What seems like ages ago (possibly in the Summer) I was lucky enough to get an offer from Neil Smith (@neilnjae), at a Raspberry Jam event, to volunteer to run a Code Club in my school. This week we have finally started, for those of you who haven’t heard of it check out their site here: Code Club. The general info you need to know is Code Club offers children the opportunity to learn how to use Scratch, a free piece of software, to allow children to understand the basics of programming.
We had previously decided that rather than open the club up to everyone, for the first term we would offer it just to Digital Leaders. This was partly due to us getting used to how the club would work and being able to easily control numbers, and partly as a treat for the Digital Leaders who have worked so hard up to now.
The first session kicked off well, the children entered the ICT Suite and all the computers they logged on to still had Scratch installed on them (this was less likely than you might think). All the children had a handout and once I’d sourced some pens (amazing how hard to find they can be in a school!) they were off. As it was the first week, Neil decided to take them through it at a similar pace although this didn’t stop shouts of ‘Does it have to be in the hall? Could it be at a disco’ or ‘Can I call it Bob instead of Herbert?’
I have not really had much of a chance to experiment with Scratch so I joined in as well with one of my Digital Leaders helping me along when I’d gone to help someone and not heard an instruction. I have to say that I was really impressed with it. Whilst at university I had learnt some Java and PHP so I have some idea of programming and the coloured Jigsaw pieces that Scratch uses were so simple. Not only this but they kept the style of code with instructions ‘wrapping’ around others, like you would use brackets, and including language such as ‘loops’ and ‘variables’. After just 40 minutes most of the children had a working game where a cat had to catch a mouse with a variable controlling score.
One of the children near me had worked most of the way through the handout but was complaining that the cat moved too slowly, and therefore the game was too easy. I asked her if she could explain what the blocks she had dragged into place meant. She read through them explaining that when the game was started Felix (the cat) would forever look to the mouse pointer and move 10 steps. Then if Felix was touching Herbert (the mouse) the code would tell the other page ‘caught’ wait 1 second and then finish. After this explanation I asked her how she could make it faster and she suggested changing the number of steps which Felix could move. This obviously worked and she was pleased, I was even more pleased, as without thinking about it I had watched someone who had never done coding before modify code independently without even thinking about it! The next learning curve was when she set the steps to ‘1000’ which was always off the screen, meaning that the player never actually saw the cat as it marched passed the mouse every time, again she was able to identify the problem and rectify it.
By now it was time to end the session, we were hoping that the children were going to be able to upload their games to the Scratch website where they’d be able to see them at home, however, our school firewall seemed to be blocking it. We have since found a solution but our technician hasn’t managed to implement it yet, if anyone else is looking you can find a help sheet here.
The club went by in a mad frenzy but a lot of fun was had and the next day I had children asking if they could blog about it and share what they’d been doing. I am sure week 2 will go with just as much excitement, although this time I should really be marking instead of joining in the fun…we’ll see how that one works out!
You can see Neil’s blogpost about Code Club here:Code Club
You can also see one of the children’s posts about Code Club here: Code Club #1