Encouraging Computational Thinking in Professional Development
Do you ever see something and can’t leave it alone until you figure out how it was made? It happens to me often. In fact, it happened just the other day. I’ve made a ‘spirograph’ application on Scratch, and I was looking at how other Scratchers have coded similar projects. I ran across one in particular that had a beautiful introductory scene. I watched it a few times from the project page before looking behind the scenes in the code.
The animation is composed of layers. The top layer is white rectangle that has cutout letters on it. The bottom layer has a gradient that fades from white to rainbow colors, then to white again. As the bottom layer slides from left to right, the letters are briefly visible. The idea is incredibly simple, and the effect is beautiful. Once I saw it, I had to make my own using letter cutouts to mask a moving layer. For projects like these, projects that involve manipulating shapes and images, I like using Keynote.
The Process (Keynote)
After seeing how the original project was made in Scratch, I wanted to create a title sequence for a video. Of course, there are tools that are made specifically for animating title sequences. I have Motion, for example. But I like making things in more democratic tools. Keynote is a free tool for all Mac and iPad owners and it is easy to use.
I was not working on any particular video at the time, but I had the idea in my mind. I open with a white slide, then the title is briefly visible, then the title scales up and becomes a window. The camera seems to fly through that window into the scene.
I started my Keynote project by creating a white slide with bold black text. I was careful to select a typeface that was bulky throughout. Then I took a screen capture of the slide and pasted it onto a new slide. Using Keynote’s instant alpha tool, I erased the letters, creating open spaces where the letters had been. Then, I created a new rectangle the same height as the erased text on my mask layer. Using the complex gradient setting, I created a rainbow pattern across the rectangle. Then, I moved the rainbow rectangle behind the mask and animated it to move slowly across the screen. I also layered an image behind the rainbow rectangle and used the scale and dissolve animations to give the impression of a window.
How Follow / Tinker / Make / Share goes beyond the ordinary to help learners grow
To be honest, this didn’t start out to be it’s own article…. It’s actually the second half of this one which sets up everything you’ll read here. But when that article approached the irretrievable tl;dr limit of 4,000 words, I was wisely advised to split it up. If you find yourself wanting more setup, a quick trip there will help. Don’t worry; I promise not to go anywhere while you check it out. If you already read that or don’t feel a trip back there is necessary, great. Let’s get on with the show….
If you’ve arrived here, it’s hopefully because you’re either a fan of learning-by-making or are learning-by-making curious. As I’ve written previously, this approach is an important antidote for the stultifying and toxic mix that passes as ‘standardized learning.’ However, despite a raft of research and supports for integrating challenge-based, service, and maker learning, many teachers and schools are hesitant to incorporate these approaches — at least for most learners. Perhaps those in elite schools or ‘accelerated’ programs will get a chance to experience learning-by-making, but most learners simply won’t.
That’s a shame.
When it comes down to it, this isn’t because most teachers are uncertain of the benefits of learning-by-making or haven’t heard colleagues sing its praises at conferences. It’s because they just don’t have the time necessary to develop and integrate projects in an already overflowing schedule. And the pressure of standardized exams makes adopting this approach seem even less advisable. Giving learners information to memorize for the test seems so much more expedient.
But it’s also less likely to ‘stick’ — and it takes dramatically more energy from teachers to keep the wheels turning. Schools that have embraced project- and challenge-based learning, on the other hand, have seen dramatic improvements in almost every measure — often to their own surprise. If schools can just overcome the initial friction, learning-by-making proves itself every time.
Introducing the Follow / Tinker / Make / Share Framework for learning-by-making
You’re a teacher. Or a parent. Or a school leader. Or just a person. Given the perilous state of the world, currently hosting a global pandemic as a warm-up act for … well, a catastrophic global warm-up, you’ve perhaps begun to recognize the burdens this next generation will have to carry. They won’t be able to let anything slide. The challenges they’ll have to solveare arguably more complicated than any in human history, and the choices they make will largely determine whether or not humanity survives. Plus, to put a cherry on top, despite the best efforts and labor of many teachers, most of this generation have a Covid-shaped hole right in the middle of their education.
However, they don’t really need what many educators are prepared to offer. They certainly don’t need fill-in-the blank worksheets, fill-in-the-bubble standardized exams, or fill-in-the-seat lectures. Far too many folks love to trot out the dubious old saw about “jobs that don’t exist yet,” but regardless of whether that’s true, it should be obvious that this generation won’t be prepared for any of what’s coming by marching through a bunch of lock-step, ‘school-that-exists-now’ exercises. There’s simply no way that regurgitating those pre-digested facts or replicating those canned-formula procedures is going to prepare them even for today’s challenges — let alone tomorrow’s.
As lots of us have been saying, we’ve got to build something better.
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