Note, this is a cross-post from my blog:
For this school year, I knew (for my 7th graders at least) that I wanted the students to be able to construct devices that modeled living systems -- especially feedback mechanisms. I firmly believe that modeling is an important skill. For a really good discussion of how models can be powerfully used to study biological systems, see Professor John Long’s work, which he calls Darwin’s Devices.
It was, in fact, Long’s work that inspired me to redesign/expand my 7th grade Science curriculum to include more extensive use of Scratch and biological modeling. In past years, I have taught my students a bit of Scratch, mostly as a presentation tool. But, as I said, I wanted to add a biological modeling component to 7th grade Science, leading to the building of some robots. So, I chose to teach Scratch way more extensively than I have in the past.
I began by identifying a small set of skills the students needed to learn in Scratch. Here is my beginning Scratch curriculum. I then gave the students a brief overview of the program and then let them go. They understood that within a short period of time they would need to have developed proficiency in this set of skills, and they got to work.
My past work with Scratch and with other Constructivist and Constructionist tools had taught me that I needed to bake in “discovery time,” and so this is what I did. The students were given several lab sessions to develop these skills. As they were exploring, they would naturally share with me and each other what they had learned.
This method of learning (being given objectives and then time to meet them, instead of everything being carefully scripted for them) was exciting and productive for most of them. Within a short period of time, most of the students has developed the necessary proficiency, and more interestingly, began to add their own spins to what we were doing. The great benefit of this type of learning is that each student can bring their own individual interests to the table.
Here, for example, is a project made by a girl who loves dinosaurs.
And here is a project by a boy who wanted to replicated Pac Man. In typical classroom situations, he is shy and retiring. However, he brought himself fully to this project, even recreating all the game sounds himself. Learn more about this project For the two or three weeks of this project, I offered before school help/working sessions. For most, more than 15 students attended, mostly just to hang out together and work. It was really something. They have asked for this to be an ongoing thing, which I see developing as a club.
The next step has involved adding sensors to my Scratch “curriculum.” The students began by using loudness to change the behavior of their sprites. Since the sound came from microphones built into the class set of laptops, the place was a little crazy for a while, while students shouted and made other sounds. Eventually, one of them figured out how to build an oscilloscope in Scratch. You can play with it here. This has been a really exciting and rewarding experience for both me and my students. More importantly, I feel like something is happening to the climate of my classroom. And, of course, I am beginning to see my students developing some computational skills and thinking.