Month: May 2013

Scratch Day 2013

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 I’ve had plenty of students in the past who ask me where they can go to learn about programming. With movements like Code.org, kids are starting to get excited about programming. However, programming is not a subject that many teachers have seen. Students are turning to learning on their own, exactly as I did myself when I was younger. Learning things on your own from books, web resources, videos and the like certainly have their merit, but programming isn’t something that is easily approached by elementary school students, even with that wealth of resources being available. Command lines, IDEs, compilers, C++, Java, functions, prototypes, Python, interpreters, PHP, HTML, Perl…there are enough terms to make any adults head spin.

That is where Scratch comes in. Scratch was developed by The Life Long Kindergarten group at MIT’s Media Lab, for the intention of creating somewhere to learn programming concepts simply and easily. They’ve succeeded in this objective, to a fantastic extent. Through a simple drag-and-drop interface, the complications of typing hundreds of likes of ‘code’ in jumbled strict syntax are removed. The result is that students can dive to the root of programming concepts, concepts that 8 year old children can understand, given the technicalities are no longer part of the equation.

What makes Scratch even greater, is their efforts to build a community of students on their website. Here, students are sharing their projects, be it a game, an animated video, or a lessons on Scratch itself. This community organically spawned students teaching one another, sharing ideas and publishing tutorials and guides. To go even further, students began to build ‘companies’, creating a team comprised of skilled programmers, artist and animators, working to create large complex projects. This is the sort of community that has been formed by students, for the students, in an organic fashion that can never be intentionally created.

This community, and the development team at Scratch, schedule an annual ‘Scratch Day’, where local Scratch users and educators come together to teach workshops and celebrate all that is Scratch.

This year, along side of my fellow Free Library Maker Corp’s instructors, we ran one of the workshops for the Philadelphia area Scratch Day, hosted by University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.  Inspired by the Library of course, our workshop centered around Storytelling in Scratch.

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Scratch poses the ability to teach through a grand lecture, describing the blocks and their uses, and creating demo projects over a projector…however that is not the way it was made to be learned. As such, our workshop consisted of little to no structure; introduce and demo a couple of example projects that we had made, and let them take these samples and build from there.  

The informal ‘workshop’ style of Scratch Day played out perfectly to this particular ‘zero-structure’ layout. Within minutes, we had everyone in the room rattling away as we made ourselves available to help understand how to use a particular block, or pose challenges to the students who seemed to be running a head. That is all that it took to have a well oiled classroom of students rattling away on projects for the 90 minute sessions.

The results speak for themselves! And with the power of Scratch, I have embedded them here! Taking that power even further, feel free to click a project to visit a project on the Scratch site, and open up the code blocks that power them!

The music in this one really puts it above and beyond!

This project highlights what makes Scratch public sharing ability so awesome. When I last saw this project on Saturday, it looks a great deal different. Now I can see what my students has been up to, the progress he has made and even leave a comment with a few more challenges!

I had a blast with Scratch Day this year, and hope I can be around to help in the coming years. Programming is a subject that is sure to seep into the curriculum of public education in the future years, and Scratch will be one of the tools that will make it possible. Educators take note, Scratch is the ultimate tool to bring programming lessons into your classrooms, be it in telling stories, or teaching mathematics!

 

Seaperch 2013: The Robo Pirates

 

Just last weekend, a group of middle school students I was lucky enough to mentor competed in the 2013 Philadelphia Seaperch competition. The event was the culmination of the last 2 months or so of weekly (and sometimes bi-weekly) meetings, a few long busy days and tons of amazing effort from the students. The kids went above and beyond and put together and amazing showing at the competition and I could not be more proud of them! I think we all learned countless lessons throughout the adventure, but the ultimate one is that they need to be ready for next year, and other area robotics events. It really is amazing to see such motivated students participating in their first robotics, and engineering based project in general, and finding a passion for it. I look forward to seeing what the Robo Pirates will pull off in the future, and I look forward to being able to help them get there.

 

Experiments with Bare Paint Conductive Paint

I got my hands on a tube of Bare Paint the other day, and decided to give it a try. I aimed to make an LED loop around an acrylic sign holder, but quickly ran into issues. The paint is not terribly conductive, and running the length of the 8.5×11″ sign holder proved to be too much. The paint itself was super easy to work with, and worked perfectly in small, short amounts, but running more than a few inches creates a resistance issue.

I didn’t get to do to much digging into the restiveness properties, and truthfully, it would be a difficult task to tackle. It seems that the surface of the paint, once dry, looses a great deal of conductivity. The most conductive was encased in the dry outer shell. Perhaps sometime soon I can use the remaining amount to try to come up with the resistance over a unit of volume and use it to my advantage next time I use it!