Phase 9

April 24 – ImagineIT Final Report

The pictures above are of our two-player, head-to-head Connect-4 game that we created with Scratch, two Makey Makeys,  playdough, and two desktop computers. The computers are not connected to one another; nor are the two computers connected over the internet. Two Scratch programs are running separately on each computer. The effect of head to head play comes from an ingenious Makey Makey set-up created by my student Dariel Mercado. The right Playdough button in front of you is attached to the right arrow key on your computer, but your Playdough right button is attached (unbeknowst to you) to the left arrow on the computer across from you (thus the two Makey Makeys and the tangle of wires). Therefore when it is your turn and you move right on your computer, the checker moves in the correct opposite direction of the computer across from you. Dariel designed a great interface because the players are aware of none of this; they just use the controllers naturally that are in front of them, but it is this clever set-up that allows head to head play. The Scratch programs and the set-up are original, and the game is legitimately fun to play. After we tested it out, students came in for a two hour after school period and just played the game.

These pictures show: ideas on the board for our final Arcade Day; a student working on a Makey Makey Operation game in which students will attempt to remove body parts from a cartoon body written on a cardboard box and their errors will register on an onscreen Scratch program; some attempts to make a device that would register a coin being inserted to create an old-style arcade game effect; a ball toss game that will register the score on the computer; and, a fun controller for a Rock Paper Scissors game played against the computer. As indicated by some of the items on our list: patty cake, frogger, flappy bird, and b-ball, we are likely not even done, and I have pushed the Arcade Day into June so we have longer to work on it. We are thinking about inviting neighborhood elementary students to come in to play some of our games at a half-day fair or just having a exhibition day that includes science olympiad and other STEAM products that our students have made.

The first few images above are from Scratch three-scene animations, while the latter are maze game projects in which students use the Scratch cat along with a Maze sprite that has multiple costumes, one for each level of the maze game. Students must create a playable game with five levels of increasing difficulty, traps and obstacles that send the player back to the start, and a celebration screen at the end. These programs were created by all students and are a required part of the Exploring Computer Science course this year.

The theme of my ImagineIT for this year was creativity and a goal was to create student performances of understanding in which creativity was explicitly valued. Some of my goals, like student learning portfolios in which students selected artifacts and reflected on their learning still has not happened yet. But this may work better if the reflection is not in written form. Perhaps I will have them share their reflection on their work in the form of a Scratch animation i.e. the final animation they create will itself present evidence of their skill development over the course of the class. I am still not sure yet; so, there is work still to be done, as there would be with any major project.

Having said that, the project has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I was shocked at the level of excitement and ingenuity the Makey Makey brought out in kids. I wanted to include the examples of the maze games and the animations here also because even though they are not as spectacular as some of the other projects, and there is much more direction in class from me to get students started, students still need to finish these projects on their own, and there is the chance for large scale customization, taking of ownership, and opportunity for creativity and originality. A few students, for example, came up with secret cheat options. If the cat drank from a glass of water, for example, the cat could then go twice as fast and walk through walls — and that was not an idea I remotely suggested. One student had an animated chicken nugget chase the cat. This created a great deal of pride, ownership, engagement, and energy. Even students who struggled more wanted the assistance of stronger students because they were interested in exhibiting that final product to their peers — and even though they may have had a tough time with doing everything they wanted on their own, they sought that help because they had an original vision they still wanted to see enacted. The creativity in the animations was also really amazing. In one case, a student imported a picture of another student and had his head floating around in a menacing way with an alien body. In some of the classes, students were rollicking with laughter, extremely engaged with one another’s animations, some of which were so full of inside anime jokes that I barely understood them.

Again, I am not going to pretend that students never struggled or complained,or there were never tough moments. Programming is challenging, detail oriented, and nothing ever works the first time you try it, but overall, students were able to power through these difficulties better because they were creating authentic products that they cared about and they were given the opportunity to share them with an authentic audience.