After talking with our Lower School teachers about what our students had done in terms of computer science, I created a plan this summer for my trimester course. I knew I’d have to start with Unplugged activities because students wouldn’t receive their laptop until a week after classes started. Then we would do a short Scratch unit to refresh their memories (they’d worked on Scratch among other tools since third grade), move on to StarLogo Nova, and finish with a short unit with Python or another text-based tool. Based on the CSTA standards and prior experiences, this felt like a good strategy.
Unplugged… Sorting, graph paper programming to talk about precise instructions, identifying loops, beginning pattern analysis – I made sure to find some concepts that would be make sense to do without devices. Then we would start with a simple Lightbot activity to follow up on the graph paper programming and get kids comfortable with their touch screens.
Finally, by our fifth class, all of the kids had their laptops and were comfortable logging in. It was time to start our Scratch unit. The assignment was intended to be an open-ended project for students to show me where they were at and review some of the basics they’d already learned. Kids were excited. I was excited. Great, right?
By the end of the first class, it was pretty clear that the task was too much, but I wasn’t sure why. Was it skill levels or was it something else? To find out, I had kids start the second class with their checklist to make sure they had a plan and to see what previous exposure to Scratch had been, from their perspectives. In the mean time, I’d made a slide deck with some of the basic resources from Scratch:
The survey made it pretty clear – for most of the kids, their experience was minimal, and for some it was substantial. Time to revise the plan. I halted the project and came up with a scavenger hunt in Scratch, done in groups of 2-3 students. I created a template Google Slide deck with a range of questions then shared it via groups in Hapara so it would land in their class folder. I started class with a short mini-lesson on using the Snipping Tool and did a demo of their task. Kids had the remaining 25 minutes to complete the tasks collaboratively. It was a great way for kids to review which blocks do what and to look more closely at the components.
After class, I went through the slide decks and made comments, emailing collaborators my feedback. I’d also checked the history of the slide decks to see who answered what. Groups will need to finish before returning to Scratch and the original project. Many seemed excited to get back to it now they know how to do what they’d wanted. Definitely closed a few gaps and will encourage kids to continue asking classmates for clarification/tips before seeking help from me.
The results from the survey also showed something else… Paired and collaborative programming needs to be handled carefully. It’s far too easy for one student to do the work while the others become passive and don’t practice skills. We will definitely do a range of tasks – collaborative and individual – to make sure all kids move forward in skill development.
Will now go back to planning differentiation-friendly units for the kids who’ve flown through the project already!