Loyola Stars

Loyola University Stars Leadership Corps Chapter

There and Back Again - Survival of Bureaucratic Hell

by wakawaka-assbutt October 17, 2012

Last Friday marked my first day at my official volunteer site, St. Viator Elementary School. It’s been a struggle to get this far, since the CPS strike this year temporarily took out all the public school sites. I ended up finding this site during the strike through a coworker at one of my jobs, and I started talking with the principal and computer education teacher. After a week or so of back and forth emails, I filled out the paperwork they needed and went through Virtus training. We decided the best thing for me to do would be to teach the 3rd and 6th grade computer classes Scratch programming. Additionally, I’d be working with the afternoon kindergarten class on the class iPads.

For my first class with the 6th graders, I started with some early history of programming and some basic concepts of what a program is. I used a cream cheese and jelly sandwich to illustrate how a program is only as smart as the programmer, and that the instructions to make a sandwich had to be incredibly specific. They seemed to catch on to the concept very quickly. Afterwards I set them loose into the Scratch environment, and it was as if I put them into a candy store. They jumped right in, eager to race ahead and see what everything did before I could explain it. As it turned out, two of the students were already familiar with Scratch, so if anything I will have them help me as teaching assistants to handle all the questions.

In the downtime between the 6th and 3rd grade classes, I went to the afternoon kindergarten class to work on the iPads with the students, mainly just supervise them as they worked on basic educational apps, like counting and sorting games.

For the 3rd grade class I basically watered down my lecture to the 6th grade class, but I kept the sandwich demonstration, which they thought was the funniest thing since sliced bread. The nice thing with the 3rd graders is that they weren’t as quick to get ahead in the Scratch program, so I was able to introduce concepts a little more slowly. 

In the next week or two, I hope to work with both of these classes to write and illustrate a short story in Scratch, most likely in teams of two. It probably won’t be a very long story, just a paragraph or two. That has yet to be decided between myself and the language arts teacher. As of now however, my hopes are high, and I’m really looking forward to watching their projects take shape.

Fall @Hamdard Wk2

by krusniak October 11, 2012

Unfortunately, I don’t actually meet with the kids in computer class this week due to my own work-schedule conflict with our normal class time.  However, I have created a Scratch math game that will be used over the next two weeks or more to demonstrate some cs concepts.  We started out making shapes and talking about how technology can be used to do things for us… like drawing nice straight lines for our squares or very complex shapes that we would have trouble drawing by hand at all.  The math game example will expand on that idea by 1) communicating with the user 2) passing messages between modules 3) performing math calculations and 4) combining simple activities to perform a complex action: teaching.  I’ve uploaded the game to my profile on Scratch: MathGame1.  Also, handouts will be created for use as guides in class which will describe and illustrate strategies for implementing the activities above, and will be posted once they are completed.

Fall @Hamdard Wk1

by krusniak October 3, 2012

After a long break (August/September) I am happy to return to Hamdard this week to work with the small group of kids that volunteered to attend our weekly computer sessions.  The group is down to six kids now (was eight in the summer), but they have the enthusiasm and energy of maybe twelve!  They were really excited to get started and those that were also in the summer session seemed interested to see I was back again.  There were some kids I hadn’t seen before also, including a middle-school aged girl.  Generally I don’t get a lot of information about the kids, so I don’t know their ages, but the youngest is probably 6yrs and the oldest is ~10yrs.  In the next project we work on, I’m going to try to incorporate some personal information so that we can get to know each other a bit better. 

As for this week, we worked on a kind of warm-up project in Scratch drawing shapes to get the kids actively building instructions from multiple command categories.  Drawing is an area I hadn’t explored myself and so I learned how to use some of the commands in a new way and how to incorporate the ‘pen’ function into a program.  We started by choosing a sprite to ‘draw’ for us, and then followed instructions for drawing shapes provided by DSHnetwork (Digital Schoolhouse Network) on Scratch Ed.  We started with triangles and squares.  The plan was to build on the examples and get to the really interesting and complex geometries on pages 4 and 5 of the handout we were following.  They weren’t shy to grumble about the ‘boring’ task and insisted on surfing the internet or customizing their sprites to have them do more interesting things like saying ‘wee wee’!  It took a lot of repeated requests to get them back to the shapes project and focused, but even the most unfocused and boisterous of the group finally settled on trying to construct the shape examples.  The clincher was when they all noticed the female of the group having successfully created all the simple shapes and then moving on to the complex shapes.  It’s interesting to watch the complex shapes as they are drawn, and the kids were suitably impressed.  I had to help the youngest in the group find and connect the necessary instructions, but he watched me closely and helped read the handout example.  He was very interested but seemed to have little computer experience.

Overall the kids did a great job and seemed to enjoy drawing shapes in Scratch.  It’s nice to be back at Hamdard and I’m looking forward to all the fun projects we will work on this fall.

"Tech Star Kids" so far

by rzukowski October 3, 2012

" ‘Tech Star Kids’ teaches children aged 9-13 who are categorized as having ‘High Functioning Autism’ (or in some cases referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome). The goal of the program is to provide social interaction by working as a software development team, and then using the creation of a video game as a motivation to learn computer programming."

That was the hook. It only took a few seconds for me to know that this was where I wanted to do my service-learning project. When I first contacted the program, I thought everything was going to be strict and formal and set-in-stone, if so to speak. What the program really is, is a dedicated group of individuals trying to create a suitable and educational environment for children with autism to spend time in after school. The foundation recently moved in to a new building in Evanston, so there are still many things that need to be addressed and many difficulties that are experienced by everyone there, but so far everything is going well. The program is very laid back and informal, and it’s structure is not set-in-stone. Since the program deals with children with autism, it has to be adapted and tweaked frequently, but has to remain constant enough that the kids won’t feel as if they are entering a new class every single week.

The computer lab where the program happens is a temporary one. In the coming weeks, the lab will be moved to a different part of the building, and this new lab will have many amenities that the current one does not have room for. For instance, the new lab will most likely have a large TV display hooked up to the instructor’s PC which will make it easier to demonstrate and show the steps the kids need to do in order to complete their tasks. In addition to the extra amenities, the new lab will be located in an area with less people traffic moving about, so that the kids can better focus on their tasks.

My first week with the program (on 9/18/12) was very informal and not much was done. I was introduced to the instructor, Brian Myers, who is an elementary school teacher at West Ridge. I was also shown around the building and introduced to some of the kids. While the goal of the first meeting of the program was for the kids to create Scratch accounts online so they could upload their projects, some of the computers in the lab did not work or had no internet connection. This one task was further complicated by the fact that some of the kids would much rather watch videos on YouTube or look for pictures on Google, and this is what they constantly went back to instead of creating their accounts. While in the end, mostly everyone had set up an account, there was much confusion about usernames and passwords and emails and the like.

The second week I was with the program (9/25/12) was plagued with more internet connectivity issues. On some computers, the Scratch program was not even installed, and when I tried to install it, it required an administrator account to proceed. This admin requirement was bypassed by downloading the Scratch program and running it locally without having to install. During the program there were internet connectivity issues that rendered some computers useless for the activity planned, so certain kids had to double up on a computer. The activity for the week was to create various sprites (character objects) by using a sprite sheet that could be downloaded from the internet. With no clear example of how to create the sprites, nor any additional computers which could be used to demonstrate, led to many of the kids not knowing what to do, or not understanding the procedures. This week I was introduced to Simon, a young boy who’s previous programming experience in Scratch made it so easy for him that he lost interest. Brian decided that the best way to engage Simon and keep his interest would be to introduce him to Greenfoot Java and have him learn and code with that instead of Scratch. Simon now brings in his own laptop with Greenfoot installed and that is what he will be using for now. Simon’s mental abilities to comprehend abstract concepts could dwarf any college freshman or sophomore in a computer science course.

This week (10/2/12) went much smoother with a lot less trouble with the computers and network, although when I got into the lab, one computer was missing a mouse, but was somehow logged on to and previously used. Eventually a replacement mouse was found and 4 out of 5 computers were usable. This week was the first week that the kids had to actually program. Before the first group came in, Brian quickly showed me the basics of Scratch and the final goal of the day. The kids were to create a simple shooting game with a score counter. As each group came in they were instructed to sit around Brian so they could watch a demonstration and explanation of what they had to do. Some of the kids readily complied, while others had difficulty staying focused or were doing something else entirely. Some of the kids quickly completed their tasks and moved on to creating variations of the basic program like adding sounds or changing the appearance of the sprites. Others struggled to remember what components they had to add or had difficulty manipulating the mouse so that their components ended up out of place or lost entirely. This week went much smoother with more kids completing their assigned tasks, however there is still room for improvement.

Rafal Z.

HTML Class Assistance at Steinmetz, Wk1

by jnepomuceno October 2, 2012

Day One - 9/20 (Thursday) - Orientation/First class (10-11:30A)

With the ending of the Chicago Teachers’ Union strike, classes at Steinmetz started and I could go in to render my service. I came in during the teacher (Maribeth)’s break period and got briefly acclimated before the bell rang and in five minutes I was helping a class with their HTML assignment. I would walk around and be called upon to assist with the assignment. It was intimidating at first, though the feelng passed and the challenges could be observed with clarity. From a teaching perspective, any field of computing presents an interesting challenge. First, some things will come more naturally to some students but will be a challenge for others. Second, there are only so many resources available to those with difficulties: they may not have computers at home, and classes are so short and so large that individual attention is limited. Thirdly, all students have experience, but they are at different levels: some may be breezing through the first assignment whereas others don’t even know how to type efficiently, or are concerned for their spelling. In this way, at least, I felt I could help out: I am one additional “body” for the class to interact with and ask questions of, and there isn’t as much of a visible difference between me and the high school students; I am at their level, in other words. The key is finding a way to empathize and translate the material to them; for instance, content within the basic HTML assignment is not terribly important, and so a lack of expertise in English spelling or grammar should not detriment ability to know the basic concepts (every paragraph has to be enclosed with <P> and </p>, and this is the basic structure of HTML, and so on).

Day Two - 9/25 (Tuesday) - Class Assistance (8:30-11:30A)

Today during the break period I attended the student assembly with Maribeth; I may as well see the full workings of Steinmetz as an inner-city school. The presentation by Steinmetz’ principal and the dean of students functioned as a sort of state of the school, definitely necessary given that classes effectively had to restart their curriculum following the strike. It presented some interesting observations: one, that schools really do depend on their students’ performance and attendance to stay open, and two, they must impose certain incentives to encourage and reward these things. Unfortunately this is generally all they can do given their resources: there are the simple physical constraints of classroom sizes (often cramped), and only a certain number of teachers. Additionally, other circumstances for the students outside of school might make effective performance or even attendance difficult. In a way this has given me a good perspective on what it is I’m doing through class assistance: at least I can help in what little way I can.

Day Three - 9/27 (Thursday) - Class Assistance + Grade Entering (9-11:30A)

Today my work during the classes became more formalized; after the class bell rang, I would walk around and check that each student had completed or had done work on the assignment, and assist them in the submission process. The students were to email them to the teacher; however, some of them emailed them from non-school email addresses, resulting in the email winding up in the teacher’s spam folders. For the most part it was a simple matter of checking with them, showing them where they had to go to log in to the school email, and tell them to send it from there, just to be safe. Surprisingly, by the end of the classes I had assisted, Maribeth had received almost all of the assignments. During the break period I helped enter in the grades, for both the assignment and points for helping other students. The helping points presents an interesting system: ideally it encourages everybody to communicate, which is ideal in a lab class and for the sake of learning both the material and how to work with others with the material. But as it is extra credit, students who are already doing well have no class-related reason to help out, and students who do need the extra credit are likely in no position to help with confidence. Yet it should be emphasized that in trying to help someone else with material, one has the lesson reinforced. In any case, as the curriculum shifts from focusing on HTML to the larger subject of web publishing (utilizing MS Publisher and other applications), encouraging communication and collaboration will be important, not just for points’ sake but also for the sake of achievement.

Summer Mentoring Wk3

by krusniak August 15, 2012

The last week of mentoring at Hamdard was actually a few weeks ago now.  The session went very well.  We started by watching a demo of the example introduced in week 2.  While the demo was running, we talked about what was happening and how the loops and events were constructed in the program.  I tried to emphasize that the animation was just simple statements combined together to make a more complex activity, and that all the programs and games they liked to use everyday were just like this, except with more and more statements and control elements strung together.  Then we continued with the addition of movement to sprites with the goal of completing at least one nicely functioning, looping animation by the end of the hour.  Most of the kids were able to get this far.  One pair of children made a finished animation in which two sprites rode in a car while a dog chased behind.  They seemed to grasp the control statement concepts really well and were apply them to multiple sprites successively.  Overall, everyone reached the goal of at least one functioning loop activity, although the level of interest and subsequent application to additional sprites was variable.  My final conclusion that the session was really successful that week is based on the fact that throughout the work period every one of the children had multiple questions.  They seemed really focused and productive this week.  Unfortunately, the Hamdard summer camp session ended and the next series of children’s programs doesn’t start until September.  While a good start that left me with a lot to think about regarding the refinement of objectives and methods of increasing engagement, I look forward to more learning and mentoring experiences at Hamdard this fall.  

Summer Mentoring Wk2

by krusniak July 25, 2012

Since the kids were so quick to combine basic commands in the first week of our Scratch workshop, it seemed that a more complex project would be needed for the second week.  I created two simple animations as examples and took screen shots at each step in the process of building those animations.  The first example shows how to make a character move across the screen and then start back at the beginning, then repeat for the appearance of continually walking.  I tried to emphasize 1) create an action; 2) modify the action by changing the number of steps and x/y coordinate positions; 3) control the action with ‘repeat’ and ‘wait’ commands.  The second example is similar, except that while the character is moving across the screen, it recognizes contact with the mouse pointer and makes a change in appearance in response.  While a little more advanced, it seemed a good idea to give the kids ideas and goals to get them excited and focused.  I also tried to emphasize that those complicated activities were just individual steps added together and that they could easily create complex animations by practicing and mixing a few basic action and loop statements.  To help guide them, I put all the screen shots for the two examples into a power point file, printed out the pages and made booklets so that they each had a copy. 

Those were my great ideas anyway, but the reality of the situation was different than I had hoped.  I let the kids get started before loading the examples and giving a demo, so they started without those finished products in mind.  And then it was really difficult to get their attention back to look at the examples as they were already very busy with their projects and had lots of questions too.  Also, the booklets were too long and detailed to follow through without having had the demos first and they were quickly abandoned.  The kids were also much less focused in this session as some wanted to recreate characters and fuss over backgrounds, while other kids were already using loops and still another expressed disinterest in the project in general. 

Although week two got away from me, I had good ideas about what to do and what not to do in future sessions.  Also, I made a post on the ScratchEd site to share the examples and handouts prepared for the class.

Intermediate-Level Loops and Event Recognition on ScratchEd

CS Mentoring at the Hamdard Center

by krusniak July 24, 2012

My first day at Hamdard, and first day mentoring kids anywhere, was already two weeks ago on July 10th.  While I wasn’t sure what to expect, I was well-armed with materials to share.  The Scratch website and accompanying Scratch Ed site have a lot of information on learning and teaching both Scratch programming and also the underlying concepts of programming in general.  Particularly, I found the Scratch Cards nice for start up.  While everyone worked on the basic, isolated activities, I was able to make my first attempt to gauge where in experience and interest each child was positioned.  I quickly learned that most of the kids had some experience with Scratch, either through a previous mentor from Loyola or from class work at school.  However, even the youngest child, with little experience and limited understanding of English, was very quick to understand basic commands and navigate the Scratch UI.  In my own experience, computers are a natural extension of everyday living for even the youngest children today, and Scratch is so well-designed and intuitive to use, that programming is now natural and common as well.  After this first session, I was excited to see what the kids would be able to accomplish in the following weeks.

Third and fourth week at I.C. Stars

by fionaedat July 8, 2012

The third week there, I accidentally walked into their corporate meeting and made a fool out of myself. The interns were relocated to a different floor and I was unaware of that change. However, Debs made sure she directed me to them after she saw me look confused. As I arrived where the interns were situated, I introduced myself to the entire cycle - I only had met few of the interns before. I gave a two-minute spiel about what I do and how I can assist them with their needs and continued to get to know them for a bit. I provided my e-mail address which they jotted down and hopefully they reach out to me when in need. They are a smart group of ambitious interns and their consistency and perseverance will definitely pay off. I helped them with any questions they had and gave my perspective on ideas. Once everyone proceeded to do an evaluation for their previous presentation, I started the second administrative project Debs wanted me to do. This consisted of looking up I.C. Stars alumni from previous cycles and determining their current job and college status. I was told to use LinkedIn to identify those information and I continued to work on retrieving data in the fourth week also. 

Fiona Kan.

First and second week with the summer cycle of I.C. Stars

by fionaedat June 25, 2012

Andddd I’m back!

I resumed my volunteer services at I.C. Stars two weeks ago and things are a bit different than last cycle. For one, there are 17 interns, which is seven more than the previous one. Secondly, I have been working on administrative work more than one-on-one with the interns. I haven’t met them all yet, but hope to do that soon. There are two projects that I have been assigned. The first one is about Social Services that can be used by the interns. For that project, I researched over 30 different topics/areas and attempted to seek out the best option for them. I kept in mind financial considerations since that seems to be the decision factor for most social service pick. I will be reviewing my work next week and starting on the second project accordingly. 

Fiona Kan.