Make it Snow in the Classroom with Scratch Jr.

I was invited to help a couple of first grade classes with Hour of Code activities last week, and thought that we would try using Scratch Jr.  I had a different lesson planned for our Friday morning (“Can I Make the Sun Set?”) – but then it snowed in San Antonio Thursday night.

For those of you in northern climes, snow may be somewhat unexceptional, but in San Antonio snow is pretty close to miraculous.  Many of my younger students had never seen snow in their entire lives, so it seemed only fair to change our Scratch Jr. lesson the morning following our unusual weather phenomena.

Most of the students in the class were as new to Scratch Jr. and programming as they were to snow.  I started the class with the BrainPop Jr. video I mentioned in last week’s post.  Then I used Reflector to demonstrate the Scratch Jr. interface on the classroom screen.  I talked about the meaning of “character” in Scratch Jr., and how it could be any object that you want to program to move in some way.  I showed them how to add a background.  I also demonstrated that they would need a “trigger” for their character such as the green flag, and how to program characters to move.  Then I gave them some time to explore.

After they played around a bit in pairs on the iPads, I asked for their attention so I could show them how to add a camera shot as a background.  This was something new I had learned last week, and it takes a bit of practice.  This video explains it well. (She is using the tool to make a character, but you can use it for a background as well.)

The students worked on taking pictures for the background.  Some chose the classroom for photos, and some chose themselves.  Their homeroom teachers and I definitely needed to give support to many students – especially when we realized the camera tool wasn’t enabled for Scratch Jr. on all of the iPads.

Once most of the students had backgrounds, I showed them how to add snow as a character.  They clicked on the + sign to add a character, and then the paintbrush icon to make their own.  After choosing the color white, I told them to make white dots all over with the tip of their finger.  It’s difficult to see the white dots on the white canvas, but after they click the checkmark at the top, the dots should show up on their background.

Students can move the white dots to the top of the background, and then program their snow “character” to move down when the green flag is triggered.  I showed them how to add higher numbers under the down arrow so the snow would reappear at the top and come down again if they wanted.

To make it look a bit more realistic, the students can add snow as characters several times, positioning them at different spots on the top to fill the screen with snow falling once the flag is tapped.

Another extension would be to teach the students the “bump” trigger so that when the snow hits another character, such as the Scratch cat, the character can say something, such as, “It’s snowing!”  You could also ask them if they can figure out a way to make the snow accumulate at the bottom of the screen.

There were various rates of success in the classroom for this project.  Some students got confused and added snow to the background instead of making it a character, and the camera tool required patience and practice.  However, there was a lot of learning going on, and great engagement.

This lesson could be another way to connect to the Snow Globe lesson that I have posted about in the past. . Hopefully, the students will now think of other ways to use Scratch Jr. for storytelling and creating in their classrooms and at home.

Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – beanz

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. Also, you can see last week’s recommendation here.  And, if you want to see the more than 100 games and toys I’ve recommended over the years on my blog, check out my Pinterest board.

Despite the popularity of mobile devices and computers, I think that children still get a thrill out of getting something from a physical mailbox.  If your child is interested in making video games, reading about new technologies, and learning different programming languages, you may want to consider getting her/him a subscription to beanz, a monthly magazine about “kids, code, and computer science.”

beanz would probably appeal the most to children between 8 and 13 who are avid fans of reading and technology.  However, if you are a parent or teacher who wants to develop a child’s desire to create, this magazine could also be a huge resource for you.  This monthly periodical explains technical topics, such as coding with Python, in a way that any layperson can understand.  It gives a lot of examples, great graphics, and many suggestions for projects that children can do.

To me, it’s not just important for children to learn how to use technology responsibly but also to learn how to maximize technology’s potential for creativity and innovation.  beanz helps to inspire kids to use technology for making things – not just for consuming entertainment.

beanz is available online and as a print magazine.  You can view the latest issue here, but some articles are only available to subscribers. For $29.99/year, you can receive the print magazine and online access.  I think this is a great deal, but if you want to spend a little less you can opt for the $15/year online subscription.

For a unique gift that will delight any creatively “geeky” parent or child, you should definitely consider beanz!

Turing Tumble

It has been awhile since I’ve succumbed to my Kickstarter addiction, but felt the need to place a pledge last night for “Turing Tumble: Gaming on a Mechanical Computer.”     The good news is that the project has already far surpassed its funding goal, and there are still 27 days to go in the campaign.  The bad news is that the projected date I will receive it is not until January of next year.  Turing Tumble looks like it will be a great addition to my classroom.  Because marbles!!!!  And logic puzzles in a comic book!!!!  And learning the basics of how computers work!!!

If I haven’t convinced you yet, check out their Kickstarter page, which gives a very thorough explanation (better than mine) and video of the Turing Tumble in action.

Check out the Turing Tumble, invented by Paul Boswell (above) on Kickstarter!

A.I. Duet

Today’s Frivolous Friday post is in honor of my colleague, Angela Leonhardt, who is a music educator extraordinaire.  She just made it to the finals for our district’s Teacher of the Year.  That honor and many more are well-deserved by this wonderful teacher, who enriches our community with her dedication.  If I had any music composition skills, I would play her a magnificent fanfare with this A.I. Duet experiment from Google.  Unfortunately, even A.I. can’t mask my ineptitude, but I’m sure that someone with Angela’s talent can find a way to make beautiful music with this fun tool.

H/T to Mental Floss for sharing A.I. Duet with its readers.

image from Raphael Love on Flickr

 

Barclays Coding Playground

It’s been awhile since I stepped foot in my bank. With online resources and apps, I don’t even have to go there to deposit my checks.  But I didn’t realize banks had increased their lobby services to teaching kids how to code…

Okay, not all banks do this.  But Barclays, a bank in the UK, has made it a mission to “demystify” coding, and has even trained some of its staff (Barclays Digital Eagles) to provide tw0-hour coding sessions for ages 7-17 in branches across the UK.

Well, that’s great, you think to yourself, but I’m not in the UK.  No worries, Barclays has you covered, too.  Head on over to Barclays Coding Playground, and you too can practice the basics of coding.  Select any of the objects roaming around the screen and you will be directed to change some of its features using lines of code.  For example, see the giraffe below?  I know.  It doesn’t look like a giraffe.  That’s because I coded it to have a particularly short neck.  Because I could.  And because when I made the neck its maximum size the head went off my browser page which made the image a bit more difficult to capture…

The Playground isn’t going to make your child into a coding rockstar, but it is fun and would probably entice anyone who hasn’t programmed before to take a few more steps toward learning more.

If you want more resources for coding, here is my Pinterest page.  Also, I will be doing a presentation at TCEA in Austin, Texas, called, “Code Dread,” for those of you who find all of this talk of teaching kids to code slightly disturbing because Barclays wasn’t kind enough to demystify it for you when you were a child 😉

 

Hour of Code 2015

I feel that this post is probably superfluous.  Code.org has done a wonderful job already of promoting this year’s Hour of Code, scheduled for 12/7-12/13.    However, it doesn’t hurt to give this great event more publicity (with the hope that Code.org’s servers can handle all of the extra traffic).

The concept is simple – make sure every student at every level gets to experience an hour of coding next week.  If you’ve never participated in Hour of Code, this may seem to be a daunting task.   Code.org makes it super simple, though.  The Hour of Code site provides step-by-step tutorials for all age levels, many of them with high-interest themes, such as Minecraft, Star Wars, and Frozen, and most of them can be done on any device.  No devices?  No problem. There are “unplugged” activities that can be used for Hour of Code as well.

Why should educators give all students – even elementary students – this experience?  The videos on this page can explain the importance of computer science for our future.  You may have potential Mark Zuckerbergs in your room – or not.  But you definitely have future problem-solvers, collaborators, and innovators.  Coding develops all of these skills, with the added bonus that students have fun while they learn them.

I urge you to give it a try.  I hesitantly took the risk a few years ago, and I’ve been glad I did ever since.  If you still feel reluctant – primarily because you may not feel like you have enough experience – then you might want to look at my Code Dread post from a few weeks ago.  I promise that you don’t have to be Bill Gates to guide students through the Hour of Code.  In fact, inexperienced people have an advantage in this situation because they will avoid the pitfall of helping too much!

Need more Hour of Code ideas?  Check this out.

For some more programming resources for kids, here is a Pinterest Board of links to websites and products that will help children learn to code.