Tag Archives: Scratch

Children of Support Staff learn programming

africa-code-week-tagline-date-urlFor part of our Africa Code Week participation, we wanted to provide some opportunities for children other than our students to learn some programming skills. ICS students have many opportunities to learn programming skills: in classes, in after-school activities, on our robotics team and in various events we run through the year. Students in local schools don’t get the same kinds of opportunities.

Leulseged Assefa, our MS Computer Science teacher, decided to host a session on a Saturday morning for children of our school’s support staff. It was hugely popular: the session filled quickly and staff who missed the cut-off asked for additional sessions to be held! We had nearly 30 children, from ages 11 to 17, spend several hours on a Saturday morning learning to build games and animations using Scratch. A few ICS students helped out, answering questions and making suggestions.

The children were all excited to be learning new skills and using new tools, and many asked if they could come back the next Saturday! We’re working on plans to make this a regular outreach for the children of our support staff. We’d love to see Ethiopia’s answer to Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg come out of this group of enthusiastic children!

Cross-posted from my school blog.

ICS students participate in Africa Code Week

This year the first ever Africa Code Week was conducted across the continent, aiming to get children started with computational thinking, programming, and using computers as devices to build software, not just use it. Thousands of children in over a dozen countries had the opportunity to start programming. ICS joined in this activity to help encourage our students to do the same, and we reached out to other children here in Addis Ababa to get them working with code. One week or one session will not make a programmer out of a child, but it can start the process. We’re planning to keep this initiative going through the year, not just within classes, but in fun, engaging activities outside school hours.


Cross-posted from my school blog.

Global Codeathon

JpegClick. Click. Click.

“Look what I made!” “Oh, that’s COOL!”

Click. Click. Click.

“Hey, how did you do that??” “Here, let me show you!”

The buzz in the room was tremendous. Students were excitedly working on projects individually, working together to solve problems and enthusiastically checking out each other’s work. For us adults in the room, it was a busy and fun time: helping students, giving out praise and suggestions, asking questions, pointing out other students’ success.

This past Saturday, ICS participated in the Global Codeathon, an international competition/collaborative project. Students in grades 3-6 from international schools all around the world assembled in their respective schools to build games, simulations and other programs using Scratch, a free online coding platform built by MIT to help children learn computer programming.

JpegICS students came to the ES computer lab and dove right in. They got help from Middle Schooler, Abheek, as well as from Ms Alex and Ms Heran (and myself!) but the ideas, as well as the execution, was all theirs. They added “sprites” to their programs, gave them commands to move, make noises, change their appearance, and more. They had to act in one way when clicked on by the mouse, another way when keys were pressed on the keyboard. They had to think through how they could get the computer to move and animate things the way they wanted. It was hard, but it was fun!

Meanwhile, students in schools all around the world were doing the same. We had some technical difficulties, including a complete internet outage for the first 45 minutes, which stopped us from video chatting with them, but our students chatted with them on the “backchannel” chat line, and also got to share their work in two Scratch “galleries.” They enjoyed getting comments on their games from students in other countries, and had fun trying out other students’ projects.

At the end, Ms Alex and Ms Heran brought out pizzas and juice boxes for the tired but still enthusiastic programmers. You can’t code without fuel! All agreed it was a fun day …and we’re looking forward to an even better time (with a better connection!) next year!


The student is the teacher and vice versa

“What are you waiting for? There are teachers in here who need your help!”

I hurried the students in. It was after school – most students were heading home or hanging out with their friends, but these 8th graders were sticking around to do a little extra work …teaching teachers.

For the MIT class “Learning Creative Learning,” we have to create a Scratch program about something that we do. There wasn’t a lot of detailed expectations – the point was to learn something about the program and create something. Some of our teachers who were taking this online course had no experience with Scratch, so we planned to give them some training. Rather than run a workshop with other teachers showing them how to work the controls, however, we decided it would be best if we dragooned some of the Middle School students who are taking the basic Computer Science elective for 6-8th grades. We’d have them show teachers how to use the software, raise their stature in the community, and help out the teachers.

The teachers came in one by one. They were tired – it had been a long week, with a lot of things going on. This was at the end of the day – not really the best time for teachers to start learning something new. Nevertheless, in they came. The students all sat down with the teachers, typically working one-on-one. They asked about the teachers’ assignment and showed them how to add sprites, import pictures, add sounds, and build scripts to animate the sprites. Everyone worked at different speeds and levels: some had worked with Scratch a little bit before while others were complete beginners. Nobody was an expert. The students worked patiently with the teachers, helping them when they got frustrated or lost.

Apart from the obvious purpose of helping our group get skilled enough with Scratch to start working on their assignment, we hoped to do a few things with the students and teachers. By reversing their roles, we hoped to show both teachers and students that they each have a lot to learn from each other and much to teach each other. Too often students are put in the passive role of receiving information and instruction from adults. By switching this around we hoped to show them – and teachers – that they can be active creators of information and learning. We also hoped that the students would gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the challenges of teaching. By having to deal with tired adults who are new to a system they’re familiar with, the students would see better what their own teachers sometimes have to deal with!

By the end of the hour, the teachers were moving along quite well. All had enough basic skills to work with the program, and some were well on their way to completing their assignment. The students came away with the knowledge that sometimes students know more than teachers!

Building games on a Saturday morning

The sixth grader stares intently at the screen, working the mouse and entering numbers on the keyboard. As the work progresses, a huge grin spreads across his face. He then pokes his friend, sitting next to him. “Hey!” he says, “Look what I can do!!”

On Saturday, about two dozen students, parents and teachers came to school to learn how to program. As part of the annual Computer Science Education Week which promotes the learning of Computer Science skills including programming, ICS held what may become the first of many Beginners’ Game Code-A-Thons. Using gaming as a hook, and emphasizing fun over strict programming protocols, two three-hour workshops were held to get younger students building games using the drag & drop block programming environment of Scratch and start older students learning Java code with the easy interface of Greenfoot. The goal was to learn enough of the program to build a game. Participants were given an opportunity to explore the program and see sample games and simulations. They were then walked through the creation of a simple game, and then given time to build their own games.

Nadia and Helen learn from Brendan

Turnout was not in huge numbers, but there was a decent cross-section of students and teachers from elementary school to high school. Several parent-child teams came in with both learning together and from each other.

Helen, the ES Art teacher was asking how to change the background to her Scratch program. “Can I show you?” her 3rd grade daughter, Nadia, asked. A big grin came over Helen’s face. “Oh, yes please!”

Seeing teachers become the taught was one of the many exciting aspects of the day. In the Greenfoot session, that aspect was completely on display. Adults – teachers, parents and the HS Principal – outnumbered students learning the system. They were eager learners, with various purposes – to learn programming, to build a game, to see what the fuss was about. The leaders of the session often found it challenging dealing with the diverse group. Particularly as they were students. Josh (9th grade) and Stephan (10th grade) ran the session with minimal input from me. As they worked to explain things clearly and keep things moving at a pace that suited most if not all, showing things in front and moving around to assist their students, both boys gained new insights into learning. Josh looked over at me at one point and said simply, “Mr Iglar, teaching is hard.” I looked at the principal and suggested we do more of this kind of event.

Was it worthwhile? You bet. Participants all enjoyed the sessions and expressed their appreciation of the students who led the workshops. Many were most appreciative of the fun prospect of building their own games, while a few were particularly interested in developing their ability to program in general.

Will we do it again? Definitely!