This summer, the children’s department at Darien Library in Connecticut offered a coding workshop for kids. Here’s an account of the program from Kiera Parrott, Head of Children’s Services at Darien Library and one of the program’s leaders.
The class takes place for 1 hour on 4 different days (so, essentially a 4-hour workshop spread over a few days). Darien offers a long series of technology classes for kids called “iKids,” and we decided to keep the “brand” of iKids and simply call this workshop “iKids Coder Camp.” That way we can offer it again, adjust it, expand it, etc., but keep the brand recognition that parents and kids already know.
When I first decided to offer a coding program, I honestly wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the kids. I began researching coding for kids. Scratch, Code Academy, Ruby on Rails… There is SO much out there and I knew I only had a 4-day program series. After fussing about with each platform and language, I decided on Scratch for several reasons:
- It’s visual. There is an immediate attraction to cute characters and fun backgrounds that straight up html just doesn’t offer.
- The kids could explore and come to understand the underlying logic of computer programming.
- They could then create something right out of the gate.
I limited the class to 6 children (we have 6 computers in our lab). It was such a popular offering this summer that we made participation a lottery. When we offered the program, I had 4 girls and 2 boys between the ages of 9 to 12.
Each class is structured in the same way: an introduction to the concepts that we will learn, time to play around with the tools, and then a challenge to help and encourage the kids to use what they’ve learned (and hopefully expand upon it). At the end of class, I also build in at least 5 minutes for free play and sharing. I found this website’s lesson plans incredibly helpful: http://www.scratch.ie/resources
Here’s how the individual program sessions broke down:
Day 1: Introductions, talked about our computer skills, what we like to do, have we ever coded before. (No–this was a first for all of the kids.) Opened Scratch and explored the Sprite folder. Explored the Motion blocks and some Controls. Challenge: Move your Sprite across the screen from left to right. Don’t let it fall off the edge!
Day 2: Spent 5 minutes looking at the Scratch site on MIT to see what other Scratch users have created. What would we like to create one day? Opened Scratch and reviewed using the Motion blocks with some Controls. Talked about the X and Y axis and how to use coordinates to move the Sprite. Challenge: Make your Sprite move in a zig-zag motion across the screen without falling off the edge. Played with some Looks blocks in conjunction with Controls. Challenge: Have your Sprite change color as it moves.
Day 3: Spent the first 10 minutes just playing/experimenting with what we had learned so far. Then, introduced the Variables and Sensing blocks. Talked about “If…then…” statements and how to nest instructions for the computer. Challenge: Put 2 Sprites on your stage and have them move around in different ways. Use an IF block and program it so that IF the characters touch, THEN something happens (they change color, make a sound, etc.).
Day 4: Spent first 10 minutes playing/experimenting with what we had learned so far. Then, continued to explore the various IF blocks and forms of nesting instructions. Also learned how to set up Lives for our Sprites and to use the Sensing blocks to take or give lives. Challenge: Put two or more sprites on the stage. Decide which sprite is your hero. Create a mini game in which you use IF statements to manage your hero’s lives. For example: IF the hero bumps into the bad guys 5 times, he dies.
We are planning on opening our T.E.A.Room (technology, engineering, arts) in September, and there we are going to offer a ton of classes, including more Scratch workshops. I am hoping to evolve the workshops into a Scratch Club (somewhat self-run by the kids.) We’ll see how that goes!