Girl Power!

With the popularity of Game Design Adventures we decided to develop Girl Powered Programming, a girl-focused course that contains more artistic opportunities for character creation and a special focus on awesome female programmers.

The girls learned about video game programmers from the very first programmer in the 1800’s all the way up to present day.    Ada Lovelace really caught their attention, they loved that she was both a countess and a programmer.   One of these spotlights even spawned discussion about what makes a game a boy game vs a girl game.  At first everyone said girl games are pink and princesses, but the more they talked many of them said they didn’t actually like those things, but they did like some things that had been suggested for “boy” games (guns, motorbikes, and Star Wars were a few of their suggestions).    There was even talk about creating a game where you could play as a heroic knight saving a princess in distress or a heroic princess saving a knight in distress.   In the end, these clever young ladies decided maybe girly things are just anything a girl happens to like!

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When asked what they liked most about the class the girls unanimously said they enjoyed making games and beta-testing other people’s games.   The creation of unique sprites and backgrounds was a huge draw for them as well.   Throughout the eight weeks they learned how to make sprites move, use variables to create scores, and how to place objects exactly where you want them using x,y coordinates.

 

I can’t wait to see what these ladies will dream up for us next!  In the meantime, all of their games are available to play and download online at our classroom’s Scratch Studio.

 

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If you missed this instance of Girl Powered Programming never fear, we will be back in Term 3 at Rata Studios.

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Master Builders

Weta isn’t the only animation powerhouse on the peninsula.  Twenty-four master builders spent the term animating at Rata Studios this term.  They used their skills to build fantastic sets and create amusing stories using LEGO bricks.

 

Though the medium of LEGO is relatively new, stop motion animation is nearly as old as filmmaking itself.  The technique requires animators to take many photos, with minimal changes in action between each one.  Though students spent three to four sessions perfecting their final animations, the longest one was only a minute long.   Just imagine how many days and months it must take to create a feature length animation!  The art form certainly takes dedication.

Students certainly learned patience as well as teamwork.  It takes both an animator and someone on the computer watching what is happening in real-time and capturing photos to make an animation great.

Next term the animation adventure at Rata Studios continues with Clay Animation.

Leveling Up!

Game Design Adventures students Leveled Up this term with more coding, more interactivity, and more teamwork! Hunter was most surprised at how he could use web cameras to add an element of interactivity to his Scratch games.

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Working together to de-bug code

Once they learned how to create interactive games and quiz games, use clones, and other cool skills students paired up to develop a series of games that used similar elements and artwork. This involved creating a background story for each group.

Pac Man

Giant Pac-Man takes over the city.
Luka’s Animation Intro
Ben’s Space Invaders vs Pac Man
Hunter’s Boss Battle

Spy Game

Shadow the evil agents are trying to take all the food away.  Shine has to stop them before it is too late!
Eva’s Code Breaker
Connor’s Dark Alley Donuts

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Testing Processing code

Nearly everyone’s favourite part of the course was Processing, a text-based coding language based on the popular Java. The last two classes we programmed a drawing application that enables the user to colour with their mouse (or finger on a touch-screen) and save their artwork to a jpg.

They really enjoyed Processing because “it’s fun to work it out and not just let the teacher tell you (what to do).” On the first Processing session Luka figured out a variable for randomizing colours and explained it to the rest of the class.  When trying to replicate his instructions, Connor accidentally put random on the shape of his rectangle. When he tried to play his game he quickly realised that the the values he made random must control the x and y positions of the shape based upon the way they moved.  Though the application looks different skills and concepts learnt in Scratch transferred over to text-based coding.

We will be back in Term 4 with Recycled Robots, until then students who have not yet taken an introductory code class or want to brush up on their skills can enrol in Girl Powered Programming at Rata Studios.

Space Gardens

The Space Place is looking a whole lot greener after the Space Garden holiday programme!  Student’s discovered the challenges and successes astronauts have encountered growing plants on the International Space Station.  Then they created their own terrariums to take home.

A terrariums is a closed, self-watering Exif_JPEG_420ecosystem, but that doesn’t mean you can stop caring for your plant.   It needs to be kept out of direct sunlight and observed on a regular basis to make sure it’s not too dry or too moist.

The astronauts on the International Space Station also learned that they couldn’t just automate the care of their plants.  They needed to observe the growth of their plants and adjust the moisture and sunlight accordingly to keep their plants happy and healthy.   Students can use this observation log or make one of their own to record any changes in their plants.

Once gardens were planted we took a trip down to the Begonia House which is just like a giant terrarium.   Botanical Garden staff showed us heaps of cool plants, from banana trees, to flowers that look like black-bats, and air plants that live in trees, not soil.   We even got to sniff a carnivorous plant that smelled like dirty socks!


Subscribe to the MakerBox newsletter or follow the Space Place on Facebook to get updates on our next holiday programme at the Space Place.  In July we will have kids looking to the stars as they create their own light-up constellations.

 

Adventuring Forth

Living in this increasingly digital world we all benefit from programming every day, often without noticing.  Whether we are playing a video game or paying a bill with online banking, code is all around us.  Knowing how to code can allow a person to unleash their creativity as they create new worlds and imagine a better one for us all.

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Creative controllers with bananas and the MaKey MaKey

Students in Game Design Adventures this term did just that by creating unique video games using Scratch, a visual programming language.   Programming incorporates many maths and logic concepts and our students learned heaps, from the real world application of variables, to placing objects using X&Y coordinates, and using operators such as less than and greater than.

Programming also requires quite a bit of creative problem solving.  Though are many ways to achieve the same result, there are other times when nothing seems to work.  Far more important than knowing the correct answer is knowing how to troubleshoot to find answers when you’re stuck.

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Helping each other with tricky code

Mistakes will happen, it’s inevitable, but student’s learned to first take a deep breath and look over their work, then ask a friend for help.  By adding more minds to the problem, they could often figure out the answer together without adult intervention.  The final step is to ask the teacher for a hand.  There were some real stars in this course who would offer up advice when a classmate became stuck, carefully describing the steps as the person they were helping manipulated the code.  We are all teachers here.

But don’t just take my word for it, not only can you play the games created in class, you can also click “See Inside” on any of the projects to see the code that makes it work.   View all of our games at our Scratch studio.

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If your child has ever taken Game Design Adventures, Intro to Video Game Programming, or is in Year 6 or Year 7 at Scots College they can enrol in Game Design: Level Up for Term 2.

We are also offering Girl Powered Programming, a new programming course that focuses on powerful female programmers as students learn coding basics with Scratch.

Mixed Media Animation

Though most people know me for my programming and robotics courses I actually have a degree in Film and Video Production.  My very first teaching experiences were stop-animation summer camps for kids.  When you have been doing something for a long period of time it becomes a bit routine, you don’t get excited about it the way you once did.
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Mixed Media Animation made teaching stop-motion animation exciting again.  This was the first time I decided to focus on different animators and their techniques each session.  As Zach said in the animation show introduction, ‘We learned many styles of animation, such as cut paper, magazine cutouts, and clay.”  It was also the first time I allowed my students to choose the medium for their final animations.  It was amazing seeing the kids connect with specific artists and styles and incorporating that into their own work.

My favourite part of the course was the claymation, I love morphing the clay.

       – Shea

The classroom culture in this course was also the best yet, everyone worked together to keep the sessions running smoothly.   Students arriving early would often volunteer to help me set up the animation stations and everyone took an active role in cleaning up at the end.  During animating time there was excellent communication and collaboration between team members.   It’s difficult to animate, you need to make sure not to move objects too much between each picture and you need to avoid taking pictures of hands.  It helps to have a reliable team-member to focus on the larger animation while you focus on animating individual pieces.

At this point I have been teaching some students for a year now, it has been absolutely amazing watching them grow, both in their skills as creators and as people.   I can’t wait to see what they will make next!

If you are interested in enroling your child in an animation course for Term 2 we have opened up a second session of Lego Animation on Wednesday evenings.   Learn more…

Recycled Robots

Eight weeks and over 30 robots, Recycled Robotics is where art and robots meet!
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Anthropomorphism as explained by a student

When people think of robots they often think of anthropomorphic hunks of metal such as Wall-E or the Terminator.   In Recycled Robots at Rata Studios students learned that robots can be so much more, even artistic!

Before we could start programming robots, we had to understand how they worked.  We created a simple robot out of a motor, battery, and cup that helped us understand circuits.  It was important to understand the way wires are colour coded so humans know if they are positive or negative.

Throughout the remaining sessions we learned how to code a robot so it could perform autonomous tasks or respond to user input.   We worked with sensors, LEDs, motors, and servos.

Art was explored as well, we viewed surrealist art, the anthropomorphic robot work of Michael Salter, and saw a robot named PAM that can create her own works of art.

Some students preferred engineering to the programming aspects and vice-versa.  Working in teams of two allowed the kids to collaborate while at the same time working to their natural strengths.   Just as every child is different, every robot created in class was different, reflecting the interests and personalities of its creator.

On the last class students reminisced about their favourite part of the course:

  • I liked it when the robot walked off the table.
  • I liked building the robot, but it took a lot longer than expected.
  • I enjoyed making the first battery motor robot and the face expression robot. With the Hummingbird I preferred doing the programming rather than the wires and putting things together.
  • My favourite part was learning how to use stuff!

Don’t be fooled though, building robots is hard work.  In the last minutes of the penultimate class the first robot to be completed inexplicably stopped working!  Instead of throwing the towel in it’s creators got to work to discover what went wrong.  There was a lot of fiddling to be done.  First they had to reattach the legs to servos, then they had to completely reprogramme their robot’s motions as they had attached the legs on a slightly different degree than before.  It was hard work, but they stuck with it and ended up with the very first walking robot that Recycled Robots has ever seen!

You can view the walking robot, and all of the other robots, in action on our video gallery.

Hummingbird Robots are a project of the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University and can be purchased online at edtechs.com.au