Time to MoleMash!

Azita is a technology teacher at the Andrews Middle School in Medford. This is her computer classroom:

Azita's classroom.
Azita’s classroom.

Kim, Akira and I visited with her today as she was introducing the MIT MoleMash tutorial to her students. They had previously worked on the MIT Paintpot tutorial.

Most of her students already had PaintPot working. Azita encouraged them to move on to MoleMash—if they needed to go back to PaintPot later, they could do that.

As with all of the other project classrooms, students were working in pairs.

The students had already been introduced to the Canvas in PaintPot. MoleMash introduced several new concepts—a sprite component inside the canvas, a clock component (which triggers the mole’s movements), and random numbers.

All four of us went around and worked with the students in small groups. Most of them were able to construct the interface elements for MoleMash. When I had the opportunity, I described the clock and random movement code to students directly, rather than having them copy it out of the tutorial.

I worked with two students in particular, Jamal and Raul, who were delighted when they got the mole jumping around! Then I encouraged them to explain their code to other students.


Extending the text-to-speech app

Mike is an engineering teacher, so his kids work in a spacious lab with lots of work areas, not just computers:

Mike's engineering classroom at Andrews Middle School
Mike’s engineering classroom at McGlynn Middle School

This was Mike’s 7th day into the Pathways in CS curriculum. Some of his students continued work on their versions of the MIT TalkToMe demonstration text-to-speech app, while others began the MIT Digital Doodle app. Like the other project classrooms, students were working in pairs, and midway through the class period, Mike asked them to “switch drivers” so that all students had mouse/keyboard time.

Some of his students were taking TalkToMe in fun directions. One pair of girls was working on “virtual boyfriend” app. When you pressed the button on the screen, the app would tell you a story in a deep British accent.

Another group was working on a Fortune Teller. Using App Inventor’s random number generator, the app would answer “Yes” or “No” to the question you typed in. Their code looked like this:

Fortune teller code—depending on the length of your question, you're more or less likely to get a “Yes” as the answer.
Fortune teller code—depending on the length of your question, you’re more or less likely to get a “Yes” as the answer.

The kid named Simon had keyed in the question—“Simon is awesome.” At first, their number range was from 1 to 50, so the app was mostly saying “No.” I encouraged them to think about how likely it was to say yes or no. At first they thought it was just random—or equally likely—but then the realized they were getting lots more No’s then Yes’s, and changed the range from 1 to 25. (The threshold between No and Yes is the length of the question-string. I had previously helped them with the length block.)

After class, Mike showed me his 15-session lesson plan for the project. He is taking notes after each session as to what’s actually been accomplished each day. Here’s the plan:

Mike class Mar 17_2

In the next class, he’ll be helping student learn about audio files, and getting them thinking about their final apps.

Doing the Digital Doodle

Debbie’s class has the computers arranged in rows, like this:

Debbie is using this computer room in the Andrews Middle School.
Debbie is using this computer room in the McGlynn Middle School.

All of the students were working in pairs.

In her class today, the students had built the MIT “Digital Doodle” tutorial, which lets you draw on the tablet using a Canvas component (see http://explore.appinventor.mit.edu/sites/all/files/hourofcode/DigitalDoodle_2perpage.pdf). The key bit of code looks like this (from Page 7 of the tutorial):

Code from MIT Digital Doodle tutorial PDF.
Code from MIT Digital Doodle tutorial PDF.

They all had it working. So then I asked them, can you get it to draw a different color?

A few of the students figured it out. Here’s the code from one of the groups:

Adding color to the Digital Doodle app with the Set Canvas PaintColor method.
Adding color to the Digital Doodle app with the Set Canvas PaintColor method.

The new part is the “Set Canvas PaintColor” command, plus the use of a color block.

I asked the students who figured it out to share the solution with each other.

Creative Commons images and teamwork

In Dawn’s classroom today, students were working on pairs on Macs. Here’s a photo of her lab (the kids had already left when I took the photo):

Dawn's classroom

She was leading a lesson that was projected at the front of the room, so all of the kids could see what she was doing. (She was standing off to the right side of the room, working on her own Mac.)

Dawn had the kids learn how to do safe searches by including the phrase “Creative Commons” in your search. She told them this will provide images that they’re allowed to use in their apps—even if they want to sell them in the Google Play store! She gave them an example of “creative commons pizza,” which produces results like this:

Creative Commons pizza search

Yum—when is lunch time!

Then she showed them how to right-click on an image and save it to the students’ project folders. This was trickier than it sounds, because most of the computers had that Apple mouse with the scrolly-wheel and no obvious right button! So students had to Control-click to get the pop-up menu with the “Save Image As…” dialog!

Dawn made a worksheet for kids to follow. It looked like this:

Dawn's worksheet for kids to search and save images.
Dawn’s worksheet for kids to search and save images.

Previously, Dawn had done a session with students where they brainstormed about what makes a good partner. Here’s what the class produced:

Dawn's class brainstorms about good partnerships!
Dawn’s class brainstorms about good partnerships!

Overall, today’s lesson was skill-building for when kids move on to making their own apps.

Rugged tablet cases and tablet cart

I visited the schools for the first time since the project has been running!

Which reminds me of one other part of the tablet story—rugged cases and the cart.

You definitely need drop-proof cases for the hardware—or at least, highly drop-resistant ones. We got these from Bobj:

Bobj rugged tablet case

Here’s a link to them on Amazon. They cost about $22 ea. Definitely worth the money to protect a $150 tablet.

The other part of the story is the tablet cart. It organizes all 20 of the classroom tablets. We numbered each tablet and each slot, so kids know where to put their tablets back. When Debbie’s class was over, she called them up by groups—1 through 5, 6 through 10, etc. so kids wouldn’t get too much in each others’ way putting the tablets back.

The cart cost about $1000. It has all the chargers installed with individual USB cables tied in place for each slot. It’s on wheels, it’s solid, and it locks. Totally necessary.

tablet cart

ASUS MeMO Pad 7s!

We decided to standardize on the ASUS MeMO Pad 7 for the first year of our project. This tablet has a good combination of a decent screen, solid build, and reasonable price.

One key feature of these tablets is that they have regular micro-USB ports for charging, and they will charge when plugged into a computer. Kids can use them all day plugged in and they’ll stay charged. Samsung tablets will only charge from their special adapters, and the 7″ Google Nexus tablet (otherwise our first choice) is no longer being manufactured.

We bought the MeMO Pads from a tech integrator, together with charging carts for each classroom.

The exact model is the ASUS MeMO Pad 7 ME176CX.

ASUS MeMO Pad 7 in a rainbow of colors (I think we just got the black ones.)
ASUS MeMO Pad 7 in a rainbow of colors (I think we just got the black ones.)

An overview of the Pathways in CS project

Middle School Pathways in Computer Science project design diagram
Middle School Pathways in Computer Science project design

Our project is a collaboration between two adjacent urban school districts—Medford and Everett, MA—and the computer science department at UMass Lowell.

We’re working with district teachers, introducing them to computing for social good using MIT App Inventor, and supporting them in developing a 15- to 20-hour curriculum that they’re bringing to their middle school students.

There will also be week-long summer camps for the students who are part of the project during the school year, and in September 2015, a project showcase to highlight work accomplished and get the next cohort of students excited about participation.

For the first project year, we recruited five teachers (three from Medford, and two from Everett), and we ran a series of 10 professional development meetings on Tuesday afternoons starting in October.

These teachers are just about ready to begin project implementation in their classrooms—if only it would stop snowing!