Spirograph Studio (reminiscent of the old Turtle paths play)  https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/3984733/

 

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Using Scratch to show your math solution.

 

I have many more, but as we were running out of time I quickly went through some Debug-It projects I found on the Scratch site.  I think it is important that teachers feel confident in helping students when they get stuck.  Knowing how to debug Scratch projects can help.

Debug it

  1. https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/23267245/
  2. https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/24269007/
  3. https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/2042712/

I didn’t really pick the right Debug it projects for my attendees.  These were more challenging for my audience than I thought they would be.  I wish I had chosen easier ones or left this for another session altogether.

I hope my session left them with an idea of how to start using Scratch in their classroom.  I also hope they will reach out to me if they would like support facilitating Scratch projects in their classroom.  I worry that they were a bit overwhelmed with all I presented. They were a pretty quiet bunch, but I guess I’m used to a room full of rambunctious 10-year olds.

Oh, and I also compiled this list of resources:

Resource List

ScratchJr:  http://www.scratchjr.org/

Scratch online: Scratch.mit.edu 

Teacher accounts https://scratch.mit.edu/educators/

Scratch cards & Educator Guides https://scratch.mit.edu/tips

Offline editor https://scratch.mit.edu/download

Starter Projects https://scratch.mit.edu/starter_projects/

ScratchEd online community http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/

Creative Computing Curriculum using Scratch http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/guide/

Code.org Teaching Computer Science Fundamentals PD

https://studio.code.org/s/K5-OnlinePD

Code.org Lessons: https://code.org/student/elementary

https://code.org/educate/curriculum/elementary-school

CS4NH resources:

http://www.cs4nh.org/resources/framework-standards/

CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards, Revised 2017

http://www.csteachers.org/page/standards

CS for All Teachers 7 “big ideas”:

https://www.csforallteachers.org/computer-science-principles

CodeClub.org:  https://codeclubprojects.org/en-GB/scratch/

K-12 Computer Science Framework: https://k12cs.org/

 

 

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Checking Up on Individual Projects

We have two weeks until our Showcase of Projects and I’ve been checking in with all of the Code Club members to see how they are doing.  There are no team or pair projects this round which I find surprising but this year’s 4th-graders are very much unique individuals.  I tried putting two students together on one project, but they just couldn’t work together.  So they each have a similar project.  This does mean that there will be a lot of projects to present at the Showcase.

 

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Keep away from Bendy

 

The character Bendy from Bendy and the Ink Machine game is featured in a couple of chase games.  How these nine-year-olds know about this horror game, beats me.  I hadn’t heard of it, but then again, I don’t like scary things.

 

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Virtual Pet Dragon

 

Most of the students are in good shape.  The two virtual pet projects just need a few tweaks. The trivia and math quiz projects seem fine.

 

 

 

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Answer the riddles 

The Riddler is well coded, but I think I need to show this coder how to make his own blocks for the “you answered it wrong”.  He has duplicated his code in each “else” loop. Perfect opportunity to teach code reuse or refactoring. Now I finally have a reason to show them how those dark purple blocks work.

 

 

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This code shows up in each of his “else” statements.  

 

 

The flying cat and maze games could use some more work, but now that I’ve seen the state of everyone’s code, I think we might spend some time this week talking about game testing, how important it is, how to do it well and how to fix the glitches.

Equally important as testing for bugs, is to test for fun-ness.  We want our games to be fun.  Yes, we do.

Computer Science Education Week

Hour of Code 2017 is here.  I’ve got a lot lined up this week for my school and clubs. There will be Hour of Code activities from Code.org available for all classes K-4 during the week in the computer lab.  In addition, I’ve got plans for some 3rd graders to draw a letter (like the first letter of their name) and learn about coordinates using Scratch.  Some 1st graders will begin using Scratch Jr. to make a winter project on iPads.

Each of the 4th-grade classes is starting a different Scratch project – Math game, Labyrinth and Ada’s poetry Generator, or Beetle Blocks project – print your name.

The library club with be trying out the Virtual Pet project from Scratch tomorrow and my school club will be starting their individual projects.

maze game

Labyrinth – reach the dragon. Don’t touch the sides.

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My Penguin Pet

 

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Name in Beetle Blocks

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Ada’s Poetry Generator Project

 

I’ve done some of these projects before but I’m hoping to blog about some of the new ones in more detail. This is just a preview of the week to come.

 

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.)

Dress Up for Showcase #5

Tomorrow is our fifth Code Club Showcase.  We have eleven projects to present.  They are solid projects.

Over the last two weeks I wasn’t sure if we were going to be ready, but here we are.  I’m actually impressed with the variety and the effort.  Many students choose to work with a partner and those partnerships worked well.  I would have liked to have seen more coding effort and algorithmic thinking but everyone seemed to have fun each week working on their projects.

New this time are projects like dress up. I haven’t seen a dress up project before in Code Club, but I think these two turned out well.  The idea is simple.  Pick the clothes for the Sprite and then decide on the Stage.

Most of the time was spent designing clothes, which has got to be the most fun in the mind of these two girls.  Each of the clothing Sprites have the same code behind them.

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The code sets the initial conditions and then makes a decision not to disappear if the Sprite (named Kate) is wearing the piece of clothing.

I can see improvements to the scripting to allow the Sprite to move in the chosen outfit. As well as other ideas that turns the Dress Up project into more of a Virtual Pet project.

We did a Virtual Pet project one week this session and one student decided to make a full blown virtual pet project for her individual project.

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It is really cute and well coded.  I find the directions she gives quite funny.

 

Virtual Pet Event

I realize that my last two blog posts have not been about Code Club but Scratch projects that happen during school.  Code Club has been going pretty well, so let me catch up on that front.

We tried a Pong game project the second week, which I have written about before. I recall them being a bit needy during the project but I just might be remembering the whiners. I’ve seen some successful projects in the subsequent weeks from those very same needy seeming students.

There is some free time at the beginning of Code Club while we wait for the bus to bring over the coders from the other elementary school.  This gives some of them a few minutes to bring up old projects they’ve started, remember what they were doing, tweak them or show them to a friend.  Once everyone is there, we have snack and discuss the current project of the day.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 8.38.56 PMThe week after Pong we tried “Create a Virtual Pet” project that is under the Tips tab of Scratch 2 Offline Editor.  I was looking for a non-game project similar to Code Club World’s Chatbot project, which some of these students did last Fall, as I have written about, twice.  One of my goals is to expose these coders to a variety of project types. I think these types of projects appeal to the non-gamer types, (dare I say girls?) and shows other ways to use Scratch coding.

“Create a Virtual Pet” is also a great way to introduce the power of broadcast and receive. I feel like I didn’t cover broadcast and receive well in the Fall.  This project concentrates on the Events code blocks:  “when this sprite is clicked”, “broadcast”, and “when I receive”.

We also got to use and get to know the “glide” block.  All very useful.

I showed the students the Tips tab that they could use as a resource but I also printed out some screenshots from “Create a Virtual Pet” for them to use. I did try looking for a pdf of this project.  I found a video tutorial, a Scratch project tutorial and a 41 page pdf from We Can Code It which looks fabulous, but more than I needed.

I took some time to introduce this and showed my take on the project at the beginning.

 

I prefer to let them discover their way but I’ve a feeling this group could benefit from more introduction.  I think the number of lines of code it used, although mostly glide blocks, put them off a little.

Most of the students were not able to get all the way through the project and some seemed disappointed by this when Code Club was over so soon.  I was pleased with what they got done and told them so and that this would make a nice project for the Showcase if they chose.

The designs for those independent projects are due real soon.