Sometimes I like to take a break from teaching and digital technology. Using 4-5 simple ingredients (flour, water, yeast, salt and (optionally) oil), and this tutorial, you can bake a simple, but very satisfying, loaf:
In this post you’ll learn how to build a simple game using Scratch, the block-based programming language designed for learning to code. The instructions are not 100% complete, so you’ll need to solve problems yourself, as they arise.
You can use Scratch without an account, but it makes it harder to save your work. So, let’s get started by heading to https://scratch.mit.edu and signing up:
Once your account is set up, click on the Create link in the main menu:
You should now find yourself in the Scratch editor, which has the following key features:
Give your project a name (top left), and then note the different features highlighted in the image above. We’ll build our game by dragging instructions into the script editor.
Let’s get started by creating controls to move our sprite around the stage, beginning with the right arrow. Find the instructions shown below, and drag them out into the script editor, snapping them together to make a stack:
Now press the right arrow key on your keyboard and check that your sprite moves to the right.
Try and find the next costume instruction and snap it to the end of your block. What changes when you press the right key?
Now build the rest of your arrow key instructions (you can right click on the top of a stack and duplicate it to save time):
Try your keys and see what happens. You’ll notice that as you move, your character flips upside down. You can add in a rotation control block to each arrow stack to improve this:
Right, we’ve got the basic controls, so now we can add some game elements. Firstly, use the Shrink function to reduce the size of your sprite:
Next, add a new sprite, into which you can draw a black maze with a green circle at the end:
Now we need to code our outcomes (losing and winning) into our first sprite:
Can you read the code instruction by instruction to work out what it does?
Let’s add a scoreboard, so we can keep track of our progress. To do this, make a new variable called Score, under Data:
And then add two instructions to our win/lose logic:
And there we have it, a simple maze game that keeps score. From here there are countless ways to make it harder (e.g. include different mazes, make the sprite bigger on each level, make the maze move, add enemies, etc).
Hopefully you’ve succeeded, but if not, or if you want to dig around inside for answers, try my version, which is embedded below:
The video screencast below does a great job of showing this process, with a few minor tweaks:
In last year’s End of Year Assessment (which I did not write about, but you can get a sense of it from the prior year’s) students asked for more curriculum surprises. One them related with obvious relish the tale of the (very random) occasion on which I placed my lunch of raw sugar snap peas on a table and said “help yourself”. Working on these two pieces of feedback, food seemed like an obvious way to go.
More recently, during a start of lesson chat, I mentioned to my students that I hate most things about most schools (a common theme if you spend any time with me), but that I recently found a school that I love, and which ignited a real love of science and yeast:
This led to a discussion around brewing beer, making bread, the joys of yeast and getting your hands dirty…at the end of which the kids asked me to bake some bread for them. How could I say no?
So, this morning I got up at 4:30 to mix, knead and prove some dough, which I then baked into a large loaf. It was still warm when I met my students at 08:30…and it was all gone by 08:40. The kids seemed so happy with the simple pleasures of fresh, dense white bread and generously applied butter. Some even liked the Vegemite I stole from my wife. This led to an interesting insight that you don’t need lots of money to be happy: the simple things, made with love and shared with others can bring a lot of joy.
Here are a few photos of the process and the result.
As a starter recipe I’ve been using Jamie Oliver’s Basic Bread, which I’ve been tweaking to suit local conditions and tips from others. It is a joy to be learning something new each and every time I bake bread.
At my school, we loan students Apple laptop chargers fairly regularly. Usually, the loan process takes longer than it needs to, because we need to find out what kind of chargers students have. Turns out, few of them know the chargers by their official Apple nomenclature: MagSafe, MagSafe2 and USB-C. The poster below aims to help educate and remind students what they have:
A few years ago I started to think of ways to make my classroom more aesthetically pleasing. A large space, with dark blue walls but plenty of natural light, I felt it could be made more welcoming and interesting. Having recently seen a film on Shackleton’s Antartic escapades, I recalled his use of Browning’s wonderful line “For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave”, and wondered if I could emblazon it upon a wall.
Feeling I lacked the skill to do it justice, I asked some art students to do it for me, advising them to stencil rather than paint freehand. The result was impactful, and got me started thinking about cutting and spraying myself.
The result, generated over a period of 3 years, is a total of 13 pieces of art work, each created with stencil and spray paint. Generally I create the stencils digitally, and then blow them up with Image Splitter, before printing, sticking, cutting, mounting and finally painting. Over time I have learned a few tricks and become more ambitious, with the result that the newer pieces generally look better than the older ones. The gallery of finished works below is presented in chronological order.
For a long time I have struggled to convey my passion for free and open culture (via open source software and Creative Commons) to my students. They live in a context which often promotes (or at least accepts) piracy, and most of their cultural landmarks are commercial in nature. This makes the most convincing arguments for approaches like open source software and Creative Commons culture much less compelling. For example “free Creative Commons music” does not mean much to the average teenager, irrespective of the quality of the tunes, if Taylor Swift is not included in the catalog (and being a commercial artist, she is of course not). Similarly “open source software” (like Firefox) does not appeal when free, commercial software (like Chrome) is available, whether or not they promote a healthy, open, standards-based Internet.
Yet, these ideas, values, practices and communities are important, if we are to have a culture that is not more concerned with profits than with values, freedom and art. After struggling with this problem for over 5 years, I have decided to build a game to introduce these ideas to students via a live action, interactive simulation.
The result, called Producers & Consumers, is a cultural simulation game in which players (young or old) experience the interplay between culture, creativity, commerce, copyright and piracy, hands on. The aim is to help players experience the limitations of a corporate model of cultural production and consumption, and help them start considering alternatives, such as Creative Commons, based on openness, sharing and reputation.
Version 1 of the game is now complete, with one set of cards created and ready to play. The first game, with our Year 5s, is scheduled for Monday.
Naturally, the game is licensed under Creative Commons, and so is free for anyone to download, remix and share onward. All feedback is welcome. To access the game, click here and start by reading the Overview document.
- Pirate, Culturalist, Commercialist, Clam, Blank & Creation icons by Freepik via Flaticon is licensed by CC BY 3.0
- Stopwatch icon by Yannick via Flaticon is licensed by CC BY 3.0
- Consumer icon by Stephen Hutchings via Flaticon is licensed by CC BY 3.0
- Reputation icon by Dave Gandy via Flaticon is licensed by CC BY 3.0
The Visual Assessment Guide continues to evolve alongside my school‘s requirements for assessment and reporting. v2 adds some new terms, uses a simpler scale in terms of levels and fixes a bugs with highlighting individual terms. In using this with students I am now opening it in Apple’s Preview, and using its built in highlighter to colour terms according to student achievement: green, yellow or red. This ties in with my school’s Common Formative Assessment reporting, which uses the terms Secure, Secure In Parts and Not Yet Secure to describe student learning.
Over the past year I have been building up a wall in my classroom with a range of Internet inspired cultural artifacts. The aim is to present interesting, thought provoking ideas in a humorous way, using a graphical language that my students are familiar with and respond to (e.g. Internet memes). Although I never promote the site directly to my students, many of the materials are from 9gag.com, which though crude and inappropriate at times, nonetheless provides a wealth of cultural learning opportunities for teachers. Want to understand your students, what interests them, what they are talking about? 9gag is a great place to start.
Click on the image below to see a really large version, allowing you to enjoy the wall in some of its glory.
The result is that, unlike my more traditional boards, students really do stop and look at this one. Often this happens in pairs, and a discussion breaks out as they try and work out a joke or decide if something is serious or not. This might be called teaching by stealth.
I am starting to wonder how emoji (expressive characters) might affect the way students learn to communicate. As an experiment, I am going to ask my Year 7 students to produce an “Emoji Story”, using the instructions below: I imagine that they will copy and paste emoji into a slideshow, and when they present, they will talk through the slideshow, narrating their story. The slideshow can then be read by others without narration, to see how differently it can be interpreted.