Friday, 12 December 2014

CodeClub: TWSU DIY Gamer The end!

Final week of the DIY Gamer project!

I'm fairly sure that when the kits were first released, it was intended to be a 12 week project.  The final worksheet certainly seems to have crammed a lot in, with 20 pages of stuff to do.

To add the final features to the game (start screen, scoring etc), the idea is to use a code library which contains the various functions needed. I like this as a concept as it reflects real-world coding practice, although the worksheet doesn't really explain this apart from a brief mention on the front page. Obviously I try to talk things through as we're going along, but this is not always easy when you're spending a lot of time trying to find the missing (or extra) semi-colon(s) in the clubbers' sketch programs!

My observation has been that the children generally skip over the 'code comprehension' pages which is a shame as they are normally very useful. However I have to say that the examples in Lesson 10 were quite skinny. The explanation for the code block:

for(byte b=0; b<sequenceLength;b++) sequence[b]=0;


"Clear the sequence. A 1-line for loop doesn't need parenthesis, but we have added them for consistency."

I know the children at my CodeClub are very bright but unsurprisingly, none of them could make head nor tail of this particular gem.

Only a couple of groups managed to get to the very end having completed everything (and one of those only because they came to my afterschool codeclub to finish it off - there's dedication for you). I suggested to the whole group that we could have an extra session at the start of next term so that everyone could complete the whole project, but the general consensus was that we should start something new. They've definitely got the hardware bug though, so I'll have to dream up some suitable projects to keep them satisfied.

Things to do differently next time?

I think it would be worth really taking more time to explain what's going on with the 'Advanced tab' and the code library. 

When you are dealing with this much code, debugging problems can be quite tricky. The compilation error message generated by the Arduino Sketch editor are not always the most helpful and the line referenced is often not the origin of the problem - typically it is a missing } further up. Sometimes the code has become such a kludgy mess that the easiest fix is to start from a known-good state. I think more liberal use of 'save as' as the children progress - essentially saving a new version at every stage - would make it easier to revert in the event of problems.  Although I had the various 'working' examples to hand, the kids were reluctant to use these as they didn't contain their unique arrow designs and copy-n-pasting them from one file to another often generated more problems. 

So this is the end of the DIY Gamer project. I will try to post some general comments over the next few days but I'd be really interested to hear about other CodeClub's experiences. Drop me an email, tweet or leave a comment below. 

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