Diary of a Lead Teacher: Episode Three - Building Worlds

Author: Nick Trussler

Well...  As of today I am a ‘seasoned-pro’ having delivered a whole three of my self-crafted Digital Schoolhouse workshops and things are starting to fall into place with lessons learned and tweaks made.  One thing I seem to particularly lean on as a teacher - I guess it’s my particular ‘teaching style’ - is to treat a lesson or series of lessons rather like a story.  I think that really means trying to internalise the content of what I am teaching, and then wrap it up in a strong reason why it might be interesting or applicable to the learner. Sometimes the story/narrative might be a bit of a weak-connection to the subject matter, but still, I have found that this can in itself be entertaining and can hold a class with you as they, hopefully, suspend their disbelief and (sometimes grudgingly) agree to move forwards, open up and learn something challenging or new. So, therefore, I am always looking for an angle. A way of describing a forthcoming lesson as a type of interesting journey.  One has started to emerge from the different stages of my workshops as delivered so far and it really focuses on steps - both self-created and (then) using other people’s.  

The ‘Make Steps - Build a World’ workshop starts by identifying steps/instructions that control the Input/Output of a ‘Human Computer’ in the first part of the workshop.  It continues by diving into creating the steps to build a Lego duck. Next it evolves into the use of other people’s steps - laying down coding tiles in the board game Scottie Go!  And finally it combines the previous stages using CoSpaces - Merge Cube - and coding 3D objects using tiles on-screen similar to those of ScottieGo.

Let's back up a little and describe the third and fourth parts of my workshop.  The third part is super easy to run and involves getting out the excellent coding board game called Scottie Go!.  This game involves small cardboard coding tiles which slot together on a white board to create sequences of moves undertaken by the small alien ‘Scottie’.   The learners first open the app on an iPad (or android) which shows a maze through which a small alien must move to reach a ‘cross marks the spot’ end location.  Having coded the moves on the cardboard game-board, the iPad is used to scan the board - and displays a duplicate version of the tiles on the app-screen. Then it attempts to move the alien around the maze using the learner’s imported code instructions.   This is a very intuitive way to get small groups of three kids physically grabbing, rearranging and scanning-in code, with the fun of seeing the results of their efforts on-screen.

In the last stage of the workshop I give a brief demo to the learners of an excellent learning tool which first involved me buying a subscription to a browser-based piece of 3D object manipulation software - Cospaces Edu.  I also purchased a bunch of actual Rubik's-cube sized foam objects to go-with the software called ‘AR (augmented reality) Merge Cubes’. The software has a stage on which is shown an on-screen version of one of these foam cubes which can then be added-to with a large library of pre-made objects.  These include people, transport items, houses etc. All this is great fun but a bit ‘Sims’ like and prefabricated. However the fun starts when you realise that any object dragged onto the cube can be coded to perform actions, animate in different ways, transform, change position (etc etc). This is achieved using a coding language almost entirely based on the well-known and familiar ‘Scratch’ visual interface.

I set all the learners off individually to create mini-worlds and to code cars or rockets (or anything else) moving around the surface of the cubes and at the end of the workshop I invite them over to hold up the foam ‘Merge Cube’ in front of an iPad running the CospacesEdu software.  The iPad has been set up on a tripod at the front of the class. I dial up their project on the software teacher-account, and suddenly they are holding a cube which has now become (on the iPad screen) the world in 3D that they created. They can rotate it, bring it nearer or further to the camera of the iPad to zoom right into different sections - generally an excellent wow factor to the end of the workshop.   Small steps can indeed build a world!

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