IMPACT HIGHLIGHTS

Design Team

1 researcher & designer

Partners

Fulbright Commission

Timeline

5 weeks of teaching from Fulbright

Location

Talagante, Santiago, Chile

As Chile aims to diversify its economy by inviting entrepreneurs and tech startups to Santiago, the country will also need to make a coordinated effort to update the public education system. Although most public schools in Chile are already equipped with computer labs, students rarely use them. My goal is to develop practical classroom solutions that teach 21st century skills. I conducted an analysis of the skill gap in Chile, and found that computer programming is one of the most highly sought skills in online job listings. And so, I set forth to design solutions that teach programming in the classroom.

THE OUTCOME

With this in mind, I developed a four-course curriculum that teachers can use and adapt for their classrooms. During each of these four classes, students will build a new video game using Scratch, an application designed by MIT to introduce students to computational thinking. I tested this curriculum at a public high school in Talagante, Chile.

4-class curriculum for introducing students to Scratch

Each of the four activities is designed to introduce students with no programming experience to video game design.

THE PROCESS

INSPIRATION

I devoted four months to observing classrooms, and interviewing teachers in public schools throughout the metropolitan region of Chile. During my interviews with educators, many expressed a lack of confidence with computers and using them in the classroom. They felt as though their students knew more about modern technologies than they did.

Although my primary objective was to design a curriculum that was engaging for students, I would have to also get teachers on board. To maximize my reach, I planned to test my material with students, but write and create ready-to-use curriculum for educators.

IDEATION

I began rapid prototyping, and immediately began testing my own workshops with Chilean students. Since public schools already had computer labs, I knew I could employ existing tools designed to teach computer science. I began designing workshops using Scratch, an application developed by MIT that has become the standard for teaching students the basics of programming. Even Harvard’s online introductory computer science class, CS50, requires students to build a simple video game in Scratch for their first assignment.

During my workshops, I noticed that students would often get distracted. I most frequently saw students watching music videos on YouTube or playing computer games. I was inspired to design workshops that were more engaging. I started to think of ways I could incorporate students’ interests into the projects we created as a class.

IMPLEMENTATION

I designed a class where students could build their own version of the popular Super Mario Bros Game. During this game, students have to tackle to some advanced concepts in order to add gravity to their games. This class requires much more mental effort, which usually means there will be some students who lose interest. However, I observed the opposite. Students were engaged in the project of building their own version of Mario, and almost ignored the fact that I was demanding more of them.

It can be hard to keep up with the kids. But making small changes to the curriculum—in this case, adding Luigi to the game, instead of a default character—can have a huge impact on how engaged your students are. After implementing the Mario workshop, I had students who stayed long after class, tweaking and customizing their games. This is the goal for any computer science teacher–we want students to see how easy it is to build things, and to begin experimenting on their own.

The final output of my weeks of testing in public schools is a concise, battle-tested curriculum for introducing Scratch. In each class, students build a simple game that covers an important concept in computer programming.

How to use this curriculum

Teachers should lead students in the creation of each video game, showing their screen and having students follow along on their own computers. At the end of the four classes, students will have built four distinct video games, and have a basic understanding of loops, conditionals and variables in programming.

Each activity contains a link to the finished project in Scratch. Teachers should examine the Scratch code and build the each project themselves beforehand. This will allow them to plan how they will explain the concepts to their class.

Class 1 – Introducing Students to Scratch with a simple video game

Duration: ~1 hour

Format: Computer-assisted

Final output: See the Scratch project.

Description of activity

The students built a simple video game, in which the user is a fish, trying to escape from a hungry shark.

Objective

The objective is to get students familiar with the four main sections of the Scratch interface: 1) where to find blocks, 2) where to combine the blocks to make a program, 3) where to add objects and 4) where you can view your program. Students will also learn the basics of loops and conditionals.

Class 2 – Students build games that use variables

Duration: ~1 hour

Format: Computer-assisted

Assets: See the template on Scratch.

Final output: See the project on Scratch.

Description of activity

The students built a version of the Mario game, in which Mario can move around a two-dimensional space. Students add gravitational functionality which allows Mario to jump and fall back down to the ground.

Objective

The objective is to teach students the concept of variables in programming. Students must use variables to store the value of Mario’s current velocity.

Class 3 – Students build a simple “platformer” game

Duration: ~1 hour

Format: Computer-assisted

Assets: See the template on Scratch.

Final output: See the project on Scratch.

Description of activity

Students build a simple “platformer” game in Scratch.

Objective

This builds on their knowledge of variables, and allows their characters to ascend stairs and platforms.

Class 4 – Build a simple drawing game

Duration: ~55 minutes

Format: Computer-assisted

Final output: See the project on Scratch.

Description of activity

Students built a simple drawing game in Scratch.

Objective

I designed this final class with the goal of creating content that would be more engaging for girls. Research shows that video games may be more effective in engaging boys, and less effective with girls. This class aims to explore design in general, rather than focusing exclusively on gaming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

High schools in Chile

The complete introduction to the Chilean education system lives here.

Techno-professional schools in Chile

Chilean students elect whether to pursue a broad or a vocational education during their high school years. Students who want to go on to university generally attend a scientific-humanities school. Vocational, or techno-professional schools, are generally meant to be a substitute for university, and aim to teach students skills they can use in the workplace. In Chile, students enroll in techno-professional high schools before the 9th or 11th grade. Students select a specialty, which they will study for the remaining two or four years of high school.

The school

Complejo Educacional Agricola de Talagante is a techno-professional high school in Chile, with an enrollment of 325 students. The schools’ RBD is 24446. This school allows students to specialize in either Agriculture and Automotive mechanics.

This school is part of the National Society of Agriculture’s network of leading schools. These schools aim to provide high quality education to students in rural communities of Chile. The school is located in Talagante, a rural comuna in the southwest of corner of Santiago. The school is “particular subvencionado”, meaning it is government-subsidized. Tuition is free for all students.

Circumstances

I visited the school, offering a computer science workshop after classes end at 5 P.M. on Wednesdays. The workshops took place in the computer lab. Each student had a computer that connects to the Internet. I prepared each computer by downloading the desktop version of Scratch 2.

During this time, students who do not board at the school return to their homes. Students who live at the school are free to attend workshops or enjoy free time. Thus, attendance at these workshops was completely voluntary. Students were informed of the workshops during the school’s daily announcements.