This month, I got super lucky. I met with Rodrigo Fabrega Lacoa, head of UCorp, an organization aiming to teach 21st century skills to students of all ages. He invited me to teach workshops on Scratch, a visual programming language designed by MIT to introduce students to programming. It was an incredible opportunity. Not only did I get direct access to students, but I also didn’t have to coordinate any of the event planning or logistics. This meant I could focus on the important part—teaching computer science effectively!

 

So far, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching two workshops at Santiago’s Museum of Natural History, and one workshop at Fundación Telefonica. We’ve had 100% success rate—every student was able to get their program running by the end of each workshop.

Meet our research partners!

A portion of the workshops I’ll be offering over the course of the year will be organized by Jóvenes Programadores, Scratch Al Sur and UCorp. I’ve included a brief description of what each organization does.

Jóvenes Programadores

Jóvenes Programadores supports a number of partner organizations which use their curriculum to offer hands-on workshops to high school students. The objective of these one-off workshops is to demystify the complexity of programming having students create simple projects using programming principles. The idea is for students to get to an A-ha! moment quickly, so that they are motivated to learn more.

UCorp

UCorp is the organization behind Scratch Al Sur. They partner with Jóvenes Programadores to offer workshops to high school students.

The content

Most of the workshops they offer begin with Scratch, a programming language developed by MIT. Scratch has become the global standard for introducing students to programming principles. Students can begin programming quickly by combing code blocks, shaped like puzzle pieces, to create programs. The code blocks program the movements of objects, or “sprites,” on the program’s interface.

Structure of the workshops

Each workshop has roughly 50 students in attendance. In all workshops, we provided one computer for each pair of students. I had the help of an assistant who would help groups that encountered bugs in their program.

The lesson plan

During each of the workshops, I had the students develop a simple game in Scratch. By the end of the workshop, each student will create game in which the user is a fish, trying to escape a hungry shark. We begin by programming the movements of the fish, which are controlled by each arrow on the keyboard. We add a shark to the game, and program the shark to orient itself depending on the movements of the fish. If time permits, we give the user 3 lives, before “game over.”

Concepts

Students are introduced to a number of fundamental concepts in programming. By programming the movements of the shark, students familiarize themselves with the concept of a loop, which continually executes. We also teach students programming logic, and use an “if” statement to check whether the shark is touching the fish. Students learn how if statements can conditionally execute blocks of code, thereby adding logic to our simple program.