Free Computer Programming Unit Study

This is a four week, secular, free computer science unit study perfect for kids in grades 3rd-5th which can be adapted to work for older or younger children. It uses the Scratch programming language to develop foundational programming skills. The lessons are video based followed by experimentation at the computer. After kids complete the Scratch portion of this unit study, they can continue creating more complicated games and animations using Scratch, progress into programming with Xcode used for Apple products, or learn to program with Javascript which is another programming language.

Week 1: Scratch Basics

Scratch is free tool designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for kids to learn the basics of computer programming. When programming with scratch kids drag commands they want to use into a programming window. The tool eliminates the need to know syntax and instead places the focus on the bigger picture of program structure.

Watch Scratch Basics, the first in a series of videos created to introduce kids to scratch. Then open the tool and play around.

Here is one example of what kids can come up with. In Fly-O-Rama the player sees if the shark can catch the bee. The shark moves when the q key is pressed. The bee moves when the arrow keys are pressed and the space bar, m and b make the characters talk.

This program is an animation of a dancer in action.

The following keyboard keys control the dancer.
a - next stage and hide dancer
b - show dancer
c - dancer raises arm
d - dancer jumps into the splits
e - dancer kicks leg into the air and catches it
f - dancer does an aerial
arrow keys - move dancer

To see these programs go to the Scratch website.

Week 2: Sensing and Events

Watch Lesson 2 - Sensing and Events, and then play with the software to try out what you learn. Be sure to import, and modify existing graphics as well as use different functions to control the characters.

Here is a sample program called Movies and Monsters. The following keys on the keyboard control the monsters.

arrow keys - move monster #1
j, k, l and i - move monster #2
g and z - make monster #3 appear and disappear
a, q and space bar - sounds

Here is another sample program called octopus who chases a star around the screen. The star is set to move to a new random spot on the screen every second. The octopus always points toward the star and tries to touch it. If he does, the octopus opens his mouth and the star disappears.

Week 3: Video Games

Continue watching videos in the tutorial series and writing programs in scratch. Try to create if statements which are tied to keyboard strokes.

Here is an example called Falling Ball Competition. It's a two person game. When the falling balls reach the corresponding balls at the bottom of the screen the competitors press a key on the keyboard to earn a point. If the keyboard key is pressed before or after the balls are in contact the competitor loses a point. The player with the highest score after 48 balls fall is the winner. The pink balls are controlled with the keys a,s,d and f. The purple balls are controlled with the keys h,j,k and l. To try the game click on the Falling Ball Competition link above.

Week 4: Degrees in a Circle

Watch Lesson 4 - Drawing and then play with Scratch. In this lesson create circles with simple code which included inputting the number of degrees and steps to go around a circle. For example, if the code in the program says take 10 steps around in 36 degree intervals a complete circle would be drawn since 36x10 = 360 (number of degrees in a circle). Create unique and interesting geometric designs on the computer.

Week 5: Xcode

If your child has enjoyed programming with Scratch but needs a new challenge consider introducing Xcode. Xcode is an Apple programming tool used to create Apps. The best way to access Xcode is directly through an Apple computer. Look through the Ray Wenderlich Library of Tutorials for Computer Programmers for current tutorials on Xcode and other computer programming tutorials. Some tutorials are free and some require payment to become active. Here is one free tutorial to help get you started.

One simple app that kids can create is called the "Hit Me" app. Basically it is a simple game where the person playing is given a number and asked to move a slider bar labeled 1-100 closest to the number given. In the photo below, you can see the game being simulated on a phone within the computer screen.

Once the app is complete it can be transferred to an actual iPhone.

Week 6: Javascript

If your child has enjoyed programming with Scratch an alternative to learning to program with Xcode is to try programming in Javascript. Get a copy of the book Javascript for Kids. In the first chapter the author explains that in reality, computers are actually very dumb. They can after all, do only what humans tell them to do.

Javascript for Kids starts with the very basics and builds from there.  In discussing variables, the first main topic, the difference between numbers, strings and booleans is explained. Short program examples are given and the kids can type them right into the browser to see how they work. Chapters contain challenge questions designed to get kids creating their own programs using the tools they learned.

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