WMSI Mobile STEM Lab Fall Coding Projects!

By Jeremy Knowlton

The WMSI Mobile STEM Lab Unit has been having a fantastic Fall driving around Coos County exciting students about STEM! The past few months have had some particularly interesting updates in student driven coding projects! Students have giggled, brainstormed, and problem solved their way through some imaginative programming challenges, including multi-level maze games, artificial physics games, villain design, scoreboards, and even choose your own adventure story games!!

 Milan students wiring up game controllers for their new creation!

Milan students wiring up game controllers for their new creation!

Most of our coding projects this Fall were programmed on Scratch, an easy to use block-based language that allows students to learn all of the tricks of a computer scientist without worrying about typos/syntax errors! Using Scratch, we challenged students to explore their excitement for games (who doesn't like games?) and focus on the story telling aspect of each design! We started them off with some basic game design tools like villain, scoreboard, movement, and jump coding (below)

The exciting world of artificial physics! We almost got the jump mechanics perfect...

With the basics under their belts,  STEM explorers began designing games with different levels. Good games always teach something, so that as you play more your success in the game will increase. Good level-based design will increase the difficulty of each level to match the user's increased skill, creating a game that is never too hard and never to easy. This concept is straightforward in theory, but is a massive task in creative problem solving to balance difficulty levels just right! Students tackled this level-based design challenge with mazes, creating 5-6 maze levels with villains, power-ups, character sensing, and challenging wall puzzles. Looks of concentration turned to grins as students tested and re-designed each other's mazes, creating hours of playing content!

 Giggling maze antics from these two co-designers!

Giggling maze antics from these two co-designers!

 An artistic maze with a cool dragon at the end - Sweet!

An artistic maze with a cool dragon at the end - Sweet!

Our biggest Scratch project of the Mobile program required strong story telling skills as well as some advanced coding! If/then statements, broadcasters, loops, and sensing mechanisms flew in verbal gusts around the room as students tackled the exciting challenge of choose your own adventure games! 

 Three friends hard at work coding a story about a brave monkey explorer!

Three friends hard at work coding a story about a brave monkey explorer!

Choose your own adventure games have historically been in either book or computer game format. The basic idea is that your character goes through a story and you, as the player/reader, get to choose what you do from several options. The choices you make decide the fate of your character. In our Scratch choose your own adventure games, students were given the basic coding frame work and challenged to design a story, figure out text and movement patterns for their characters, and given the challenge of using broadcast coding to get the character to cue the scene when to change! Some students took the design challenge a step further, using Makey Makeys to design interactive cardboard board games that controlled their character's choices and movements!

 The first scene of an adventure game! Should the monkey run away or explore the closed store?

The first scene of an adventure game! Should the monkey run away or explore the closed store?

 Student code sample from a choose your own adventure game!

Student code sample from a choose your own adventure game!

After two sessions, deep looks of concentration and brainstorm faces turned to laughter and excited yelps as students tested each other's games! 

 A 2nd year STEM Lab Explorer sharing his game with the group!

A 2nd year STEM Lab Explorer sharing his game with the group!

A group share at the very end of every project allows students to share accomplishments, tips and tricks, and novel ideas. At the end of our last session each student presented their games, narrating each scene and explaining the challenges they had to overcome. Coding, often considered a solitary activity, is quite fun with lots of friends and colleagues to test your code, program you out of a jam, and pass an excited high five along!

Want to see some example games that students created? Here's a gallery of them on our WMSI Scratch account

Looking forward to seeing what these STEM Explorers dream up next!