Cross-Curricular Connections: Exploring the "Draw Me a Picture" Unit

May 29, 2023

Cross-Curricular Connections

Segment Introduction

At Excalibur STEM, when we design activities for our students, we believe in problem-based learning. Rather than teach individual theories and concepts first, we provide our students with a problem to solve and the tools they will need to successfully complete the challenge. We teach theories and concepts as they are needed and apply to the particular task at hand. Our goal is to help students recognize the importance of implementing creativity, skills from all areas of curricula, and life experiences when solving problems. In the real world, a problem often is not solved simply by using skills from one subject area. Often, a combination is needed. In this new segment of our blog, we will be exploring each of our units in our Content Libraries and the cross-curricular connections - of course including the computer science and technology components - that can be found in each. We hope you enjoy and your students thrive from these activities!


Exploring the "Draw Me a Picture" Unit

This month’s unit feature focuses on our “Draw Me a Picture” Unit in Content Library Junior. This is a two-part unit that includes block-coding in Scratch and 3D design using block-coding in Tinkercad. Students learn to apply geometry skills and their creativity to create a simple picture of the outside of a house.

Part 1: Scratch

In the Scratch portion of this unit, we begin by reviewing the geometrical concepts students need to successfully draw a house using the Pen Extension in Scratch. Students learn about the properties of squares and rectangles, including how to identify 90 degree angles. This portion of the unit is needed to help students make connections to coding instructions when we draw the base of the house.

We then move into exploring the coordinate plane using a program called GeoGebra. Students learn to identify the x- and y-axes on a coordinate plane. Additionally, we discuss how positive numbers indicate moving to the right on the x-axis or up on the y-axis. Negative numbers, in contrast, indicate moving to the left on the x-axis or down on the y-axis. Finally, we discuss plotting points and segments on the plane to form a triangle. We create the triangle of the house we are going to program using the GeoGebra coordinate plane, so these coordinates serve as our blueprint.

Once we review these concepts, we move into Scratch and add the Pen Extension - a set of instructions which allows sprites to draw on the stage. To program a square, students need to know that a square has four 90-degree angles and understand the instructions that are available in the Motion category of Scratch. They also have to understand that it is not enough to simply add a turn 90-degrees instruction to their code. The sprite needs to actually draw out the lines of the square. This involves moving a certain number of steps, another instruction available in the Motion category.

Additional computer programming skills are incorporated into this lesson, as students begin to understand how loops work. In programming, there are various types of loops. In this program, we focus on the repeat loop. In Scratch, there are repeat until < > loops and repeat (insert number of repetitions here) instructions. This program uses the repeat (#) instruction, which is considered a for loop in programming. For loops repeat a section of code a specific number of times. Here, we combine the concept of loops with the concept that squares have four 90-degree angles to repeat the turning of the sprite and the drawing of the steps four times to create a square.

The unit then shifts from discussing angles to using coordinates and the Pen Extension to draw in Scratch. Students learn how to use the coordinates from GeoGebra in their instructions in Scratch. They cannot simply plug the numbers into x- and y- instructions in Scratch. Rather, each coordinate needs to be multiplied by a larger number (we use 10 in this unit) to ensure the image is large enough to be seen. This brings in multiplication skills and a simple understanding of proportions.

Once students combine the square and the triangle to create a house, they learn how to program a circle to represent the sun and a hexagon to represent flowers. This involves learning that circles are 360 degrees and that the exterior angles of hexagons are 60 degrees. Again, we use a repeat loop.

While having to keep all of these geometrical concepts in mind, students need to remember to lift the pen up and down, and move its location to various points on the screen. This ensures that each part of the picture - the house, the sun, flowers - are drawn separately and lines are not being drawn that connect all of them. Here, students need to have an understanding of the position of the sprite on Scratch’s xy-coordinate plane.

We also explore functions in this unit. Functions are pieces of code that can be written once and used repeatedly. Since we want to draw multiple flowers, we can create a function that draws a hexagon, and simply “call” this function whenever we want to draw a flower.

Part 2: Tinkercad

Tinkercad is a program that allows students to create 3D designs, circuits, and 3D designs using block coding. While some instructions are similar to Scratch, learning Tinkercad Codeblocks will mean getting used to a new way of organizing instructions, as well as different types of instructions than those in Scratch.

When working with 3D design, students need to not only be able to identify the length and width of objects, but also their height. So, students now begin to learn about the XYZ coordinate plane. To draw a picture with Codeblocks, students need to use the Add Object instruction in Tinkercad and then adjust the object’s XYZ coordinates so that it is placed in the correct position on the XYZ coordinate plane. The coordinates calculated in GeoGebra can be used, but sometimes this involves trial and error depending on the exact placement of the objects. Students may want to rearrange portions of the picture or decide to move objects to different locations.

Because we are working with 3D design, students also have the opportunity to explore how to 3D print their design and export their files for use. There are also other features in Tinkercad, such as the MarkUp category, which allows you to comment on your code. Programmers write comments in code to help other developers understand the code. So, in addition to the coding concepts that are included within the instructions of the program, we also take time to explore other computing concepts.

How Do These Concepts Help Students Today?

Clearly, there is a lot at work in this unit. The best part, though, is that it is in Content Library Junior, so it is intended for even some of our youngest learners! It is incredible the plethora of concepts that can be incorporated into a single unit and taught at a young age.

So how will this benefit our students? Learning to combine skills learned from multiple subjects is an effective way for students to solve problems. Accessing multiple parts of the brain helps promote creativity and the critical thinking skills students need to thrive in today’s society.

Additionally, we live in a world in which we are surrounded by technology. By simply learning how to use different programs, we are helping to build children’s technological literacy. This involves the way in which students use technology effectively and appropriately to solve problems. By working with multiple platforms, students become versatile with tech tools and are more likely to adapt easily in ever-changing technological environments.

The four C’s of 21st century skills - critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication - are all present in this unit. We’ve explored the many ways students use critical thinking to combine geometry and programming skills to program a picture. This activity provides students with the tools to create a picture using a sample, but they are challenged to add their own customizations and creativity. Collaboration and communication occur when students engage with the lesson comments and our online groups, as well as the end-of-unit quizzes. 

So, in completing this unit, even our youngest coders can benefit in multiple ways. It is our job as parents and educators to prepare the next generation for successful futures. When we are able to provide an engaging, problem-based activity, students will be encouraged to participate and develop the myriad of skills they need to thrive without even realizing it. We hope your students enjoy this unit!

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