Building a smarter computing culture in Fargo, ND
I had a video snafu yesterday at Madison, so this field note will have to suffice. Quick recap: day one we explored, day two we followed instructions and made letters; started on names. Day three we stayed with instructions and made colorful patterns. Day four (March 8), the students chose shape 27 from the 40 math shape challenge to try and code without instructions. Four students present: three girls (5th Grade), one boy (4th grade). Our four most regular, engaged students.
The male student, despite a lot of complaining about this activity being too hard, and despite many mistakes in his code early on, stuck with the activity and eventually succeeded in producing the correct shape. He was resistant to the idea that he would have to code the whole shape (essentially a T or cross). He kept trying to code a few lines, and then he would run the code, and the Turtle would head off in the wrong direction. Once he accepted that he would need to code the whole thing, he, on his own, grabbed the “repeat” block and put it the top of his chain and set it to 50. He was surprised that he still got only one image, and I did have to prompt him to think about the center point as a pivot point, and then I asked him what degree of angle he would need to add at the bottom of the code string in order to make 27. He said “5” and I said “higher.” He said “10” I said “higher” and he said “no way” and just started experimenting with 5, 10, 15, 20–he simply wouldn’t believe that 45 was the degree needed. This showed me that he wasn’t really thinking mathematically (or simply doesn’t have this knowledge yet), but in the process of trial and error, he created many really interesting shapes, and he also carried over the lesson from day 3 and started mixing in various colors, resulting in quite stunning shapes. With the support of our co-operating teacher, he eventually relented, tried 45, got the correct shape (with multiple colors), and went home pretty happy.
I gave him most of my attention because two of the girls were sort of half-heartedly working on the problem and one was not working on the problem much at all. She had discovered how to write text with Turtle the day before, so she was making her own shapes and adding text. After about 30 minutes her computer died and she wandered off; she even left a bag behind.
Once the boy had more or less figured things out, I was able to give the two girls more attention, and out of the two, one was more focused than the other. This girl is often the most focused in the group; she had been on day 3, when she worked more independently. Once I got between her and the less focused girl, we finished the code together and she created shape 27, but she did not really figure out how to use the repeat block–she just kept running the code–and we ran out of time. Her partner stuck with us all the way, but didn’t get very far with coding the shape.
Some technical notes: the kids are working on Netbooks, and the screen is so small that long strings of code are hard to work with. The boy also said at one point “these keys are awful” as he pounded away on his project. The kids are getting better at the start up routine, some catching the boot on the first try. One got a “keep error” when trying to save her work.
We could keep going ad in-finitum with Turtle Blocks–there are some stunning pieces of computer art produced with Turtle Blocks, there are games that could be written, there is Python coding that can be incorporated. We will come back to Turtle Blocks when we try to pull together some portfolios at the end of the year, but I think we are almost ready to move on. I suppose we need to check, however, and make sure that students have an item in their journal they can “show” and we might want to set up the initial portfolio next session to make sure that all works. Then we might try to head back in to E-toys, or take a little detour in to Memorize.
The XO deployment in Rwanda has a nice week-by-week curriculum for working with Turtle Blocks–very similar to what we have been doing.