Tag: Scratch

Code Breakers Presentation Slideshow

I’ll be sharing some info on getting kids started with coding at the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Digital Learning Conference tomorrow and Thursday. The short slide show is below, as are links to all of the sites referenced (and a few more).

Summer Tech Camp Report and Reflections


Creating video game controllers using MakeyMakey.

Last week wrapped up 3 weeks of summer technology camps. These are the first for our district, and summer tech camps are something I’ve wanted to do for years. We offered students who are entering 2nd through 8th grades the choice between 2 robotics-focused camps or a week focusing on programming and innovation. Each week of camp ran from Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. until noon. Camps were offered free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Approximately 80 students attended. Each camp had 3-5 adult counselors and 1-4 high school student CITs (<–callback for anyone who is a fellow Meatballs fan).

Campers build their first robot.

Campers build their first robot.

For the first attempt, each camp went off as smoothly as I could have hoped, primarily due to my phenomenal camp staff. Students were eager and engaged, and discipline issues were few and far between (Amazing how engagement solves so many of those issues, isn’t it?). Each day started with a quick debrief, then counselors either gave a mini-lesson or simply helped facilitate as students got to work. Robotics camp students initially completed a task involving creating a zip line with Legos. They next built their first, basic Mindstorms NXT robots. By the 2nd day, students were using their robots to complete tasks such as navigating a predetermined path on a Twister game mat. Local firefighters specializing in hazardous substance removal visited students to discuss how robots might be used to assist in their work, setting the stage for campers’ final project. Campers created and programmed robots to navigate a mock city (created by our CITs) and carry out specific tasks, such as obtaining simulated radiation measurements or moving hazardous cargo to a safe area.


SISD Robotics Camp

The final week of camp focused on programming, digital media, and inventing using MakeyMakey and a variety of household items. Students started this week by creating digital movies based upon the book Zoom by Istvan Banyai. They next created short stop motion videos using a free software tool called JellyCam, which I highly recommend. Next, campers explored MakeyMakey and invented their own video game controllers by pairing the devices with a variety of items, from limes and bananas to wires and nails to Play-Do. Finally, students learned the basics of Scratch and created their own video games. An example game by one of our campers is seen below.

I wanted to share a few lessons and observations from this experience, in hopes that they might be beneficial to others planning similar events in the future. I’ve also included a few student and parent comments shared in camp evaluations. I’ve attached both the student survey and parent survey we used.

  • Plan far enough in advance to ensure a smooth, simple registration process. We faced time constraints that made this process very cumbersome. Next year, we’ll be using some form of online registration to streamline things. I’m really intrigued by the Active Networks Camp Manager, which is feature-rich and FREE for organizations whose camps are free.


    Campers created robots to complete challenges, such as detecting/removing hazardous cargo.

  • There should be a balance between structured activity and creative, explorative play. As an example, I thought that the initial robotics activities were great, but I was never satisfied with the hazardous waste project. I think I’d make that much more open-ended in the future. As one camper stated, “Make challenges more broad, less specific tasks–more thinking.
  • photo3I’m not sure about the age appropriateness of robotics activities for the youngest attendees. I felt as if many of the tasks eluded some of them, and we ended up separating older/younger campers and assigning slightly different tasks. However, one older camper requested that they “be a little more interactive with the younger kids,” and a younger camper asserted, “Little kids can do what the big kids are doing.” Even so, I’m leaning toward creating a very different, separate robotics experience for kids in 1st through 3rd grades next year.
  • I would really like to involve community members as volunteer camp counselors next year, particularly if they have relevant experience with technology (but not excluding those who do not).
  • We needed to create separate Scratch accounts for each student. My thinking was to use a single, camp login, which would put every project conveniently on the same page. Unfortunately, this resulted in chaos due to campers being constantly, unexpectedly logged off. Lesson learned.
  • Efforts should be made to contact families and remind them of camps when registration occurred weeks prior. The further from the registration date a camp was, the lower the percentage of attendance.

Parent comments:

  • “He was challenged and learned more about what computers can do.”
  • “He learned how to make anything control a computer and he’s happy with learning some programming.”
  • “I have been wanting to get my son started on tech knowledge, but I didn’t know where to start. This is a good launching point.”
  • “…make it a full week or 2 weeks at least”
  • “My child came home every day very excited about what she learned daily at camp. It’s great to hear that this camp sparked such an interest with her. Thanks!”

Overall, I was very pleased, and the many requests from parents for another opportunity next summer were very gratifying, as were the requests to incorporate more, similar experiences into the curriculum. Ultimately, I think this gave our students some valuable experiences, and we’ll hopefully see the fruits of the seeds we planted down the line.

ISTE13: Fostering Creativity and Innovation Through Technology

The Prezi and links below are from my presentation at the 2013 ISTE conference in San Antonio on June 26th.





Makey Makey



Lego Robotics for Education

Sylvia’s Super Awesome Mini Maker Show


Squishy Circuits


Hopscotch App





Matador Innovators Team


Put 17 or 18 very bright, energetic, and creative students into a room with a variety of technology tools, give them some real-world (or out-of-the world) challenges, and watch their minds get to working. That is the basic idea behind a group I’ve started in our district, the Matador Innovators Team, or MIT. And, yes, the acronym was intentional. Could there be a better school for our students to want to emulate when it comes to technology and innovation? Also, there is zero reason why students from Seguin, Texas can’t or shouldn’t put prestigious schools like MIT on their radars for the future. Sometimes, a little subliminal messaging is a good thing.


My goals in starting this club are:

  • to provide students with opportunities to have hands-on experiences with technologies that go beyond the computer lab station.
  • to develop students’ collaboration, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation skills.
  • to foster interest in STEM activities and, possibly, careers.


The team consists primarily of 6th grade students, with one 3rd and one 4th grade student participating. 6th grade was selected as the focus age group because students are old enough to be able to take on some more advanced technology tasks, but too young to typically have such tech available as a part of the regular or elective curricula. One thing that was very surprising was that we only had a single girl applicant for this first season. Without any actual research, it can’t be definitively said what the reason for this is, but it is clear that I’ve got some work to do selling the program to our girls. Students had to pay a $20 fee to participate, which will be used to purchase team t-shirts, snacks, and consumables. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have several teachers and technology staff members volunteer their time to act as group mentors.


MIT has been in the planning stages since last fall. A grant from Allstate was secured to help with the initial purchase of materials. Information about the program was disseminated through the local paper in January, and applications made available at k-6 campuses. Applications were due the first week of February, and invitations sent the following week. We had our first workshop this Monday, February 25th. Workshops will take place after school each Monday through the remainder of the school year, and are 2 hours each.


MIT technology resourcesI’ve assembled what I hope will be a good variety of technology resources for allowing students to take some inventive, creative routes to problem solving. Here is a list of the primary resources:

  • Scratch
  • Makey Makey
  • PicoBoard
  • Raspberry Pi
  • Lego Mindstorms
  • Little Things
  • Computer components

As I learned from the very first workshop, it doesn’t appear as if the traditional teacher role will be the main task for me or my other mentors, either. It became very evident as we started working with Scratch, a brief introduction was followed rapidly by students taking the software in a myriad of directions, as they explored its capabilities. Our primary responsibility then becomes providing the questions and problems to focus all of that eager energy.

The Plan

For the rest of the semester, workshop time will focus on learning the basics of the new technologies, such as how a Picoboard can be used with Scratch, practicing, inventing, and solving problems. An example project might be to create a new version of an existing title, such as Space Invaders or PacMan or creating a device that alerts when a lightbulb is left on. Much of the planning for projects will take place as we proceed, in part because the open-ended nature I’m hoping we’ll achieve makes flexibility important.

I do plan on providing updates later in the semester, including sharing student projects. Even in the first meeting, I was honestly very stunned at the complexity of some of the students’ first attempts at Scratch, so I feel as if we’re off to a great start. To get some discussion going…

  • If you had (or do have) a similar program starting (participants, technologies), what kinds of questions would you ask? What kinds of problems would your students tackle? 
  • What technologies am I neglecting to include?
  • What are you already doing to give kids similar experiences?
  • How can we do it better?

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