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December 20, 2014

English stories and their scratch avatars

Delivering a good English program is a challenge in most rural schools. To make it a creative exercise at Udavi children are asked to write their own stories. I have already been working with scratch with the 7th graders and with their English teacher we decided to give our time in the holidays for children interested to create their scratch avatars.

The creation of stories into scratch makes the children convert the story into a drama and they need to choose what they want to communicate through the characters and what they want to communicate through a narrator. It also allows for children to work at various levels from those who want to do elaborate animation to those who want only characters to talk alternatively. The aspects of logical thinking is highlighted and some children did have issues when they had more than two characters and they needed to track which character is speaking and how long the other characters need to hold their silence in order not to overlap.

A further complication was when the backgrounds and scenes changed and they needed to time these also right. This got further complicated if they changed the sequence and added a few seconds to read a specific text as all timings after that would change. A couple of students found their story too complicated to implement with timing and were able to learn and use the power of Scratch being an event driven programming language and broadcasted messages when certain events were complete to keep timing manageable even with a large number of characters.

One of the more elaborate stories involved a cat that made machines, got transformed into a half-cat and half-boy, saved the world from a monster, went to sleep and had a dream about an alien attack, then waking up and seeing the dream become a reality and then defeating the aliens. No really, the story exceeds my capacity to make things up:

The 8th grade tried to use the same two characters and have adventures that went to different places. One such story had a very elaborate backgrounds that were hand crafted by the student.

I tried to put a process of students typing in what they wanted to enter as conversation text in the hope that the spell checker will catch something for them and help them learn English. Unfortunately, in the excitement of making the program new dialogues were added and old ones removed resulting in a fair number of errors. However, by and large the idea that they were creating a sort of product was in the students mind and they also made a presentation to the coordinator of the school. Most children were happy that they had something to present.

About 80% of the class who came in the holidays and started the process were able to complete their projects. Here is one in which the child struggled to complete and put in extra time to complete the story.

December 16, 2014

The finch robot : Programming (1)

Programming with Scratch has been getting more interesting with interacting with the real world with the makey-makey that was able to let the computer receive signals from bananas and vegetables. Gaurav's gift of a Finch robot gave a way for children to control something that happens in the real world.

The setup on Ubuntu 14.04/Scratch 2.0 worked with the given guide

I explained and demonstrated the sensors, played with its nose light and then we got down to making the finch move. In the initial exercise I was trying to get the children to move the finch around in a certain order, but what made it interesting was to try to move a crumbled paper ball around and put it in a basket without the Finch falling off.

The finch has two wheels that are controlled independently with (two) motors. The only input possible is a speed from -100 (backward) to +100 (forward). In order to rotate an object, for example, you need to move one wheel faster than the other. Also, since we had not figured a direct relation between the speed and a specific distance there was some guess work involved in the time that it needs to be done for.

The phases involved in solving the problem involved in drawing out what they wanted and what speeds in which wheels for how long will be involved in doing so. The wheels were a little wobbly and even when the two speeds were exactly the same the finch had a bit of a drift to one side. But, that just added to the challenge :).

I split the students in groups of 3 or 4 to allow for discussion and team work. The game was to be able to do it in the least number of attempts. I noticed that groups were not that keen on observing what another group was doing as they wanted to only follow their own program to avoid confusion. But, since my purpose was for them to start predicting the outcome I provided an incentive of an extra attempt if a group predicted the outcome accurately. This got the groups interested in examining each others work as well.
After a couple of attempts the children started to really get into the idea of predicting what a set of instructions is going to do and how to go about solving the puzzle. The reality of a paper crushed into a ball is that it didn't always move with the finch and kept things interesting. Its interesting that while children keep track of the number of tries, etc none of this really matters and the first time a ball falls into a box the children want to do the next puzzle.

The ideas of rotation, positive negative numbers, speed, timing were reiterated. In addition problem solving by prediction, verification and correcting what they were doing and the idea of learning from what happens rather than it just being right/wrong was an aspect looked into.