New Mexico Legislature Funds Supercomputing Learning

My association with the New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge covers more than 10 years. The Challenge has depended upon funding from many sources over the years, sometimes just making the budget has been a struggle. This year, with New Mexcio educator pressure, national attention from the “Hour of Code”, and requests from the programming/science community, the state legislature put aside funds for the Challenge, (although this is not the first time – it has been some time since the state funds have been available). One result of this is increased funding for STI, (Summer Teacher Institute), the yearly summer training for teachers interested in creating teams for next years competition.

At STI, teachers learn the basics of modeling using StarLogo, a programming language similar to Scratch, (but working in a 3-D environment with advanced reporting tools), and NetLogo for more advanced programming. Many teachers in elementary and middle schools also attend as an introduction to Project Guts, an after school programming club that uses the challenge principals to teach younger students programming and modeling with Science and Math.

As participants in STI, New Mexico educators receive a stipend and dorm housing at New Mexico Tech for the two week session in Socorro, New Mexico.

Hopefully, I will be able to be one of the trainers for this summer’s STI, it is a lot of fun helping educators learn more about programming and the possibilities of integration into the curriculum. This year’s STI information is available by downloading the 2014 STI pdf. SUMMER TEACHER INSTITUTE14.3.30

Note: Have been asked if teachers from other states can come – you would have to email Celia, (see pdf), to ask -probably have to pay your own way if there is room.


Passion, Teaching

Recently, I was watching a Twitter Chat, #edchat, that was about portfolios, I made this post. “If one does not have the passion to reflect and improve constantly, its time to leave the classroom,” and put a link about Sean Tucker and his passion. Unfortunately, I had to leave before I could connect what I said to the chat and evaluation of portfolios.

However, I hope that there are teachers that realize that what they do is being watched – most importantly by one’s students. Regardless of where one starts in a teaching career, if there is no drive to improve and learn more about one’s craft – then what is the point of being a teacher? The main problem I see with those that pass over opportunities to stretch their minds is that this directly leads to lackluster teaching and students disconnecting from the education they need and deserve.

Does your teaching portfolio show growth?

Creative Computing Online Workshop – Design Notebook #6



My last entry in my notebook is about modeling – modeling using math to solve problems, particularly science problems has become a big deal in computing. Many scientific problems are either too large to be experimented with, too dangerous, or just impractical money/time wise to conduct in real life.

The development of computer languages that are fairly easy to use and the resultant simulations done for research has exploded. Scratch, with the advent of cloning sprites, maybe a new way for students to model various problems and present them for class projects and possibly for a larger audience.

As part of this, I have patterned my last project on modeling coin flips. This model uses create a block, probability, and variables. As it is, its a simple project for Scratch. Part of CCSS for high school math is about modeling, my project is just a sample of what could be done.

My six week journey with CCOW is over, but in reality, my learning about the new features of Scratch 2.0 is just beginning.

Creative Computing Online Workshop #5 Reflections Math Scratch Project

As part of CCOW, we were to choose a project to be our final part of the workshop. The Google+ group Math Scratch was one I created to loosely organize math teachers interested in using Scratch in their classes. Part of the group wants to focus on Math CCSS, but we also have other Scratch users from around the world in the group. Also, our focus is for middle/high school, but elementary math teachers have joined, (which I think is a good idea).

There are several issues that are in the red level, critical to the project. Of those, the highest critical issue is the lack of time by all of our participants to actively work on projects focused on math. Second to that is that many of our participants have just joined the Scratch community, their lack of experience in programming can be an issue. I think that the last issue in the red level is one of organization, just how would one integrate programming with math instruction in the classroom.

At the yellow level, I am concerned that our group might be so broadly focused that agreeing on any direction might be difficult. However, if members continue to grow in programming skill and are willing to share what they have found that works in their classroom, this could be a very interesting group.

At the green level, the very fact that we have self organized  a group and even have a good start of projects in our studio, is promising.

math cat

Creative Computing Online Workshop Week #4 Defining My Project

As a participant in CCOW, I knew this was coming. All of us have been asked to begin designing a major Scratch project and trace its development in our design notebooks.

The requirements for the project are open ended, they can be focused on pedagogy or to demonstrate what we have learned and know about Scratch – a technology Tour de Force. Or, they can be a beginning of of a project that can extend over a period of time. This is what I, and several others have chosen to do.

Hopefully, our small group of math educators/programmers, (meeting on the Google + group Math Scratch), will start working on creating activities for middle to high school CCSS. As some of the participants are from other countries and/or lower grade levels, I would hope that they would develop activities for their own standards, the exchange of these activities, I hope, would enrich the focus of the group.

So, how do we begin? Do we develop a series of “bugged” math problems in Scratch and have students de-bug? How about several programming problems focused around a particular standard? Would giving a programming challenge focused on a desired objective be an appropriate activity? How about giving students a flow chart and letting them program that in Scratch?

Below is a flow chart for developing a program to create a square root guessing game and my implementation of that flow chart, (which may or may not be correct – user warning).

square root


My project is guessing square roots, our studio is Math common core.

Even if you did not take part in this summer’s CCOW, please come and join our group.

Creative Computing Online Workshop Week #3

Ok, so I am behind… But I am not quitting. I have no real benefit to gain from working on the workshop’s activities other than my desire to learn as I am retired and I do not think that a software developer will hire me for my skills in Scratch.

In this case, I just want to know more about Scratch because:

  1. Scratch is easy to learn.
  2. Scratch if fun
  3. Scratch is deeper than it first seems, its more than a kiddie language
  4. CCOW community has proven to be very rewarding, meeting teachers and others interested in computational thinking from all over the world keeps me thinking.

So, I better get busy. For week three, we had several activities to complete.

Interactive puzzles: I worked on three of them. They were chosen because I could not quickly work out an answer to them or they were something I could use in the future. I chose puzzles 1, 3, and 5. Puzzle #1 was easier for me than I thought it would be, #2 was interesting because it required a hidden sprite and calculating the height on Scratch’s coordinate system. #5 was the most difficult as I had to have the sprites interact without using too many wait blocks and having timing work out correctly.

In the score section, we added scoring to a simple project, for me it was easy as I had helped students add scoring to their projects. Adding scoring involves creating a variable and inserting commands to zero score and increasing it when needed in the game. I am not sure how to explain variables to younger students, (other than to say its a value that can change).

In gaming, the concept of levels is used extensively. Most student Scratchers like to work on games, so they quickly learn that setting a variable for level counting is fairly easy, but then the real thinking begins. If a level is not completed, does the player have to go back to the previous level, does this hurt the scoring, can one have codes at each level to allow a player to continue where he left off? Installing levels involves learning how to use broadcasting to change the environment of the game, increase enemies, etc. I used Cube World 7, Wall Jump, and The Hardest Mouse Pointer Game in the World.

My game was/is a disaster, in retrospect, I should have worked on a game that I was interested in, I felt like a student that discovered the lack of interest the day before the project was due, (yes, I have had students ask to change projects the day before due date). As I would tell them, document what you have done, note difficulties that you encountered and tell me what you would have done differently. One can learn just as much from a failed project as one that is successful, (maybe more).

So, I am off to start on week 4.


Scenes Scratch Project for CCOW

Part of Scratch’s easy to learn features is the ability to change the background so that one could have scene changes,  in 2.0, its called backdrop.Users can choose from a built in library or import images for their projects.

Scene changes are very useful in most all Scratch projects. I have created a short story as my scene project. Scenes can give commands to pass on to sprites, play music, etc.

I always give sprites positions on the scene and then decide where to move them. Often students grab sprites and move them around without realizing that they need a fixed starting point.

When looking a the project area, I found many different scene types, from a tour of Iran to stories and even games. Some utilized animation, such as games or story telling.

This was my first extensive use of Make a Block which made keeping track of changes in the story much easier.

What do you think?

Conversations – Using Broadcasting VS Timing for Events in Scratch CCOW 2013

Broadcasting sends a message within Scratch, it can be received by sprites/backgrounds so that an event beginning and or ending could be started. One has two choices, send the message and keep on going, or send the message and wait until the message was acted upon, (the event created ended). For animated projects that are large, broadcasting is a way to control timing without having to keep track of when something started and when it ended. Below is an example of one sprite’s use of broadcasting.


For short projects involving multiple events, using timing could be easier for the programmer, especially the beginner. However, the longer the conversation or list of events becomes, the easier it is to use broacasting.


Characters Project – Add a Block in Scratch CCOW 2013

Scratch 1.4 was easy to learn and use, however, it didn’t take long before programmers, young and old, begin asking for more blocks. Rather than grow the block area and make the program more complicated, Scratch took a look at the custom blocks that were being made for a modded Scratch and came up with a way to let each user create their own custom blocks – thus one could have named procedures, (actions), for each sprite. Use of this continues to grow as Scratch 2.0 programmers learn how to use this new feature.

My Characters project

Scratch Characters Studio (Note: These are from CCOW 2013)

Pass It On, (Remix, Remix, Remix) CCOW 2013

This week, (for CCOW), we are to create the beginning of a project that is designed to be remixed. In Scratch terms, a remixed program can be one where the intent of the program is for others to take it and improve the function of the program, add features, and/or extend the program beyond what the original programmer intended.

My design was to make the program open ended so that someone that was interested could come in and add to it. Basically it was a question about music that was being played in the background.

My Project

My Project remixed by Scratch user Randomo who in the documentation for his remix, posed a question.

In my remix of his remix of my original program, I changed the program so that his question was answered. As far as learning, I think both of us increased our knowledge of Scratch and the process of debugging.

Another remix I did, (warning, this can be addictive!)

Scratch users, especially those new to Scratch, are sometimes stuck for an idea to begin their projects. Remixing allows them to use a beginning, (much like a story starter), and continue to build on what is already there.

In the discussion forums for CCOW, there have been several suggestions as to how to use these in the classroom for learning to program or to integrate them with other subject matter. My only take is that this would be great for the exploration of Scratch controls and collaboration, but may not work for students whose idea of remixing is to change one or two parts of the program and claim total ownership of it for themselves.

If you are not using Scratch in your classroom, why not?