Monday, May 23, 2016

Site Recommendation: JigZone

I have a range of ages and abilities that visit my computer lab every day. It's always a challenge to provide the kids with engaging content due to our limited bandwidth. There is a website that I've used more and more this year and I'd like to tell you about it. Recently I've been adding JigZone as one of the approved websites that my students are allowed to visit. JigZone is a puzzle website which has large, varied categories including themed sections such as animals or sport.

Many themed puzzles keep the idea fresh.
 It's a great site because it loads relatively quickly and provides you with lots of options. The puzzles are available from 6 to 247 pieces. I use the 20 and 48 piece puzzles with my age 5 - 9 year old students. The kids become calm and focused when working on their puzzles, which is quite unusual for my computer lab! They often choose to work on puzzles in their free time and enjoy working on their own or in partners. I keep our school Symbaloo up to date with puzzles appropriate to their learning themes.

To keep things fresh, JigZone has a puzzle of the day and also a custom puzzle feature that I haven't tried out yet. Underneath the puzzle space is some statistics about how long you have taken compared to the average and the fastest time - I plan to introduce these to my students as they progress.

A screenshot of the puzzling interface on the JigZone website.
They have some ads on the puzzle page. The top ad is an unobtrusive banner but the bottom ad is a square video which autoplays and enlarges to a full-screen video advert when you mouse over it. For my young (and even older) students this is a huge temptation to play with. We constantly do talks about the purpose of advertising and remind our kids about our limited bandwidth, which means running a full-sized video ad is not the best idea. 

Despite the adverts, JigZone offers a great puzzling experience for my students.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Franschhoek Literary Festival: Winnie the Witch

My school is a stone's throw from the little town of Franschhoek. This is a most exciting week, as the Franschhoek Literary Festival is happening. A lucky off-shoot of that is that we get very exciting literary guests during the Literary Festival. Each grade gets a different author or illustrator who comes and talks to them. This year, one of the guests who will be visiting our Grade 1 class is Korky Paul, the illustrator of the Winnie the Witch books. Winnie the Witch is very popular here at Bridge House School, so we are all very excited to meet Korky Paul.

In IT this week, the Grade 1s got into the spirit of things by helping Winnie the Witch unravel some Witchy Words. I created an MS Publisher template that, when opened, looked like this:

A mixed-up magical mess.

I've put a download link at the bottom of the post if you would like to download the free the template.

Winnie the Witch, I explained to the kids, had sent us a message. The problem was, though, that her magic has mixed-up the words and made them all witchy. Their job was to use MS Publisher to untangle her message.

The Grade 1s had to click-and-drag the words around so that the four sentences made sense. We talked about clues that could help us figure out the sentence structure, such as capital letters and punctuation. We also talked about making sure our sentences were neat and tidy and no words were floating off in page. We got more familiar with the complexity of clicking-and-dragging in Publisher, especially use of the undo arrow to fix any strange mistakes. The students enjoyed the activity and were proud to print their finished product.

Some Witchy Words proudly on display in the JP IT Lab.

Explaining what our objective was.

A close-up of two of our fantastic pieces of work.

Click here to download the free Witchy Words .pub template (Dropbox).

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Scratch: Racetrack

Second term is upon us here at Bridge House School. For our coding club, we have moved onto the ambitious task of coding games in Scratch. As themes go, gaming is the theme that is the most motivating for my students. I have 9 excited youngsters who are all eager to recreate Minecraft - I've had to sadly put things in perspective for them and explained that it might take years (!) to be able to make something as good as Minecraft.

For now, we are starting off with an excellent racing game template from CS First. Even though I'm not running my coding club through the CS First website, their resources and templates are invaluable. So far, my students are working on the following:

  • Changing sprite costumes, using the built-in library
  • Creating their own sprites
  • Sprite movement using keyboard keys (forward movement as well as left / right turn)
  • Altering the stage backgrounds to create their own race tracks
  • Populating the track with decorative sprites who have text speech

A few groups have even figured out how to program keyboard keys to change backgrounds and racers between costumes. This is an enormous amount of learning in a couple of weeks. Next week I hope to tackle the exciting element of sound, if sprite 1 touches sprite 2 then a chosen sound will be played. The students are very excited about the idea of adding 'crash' sounds when a racer touches another. The finale will be to play each other's games - a true test of how 'good' their creation is.

As the race track has been set up to be a two-player game, I have asked them to try and work in pairs. This has been extremely effective - this age-group codes better in pairs because they are able to work on their problems out loud. They have a built-in person to discuss the code with and two sets of eyes to spot coding problems. The only slight downside is that we have an odd number in our club, so I have to encourage them to try out working as different pairs.

Once we get tired of the racing track idea we can try and move onto a maze game. All of the guides for these activities are included on CS First, so I highly recommend going through their material to see what interests you.

Our young coders get to grips with the race track using Scratch.