Sunday, 14 September 2014

Scratch: How can we be creative with coding?

Well, we're all back at school and love it or hate it programming is a part of the new National Curriculum that we're all going to have to deal with at some point.  We need to look at coding from the point of view of the children; they have no fear. They really don't, it's just learning a new language on a device that they are comfortable with because the technology has always been there for them.

So how do we get the children onboard?

Great Cities, but not great air - topic plan 
This term WE have planned (the children and I) to use a picture from the photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand as the creative spark for our learning this term.

We looked at one of his photographs of Paris titled, 'Great Cities, but not great air' and had a whole morning to plan together as a class on Move Up Day.  The children were magnificent and as we travelled through the questions and discussions we realised how much learning we could get from a single photograph.  This is the plan we put together as a class. 

I gave the children the the book Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve as it is based on the city of London in the distant future when the world looks very different. It is a stunning read, have a look here -

How did we link coding to the book Mortal Engines?

Again, the children had the idea - the best ones usually come from the children!  I was lucky to follow my technology enthused class into Year 4 this year, something I've been excited about all summer. I didn't need to get to know them and I could hit the ground running.  

The children had spent hours in class, at home and at coding club after school learning how to code using Scratch.  Find out more -  I have blogged a few times about how this current class got started and how they ran their own CPD for the staff after school - Children as Teachers. They were already coding, so we needed am ongoing project that they could get their coding teeth into.

Philip Reeve- Mortal Engines
After reading the opening to the book the children were inspired - it really is that good of an opening!  The illustrations helped to bring the opening to life for some children and then came the idea!

"Why don't we create a hunting game? The game will involve London travelling around the dead North Sea collecting larger and larger cities."  This conversation created their learning for the foreseeable future. 

So where did the children begin? How did they spread the work? How did they decide who they wanted to create their games with?

The Software Companies Were Born.

The children decided that they wanted to build the games together in small groups to spread the workload.  They decided they need one person for the backgrounds, one for the sprites and as a group they would code the game.  I liked this way of working as each child could bring something to their game, whether it be a design of a sprite or writing lines of code.

I gave each group a huge piece of paper to help them organise their thoughts. Immediately the classroom was alive with discussion about code, designing levels, sprites and bonus levels.  We hadn't even got a MacBook out yet!

This planning stage proved crucial and a master stroke as the children were able to verbalise and plan their games without just 'making it up as they went along.'

Their planning was very creative. The levels were well thought out and the sprites and backgrounds were coming together nicely.  When should I let them code?  I decided that the children needed to present their ideas to the rest of the class before allowing them to start coding the game. 

When the children presented their ideas, they were not only sharing, they were gathering more information from the rest of the class about how to develop their games further.  When the groups, sorry software companies, were happy they asked for a MacBook.

Bring out the MacBooks: Time to Code?

The children created their own log ins for their software companies, so they could collaborate in school and at home. This is something I encouraged the children to do using Edmodo. It was a way to share thoughts and ideas when they were not in school coding together.   I liked this idea as it is something that happens in the real world in software companies around the world.  They bounce ideas around the company, even when they are not in the office. Real life skills.

A week later I received a few notifications on Edmodo from some of the children in my class, they had something to share....

Here you can see the design and the first screenshot from one of the software companies - Mortal Rush. I could share a few more, but I'm sure this does the job.

I was so excited, I loved the graphics, I loved the name of the company and I loved that I could follow a link to the opening scenes of the game.  The children were hooked.  Some of the screenshots that I've got looked so much like the games you would download on mobile devices, clearly they'd been influenced by them.

They are a long way of completing, but this is a good thing in a world were instant gratification is rife.  The children will need to work hard to accomplish their goals and fail plenty of times along the way. You need to learn from your mistakes whilst coding, it what makes you a great coder.

I haven't told the children this yet, but they will be designing their own controllers using Makey Makey and packaging the whole thing together.  We are then going to be creating websites or wiki guides for the games, just like Minecraft fans do.  HUGE potential for the rest of the year.  I wonder if we could export it and sell them on the App Store?

Why did the children buy into this so much?

I've thought about this over the last week and come to the conclusion that because I had given them freedom to design whatever they wanted to they felt as though they couldn't get it wrong.  The children also saw the relevance of the coding - they had a reason to create this game because they were so invested in the book.  

We all know that the application of skills is much more exciting than learning very specific skills and this is why they are enjoying this project so much.  This week we will be sharing any problems we have with each other and working as bigger teams to sort the coding problems - social learning CAN happen with computers.

Think about the links to other curriculum areas when creating something on Scratch. Art: Sprite, background and text graphic design. PSHE: The collaboration needed to get a company working. Maths: Coding is full of maths, just look carefully. English: Knowing the story for the game in detail and presentation skills.  I really could go on, but you can see the power of being creative with your planning can really bring the curriculum alive.  

The next time you plan your coding sessions in school, try to balance skill with application and link it to your current topics in class.  Coding is incredibly fun and rewarding when you see the relevance to it - the same with anything.  Give the children some freedom and allow them to work in teams to code. It's so much better to code in teams than on you own.

What next for me?

I'm really proud that the article I wrote on my Flipped Classroom has been published and will be available from September. It also made the front cover! 

You can subscribe or download the article from The Teaching Times website - here

I've also been asked to write an article for Teach Primary on Flipped Learning that should be out in October, so keep an eye on your staffroom tables!

I've also been asked by Subject Support to run two, one hour online training sessions in December and March with an emphasis on setting up your own flipped classrooms. You can find out more about this  - here

I'm going to be doing a few workshops for ITS Learning this year, one in London, one in the North West and an online sessions that will be broadcast live from a fabulous location.

I've also applied to speak at BETT 2015 about my journey into flipping my primary classroom.  I'm really hoping to do this and share my story with people in person. 

Follow me on Twitter @chriswaterworth

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