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Last week I explored Gamestar Mechanics, an online game design platform that teaches the fundamental design elements required to make a good computer game.  However, good game design does not just apply to video/computer games, but originated thousands of years ago in ancient times.

Much of the game mechanic or system that controls the player’s interaction in the virtual world is invisible, whereas physical games are transparent; the players become the game engine as they interact with rules and choices they can see.  Making explicit the game design elements of their favourite computer game can be a springboard for students to design a physical game to be played with their peers.

This site gives you 10 good reasons why you would want to use games in the classroom

These are websites with ideas for designing a board game

Set a design task for students in groups to develop a board game using ideas generated from their favourite video game scenarios making it suitable for a younger audience.  This would require students to recognise the different rules and reward systems operating within the video games and make adjustments for the physical counterpart. Higher order thinking skills are developed as they critically analyse the similarities and differences between virtual and physical games.  Collaborating in groups, creative thinking through completing design tasks and building systems thinking are a fundamental part of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies subjects.

  •  Design and Technologies: 

Board games can compliment any KLA of the curriculum which means that Technology is automatically integrated in the teaching/learning context.

Here is a board game that teaches real world skills.  The producers feel that physical games bring a more personal aspect to skill production and help create connections with peers.

under: Technology

FEATURED GAME DESIGN PROGRAM

GMlogo
This week I build on my existing knowledge and skills developed with Scratch by taking an in depth look at Gamestar Mechanic, an online game design platform, and how it can support teachers in teaching the Australian Curriculum: Technologies subjects (ACARA, 2013).

GAME DESIGN is more than just inputting computer code. It also focuses on the output components; the end result of the input. Gamestar Mechanic (GM) is a great introduction to the principles of game design – goals; rules; game space; components that creates the play experience; core mechanics that control the interaction of components; choice – the elements that need to be considered when designing game systems to meet the needs of an audience.

PC2game

The design platform, intended for but not limited to an 8-14 year old audience, produces arcade style games (like the classic Pacman) where you guide your avatar along a pathway to either collect points or energy while avoiding enemies and completing the level in the allocated time. GM fosters important 21st century technology skills: systems thinking, design iteration, problem solving, creativity and collaboration (Institute of Play, 2009). By creating games, students learn about how systems work, consider how others may be part of the system they create and how to modify or change them by analysing, experimenting and testing out their ideas.

GMcomb2

TUTORIALS

As I played through the narrative-based tutorial Quest, I found it scaffolded the introduction of design elements within the context well, providing immediate feedback on the decisions I made. Each individual concept was systematically linked together as a whole through interaction with the design platform and developed context relevant technical vocabulary as I practiced the skills needed to create my own game. The tutorial itself was very well sequenced using a combination of comic frames and unlockable levels with bonuses.

This storyboard is for Disney Japan's online game Aladdin produced by British digital marketing agency, KERB.

This storyboard is for Disney Japan’s online game Aladdin produced by British digital marketing agency, KERB. – Image courtesy of PingMag

IN THE CLASSROOM -

This sequenced aspect of the tutorial design could be used to model for students a storyboard activity to sequence their own game design as part of the algorithmic process of the Digital Technologies subject. Once successfully through the tutorial, I had the knowledge and understanding of game design elements, skills and components which would allow me to develop my own digital game.

INDEPENDENT PROJECT

When I created Duckin’ Dragon with Scratch (Lifelong Kindergarten Group, 2003), developing different levels was something I thought would be possible. So, with GM I decided to incorporate several levels in my game to showcase the game ‘assets’ (sprites, enemies, backgrounds, building blocks etc) I had achieved and the elements of game design I had learned. In my game, I introduced different variables each level which means it gets progressively more difficult, increasing the pressure on the player to achieve the different goals.  This was a relatively straightforward process as the platform is designed to support development through warning messages and the iterative process of test/retest. You can play my published game ‘Pressure Crumble’ here to see what I achieved with the Gamestar Mechanic platform.

PressureCrumble1

Allowing students to publish their games is an important part of the feedback process where they and others from the local (classroom and school peers) and global community can critically review each others’ games.

TEACHER BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE

An important aspect of using GM is that teachers do not require a great deal of background knowledge of the program in order to facilitate the learning, which also gives students control over the progress of their learning and the game is accessible anywhere because of its online presence. However, teachers should familiarise themselves with the platform by taking a quick tour of the site, downloading the supportive curriculum guide (Institute of Play, 2009) and looking through the comic tutorial PDFs to assess the suitability for their students and classroom context. There is also a new blog for teachers to share their ideas and a dedicated YouTube channel to help with implementation and project ideas.

IN THE CLASSROOM -

These student blog examples (here, here and here) are a great way to incorporate many of the requirements of both subjects (Design and Technologies/Digital Technologies) of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies KLA (ACARA, 2013).

Their work shows how GM was used by a teacher as a basis for

  • exploring, experimenting with and creating games

as well as providing opportunities for students to develop their skills in

  • algorithmic processing through storyboarding the game design,
  • writing design briefs,
  • working within a defined set of parameters
  • providing feedback by reviewing peers’ games and
  • collecting and presenting their data and reflections in a blog.

It is interesting to note that two of the students were not really ‘into’ playing video games but as they worked through the lessons, they found a sense of empowerment at having created and refined a successful working game that others could enjoy and enthusiasm to find alternatives for their next project (by clicking on the technology tab in their blog, you can see the next unit they completed).

RECOMMENDATION

Gamestar Mechanic, in this example, was the introductory phase of a larger unit where students then progressed to their choice of alternative programs. This supports my suggestion that it is used as a stepping stone to other programs that require more complex coding. I believe that Gamestar Mechanic has the potential to provide complimentary knowledge, skills and processes of game design to the computer programming elements of Scratch and engage all students in learning technology skills. Its user-friendly interface and tutorial support makes it an ideal introduction to computational and systems thinking.

CURRICULUM SPECIFICS

Digital Technologies – Knowledge and understanding

  • Interactions and impact: 6.3 - Examine the opportunities and consequences of using information systems to meet community and national needs

- Processes and production skills

  • Specification, algorithms and implementation: 6.5 – Define problems in terms of data and functional requirements and describe common characteristics and elements of similar problems; 6.6 – Follow, modify and describe simple algorithms involving sequence of steps, decisions and repetitions that are represented diagrammatically and in plain English; 6.7 – Design and implement digital solutions using visual programs with user input, branching and iteration.
  • Creating and interacting onine: 6.8 – Use a range of communication tools and agreed social protocols when collaborating on projects and creating, communicating and sharing ideas and information online

Design and Technologies – Knowledge and understanding

  • Materials and technologies specialisations: 6.2 – Identify and explain properties and characteristics of a range of technologies, materials, systems tools and equipment and evaluate the impact of their use locally, regionally and globally

- Processes and production skills

  • Critiquing, exploring and investigating: 6.6 – Critique, explore and investigate needs or opportunities for designing and analyse and select appropriate materials, components, tools and processes to achieve intended designed solutions
  • Generating, developing, and evaluating ideas: 6.7 - Generate, develop, evaluate, communicate and document design ideas and processes for a range of audiences, using some relevant technical terminology
  • Planning, producing and evaluating designed solutions: 6.8 - Develop project plans, manage production processes and procedures when safely using a variety of technologies, materials, systems tools, equipment and techniques when producing and evaluating designed solutions for technologies contexts

References

ACARA. (2013).  Australian Curriculum: Technologies draft. Available from http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Static/docs/Technologies/Draft%20Australian%20Curriculum%20Technologies%20-%20February%202013.pdf

Institute of Play. (2009). Gamestar Mechanic learning guide. Available from http://www.instituteofplay.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Gamestar_Mechanic_Learning_Guide_v1.1.pdf

Lifelong Kindergarten Group. (2003).  Scratch. Available from http://scratch.mit.edu/

under: Computer programming, Technology

Game Designer Options

Posted by: | May 23, 2013 | No Comment |

Alternatives to Scratch

This week I looked at two alternatives to ‘Scratch’ for introducing computer programming into the classroom as part of the requirements of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies subjects: Design and Technologies as well as Digital Technologies (ACARA, 2013).  Working with these programs increases students ability to move beyond the ‘consumer’ of technology role to one of ‘creator’ by developing computational, problem solving and systems thinking skills as well as design process strategies to achieve solutions.  I have chosen Kodu, a Microsoft game design and programming tool that is a free downloadable (here) and Gamestar Mechanic (GM), also a free (or subscription if you wish) game generation platform which is only available online (here).

kodu1I found Kodu to be similar to Scratch, particularly in regards to program code.  However, rather than algorithmic language blocks like Scratch, the Kodu edit window has images and simple one word language cues in user-friendly menu ‘wheels’. These form the code scripts that use a simple ‘when’ then ‘do’ block to formulate the action and outcome in the game.

koduwheelWhile these scripts were easy to read and navigate, I found that after I had completed the few basic tutorial steps that download with the program, there was not much support offered for extending past the basics.  I had taken a simple tutorial game of picking up apples for points to include a code that would subtract points if another colour apple was bumped but koducodecorrecting this was not an intuitive process.  It was frustrating to have to go online and do extensive research to find help with simple debugging issues once when implementing my own ideas.

The Kodu world is 3D and offers a range of customisation to the backgrounds. Using a selection of sprites and other items, I learnt to create a game which included scoring and different types of movement paths (i.e. the fish follows a coloured pathway while the main character is controlled by keyboard arrows).  While the game may look complex, it contains only basic code commands because, for my purpose, this is a simple exploration.

Kodu3DA gallery to publish games and an active forum provide opportunities for students to collaborate and celebrate their achievements while there are lesson plans offered by Microsoft and by a dedicated site Studio K who have created a game design curriculum to help teachers introduce the program to their students. There has also been a book ‘Kodu for Kids’ written, recommending the program for those 8 years and older, and a report about the success of a pilot program implementing Kodu in Australian schools.

I believe the value in the Kodu system is where it helps students make connections between the interrelated parts of computational thinking and game design.  The game design aspect of Kodu makes it a good tool to use to compliment and extend the coding skills acquired with Scratch.  However, the teacher would be required to have substantial knowledge of Kodu and use the resources already discussed in order to successfully implement this tool in a classroom context.

 

GMlogo The other alternative I explored was Gamestar Mechanic (GM). Many computer games today integrate their tutorials on how to play the game into the game itself. The supported learning environment scaffolds the learning process and the player learns skills in a risk free way as they practice and apply those skills in game scenarios. This is where, I feel, GM is really superior to the other programs I have tried, making it ideal as an introduction to game design. Unfortunately, it is not downloadable, making it slightly less attractive for a classroom situation.

GMcombinedI found the screen layout similar to Scratch with a stage where the action happens and an edit panel and tool bar on the sides. Rather than using program blocks which are manipulated to form code scripts, sprites are already programmed to move with the keyboard and enemies have preset patterns of movement.  This means that there are limited opportunities for actually coding scripts. Other game settings I learnt are controlled in a master screen where the code option buttons and game design features are available.  GMcomb2

The most important aspect of the game for me is that each option is carefully introduced, in order, throughout the tutorial stage with opportunities to play games, practice debugging existing code, receive explanations about the skill just developed through comic characters and collect rewards before advancing to the next level.  The rewards are game elements that will be used in creating an original game. The tutorials I completed were set out in a way that scaffolded my learning process as I went.

Once the levels are complete, you have all the skills required to produce a playable game which you publish to Game Alley. GMpubgameGame designers are encouraged to visit Game Alley to play and review others’ games.  This provides inspiration for creating better games and develops the ability to look critically at others’ work and the skill of offering feedback in relevant and non-confronting way.

Because of the excellent tutorial support, I have chosen to develop my independent project using Game star Mechanic.

Curriculum links for both games:

  • Digital Technologies: Processes and Production skills

             Specification, algorithms and implementation

  • Design and Technologies: Processes and Production Skills

             Critiquing, exploring and investigating

             Generating, developing and evaluating ideas

             Planning, producing and evaluating designed solutions

 

References

ACARA. (2013).  Australian Curriculum: Technologies draft. Available from http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Static/docs/Technologies/Draft%20Australian%20Curriculum%20Technologies%20-%20February%202013.pdf

Gamelab. (n.d.). Gamestar Mechanic (Online game platform). Available at http://gamestarmechanic.com/

under: Computer programming, Technology

Minecraft craze

Posted by: | May 5, 2013 | No Comment |

FEATURED GAME: MINECRAFT

The game, Minecraft, has rapidly become  for classroom teaching and learning. Many schools have installed their own server to run the game, which helps keep students safe from an open online community. There is an educational version of the game, and depending on what you want students to do, can be used for any of the key learning areas of the Australian curriculum, including the new Technology curriculum.

Below I list different sites and what they contain.

My ideas, like the computer games I feature, are just springboards to spark your own imagination and creativity.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

under: Technology

WoW

Posted by: | April 16, 2013 | No Comment |

FEATURED GAME

World of Warcraft

I have never played World of Warcraft but know of people who do.  There are many millions of them and, as university student Sean Li attests in his blog entry, his experiment with WoW was very addictive.  He also mentions that one particular aspect of the game he played had a quest to stop deafforestation of the Night Elves’ forest.  This could provide a starting point for a Technology design challenge and links nicely with the Sustainability Cross Curricula priority.

However, the part I like about WoW is the online collaboration that occurs during ingame play.  An online identity is becoming a very significant aspect of everyone’s lives, not just in games but in all social media.  Students need to know how to act safely, responsibly and ethically in these environments as all actions on the internet have consequences – be they good or bad.

These are the Australian Curriculum Technologies areas that WoW can support:

Digital technologies: Year 7

Creating and interacting online 8.11 – select and apply generally accepted social and technical protocols when sharing information online and collaborating with local, regional and global audiences taking into account social contexts.

Design and Technologies: Year 7

Generating, developing and evaluating ideas 8.8 – generate, develop, communicate, test, evaluate and communicate design ideas, plans and process for identified needs and audiences using digital technologies and collaborative techniques.

My ideas, like the computer games I feature, are just springboards to spark your own imagination and creativity.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

 

ACARA. (2013).  Draft Australian Curriculum: Technologies.  Retrieved from http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Static/docs/Technologies/Draft%20Australian%20Curriculum%20Technologies%20-%20February%202013.pdf 

Li, Sean. (2010). The end of an experiment [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://nargaque.com/2010/10/21/the-end-of-an-experiment/

under: Technology

Bee-Bot Fun!

Posted by: | April 8, 2013 | No Comment |

FEATURED GAME

This new app has been released for iPhones and iPads (soon for Android).

Bee_Bot navigating one of the higher levels on the iPad

Bee-Bot has been transformed into a game that introduces students to basic computer programming skills and processes via mobile devices.  Along with its physical counterpart, the Bee-Bot app helps students develop an understanding of sequencing, especially in the early primary years.

Australian Curriculum – Digitial Technologies: 

F-2:  2.5  Follow, describe, represent and play with a sequence of steps and decisions needed to solve simple problems

3-4:  4.5 Define simple problems, and follow and describe the algorithms (sequence of steps and decisions) needed to solve them

There are twelve levels that take children from very simple programs to more difficult programs.

under: Uncategorized

Duckin’ Dragon

Posted by: | April 3, 2013 | 2 Comments |

Some of the games I have played are centred on a dragon antagonist.  So I thought I would use a Dragon Sprite as the central character for my Scratch extension project.  I had visions of him gliding down to scorch the unsuspecting cat.  But if the cat got out of the way, what would happen then?

First code for dragon sprite

I began with a chunk of code, centred on a glide motion that made my dragon move in a predictable pattern. The dragon was also flying backwards at times, so I flipped my Sprite to create a costume change whenever the dragon moved to face the negative ‘x’ axis.  The pattern was too easy for the cat to get away so I thought I would introduce a random element.  Unfortunately, just adding a random operator at the top of the code does not make the movement random!

 

I duplicated my chunk of code and altered the positions for a second ‘random’ sequence before realising that this was unrealistic and made the code unreliable. It was my sequence that needed to be random, rather than creating predictable patterns a random operator ran.

Introducing random positioning

By focusing the random element on bands of target areas in ‘y’ axis, I could cut down my script to just two blocks in a forever loop, with the random operator deciding on the destination of the glides.  I set the two glides to run at different speeds (2 seconds/1 second) to introduce another level of difficulty.

Now that my game had variable speed and random positioning, it was time to look at the interaction between Sprites, using an ‘if’ – ‘else’ command for the dragon.

Crispy fried duck on the table and ready to eat!

My son thought it would be ‘cool’ if I used a Duck Sprite which turned into a ‘roasted’ duck when he got hit by the dragon’s flames, which introduced a costume change for my second sprite.  This, however, did not always go according to plan.

Completed duck script

Once I introduced a variable element (3 lives for the duck and counting down -1 when the dragon hit him), the contact between Sprites would count more than once, so the duck would stay roasted and the score would hit ‘zero’ with the game ending on only one contact. I had to introduce another operator ‘not’ with a sensing ‘touch’ in a ‘wait until’ command to overcome this problem.  My final overarching program ran on the stage to end the game, so I designed a simple program with a ‘forever if’ score at ‘zero’ to stop all.

Stage code

 

 

With the duck controlled by the mouse, it was pretty easy to dodge the dragon because, even though there was a speed variable, there was still too much time to predict the destination of the dragon.

Completed dragon code

The last alteration I made was to add the random operator to the glide block time slot which meant it would change both destination and speed, making it quite hard to avoid becoming roast duck!!!

I found working with my own idea was easier than some of the challenges I had encountered earlier.  Following the step by step guide was good initially, however, I needed a lot more practice to understand the actions/interactions of the sequences.  I had difficulty figuring out which chunk of code needed to be changed to make it right.  My coding for Duckin’ Dragon is contained within one block per Sprite/stage which I found much easier to manage and also seemed to streamline the code as I eliminated unnecessary/unreliable blocks. 

Watch out Duck – here comes the Dragon!!!

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR A PRIMARY CLASSROOM

The Scratch program allows students to develop

  • systems thinking (build and analyse individual sequences of computer code that interact together to make the game work)
  • an understanding of computational concepts (sequencing, loops, conditionals, operators, variables, etc)
  • critical, creative and iterative thinking as they design solutions a step at a time, test and evaluate results before moving on to next step
  • collaboration/communication skills as they discuss/reflect/problem solve in groups or as a whole class

Overall, the experience of working with my own game was rewarding.  After lots of rechecking for incorrect code, I had created a basic game from scratch, which has the potential to be improved (with levels, timing and maybe even top score but that’s another day).  I felt excited that I had used processes and skills that computer programmers use when they create the massively complex games I like to play.  I had created separate parts which came together as an interactive system.  Scratch is a valuable learning tool for teachers to use to develop the knowledge and understanding, processes and skills underpinning the Technologies KLA of the Australian Curriculum.

under: Computer programming, Technology

Lunar-tics

Posted by: | April 2, 2013 | No Comment |

I came across  the NASA website today, which has researched the popularity and education potential of computer games.  They concluded that there is strong evidence for using computer games in the classroom to enhance student learning, particularly for STEM curriculum areas. They have taken successful components of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Everquest to develop their own MMO – Moonbase Alpha. It is a free downloadable game and, although it can be played online, it can also be confined to school lab computers for collaborative learning within the class cohort.

The accompanying lessons follow the 5E Inquiry Method; an instructional method by Roger Bybee and others.  They provide step-by-step guidance on how to set up the game, what is required at each stage of learning and how the lessons correspond to the different areas within the game. The game itself sets up a technical problem where a meteor has crippled the life support station at the moon colony.

Students are required to work technologically and collaboratively to

  • investigate the problem
  • understand the unique needs of the colony and time constraints
  • collect and interpret data
  • design a solution for the least impact on people and the environment
  • test their solution in the game
  • evaluate its effectiveness
  • implement the (revised) solution
  • reflect on the outcomes

These steps utilise the knowledge, understanding, skills and processes from the Australian Curriculum: Technologies, progressing students’ technological literacies and systems thinking.

The game covers many areas of the curriculum and can be used to integrate technologies with other KLAs (key learning areas) such as English, Maths, History, SOSE and Science as well as the general capabilities of literacy, numeracy, ICT, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capabilities.

STIMULUS IDEAS:

  • investigate other harsh environments (i.e. Antartica or the desert) and compare the similarities and differences
  • explore how the uniqueness of an environment dictates the types of technologies developed to meet the needs of the society that lives there
  • discuss the ethical decisions necessary in developing technologies (i.e. choosing a short term solution to the problem which could compromise the health of people, or a longer term solution that will have more benefits but with short term consequences)

My ideas, like the computer games I feature, are just springboards to spark your own imagination and creativity.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

References

ACARA. (2013).  Draft Australian Curriculum: Technologies.  Retrieved from http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Static/docs/Technologies/Draft%20Australian%20Curriculum%20Technologies%20-%20February%202013.pdf 

NASA Goddard’s Space Flight Centre. (2012).  NASA – Moonbase Alpha.  Retrieved from http://ipp.gsfc.nasa.gov/mmo/index.php

Primary Connections. (n.d.). Primary Connections 5Es teaching and learning model.  Retrieved from http://science.org.au/primaryconnections/teaching-and-learning/

under: Computer programming, Technology

Following on from last weeks blog about using Scratch as an introduction to computer programming, I have come across some articles which point out the significance of this step in curriculum development.

Employment opportunities

Video games are big business and they also provide a multitude of career opportunities.  Ian Livingstone (2013) says to move beyond the negative connotations of gaming and embrace the positives and the potentials.  Smartphones provide an easily accessible gaming platform for a diverse range of game styles to be played anytime. App development has become a significant trend (Lola, 2013) which anyone can do with the right idea and some basic computer programming knowledge.

  • Deconstructing games in the classroom can develop the necessary understanding of the required skills and processes students need to move towards a lucrative career in game design and development.

The creation of online services such as Facebook, Dropbox, Twitter and Valve (the developers of the online game platform STEAM) are just a few of the very successful businesses that are based on computer coding (Chapple, 2013).  Listening to this short video shows just how much computer programming and other design related skills are needed. What teacher would not want to set up their students for this type of success in the future?  It is hard to envision what opportunities will be available with the rapid rate of change occurring through technological advancement, so providing the skills in an area (computers) that touches every aspect of daily life provides hope.

While the Design and Technologies strand supports exploring needs and opportunities, generating designs and developing solutions, the addition of the Digital Technologies strand (which is new to existing Technology curriculum in Queensland) focuses on developing knowledge, processes and skills in the fundamentals of computer programming through managing digital systems.   These curriculum elements develop much needed and desirable skills for the current and  future career markets.

 

References

ACARA (2013).  Draft Australian Curriculum: Technologies.   Retrieved from http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Static/docs/Technologies/Draft%20Australian%20Curriculum%20Technologies%20-%20February%202013.pdf 

Chapple, C. (2013, February 28). Video: Coders the wizards of the future, says Newell [Web log post].  Retrieved from http://www.develop-online.net/news/43403/Video-Coders-the-wizards-of-the-future-says-Newell

Livingstone, I. (2013, March 7).  Video games are good for you! [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2013/03/07/video-games-are-good-for-you

Lola, O. (2013, March 13). Trends in mobile app development [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.xing.com/topics/en/trends-in-mobile-app-development-25578

under: Uncategorized

Working with Scratch

Posted by: | March 16, 2013 | No Comment |

FEATURED GAME – Scratch

In my blog this week, I will be investigating how ‘Scratch’ (a simple, visual programming system) can be used in the classroom to teach the Australian Curriculum: Technologies and kick start budding computer programmers careers.  But first, a little background theory.

Simple geometric shapes

Scratch is an open source software (this could be created into its own digital technologies lesson), created in the MIT Media Lab by Lifelong Kindergarten Group and is available free to download.   One of the developers of Scratch, Mitchel Resnick, says in this article that the design process is very important for all students and that creative thinkers (and therefore problem solvers) come from anywhere (Daly, 2008).  In the same article, Jeanene Bluhm de Carjaval states that “Scratch shows us the importance of play in the role of education” to develop “creative, experimental pathways…and show them that learning can be fun” while accomplishing “incredible things.”

Joining simple shapes together

These ideas echo the rationale of the draft Australian Curriculum: Technologies  where “enterprising individuals…independently and collaboratively develop innovative solutions to complex problems” as they “progress from creative and directed play through to the consolidation of knowledge, understanding and skills” (ACARA, 2013, p. 1).

Using computers in the classroom (fulfilling the ICT general capabilities) obviously creates enthusiastic and engaged learners, but using Scratch provides students with a way to construct knowledge by working just outside their Zone of Proximal Development (Atherton, 2011) as they plan, design and investigate the outcome by implementing their programs through sequencing drag and drop scripts.  There must be careful scaffolding and targeted support between working step by step to designing their own.

Changing direction, pen size and colour in an Etch-a-Sketch challenge

I do not ever envisage myself as a game programmer but I do believe that to understand something, you need to at least try it out.  So, the screenshots down the side of the page document my learning journey with Scratch over the last three weeks.  Each week the activities became a little more difficult as extra concepts were added to the programming sequence.  A short description under each briefly describes the task and I will explain what I learnt as I go.

In WEEK 1, the orientation phase, I learnt about the different areas of the screen; what the different buttons and tabs were for; and how to command my Sprite (the character) to do things (move, make sounds and change colours) by constructing graphical scripts.  Once the basics were mastered, I could program my Sprite to draw geometrical shapes (a great teaching opportunities for maths).  This initial  familiarisation and practising is important for students and making mistakes (in the risk free environment of the program) provides instant feedback.

Repeating a simple geometric shape – a circle

Scratch help cardsvideo tutorials and having opportunities for joint construction  all provide support for those who lack confidence (me!).  This is also a chance for the non-academic students to shine as they become the leaders in the classroom. You can then introduce some simple challenges, like the etch-a-sketch activity I did.  I also found a great repeating pattern for geometric shapes (Bits and Bytes, 2009), just like the Spirograph kit I had when I was young.

Two car racing game with timer

The official website for Scratch allows for projects to be uploaded, creating a global community.  This also allows students to deconstruct the programs of suitable projects to analyse how it works, discover what programming features it uses and what alterations can be made to improve or construct something entirely new.

 

 

An interactive game using a ball and paddle with a stop program when it touches the black line

My WEEK 2 programming was more challenging with complex scripts, painting backgrounds and making sprites to create a race car game.  I got a little confused about using the keyboard to make my car go, but I eventually worked through my programming problems.  When I searched the Scratch projects page, I found many examples of racing car games that could be used for deconstruction of programming codes.  I found the same for the Pong game I created in WEEK 3, and working with variables (speed and score) introduced different scenarios that could be incorporated into other projects I created (i.e. the racing game).

Two player pong game – I found changing the direction from horizontal to vertical difficult

I found it difficult to extend my Pong game to a two player version while keeping the ‘conditions’ of stopping the game when the ball crossed the line or bouncing off the paddle. Although everything worked fine horizontally, when I attempted to do the same vertically it would only work on one end.  I certainly could have done with some collaboration here!

Australian Curriculum:

Digital Technologies processes and production skills

  • specification, algorithms and implementation

 

Design and Technologies processes and production skills

  • critiquing, exploring and investigating
  • generating, developing and evaluating design ideas for design solutions
  • creating and communicating information

On Computer Kiddos Wiki (n.d.), they have included a selection of resources, project cards and an evaluation rubric to test programming and concept skills. As students move toward achieving more challenging programs, uploading their individual projects will give students a true sense of achievement.

Ways to incorporate Scratch across the curriculum while supporting computer programming

This Scratch forum thread (evhann55, 2009) has a challenge idea for Score – High Score possibilities in designing a Space Invaders type game.  Other suggestions show how computer programming using Scratch can enhance other curriculum areas and provide creative options for displaying understanding moving students from consumers to creators (i.e. book report and games Scratch forum, animated storytelling or journalism ideas, maths concepts or create a slide show.  With the storytelling or slide show option, students could present their opinion about a controversial technology that is being developed.

As computer technology is central to the functioning of our modern day world, it is certainly worth considering introducing Scratch into the classroom to introduce the concepts of computer programming.

My ideas, like the computer games I feature, are just springboards to spark your own imagination and creativity.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

 

References:

ACARA (Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority). (2013). Australian Curriculum: Technologies – Foundation to Year 10.  Retrieved from  http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Static/docs/Technologies/Draft%20Australian%20Curriculum%20Technologies%20-%20February%202013.pdf

Atherton, J. S. (2011).  Learning and teaching: Constructivism in learning.  Retrieved from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/constructivism.htm

Beale, V. (2010, August 31). What is open source software? Retrieved from http://www.webopedia.com/DidYouKnow/Computer_Science/2005/open_source.asp

Bits and Bytes. (2009, January 25). Scratch in the classroom [Web log].  Retrieved from http://blogs.wsd1.org/etr/?p=395

Computer Kiddos Wiki. (n.d.). Scratch animals on the move. Retrieved from http://computerkiddoswiki.pbworks.com/w/page/16304821/Scratch%20Animals%20on%20the%20move

Daly, J. (2008, July 28). Play to learn: The Scratch programming language sneaks serious fun into the classroom [Web log].  Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/scratch-programming-language-technology-tool

evhann55. (2009, February 28).  Art and Code conference classroom suggestions [forumpost].  Retrieved from http://scratch.mit.edu/forums/viewtopic.php?id=14673

Fay, L. B. (2010, August 27). Scratch programming: Teaching children to be creators rather than consumers [Web log].  Retrieved from http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/715

Foley, Mrs. (2007, December 5). Anyone using Scratch at school? [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.classroom20.com/forum/topics/649749:Topic:84933

Life Long Kindergarten Group. (n.d.). Scratch. Retrieved from http://scratch.mit.edu

Teaching News. (2012, May 13).  10 resources to support Scratch Day in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.teachingnews.co.uk/2012/05/10-resources-to-support-scratch-day-in-the-classroom

under: Computer programming, Technology

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