Friday, January 11, 2008

Student Reflections in the Class

As some of you know, I've been working with Scratch in computer class since just before Christmas. My students in the seventh and eighth grade have a bit of a programming background through our use of the Logo programming language. (Skip to paragraph six for reflections.)

We used ACSLogo for the last two years. I still like Logo, but I would say that many of the students do not put it in their top things to do in class list. Looking at my survey from class in September:

Seventh Grade Students would use ACSLogo:
38.5% (15 students) anytime
23.1% (9 students) once per trimester
7.7% (3 students) once per year
28.2% (11 students) if I must
2.6% (1 student) didn't use it as their previous school

Eighth Grade Students would use ACSLogo:
4.8% (1 student) anytime
23.1% (6 students) once per trimester
4.8% (1 student) once per year
57.1% (12 students) if I must
4.8% (1 student) didn't use it at their previous school

I probably would have went through at least a few days of Logo if Scratch didn't show up. I wanted to learn more about how the students felt about their experience with Scratch, so it was a good opportunity to teach them about Classblogmeister.

I don't have numbers, but after reviewing all their blog entries, they seemed to like it on the whole. It's a much richer environment with the ability to use graphics with the programming. It's a little more on par with the HyperLogo I used five or six years ago.

The Project

It was A LOT of work learning Scratch and putting it to a useful purpose. Since we only meet twice a week for 42 minutes, it takes a long time to finish a project. While part of the class was finishing a previous project, I had some students follow the Scratch tutorial put together by the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten group. Their Getting Started PDF file is quite good.

The problems arose in that the students didn't have a focus on creating a project. Over a weekend, I developed a simple Monkey Game. I uploaded four of the versions created by seventh graders: Monkey1, Monkey2, Monkey3, and Monkey4. They haven't gotten any love from the Scratch people (and I understand why). It took at least two and a half weeks (or 5 42-minute classes) to complete the project. Some students had to wait while others received help. They did a nice job of helping their neighbor as they waited for me. There was also the difficulties inherent in some students being out sick and needing to somehow catch up. I have 19 seventh graders a piece in two classes and 21 eighth graders.

The Reflections
Here's the wow factor for me. I know we talk about the importance of reflecting on your work. This was by no means a comprehensive reflection. What I found that amazes me is the number of students who enjoyed making the project step-by-step as a class. I would have thought more students were bored by the process. Also, every student who enjoyed the step-by-step process also felt successful at the completion of the project. These are things I would not normally have found out.

I want to build more reflection into my computer class. The blog is going to become a standard tool in the way I conduct my classes. For the last few years, I have had the eighth grade write a note in one of our last computer classes to tell me what they liked, didn't like, and would change about all their years in my class. It's too late then. One graduating class can give me a glimpse into my success with the students. These blog entries allow me to keep, change, or remove pieces of the program on the spot.

Next Up
I am now working with the fifth grade. They've never used ACSLogo with me. Several are on the school's FIRST Lego League team, though. I am approaching it in the same way as I did with the seventh and eighth. I am leading them thorough a project, but I'm doing a more simple starting project - a dress up project. If I start now with the fifth grade, by the time they are eighth graders, they will probably be able to do some amazing work. This is one of the true benefits of seeing students from Kindergarten to eighth grade. I can build skills. When I arrived, I had to do a lot of simple work (word processing, drawing skills, and the like). What we do now (at all grade levels) is much meatier The blog is going to become a staple. My sixth graders have used it all year in math class. I will certainly get the fifth grade going with Classblogmeister at the end of the Scratch project. It will give students the time they need to digest and reflect on what we just did. It will give me a view into what is and isn't working. It might give you, the reader, some background as you try similar projects.

If you read about something I'm doing that you are too, please drop me a comment. I love to look at other school work. It always points me in a direction that improves my student's work.


  1. Hi Ann,
    I just read your Twitter message and thought I'd take a look at what you're doing. I'm so glad I did. I think it's great that you're using Scratch with your students. I'm about to try it with 5th and 6th graders soon. Fun projects first but my real goal is to have them make math programs that teach others what they themselves are learning in class. I'm looking forward to seeing what your students produce as they learn to program. Really excellent work!

  2. Hello there

    I love the Scratch games you've been creating with your class. I was talking to my students a couple of weeks ago about programming and how we manage to frighten our students with complex languages, bore them with unimaginative tasks and essentially put them off the whole idea of programming. I said I thought Scratch had the potential to change that - programming for the YouTube generation. It's like stealth programming... "We're not programming - we're making a game!" I hope you post more on this project and on what your pupils make of it.

    Excellent stuff. Thank you for posting on this.

  3. Colleen:
    Thanks for the comment. I did a lot of work in Logo last year with the students using left, right, forward and repeat to create shapes. What type of math concepts are you looking for the students to share via Scratch?

    I am just finishing up a section of Scratch with my 10 and 11 year old fifth graders. I'll let you know when I post the programs on Scratch. They will be completing reflections via a blog as well.