Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wonderful Colleagues!!!

I was talking to some of my colleagues about my nervousness of finishing on time.  Today I came in to see one of the classes working on their projects.  One of my colleagues gave up her time to assist me.  She had just finished a lesson and instead of starting a new one she gave the girls time to work on their programs.

And the girls got to show off what they have accomplished!!! It was fantastic! I love how we adapt our schedule to help one another out!  Thanks!!!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Eureka Eureka Eureka!

Well it's not that they are running down the center of town like Archimedes supposedly did, but there has been lots of WHOO, high fives and YES! in the computer labs lately.  It is wonderful to hear the successes and see the perseverance that the teams are demonstrating to get the programs completed.  We are now in overtime and the girls don't seem to mind that I have taken their study halls for two weeks to finish the games.

The thinking and cooperation that is happening in the class is outstanding.  I love watching them discuss and try different ideas.  They are really starting to develop skills that a programmer needs when working collaboratively.  In addition, many can tell you something about objects, loops, if-statements, parameters (indirectly through messages), and variables.

The best thing I see happening:  those students who thought they could never never learn programming are actually enjoying programming.  Most of the girls (regardless how capable they felt they could be) are really working with their teams to build the games.   Most everyone is offering some suggestions to try when debugging and it is great to hear the passion in their suggestions and the brainstorming that is happening when the debugging doesn't work.  They keep trying; keep rearranging the code and then EUREKA!!  I can't wait to see the finished products.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


This past Thursday and Friday, we had the pleasure of PIWCS coming in.  They came, answered questions for the girls and gave encouraging words of wisdom.  It was great for the girls to have some role models in computer science.  It was a huge help to me as most of the games were in the middle of the programming. The PIWCS young ladies offered great suggestions about variables and how to work with the control statements.  I didn't feel like I was running all around the classroom.

Here are some pictures from the time:

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

The flipped classroom

This is a slightly off topic post.  Yesterday, we had a professional development day.  EdTechTeacher came down to present a series of workshops.  I went to the flipped classroom room and had a great learning experience with others.  Flipping is something I have been reading about for the past four years.  It is basically giving students the time in class to do the most cognitively difficult work.  The idea is to help take out the frustration out of homework.

A few things I took away from the day:

  • Start small if you have too.  Flip one lesson a chapter and build. (I feel the same with new technology)
  • Record some of the lectures in current class.  On lecture days record them and then the record is there and can be refined.
  • Think small bursts of information.  No one wants to watch a 45 minute video about any topic.  This brings me back to idea that I heard long ago about 10 minutes should be max on a lecture before a check in with students is done.  Think short bits that then have them practice the topic, write down questions, journal about the concept...
  • Recording yourself is odd, but the more you do it the more comfortable you are with the sound of your own voice.
  • ScreenCast-O-Matic is a fun tool to play with.  So is the recording in PowerPoint and QuickTime. ScreenCast-O-Matic allows you to add a video of you which would give students a chance to see you as well.
  • VoiceThread is great to have others add video comments to the slides allowing some interactivity in asynchronous class time. Sounds like an oxymoron but it does work.
We got to spend time working on lessons that we have to try to flip them.  Some did examples of problems, review of rubric assessment and what would be a good example, other took some power point slides and recorded voice on them.  It was great to have the time to play and discuss with each other how to incorporate this idea and technology in our classes.  A great day was had (Thanks Rose and Justin).  I can see myself recording some scratch tutorials for the girls and placing them on our class page.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

They are learning Programming!!!

Today one of the big lessons learned was if the groups figure out the first level of the game adding the additional levels would be easy.  I had one group who really began to understand how the variables need to be constantly checked and utilized.  They also spent time refining their knowledge of boolean statement.  I sat for a few minutes to explain a boolean and the team was able to put it to use in multiple places.  It was great to see someone who didn't think she could program actually get the game to work.

This is something that I love about programming.  They get immediate feed back and their confidence grows and they get excited to see the feedback from their work.  I just hope we finish in time.  Some of the programs are coming along others are not.  I hope that they can get everything together in time.  We don't have much class time due to our schedule.

I just sat through a PBS/STEM Webinar and it was helpful to talk about the main components of a game and what makes a game.  Many of which I discussed early on with the girls.  So I am hoping to review these again next week.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fish swims, cars move, numbers appear!!!

I have never been so excited to see fish swim across a stage, a car shrink size or random numbers appear.  Last night our school had a "Feb 13th Celebration", which was a look at where the school is with the progress of the Strategic Plan.  A section of the plan was to increase the awareness of the STEM education.  The evening was great.  After the formal presentations we had students from all divisions highlighting some of the neat activities they are doing: engineering in the lower school, online computer courses in the upper school, math competitions, future cities and the 8th grade computer course in the middle school.

We have had an 8th grade programming course for years, but never to the extent of them having to participate in a gaming competition and such open ended as program a game and learn from the process.  The elementary students talked about the engineering process which we very similar to the process the girls have gone through with their game.  The best part was the two girls I asked to come to the night worked on their project while parents were looking on (that is not an easy thing with all eyes watching).  They were able to get the fish to swim across the stage.

Now you may be saying oh fish swim, that's not difficult in scratch.  But these girls have had three 46- minute periods working in scratch on tutorials.  They worked collaboratively to get the fish swimming and by trying various things figured out how to get blocks of code to happen simultaneously.

The energy continued today in class as well.  We were stuck on how to get multiple variables to be in a say block.  (Did I mention I am new at scratch too).  So working together, I introduced the students to Scratch Forums.  I created a login name and had the students write the questions under me.  Within in minutes we had an answer (Thanks TRocket!).  The girls were so excited to see the answer and within seconds had the program creating random addition problems!!!!  These games are starting to come together for one section.  I see the others coming up later today.  I hope the energy continues.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Scratch and the learning curve...

The girls have started to get into the programming and they are beginning to learn some concepts.  Variables are starting to become clearer.  The idea of storing everything they need, even the wrong answer, has them boggled and overwhelmed.  The scratch environment of finding how to get items to work together is also a challenge.  Working together we have found out how to do some of the items.  We still can't get a sprite to say multiple integers.  The girls want to have their problem appear on the stage and getting that has been a challenge.  It is nice to see them interact when one group has found out how to do something they are willing to share with one another.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The first Game!!!

After writing last night's post, I changed my lesson for today.   Last night I made a simple "guess the number" in Scratch. (If I can figure out how to post it I will!) Using one of the figures, I had the program choose a number and the girls had to guess the number.  It then told them how many guesses they took.  Once they played a few times, I had the class go back and figure out how I programmed the game.

We walked through the program with some guiding questions.  First they thought I had a list of numbers for the computer to use.  When I said no, they looked and someone found the random number block. Then, I was able to then explain the concept of a variable as storage place since we had to store the random number.  We talked about how the variables can be for the individual sprite or for the whole program briefly.  I need to find a way to revisit this, as they start their games. We were able to discuss built in variables such as answer for input.  In addition,  I was also able to discuss conditionals with if statements and the difference between the repeat if and repeat until blocks.

At first it was quiet in the classroom when I asked questions, they were thinking and looking at what Scratch could do. But they did start trying various items; many of them had great ideas of what they needed to do.  They would try something and if it worked a big I know came out. As the game slowly came to life, the excitement in the room began to rise. That was really cool.  They loved that they programmed the game!

My main goal was to get them to start thinking about variables they might need, as I want them included in the storyboards we will start next.

We did have some difficulty when some of the code was on the background and other parts on the sprite.  This led the conversation about what needs to control the game the background or sprite.  So it has begun to get them thinking about objects and how to control various parts of their games.

My weekend will be to finish reading the outlines, and to work on the rubric for the storyboard.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Learning the scratch

The girls have been enjoying scratch.  The past week they have created an outline of the game.  I created a rubric to aid them with the outlining and gave them questions to answer:
  • What math concept are you looking at achieving?
  • What is the game going to look like?
  • What is the back-story of the game?
  • How many levels?
  • What are the rules of the game?
  • How does each level differ?
  • How does a player know that they are going up a level?
  • When do you know you are at the end of game?
  • What age are you aiming for?
They created Google docs and have shared them with me so I can make comments on them.  I am excited to read them.

While I am reading the girls are working on some scratch lessons that I have found on line from shall we learn.  All I am hearing is how cool and fun it is to be drawing the items.  They are also really starting to think about what is happening.  Today I had the conversation with one student about how the different sprites have private variables.  Tonight I plan on making a simple demo to show them what random variables and inputs can do.

Tomorrow is storyboarding and making sure they have a good handle on the games.  I’m still nervous about them transition to actually program the games.