A new year, with new lesson ideas needed - where do we start?
At Code Rangers we decided to kick off our 2017 kid’s coding workshops using the pen in scratch (Scratch is one of our favourite ways to get coding). The pen blocks are a great way to clearly understand exactly what you’re doing with all those lines of code.
Rather than creating shapes we started the students off creating letters from their names with the pen - first, the straight lines (lucky Isobel, and Isaac), next we introduce some angles (Xavier that’s you), and finally the curves (Oscar and Jasmine you’re up.)
We weren’t completely sure how excited the students would be, but we started in pairs, with pen and paper, ‘programming’ each other to write letters. This was a great way to plan out the simplest approach to coding the letter, which isn’t always the same as the way we’re taught to write it. It also creates that beautiful ‘a-ha’ moment, where our students who have been writing for years realize any letter (or indeed shape) is simply a combination of straight lines and curves.
We then moved on to the computers. What happened next was amazing! From such a simple idea, we decided as a group it would be wonderful to code the whole alphabet, so we shared the load and created a studio in Scratch which would store the whole group’s work. Students chose letters they wanted to try coding, used ‘make a block’ to create bespoke coding blocks to draw individual letters, and saved them to the studio. They could then explore the studio and backpack (i.e save to their own project) letters created by others.
We learned so much more than coding!
Out of such a simple idea, here’s what we learned together:
- The power of collaboration - in about 150 minutes a class can create the full alphabet with code!
- Abstraction - if someone’s done the hard work of figuring out how to write Q, we don’t all need that knowledge - just grab the Q block and you’re good to go. This let us all move swiftly to a higher level of abstraction, using individual letter blocks to create whole words.
- Protocols - it helps to agree the size of our letters, and starting and stopping points when we draw, so that we can create whole words with just a few lines of code.
- Differentiated learning - our younger students were so excited to see their L appear on screen, while the senior students created brushstroke like curves on their G with lots of effort and concentration.
- Small milestones equals fast progress - at the start of the school year, with so many new students,we want to quickly get their confidence up, ensure they ‘get’ it, and create a hunger amongst our coding kids to create more with code. Spending five or ten minutes on an individual letter meets all those requirements: students get a sense of meaningful progress from creating and sharing.
- Good digital citizenship. Contribute before you take!
- It translates - one of our groups this term is using python only and guess what? Using an online code editor like trinket.io we could do exactly the same project with just as much satisfaction and fun!
Our coding classes have now spent two to three weeks on their alphabets and are ready to move on. We’ve set the tone for a year of wins, progress, and collaboration and it’s going to be great to see what our digital creators come up with next.
If you give this lesson a try, be sure to share the results with us by adding to our new studio.