Our Coding Adventure

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Since October 2014, I’ve been slowly introducing my students (first-eight grade) to coding. I got the idea from my dissertation research with iPads in the classroom. A lot of the articles I came across had to do with the importance of kids to learn coding from a young age. However, it wasn’t until I watched a Ted Talk by Alex Klein “Codes We Live By“, did I realize that even though it’s been almost 20 years since I learned coding that I could teach my students the basics of coding.

Scratch Jr

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I began introducing my first graders to coding through an app called ScratchJr. ScratchJr is based on Scratch a popular coding application made by MIT. The biggest advantage of ScratchJr. is that it’s an app for the iPad. We have a class set of iPads so it made a lot more sense to start with ScratchJr. Through the month of November I followed the curriculum created by the ScratchJr. team. My first graders spent about 30-45 minutes a week practicing their coding skills. I was very surprised how quickly they were able to understand how the app worked and how easily they were able to complete the daily challenges I laid out for them. As a final project students created a short story about bullying, which was based on the storybook we were reading at the time.

Hopscotch and Gamepress 

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Choosing a program for my upper elementary students was a little more difficult. There are several apps for the iPad for upper elementary and middle school students. I decided on Hopscotch for a few reasons. First, it was highly recommend by Richard Wells (@ipadwells) and Paul Hamilton (Paul_hamilton). Both of these gentlemen have worked very hard to share their experiences and ideas for coding in the classroom. Second, Hopscotch is easy to pick up and learn but difficult to master. Once I showed the students the basics, they were teaching me by the end of the first week! Finally, the team at Hopscotch are very supportive. I’ve emailed them several times with questions and they were quick to respond. 

For my middle school students and advanced elementary students, I gave them a choice between Hopscotch and Gamepress. Most of my middle school students chose Gamepress because of the interface. However, some switched to Hopscotch because it was difficult for them to figure out how to create different options for their games. The students who stayed with Gamepress did a great job of supporting each other through the process of creating a game.

Blogging 

Each week students are required to write about the game  in Google Docs. This gives them a chance to practice their writing skills, as well as, reflect on their game design. In addition, each students chose a Ted Talk based on video games or coding. After writing a summary of the Ted Talk, students searched for more information about the main idea of the talk. For example, one student watched Daphne Bavelier’s “Your Brain on Video Games.” He learned about how Dr. Bavelier’s team discovered that playing action games improved your eyesight. From there, he found more information to support Dr. Bavelier’s argument. This was also a great way for me to teach my students how to write paragraphs using the MEAL Plan .

For my younger students they learned more about video games through essay writing. Students wrote persuasive essays on the positive and negative aspects of playing video games. My students were surprised to learn that there were a lot of benefits to playing video games. Most of them were excited to share this new information with their parents.

The final part of our Video Game Project will be the showcase of the games. My initial plan is for students to screencast their games and create voice-overs in iMovie.

Our goal is to finish our games and blogs by the end of February! I will update the this post when the first blogs are completed!

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Adventure Time: Game Wizard

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Few games other than Minecraft have sparked my interest for classroom use in recent months. The games that have, are riddled with in-app-purchases and advertisements. However, Pixel Press recently released Adventure Time: Game Wizard for the iOS and Android.

What makes this game special is the option to create your own adventure. What makes this gave even more special is the ability to do that within the app or on a piece of paper. (More about this later)

I love using the iPad as a tool for digital story telling. There are so many great apps that combine to engage students in the wonderful world of storytelling. Moreover, these stories can easily be shared or written collaboratively with classrooms from around the world.

Game Wizard is a new and interesting way for students to collaborate on a story through a platform game. The game is based on familiar characters from the Cartoon Network. The game is divided into three sections: Play, Create, Arcade.

Play

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Game Wizard is a simple but entertaining platform game. There are 5 characters to unlock (More to come later), each with it’s own special abilities and movements. The object of the game is to work your way through the different worlds collecting coins, unlocking characters and defeating bosses. To reach the end you will need to use each of the characters’ special abilities and movements at the right time.

Create 

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This is where the app stands above the rest! As I mentioned earlier, there are two ways to create your own game. The first way is to use the in app builder. You begin by selecting a sheet which you use to create your game. The sheets come in 4 different sizes. You can add a numerous amount of sheets to build on to your game! In the build mode you have many options to add platforms, hazards, enemies, and special blocks for your game. The interface is simple to use and a lot of fun. Some of the items are locked when you first begin, however, these can easily be unlocked with gold from playing the game. (No IAPs)

Once you’ve finished creating your game, you can chose from 4 unique design layouts. The layouts really bring your game to life. This is where you add your enemies as well. There is a limit to the amount of enemies you can add to each sheet but it doesn’t take away from the game at all. You can add more sheets to extend your game or you can keep the game to one sheet or level. When you add new sheets your end points become check points which allows you to move more freely between levels.

Drawing 

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The best way to create your own level is to draw it by hand. The game supplies special paper that you can print to create your levels. On the sides of the paper there are special symbols which represent the unique blocks in the game. Once you’ve drawn your game, all you need to do is scan the paper with your iPad and it becomes a new sheet in your game. I would recommend using a ruler because the scanning process isn’t perfect. Some blocks my not turn out as you expected. However, you can easily fix this from within the game editor.

Arcade

The arcade is filled with games created by people from all over the world. This is a great place to share your own created game or find ideas for a new game that you would like to create.

In the Classroom

This game has a lot of potential for classroom use. As I mentioned above I love to engage students with digital story telling tools. For this game I have a few ideas I would like to try in the near future with my classes.

1. My first idea would be to have students create a story based on the characters from the game. They can write the story in their notebooks or create the story in the Book Creator App. Once their stories are completed students would work together to design the levels based on their stories. This would be a great way for students to combine their stories and games in to one. In the end, we would screencast our iPads and students would give a virtual tour of them game, explaining how it connects to their story.

2. Another idea would be for students to create levels and share them with students abroad. Students from other countries would share their levels (Through drawings or the Arcade). Finally, students would create stories from their levels that were share with them.

As you can see, the app has a lot of potential. I am hoping for more characters and level designs to get added in the future. Also, it would be fantastic if they added the Boss characters to the level design, as well as, the ability for children to create their own characters.