Tag Archives: computer programming

Summer 2018: Online Computer Programming Class for Kids

This summer, I will be teaching an online, interactive programming class through the Classical Learning Resource Center (CLRC). This course will be delivered online, but we will meet “in-person” once a week. This programming class for kids will focus on creative design using Scratch, the icon-based language developed by MIT.

a picture of a kid looking at a mac computer screen. The content is from the Scratch web site.

An online, but interactive programming class for kids using Scratch.

Programming Class for Kids

I have taught Scratch for a number of years, both in-person, and through my self-published asynchronous classes. I am excited to try my hand at virtual, real-time classes.  We’ll be meeting for four Wednesdays from 4:30 – 6:00 PM (Eastern time), starting June 6. We’ll meet via Adobe Connect and the emphasis will be on introductory, but creative programming concepts.

We may do some storyboarding, or pre-planning, if there’s time.

Classical Learning Resource Center

I am especially happy to be working with the CLRC. For the past year-and-a-half, I have been a CLRC parent. My older son has taken two CLRC courses over his homeschool career. He would have taken more, but he’s in school this year — a perfect fit for my extroverted child. However, my younger son can’t wait until he is old enough to take a CLRC class. The teachers are fabulous and accessible. Plus, my son loved the real-time interactions.

If you have any questions, please let me know. You can find my contact information on the class page, Creative Computer Programming for Upper Elementary Students. Sign up today!

Star Wars :: Art, Coding & Just Plain Silliness

Around our house, I hear a lot about the Star Wars universe. Is it the same in your home? It may have something to do with the new movie premiere,  which three of us saw in December.  It may be because the youngest has been reading every. single. Star Wars book he can get his hands on.

A picture of 9 children's books about Star Wars

All of these are library books!

At eight-and-a-half, he hasn’t seen all the movies. They are a bit intense for him, but he has seen Episodes 4-6, and is quite ready for Episode 1. (He lets us know when he’s ready to watch another one). Even though he hasn’t seen all of the movies, he already knows what happens in the story; thanks to those books.

In fact, all three of the males in my household like to read Star Wars books. I am the only one who abstains from reading about lightsabers. They look cool on screen, but I’ll save my precious reading hours for a non-fiction book, or ahem…a good romance novel.

color pencil drawing of Star Wars character, Boba Fett

Boba Fett. Drawn by R, age 12.

Star Wars Art

Thank goodness I can find other ways to dip my toe into the Star Wars universe. Recently, we came across Tom Angleberger’s book, Art2-D2’s Guide to Folding and Doodling. We played “pencil podracing,” and created an origami Yoda. After all, Angleberger is the author of the Origami Yoda book series.

On the left is the “gameboard” for pencil podracing. You flick your pencil and that constitutes your turn.

Pod People

Since we’re chatting about Star Wars, I have to mention these wooden peg dolls which I made a few years ago. They live on my older son’s shelf, but I was inspired by the dolls from Homemade by Jill.

A picture of two wooden peg dolls painted to look like ObiWan Kenobi and Darth Vader from Star Wars

Handpainted by Liz.

Star Wars Coding

Now that I’ve chatted about arts and books, I can get to the meat of this post: Star Wars coding. Last month, I came across the book, Using Scratch: Star Wars Coding Projects. Can you guess where I found it? Yes, at my local library (I love that place).

Since it involved the icon-based programming language Scratch, and Star Wars, I knew it would find a receptive audience at my house. (I just love it when I’m right). My youngest son was enamored. Two of his favorite things — combined!

a picture of a kid looking down at a book while working on a computer

C, age 8.5, working on a project from Using Scratch: Star Wars Coding Book

Scratch Project Name

Since he’s a homeschooler, I asked if he was interested in doing a project from the book. When he said yes, I added it to his weekly schedule. The instructions were clear enough that he was able to get started right away. After all, he’s been working with Scratch for almost two years. However, he is only 8.5, so after the first set of instructions…he got stuck. I was called in to help. First issue: he wasn’t sure how to replicate the very fancy graphics shown in the book.

We talked about how they were probably made with Photoshop and brainstormed some ways  he could make something that looked “close enough.” He’s pretty easy-going and this suggestion was sufficient for him to continue. Unfortunately, I could see the images becoming a frustrating point for a more controlling child. A few available graphics might have been a nice addition to the book, but I digress…

Teaching Moment

One of the best things about a “follow the instruction” project is the opportunity to guess the next step. Since I was helping him, I asked him to think about what the programming might be for the upcoming situation. For example, he created “gravity,” so I asked him to make Bobba Fett float up, instead of down. He had to play with the programming.

However, once he managed to figure it out, we went along in the same vein. He would copy the program and I would ask him what he thought it might do…before he ran the program. He wasn’t always right (and neither was I), but it got his brain primed to retain the information for later.

“Jet Pack Adventure,” made by C, age 8.

Star Wars Silliness

Lastly, there may have been two milestone birthdays celebrated this past February. We also have some great friends who were happy to celebrate – Star Wars style.

Homemade Boba Fett helmet. Made by R, age 12.

Death Star cake. Made by a friend.

a picture of cake pops and a cut out of a tiny Millennium Falcon

These cake pops were meant to be droids, but looked more like asteroids. Cake pop recipe adapted from Elana’s Pantry.

May the Force Be With You

a picture of a woman dressed as Princess Leia.

Princess Liz…I mean, Leia.

 

 

FETC 2017

Code to Learn: Using Scratch to Demonstrate Learning

I’ll be at FETC this week – and will be talking about my hopes and dreams for how to use Scratch. I’ve done a lot of research on coding and creativity and I’m bringing my ideas to FETC (thankfully, my poster was accepted)! I will be discussing the in-depth learning projects I have done with some of my students. I also have a passion for integrating coding into the curriculum and would love to see if other teachers are doing the same (check out my Wright Brothers course).

Creativity in Coding

For the last few years, I have been teaching Scratch during the summer months. Most of the time we do projects related to video games or general learning projects (animations, mazes, etc.). My one-week camps do not leave enough time for in-depth research projects. However, for those returning campers, I am able to challenge them with more advanced Scratch projects. I’ve had students create interactive country projects and create fractured fairy tales. Even though I am not in a K-12 school, I hope teachers will find these ideas (and lesson plans) useful.

After reading articles by Mitch Resnik, Karen Brennan, and Samuel Papert (most well-known for his book, Mindstorms), I felt like they had created Scratch for this very purpose. After a bit, I realized they had. Check out their Scratch foundation.

Regardless, I think our mission is the same – to keep the creativity in coding. To use Scratch (and computers) to create and not just to consume. For the record, I am not affiliated with MIT or Scratch, nor do they endorse this poster session (though, I hope they would if they knew about it)!

If you will be attending FETC this week, I will be talking about my poster session on Wednesday, January 25 from 4:00 – 5:00 PM  – Booth #2500.

UPDATE: To find the Scratch lessons, check out the Scratch Lessons, Challenges & Prompts page.

Create Stories with Scratch

This past summer, I facilitated six classes on MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch, and simultaneously helped fifth – ninth graders learn about computer programming. I taught four sessions of “Video Games From Scratch,” and two sessions of “Create From Scratch.” These last two sessions focused on creating conversations and stories with Scratch. I don’t want to be a biased teacher, but these were DEFINITELY my favorite programming classes.

Our class met for eight days; each class was an hour. After a few days of basic concepts (animation, movement), I asked them to create a conversation between sprites. We started with storyboards.

picture of computer with scratch 1.4

Storyboarding

Nothing too complicated – just a simple six-panel, hand-drawn storyboard to tell the events of their conversation. There was a lot of resistance to pre-planning. I asked anyway. Most of them complied (probably because they were locked out of their computers until they finished their storyboard).

Their programmed conversations were allowed to veer, twist and change from their original storyboard. The results were interesting and somewhat mixed, but it prepared them for the deeper challenge of recreating a classic fairy tale in Scratch.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

In the computer lab – sharing projects was an important part of the class.

Recreating classic stories with Scratch

When students returned from the weekend break, I asked them to work on their capstone project: a classic fairy tale. Students were free to retell the story, or add an alternate ending, fracture the tale, etc.

My class was a good mix of boys and girls, but both groups willingly accepted the assignment. Some chose to retell the story with a funny ending. Some made silly graphics which altered the story. Some spent a lot of time creating beautiful graphics, but didn’t change the story arc. There was a lot of choice, creativity and fun.

a picture of humpty dumpty stories with scratch

This “Humpty Dumpty” retelling has a funny ending. Created by one of the students in my class – https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/116815328/

Video Games vs. Stories with Scratch

Why was this my favorite class? Well…I am the mother of two boys. I am married to a man. All of the males in my household love to play video games.

I do not.

I know! I feel terrible just writing that sentence, however, I have come to accept and embrace my biases. I like board games and card games. I enjoy learning about history, cognitive psychology and education. I love art and making art. I cannot live without reading books. I enjoy writing, though, not necessarily fictional stories. I love bringing art and writing together – with technology. That’s why I love Scratch and that’s why I loved this “Create” class more than the popular video game class. Hopefully, it left some of the students with a similar feeling – a way to embrace technology that doesn’t revolve solely around video games.

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I’ve missed blogging. It’s been a busy August and I’ve been occupied with other pursuits, but I am ready to get back to writing. (We’ll see if my schedule agrees with me). In the meantime, I wanted to call attention to my new Udemy class, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.

Udemy Course: Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I created this course hoping that other teachers (and parents) will find a single starting point with regards to children’s “maker education.” So much of being a maker is a willingness to tinker, to explore and to learn on your own.  However, there’s a lot of information out there and it can be overwhelming.

In this course, I focus on three main areas: simple electronics, sewing and coding using MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch. Each section starts with a “take-apart” lesson, followed by some hands-on activities, and includes a follow up for teachers to integrate these lessons into the curriculum. There’s even a link to some of the research being done on maker education.

Simple Electronics

A year ago, I took a course from the Tinkering Studio. It satisfied the “missing link” of my maker education. I’ve been teaching computer programming concepts to elementary and middle school students for a few years, but was a little nervous about dismantling and building with electronics. Thankfully, after a year of tinkering – and acquiring a soldering iron – I now feel more comfortable introducing simple electronics to kids.*

At summer camp, my students used the circuit blocks to learn about electricity (and short circuited batteries by accident). They made marker bots and messed around with design principles. “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” adds to these projects by introducing a take-apart lesson which is then re-purposed into a sewn LED flashlight. I’ve also included an experiment for conductors and insulators, videos on how to make a simple flashlight, and my favorite way to make circuit art.

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Sewing with Kids

I’ve been sewing for many years; it was one of the first things I had to learn completely on my own. I had to design my own curriculum, find mentors, make mistakes and practice deliberately.  This was my first (unknown) foray into the “maker movement.” These days – with kids, work and homemade dinners – I don’t sew nearly as much as I did fifteen years ago.

Instead, I’ve been sewing with my own children. In a Montessori primary curriculum, we introduce sewing at age three. These activities are broken down into steps (stringing, making a knot, sewing with burlap, etc). As my children grow, we continue to sew, but the projects are more advanced. This past summer, I also taught sewing at our local “college for kids” camp.

I think sewing is a key component of maker education and I’m excited that it’s part of the course, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.” Hand-sewing topics include: taking apart a t-shirt, making a wristband, making a LED flashlight and incorporating sewing into a classroom.

sewing with kids - learning stitches

With an ink pen, I draw out dashes and dots to teach two simple stitches.

Code to Learn with Scratch

Although I’ve been sewing for a number of years, I came to computer programming and robotics through my oldest son. At the age of six, he said he wanted to be a robot engineer. I set out to find hands-on materials that broke down advanced concepts. I stumbled on Lego Education kits and the icon-based programming language, Scratch. I started a business for others kids who were interested in robotics. For the past three years, I have been teaching classes and hosting summer camps.

Along the way, I noticed that many kids came to Scratch because they loved video games. They wanted to make their own – so we did. But we also created stories, conversations and short animations. While creating these programs, the students were learning programming concepts – without even trying.

In my Udemy course, I demonstrate how to use Scratch, but I focus on simple, creative projects that you can do with your students. For upper elementary and middle school students, the sky is the limit. They can create all sorts of games, animations and stories that can reflect their learning. They can use Scratch as a paintbrush to demonstrate their knowledge. Learning can be creative and fun.

I had a lot of fun creating the course and I learned a lot. About everything. Especially movie editing and breaking down concepts. If you are interested in taking the course – “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” – use this link for 50% off.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

In the computer lab – sharing projects was an important part of the class.

*With regards to electronics – I still have a lot to learn. My soldering is ugly and I need more practice. As my oldest child takes more of an interest in electronics, we’ll learn this stuff together, but in the meantime, we’re happy to stay at the level of batteries and bulbs.

 

 

 

Review – Code Monkey Island

Have you ever wanted to like something, but just couldn’t bring yourself to do so?

That’s how I feel about the game, Code Monkey Island.

picture of code monkey island

It has a lot going for it – it’s pretty, it has a catchy name and it does a beautiful job explaining how code works. The accompanying “textbook” is just fabulous and is a wonderful resource.

 

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Sadly, the game mechanics are somewhat lacking, and the game instructions are only 2-pages long. There is no description of how to move your monkeys from their start bubble and there are too many similar playing cards.

But the real deal killer?

It’s tedious to play. It’s right up there with Monopoly Jr., Chutes & Ladders and Candyland. All which were played once, and then banished from the house. It’s annoying to play a game that can go on forever, just for the sake of continuing.

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To be fair – Code Monkey Island did last for more than one playing. I had initially purchased it last summer for camp and my campers and I played it one afternoon. Unfortunately, those 8-10-year-olds found it a little too boring for their liking. Maybe that was because we had played (and enjoyed) Robot Turtles and Be the Robot.

However, before I gave up on it completely, I pulled it out last week and my own children and I sat down to play. We set up the game, skimmed the limited instructions and set off to immerse ourselves in the world of boolean logic, variables and monkeys. Sometimes we weren’t sure what to do (like how and when our monkeys could leave their start circle), so we made up some rules. All of that would have been okay, but then my kids started to play the dreaded “remove one of the monkeys from the banana stand” card. This allows a player to take another player’s monkey out of the “home” section. Thus, dragging on the game.

IMG_2606

Of course, you could always remove those cards, but I still think the overall game play is too tedious. My kids likened it to the game, Sorry! That’s a game they somewhat like, but that doesn’t get played as often as Settlers of Cataan or Ticket to Ride. Plus, they said they liked it even less than Sorry!, so it won’t be residing in the game closet.

This game might be better used as a tool to teach programming concepts. Perhaps, it could be made into a Montessori-like ‘work’ that could be placed on a shelf. Students could follow teacher-made cards (taken from the fabulous programming explanations) and create simple scenarios that students could run through. Or, maybe students could use it to write their own “monkey” programs using boolean statements…

Did I mention that it’s pretty?

IMG_2605

 

Animated Volcano in Scratch

kids' drawing of volcano

Drawn by C, age 7. I’m especially fond of the underground magma.

Scratch animation

It’s fairly obvious that I love Scratch, the icon-based programming language developed by MIT.  It’s a fabulous way for kids to dip their toes into learning about computer programming and computer science principles.

I’ve been using it for almost 4 years and each time I mess around with it, I learn something new. In the beginning, we use it creatively – as it was intended to be used. We start with a few blocks and see what we can make. I do some guided learning, but there’s a lot of choice and a focus on enjoying the language.

Then, we start moving into deeper and deeper concepts – variables, sending messages and conditional statements, etc. But, there still has to be an emphasis on being creative, flexible and offering a somewhat open-ended project.

Animated Volcano in Scratch

Typically, the second lesson I demonstrate deals with animation. We choose a background, change it slightly (the color of the lights, add a disappearing item, etc.) and then apply the following program:

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 4.26.10 PM

 

 

 

Many of them get the concept, though they don’t truly understand it until they try to make their own animation. It’s at that point that they realize the slight differences are what truly matters in animation.

That usually works for most of my ten-year-old and up students, but I needed a more thorough explanation for my newly minted seven-year-old. He has been begging (for over a year) to work with Scratch and I finally relented in January.

Storyboarding with Scratch

We did the above background animation, but it still wasn’t quite clicking, so I decided to start with a hand-drawn storyboard process. I went with an animated volcano in Scratch. That leaves a lot of personal choice options, but the key concepts remain the same.

I made a simple example and asked the younger kids to sketch out the various stages of a volcano. They were allowed ample time to view (and stop) my volcano program.

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Once the steps were labeled, they set out making a different background (or sprite) with four different scenes – based on what they drew.

C's animated volcano in Scratch

I uploaded C’s volcano animation. Check it out: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/108661198/

A simple introduction to storyboarding, and a way to keep the ‘creative’ in Scratch, not to mention a quick glimpse into how basic animation works. Creative programming at work!

Brick Chronicles – EV3 Conveyor Belt

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

A picture of a Lego Mindstorms conveyor belt

A conveyor belt, made by R, age 10.

EV3 Conveyor Belt

A few weeks ago, my oldest son had some uninterrupted time. No “school work,” plenty of free time and a brother who had a huge stack of Nate the Great books to keep him occupied. He used the EV3 brick to flush out his idea for a moving machine. He also used the ipad app (instead of the computer-based Lego software) to program his contraption.  I came home to a Mindstorms conveyor belt. Of course, I put it on the piano bench, took it outside to capture the fading light and ask him to demonstrate it for the camera. Check out the video:

I’m lucky that I recorded this video. If I had waited a week longer, I wouldn’t have been able to capture it in action. As with most of the Legos® in our house, this EV3 conveyor belt has now been transformed into something else. Just like it should be…no ‘kragle’ here!

 

Is learning to code a bad idea?

A picture of a computer with Scratch on the screen.

Icon-based programming tools, like Scratch, help to make writing code more accessible…and fun.

Last week I read an article that made me worried for the future.  I was afraid for my children’s future, for my own future and for the future of everyone in the United States – which was probably the emotion the author intended to invoke. Will there be enough jobs for everyone? How will the less fortunate children thrive in this new digital economy? What’s that going to mean for the peace of our nation?

Quite a way to start the weekend, no?

After the fear came annoyance and anger. Then, I stopped to consider the evidence provided by the author. There were a few links. I followed them and researched others that he didn’t directly cite (this review suggests another side to the research by the MIT professors). Yes, I don’t doubt that he has some credentials (so do I), but ‘predictor of the future’ does not seem to be one of them.

No one knows what the future can hold. Yes, we can make some assumptions based on past evidence and yes, we should have important conversations about the future (hello, global warming).

According to the 1999/2000 Occupational Outlook Handbook, there was going to be a glut of master-degree librarian jobs available. The need was going to be much bigger than than the current graduates coming out of school. And then the Internet grew and grew (and grew). The housing bubble collapsed and it affected the local tax market and now librarian jobs are hard to come by these days. Why didn’t anyone see that coming?

Frankly, it was an article such as this one that dissuaded me from learning more about front-end web development during my librarian years. Almost everyone was using Dreamweaver and it was said that no one would need to learn how to write HTML because computers will be doing it for you. Well, how wrong were those people? From what I’ve been reading, a lot of professional web developers still manually code their web pages since those software programs inevitably have bugs and problems. Even though I love my WordPress-powered site, I could do more if I had a deeper understanding of the code.

Besides, do we really know what type of jobs are going to be available? In what city? In what town? Certainly, it’s good advice to not take on too much debt while a learning a new trade, but learning something new, even if you don’t use it for more than a few years, is very, very valuable. It will still be valuable if all of the jobs disappear and you have to become an urban homesteader just to survive. At least you’ll be able to build your own automatic, Arduino-powered watering and lighting system. Your vegetable garden will be the most productive one on the block. All thanks to the empowerment you gained from learning a new skill. Even one that you don’t use anymore.