Thursday, April 25, 2013

Scratch - Gaming in the Classroom

Each term our school undergoes PIN's workshops each term.  The idea of these are that students can take part in something that relates to a Passion, Interest or Need they have.  At the moment teachers choose something of interest to students or themselves and offer to run the workshop.  Alongside teachers we have teacher aides, management and parents running or supporting a workshop.  Last year another teacher and myself ran an 'in-class PINs' where students decided on topics needed and then ran workshops that other students could take part in.  Highly successful with lots of learning curves - but more on that in another post!

In our Term 1PINs I took my second workshop around the use of Scratch.  Scratch is an amazing game making piece of software that works on windows and mac machines.  It's free to download and has an extremely strong community of people and educators behind it.  (You can read more about the basics of Scratch in a previous post here).  So for students it is a perfect platform to begin the basics of programming and gaming.  Students learn about creating games through arranging and compiling a range of blocks to make scripts for their sprites (characters or game pieces).  I was originally introduced to Scratch through Tim Kong and a student of his who had moved from Scratch into creating apps.  She taught me enough to get me interested and on my way to exploring the possibility of Scratch more.

The last time I used Scratch during a PINs workshop was with a group of Year 4 students. In hind sight the task was a little too high.  Especially for 15 kids to learn Scratch in 1.5 hours who had never used it before. Yep. So, this time I tackled it very differently.

I went for simple and scaffolded options along the way to make the tasks more difficult (if they wanted to or were able to).  I was also armed with a second game plan that the students could tackle if they zoomed through the first.   The idea was for the kids to have a 'how to' sheet they could work through by self-pacing themselves to create a game.  With added elements and areas that kids could change up - colours, sounds, adding point systems, through to random ideas the kids had that we tried to implement!

One area that I was a lot clearer about sharing with the students at the start of the session, was that Scratch came down to problem solving.  If something wasn't working, it was because of something in their script.  It could be a block in the wrong place or the wrong block altogether.  But they had to stop, think and solve.  It was just a problem and it had a solution!  It became a HUGE part of the session - talking and sharing problems and how we could solve them.  The best part was for the kids to see me getting down on the floor with them and problem solving alongside them. No, I didn't know the answer!  "Oh, it doesn't work... let's have a look together..." was a common theme.  What was great was that the conversations and problem solving were not just student directed to teacher.  They moved to student discussing/sharing with another student in this way.  The students saw that as a collective group we were moving through the learning together and sharing their own knowledge was key to their success but also the success of others.

The first game the kids created was a Pong game.  Yes, the classic game we came to know and love as kids (not like the fancy games of today).  Intially the kids were a bit 'hmmm?' about creating such a basic game.  But as they got going, and saw what it takes to create a game through simple scripting the enthusiasm grew.  The problem solving, conversations, laughter and creative ideas that flowed through the room were fantastic.  Students discovering out they could record their own sounds.  Or that a certain number in the axis corresponded to a place on the stage and so much more!

The kids seemed to take quite an interest in the fact that I had been learning how to use Scratch over the last few years and were really keen to see games that I had created also!  A fun conversation where the kids were seeing me as a life long learner... even if one of my car racing games was re-named 'Nana Kart' because the car moved so slowly!

Below is an example of one of the Pong games created by a student - click here to play:
Classic Pong game wins the day!

One of the great things around Scratch is the community that is involved in commenting, playing and re-mixing games.  Within minutes of uploading our first games some of them had comments from kids sharing their high scores.  There were even kids taking the game to 'remix' them.  Remixing is where you can download the game script to use and make changes to the game.  So kids can add levels, change elements of the game and re-load their re-mixed game back up to the community.  This also allows the kids to see how their game can change and evolve.
Underneath a game students can see how many views, remixes and downloads their game has had

Though this is a basic start for the kids, it was great to see such a keen and passionate group of kids who are keen to keep going in Term 2.  We are going to look at a way in which we can maybe run a lunch time group where the students can opt in and meet, share ideas and continue to problem solve together.  Highlight... one of the boys coming up to me a week later during lunch telling me about how he's downloaded Scratch and is re-working one of his games! 

In a following post I will post up the hand out sheets that I used with the students for you to download and use.  A great starting place are the Scratch starter cards!  Also check out the Scratch Education Community for more ideas and links.  The education area of Scratch is strong and has a wealth of knowledge and resources that are great for educators.  If you are completely new to Scratch and want to know more, the 'New to Scratch' page is a great place to start.  Also, to have a quick go at Scratch without downloading the programme try the Beta browser version here.

Happy gaming!

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