Can coding students learn creativity through theatre?

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IMG_0480Over the past few winter and summer vacations, we have hosted coding camps. In our first year, we introduced our primary students to coding through unplugged and iPad activities.(Blog link) In January 2017 we hosted a Littlebits camp. Both camps were extremely successful, and we managed to get our students excited about coding.

However, this summer I was hesitant to host a new coding camp. One of the main reasons was that I had started a Saturday coding class with 5 of my students. But the main reason for not starting the camp came from what I learned from the last two camps. Korean children are very dependent and lack creativity and problem-solving skills.

During the first two camps, students struggled with generating their own unique ideas and constantly asked for assistance while debugging. They were afraid to make mistakes and continued to ask “Is this right” during each activity. This dependence comes from an educational system that is very teacher centered. Also, students are taught that test scores are most important and the process or the journey is not. Therefore, I decided this summer I was going to shake things up and do something that was outside their comfort zone as well as mine.

Theatre Camp 

The idea to host a theatre camp came from my visits to a local international school. There, drama class was an important part of student learning. Teachers at the school noted that children build confidence, creativity, focus, accountability, teamwork, and many other skills in drama class. While this was exactly what I was looking for I still had one problem. I’m not a drama teacher, and I had very little experience in teaching acting or theatre.

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So, I did what I alway dowhen learning a new skill, I read and watched everything I could about theatre and how to teach theatre. My research lead me to two books by Denver Casado, Teaching Drama: The Essential Handbook: 16 Ready-to-Go Lesson Plans to Build a Better Actor and Drama Games for Kids: 111 of Today’s Best Theatre Games.

The first book was a step by step guide to 16 complete theatre lessons. Each lesson consisted of a warm-up, skill building activities, and reflection. Each lesson focused on 1 or 2 different theatre skills, like building an ensemble or movement and space. The lessons and warm-up were easy to follow and thankfully there were numerous samples on YouTube to help.

The camp ran for 4 days from 10am-12pm. We spent the an hour and a half outside and 30 minutes inside. We would have spent the full two hours outside but around 11:30 we lost the shade.

I followed each lesson from Casado’s book pretty closely, making adjustments on the fly. I really enjoyed watching kids be kids. Korean children spend most of their day in a classroom hovering over worksheets. I was happy to offer them a different kind of learning experience. One of the biggest challenges was keeping the boys from getting out of hand. There were only two boys out of eight kids so pairing them with a girl was tough. However, the girls weren’t unconformable working with the boys. In fact, they were very encouraging.

IMG_0321At the end of each class, we headed back into the classroom to write our reflection journals. I gave students 2-3 specific questions based on the theme of the activities. I adapted the questions from Casado’s book to fit the English level of the students. Also, we spent a few minutes discussing the questions and key vocabulary.

On the last day of the camp students worked in two groups and wrote their own pantomime movies. They’re goal was to tell a story using only pantomime. After filming each movie the students worked in pairs to edit the movies in iMovie.

Parent Reactions

About month before the camp I held a parent meeting with some of the parents of my English students. The goal of the meeting was to discuss our current coding classes. However, I decided to introduce the theatre camp at this time to this group because these parents more open minded than most Korean parents I have dealt with over the years.

The parents were pretty receptive to the idea, and all of my coding class students were signed up. However,  I heard that some parents weren’t too happy with the camp because they didn’t fully understand what their children were learning through the different activities. I’m guessing that this came from the reactions or explanations of their children. For example, when I asked the kids about what they did in the camp they said: “We played a lot of games!” Now that might be ok, but you have to understand that in Korea, many parents don’t see the value of learning through games. So, if I want this camp to be a regular event, I will have to host another parent meeting to show them exactly the different skills their children learned as well as explain the benefits of play.

Future Camps

I am currently planning Season Two (as my wife calls it) of our theatre camp. My original idea was to go more into script writing and filmmaking. My goal was to introduce students to the different aspects of making a short movie. However, from past experience, I learned that students weren’t that comfortable in front of the camera. Hence we’ve made many podcast stories in the past. On the other hand, I do believe they would benefit from learning how to write a script, act, direct, and edit a movie.
I chose to use something that I know will get all my students excited about movie making! MINECRAFT! The up and coming update for Minecraft Pocket Edition, will make movie making and exciting and fun reality!

Look for a future post once I have the camp planned.

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3 Ways to get the most out of your Sphero robots in the classroom!

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MarkHerringnz

Last week I was helping the Macgear team demonstrate the Sphero SPRK (Schools, Parent, Robots and Kids) robots to educators at the NZ Ulearn Conference in Rotorua. Here’s a short vid I made that shows some of the snippets of what we were up to for the 2 days.

We use these robots in our STEM workshops with teachers and they’re one of my favourite STEM tools to use; I’ll explain why in a later post. Here’s a link to our upcoming events page where you can see the dates and venues of some STEM workshop days coming up. (Let me know if your schools would be interested in hosting!)

Here are 3 ways to make sure you’re getting ‘learning bang’ for your buck with your Sphero.

1.The teacher is ALWAYS key!

Just like every learning situation, the role of the teacher is paramount. And not in a central, dominant way…

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iTunes U and Bloxels

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FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH ITUNES U

At the beginning of August I opened a small but special computer science class for my daughter and one of my English students. My goal for this class is to provide the two girls with a variety of technology experiences. I am not following a pre-made curriculum. I am building the curriculum as I go.

For the past few weeks the girls have worked on game design using Bloxels. o help with game design we used a design course made by Coby Reynolds, a fellow Bloxels Ambassador. It was also a chance for us to use iTunes U for the first time in class.

Bloxels iTunes U course designed by Coby Reynolds

Bloxels iTunes U course designed by Coby Reynolds

The course is broken into 5 sections, with each section having 2-3 assignments. Students assume the role of a game designer working for a pretend game developer. In the first lesson we dicussed different games and why kids liked to play them. We also, dicussed what makes games fun. Also, in this first section we setup our portfolios in Book Creator. Students would use Book Creator to document their assignments throughout the course.

DESIGNING AND PLANNING

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There were five activities in the design and planning section: 1. What makes a good game? 2. Design Brief 3. Back Story and 4.Sketching. In the first assignment the girls were asked to create a mind-map of the games they liked. Since we covered this topic in our first dicussions I had the girls jump to the third activity and use the mind map to plan their background stories. Digital storytelling is something a great way to engage young writers so I jumped at the chance to get the girls to write a backstory for their games.

The next activity (Design brief) offered another chance for writing. Since we’ve covered persuasive letter writing in my English classes the girls were able to breeze through this activity.

We decided to skip the final activity (Sketching the levels) only because the girls were quite familiar with Bloxels. However, the girls wanted to sketch their characters before creating them in the app.

CREATING

With our characters created it was time to build our games. We have five boards so the girls had two boards each to work with. The boards are still my favorite part of Bloxels. The hands on experience adds so much to the game. I showed the girls how easy it was to combine levels by sliding boards together. I also reminded them that the story blocks (My favorite) were a critical part of their ability to tell a story within the game.

After designing the basic layout, the girls tested their games. This is a really exciting part of the game design process. Asia and Katy’s faces lit up when they saw their characters come to life in the world that they created! However, my students are perfectionists so they quickly found flaws in their games and returned to the layout to tweak and modify their games.

Asia and Katy use the Bloxels boards to build their games. 

Asia and Katy use the Bloxels boards to build their games.

BLOXELS 1.4 UPDATE

We were just about finished our games when Bloxels released a new and exciting update! Besides the cool cartoonish design update the addition of the Brainboard really excited the girls. Being able to give special powers to the enemies was a huge game changer. Now the girls wanted to add Boss fights to the end of their levels. We had to add an additional class just for this activity!

VALUATING THE AUDIENCE

Now that our games were completed it was time to share and evaluate each other’s games. With only two students in the class this was a quick and rewarding process. The course called for the girls to make a graph but like I said with only two students the graph would not be very telling. Instead the girls played each other’s games and gave specific feedback about, playability, difficulty, and appearance.

ADVERTISE

The final lesson in the course was to create a game trailer. We’ve created numerous book trailers and movie clips with iMovie so the girls decided to use iMovie to create their game trailers. We watched a few online trailers just to get an idea of what game trailers looked like. The girls were pretty happy with the final results.

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OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

The setup of iTunes courses is a little challenging for young students. I would have liked the interface to have been a little more user friendly. However, with some assistance my students were able to figure out how to navigate through iTunes U.

The girls loved working with Bloxels. They enjoyed every aspect of game creation. They spent most of their time on character design but other students in the past have spent more time on other areas. As a teacher it was very enjoyable to work with a tool that engages students so well. Even though, we spent about 4 hours in total over the course of a month creating our games the girls were enthusiastic about the game design from the beginning to end of every class.

FUTURE LESSONS 

In the near future I hope to adapt this lesson with Minecraft PE. I believe that students could create mini games or adventure stories by following a similar lesson. Also, this lesson would work well with different coding apps like Hopscotch.

Bloxels Camp Day

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This summer I decided to hold a coding camp for my elementary students. The camp was filled with a variety of hands on and computer based activities. On the second day of the camp students made stories with Bloxels.

The goal of the Bloxels lesson was to integrate storytelling and game design. Students arrived early to camp so they had time to read through the Bloxels guide book. They concentrated on the purpose of each block and they read a little about how to create a game.

STORYBOARDING 

Students worked individually on storyboards. I asked them to create an adventure story, but I did not give them any more prompting. I wanted them to create a story that was their own. After completing the storyboards I introduced the Bloxels App and boards. I showed students some examples of games and I modeled how to create a simple game. On the back of their storyboards, students planned out their levels.

BLOXELS BOARDS 

One of the biggest attractions of Bloxels was the physical boards. Technically, you don’t need the boards, everything can be done in the app. However, in my experience, students really enjoy this part of the building process, and if done correctly it can encourage a lot of communication between students. I will admit that I made the mistake of having students work individually on this task. I was worried that my students would have difficulty sharing the iPads. Also, I wanted everyone to have a lot of time with the boards and apps. Next time I would want to have more boards and blocks available (We had 5 boards and 6 students). With more boards and blocks, students could work in teams building levels and characters but use their own iPads. Another problem we faced was space. With the Bloxels boards you need a lot of room for kids to combine boards and build games. We didn’t have enough blocks so I was forced to squeeze six students around a table built for 4.

BLOXELS APP 

I am happy to say that it only took a little bit of modeling before students were on their own creating their games. I stayed close by to offer tips on building and animating but students caught on pretty quick and they helped each other figure out the different aspects of game development.

REFLECTIONS

We spent 2 hours storyboarding, planning, and building. However, the next time I will schedule 2-3 days (2 hour blocks) instead of one 2 hour block. My students had a blast building and playing their very own video games. It was the highlight of the coding camp. Whenever, we would take a quick break everyone wanted to work on their Bloxels games. After discussing their games with them I realized that they didn’t make the connection between their storyboards and their Bloxels game. The characters they created were based on the characters from their stories but the setting and game play were random and unrelated. I believe this happened because we didn’t spend enough time discussing how they would transition from a story to a game. I don’t think that Bloxels was a good fit for coding camp. However, I do believe that Bloxels would fit in a digital storytelling camp! In a storytelling environment, students would have more time to develop their story elements.  Also, we could commit more time understanding game development. In the end students would have the required knowledge and skills to bring their stories to life through a video game.

Volcanos & Convergent Boundary Project with Minecraft PE (Updated)

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What a fantastic idea for MCPE and Volcanoes!

David Lee EdTech

How It Started

Mrs. Y asked me if we could incorporate Minecraft PE into her plate tectonics & volcano unit. I thought it would be great to have students  create a diagram of a volcano and a plate tectonic boundary.

Here is a short description of what we did for the project:

1.  Research Specific Boundary and Volcano

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I created a graphic organizer with Google Slides that contained the objectives of the project, links and videos of grade-appropriate resources, and student work examples.

2. Find an Appropriate Minecraft Seed

According to MinecraftSeeds.co,  a seed is a specific number that generates a particular world. Seeds allow players to share unique worlds that they find with one another. If all your students type in a specific seed number when creating their local game, they would all generate the same world. Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 9.29.17 PMI googled “extreme hills seeds” for a world that would…

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Coding Summer

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Summer Coding Projects

Background

Before explaining our summer coding projects I should explain a little about education in South Korea. First of all students attend school from March 2- February 28. They have a summer break from the end of July until the end of August. Their winter break starts at the end of December until the beginning of February. Unlike North America, Korean students spend their vacations attending different private academies. For example, my daughter attends piano, violin, math, English, science, and badminton classes during the week and on the weekends. My wife and I own and run our own private English Academy. We see students 1-3 hours a week in small classes of 4-6 students per class. I should also mention that we use a class set of iPads. Summer is a great time to do special projects with my students. This summer we decided to explore coding!

Apps 

Because I teach grade 1-9 I had to introduce coding with many different apps. For my primary students I started with Kodable.

  
Kodable was a simple but fun way to introduce coding concepts to young students. I didn’t explain to the students how to play. I wanted them to enjoy the experience without knowing they were actually learning computer science. 

Scratch Jr. 

  
The next step was to formally introduce coding to my students and Scratch Jr. was the perfect app to start with. The Scratch Jr. website offers some great curriculum resources to get you started. http://www.scratchjr.org/teach.html I began by walking students through the basics of the app. I showed them how to add and edit characters and backgrounds. Next, I introduced the coding blocks. Each class I introduced more and more blocks. In the end the students created a story based on the storybook we were reading at that time. Scratch Jr. was a great introduction to coding. It didn’t take long for my students to master it and push the app to its limits. 

Hopscotch 

  
The next logical step was to introduce Hopscotch. Hopscotch uses a similar blocky coding format as Scratch Jr. however is it more advanced. Hopscotch offers numerous in app tutorials for students to follow to create games, 3D puzzles, shapes and many other exciting projects with coding. 

We started by creating different shapes. My students were quick to figure out the different shapes because of their strong math skills. As you can see from the above photo, they combined the different shapes to create a house. Once they were comfortable with shapes I challenged them to add a background and other objects to complete a picture. 

After a few classes, students moved on to the game tutorials. I was surprised how quickly and easily they completed the games, even though my students do not speak English as their first language. I only needed to assist them with finding emojis on the iPad keyboards. With their games completed I challenged them once again to upgrade their games by adding more advanced features from games that their classmates created. This was also a great way for students to teach each other. For example, students who completed the geometry dash game taught other students how to add a running score to their games. Once their games were completed students published their games so their classmates could could play them.

Coding Journals 

  My students write weekly journals and reading logs to build writing skills. To document our coding projects I wanted to create a coding journal. However, a paper notebook would not be suitable for this kind of project. A few colleagues Paul Hamilton and Richard Wells suggested I use Book Creator. My students were familiar with the Book Creator app and it would be very easy to add photos and videos of their creations. After adding photos of the code and creations I asked students to write about the process and challenges they faced when learning to code. My younger students needed more assitance with grammar and sentence, however, I was very happy with their journals. 

  

What’s Next

Our coding summer is not quite over yet. My plan is to finish with Sphero. My plan was to use the Tickle App because of its similarity to Hopscotch. However, Sphero Ed just released a simplified version of their MacroLab. In the fall I’m planning on introducing students to MinecraftEdu: Computercraft and Learntomod.