Sharing thoughts and ideas about teaching computing in school
On Friday 4th November, we held our first Hackademy ‘After Hours’ event at our school. The aim was to have an evening of family fun with the objective of engaging whole families in a competition to create computer games. In total 50 people took an active part in this event, this included mums and sons, dads and daughters and even some grandparents too. While some families attending were from our school, we also had people from across the north west region. Before the competition was launched, everyone was asked what their expectations were of the evening and invited to write these on the white board.
Teams were formed with a balance of Scratch experts, dabblers and nOObs. All teams were given the same challenge, to take a basic shell of a role playing game that I previously created in Scratch and turn it into something that would be judged as awesome. If you visit this area on the Scratch website you can see the basic empty shell for the role playing game.
Part way through the evening, I decided it would be a good idea to record a short 2 minute video tour showing all the activity that was happening during the evening. If you watch this clip you will see how all the different teams are working together.
It was fantastic to see such a diverse range of people taking part. Teams consisted of mixed gender, mixed age and mixed experience levels. We mixed up some of the teams to try get a balance of skill and experience. After a 15 minute briefing session, teams started developing their games.
I appointed three judges to decide the winning teams based on a presentation to be given at the end of the evening. One judge was Ben Gristwood, (blog) a teacher from another school (judging the code being used), another judge was a parent (judging the quality of the presentations and a third judge was a 15 year old pupil who was to judge the playability of each game.
Half way through the evening, we had pizza generously sponsored by Toni’s Pizzas Preston and some pop, cakes and biscuits. It was remarkable to see that teams were so engaged in their work that they were initially reluctant to stop working, until the aroma of the pizza drifted in from the other room, they quickly returned to their projects after a few slices of pizza.
Many of the parents commented on how they felt that they were the ones who were learning from the children. Some parents said they felt that the had learnt a great deal about programming throughout the course of the evening where they knew nothing previously.
At the beginning of the evening, one parent had apologised saying she was not sure how she might contribute to the evening, since she had no interest in either computer programming or games. This presented an ideal opportunity to appoint an impartial observer, so I asked her to go around and gather feedback in particular from parents about how to improve the event. I recorded an interview with her
At 8.15pm, teams were asked to stop working on their games programming and to present what they had created. Each team was allowed up to 3 minutes to explain how their game worked.
One team show how they responded to the challenge – including some references to Mr Ranson our headteacher, perhaps to score favour?
Team “Help” created a game called “Minotaur’s Quest” set in Ancient Greece, in the labyrinth of the minotaur.
Our winning team with a mum, her Year 7 son and one of our Year 9 ‘experts’ created a music role playing game in Scratch. They were allowed to go first dibs in the prize chamber to collect their chosen prize before other competitors were allowed to choose their prizes.
Excellent Feedback- At the end of the evening I asked all 50 people attending to rate the evening on a 5 point scale. The scale I suggested worked thus; 5 being “totally awesome, excellent evening – cant wait until the next event”, 4 “Really enjoyed ourselves, with some slight improvement could be perfect”, 3 “I’m glad I came, but some improvements could be made”, 2 “I’m not sorry I came – but there is still some work to be done”, 1 “I wish I had stayed at home, what a waste of time”. Thankfully, nobody awarded a 1 or 2, 11% awarded 3, 48% awarded 4 and 39% awarded a 5 out of 5. The main suggestions for improvement were to insist that each team leader appointed a leader that was not the programming expert, resources such as help sheets be provided or some instruction, and try to keep the room cool. It got very hot in the room with 50 people moving around and 32 computers.