Empowering girls’ learning & creativity through @Scratch #scratched

Over the course of the 2017 school year, my approach to teaching Scratch changed dramatically as I came to better understand how to support my girls’ learning and engagement with Scratch visual programming.

As I have previously explored here and here, my students thrive on challenging, authentic visual programming tasks which focus on storytelling and game design. One of my professional learning goals this year was to bring my students’ up to the year level C standard for visual programming, assessed against the WA version of the Digital Technologies Curriculum. I also set out to develop a scope and sequence of Scratch skills and assessment tasks for each year level.

We made a great deal of progress, although at times, I felt like a victim of my own succcess. In addition to our classroom projects, it was not uncommon for students to spend many happy hours in their own time exploring and building Scratch projects of all kinds. In addition, my lunchtime Scratch club proved to be so incredibly popular that I had to split it across two sessions due to overwhelming demand.

So, as the year draws to a close, I thought I might share what I’ve learned, and take this opportunity showcase my students’ learning and creativity in Scratch.

Our Scratch Progression (A Work in Progress)

YEAR 3

Various storytelling and simple animation projects using Scratch Junior on iPads. Scratch 3.0, to be released sometime next year, will no longer require Flash, and will be iPad friendly. I can’t wait to use it with my students!

YEAR 4

Projects: Animations, Storytelling, Maze Games

Skills / Teaching Points

  • Create and edit sprites in Scratch
  • Create and edit backdrops
  • Use the switch backdrops control block to switch scenes/screens (instead of a strange combination of key presses to progress a story)
  • Script and code a conversation between two sprites
  • Explicitly teach how to use the arrow keys to make sprites move, eg. through a maze.
  • Use repeat blocks to repeat a sequence of steps (e.g. a dance)
  • Informal introduction to IF/THEN branching and use of clickable buttons to enable user interaction with stories or games

Relevant Scratch Tutorials

  1. Getting Started with Scratch
  2. Animate Your Name
  3. Let’s Dance
  4. Make it Fly
  5. Fashion Game
  6. Hide & Seek Game
  7. Create a Virtual Pet
  8. Create a Story

Example Projects

(Note: You may need to enable Flash in your browser to view these.)

 

YEAR 5

Projects: Choose Your Own Adventure Stories, Character Animation, Simple Games, Teach/Explain/Model a Concept (2018), Scratch Geometric Art (2018?)

Skills / Teaching Points

  • Explicitly teach use of flowcharts and IF/THEN, IF/ELSE control blocks (branching)
  • Explicitly teach how to use coordinate position to control sprites location on the screen, and arrow key movements (up/down, left/right).
  • Introduce use of sensing blocks to detect colour or other sprites (essential for game design)
  • Explicitly teach how to use Broadcast and Receive blocks (better to do here than in Year 6).
  • Encourage experimentation with Pen tool, variables, operator blocks, and user input sensing blocks (e.g. question and answer)
  • Experiment with the use the random operator block to affect my sprite’s movements and position on the screen

Relevant Scratch Tutorials

  1. Race to the Finish
  2. Hide & Seek
  3. Catch Game
  4. Create a Pong Game

Example Projects

YEAR 6

Project Ideas: Game Design (In-depth), Storytelling, Quizzes, Scratch Art

Skills/Teaching Points

  • Reinforce appropriate use of IF/THEN branching, Broadcast and Recieve event blocks
  • Explicitly teach how to use sense, IF/THEN, and operator blocks to create quizzes, games, and stories which require user input through the use of clickable buttons and text entry – catering for multiple possible answers.
  • Explicitly teach use of Pen and Data (variable) blocks.

Game Design Resources

I created a Scratch game design website for my ISTE presentation in June. Please take the time to explore, and feel free to share it with your networks – http://bit.ly/scratchgamedesign17.

 

Example Projects

 

A Quick Note on Scratch Educator & Managed Student Accounts

Scratch now has Education accounts, allowing teachers to create user accounts for their students without the need for email addresses. We created Scratch accounts for our students based on their anonymised usernames for another site and taught them how to protect their online identity when participating in the online Scratch community. Despite one or two teachable moments, overall our girls really appreciated receiving constructive feedback from other Scratchers – both within and beyond their school.

While our experience with managed student accounts was broadly positive, they are a nightmare to manage and transfer at the end of the school year. If I were to create student accounts over again, I’d create Scratch classes for each Year/Grade Level – e.g. Year 5 2017. At the end of the year, the class can then be renamed, and new students added. Students are taught to add their projects to Scratch Studios, although I will need to think through a proper naming convention for these as well – as they are visible to all students in our school.

 

So, where to from here?

It has taken me nearly two and a half years, but I finally feel like I am starting to understand Scratch and how to teach it in a way which is accessible to students with a range of experience and confidence with visual programming. It was wonderful to see students achieve success with Scratch, even if it took some of them considerably more time and help to start realising its’ potential. I am indebted to my early adopter students for both showing me what is possible with this programming platform, and for helping teach their peers and teachers. The power of peer teaching, and the wealth of tutorials available on YouTube and Scratch Online are not to be underestimated!

Lessons learnt working with iMovie in Upper Primary

In Term 3, 2014, I spent half a term working with Years 3-6 students on various iMovie projects. While I plan to blog about my Year 3 and 4 students’ creations later on, I am in a position to share and reflect upon my experiences working with the upper primary classes. The Year 5 and 6 students were set a challenge – to create an iMovie ‘explanation‘ or advertisement for a chosen audience.

As I wrote in my planning document, the iMovie project was intended as an introduction to digital storytelling, one which will

“develop students’ skills for telling powerful stories through the use of images, text, and sound. Students’ final product will be an iMovie book trailer / explanatory video (depending on year level), which will require them to create planning storyboards, identity and cite Creative Commons images and music, and edit a video presentation.”

At the time, being new to the school and teaching ICT, my planning for this project was more closely aligned with the ICT General Capabilities than the new Digital Technologies curriculum, of which I am starting to develop a working knowledge. The project ran for just under 5 weeks, which in hindsight, was barely enough time to complete and submit the finished products!

The Challenge

I challenged my  students to plan and produce an iMovie which respected copyright through the use of Creative Commons (CC) images and (optional) soundtrack. Stressing that the completed works were highly likely to be published online (which will be a new initiative at the school), I tried to build my students’ understanding and awareness of copyright and online privacy, encouraging their use of CC images rather than live footage of themselves. I was also very keen to emphasise that the time spent planning and scripting the iMovie was just as important as the actual filming – countering the expectation that students could  just jump in front of a webcam and perform with little to no preparation.

The Year 5 students, with the benefit of the detailed project framework, came closer to achieving these goals – although approximately half of the teams didn’t take on the challenge of using images instead of live footage (some had permission to do this). The Year 6 students, set the much broader challenge of creating an advertisement, had more freedom with the use of live footage; however, were expected to demonstrate that they could plan, produce, and edit an iMovie which respected copyright laws.

How did we go? 

Year 5

Given this was not an ICT integration project, and only loosely aligned with the classroom English curriculum, I wasn’t overly worried that many students created procedures rather than explanations. What I did find fascinating; however, was how some groups responded to the challenge of using still images rather than live footage – by creating and using their own photos.

Amongst the Year 5 projects, there were some truly stand out examples of creativity, collaboration, and learning – including explanations of life cycles, the formation of igneous rocks, and how to paint your nails (I work in a girls school!). Some of my personal favourites are the recipes for cakes, brownies, and chocolate balls; the best of which I will be seeking parental permission to share later on.

In the meantime, I can share a selection of my Year 5 students’ iMovies which illustrate a wide range of iMovie production skills, and an emerging awareness of Creative Commons. Some of these have been edited to protect students’ privacy.

Year 6

My Year 6 students, despite some initial hesitation, responded brilliantly to the challenge of planning and scripting their iMovie presentations. I suspect the purpose and usefulness of writing the script / scene plans was made a little clearer due to their participation and intensive preparation for the upcoming Year 5-6 dramatic production, based on The Amazing Maurice, by Terry Pratchett.

Set the broad challenge of producing an iMovie advertisement which respected copyright, students set about collaboratively creating advertisements for the Royal Show, gymnastics, the Garden City Shopping Centre, and the school production. I had students spread out across the school – some were interviewing the Principal, Deputy Principal, teachers, and younger students, while others were filming gymnastics on the front lawn. The resulting advertisements reflected students’ unexpectedly high level interview skills, and a wide range of iMovie production skills, including the very clever use of effects, and a classroom wall as a rudimentary greenscreen.

Considering that students were primarily encouraged to work out how to use the iMovie tools amongst themselves, I was thrilled with the results. Unfortunately, as most of the Year 6 videos feature students’ faces, I can’t share them on my personal blog without parental permission. I can share one though – which if the students’ had included a ‘hook at the end’, would have come close to being one of the best advertisements in their class.

So, where to next year?

I will take a great deal of confidence and learning out of this teaching experience, which is technically the first major upper primary ICT project  I have planned, taught, and assessed. I now have a much better understanding of my students’  iMovie planning and production skills, and have a fairly good idea of the topics I will need to teach and reinforce in 2015.

Some notes that I’ve made along the way include:

  • There is a real need to explicitly focus on the use & referencing of Creative Commons media (music, images, etc) in ICT. This was a brand new concept this year, so it is not surprising that many students are still coming to terms with it.
  • I will need to continue the emphasis on prior planning and scripting, with some more work on storyboarding, especially with next year’s Year 6s. We will likely use Google Docs for this.
  • Never assume students know how to export and submit iMovies via Edmodo or Dropbox. (This is a mistake I won’t make again!).
  • I will also be focussing on the introduction of more advanced iMovie skills, especially the use of title / text overlays to convey meaning, and how to adjust volume and length of film clips.

Overall, this was an invaluable teaching and learning experience for me, and a great way to start my ICT teaching journey. I know I have a great deal to learn, but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, and especially proud of my wonderfully creative students – who never cease to inspire me as a teacher.