# Engagement advice on Creative computing

I'm preparing a course for next year, aimed at kids from ~6-16. It's based around the concept of creative computing:

http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/guide/index.html

I think it will be a great experience. We'll be working around Scratch, and a lot of stuff involving game development, animations, and who knows what else will come.

The real challenge I see in this course (as well as the main objective) is how to engage the kids into this world of development: The stereotypical kid in this age range is just interested in playing games with their parent's smartphone or tablet. Some of them have a PlayStation or other gaming system, but at the end, they spend a lot of hours playing modern games, which are ridiculously easy to play (don't get me wrong, some of those are great, but the majority of them don't promote any required value like endeavor or perseverance). Those kids don't know the amount of work that those games involve, and I'm a bit afraid of them getting frustrated by the fact they cannot easily make AAA games like the ones they're used to in a matter of minutes.

Has anyone experience in a similar environment, who can provide experiences and feedback? How do you engage those kids into this world that requires so much sacrifice and willing to learn?

Show them the cool stuff they can do with Scratch.

Don't focus on explaining that they can't make a AAA game. Focus on showing them examples of stuff that is engaging and interesting, that they can do with Scratch. Come up with a showcase of interesting programs. Make sure your assignments are engaging and interesting.

Taking a step back, I'd also recommend you give your students the benefit of the doubt. Don't come in with an attitude that assumes they only care about modern video games and smartphones. Connect your lessons with stuff they do care about. Have them draw a scene from their favorite show, or have them make a game or animation about their friends.

And taking another step back, the age range of your students is very high. A 6 year old and a 16 year old are very different. I'm not sure Scratch is the right choice for 16 year olds. Maybe try something like Game Maker or Processing? I've mentioned Processing in a bunch of my other answers, and I'd be happy to talk more about it with you if you're interested.

• Thanks Kevin. For the moment I'm trying with my 7 y.o son. So far so good. He's already excited drawing an space ship for a game he'd like to create. I know 6-16 is a wide range. I was thinking about making two groups. The first group for Scratch, the second for Godot engine or something that involves "coding" (with objects, properties, methods, etc.). Do you think going directly with Godot for a boy around 14years is too much? Those classes would span for ~8moths, 1.5hours per week. – Dani Nov 16 '17 at 15:16

Let them start by playing games that are actually teaching them programming concepts and are mostly not AAA games. None of this uses Scratch, but it is fun and it is learning programming which is also problem solving.

or problem solving,

The key word to use when searching is puzzle and or use puzzle as a tag on Steam which is a great place to start.

• Human Resource Machine is a genuinely amazing game, so much so that we purchased a site license and added it directly into our curriculum (and it gets quite challenging). TIS-100 was a lot to start, and I never got over the initial hump. This is an amazing collection of resources. Wow! – Ben I. Dec 14 '17 at 23:04

This answer, I'm afraid, is a bit off the wall. It depends on your having a really good grasp of programming and also a bit of design. If you have that you might consider proceeding as follows. I'll assume that your student's interest is mostly in gaming, so I'll go with that. But anything of interest to your students would do.

It uses an Agile Software Development methodology, though you don't need to ever say that or even introduce its concepts explicitly. Just do it.

The first step is to work with your student group (or groups) on an overall concept for a game, even a complex one, but not too complex. You could even do a bit of storyboarding for the game. Spend a day or so doing this.

The second step is to some up with some sort of design for your concept, even if it is very rough and not well developed. It certainly doesn't need to be complete since it will morph over time anyway. You will probably need to do much/most of this yourself. Break the concept into parts.

The third step is almost all your job. You need to act as (agile) Customer to your students by taking the design and breaking it into small tasks, each of which can be done in a day or so. Write these tasks on index cards. You will need to spend a hard week-end doing this. Some of the tasks will be programming and some will be other things (creating or finding graphics, say). You don't need a complete set of cards for the whole thing. You can add and delete cards as you progress. Using index cards makes this easy.

Since the visual is a motivator, make sure that your task breakdown makes it possible to see something early on - as early as possible. This can be as simple as a background pattern, but something moving (for a game) would be better.

Now the students can actually start development. Give a pair of students a task card and have them build just that. Make sure that your pairs of students are working on tasks that seem to fit together so that the work of several pairs can be integrated. Try to switch pairs frequently so that each student gets to work with different people. They won't get stuck so much and can help one another. Learn something about Pair Programming also so you can help them do it properly.

In other words, you grow the application organically. You can change the design at any time, making it more or less complex depending on how the students are doing. The steps are small, but they add up. Use the original concept as the incentive and organizing force to keep the students engaged. Have frequent "meetings" with students to get their feedback on how to proceed. Talk about what is working and what is not.

I'm willing to expand this if comments suggest it would be useful. But the original concept for the app needs to come from your students with your guidance. I'd suggest not making it too small or trivial. They don't need to complete it to be successful personally.

How do you enroll those kids into this world that requires so much sacrifice and willing to learn?

You don't. You present the material and there will be one of three outcomes:

• They are not interested and probably never will be. This is the norm for almost every possible thing that students ever learn.
• They are interested in learning, but they never end up using it beyond schooling. This covers 99% of the other cases.
• They are interested and end up doing it as a career. This happens about 1% of the time for basically every possible thing that students can learn.

Schooling has two objectives: 1) produce people with broad experience, 2) produce people who can do something for a living. We need both, and cannot force students to be interested and eventually do something for a living. It is up to them. Throughout time, there have been few people doing architecture, painting, music, writing, acting, cooking, and so on. Few people do any particular thing, and there is a large and growing set of particular things that people can do.

For some reason, computing is thought to be somehow different, but it is not. Few people learned auto mechanics, or civil engineering, or aviation, or radio technology, or oodles of other extremely useful things developed in the past few hundred years. And, because it is technology, few people actually had to. That is the point of technology. It is especially true for computing.

So, teach, and let the students decide which of the three levels of interest they have, which is a decision made over the course of many years, and involving many factors, nearly all of which are outside your control.

• Good point, thanks. I don't know it this will shape your answer a bit, but this course is off-school. It's one of those activities parents enroll their children after school. So I guess that If they sign in, they are somehow interesed. – Dani Nov 16 '17 at 19:55
• That is extremely pessimistic and ill focused. You don't include any personal objectives for schooling, only an external view. In this view people don't count, only the "production" of various kinds of people. A better view, IMO, is that schooling is to actually help a person learn and grow, but you ignore that. In your view, there is no actual need to teach at all. "Present the material" is insufficient and unnecessary. The "material" is all online now and can be found by anyone interested. But students need to also need to know what are the likely outcomes of their choices. – Buffy Nov 18 '17 at 12:20
• You seem to assume that schooling is unconcerned with actually guiding or helping people. But even with the desire, attainment is difficult. It requires long hours and dedication. That is aided by support from teachers to help them over the hard bits. You express a "take it or leave it" attitude that I find unacceptable. I suspect that you don't actually teach. If you do, I hope you can someday, somehow, come to a more positive view. Your students will be better for it. – Buffy Nov 18 '17 at 12:25