Friday, November 21, 2014

Computer Science Day 13 - Scratch Step by Step

Now that we've started in on Scratch, we're going whole hog! Our last lesson, we took some time to create Scratch accounts and explore the interface with our incredible Makey Makey kits. Now, we're starting to focus on the nitty-gritty of using the interface to make our own projects.

At this point, we're switching over from code.org's lessons to Scratch's Creative Computing curriculum. It's an excellent sequence of lessons that start with exploration and gradually expand horizons to investigate animations, story telling, and interactive programs. The lessons are mostly self-paced, with some brief whole-class intros done before sending kids off to apply skills.

Since we had already created accounts, we were able to, for the most part, skip the Unit 0 activities. In two classes, we did Scratch Surprise and Critique Group lessons first; however, I found that students really had a hard time figuring out how to use Scratch and give/receive feedback, so now I'm skipping around instead. Today, we did Step-By-Step and 10 Blocks lessons.

I began with a brief presentation outlining our objectives for the lesson and providing an overview of the process students would use. This took only about five minutes and was really just an opportunity for me to provide a little closer guidance for students to know where and how to start.

Then, I sent students off to complete the Step By Step project. I ran two-sided copies of the student activity sheets for this and the 10 Blocks lessons so kids could get a little more help if needed.

Step By Step is dead simple for the teacher: essentially, there's a 13-step tutorial already built into Scratch that students follow to complete their first project. It shows them the different types of blocks, has them experiment with a few steps, and gives us a good entry into sharing projects in studios.

After students completed their tutorial projects, I showed them how to share their project. Students were required to include their first name in their project title, give instructions on how to interact with their program, and credit themselves so others knew who created the program. Then, I created studios in advance that were labeled with the teacher name and the challenge. Students had to go to that URL and figure out how to add their project (it's as easy as clicking the big grey "ADD PROJECTS" button!).

Students finished this first tutorial at varying times. Some kids have personal Scratch accounts already and are experienced, so they flew through the tutorial; others were first-timers and needed more time to complete. Whatever the case, students could start right in on their 10 Block challenge when they finished.

In this challenge, students can use as many sprites (the various 2-d character images that make up most projects) and backdrops as they want, but they are limited to only using 10 types of blocks to create something interesting. This restriction helped force kids to get creative with how they could implement a vision they had in their minds with only a certain set of resources. Once finished, they once again shared their projects and added them to another studio I had set up already.

It was a pretty tight squeeze fitting all this into one hour. In the future, I'll probable stretch this out over two days, or plan longer blocks of time to allow kids more time to create their 10 Block projects. Another thing I'm considering is progressing through the curriculum as planned, but setting aside one day here and there to go back to prior programs and build on what they've done already.

The other big issue I'm running into with Scratch is this: it's so open, and kids are so excited to make projects, that they're getting way off task. Several times today, I had to redirect students to complete the tutorial as it's written instead of going off and doing their own thing. Looking through the Step By Step studios I made for different classes, I can tell quickly that several students didn't follow the tutorial at all!

While I do want to encourage their creativity and build off their interests, I also want to make sure they are exposed to a variety of project types so that they don't just continue to do a limited number of things on Scratch. If all they ever use are "when space key is pressed, say 'Hello!'" blocks, they may not uncover to cool story/movie projects, or educational simulations, or another unique project type that you can discover by learning the platform well.

I'm struggling with how to rein kids back in. I could start assessing their projects in the studio for how strongly they applied the focus for the lesson, but I'm hesitant scoring creative pieces. I'm constantly circulating around the room, check in individuals, but it's easy to pass right by students who are working hard on something that has nothing to do with what we're learning that day. I need to figure out SOME platform for holding students accountable for learning, practicing, and applying these fundamental pieces before moving onto their own interests...

Any ideas?
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