Blue Band Spark Expression Projects

This January and Feburary I journaled weekly summaries for a credential clearing program I’m going through. I figured it might be useful to share this documentation for anyone curious about how we do projects in the Blue Band, how I structure projects for all learners, or anyone curious about what we were up to.

Voting, Research, and Planning
In order to maximize student interest in the project we did a brainstorming activity to reflect on topics we might want to explore in a project. Then I had students do a quick journal write up proposing their favorite project ideas and quickly defending why their idea should be picked. These activities scaffolded writing for my lowest writers by making a quick exercise where the focus was on brief communication of ideas rather that elaboration. It also let me see where students were in their persuasive writing so I knew how to gage my instruction leading up to presenting project ideas to Liz for approval. I then made a list of these ideas for a vote after lunch that day. Students picked making video games, so I had them pick a topic as a class to make games about. Students agreed that everyone really like animals so we settled on making game to teach a player more about animals. This process helped my students direct the topic while giving me space to make sure the project was manageable and accessible to all learners.

The next day we went to the library. Before going students made a list of books that looked useful to introduce them to using the catalog as a tool to help you find the right books. Students plucked 5 “just right” books about their animal. This let readers truly find books at their level and hone their skill in independently finding books at their level. After getting the books we spent 5 sessions reading and “stop and jotting” (taking notes on post-it’s) while we read. I taught students how to take jots about important details, key words, questions we had while reading, and similarities and differences across texts. This helped students practice informational text reading in the context of a useful purpose.

Students used this research to plan their games. I made a graphic organizer where students sketched out each part of their game, explain how that part would be played, and talked about what the player was learning on that level.

Sylvester and Dash taking notes on post-its about important details in their books

May finishing her plan

Declaration and Introducing Coding

At the beginning of this week students shared the project idea and their specific game plans with the principal. This allowed students to get feedback from someone besides me and use that to direct their progress. Students then got to work familiarizing themselves with, the program we were using the code their games. We spent one lesson playing “mentor” games about animals to get inspiration for ways other games organized their games. We had another 2 lessons where I gave them a checklist of mini challenges to try. These challenges taught them how to use a few resources that scaffolded the coding. This included tutorial videos on the site and a bunch of task cards the site provided. There is a lot of new vocabulary within the code options on the site, so these tools allow students to independently figure out this new vocabulary. I love that scratch uses accessible language because all my readers can use the program to practice reading in context, the actions caused by the code give readers immediate feedback on their decoding (reading). It also provided a meaningful context for practicing reading beyond books. I know for my lowest readers this is going to be a labored process, so I am giving a long time period for this project.

Scratch also uses math concepts in context. I let my students discover these ideas as they explored the program and share out with the group after exploring to help everyone make sense of these ideas. Some of my challenges were to move a character 10 steps up, down, left, and right. This caused students to learn that changing the x caused a character to move left and right and changing the y lead the character to go up and down. We used this to discuss the meaning a the x and y axies and negative numbers as backwards steps. I think this exercise will be useful for my student’s number sense and give them a basic idea of a coordinate grid.

An example of a student using the task cards

Students working together to scaffold the coding for each other

Scaffolding Task Management and Introducing the Coordinate Plane Formally

Now that students are more comfortable with scratch I am going to focus our daily math work on concepts relevant to the project. This week I taught students how the coordinate plane is an invisible grid that helps us describe where an object is. We played battleship to start using this language. Because the game uses positive and negative numbers this game helps students see what the game meant when it used negative numbers.
I also taught three mini lessons this week about creating to do lists and breaking down big goals into smaller, clear tasks. This was a big help for students working in teams who were struggling to verbalize how to share the work in their project. Students are starting to lose stamina on these projects and need help re-establishing excitement next week.

Battleship on a Coordinate Plane

Team Big Cats coming up with a plan

Research at Zoo and Finishing Games

This week I intentionally scheduled a break by having the class visit the zoo. This helped students do more research about their animals and feel more motivated to share this information in their games.

I also had students help me make a rubric to clearly articulate their goals for their projects. This took two sittings. I let the students pick the language for the levels their games could be and for the three main goals for their projects.

Zoo fun

The students’ rubric

Making Revisions Based on Feedback
Students worked to finish their games this week. This included adding a credits and instructions to their project pages on Scratch. I gave mini lessons on the importance of giving credit to sources and making sure not to use other author’s words without giving credit.

Students then played each other’s games and had older students and adults in the community play their games. This let my students see what their games looked like begin played and get suggestions for feedback.

Ronin giving feedback to another student

Beckett getting feedback form a Violet Band Student

Documenting Process and Giving a Presentation

Now that students have finished and revised their projects it’s time to document and share. I let students decide if the wanted to work by themselves or in groups to write about the different steps we took in our project. Each group got a stack of photos from the different steps in our project and had to describe what is going on in the photo and what we learned during that step. I used this writing in our presentation script.
Students also wrote a story of their own projects by describing what they made, why they made it, and how they made it in a way that is written for their presentation audience. The student did this by asking questions, telling stories, and/or weaving in explicit details. This also went into the presentation script.

We practiced the presentation 4 times as a group and students had multiple opportunities to practice to a buddy or stuffed animal. After all that practice they presented their project to their families and school mates.

Calvin is writing about the research phase of our project

Atticus is talking about the challenges we faced in our project