The kids had fun this week working on a Scratch version of Mad Libs that I found posted in the ScratchEd resources. While I like to create the projects myself some weeks, it’s interesting to see what other educators create/post other weeks when I don’t have time to make a new project and the accompanying handouts. There are a lot of really fun and practical materials on ScratchEd that I would not have thought of and that use the operations we talk about in slightly different and creative ways. After creating the basic module, the kids experimented with different question/answer combinations and characters/backgrounds to enhance the stories. As usual, they’re most excited about the 15min free-time they get at the end of our evening sessions, but I have to say I’m impressed that they still are so enthusiastic and personable at 5:30pm after long days already filled with school and homework. My one concern right now is that the females at the start of class seem to go missing after the first several classes. It happened this summer too. I’m not sure if they lose interest or get busy with something else. And there’s only 1-2 at a time anyway, so it’s not much to start. In any case, I’ve been leaving behind handouts for other kids at Hamdard to use if interested and they always disappear. So I hope a few of the many girls I see around the center are finding these. I was thinking to also try some new tactics for increasing interest for girls and all the children by leaving other informative handouts and trying other kids programming systems like Alice, Mozilla Thimble, etc. Seems a lot of the kids are being introduced to Scratch in school, so maybe some kids are just leaving the workshop because they don’t feel like they’re learning anything new.
Now that the holiday has passed I have some time to pick up where I left off with these posts. Thankfully I’m not as far behind as I thought I was, due to the fact that computer classes were cancelled and the kindergartners had a project to do on November 16th, so my presence was not needed.
On November 7th I went with two other classmates to help Dr. Greenberg rope some souls into computer science at a career fair at West Leyden High School. The two gentlemen I came with went out on the floor to preach to the masses, whereas I stayed back by the booth itself, which worked out beautifully because I’m not terribly outgoing around strangers. I had some interesting conversations with the students. Many of them were interested in getting into computer science, but didn’t really know what exactly they wanted to do with computer science. After asking a few basic questions on what they liked to do with/on a computer and/or other electronic devices, the best I could offer was the kinds of experiences I’ve had with the C.S. major here at Loyola, or give them ideas about the kinds of careers they might like to pursue based on their interests. I remember one girl already had taken some classes with networking, so she and I had a lengthy discussion about classes pertaining to networking and security. At the end of the day we actually ended up giving out every single handout, which was a pleasant surprise.
The Friday of that same week (11/9) I was back at St. Viator’s with my students. The 6th graders are moving along at a good pace with their Scratch projects. A few more have finished theirs, or at least they think they have. In the end I have the final say-so over what’s done and what isn’t. The 3rd graders are making progress as well, though not at the pace I expected. Perhaps I aimed too high with my expectations for them. What I may do then is just have them do a scene or two from their short story instead of the whole story, depending on how the next session goes. The kindergartners continued their work with the alphabet and double digit numbers on the iPads, though I think many of them are getting bored with the same four apps. The teacher asked me to find some new, free, educational apps, though the iTunes store has thousands and thousands to sort through and so far only a few might be acceptable. I will hopefully make more progress on that next week when classes resume for everyone.
11/10/2012 Updated 11/30
Northside College Prep Robotics
The competition came really quickly and both teams spent the night together at a friend’s house in order to complete and make any final changes to the robot. Of course, that resulted in many of the students tired and falling asleep at the competition which began registration at 730am. =)
Both teams were able to complete their working robot before the competition. Needed parts finally arrived as many parts of completing the robot were contingent on these parts arriving.
Everyone arrived on time at 730am at Whitney Young High School. The competition was being held in the PE building. Each team had its own table and section in order to get started. Hardware and software inspections of the robot was also done at this time.
Northside College Prep Robotics Team
Everyone was really nice to begin with. They showed me all their designs and implementation that it was really easy to understand and begin to help them on how exactly their robot was going to work. I was able to work with the guys much easier than the girls as their implementation for the claw and lift was different. I needed to see it on completion but there was still work to be done. I went over code of both the girls team and guys team. Each had done a lot of work and was very neat. I was mostly supervising this day as Mr. Solin had a couple of tasks he had to take care of.
When he came back, the guys team needed to drill holes on some steel pipes that would make up the scissor lift they were trying to implement. We left for the Engineer’s work station as that’s were the heavy machinery was. I worked with Alvin, Kerry, and the other mentor Pat in figuring out a plan to drill the holes so they would all match up. We lined up a pipe that would become a base so that once we drilled holes through it we could use it on the remaining ones. Kerry and I spent about an hour drilling holes and at the end all were in good shape. The Boys team was set to make their lift.
The weeks are going by much too fast! We’ve gotten a lot of work done in the last few weeks however. The kids have been using Scratch to send messages back and forth from one block of code (sprite) to another, create variables to add simple numbers, and create ‘text sprites’ to use text in a new way - for drawing.
Here are the project files and programs for message and variable workshops: http://scratched.media.mit.edu/resources/messages-and-variables
The kids had fun sending messages and I think they understand the underlying function of telling different parts of the program to do different things. The same goes for the work with variables. They like to follow the directions in the guides and put together a simple working math project. But in both cases the attention span for this work is quite limited. They’re very eager to ‘get in done’ so they can explore scratch for their own purposes and do things that are ‘more fun’. So my challenge is to try to find a fun-factor in these workshop activities and 1) hold their attention for at least 30min (after which they get their desired free-time) and 2) relate these activities to things they are really interested in… like video games. I’ve also suggested that these activities are the foundations of problem solving that is involved in many adult/professional activities (they are sometimes interested in talking about jobs) and another way of competing with friends (everything is a competition with these bright and mostly male kids).
In our last workshop we used the program ‘Playing With Text’ posted on ScratchEd by Jane Long in which words are used in a drawing. I tried to emphasize including words for communication of some information about each of them, which they weren’t really interested in. But they did add characters or funny words they liked and modified the code so that interested things happened besides just drawing multicolored lines within the project window. So I would say the activity was still moderately successful.
People ask a question, “What’s computer science?” And I tell ‘em, it’s not about sitting in a basement working on some obscure code. Oh no. There’s a lot more than that, my friend. We all like a bit of the good life: some the money, some the expertise, others the sense of accomplishment, the glamour, or the fame. But a computer scientist - oh, he’s different. Why? Because a real computer scientist wants (and can get) the whole lot.
This is a riff on the intro to a Guy Ritchie film, but if there was one way to tell people about the potential of a computing education anywhere (in college or out), it ought to go something like that. If you had asked me four years ago what my dreams were, you would have gotten a vague pie in the sky estimate about writing a novel to change the world, all that jazz. Such were the green(er) days of high school, and sadly, days when I (and many others, even up to the present) was not exposed enough to things that both were interesting to me and good to concretely plan around (to give a context, my favorite films of the time included Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla and Public Enemies).
Four years ago, there was no plan. Now, somewhat wiser, I wish somebody had sold me the field like I just did. The world offers no easy solutions, and a desire without a plan does not a solution make. Knowing what I know now, though, would have helped me a lot four years ago.
This was my impetus to help out at the career fair at West Leyden High School in Northlake: my professor Dr. Greenberg was managing a booth there for Loyola/Illinois Computes, and I and three other student volunteers came along to help out. To the best of our abilities, we represented Loyola and the CS field at large. I worked on the other side of the booth on the fair floor, giving a short sell on what CS could mean to students and to the world before giving info handouts and directing them to the booth.
- one can only talk to one group at a time, and still only address directly one person in that group (but one can still hand out the sheet to each person)
- there would be the hard sell: i.e., the person who “barely knows how to turn a computer on,” or the mechanic - what we’re here to do is show computer science’s influence on their chosen fields and the world at large (one can simply mention Twitter or Facebook)
- One can never have too many handouts
I am bit a late for these repsones on Tunblr, but the experience Ive had helping underprivileged people has altered the way I see immigrants and people from different backgrounds. Lately, I’ve been teaching basic computer skills to refugees from African and the Middle East. It is pretty challenging to communicate ideas to immigrants who have had very little experience with both computers and English. Explaining different aspects of the internet has been the most challenging part.
While working at the Pan African Society I have also noticed how women are reluctant to take a leading role when it coimes to technology. It seems as though their previous cultural steretotypes continue even after moving to a new country. Not all of the refuggees are like that though. The majority of them are eager to learn about computers and how they can improve there day to day life. The women even acheive more then the men on occasionally, which isn’t very normal for computer related topics. It seemed like the students unerstood me more if I was able to put an assignment’s objectives into some more practical a and tangible. That way the students could seehow computers could improve their day to day lives. It also reinefirced the idea that computers are powerful tools that will allow yourself to achieve more in life.
Overall my experience has been great and I am looking forward to learning more about immigrant cultures and the way they perceive technology. Working at the Pan African Association and seeing the students learn about computers and how they can improve their lives has reinforced my confidence in the United States persevering as the the world’s tech hub.
So now that I’ve gone a good number of times, I feel ready to unleash a big blog post explaining what I’ve been doing all semester. Every Monday/Thursday from 2:30-5 since the first of October I’ve been going to West Ridge Elementary School to be the assistant coach of their First Lego League robotics club.
It’s a lot of fun. There are roughly 14 kids who show up regularly, and a few who come every now and again. A good mix of ethnic groups and gender, ranging from Caucasian, African American, Indian, Asian, and Hispanic boys and girls. The major of them are 6th - 8th graders, with a few 3rd and 4th graders sprinkled in.
We use the Lego Mindstorms product to teach the kids some basic programming principles in the NXT environment, and prepare them for the tournament in December. Along with the technical aspect of it, there is also a senior outreach part where they learn how to apply technology to the improvement of the lives of senior citizens. They will have to give a presentation on their ideas to a panel during the robotics tournament.
So far we have covered the basics of what the robot can do, and are now applying more complex strategies to tackle some of the missions for the tournament. The kids are having a blast with it, and one boy in particular has taken to learning Java and emailing me his work to take a look at it. They have a real drive to learn this stuff and it is a ton of fun to work with all of them. Once we get the senior citizen part settled (who wants to do research and presentations when we can play with Lego?), we should be ready to get all finalized for the tournament.
10/31/2012 Gus Pacheco
I arrived at Northside College Preparatory eager to see my former school and teacher. It was here that I began to see how much Computer Science interested me. It was here that I learned about my future.
It was Halloween and many students were dressed up. My old teacher Mr. Solin was dressed up as well but if you didn’t know him you probably wouldn’t be able to tell. He was dressed in nice professional looking clothes. A contrast to his personality and the kind of guy he is. He said “Today, I am irony.”
He took me to a part of Northside that I haven’t been to during my 4 years there. It was the mechanical room where they held their colloquium (a weekly 3 hour class devoted to a special interest).
I met the 2 teams that were building the robots; a girls team and a boys team. Each was composed of many students from different grade level. The seniors were the experienced bunch as many of them had taken the class before and competed as well.
Midterms smacked me upside the head this year, so to make up for my silence I’ve got a monster report heading your way.
The last few weeks have been nothing short of chaotic at St. Viator’s, but as I’ve been told that’s nothing out of the ordinary. The week of October 19th Mr. C, the computer class teacher as well as my site supervisor, had a seminar to attend, so all the computer classes were cancelled for a day. I only worked with the kindergartners on their iPads to learn writing numbers above 10, as the teacher told me they were having difficulties writing numbers like 16 and 17. Naturally they found that the numbers app they have has a blank editor as an option, so they wanted to draw their own pictures and explain those to me rather than work on their numbers. Keeping them on task was definitely a battle of the wills.
The week of October 26th, Mr. C had to leave last minute as a chaperone on the 6th grader’s field trip. The original plan was to have the 8th graders come in during their morning slot, but Mr. C also had some electricians come in that day to do some rewiring, so since there were exposed conduits that plan was ixnayed. I went to the kindergartners at my usual time to continue working with them on writing their numbers and letters out on the iPads. Fortunately, the electricians were gone by the time the third graders were slotted to use the lab, so their class passed without incident. I wrote a couple puzzles for them to work on to help refresh their memory for Scratch. I took screen-caps of all the pieces they would need and gave them a simple problem to solve. They seemed to enjoy it well enough.
This last week of November 2nd for whatever reason did not go quite as smoothly as I would have liked. I had the sixth graders again for the first time in two weeks, so at that point I skipped the refresher Scratch course and had them start working on the project I had in mind for them. In a nutshell, what I want the sixth and third graders to be able to do is write a short story, and then animate it in Scratch, making full use of the sprites and simple commands I have taught them. With the aid of a simple story-starter site, the sixth graders leapt into the project with enthusiasm. I don’t think they’ll have much trouble finishing next week or the week after if necessary. After the sixth grade class I went down to the kindergartners to work on the iPads. They are getting a little better with writing numbers greater than 10, but they still like to test my patience and use the paint editor and not the program itself. I’ll take my victories where I can get them.
The third grade class worries me some. While most of them exhibited the same enthusiasm for the project, one or two of them I think are being intentionally obstinate, choosing to walk around and bother the other students rather than do their own work. While I encouraged asking their neighbors for help, that wasn’t quite what I had in mind.
They’re probably going to take a little longer than the sixth graders to do this project, which is fine. I just hope that next week goes a little better for them and that they’ll make more progress then.
As for me, I’m hoping not fall as far behind on posting like I did, so lesson learned.