Coding in Minecraft (4): Variables

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[0) Tenacity, 1)  Chicken rain, 2) Creating classrooms, 3) Coordinates, 4) Variables]

This week was all about variables.

In the spirit of copying and changing the variables, life hack top tip, I copied what I had done last week and wrote out a list of our learning objectives and exercises on the board. Then, changing the learning variables to make it relevant to our lives and learning, I showed everyone the educator’s video of all the exercises we had to do during this week. It was only a minute and a half long but it was very cute, and as it as next to my board where I had written down our learning objectives of the three usability questions: 1)Where have we been? 2) Where are we? 3) Where are we going and what we are hoping to achieve? Then, I put on a why we are doing it, I like a ‘why’. It seemed we were all organised with our roadmap before we then looked at the slides for our how.

The slides look really fun but they don’t have much information on them and because they want to hit the main points this renders them inconsistent with themselves and if someone hasn’t looked at the rest of the materials they won’t necessarily understand everything they must learn in this unit. For example, we were talking about variables and then in the end of the let’s test out our knowledge section, there was a question about parameters, even though none of the proceeding slides had defined what a parameter is, so to someone who has not doing computing before and is just learning about variables, would think: What is a parameter? I thought we were doing variables. I guess I am a bit like a computer now having spent so long working with them. I looked at the undefined parameter and it did not compute.

This week was also the first week when there were no specific code tutorials. Normally, students can go in and pick the relevant ‘project’ box and it has a coded tutorial in there which is lovely, as it has hints and tips to help the student along and contains most of the tutorial information from the student handout.

Not this week! I have found this invariably happens in coding courses. I have tootled along doing all the stuff safe in a cocoon of support and them bam, the rug is pulled out from under me, and I am on my own. The only time that didn’t happen was the literate programming I did in Pascal first year as an undergraduate at LJMU, which I have blogged about in the past.

So, it ended up being a bit awkward as we had to have the student tutorial open and then Minecraft open at the same time, and on a laptop that it is a bit of a squeeze. In the end, I had Minecraft on my laptop and the tutorial on my phone, as I don’t want to printing lots of stuff out every week, I am thinking of the trees. I used to hate doing printing out reams of notes and slides in the days when it was normal to hand out physical notes.

I feel a bit ungrateful as it looks like I am complaining about this course. I like to think about it as documenting my experiences about what did and didn’t work for me so that I can do better the next time. It is way easier to teach from someone else’s lectures even when they are terrible (though that is not what I am saying here) than to create a whole course myself. It is also way easier to improve upon a course than create one from scratch too.

Next lesson I think I will get everyone to read the student handout and go straight into the exercises as all the information and explanation is in there. I may even try talking us through the handout as we go together, but everyone works at a separate pace so the idea that we can do it together doesn’t works, some people get it and get bored or leave, whilst others struggle under the pressure to keep up, so we can just have check in points along the way and then I will try using the slides as a recap at the end.

I am also thinking that we need a revision lecture to consolidate our learning and also pick up on the extra exercises we may have missed because we were doing the online tutorials and not the hand out ones, and the inconsistency has made it easy to miss things out. To say nothing of my girls going off and doing their own thing because I am their mum and not their schoolteacher and we are lying about on the sofa giggling away, appropriately so, as this is supposed to be a fun thing we do together.

I think though, it would be useful if the lecture series had some answers, as I was doing the advanced questions, and I couldn’t think of a solution without using an ‘if’ statement, though we hadn’t done ‘if’ statements. Am I supposed to encourage students to figure that out ready for next week? Or did the course creators have something else in mind using two loops? I would have felt better if they had let me know.

How it happened was, we were making it rain chickens by passing our block of code the number of chickens we wanted it to rain. Then the code would tell other people in the chat to watch out that it was going to rain X amount of chickens. That was all fine but in the advanced exercise we were supposed to make it rain one ‘raw’ chicken followed by one ‘cooked’ chicken until we had reached the number of required chickens. I guessed it meant by ‘raw’ chicken, the usual spawn a chicken command. Not knowing how to cook a chicken, I asked my youngest to help me.

It was hilarious, we had lightening bolts crackling across the sky as a chicken was spawned in the hope of cooking it. It didn’t work but we laughed a lot at the drama, and then since I was using a loop I thought each time the loop incremented my chicken count to an odd number I could cook a chicken with a lightening bolt and then a chicken drumstick would fall out of the sky. We had some funny conversations, but then I was back to thinking should I explain conditionals this week whilst I am there. I resisted as we would have been there much longer, but somehow I felt the lecture didn’t work as well as before.

I guess in part this is because we were a bit tired as we had had friends round on Friday and Saturday and I still get overwhelmed – in a good way – but overwhelmed nonetheless after all this time in lockdown, and I need a bit of time to calm down after the excitement. Honestly, I went to the pub the other week for lunch and I was so excited to be IN THE PUB I was high-fiving everyone, running up and down, talking to everyone who walked past whether I knew them or not. I had to come home and have a lie down afterwards it was so exciting to be out with people, real people in the flesh and not just on a computer screen.

Anyway, it was Sunday evening by the time we got around to the Minecraft lecture, which meant that we didn’t the time to complete everything and everyone drifted off to get ready for school and that and I was left spawning lightening and chasing chickens by myself, words I never thought I would hear myself say when it came to coding. Hence, my desire to do a revision consolidation lecture before we move onto more complex code ideas.

Ah yes and this is worth remarking upon: Since giving my email address to Microsoft I get endless spam in my inbox which I can’t seem to get rid of. And, for the past couple of weeks, I have had endless robots hitting through my site using search terms as if they are mining this site for data all from the Microsoft Corporation, which has been a little bit unsettling, funny though as their machines were running on Ubuntu. Ah yes, the mighty Microsoft of propriety software enjoys a bit of open source.

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