Category Archives: Scratch

My MACUL11 presentation

I presented for the second time at MACUL this year on the topic of collaboration based on the video games my students made with students in Vietnam. Overall I was very happy with how it went. I had less attendees than last year, but great conversations. My goal going in was to get the audience to participate and not just have me talk at them for an hour. I created a backchannel for the session and at first was disappointed that no one used it, but then I realized that was because they were having real conversations instead!

I would like to thank @bruce1lj@kchichester@TheNerdyTeacher, and my tech support @toddhower for their participation in my session. (I would thank the rest of you but do not know your twitter names) It was fun to meet these people face-to-face for the first time in my session, and they definitely added to the conversation. The highlight for me was Skyping in my collaboration partner Gary Bertoia from Vietnam followed by four of my students at school. The audience was able to ask them questions and hear about our project from multiple perspectives.

Here is my Prezi which probably will not make much sense without the audio 🙂

I Ustreamed the session, but forgot to start the recording until I was a few minutes in. The video is not so great but you can hear the discussions. The skype calls start at about the 33:30  mark if you want to jump to that part.

Here is the Livebinder that I created for my session. It contains a lot of information that was not talked about in the session, but to help you in your collaboration efforts including tools, collaboration examples, places to connect, and the Scratch games that the students created.

Scratching the Surface

I have mentioned the Scratch video games my 8th graders designed with students in Vietnam before. We have finished the project and I want to tell you my evaluation of it. Overall we had some higher quality games created than last year, but we still did not reach the level of collaboration I had hoped for (I tend to focus on the negative as I am always looking for improvement). Here is a link to the mostly completed games that you can try out yourself.

Learn more about this project

The biggest struggle with this project is the time zone difference of 12 hours and lack of time overall for the project. One of the goals we had this year was to try to have students build relationships with each other. Students made and shared videos with each other at the beginning of the project. Unfortunately we never had time to make more videos and one was not enough for them to get to know each other. I would love to use Skype if we were closer in time zones. Students also used email to share their games back and forth but often forgot to send messages or did not explain themselves fully. Designing games is complicated and requires better channels of communication. Some of the groups worked on different versions of the same game.

Learn more about this project

I still believe this project is worth the effort to do and that it can teach students many things about programming and problem-solving while exploring cultural similarities and differences from another part of the world. Improvements would be to encourage students to communicate at home through chat, Facebook, or Skype. We also would like to try some easier activities to build community between our classrooms before we start a challenging project like programming. We also need to stress to the students the importance of clear, daily communication. Perhaps we should use a Google Doc that they could constantly edit their ideas, progress, and struggles in.

Learn more about this project

If you are heading to MACUL I will be presenting on this project focusing on the importance of building relationships in a session called Relate, Collaborate, Create. Stop by and join the conversation.

Scratch Revamped

This is the second year of a collaboration between Gary Bertoia ‘s South Saigon International School in Vietnam and my classroom. Again the students are working in pairs and designing their own video games using Scratch. Last year we tried this with some bumps in the road.

So we are trying a few new things this year. First of all I have some new tools. This year I am piloting Google Apps at the middle school for my district whereas Gary’s class already had them last year. Also our filter has been opened up which was a problem last year as my students had trouble downloading the game files. This has made the project much easier.

Next we had the students make introduction videos so they could get to know each other. They are posted on the blog we are using so students can view them. Hopefully we will get a chance to make more videos as we progress, but it feels like we are under time pressure to finish.

Problems that I am starting to notice is that it is a huge jump for the students to move from creating games from step by step powepoint instructions to designing their own game from “scratch.” The instruction games were for students to learn how the program works, but it seems to be difficult for most of them to translate what they have “learned” to a new situation. I am thinking about how I can facilitate this transition. We are really just getting started so if you have any great suggestions let me know.

Scratch: collaboration or not?

I was contacted by Gary Bertoia via twitter about a collaboration project using Scratch. If you are unfamiliar with Scratch, it is an MIT designed software that allows students to create games by clicking and dragging commands rather than using a complicated programming language. It allows students to think about the design and layout of how video games work without having to learn the language. Gary’s idea was to teach our 8th grade classes the basics of the program and then have them design and create their own game together. Oh by the way, Gary teaches at South Saigon International School in Vietnam exactly 12 time zones ahead of us!

We started by using some instructions in Google Presentations created by Simon Haughton. Students learned the basics of Scratch by designing an Etch-a-Sketch, race car maze, Pong, and Pacman. Then we used a wiki for students to come up with their own game ideas. The first challenge was to match up our classes’ ideas. My class was divided in groups of two and Gary’s students worked in groups of two or three. We then had to bargain with the students to convince them to agree to one anothers’ ideas. It would have been nice to have the students engage in a real discussion about the topics with each other but the time zone difference made that impossible.

For our first attempt, collaboration might have been more of a goal than a reality. There were many challenges to this project centered around the communication piece. We had many ideas and tried many tools including e-mail, Google Docs, Voicethread, wikis, and the Scratch upload site. On my end there were challenges related to us having many class periods off due to parent conferences, a conference I attended, and mid-winter break. We also had challenges with our district filter blocking our uploads to the Scratch site and not allowing the students to download email attachments from Gary’s students. 

We ended up with a chart in Google Docs that linked the student teams, emails, and an individual Google Presentations for each game. Students used the slides in Google to share their ideas, drawings, and changes to the game. On our end we would download the games from Scratch and then e-mail them back to the students in Vietnam. But we spent wasted days not being able to access the games due to the filter and changed passwords. I think sometimes my students neglected to email their games back to the students in Vietnam. The end result is that in many groups Gary’s students did the lion’s share of the programming and had more buy-in than mine.

Just because you build it, does not mean that they will collaborate. Gary and I had plans of a great cooperation, but we did not make it personal enough so students did not feel it. We originally planned to have the students make video introductions to each other. We scrapped this due to time restraints and my not having permission slips from students ahead of time.

We surveyed both of our classes about the experience afterward and they (I use they to represent both Gary’s students and mine) expressed frustration about their partners abroad not working hard and the lack of communication. They also were frustrated by feeling that their ideas were not heard or deleted. Both of our classes experienced similar thoughts and we both had some students that worked harder than others. As Gary said it “felt more like us and them rather than a collaboration.” Middle school students need more than a Google Doc to communicate to develop a relationship with others.

Gary and I learned a lot from this experience. Gary’s school uses Google Apps so his students were already comfortable with gmail and Google Docs. I underestimated how long it would take to get students started in these tools. His class was a semester long class and mine was only nine weeks.

Remember it is ok to model failure to students. I am not afraid to “fail” at an idea especially if it is something new with great potential. The good news is that we are going to do it again next year. Things we will do different next year include:

  • both doing this project during a semester class for more time and make sure that there will not be a major break in our school schedules during the project.
  • teaching gmail, wikis, and Google Docs before the project
  • starting the collaboration sooner with introduction videos and google docs before we introduce Scratch to the students to build relationships
  • finding a better way to share our work perhaps with dropio or dropbox

In the end the students did not really collaborate because they had no relationship with each other. We will work to fix this next year and hope for a more successful project based on better communication and real relationships. Hopefully this reflection will both encourage you to try a collaborative project and help you to plan it well.

Tinkering Part II

Can’t get tinkering off my mind. Here are some other ways that we tinker in my technology class. This year I taught my first semester-long class in 8th grade. We did the same hands-on projects that I have always done in a 9 week class, but added some new computer applications. Three programs that we used were Pivot, Google Sketchup, and Scratch.

My teaching method was to have them download the program and play with it for a day. The next day we created a rubric of requirements together and then they went to work. We used Sketchup first and the students struggled with it. Since then I had a group of repeat 7th graders watch some tutorials on YouTube about Sketchup first and they have been more successful. Pivot is a much simpler program and they did very well tinkering with it.

I have used Scratch a little bit before with students and learned from the Sketchup experiment that students would need some support. I found four Google Slideshow instructions from Simon Haughton that taught students how to make an etch-a-sketch, race car maze, pong, and pacman games. Students followed these instructions and created the games. Those who finished early were challenged to make their own game. Only two students actually made something of their own. But to be fair it was the last week of the class so motivation to work was not super high.

Things I learned are that all of the students are willing to play at the beginning. But it is important that the task is at their skill level or that adequate support is provided. Students that struggle academically are often used to spoon-feeding or failure and give up quickly when not supported. The amount of support needed is difficult to judge and may be different for each student (Check out this John Spencer TAD talk video for a good explanation). I try to point students to resources first rather than helping them directly. I also have the students teach each other (and me) as much as possible.

One thing that seems to help is to start the first tutorial together as a class up to a certain point. It helps every student “get their feet wet” and builds important confidence in those that are unsure. Another technique I use is to announce to the class a problem that a particular student is having and ask if anyone can help them with it. A third thing that helped was to show examples of the best work from a previous class. My repeat 7th graders were not giving me much of a story line with their Pivots until I showed them some of the best 8th grade examples and they improved theirs immediately.

Students that are used to success in school often care too much about grades rather than creativity. They will faithfully complete the “lessons” and then help others, stall, or just sit there rather than try to create their own game in Scratch. I am now seriously considering a class with no grades to get rid of this problem. There would be no questions of “Does this count toward my grade?” or “How many points is this worth?” The class would be pass/fail based on did you attempt to learn? Experimenting and failure would be encouraged. We would talk about learning, not grades. Now to sell that idea to my principal…