Last week I wrote a post about three types of basic Scratch games that kids could use as the basis for their own games. Each game also taught one “big” skill – creating variables, understanding the x and y coordinates and using clones. This week I am going to review a number of coding “skills” that are helpful in many games or projects. Let’s get started!
As teachers, we use conditionals ALL the time when we give our students instructions. Listen: IF you are finished your math, THEN you can move on to the art project, ELSE, keep working! Recognize that?
In coding, a conditional sets the condition for something to happen. IF the score equals 10, THEN the game is over. Or, IF the score equals 10, THEN you move to the next level, ELSE keep playing! In the example below, IF the score equals 10, THEN switch to the next backdrop.
A variable is something in the game that changes. Examples used often include score, time and health. Scratch is set up so that you can name your variable anything you want, you can have the variable show up on the screen and you can use as many variables as you want.
In the example below, the score is set to zero at the start of the game. Forever after that, if the sprite is touched by the mouse-pointer, the score will go up by 1.
In the next example, we start with a time of 60. Every second that passes, we countdown by 1 second. We do that 60 times!
In coding, a function is kind of like a shortcut. If there is a series of steps you will want a sprite to do a number of times in a game, you can put all of the steps into a function and then give the function a name. Then, when you want the sprite to do those steps, you just “call” (use) the function – you don’t have to rewrite all that code every time.
Here, every time the sprite touches a starfish it spins around, gets bigger then smaller and it says “yipee”! I’ve named the function “yipee”. In the first example, you see the code that defines the function “yipee” . In the second example, you see how we could call (use) the function.
The last skill is called “broadcast”. You use broadcast when you want to “secretly” tell certain sprites that it’s time for them to do something. One sprite “broadcasts a message” and other sprites can “receive the message” and then do something as a result. This can be a very handy skill to use!
The first example shows that when the score equals 10, the sprite should broadcast the message “game over”. The second example shows that if the sprite receives that message it should hide. Note that in the first example, I’ve added in a “show” block – I put that in because otherwise, after the first time of playing the game, the sprite in question would be hidden!
I hope this overview of some of the important skills in game-building in Scratch is helpful to some of you! Happy coding!
It’s that time of year in our district again – students in many of our schools are hard at work, designing and building curriculum-based video games. For the most part the kids build their games in Scratch. The first few years that I supported the students I focused on teaching them some basic skills in Scratch, but mostly in isolation. My hope was that they would take these skills and figure out how to put them together into a game. And lots of them did…especially the kids who already had developed some coding prowess, either through personal interest of summer camps. For other students, this just wasn’t enough to help them go past the very basics. Time to re-think!
So this year, when I go in to help classes, I teach the students how to build games by….ready for it….building games!! Revolutionary, huh?! I never claimed to be a fast learner!
The first thing I do is have a quick visit with the class, introduce them to the look of the Scratch 3.0, show them some of the new functionalities and assign them the Scratch tutorials as homework. After that, every time I come back we learn the basics of how to build a type of game. And in building the game, we develop skills that the students can use in building their own games!
We build 3 different games to start – a clicky game, a “crossy road” game and a collecting clones game. In each case, I take time to explain exactly what the game should do. I give the class specific instructions about what to do to start and then I go back and forth between helping students and actually building the game on my projected laptop, so those who are lost can follow along. I also always have extra challenges, for those who quickly figure out what to do and need the challenge.
The first game we build is a clicky game. The object is to design a space game where an object (star, rocket ship, space rock, astronaut) appears and disappears at random places. Each time the player clicks on the object, they raise their score by one. If they reach a certain, predetermined score, the background changes. At this point, the game builder can either have the game end or have the player move on to the next level.
One of the most important skills to learn in this game is how to create a variable, in this case score.
Once the students have built their clicky game, we move to a version of “crossy road” or “Frogger”. In this game, the main sprite has to make its way across the screen, avoiding objects, until it reaches its goal. At this point it wins the game or moves to a new level. This game has one main, player-controlled sprite and a number of NPC (non player controlled) sprites.
When we build this game, I give players a choice of themes (space, ocean, city, etc). I start with having them choose a backdrop that fits their theme. They also choose 5 sprites and a button. The first move is learning to program the arrow keys so that the main sprite moves right to left and up and down. In doing this, students learn how to use the x and y coordinates to move a sprite. In fact, the x and y coordinates play a large role in the creation of this type of game.
The NPC sprites need to be programmed so that when the game starts they move across the screen at random speeds and at random times. Stronger students can also code the sprites so that they change costumes every time they appear, to make it look as if there are many NPC sprites, not just a few.
Next, the player needs to add code to the main sprite so that when it accidentally touches one of the NPC sprites it goes back to the beginning of the game.
Finally, when the main sprite manages to get past all of the NPC sprites and touches the button, the game is either over or players can add in a new, harder level.
The last of the first three games we build involves learning how to use the clone tool in Scratch. As you would imagine, the cloning tool create a number of copies, or “clones” or a sprite that behave exactly the way the sprite does. This is helpful for games where something needs to continue to happen (like snowflakes falling from the sky) but you don’t want to have to individually code each snowflake!
In the “clone collecting” game, something falls randomly but repeatedly from the sky. The player uses some kind of receptacle to collect them before they land on the ground. If you want to, you can add in a score variable, whereby the score goes up for every object caught in the receptacle and possibly down for every object the player does not catch.
For this game, I have players choose a background, something that might logically fall in that background and something to collect the falling objects in. For mine, I chose a forest background, a falling butterfly and a bowl to collect them in.
The bowl can be moved back and forth using the right and left arrow keys, like in the previous game. A variable called score can be set up.
For the falling object (the butterfly) begin by deciding what you want one butterfly to do. Basically, you want it to hide, then go to a random x coordinate near the top of the screen where it will appear. From there, you want it to fall (change y by negative 5 in this case) until it reaches the bottom of the screen, where it disappears (deletes in this case). If it touches the receptacle, the score goes up and the butterfly disappears/deletes. Once you have written the code, you initialize the butterfly falling by adding the event “when I start as a clone.”
On the same screen, you want to tell the butterfly that when the game starts it should create a clone of itself. It told mine to do this 20 times and in addition, I had the clones randomize how often they fall. I have not finished building in the score in this game.
This is the final instalment in a three-part series about digital storytelling. Parts One and Two can be found here and here.
Once you and your students have chosen your digital storytelling platform and done all of the planning and storyboarding, you’re ready for the next part – production! During this stage your students will capture images and video, and combine them with text, narration and sound to create a product that could be published online or showcased in someway.
In an ideal world, you could use one tool for all of these steps. The great news is that if you have access to ipads and a few other simple tools and apps, you can do this!
BookCreator is both an iPad app and an online app that can be used on Google Chrome. Obviously, using the iPad is preferable here, as you can do everything on the one device!
BookCreator allows students to create a digital picture book or comic book that incorporates still images, video, text and sound. Students can change the font, the colours and the background “paper”. They can add images, video and sound and quite easily create a very professional looking e-book. The books can be exported as epub files, for reading in iBooks. They can be exported as PDFs, but you lose any video or sound if you do this. The final way to export them is as video. This will export to Photos in the iPad and from there it can be uploaded to FreshGrade or another hosting site.
The people at BookCreator have a Youtube channel with all sorts of helpful videos, from basic how-tos to tutorials on how to combine students books into one large class book.
Clips is a new-ish tool from Apple. It comes installed on all newer iPads and iPhones. Although Clips takes a little getting used to, students will love the filters, emojis, text and titles you can add to it. Here is a post that covers the basics of how to use Clips.
I would recommend that you give your students a bit of time to play and experiment with Clips before you actually have them use it for digital storytelling.
Clips saves to the Photo file on an iPad. From there, students can upload to Fresh Grade or another hosting site. Intermediate students can upload their finished Clip to Google Classroom to hand in. They could also upload their Clip to iMovie and add even more bells and whistles to it.
It is important to remember that there are two versions of iMovie – one is an iOS app that runs on the iPads and the other is an OS app the runs on Macs. It most cases, it will be easier to use the version on the ipad but the OS version is a little more powerful and precise.
Here is a great (although a little long!) tutorial for using the iOS version on an iPad. Don’t be fooled by the length of the video – I’ve had students as young as Grade 1 use iMovie very effectively!
Once the iMovie is done, you can export it to the Photo file on the iPad.
Green Screen technology is used by filmmakers to add backgrounds and special effects to movies. Using the app “Green Screen by DoInk”, students can create their own green screen videos, from weather forecasts to time travel trips to Ancient Egypt to documentary films about penguins in the Antarctic.
Although it is nice to have an actual green screen set up, you can very successfully set up a green screen using green bulletin board paper. And although it is nice to have a tripod to hold the iPad, it’s not 100% necessary. By sitting backwards on a chair, students can create an effective tripod using their own arms and the back of the chair.
Oh yeah….remind students not to wear green clothes on the day they are filming. Better yet, film someone who is wearing green and show the students how their classmate “disappears”!
By the way, the OS (or laptop) version of iMovie has green screen capabilities but the iPad version does not.
Kids love creating stop motion movies. Imagine being told that you get to spend time using Lego, Playmobil and other small toys to show what you’ve learned!
My favourite stop motion app is the Lego Movie Maker app but it is no longer available, sadly. If you happen to be lucky enough to have an old version on your school ipads, do not get rid of it!
You can (if you are very patient) create a stop motion animation on Google Slides but I don’t know many kids who have that kind of patience. Instead, you could use the app “Stop Motion Studio” or “Smoovie.” Here is a tutorial for Stop Motion Studio and here is a quick demo of Smoovie .
Stop motion does take time and patience. It is helpful if the ipad can be kept still. It’s unlikely that you’ll have enough tripods for every group to have one but you can create a fairly effective “tripod” or stand using an inexpensive plate stand from the dollar store. Or, challenge your students to build their own tripod – I once had a group create a very clever tripod using a handful of Math textbooks, some elastics and masking tape!
Not sure where or how you would use stop motion? It’s great for illustrating Science concepts, like Newton’s Laws or simple machines. How about the life cycle of a butterfly, using play-do to build the stages? Or use small figures and toys to illustrate a fractured fairy tale. Just remember that one second of film uses lots of “scenes” so don’t expect anything too lengthy!
RSA Animate and In Plain English
These two styles of digital storytelling were popular a number of years ago. The most famous RSA video you’ve likely seen is the illustration of Sir Ken’s talk on education.
In Plain English videos were originally created by a company called Common Craft, as a way to explain things to people “in plain English,” using simple drawings. Here is the first one I remember seeing, years ago.
Basically, with both of these styles, students would use a whiteboard or large pieces of paper to draw out their “story” while someone records it with a camera or ipad.
With RSA Animate, you would then upload the recorded video to iMovie, strip the sound, speed the video up and add the voiceover.
With In Plain English projects, you would upload the video to iMovie, strip the sound and add a voiceover.
When I’ve done both of these types of digital storytelling I’ve made sure to group students so that each group has a student who has a Mac laptop.
Sharing Student Creations
If your students have worked hard creating their digital projects, they are going to want to share them with their parents and classmates! Several years ago two teachers I worked with had a “movie premier night” where they invited parents, gave out popcorn and juice boxes and had students introduce their projects on penguins!
Sharing student work on Fresh Grade is another way to showcase what has been created. Students could also upload their projects to Google Drive and share it with their parents from there.
Hopefully the last few blog posts have given you the push to jump in and try digital storytelling with your students!
Last week’s blog was a quick re-introduction to digital storytelling. This week we’ll take a look at the importance of the pre-production stage.
Pre-production is basically anything you do up to the filming stage. Just like painting a room, the more work you put into the preparation, the more successful the final product will be! (Take it from me, I’ve painted a LOT of rooms!)
One of the first decisions needs to be format. What app/site will you use to create your digital story? What style will it be? There are lots of options out there. In our district, due to privacy concerns, there are certain options we can’t choose but luckily, there are still lots of choices! The choices I use on a regular basis are: Book Creator (on laptops and ipads), iMovie, Apple Clips, Green Screen, Stop Motion Animation, RSA Animate, In Plain English stykle and combinations of the above.
Can’t pick? Well, the age and experience of your students should be the first place you start. Book Creator is the simplest choice, although it can also be quite complex, depending on how you use it. iMovie, Clips and Green Screen can be used by the youngest primary students with big buddy support and by older primary students with some instruction. Like Book Creator, both iMovie and Green Screen can be used for quite sophisticated work, also.
Stop Motion Animation, RSA Animate and In Plain English are more complex and should likely be left for intermediate students. Likewise, smashing various apps or styles together is something you might want to leave for older students. See the table below for a little more guidance.
Once you’ve determined what style you and your students will use, spend some time doing research and planning or storyboarding. Basically, you want the students to think through the plot or path of their story. What will the title look like, what information will they include, who will do the talking, what will they capture in each “scene”? While students are doing this step, they can create a running list of “props” they will need to complete their project.
I usually include this planning stage in my marks for the final project. This tends to help kids realize they have to put time and effort into this stage.
Next up? The filming process, including tips and tricks for each format! Look for this post on April 2nd, after Spring Break!
Humans have been telling stories for as long as we’ve been on earth. Stories to entertain, persuade, educate, inform and delight us. Stories told around the campfire, passed from generation to generation. The advent of the written word expanded the scope and audience of our stories. And the advent of digital tools and the internet has given anyone with a camera, tablet or laptop the ability to tell their stories in engaging and interesting ways.
The telling of stories using digital tools is called….wait for it….digital storytelling!! Digital storytelling was really big about 12 years ago. It’s never gone away but in typical fashion, other educational “trends” have come to the forefront. However, in our increasingly digital world I would argue that the ability to use various media to tell stories, whether their purpose is to entertain, educate or persuade, is a crucial skill our children need. Bonus? It’s fun and engaging!
Digital storytelling can run the gamut from a 10 second video showing one of Newton’s Laws and filmed using Apple’s Clips to a minute long Public Service Announcement about Pink Shirt Day created using video, still images and original music composed on Garageband. Kindergarten students can create documentary films about penguins, high school graduates can create multi-layered stories highlighting their skills to potential post-secondary educational institutions.
Over the next few weeks I will look at a number of tools, apps and tips that you can use to help your students tell their digital stories!
This Wednesday is Pink Shirt Day and the focus this year is on cyber-bullying. By definition, cyberbullying is bullying behaviour that occurs in an online or digital environment. Just like regular bullying, cyberbullying can be obvious or subtle, it can involve several people or many and the effects can be harmful and long-lasting. With kids being online earlier and earlier, cyberbullying is a real concern for parents and educators. As with any bullying behaviours, proactive is better than reactive and keeping the lines of communication open is key.
For the Kindie to Grade 3 crowd, the focus is on kindness and what that looks like and feels like. These discussions can be fuelled by picture books and there are lots of great picture books mentioned on the website, especially under the “Respect” section.
For the Grade 4 to 7 classes, the issues of cyber-bullying and respectful, kind online behaviour are dealt with under Digital Etiquette and Digital Communication.
Last year I wrote several blog posts about digital citizenship (here, here and here). Since then I have become increasingly concerned about our (and I mean that globally, not just in my district) students’ abilities to be safe and effective participants in our digital world.
This concern led me to spend many hours of my time scanning the internet, looking for lesson plans, ideas and a scope and sequence. The great news is that I found loads of information and resources. The bad information? I found loads of information and resources – some good, some great and some not. There’s a lot out there to wade through!
This resulted in more work, of course! Using ISTE as well as the British Columbia curriculum as my guide, I created this scope and sequence for our schools, Kindergarten to Grade 7.
I then took the resources I found and plugged them into the correct places in the scope and sequence and used Google Sites to build a website to house it all. Whew!
I did not create the vast majority of the resources! They are collated from around the internet, with special thanks to Common Sense Media, Google’s Be Internet Awesome and Media Smarts.
This website is meant to be a living entity, that will be added to as more resources become available or as people share more resources with me. Have a great lesson plan? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
I have created custom, West Vancouver School District, digital badges for the units in Grade 4 to 7. My intention was to create self-scoring Google Forms quizzes that would automatically email a digital badge to any student who scored high enough on the quiz. Unfortunately, try as I might, I could not get the code to work! So, for any of you who work in West Vancouver, just send me a quick email if you want access to the digital badges.
I really hope that in creating this website I have made it easier for teachers to help their students become confident, caring, critical and ethical participants in the digital world.
Have you ever wondered how you could get your students to be as excited about reading comprehension as they seem to be about playing the latest online video game? My students will happily discuss the details of their latest foray into the Fortnite world but wouldn’t dream of discussing the main idea of the paragraph I asked them to read. At least, they wouldn’t talk about it without being asked to!
Well, the good news is that the people who created Squiggle Park, a Canadian “learn to read” app for K to 2 students, have created Dreamscape, a “read to learn” site created specifically with gamers in mind! And….it’s totally FREE!!! And….it’s Canadian!!!
So, Dreamscape is a literacy platform for Grade 3 to 6 students (Grade 7 is being worked on and Grade 8 is in the future). Through reading short passages and answering questions, students (Dreamseekers) can build their own “base”, or “dwell” in the Dreamscape world, with the goal of protecting their Visioncore, where they store their dreams. Successful readings give players the opportunity to add defenses and resources to their base, as they build their dwell and move forward in time. (Here’s a rundown on all the characters and magical buildings, for those of us who like to know what we’re getting into ahead of time!)
For those who are wondering, as students successfully read passages and answer questions, the level of reading goes up, (and down when they are not successful) without the students even being aware of it. I was concerned that eventually my good readers would “run out” of passages to read but in speaking with the development team, I have been assured that they are constantly adding more passages and are seeking partnerships with publishing houses for even more reading passages.
Now, I must admit, I am not a “gamer”, so when I first tried playing Dreamscape myself, I struggled to enjoy it. But when I got a few of my students logged in to their accounts, they immediately were comfortable and knew what to do. One of them told me “it’s sort of like Clash of Clans – I can figure this out easily!” There is a tutorial for those kids in your class who are not gamers and below you will find a video that shows you what the game looks and plays like:
One of the things my kids liked is that they can “battle” other players in the class. One of the things I liked is that the players can be at different levels when they battle each other. Battles are limited to 3 minutes in time and the game is designed so that students have to do a lot of reading in order to build up to a battle.
As an ELA teacher, I am thrilled when my kids get excited about reading. And it’s great if I can find something online that’s free and safe. And the icing on the cake is finding something that gives me data about how the kids are doing. When Dreamscape first launched as a pilot program this last fall, they hadn’t developed their teacher dashboard, so as a teacher, I couldn’t see any stats about how long my kids were playing, what things they were struggling with or where they were being successful. That has now changed. The teacher dashboard gives teachers all kinds of useful information, from what skills your class as a whole has mastered to what skills a specific student is struggling with.
Dreamscape is an online reading comprehension app/site for Grade 3 to 6 kids (Gr. 7 coming soon!)
It works on PCs, Macs, Chromebooks and on tablets with a free app – I’ve personally tested this!
Dreamscape has gamified reading comprehension skills
It is absolutely free – no cost to school OR parents! And it will stay free!
It’s Canadian – go Canada!
A little Math for you:
Kids + Video Games = Engagement
Engagement + Reading = Learning
Via the dashboard, teachers get all kinds of useful data to help drive instruction
Setting up a class and adding students is quick and easy
So, with all of that going for it, why not give Dreamscape a try? I bet your students will thank you for it!
This is the last post on Google and Art and for me, it is the coolest one as it is the one that’s the most creative! As often happens with me, this last activity came up when two of my worlds collided. On the one hand, I was looking for some cool “selfie” assignment to finish off the Digital Art/Photography unit I did with my Grade 7s this last fall and on the other hand, I was chilling on the nap couch and skimming through youtube.
BANG! I found a video about how to use Google Drawings to create vector art portraits. They were so cool, and I reasoned that my students could use this technique to make their final selfie assignment.
The first thing I had to do was teach myself. Here is the first video tutorial I found. It’s a very thorough video and too long for the kids to sit through, but I was able to use it to teach myself the basics. Basically, you are using the polyline tool in Google Drawings to “trace” shapes on a real digital image and recreate it. Here’s my first attempt:
After doing some more searching, I came up with a better video, in terms of length.
So, here are a few tips, to get you started! I changed the size of my Google Drawing “page” to 8.5 x 11 inches, so I could print the selfies to regular sized paper. Think of the image like a collage. Build from the back, starting with the largest areas first. I usually trace the face shape, the hair, the neck and the shirt, then work my way “forward” layering colours on top of each other.
Some of my students found it easier to use a mouse, others were fine with the trackpad on their device. By the way, this does not work on an ipad (yeah, I find that strange, too, but Google Drawings does not work on an ipad).
The smoother you can “click” with the Polyline tool, the easier it is to trace the shapes. You get into a bit of a rhythm with it. I let my students listen to music on their headphones as they worked, as many of them found the general class chatter very distracting as they tried to get into “the zone”.
In retrospect, I should have given my kids an easier image to learn with first, like a picture of a flower or something. Faces are very complex, with loads of shapes and shadows. Once kids know how to do this, they can use this skill for any image. One of my students was so taken with the process that he went home and made another image of himself skiing – he was so proud of it!
Last week I reviewed Google’s Art and Culture site. While I was playing around and showing it to someone, I stumbled upon a cool feature, which then led me to dig deeper and find a couple of other cool Art-ish Google gems. So, from me (and Google) to you, here are three Art gems!
This first one involves colour. I have always loved colours. I love organizing them, playing with them and experimenting. My craft room/office has paper, felts, buttons and ribbons all sorted by colour, so when I saw this experimental side of the Google Arts and Culture site, called Art Palette, I was hooked!
At the top of the page, you have a band of 5 colour choices. Below that you have images chosen from the Arts and Culture site. As you change each of the customizable colours in the band, the images shown below change to reflect that particular combination of 5 colours. Sooo cool! Here are the colours I chose:
And here are the first few pieces of Art Google chose for me!
Each image is clickable and will take you to information about the art and the artist. How would I use this in my classroom? I often teach a small unit on colour at the beginning of the year and it would be neat to have the kids choose complementary or analogous colour schemes, find an image and then reflect on how the colours support the artwork. During our poetry unit, we often do a poem on colours – I could have the kids choose images to go with their poems, based on colour.
The next offering is fun and a great one to give your students when you need them to be busy for a few minutes while you chat with another teacher or try to get set up for the next lesson! Google’s “Quick, Draw!” that Google has developed to help teach AI (artificial intelligence) to recognize doodles. When you click the Let’s Draw button, Google gives you 20 seconds to draw a quick doodle (using your mouse or mouse pad) or some everyday object. If your doodle looks similar to other people’s doodles of the same thing, Google will guess what it is! You get 6 chances each time you play. After you’ve played, you can click the data button and see what thousands of other people have drawn.
So, yeah, I know this isn’t super educational or even very “artsy” but it is fun and it could be interesting to use to open up a discussion about how robots and AI learn things and about how a few doodly lines can be used to communicate an idea.
The last item for today is something called Google Auto Draw. Auto Draw takes your quick sketch and turns it into clipart that you can save and use elsewhere. These clip art drawings could be used in infographics, slide show presentations, posters, projects. Basically anywhere you might use clipart! Here’s a video Google put out to explain and demonstrate it.
This is fun to play with and you can download whatever you create as a .png file, to be used wherever you like!
Hopefully you enjoyed today’s Google Art – there’s one more post to go next week!