Primary Space Day for Science Week

For Science week, Heage Primary school hosted a space-themed day of activites for their cluster of schools. I was invited to deliver the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 Computing activities. The challenge within this was finding something suitable that would appeal to children from different schools at different stages of implementing the curriculum. I came up with a workshop for each Key Stage, suitably space-themed and full of fun!

Key Stage 1 – Blue-Bot Space Rockets

First up was a group of 24 Year 1 & 2 pupils from five different schools. I used laminated space rocket jackets to turn the some Blue-Bots into rockets and set up grids for the children to navigate. I know there are lots of pre-printed Bee-Bot and Blue-Bot mats out there, but I prefer to make my own for more flexibility (long rolls of paper from Ikea come in very handy for this!). I also printed out a set of “space” symbols which could be moved around the mat to make easier or harder challenges.

First, we recapped the basics of how to programme a Blue-Bot using the arrow keys, and how to press the X button to clear any previous instructions. Then the children worked in groups of six and programmed the Blue-Bots to fly back to Earth. Once they had got the hang of it, they were then set extra challenges like asteroids to navigate around and an alien to avoid! One child even decided to use the star symbol as a refuel point to get a power-up (SuperMario eat your heart out!)

blue bots 1

At this stage, most of the children were programming the Blue-Bots step by step, or two steps at a time. They would then assess where the Blue-Bot was, where it had to go, and programme another couple of steps. We got back together as a whole group and discussed whether they were programming the Blue-Bot rocket correctly every time. Most of them said it wasn’t always working correctly. So we discussed the idea of debugging – changing our instructions so that they work. This led us on to the discussion of algorithms as step-by-step sets of instructions.

Finally, we worked on the idea of algorithms for our rockets. I had printed out a set of the Bee-Bot cards from the Barefoot Computing website (www.barefootcas.org.uk). The task was to predict how to programme the rocket and lay out the cards in the correct order (not forgetting GO at the end!), then to programme the Blue-Bot to see if the algorithm worked. If it did then it would reach the Earth – if not, then they could debug their algorithm and try again.

blue bots 2

The children really got the hang of this, and enjoyed the anticipation of seeing if their algorithm was going to work correctly as the rocket started to move. The whole lesson was full of a buzz and provided a mix of revising existing skills and learning new ones.

Key Stage 2

I then moved on to work with a bunch of Year 5’s and Year 6’s from five different schools. Their experience in Scratch varied from non-existent to a girl who went to a Code Club and another girl who I’d previously worked with as a Digital Leader. This time we were coding a game in Scratch, designing and implementing improvements to it, and then giving and listening to feedback from others.

I taught the basics of the code step-by-step with the whole class, drawing out the ideas of selection, repetition and variables as we went – it seemed that these terms were new to most of them. For the game improvements, I set open-ended challenges around how to make the game harder (faster? smaller? more interesting-looking?). The children worked in pairs on this, and then swapped games with another pair, writing feedback on post-it-notes. The feedback had to be specific – something that was good, and something to improve.

scratch

Talking with the children afterwards, I got the impression that although most of them had “done Scratch” at school, they had spent more time on choosing sprites and background than actually designing, coding and testing. The two girls who had attended Code Club / Digital Leader schemes had were the most enthusiastic at answering questions and could even describe what a variable was.

 

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