Coderetreat to Scratch adaptation experience

We are 4 volunteers of the Scratch education program, constantly looking for the new approaches and practices to be deployed for our classes. And I’m going to tell short story of exciting experience how we were adopting one of the craftsmanship coding practice for children classes of Scratch.

Ones, at software craftsmanship conference, I was one of the lucky persons to attend presentation covered Coderetreat practice. Since that it was just matter of time for me to apply this practice for our classes.

In short, coderetreat is a day-long, intensive practice event, focusing on the fundamentals of software development and design. By providing developers the opportunity to take part in focused practice away from the pressure of ‘getting things done’, the coderetreat format has proven itself to be a highly effective means of skill improvement. You can find out more at the coderetreat community site.

Here, the issues we have faced with while adopting this activity for young students:

  1. Conway’s game of life which is lying under the classical coderetreat is the excellent challenge for implementation in most programming languages, but the way how Scratch framework is built for the other kind of software.
  2. Time-slots of classical coderetreat are too long for 10–12 years old children. After 10–20 minutes they get bored with the any kind of activity and their focus need to be changed.

So, we have challenged ourselves to find the task for our students. This task should meet several criteria:

  1. It should be simple to describe and has as fewer constraints as possible.
  2. Students should get first visual results as fast as possible and then be able to develop it iteratively, This constraint doesn’t let them to loose interest to the problem.
  3. It should be many ways, how this challenge could be solved. At the same time it should be quite boring and hard to implement it by copy-past approach, to boost students creativity.

After spending couple of weeks with discussion with colleagues and children, reaching scratch constraints and possibilities, learning existing solutions and prototyping many of them with friends, our shortlist was following:

  1. Alchemy game
  2. Tic-tac-toe
  3. Some kind of pen/tortoise drawing challenge.

Then after another series of over-night discussion and dry-runs and thanks to x-mas holydays which were ahead we decided to end-up with following:

  • “Unreachable” goal of the activity is to draw beautiful snowflake using blocks of Scratch.
  • Make whole activity containing 3 by 20 minutes long coding sessions and 10 minutes retrospective sessions between them.
  • It is not supposed that project should be finished within the one session.
    Coding is conducted in pairs.
  • Before the beginning of each session pairs are reassigned randomly. Before every timeslot, the code from the last session is cleaned.
  • It is intended to force new pair to start a new solution of the same task from scratch.

In term of retrospective session between the coding sessions. It is supposed that discussion is conducted answering following questions:

  1. what was easy while last session
  2. what was difficult while last session
  3. what new approach was invented during the session

We successfully conducted it while our scratch course in EPAM Systems and get a great feedback both from children and their parents.

That was actually the plan. In reality it was almost perfect. Here some notes that allowed us to conduct it good way.

Before the first session it is good idea to start easy discussion to warmup teams. The first session is a bit confusing and students have difficulties to generate ideas. So at warmup we stimulate creativity and inspiring children for invention. Then it is important to roam around the students and cheers them. From session to session you will see the progress and it is less and less necessary to do that. Since second session you will see significant progress of interaction among the pairs. It is very notable how synergy of participants boosts their creativity.

Another point we would like to notice, that children are very straight forward creatures. If someone doesn’t like the solution offered by his mate, very probably that situation will be developed by one of 2 ways: the first one is to monopolize all the computer time, and the second — quarrel, and it is important for trainer to catch first signs of such behavior and help students get back to the constructive activity.

Yauhen Sakhin, Aliona Baltramiayuk, Aliaksandr Kavaliou, Igor Kolupaev