[squeakland] Etoys Class Reflections

Steve Thomas sthomas1 at gosargon.com
Wed Apr 14 01:34:44 EDT 2010

Taught a class today, 4 kids (8, 10, 11, 12, 14) and 2 adults (Mom and Dad
of two of the kids). First class with this group.

Started with "Daemon Castle" and then had them do "Etoys Challenge".

*Observation*:I had one child. Nick, who was laughing hysterically.  I went
over and found him playing around making the car go tight circles, bounce
off walls and he eventually figured out how to make it bounce off the walls
until it reached the goal.  His father who sitting next to him, got a bit
upset and told him he needed to focus on what he was learning and be more

This reminded me of something another coach told me while coaching Soccer
"Never coach your own kid, (a) they won't listen to you and (b) they will
listen better to another adult".  While I don't fully believe (a), I think
they do listen, they just don't want to act like they do, especially in
front of the friends, he made a good point. Also, in my observations parents
are harder on their own kids then they are on others, especially with their
first child.

I love to see kids laugh and having a good time in class, this means they
are having fun and to me fun means MOTIVATION. I firmly believe motivation
trumps most other things, as kids will work hard when motivated.  That said
the father had a good point and I needed to find a way to turn that "silly
fun" into what others have termed "hard fun".  So I let him finish his
"Etoys Challenge" then when he told me he was done I stepped back and ran
his scripts on each step.  I then challenge him to reach the goals using
just one script.  I have observed a number of kids who use multiple versions
of the script changing it along the way until they reach the goal. Again I
let them do this and congratulate them on a creative way of solving the
problem and pointing out there are many ways to solve the problem, but can
they find a simpler more elegant way using only one script which doesn't

I always try to have one part of the class where I get them AWAY from the
computers and preferably outside.  Today I broke them into pairs and have
them "program" each other. One child, the programmer, would give
instructions to another child "the computer".  I first had them try and
program each other to "walk a square".  At some point one of the kids will
say "turn" and the other knowing he is supposed to walk a square will
dutifully turn 90 degrees.  I then jump in and ask the child to program me.
When I am told to turn I will turn some random value (usually either a very
small turn or a 360 degree turn) and they will get the idea and then ask me
to turn 90 degrees.  One kid got excited and came up with the idea of I can
go forward 10 steps, turn 90 degrees and repeat forever.  After
complimenting him (kids love compliments) I asked him what was like repeat
forever in Etoys? He said a ticking script.  At some point I made the
connection, wish I could remember what brought it up, to how the cells in
our bodies are like millions of little ticking scripts doing their own
things responding to stimulus and working together to make us and how it is
amazing that is.

IMPORTANT TEACHING NOTE: I try to never give a child an answer.  Instead I
will either ask them a question or give them another problem that will help
them figure out the answer themselves. Basically a hint in problem or
question form.

*What to do with kids who finish early?*

There are always those who finish faster than others I have a couple of
strategies to deal with this:

   1. *Have some problems or other Etoys Challenges they can work on
   For this lesson I had "Etoys Game Challenge" which the kids like because
   they can create their own games, very motivating for kids.*
   2. *Teach them to teach
   *This means having them help other kids, but the danger here is they will
   simply show the other kids the answers they found. I do my best to impress
   upon the kids that they should never give them the answer, but instead help
   the other child find the answer themselves by asking questions or getting
   them to think about how their program works (aka play computer). I try to
   model this and point it out explicitly a bunch of times early in the lesson
   so the kids understand my preferred style before I ask them to help teach. I
   then monitor the kids closely when they first start "teaching" other kids.
   3. *Have the child teach an adult in the class*
   The kids get a big kick out of teaching adults.When there are adults this
   is especially fun, the kids get a big ego boost (and motivation from feeling
   they are better that an adult at something) out of teaching an adult, and it
   shows them the adults don't know everything (a valuable lesson in life that
   kids figure out faster than most adults would like to believe).  The adults
   are usually good sports, but read your people some peoples ego's are fragile
   and you need to be sensitive to that.
   4. *Have them improve or extend their current work*
   For example their script may not be the simplest or most elegant (ex:
   turn 90, turn -45; one kid had turn 45, turn -45) or having a forward 10
   tile in the YES and NO of a test
   Some kids will instantly see what they can do with Etoys and start
   creating games or other fun stuff. If I see this and they have completed the
   main task (sometimes even if they haven't) I will encourage them to improve
   their games or show them some basic Etoys functionality that they can use to
   improve their game or do what they want.

At the end of class I wanted to set them up for their homework (working on
the 40 Mathematical Shapes challenge) and had them try and get their car's
to "Draw a Square"
(Hmmmm, another idea to get them out of the computer and use the knowledge
they already have is to have them "program" their hands to draw a square on
a piece of paper).  While doing this one child asked: "What's this symbol
here do?" He was pointing at the "add a variable" icon in the top bar of the
viewer (looks like a arrow head in a pink background pointing down).  At the
time we had a script on the screen to draw a circle (forward:5, turn:5) when
I had a brainstorm.  Okay we can use variables to change the value for
forward and turn (I am slow I can't believe it has taken me this long and a
14 year old kid to finally figure this out!!!).  So I showed him how to add
the two variables and dragged the variables into the scripting tiles to
replace the 5's and then asked him to make a square without changing his
script. When he looked confused (a feeling I recognize because of my vast
experience with this emotion) I pointed out,  a couple of times, that the
car would move forward and turn by the variables we had setup. *I did NOT
point this out by saying it explicitly*. Instead I simply pointed to the
variable (i had dragged a detailed watcher onto the screen for each
variable) and then pointed to the forward tile and asked him how far it
would move forward. He eventually got the idea and I went to work with
another child who had been asking questions. Then all of a sudden I heard
and excited voice saying "Hey I made an Octagon!!!"  I then made a big deal
out of his great discovery and pointed out how with one script he could make
multiple shapes just by changing the variables. Then i asked him what other
shapes he could make and left him to have fun.

Towards the end of class I sent them outside again to program themselves (as
opposed to others in this case) to follow a road.  I drew a sample road and
then gave each of the kids some chalk and observed.  Each child drew a
different shape and I asked them what there program was for following the
road. Fortunately one of the dad's who was there said the scripts we wrote
reminded him of a robot they have at work do deliver mail.   I told the kids
some folks have been paid a lot of money to write programs just like the
ones they wrote today to follow the road (when my son heard this he asked
for $100K).

The kids got the idea of programming a car that could drive itself, so I
challenged them to program the "Car of the Future" and asked them to think
about what kinds of challenges they would have and how they would handle
them (other cars, pedestrians, traffic lights). One of the parent's
suggested they test their program by having multiple cars drive in Etoys
world at the same time.

Anyway a lot of fun was had by all and I had to kick the kids out as they
wouldn't stop working on Etoys when the class was done. (a good sign and one
I always see when kids are first exposed to Etoys).

Mr. Steve

Note for future reflection: On teaching kids to think about multiple ways to
solve a problem and learning how to compare solutions.
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