Joy of Code Workshop EU Code Week – with Fiona Cleare

Coaching Teens with Down Syndrome ScratchJR through Circus Arts.

Last summer 2015 I was volunteering at Arts Summer Camp for teens with Down Syndrome. On the last day, I noticed a small gang of teenagers in the corner packing their bags, getting ready to head off for the day. As typical teenagers, each one had to check their mobile phone for updates and messages. I was chatting to them and asked about the kind of apps they are into. The reply: Whatapps, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. So it was from there that my idea was born. These teenagers, who happen to have Down Syndrome, would be well suited to learn how to code using ScratchJR.

This is a Pilot for both Galway Community Circus, Down Syndrome Ireland Galway Branch and are very excited at the possibilities.

I looked into the ScratchJR app and found that it would be the perfect tool on which to base a workshop for teens with Down Syndrome in Galway. My idea was to do this unconventionally without the constraints of a desk or classroom environment. Thanks to the support of the SAP volunteer Project, Galway Community Circus were able to hold the Joy of Code Workshop via Circus Arts, for Teenagers who are members of Down Syndrome Ireland Galway Branch. Galway Community Circus is a charitable organisation built on fun, innovation, and a commitment to inspiring and empowering people through circus arts. The freedom we had in the Galway Community Circus facilities enabled an atmosphere of creativity, imagination and possibilities we could simply not have created in the classroom. We had a mix of ScratchJR coaches from SAP who are Software Engineers and the tutors from Galway Community Circus who are artistic performers. The combination worked really well together. This was a pilot workshop, for which we had no template, so we designed a workshop deciding on instinct what we thought would work. And and it did: we were able to bring the Arts and Tech together for a great learning experience for everyone.

For sessions of two hours over three days during the schools’ mid-term break we worked on projects with the teenagers. The teens, SAP Coaches, and Circus Tutors had six hours to get to know each other, learn the ScratchJR commands, formulate ideas, put them into ScratchJR, and present their creation to their friends and family. No pressure!

How we make it work

We kicked off by doing a warm up exercise getting to know everyone and using the glass ball to express our wishes for the workshop. Everyone agreed on a how we work contract and signed the contract before we kicked off.

ScratchJR Commands

We then got familiar with the ScratchJR Commands, we matched the commands up with some of the circus arts activities. Even our coaches practiced walking the tight wire and trapeze. The objective was to do the activity then to get the animated character of the scratch cat to do the same in ScratchJR.

ScratchJR Demo

The coaches gave a demo of the Scratch Cat walking the tight wire using the commands which we became familiar with – simple command move left, move up, move downs etc. The teens put tiles representing each movement – the code – underneath the tight wire as we were coding the animation. Our Tutor Lauren, had to follow the commands to walk across the tight wire. The Teens followed along on their tablets.

ScratchJR Idea’s was the next stage, after we started to get to know the commands and saw a demo we then coached the Teens on whatever idea they wanted to create. They brainstormed their own ideas on a whiteboard then started to apply to the ScratchJR whatever they wanted their creation to be. The coaches coached them to make it a reality.

Some of the projects which we worked on in ScratchJR were:

  • performing a hat trick
  • walking on the tight wire
  • jumping on the trampoline
  • my favourite songs
  • dragons on the trapeze
  • a classroom scene.

The coaches assisted the teens in clarifying what they wanted to do, to get everyone engaged on their projects. This proved successful as these teams of coach and teen stuck with their project until the end of the workshop for their presentation.

To re-enforce ScratchJR commands we introduced Robot Games. These were very popular. We worked in teams of three – one controller and two “robots”. The controller had a number of commands to “control” the robots – press the red nose to start, walk forward, turn left, turn right, step up , step down. The game begins with the robots standing back to back and walking away from each other. The objective was to use the commands to manoeuvre the robots so that they ended up standing face to face. We had our real life robots, jumping on the trampoline, walking across the tight wire, banging into doors, getting stuck all over the place. Our Teens had to work very hard to get the robots back together again.

Final Presentation’s

Hat Trick

The end of the workshop came all too soon. All of the Teens opted to present their own ScratchJR animation to an audience on the last day, mostly, very proud moms, dads and siblings. They first ran the animation they had created, then opened out the code to explain how they coded the program to make the objects move around the screen. One of my personal favourite was the Michael Jackson hat trick were you have a circus hat on, you flip off your head and catch it in your hand and flip it back up again. Of course we had to master the hat trick for real then design the hat in ScratchJR and develop the code to get the hat moving up and down the character. It was really fun to create.

Experience from our coaches:

Thais Araujo ScratchJR Coach SAP

“I am honoured to participate in this uniquely pioneering initiative, mixing play, circus and code. I was amazed by how the teens were engaged and happy learning coding while engaging in the activity. I am sure they will take this experience for life and I hope we can develop and expand this project. Let’s spread the joy of code!”

Hanna-Kaisa Himanen ScratchJR Coach SAP

“When I saw the email that Fiona was looking for volunteers for Code Workshop via Circus Arts it didn’t make me long to apply for it.  To be honest I had no idea what to expect but the thought of teaching Scratch Jr programme through Circus Arts seemed like opportunity I didn’t want to miss. And I definitely was not disappointed.

We got to work with amazing people both from Galway Community Circus and SAP  in a very creative and welcoming environment. My highlight was nevertheless to meet the young teens and to see their progress over the three days when they were learning the codes via Robot Games and the circus arts. It was fun and simple way to explain the basics of Scratch Jr codes to the participants. I was very proud to see the demos that were presented to the parents and close friends on the final day. I am looking forward to whatever will be planned for the future as I have a feeling that this was only start of the great partnership between SAP Ireland, Galway Community Circus and Down Syndrome Ireland and there will be more to come.”

Amelie Bal  – GCC

“There was a lovely atmosphere all the time, everyone was super reactive and able to adapt to any situation put on our path. The presentations were really varied and personal, it seems that everyone got something out of it. I certainly did and I can see now the possibilities of using this app in our classes for show or as an educational tool. We really had to think outside the box and it was really refreshing and creative. Thank you DSI Fiona, SAP volunteers and everyone involved.”

Fiona Cleare ScratchJR Coach SAP

“My hope is that the Teens who got a flavour for ScratchJR will keep going with it either at home or bring it into their school and to keep creating more animations, never stop learning, being creative and to use your imagination. One of my favourite moments from the workshop was from one of the projects they were working on getting a dragon to flip on the trapeze, Amelie just hopped up on the trapeze and said make the dragon do this and she flipped around a few times, and they did it in ScratchJR.”

Shane Lovern ScratchJR Coach SAP

“I didn’t know what to expect when I volunteered for this event: a coding workshop using circus arts for teens with Downs Syndrome – what would that even look like? The reason that this such a difficult question to answer is that this is something so innovative, entirely new, something that bridges worlds that rarely overlap. And as to the question of what it would look like? Well it turned out that that was entirely up to the participants. Over the three days the circus performers taught the techies and the techies taught the circus performers and the teens, they taught everybody. A hugely rewarding three days.”

Parent Louise Walsh

“Would like to thank all involved with the brilliant workshop with coding and the community circus. Please pass on our Thanks to the Staff in SAP. Roisin enjoyed this course so much. Gave a great insight into Coding. Delivered so well in a way they could understand it. Great to see them all presenting their Projects to the Parents on Friday.”

Thank you to DSI Galway, GCC The Circus Arts, SAP CIF, SAP Volunteer Coaches for making this happen.