Coding with Play-Doh

The Remake Learning Digital Corps marries new technology with classic crafts

Kaylee, age 10, squeezes pink Play-Doh into arrow shapes. She’s chosen this medium to be the conductive material for a Makey Makey joystick she’s assembling in order to test the video game she just coded using Scratch.

The 5th grader from Pittsburgh Morrow PreK-8 has been participating in Remake Learning Digital Corps workshops this autumn at the Woods Run branch of the Carnegie Library. She and 5 other pre-teen digital natives seem at ease learning coding. As they drag and drop command blocks, they’re all focused on customizing their video game project, able to work independently even if it’s their first time using Scratch.

Mentor Erin Higgins tells students they can use the command blocks to change every aspect of their game template. This evening, they’re making a Pong-type game, and Kaylee selects a monkey to bounce on green paddles. “I figured out how to win,” she confesses. She makes her monkey very large so she has a better chance of catching it on her paddles.

A fast learner, Kaylee finishes the coding steps first and leans over to help a peer code the game. “See here? You forgot to tell it to move right and left,” she whispers to a neighbor, cementing and deepening her own understanding of the material as she helps her friends.

Kaylee declines an opportunity to help Erin explain how the Makey Makey joystick works, but is eager to demonstrate how to use an aluminum foil bracelet to clamp to the circuit to ground it.

Erin says Kaylee often catches on fast to the material, figures out where the lesson is going, and works ahead so she can come up with improvements to make the projects easier. “I love hearing her newest ideas for how to win the games we design,” Erin says, pushing Kaylee to find another way to improve her score without making the monkey so large he won’t bounce.

As Kaylee experiments with her project, she realizes the speed her paddle moves can be adjusted to make the game run more smoothly–she speeds up the paddles so the game reacts better to her Play-Doh joystick. Her score soars into the millions and, more important, she’s learned the skills necessary to experiment with coding at home to develop her projects however she’d like.



Published December 01, 2014