Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Using variables in Scratch: Math and Language Arts Integration

In today's grade 7 class, we looked at creating variables in Scratch and it provided some interesting challenges for the students that really got them thinking.

In the first part of the lesson, I introduced the idea of an random walk. First, it was just going in two directions. A student stood in the middle of the room and each time a classmate flipped a coin, the student would move either forwards (heads) or backwards (tails). Then, they were asked to figure out how to program this into Scratch. When the first couple of groups had worked it out, i asked them to have the sprite move in 4 directions based on a random number. Here's the solution:

a random walk in two directions

So, we looked at how, with the heads/tails random walk, the sprite has a 50% chance of heading in either direction. In the 4 direction version, they had a 25% chance of going in any particular direction. So then, I posed the question, "How would you modify this program so that your sprite can go in any direction, but has more of a tendency to move down and to the right?"

So this time, instead of generating a random number between 1 and 4, it could generate a number between 1 and 6. In this case, perhaps 1 means up, 2 means right, 3 and 4 mean down and 5 and 6 mean left. Then, I asked the kids to work out the percentages. After this, I let them play for a while, and there were some surprising results as they added their own touches, through in a little more randomness for how far the sprite would move on each turn, the colour and so on.

Next, I had the students create a simple Madlib using the same thinking process. The program would ask for a 'noun', a 'verb' and an 'ing-adjective'. One step at a time, the program will ask for user input, then that response will get put into a variable. Here is the solution:

this code is associated with the background in my example

I had another sprite speak the lines although I'm sure there are other ways to do this..

The kids already started discussing how they could use this to make all sorts of different projects such as quiz games and so on.  Conveniently, they are learning parts of speech in English class and percentages in math (totally unplanned) so hopefully, I will be able to get another teacher in on this one.

Monday, 12 November 2012

MIT Creative Tools workshop

Last weekend, I had the chance to participate in a great workshop at the LEAD Center in Hong Kong. It was run by Michael Smith-Welch, who was on the team that originally developed Scratch at MIT. The workshop was called MIT Creative Tools and we mostly played around with MaKey MaKey kits and Scratch Boards. We sometimes forget how much fun it is to play around with this stuff. We get caught up in teaching it and don't get to share in the joy of discovery along with our students. So it was a nice opportunity to just sit back with some colleagues, make a few new friends and play.

My friend Alan and I made a Play-doh piano using the MaKey MaKey.

Another group also focused on making music.  These little pie plates were turned into a drum machine.

At first, I wasn't convinced about the MaKey MaKey.  I saw the banana piano videos and thought is was a bit too gimmicky, but after spending an hour playing around with one, I am sold.  It really changes our thinking about the design process and focuses our attention on the user experience rather than just the technical problems of getting this or that to work.  We saw a video that showed a group of students recreating Dance Mat Revolution where the players are jumping into buckets of water!  Fantastic!

The Scratch boards that we used are very similar in that they allow you to add some more interesting inputs to your Scratch projects, such as a light sensor or a slider or even using some aligator clips to measure the electrical resistance in a circuit (unlike the MaKey MaKey which just gives a digital signal that can only be on or off, the Scratch boards have analog sensors that can return a range of values.  So, for example, you could have your project play from a whole range of notes or display from a whole range of colours, depending on the amount of light shining on the sensor or how close the aligator clips are together along a wire.)  I had two of them in my classroom that I barely touched.  But with a new grade 7 Scratch unit starting this week, I broke them out and started goofing around with them.

It turned out to be a weekend of Scratch.  Just the day before, I had discovered a project called Enchanting that allows you to program LEGO Mindstorms kits using Scratch-like blocks instead of the program that comes with them.  It is still in beta, but pretty stable and you can already do a lot with them.  Here's a video that can get you started.  (Btw, I got in contact with the developer and he is looking for people to help him with testing and translation if anyone is interested.  His email address is on his site.)

Then, I woke up Sunday morning to an invite to participate in the closed beta for Scratch 2.0!  I am still playing around with it, but expect an update in the near future.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Easy poll with Google Docs

A colleague just asked my how he could set up a simple poll online.  I find that Google Docs presents a very easy way to do it and I thought I would share it here in case anyone else is interested.

1) Create a spreadsheet in Google Docs.  Give it a new name other than 'untitled document'.

2) Put the names that you want for each of the fields at the top of each column.

3) Go to the 'tools' menu and select 'Create a form'.

4) You should now see your poll pop up in a new window.  Give the poll a name and save it.

5) Email it to your target group or embed it into a web page.  You can do this either by clicking on the appropriate button in the form or later on in the form menu on the spreadsheet.

6) Revisit your spreadsheet to see the responses.  Easy as pie!

MYP Design Pilot

This year, I am officially participating in the pilot program for the new MYP Design curriculum.  I have been unofficially taking part and working with the documents for a couple of years already (thanks to a friend that shared what was happening at his school), but this year, there is a lot of new stuff and now I am in contact with everyone else in the program and things are a whole lot better.  I am not able to talk a lot about it as we have been asked not to share any of our work publicly until the pilot is over in February.  That being said, I can safely say that most people will be very pleased with the changes.  There is a lot more alignment with the PYP and DP, including more consistent use of the Command Terms across all subjects and more focus on Concepts.  By calling the new program 'Design', it is clear that the emphasis is on process rather than product and the new Design Cycle lends itself more easily to a wider variety of projects, from food to ICT.  I am sharing all of my units on my google apps site (http://wiki.teacherben.net/) and I hope that people find this useful.  After a compete renovation of the program here at HKA, all of these units are brand new and very much works-in-progress.  Since I am sharing them publicly, I have had to remove the rubrics and a few other things for the time being.  But please feel free to send me any feedback on what you see.  At the moment, some of them are still using the terminology from the previous set of documents but as I move along, things will start to reflect the new language.