Scratch is now at version 3.0. I’ve been looking forward to this as it will now support the iPads my class uses.
I gave it half an hour or so on my iPad and am delighted to say that it does what is says on the tin. The iPad I am using is an Air 1 so a good few years old. It was a little laggy now and again but nothing that I worried about.
I posted a short reply to a post on facebook earlier by David Renton on how to get more women into games courses and wanted to compose this post in order to elaborate further. So how do we solve the problem then of getting more girls into games or even computing in an ideal world we stop genderising things whether they are toys, jobs even hobbies. It won’t happen overnight or even at all however it’s a start right?
OK so it’s not the ideal world how can we help change the notion that Computing & Games are for boys. I’m using these since that’s my specific area however I’m sure there will more subject examples dominated by one or the other gender and seen to be girly/boyish. Education I believe plays a part in this and helping demystify some stereotypes. I have for 6 years been researching in primary schools and I firmly believe this is where we need to start. Children learn from an early age and they learn from us. It’s our responsibility as adults to show them the opportunities out there and to show that no matter their gender they can do anything. So why don’t we teach them then how to make games in schools (yes it’s part of our Scottish school curriculum from Primary 5 onwards) and it’s been on my radar for the past 6 years. I’ve been trying on my own to get more children in Glasgow (there are other folk doing fab things across the country) into games by teaching them how to make games using Scratch – in school lessons I should add. My research focused on working with nearly 400 children between the ages of 8-11 and teaching them and their teachers how to make games. The children worked in pairs and not once did I ever hear/see anything gender related towards the games that were produced. The only gender issue I encountered was a couple of P6 or 7 classes who when told they would be working in mixed gender pairs gave the ever so awkward pre-teen look of how can I work with a boy/girl but after 2 minutes that was forgotten about and awesome games were soon made.
Primary is a very important stage of education as it forms children’s opinions on subjects they like and dislike. By giving children positive experiences of games construction & computing in general. However this then needs to be reinforced throughout secondary school also and children need to be able to have the opportunity to carry on seamlessly from primary to secondary. This is where I had the idea of an event that lets primary and secondary schools work together. A Mini Game Jam – a game jam is where folk get together for 48 hours in the one space and form a team and well, make a game. My idea was shrunk down for the school day. I envisaged that after teaching the children during my research they would have some game making knowledge – enough to make a small game – to be able to work in a team and have some fun while doing so. Hence the Mini Game Jam was born. I am now into year 4 of the event which schools are now starting to see the benefits of. Last year I worked with 300 children over 6 events to spend a day working on a game based on a given theme. By putting the children into mixed teams and not making a fuss about it they worked together side by side as it should be. By showing primary and secondary schools how both can work together for one little part of the curriculum it might help sow some seeds.
Given what I’ve seen during my years of research in schools I don’t believe solely in “women into x, y or z” events. However they may be a short term fix but we need to think long term for these ideas to stick. Also OK why not women only classes for getting more women thinking about the subject I dont mean full on the whole 4 years or that but getting an introduction would maybe be helpful. I chose my subject at university knowing that yes it would probably be male dominated but at the end of the day my choice was based on what I wanted to learn not the male/female ratio in the class.
There isn’t an overnight “Women into “ course and suddenly uptake of FE/HE even Nationals/Highers goes through the roof, no this is a long road and we all must be in it together to work and change attitudes from early years onwards otherwise we will still be having this same old conversation in 20-30 years time.
During May 2015 306 children from 22 schools across Glasgow participated in a series of Mini Game Jam events. The Mini Game Jam is an event for children who are in P6/7 & S1/2 and it involves schools within the same learning community getting their classes of P6 or 7 together and heading to the local secondary school to work with a class of S1 or S2 there to make a game using Scratch. The children are put into teams with children from the other schools in order to give a transition style event as well. While the main aim of the day is to create a game based on the theme given at the start of the day it’s about a little more than that. It’s about training teachers beforehand to give their classes scratch lessons so they are able to have an idea of how to create a game. It’s about giving the teachers confidence in their own abilities to teach games design/construction to their classes in school. It’s about encouraging children to work in teams and learn from each other. It’s about getting the schools in a learning community to undertake similar Computing work at the same time. It’s about showing children then can be the creators of their own games and not just consumers. It’s about letting children see there are careers available to them in the games industry (I am lucky enough to get volunteers to help and encourage the children on the day who are involved in games either as students/lecturers or who work for a games company). Most importantly it’s about the children having a FUN day while making new friends and being part of a team that’s created a cool game within the space of 3 or 4 hours.
The first event kicked off in the Smithycroft learning community with 118 children from 5 schools taking part. This event was by far the biggest of all jams. Partially down to the fact that it’s been within the LC that I’ve been helping out and undertaking my research, and from their enthusiasm more schools have heard about it. The event was held at Smithycroft Secondary school and the children were put into their teams split over 5 rooms in the school. Once the theme was announced at the start of the day the children moved to their rooms and began planning their games. Which were to be based on Space. Some teams more enthusiastic than others to get started. However after 30 minutes all teams were talking to each other and working on their ideas.
By lunchtime a lot of teams were finalising their games which left them time after lunch to test and refine their game. After lunch all teams quickly got back into putting those finishing touches to their games and worked hard on testing them out before we finally finished for the day. While the games were being judged the children were given a fantastic talk by Chihiro Yamada about how he got into the games industry and what he does now.
Next the Mini Jam headed to Rosshall Academy. The teams were split over 3 rooms though some rooms needed more encouragement than others to get chatting to each other however once they overcame their shyness the ideas started flowing. It’s great watching the ideas being brought to the screen and children realising they can make their games just like they thought.
At the end of the day another fab presentation by Chihiro to the children while the games were judged.
The 3rd Jam was held at Holyrood Secondary with 2 classes being utilised for the teams who were participating. It’s the first time I had to give a room of children into trouble for NOT talking. However the children eventually got into it and were soon coming up with some brilliant ideas.
Again by lunch time the children had the best part of their games done and it left them time after lunch to test their games and polish them up. The children were given a talk today by Alex Macolm and Sean Ward both students at Glasgow Caledonian University and they spoke of how they got into games and also of their experiences of the big Game Jam event which they have both participated in.
Jam number 4 was run in conjunction with the Caledonian Club/NoPIlls Project from Glasgow Caledonian University. 50 children from Elmvale primary participated in a day of game making and getting the chance to visit the labs in the University where the NoPills Researchers work. It was a fun day for all involved.
The very last jam was held at Bannerman High School. Every single school in the learning community had sent a team of children along. One of the purposes of the jam is for the children to meet with others within their learning community and this was a great example of all schools embracing that and taking part. Spread over 2 rooms the children once they eventually started talking to each other started to come up with their game ideas and before long they were onto the computers making these ideas a reality.
Thanks to all schools who participated in the local events and to Smithycroft Secondary, Rosshall Academy, Holyrood Secondary, Bannerman High School and Glasgow Caledonian University for hosting these events. Big thanks also to those who helped me out on the days of the events: Kate Farrell, Chihiro Yamada, Sean Ward, Alex Malcolm and Stephen McArthur.
Do you wonder why it’s important to help pupils learn to code?
The products of coding or computer programming are around us every day, whether we see it or not. Daily living in today’s society depends on someone somewhere having created something in which coding or programming has played a part. Many voices have spoken about how the society in which our pupils live requires more people now and in the future to be skilled in programming or coding.
There is a fear expressed that schools which ignore teaching programming or coding are setting up pupils to only be consumers rather than creators of the code-driven products of today and the future.
Many teachers of today, themselves unfamiliar with coding or programming from their own education, may be anxious that they don’t have the skills needed to teach pupils coding or programming.
So this post sets out to collate resources which will support teachers to provide age-appropriate support for their pupils in including coding or programming in the context of different curriculare areas.
Mitch Resnick, one of the main creators of the coding program called Scratch, delivered a TED Talk outlining the benefits of teaching childrens to code, so they can do more than just “read” new technologies — but also create them.
Ginni Skalski has written a blog post of an interveiw with Red Hat product manager Burr Sutter (who works to make developers more successful and productive with open source tools, technologies, and techniques) who talks about why he believes children need to know how to solve technical problems, to know how to fix the tech tools they use every day, and how he balances that with other activities in which children participate.
Watch the short video below to see a few creators of well-known online tools (from Facebook to Dropbox) explain briefly what they first did to get started in coding, and why it’s important we have more people learning to program. This is also described slightly more fully here. Also it is part of http://code.org/The Hour of Code which links to quotes from a far wider range of well known or influential individuals on the importance of teachign coding today.
Programming Power: Does Learning to Code Empower Kids? This post by Ben Williamson looks at the idea that young people should learn to code, which has become a global educational aspiration in the last few years. And asks what kinds of questions should digital media and learning researchers ask about these developments? He suggests three approaches: first, to take a historical look at learning to code; second, to consider it in political and economic context; and third, to understand its cultural dimensions.
There is a host of tools available which can be used to support teaching pupils coding or programming. Some are downloadable software, some are specific to certian gaming devices or computing environments. Some work on specific mobile devices as apps. And some are online, requiring no downloads.
Code.Org provides a host of resources collated around teaching coding at different stages and ages and for different purposes – but all aimed at encouraging teachers to use coding with pupils. These links include Tutorials for the Classroom: CodeHS (Online curriculum designed specifically for high school classrooms); Codecademy After School (complete online after-school activities for a coding club); Tynker (programming for primary school in a fun way); Bootstrap (high-school algebra and geometry concepts using computer programming); CS Unplugged (Fun classroom exercises to teach computer science principles, with no computers needed). There are links to various schemes to bring enthusiasts into schools as well as platforms aimed at use with children.
Alice is a tool to enable creating an animated story, an interactive game, or a video to share online.
Kodu is a programming tool to create games on the PC and XBox.
Zondle Raspberyy Pi Programming Kit is just one of the ways in which Raspberry Pi can be used to help pupils learn programming. Raspberry Pi is a relatively inexpensive palm sized computer which can be used for programming games.
Scratch was previously only available as a downloadable program but is now available as an online version (Scratch 2.0) – this is a programming language that makes it easy to create interactive stories, animations, games, music and art – and share online.
Step 1. To get started straight away with pupils go to http://scratch.mit.edu/ and click on the signup button (or sign in if previously signed up).
On a Mission: How Code Academy is Helping get Programming into the Classroom. Lee Summers describes here how Codecademy for teachers is an online educational site built specifically for teachers. It offers slides for each lesson, as well as a quiz and practice set where students can test their knowledge. The site has been set up so that teachers can craft their own materials and then share them with the rest of the community.
To keep up with developments in such a fast-changing envronment there are a number of groups and individuals who share online via Twitter ideas and resources for supporting teachers in enocuraging pupils to learn to code. These include the following:
@CodeClub – for resources to support programming with 9-11 year-olds
@CoderScot - CoderDojo Scotland is part of a global collaboration which provides free coding clubs for young people to learn programming in a fun and sociable environment.
Here’s an update of how I’ve been using computer games and games programming in my class.
In the 2008-2009 session I piloted an S1 enrichment course on games design. Pupils choose in primary seven from three strands: Technologies, Health and Wellbeing or Creative Arts. I got one quarter of the time with the Technologies pupils to show them games design.
We worked with a program called Neverwinter Nights that was generously supplied by LTScotland and the Consolarium. In the May before I’d been lucky enough to go on the training course LTS had set up to kick-start games based learning. I learned a lot about NWN and met lots of great teachers who (at least from the last I’d heard) are doing great things with games. More that that here…
Anyway, as pilots go, I think it was a success. One of the champions of games based learning (and NWN in particular) is Judy Robertson who had good things to say about the pilot. The pupils that took the course are now in S3 and some are in my Standard Grade classes and have mentioned NWN several times (usually when I’m trying to get them to do boring SQA-related practical tasks).
I’m not using NWN at present because the following year the game was installed in a room which was subsequently timetabled away from my use when I had S1. We also had less teachers on rotation meaning longer sessions with pupils, so I diversified my input, looking at games, magazine making, radio stations, videos and photo editing. For gaming I used Scratch and worked on basic movement and graphics skills.
This year I’ve not been given any S1 classes on my timetable so no games for them!
As a computing teacher, I’m drawn more to Scratch than any other games programming tool out there. It certainly has significant drawbacks in terms of the graphics that can be used (the resolution of the games is maybe 360 pixels squared or something like that) and due to the fact that there’s no way to do 3D games. I like Scratch despite this because the programming interface is so well designed, and, because I’m teaching programming as well as games design, I like how pupils can’t avoid learning logic and structure. The lowest level of detail in scratch is that of each sprite. But text and graphic control and manipulation at that level is similar to the text input and output used in SG and Higher coursework.
So the mission with Scratch from here is to develop it as a way to introduce programming, as well as just make games. I’m planning to write units for S3 that show pupils how to use all the concepts they must know for SG Computing in Scratch, and I’m also planning for them to hand in their final coursework programmed in Scratch.
I have mentioned this elsewhere and there is discussion of it in our local authority too. While I understand people would have reservations about ‘dumbing down’ programming, I think that’s missing the point. Programming is not an exercise in falling over mistakes in grammar, spelling and syntax, it’s an exercise in logic, problem solving and analysis. I’d like pupils to be able to achieve up to Credit level in Scratch, and then supply a ‘conversion course’ to let pupils learn a language like TrueBASIC. This means the scratch course can be in no way superficial – pupils must understand exactly what they are doing.
So the plan for Scratch is to use it from primary 6 to S1. We start wit P6 visits and show them how to control a character. Then P7 visits do some imaginative thinking and design characters which they then control, and for those getting ahead, collect objects for points.
In S1 (if it’s available) pupils will learn a set of core game design principles like movement, object collection, points, health, collision detection etc. Then they can chose out of nine game types (platform, top down racing, aiming and shooting, maze etc) to focus on, and could work on three or four over the time they have.
In S2 there would be a portion of the year looking at games design. Those pupils that came to us in S1 would be given a mixture of advanced tasks and mentoring work.
In S3 the examples from S2 will be used to talk about input, output, structures like loops, arrays and so on. These will be assessed for understanding as concepts (I think this is important if looking at a transition to another language later on) and then used to program coursework.
Goodness, that’s a long and not particularly exciting post. But anyway, I wonder if anyone will spot this and if so, if they can give any thoughts on the use of Scratch. I am of course interested in other uses of games, but, that’s probably enough for now for this post, and certainly will be keeping me busy this year writing new stuff for classes!
Update: now that I’ve bothered reading online again, I see there’s a Making Games in Schools project on the go, hurrah!