After a very full June with lots of events and a trip to the ISTE conference in Denver, I am basically home for the rest of the summer with just one vacation week planned. There is plenty to do: gardening, bike riding, pool floating top the list of R&R activities.
But, I also want to be able to spend time on my own areas of interest and that includes coding. I’ve been dabbling in Python on the Pi and for the last two days, getting into Scratch using a couple books I found on Amazon, both from DK publishers. The Coding With Scratch Workbook is short and features four games that use what I would consider advanced features. I made them and in several cases did some remixing of the code provided. I’m now working through Coding Games in Scratch. It takes a similar visual approach and includes a “hacks and tweaks” section in each chapter with ideas for going further. I’m also thinking that I might try to write the code from the description of the game and then dive into the chapter when I get stuck.
There is also a whole community of Scratch educators out there at the ScratchED site from Harvard. Twitter led me to the Creative Computing Guide that Dylan Ryder has remixed. I’m looking forward to spending some time with the old and new guide.
If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s my Scratch studio.
Sometimes, when you’re in my business, you practice a sort of “proof of concept” approach to digital technologies. That is, you know enough to introduce a wide variety of tools to others but really only have a superficial understanding of many of them. For me, Scratch was definitely one of those proof of concept tools: I know enough to get a class through a basic introduction but not much more. I found two Scratch books (yes, books!) on the shelf and decided to do a more in depth study.
Jerry Lee Ford Jr.’s Scratch Programming for Teens is a traditional approach to programming, beginning with a a pretty extensive overview and then teaching coding through the use of specific projects. It is essentially a textbook, focusing on comprehensive knowledge of the program before writing code.
I am already fairly familiar with the Scratch “integrated development environment” or IDE, as Ford calls it, so I opted for the more project-centered book by The Lead Project: Super Scratch Programming Adventure. It’s a comic book that features computer science student Mitch and Scratchy. The former looks a lot like Mitchel Resnick and the latter is the cartoon version of the Scratch cat. There are a few other good and bad guys and the each chapter includes a programming objective and a game objective. I’m starting Chapter Four where I’ll be learning some new coding skills in the context of helping Scratchy attach flying viruses.
Each chapter ends with a challenge, ideas for how to expand on the work of that chapter. It’s important to spend time exploring these as they help you really understand the various pieces of code. And they can lead to new ideas much different than the original activity. For instance, I tackled the first chapter challenge and ended up with this rainbox slinky:
That activity got me wondering how I could get Scratchy to realistically move through a tunnel. Exploring that question led to this program that features my original artwork 😉 It may not be the best cave drawing but I am pretty happy with the way it seems like the cat disappears into the cave and the flicker on the candle. I may expand it into a tour of cave features.
I am using the notes area to record design ideas. Here are the notes I made for this project:
I started out with just the idea of how to make Scratch cat disappear into something like a cave and then reappear. I was going to do it all on the same backdrop but then decided to explore changing backdrops and broadcasting messages for things like the candle to appear.
It is fun to move beyond proof of concept with Scratch. The most recent activity was to create a quiz and a game in one. Players answer quiz questions and then get to play a game. If the player loses the game, she has to go all the way back through the quiz to be able to play again. I’m experimenting with how you might be able to return the player to the game and skip the quiz.
I was just thinking about getting ready to head to the after school program when I got a text indicating they were going to have to cancel. I was a little disappointed as I had pulled together some digital cameras and was hoping to work on some digital storytelling using Scratch as the production tool…get the girls interested in programming by building on their interest in digital media. I had spent an hour or so today creating two ideas for using digital photos in Scratch:
Farm Slide Show:
So, I kept working on them a bit, adding code to make sure they reset themselves when the green flag was pressed. I figured the girls could remix my work, thus learning both about the Scratch community and getting to see some code they can work with.
I finished tinkering and realized I had unstructured time. The last time it happened, I had to listen to a Coursera lecture. Today, I really could take a break from responsibilities. What to do? The dogs benefited as they got an extra walk before their supper. And my kitchen floor got a much needed cleaning.
But I was also able to escape upstairs to my makeshift sewing room where I’ve been working on my first quilting project. I had bought a kit for a small wall hanging several years ago and decided this would be the year I finished it, intending to give it to my mother for a Christmas gift. I had cut squares and done some sewing over the weekend but today’s job was to start creating the whole piece. I pretty quickly discovered just how badly I had done with the initial cutting. Some squares were more like rectangles, points didn’t match and after sewing two rows together, I found that one of the blocks was positioned incorrectly, a mistake that pretty much doomed the project. I could have taken it all apart but that wasn’t going to solve the poor cutting. I used a rotary cutter but just wasn’t as careful as I should have been. I’ll finish it as it is good enough for me but I’m going to try another one to give as a gift. This time, I’ll be better focused on the cutting, first taking some time to read tips from experienced quilters who are willing to share their secrets online.
A well-made quilt has a clean, neat look that results from clean, neat cutting. I knew that and yet it took failure to bring the lesson home. It’s tempting to give it up and go back to crocheting, a craft I do well, but I’m determined to master this new craft. Thank goodness I’m not being judged on my first effort.
Lots of lessons for educators here…first, the unstructured time and the chance to choose my activity, and then the chance to fail. We don’t allow much of this in schools since we are so focused on measurable results.
One of my favorite days each semester is Scratch Day. Integrating Scratch allows me to give my students the chance to do some basic programming. Most of them have had not experience in this area. In a two-credit class, I can only devote an hour, but it’s amazing what my students can accomplish in that hour. I give a basic overview of how the program works, show them how they can download and investigate projects and then set them loose to work on their own projects as I work on my own.
In addition to an introduction to programming, they get to see a vibrant professional learning community at work. When we have questions, we head to the forums where we find answers along with sample code. They turn into a learning community as well as they share discoveries and help each other.
At the end of the class, I know there are students who are relieved that it is over. They feel a bit inferior, I suppose, because they are generally used to being good at something right off the bat. I try to reassure them that programming is not always intuitive and creating something complicated takes time. Others are exhilarated and can’t wait to get home to work on their projects some more, knowing that they still have lots to learn but confident that they can learn it.
I always learn more about Scratch myself and promise that I will do more…maybe I’ll make it my next 30-day challenge.