The Coding Project

Project Description | Adapting to Other Subjects & Contexts | Teacher Reflection | Student Reflections

Students had to create a 2-minute cartoon in Italian for a toddler audience using the programming site Scratch and incorporating the language from the first four chapters of their textbook whilst exploring the parallels between learning to code and learning a foreign language

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Project Description

Context: Yr 8 Italian – beginners course

Time: 18 weeks

Learning objectives:

Language specific: students will learn the content from units 1-4 (vocab, grammar, phrases) and develop their reading, speaking, writing and listening skills in the context of the topics in the units.

Thinking dispositions: students will develop the ability to identify patterns and adapt model sentences to produce language (Italian, other foreign language or coding) independently; systematic thinking

Future work skills: students will make connections between learning the Italian language and learning code language, and will develop the ability to write simple code using Scratch; in completing the project students will acquire the future work skills of trans-disciplinary, adaptive thinking, computational thinking, cross-cultural competency and virtual collaboration.

Product:  Students create a short animation (in Italian, of course) using the programming language Scratch. The animation will published online and shared with the Scratch Online Community, and the student with the highest number of likes will win a prize.

* If students feel they have learned enough about Scratch through hurdle tasks 1 & 2, they may choose to do an animation in Stop Motion instead. Alternatively, the animation can be a remix/editing of existing cartoon segments from YouTube for which they have created a new story line and voice overs in Italian for all characters

Student Samples

his semester you are going to create a short animation (in Italian, of course) using the

Hurdle Tasks:

  1. Create ONE simple vocabulary game and ONE grammar quiz on Scratch choosing from the topics below .Your games will be published on the Scratch Community website but will first be peer critiqued.
  2. Create a simple scratch interactive story/comic strip featuring 5 characters from 5 different countries using the language from chapters 1 and 2. Use the Castle Scratch Project as a model and adapt it for your purpose by gradually making changes to the code pieces. Your interactive stories will be published on the Scratch Community website but will first be peer critiqued.

Exhibition: Cartoons will be published on the Scratch Community and on YouTube

Co-constructed Assessment Rubric

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Do you have any questions about the project description? Click here  to add them to the comments section.

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Adapting to Other Projects and Contexts

The original project was implemented in an Italian class but can be multi-disciplinary, involving , English (for writing the speech /story and for visual literacy), Music (for creating original soundtracks and exploring sound effects) and Design and Technology (for Coding) .

Ideas of single subjects

English – students can be divided in groups and create a cartoon on different sections of a text adapted to a new context (eg. modern version of Romeo & Juliet) or to visually represent a poem or as an open-ended creative writing task.

Art – students explore graphic art or can do art work created by hand to add to the Scratch cartoon for backgrounds, characters and animation.

Science – students create an animation to answer typical “WHY?” and “HOW?” questions for children (how does our hair grow? Why does it rain? Where does lightening come form?”

History – students explore a particular issue relating to a historical period or event and represent this creatively in a cartoon.

Do you have any other ideas teachers could find helpful? Click here  to add them to the comments section.

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Teacher Reflection

Most of the student reflections on The Coding Project were awful.  This Year 8 Project was a real struggle for me and caused numerous moments of self-doubt and dilemmas about my learning methodologies.

I had to follow the common Year 8 course, based on a textbook written before these students were even born. This meant I had to find a way to marry a very traditional program with my innovative methodology, and I was excited about finding a creative way to do this.  I decided to use blended learning to mix the two: I delegated an online platform to traditional teaching, which I assessed and paced with weekly quizzes, and then assigned most of class time to The Coding Project.

“Traditional” component – independent online learning

For Term 1 had provided a very structured scaffold for the independent learning of “traditional” content, and for Term 2 I continued to provide the resources but eliminated the scaffold as it had (or should have) become redundant. Unfortunately, at least 50% of students (particularly the boys) struggled with independent learning. They couldn’t remain focused and showed little or no motivation to get work done.

To encourage them, in Term 1 I allowed all students re-submit quizzes (as long as the second attempt occurred during the same lesson as the first). Many of the weak students were excited at their improvement in the second attempt, and even the stronger students would re-sit to improve their marks; however, as I had predicted, it became very time consuming and could not be sustained long-term. In addition, there was one particular student (who I had identified as being gifted in my Religion class last year) who failed at every second attempt too. I would watch him spend the lesson studying his words to no avail. These tests must have been incredibly demoralising for him, so in Term 2 instead of the option to re-sit, students could choose between a hard test (English to Italian) or an easy test (word recognition) as I wanted students like him to experience a sense of achievement.

Overall, the class’s performance in the quizzes was poor. Very few actually engaged with the online content or bothered to learn the vocab list or grammar points to be tested. Even when given time in class, they struggled. So I put all my hope into the project on which they were working concurrently.

The PBL component

They had a whole term in class to work on the script for the cartoon (time could also be used for online learning of “traditional” content – which was of course linked to the project), and then the holidays to create the cartoon and voice-over. Mid term-2 I informed students that the cartoon did not have be done on Scratch and offered two other alternatives (stop-motion and mix of existing cartoons), as the hurdle tasks from Term 1 (two language games and an interactive book on Scratch) may have exhausted the enthusiasm for coding for some students.

The progress of the script creation was very slow for some students. They appeared to be wasting lesson time and seldom asked for help, despite the fact that I was walking around the room constantly, ready to assist. I was hoping it would all come together once it was due.

We watched the finished products together as a class, and students offered warm and cool feedback to each other. As always, I was impressed at their competence in giving constructive criticism. As expected, some cartoons were poor, many average, but a few were spectacular and one in particular was outstanding – it actually looked like it had been done professionally.

When I got the students to reflect on their learning, their comments were so harsh. Many wrote that they had not learned anything and complained that I had them doing things that did not relate to the subject. As one student put it “when I go to maths, I learn maths, I don’t write a story about maths”. Even some of the polite students couldn’t help but be negative, writing such comments as “I think Prof Corsini tries too hard” (I took such offense to that one). Most people complained that it was an incredibly time-consuming assignment. Of course there were some lovely comments, but the negatives were certainly more.

That night I was overwhelmed by self-doubt and wondering whether I had to forever abandon PBL as many of the students struggled with the active and independent learning mindset required of it. I was ready to give up, I really was. Then I received an email from a parent, who I had written to that morning to express how impressed I was with her son’s cartoon (see quotes above in “Parent Reflection”). She made me realise that this project made her “academically weak” son finally feel smart, and reminded me this is why I use this methodology – to give all students, particularly those who rarely have the chance, to shine, to reveal hidden talents, to show that all students are smart in their own way.

However, in response to the overwhelming amount of negative reflections, I decided that for the rest of the term I was going to teach in a traditional manner. I wanted the students to know I was listening, I wanted to show them I was willing to change my style to suit their (perceived needs). But I also wanted them to compare the two methodologies (PBL and teacher-directed, textbook-based approach) and to reflect again at the end of the term. I was hoping to prove to them that the learning in PBL far outweighs traditional pedagogy, but I soon realised that what I was actually doing was proving it to myself. Indeed, just a week into the term I started noticing the same poor results, the same attitude, etc. The methodology was not the issue here.

Interestingly enough, when I did announce to the class that we were switching to traditional teaching as a result of their reflections, hands shot up to justify their comments (“Miss, we wrote that because the project was so hard and took so much effort”). It appears that their work ethic, not the methodology per se, was to blame. Sure, there were definitely changes that needed to be made to improve the project and indeed to make it less time-consuming. For example, timing and deadlines, reducing the size of the hurdle tasks, and softening the parameters of the script which, in retrospect, were quite strict and must have been the cause of much frustration for the students. My biggest mistake, however, was not organising a live audience for their cartoons. My “authentic audience” was YouTube – as I had already experienced in another project, this is not “real” enough for that age group. And thinking back at the Yr 7 Italian Picture Book Project, all the students commented on the workload, but their reflections were positive because of the buzz from their live audience at the primary school who appreciated their work. It made all the hard work worthwhile.

Either way, I realised that the main issue was not pedagogy but culture and student mindset. I was asking the students to think for themselves, to be active learners, to work independently, to think critically and creatively, and they did not like it. They wanted worksheets and teacher explanations, which represented the safe and familiar and what they identified as “learning”.

It was such an emotionally draining experience but in the end I have to say that that one student made it all worthwhile. Indeed, as the parent wrote, “You have confirmed that change can happen. You know when you are on the right track when you get results from the ones that need help the most, even if it’s just one person at a time. It’s the little things that hold up the structure of bigger things to come. 

It’s the little things that hold up the structure of bigger things to come. 

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Student Reflections

“This was a very unique assessment experience. The integration of the animation aspect with the language made the project multi-dimensional.”  – Yr 8 Student

“I like these mini projects as they help me get out of my comfort zone and try something different, as you come out of it with a better understanding of how to different things on the computer but you also learn a different language at the same time.” “This has taught me to be more organised which I felt I really needed.”  – Yr 8 Student

“I thought that when we got feedback from our class it was good because they told me where I can improve but also what I did good.”  – Yr 8 Student

“I liked the fact that we got to see everyone’s abilities and got cold/warm feedback to help us improve next time.” – Yr 8 Student

“This project in Italian was challenging but enjoyable. I liked how we could choose any software to make our short show on which created a lot of possibilities. It was fun to challenge myself.”  – Yr 8 Student

“I decided to make a Scratch story rather than a stop-motion, but I found it too hard, so I decided to use Scratch. Seeing everyone else’s stop-motions made me realise that I could have tried harder to make a stop-motion instead of giving up.” – Julia P.

“This project was different to other projects because you had an opportunity to express your creativeness and skills.”  – Julia T. 

“I liked being able to work with others, so we can share ideas from each other and learn new things. I also liked working in a group because it makes the actual project more fun and engaging.”  – Rose 

“This project in Term 2 was definitely something different. The approach to this assessment has further developed my skills in student base learning, creativity, coding/animation and obviously Italian. The whole animation was something that did have a strong purpose…I was so proud of my project. Yet in school, I saw the level of detail in other people’s animation, and I have to say, hats off to them.”  –  Antoinette 

“I think the strategy for independent learning and skills was well taught-about and effective. More teachers should teach this way. I’ve learnt basic coding and the study of making a creative animation whilst learning to adapt/change model sentences in a whole new language…One major challenge that I faced was making the cartoon. I didn’t think outside the box and just stuck in doing a Scratch when I could have created something much more entertaining…In terms of my final project, I know I could have done better…The task was time consuming and I did leave it late. This put a lot of pressure on me and made me see the task as ‘harder than it was…I do think this strategy should be more used across all subjects as it is based on skills rather than content which is a really good way of learning.” – Gabrielle 

“While the animation aspect was meant to be fun, I found it relatively difficult and time-consuming.”  – Yr 8 Student

“Having to make a story can be stressful and very time-consuming.”  – Yr 8 Student

“Most tasks are time-consuming but we nearly always get the holidays to complete the work which is a HUGE help because it gives us time to gather exactly what we want to do and what we need to get it done.”  – Yr 8 Student

“I very much like the idea of the project, but it takes up way too much time, especially because it had to be completed by the end of the holidays.”  – Yr 8 Student

“Instead of making a story, I think we need exams or interactive games that help us understand the language, not online movie making programs. That stuff we can learn at technology. In Italian, we learn Italian. That is the same in every other subject. For example, in maths we do maths exams about topics we learnt in class. Not a story about maths.”  – Kemran

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 Parent Note

Just a note to sincerely thank you for bringing Gabriele’s spirit back into learning.

Thank you for your very encouraging note. Gabriele’s face lit up like a Xmas tree when he read it. He persisted (on the project) when he really couldn’t see a way out and worked out a way to get through what he thought would be an impossible task.

We are grateful that you are able to give him the chance to learn in an alternate way. I think you have achieved a great deal of respect and appreciation that you could at least manage to get children like Gabriele to show some creativity the way they know how. You truly are a rare gem. You are the only one that has really lifted Gabriele’s spirit and motivated him enough to keep going.

People don’t like change and unless they have a child such as Gabriele, they don’t understand.  Very few like yourself are giving these children a chance to learn the way they are able to in their own way.

Please continue to do your fine work for the sake of children that are not being heard like Gabriele.

You have taught us a lot and me especially and have confirmed to me that change can happen. You know when you are on the right track when you get results from the ones that need help the most, even if it’s just one person at a time. It’s the little things that hold up the structure of bigger things to come. 

 

God Bless You,

Juliette

 

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