Been having the sense that I am on the razor’s edge of loosing the kids’ excitement in eToys, so decide that we need to have our paint the fence day (i.e. The Karate Kid) sooner rather than later, as in today.

When I get to class I tell the kids that we will be making a game today, using everything we’ve learned so far. They are kinda excited, kinda incredulous.

Do a bit of review on the paper compasses, for the kids who missed class on Tuesday. Then we move on to X Y coordinates. We basically turn the playground into a giant XO screen, map out the coordinates to its corners, and I teach them to move sideways, left or right, depending on whether their x is increasing or decreasing, and up and down depending on whether their y is increasing or decreasing.

Takes a bit but they soon get it, as I’m yelling out – Your y is increasing! Now your x is decreasing! And so forth until they get the connection. When they all seem like they get it, I’m like okay, are you ready to program a game – and they are like YEAH!!! – and we all race back into the classroom and fire up the XOs.

Ask the kids what they want me to draw and they say a baby, so that it is. Then I ask for something else and a chicken (it is Coral Bay) is agreed upon. Then I ask for some obstacles and that ends up being beach balls. Next I ask who’s gonna do the chasing, the baby or the chicken. Sure enough it’s the chicken that’s gonna be chasing the baby. (it is Coral Bay)

Next I get out the joystick from the supply box and teach the script for using it to power the chicken, in the process showing how the numbers change when you move the joystick, and how we are going to use that. As well as multiplication to speed up the effect. Next we do a true/false “over color” script to make one sound when the chicken hits the beach ball and another sound when the chicken catches the baby. (CHOMP!) For this part I am asking the kids to call out the steps for script writing, which they are pretty good at figuring out by now. We also script the baby to move around by itself, bouncing off the beach balls when it hits them. (using color detection, turn 90 degrees)

Next I start the joystick ticking and start chasing after the baby with the chicken. The kids are all pretty psyched, yelling out as I chase the baby, swerving around to avoid the beach balls. After I catch it, I ask how to make the game harder or easier. They pretty intuitively grasp that I need to change the speeds of the chicken and baby inversely, as well as know were to go to do that, as well as which way to change the numbers in the joystick and baby scripts to make it happen.

After that all the kids are raising their hands to come up and play the game on the whiteboard. Amazing how much they are into this game we just created on the fly. When it it’s time for the kids to do it on their own though, we are not nearly as successful. Probably a number of reasons for this. One, kids are still all over the map on the fundamentals of eToys. So even though when I’m up at the Whiteboard I can get kids to come up with the steps to take, it’s harder for many of them to do it on their own.

Other thing is that it’s a lot to hold in your head, all the steps you need to take, and the kids have nothing to refer back to except ask the mentors for help. Obviously need to either spend more time on fundamentals so that the kids can think it through all for themselves, or even more logically, have some kind of guide for them to follow for when they get stuck or lost.

Also can be trick to remember just where all these different commands are supposed to come from. Once you move into joystick territory and beyond, you need to use actions from different scripts and easy to get the different scripts confused, and put the tiles from the wrong object into the wrong script. Once again, color coding of scripts in eToys would be great for this. The importance of properly naming everything is also critical, as opposed to just having the defaults, sketch, sketch1, sketch2 etc..

It is also difficult to just physically move the tiles around, even when they have the correct tiles. Some of the kids’ screens are a mess of orphan script tiles that didn’t quite make it to where they needed to go. Not really the kids fault, it takes a maddening amount of concentration and dexterity to get the tiles where you need them to go. The XO trackpad is easily its worse feature. Very easy to overshoot your target, and etoys is very unforgiving on the XO in its tolerance for error. What is trivially easy to do on a PC is much, much harder on the XO. I have used both extensively, and I watched the kids suffer on their XO’s what they race through on the Whiteboard PC, so I know of what I speak. Mice for these things should be a requirement.

In the end only a couple kids get their joysticks working, specifically those who are best at begging and pleading for time from the mentors. So even though the kids finally have a glimpse of what etoys is capable of, it’s still frustrating for many of them.

It for now.

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