March 2, 2017 by wendy
Super Scratch Programming Adventure! as the title implies combines programming with adventure. It not only teaches the reader how to program in Scratch, but also engages the reader with an action-packed storyline.
Scratch is a graphical programming language that is designed for young people and other beginning programmers. Using Scratch, you can design and create interactive animations, stories, games, art, and music by simply dragging and dropping coloured blocks. You can even upload your projects to the Internet to share with friends, family, and people from all over the world.
A solar storm unleashes the Dark Wizard from the digital world. He and his Dark Minions attempt to take over the real world, but Scratchy, Mitch, and the Cosmic Defenders are determined to protect the universe from the Dark Wizard’s plans.
The story progresses through a series of stages, where each stage presents a challenge from the Dark Wizard. Scratchy, Mitch, and the Cosmic Defenders must solve each challenge using directions from a secret manual. The reader must follow the directions to help complete the programming missions, and protect the balance of the universe.
What I love most about this book is that it combines literacy with computing. I used this book with a class of 10 students between ages 8 and 10, and they were all captivated by the story. Because the story gave the programming projects purpose, my students were motivated to complete each mission, and they were excited to find out what would happen next.
The story also blends learning from other subject areas. In one stage, the Dark Wizard takes control of the Louvre museum and all of its art in Paris. To complete the programming challenge, my students created a quiz with questions about the Louvre and the Mona Lisa.
Each programming mission demonstrates a different type of Scratch project and comes with easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions. In this way, the projects cover a wide range of concepts. They also introduce a variety of features and tricks in Scratch.
What I personally enjoyed when working through the programming projects with my students was the movie references. There are references to Indiana Jones, The Matrix, and Harry Potter. Although the book is designed for young learners and beginning programmers, I think everyone, from young to old, from beginner to expert, would have fun with this book.
My only concern is that there is a big leap in terms of length from the first project to the second. The first project can be completed in one sitting. My students between the ages of 8 and 10 completed the project in under an hour. All of the following projects, however, are longer, and may require two or more sittings.
There are two editions of the book. One is blue and covers Scratch 1.4, which is the older downloadable version of Scratch. The other is green and covers Scratch 2.0, which includes both the online and newer downloadable versions of Scratch. Even though the second edition is more up to date, I was able to use the first edition with my students, who completed the projects using Scratch 2.0 online.
You can download the projects for this book from No Starch Press, which includes complete working projects, blank projects, custom sprites, and a brief Getting Started with Scratch guide written by the Scratch team.
The reason why they provide both complete working projects and blank projects is to support different learning styles. The complete working projects allow young learners to explore and build on the projects while the blank projects allow students to add their own programming by following the instructions in the book. In both cases, students have the opportunity to improve the scripts, and customize and extend the projects.
The website also links to additional resources for educators:
Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is written by the Learning through Engineering, Art, and Design (LEAD) Project, which was founded in 2005 by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups in partnership with the creators of Scratch at the MIT Media Lab and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
January 1, 2017 by wendy
Hello Ruby is a colourful and playful children’s book that illustrates fundamental concepts behind computers, coding, and computational thinking. It centres on a young girl named Ruby, who loves asking questions and has a lively imagination. One day, Ruby’s father leaves her five gems for her to find. She sets off on an adventure to find these gems, deciphering clues, drawing maps, and making new friends. As children and parents follow along on Ruby’s adventure, they learn helpful strategies for problem solving that apply not only to coding but also to every day situations.
Through Ruby’s adventure, children and parents are gradually introduced to computational thinking concepts. The book doesn’t cover any specific programming languages. It isn’t intended to teach children how to code. More importantly, it teaches children strategies that will help them solve problems. These strategies are not only useful for computer programmers but for everyone.
The big ideas and key concepts include understanding that big problems can be broken down into smaller ones, making plans and working with others can be helpful, and it’s important for instructions to be clear so that the end result is what everyone expects.
The best feature of this book is that each chapter comes with unplugged activities to give readers a chance to apply the concepts introduced in the chapter. The activities encourage children to use their imagination, and children and parents can experience the activities together. For example, after Chapter 2, children can design their own keyboards to learn how computers store information. After Chapter 5, children can further explore the concept of algorithms and loops by creating their own dance routines. And at the very end of the book, children can put it all together by making their own board games.
Each chapter in the book includes a Toolbox section that gives additional information for parents about the key concepts in the chapter. Parents can also find more activities on the website at helloruby.com. Overall, Hello Ruby is a fantastic resource for children and grown-ups to explore and learn about computational thinking and coding together.