By Vera Sarina
Imagine Grade 7 Math classroom, during the last two weeks of June. Report cards are done, the curriculum has been covered. It is time to do something fun with your students! Two years ago I had an idea, “What about introducing my students to coding and at the same time doing a review of the main mathematical concepts learned in Grade 7?” And it was easily done thanks to the guys from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab who developed Scratch, a free visual programming language.
A short note about my personal experience with coding. I was extremely lucky to learn the basics of coding from Seymour Papert himself through one of his workshops many years ago. Since then I have been coding using different coding languages with my students in different Grades, schools and even countries. Seymour Papert’s original idea of programming for kids (coding a turtle on a black screen) has been evolved and branched through many iterations (PC Logo, Microworlds, Smalltalk, Squeak to name the few). These days Scratch is the most developed and used coding language for students in the Intermediate division and it is easily accessible on all devices.
Before I started my coding “unit” I had developed step-by-step instructions on how to code a few computer games and animations (“Hide and Seek”, “Pong Game”, “Maze Game”, “Knock-Knock Joke”, “Say Hello to your Twin”). The students had to make these games by following the instructions. They could (and were strongly encouraged) to change anything and everything in the suggested codes (in “Scratch language” it is called “remixing”). In a week, my students were coding beyond the activities that I had prepared for them. They would come up with some idea of a new game/animation and code it with my and (mostly!) their peers’ help. Coding comes naturally to the kids!
As for my goal of a year-end Math review, the students were doing it without even noticing. They were applying the math concepts from Grade 7 by incorporating them in their codes. Here are some examples:
- Students used the “move” tag with negative numbers to make their sprites (the characters in Scratch) move backwards:
- Students had to declare variables and work with them to keep the scores in their games:
- To move a sprite into a specific spot on the screen students had to work with the Cartesian coordinates
- Students worked with angle measurements to turn their sprites: or
Fast forward two years, and the wonderful people from the Scratch team now have all the material for your coding+review unit embedded in the Scratch stage. I suggest that you look at the following steps and have a productive and enjoyable last weeks of June:
- Open Scratch https://scratch.mit.edu/, click on in the top bar. The Scratch stage will open. On the right you will see the list ofgames/activities. If you don’t see them click on in the right-upper corner of the screen.
- Make your students go through the first introductory activity
- Choose the games from the list you want your students to make. Assign them following the suggested order.
- Have fun!
Vera Sarina is a Lecturer at Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.