Snack Discussion

I’ve started my eleventh 4th-grade after school Code Club session. We’ve met three times and things are going well, but I’ve neglected to blog.  I’m using the same club format and the same projects I’ve blogged about before, so there was really not much to write about.  After this week’s session, though, I found I have something to share.

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Week 2 project: Maze game by a 4th-grade code club member

Code Club starts right after school – literally, the last bell rings and the students walk from their classroom to the computer lab. We start by circling up the chairs and having a meeting time where I take attendance, talk about what project we are going to do, and have a snack. (Snacks are provided by members who volunteer to bring something to share with everyone.)

Since we can’t eat while coding on the computers (school policy and good rule in general), I use this beginning time to talk about computer science, my coding objective for the day, etc.  This group is a very easy-to-manage and attentive group so I have made an effort to start a snack discussion to fill this time. Their thoughts and ideas are helping me craft the club to fit their needs.

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This first day I asked them what their favorite computer/video game was. Their favorite games ranged from themed games like Harry Potter to popular MMO games like battle royale type games.   No real surprise there.

The second week I asked them what types of games or projects they wanted to learn to make. I wrote down their list of ideas.  There weren’t many surprises, but I do have a number of girls who want to make a virtual pet style game, so I’ve added that to the learning projects I will present to them.

This week I asked them what they thought was the hardest part of coding. This was exciting because many of them felt comfortable enough to share their concerns.  I listened and affirmed that all of these were difficult parts.

I have a volunteer, who is a middle school math teacher, and she shared her concern that the hardest part for her was when a student asked for help but only said, “this isn’t working”.  It is true, that it is difficult to figure out what is not working in code at first glance. It would be helpful for the students to explain what they were hoping would happen and what was actually happening in their code.

Some of the other parts they thought difficult were:

  1. finding the code blocks they were looking for.  (I have to remember that they are very new to Scratch.)
  2. using the costume editor. (Another student gave some tips on this – like switching out of vector mode to draw. I thought it was great that they are helping each other.)
  3. coming up with the design of the project they want to make. (I affirmed this was a difficult part. A good design plan makes the rest of the project go smoothly. For some games, the design phase takes 50% of the total time from start to finish.  I also told them that when designing their game, they would fill out a Game Design Document to help them make those design decisions.)
  4. finishing the project/ getting the project to match their expectations. (Wow, these are insightful kids.  Yes, I told them that I and the volunteers would help them manage their project.  First by making sure it was a project that could be done and second, by helping make a plan for them to get it done in time.)

The snack discussion has become a favorite part of Code Club for me.  I hope I can come up with more good prompts.  Maybe I’ll ask about getting unstuck next.

I am also enjoying teaching them to code and playing some of their creative projects, too.  Here are a few screenshots.

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Week 3 project: Quiz-type Chatbot by 4th-grade Code Club Member

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Spring Code Club Session Begins

Code Club session #8 met for the first time on Wednesday.  There are eighteen 4th graders and two high school volunteers.  This is the second time I’ve had a mixture of students from both elementary schools in my city in one club.  Another thing that is cool about the Spring session is that I have returning Code Club members, or, as we call them, “experts”.  Only 5 students are new to Code Club and there was only one student I didn’t know.

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A New Scratcher’s take on Maze game

After introductions, I asked the “experts” what favorite project they had from the last session of Code Club.  They remembered and liked the Maze game, Space Junk and Chatbot from CodeClubWorld. They also enjoyed the projects they had created themselves, not surprisingly.    I like starting with the Maze game and had already chosen that project for our first meeting.  It’s a simple game with many ways to make it more exciting and complex.

We started out by reviewing the maze design and refreshing our programming vocabulary.  What was the object of the game? How does the Sprite move (arrow keys or follow the mouse were options)?  What happens when you touch the edge of the maze?  How do you win?  Then we talked briefly about ways to make it more exciting – more levels, obstacles, villains, etc.

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Then they got to it. They were fairly independent coders, for the most part, and they helped each other a bit, too. My high school volunteers and I think we will be able to try some more complex coding  projects this round.  It was a really fun 75 minutes.

Thinking ahead, here are some goals for this session of Code Club:

  • Encourage more animation: We have some artists, so I’d like to share with them and encourage more creative uses of costumes for animation effects.

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  • Explore “more blocks”: someone is already exploring defining their own blocks.  I’d like to encourage more of this.  As well as random numbers.

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  • Clearing up misconceptions: We will have to revisit some concepts like the forever block and support better debugging habits
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Find the glitch in this code.

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It seems this “expert” puts everything in forever blocks.

  • And finally – I want to use MakeyMakey‘s this time. I told them I want to use them with our projects – especially our final projects. Those couple of students who have played a bit with MakeyMakey’s were quite excited. I’m really excited (and a bit nervous). I don’t have much experience using MakeyMakey devices, with or without students.  Luckily that won’t stop me.

Play Testing

Last week in Code Club we did the project Space Junk and it was a hit.

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Space Junk project with pulse shooting wand

My goals were for them to get the arrow keys working, learn about importing/exporting Sprites and spend some time checking out other people’s games.  If they were able to implement a growing planet or the timer, that was super.

Soon they will be starting their own projects, possibly in pairs, so I wanted to introduce the idea of sharing assets – like a Sprite – between two coders. When we discuss pair programming and they have the design review they will need to decide who will do which part and learning about exporting/importing Sprites will help.  I had a space cat Sprite from the Super Scratch Coding project as well as the Angry Bird and Angry Bird Pig from the Angry Bird lesson plans from Simon Haughton’s site.  These files were in the shared Code Club folder and I showed them how to import them.  We had some technical trouble with this.  Some of them were successful, then suddenly the Sprite could not be imported.  I couldn’t figure out if someone “saved” over the file inadvertently or that too many people were accessing the file and that somehow made it unusable by others.  It happened on both days.  I was prepared the second day and also had the files on a USB drive.

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Angry Birds Space Adventure?

They did like the Angry Bird assets.  And even customized them.screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-6-00-41-pm

I made it a point in the last 15 minutes to ask who had a game I could test out. This took me out of troubleshooting mode and let them share with me their cool, silly, challenging, still in progress games. That’s part of being a club.

I also want to say that my volunteers are great and I couldn’t do this without their help!

Scratch Work in Progress

Watching 4th graders make their own Scratch games is a blast. My two high school volunteers and I have a lot of fun troubleshooting coding quandaries and generally watching students’ “ah-ha” moments when discovering ways to code their ideas.  They love to show you what they’ve built so far and tell you what’s coming up next.

Last week I used quietAnnie1’s idea to start an Expert list on the board.  Students who wanted to volunteer their Scratch expertise to help other students could put their name on the list.  If other students needed help, they could first ask an expert before putting their name under the Please Help list. This did keep the Please Help list short.

I brought out the microphone for a student and later saw another student had started a Microphone list.  I love that kind of initiative.  (A note about microphones and students:  If you think 20 kids programming together in an after school setting is noisy, just throw a microphone in the mix. It will not help.  Generally Code Club has a productive noisy buzz, but I did have to ask for quieter voices a time or two last week.)

Some interesting games are under development and some good progress has been made.  I’m optimistic that our 2nd showcase will not be as stressful or chaotic as the first.  Time will tell.

Here are a couple of progressing games by new Scratchers:

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Beat this, if you dare

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Maze game

I also had time this week to complete my final project for the “Programming in Scratch” MOOC on EdX by HarveyMuddX. It is a simple adventure game.  It needs some final kid testing, but I’m satisfied with it: Princess Project

Princess Project adventure game

Princess Project adventure game

Game Design Review

Last week game designs were due and with the help of my two parent volunteers, we were able to go through and review each design.  I am very lucky to have great volunteers.  We divided the task between us. My high school student volunteer manned the lab while we separately met with each student or pair to go over their design. We had time to meet with everyone and they all had time to start their projects before the end of Code Club.  Now I’m looking back through the designs once again.

Dodge all the obstacles.  Get at least 10 points per level and have fun!!!!!

Dodge all the obstacles. Get at least 10 points per level and have fun!!

Some chose partners, some were on their own.  Most had filled out the game design document.  Some were very detailed, others just had rough ideas.

It took a while to think about what the game should do… but after awhile one game popped into my head.

In this student’s game you are a hedgehog that moves around trying to catch bugs to eat.  Here’s how this 4th grade designer describes the game flow.

If you eat a bug that isn’t orange, you will get a point.  If you eat a bug that is orange, the bugs get a point and you will lose a point. To win you have to score more points than the bugs.

I think that is a totally do-able project and I look forward to seeing it progress.

Some had trouble using the drawing editor on Scratch.  I don’t know the best solution.  We could try scanning a drawing in.  I know you can take and add photos and import other artwork.  They might have to learn to live with what they can do.

20141207_201549The game design below looks complicated. I’m a bit concerned because I’m not sure I could code this in Scratch.  We’ll see how well they manage.  I foresee them compromising some of their goals to get something working.

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Looks like a lot of creative work and debugging will be taking place at Code Club this week! Awesome way to spend Hour of Code week.