During a recent visit to the Middle School, a section of Class 4 tapped energetically on their keyboards, whispering with their partners and giggling at images projected on their laptop screens: dancing dogs, a cat in outer space, cups of bubble tea and more.
What appeared, at first glance, to be a moment of relaxed downtime was in fact a challenging, cross-disciplinary activity that integrated math and technology and gave the students the opportunity to take risks, strengthen a host of skills and bolster their confidence.
Using the programming language Scratch, they were asked to compose and animate a word problem that incorporated fractions and decimals while telling a captivating story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Associate Teacher Inés de Bracamonte, who teaches Technology to Class 4, offered the students this example:
Ms. D, a tennis instructor, bought 100 tennis balls and put half in a basket. After teaching for a week, 40 balls were left. What fraction of the original quantity of balls remained in the basket? How would you represent that fraction as a decimal?
After showing them animation that featured an orange tiger, yellow tennis balls, a green basket and pop-up answers, the class eagerly embarked on their own endeavors. In previous classes, the budding coders had practiced Scratch basics, including creating events, changing backgrounds and managing sprites (or characters).
In addition to the math requirements, the students’ projects needed to include dialogue, presented through words and/or speech bubbles, and a sprite that moved, a task accomplished through a series of coding commands. They could either make their own sprite or modify a digital photo.
Although Scratch was new to some, others were proficient with the popular platform through their work in robotics and other extracurricular activities. Thus, “the more experienced Scratch users jumped at the opportunity to be classroom helpers to assist their classmates,” noted Ms. de Bracamonte.
This generous collaboration was evident during the recent lesson, during which the groups had uninterrupted time to accomplish their coding goals and draft enticing language for their word problems. As they calculated the math in their notebooks, researched possible visuals and completed their codes, the students in Room 604 and the classroom next door were fully engrossed in this imaginative assignment.
When they were nearly done, the students engaged in a “checks and balances” exercise to ensure they had mastered every step in the process. Breaking into pairs around the rooms, they asked each other a series of questions (such as “Does your partner’s project include a fraction?” and “Does their sprite move?”) from a printed form, checking the “yes” or “no” box.
Popular themes the students cleverly brought to life included Taylor Swift, sports and a multitude of funny animals. One student even decided to feature Ms. de Bracamonte and Class 4 Humanities Teacher Noreen Keller in her project, delighting them both.
To demonstrate their achievements in both math and technology, every section of Class 4 was invited to share their final projects at the “Scratch Showcase,” which will happen on June 9, the last day of school. It’s likely some students will continue coding over the summer, just for fun.