Monday, May 15, 2017

Discovering Our Superpowers: Teaching Coding to 5th Graders Using Scratch

Coding is a superpower. Technology is becoming embedded in every industry imaginable and there simply aren't enough qualified applicants for the growing computer science field. In order to attract the best applicants, companies are willing to give out generous salaries and the best benefits imaginable: free gourmet food, play rooms, nap rooms, and more. This is all part of the reason we decided it was important to teach our students just a bit about how to code.

 When planning our coding unit, the technology teacher and I were directed to use Scratch (I personally prefer as I find it more user friendly for just learning the basics.) Rather than reinvent the wheel, we went to the internet to find Scratch lesson plans. We found this guide from Scratch and used it as the springboard for what we did with our students. Below is a description of the unit we developed. Each "day" is one 50 minute period. The computer teacher and I co-taught this unit, however it could easily be taught by one teacher.

Day 1: Why Should We Learn Coding?/ Brainstorming
We wanted to stress to our students the importance of coding and how embedded it is in everyday life. To share this information, we went through this PowerPoint with students. After watching the video at the end of the PowerPoint, we had students brainstorm the kinds of things they would use coding to create.

Day 2: Join Scratch and Complete Tutorial

Our next step was to get students into Scratch and familiar with the program. We began by showing this video to students. We then had students use their school computer username and password to set up their account. We had students use our email instead of their parent's email so that we would be able to reset their password if necessary and immediately confirm their accounts. To ensure they used the correct username and password, we created these direction sheets for each student. After students were logged in, we directed students to go through the Scratch tutorial. The major downfall of this tutorial was that students could click through all the steps without performing the actions and complete the tutorial without having any idea how to use Scratch. This meant that we needed to be very specific about how to complete the tutorial and even perform the first few steps for the class to see.

Day 3-4: Ten Blocks Project

To help students build more familiarity with Scratch, we had students complete the "10 Blocks" project (page 30-31 in the Creative Computing Guide). Students were directed to use only the 10 blocks listed on page 31 to build a project. They could use the blocks more than once, but they could only use the blocks listed. To introduce the project, we showed students this video explaining what each block did and how to put their project together. After the video, students logged in, clicked on Create, and began working on their project. We printed out page 31 as a guide for each student and displayed the list of blocks on our projector screen. We found that one day was not enough to complete the project, so we had them work on it for two days. On the second day, students logged into Scratch, opened their folder, and completed their projects. At the end of the second day, we had students write a response to the reflection questions for the project:
  • What was difficult about being able to use only 10 blocks?
  • What was easy about being able to use only 10 blocks?
  • How did it make you think of things differently?
Day 5-7: About Me Project
We wanted the final project to be simple, but allow for creativity. After skimming through the Creative Computing Guide, we decided on the "About Me" project on page 36. We began by showing this video to explain the project to the students. Before we had students begin working on their project, we had them think about what 5 sprites they might put in their project and turn to a neighbor to talk about these 5 sprites. After a bit of brainstorming and discussion, students logged in, clicked on create, and began working on their projects. We allowed students three days to work on this project.At the end of the third day, students shared their projects with a classmate and wrote a response to the reflection questions for the project:

  • What are you most proud of? Why? 
  • What did you get stuck on? How did you get unstuck? 
  • What might you want to do next? 
  • What did you discover from looking at others’ About Me projects

We were a bit crunched for time, since we planned this quickly at the end of the school year, so if I were to do this again, I would suggest using Day 5-7 to only work on the About Me project and using an 8th day for students to present their projects to the class and write their responses.

How are you teaching coding at your school? How have you used Scratch?