Cross-Curricular Connections: Exploring the "Programming on Parade" Unit

3d 3d design arduino circuit coding computer programming computer science content library jr cross-curricular connections electronics geometry interdisciplinary instruction programming project-based learning real-world scratch software development solid geometry stem stem education technological literacy tinkercad transferable skills Oct 29, 2023

This month’s unit feature focuses on our “Programming on Parade” module in Content Library Junior. This two-part module is inspired by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The first portion of the module teaches students how to animate a parade in Scratch using block coding. Students then learn how to do 3D Design using Tinkercad to create parade floats. Finally, in this second portion of the unit, we discuss how parade floats are operated and teach how to design a basic motor circuit, also in Tinkercad. This holiday-themed module is filled with a variety of computer programming, electronics, and design skills.

Part 1: Animating a Parade in Scratch

In the first portion of this module, students learn how to create different parade scenes using Scratch. If you’ve seen the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before, you know that it involves massive balloons flying over the streets of New York, as well as musical floats and Broadway performances. In this program, we teach students how to program a dancer, a moving float, and flying animals. When the parade first started, it featured live animals from the Central Park Zoo rather than balloons, so we use this idea to create a scene where animals move across the Scratch stage. This provides us the opportunity to make connections to the original parade and teach a bit of history along with programming!

Let’s discuss each scene of our Scratch program. We start by teaching students to create a welcome page for their parade. This involves practicing using the Scratch Editor. If you’ve read our other Cross-Curricular features before, you know that when students work in the Scratch Editor, they are learning skills that they can apply to other programs. Grouping objects together, copying, pasting and holding the Shift key to keep a shape’s dimensions are all handy tools students can apply to other programs, like Tinkercad.

In order to switch from one parade scene to another, students learn how to program an arrow key. As with the Tell Me a Story unit, students learn to program different arrows to switch to different scenes using a combination of Events and Looks category instructions. Each arrow corresponds to a different scene, requiring students to be organized with their code and test the code multiple times to ensure each arrow sprite performs the desired function.

The first official parade scene features a dancing ballerina. In Scratch, there is already a Ballerina Sprite that has multiple costumes. If you click on Costumes in the upper left hand corner of the screen (next to Code), you can click through each costume. If you move through these costumes quickly, it looks as if the dancer is actively dancing. To make the dancer appear as if she is dancing on the Scratch screen then, we need a combination of switch costume to ( ) instructions, paired with wait instructions from the Control category and glide instructions from the Motion category.

In the picture above, the dancer is leaping across the stage. This leap position is one of the available costumes for the Ballerina Sprite. However, it is not enough to simply change her costume. To make her move, we need a glide ( ) secs to x: ( ) y: ( ) instruction from the Motion category. When a sprite is moved around the Stage in Scratch, the x and y-coordinates automatically change. Still, this requires an understanding of what the xy-coordinate plane is and how it affects the positioning of the sprites. We teach students to position the ballerina where they would like her to be placed, and then select the appropriate Motion category instructions to make her appear as if she is gliding and dancing across the screen.

Finally, students learn how to add music to this scene. When clicking on Sounds in the upper left hand corner of the screen (next to Costumes and Code), you are brought to the Sound Library, which contains a variety of short sounds and longer sounds that can be used to create a song. Once you click on Sounds, click on Choose a Sound in the lower left hand corner of the screen to access the Sound Library. In this program, we use the “Classical Piano” sound for the ballerina’s music. Once the sound is added to your program, it should appear in the drop down of the start sound ( ) and play sound ( ) until done instructions in the Sound category. The challenge for students in this portion of the program is to make it so that the ballerina’s movements match up to the song. 

This could be better achieved by using the Music Extension instructions, where students can specify exact beats and timing. While we do not explore those instructions in this module, they can access the “Play Me a Song” module to learn more and apply their learned knowledge to their ballerina’s song. Still, the ballerina’s movements can match the music from the Scratch Library when the right combination of instructions are used and the timing of the wait instructions is set accurately.

The next scene involves creating a float in the Scratch editor and adding a Singer Sprite. Students learn how to create a float by using the Rectangle, Circle and Line tools in the Scratch Editor. The Rectangle tool is used to create a basic outline for the float. Then, students learn to add a string of lights. To do this, students need to connect a line from one side of the float to the other. Use the Reshape tool - indicated by the cursor and a dot - to bend the line and make it look more like a string that would display lights. Finally, we use the Circle tool to create the lights. Once again, students learn how to use the Reshape tool to make the lights have more of an oval shape that is indicative of holiday lights. Once the sprite is created, we can use a glide ( ) secs to x: ( ) y: ( ) instruction that we used in the last scene to make the float move from one side of the screen to the other.

But what about the wheels? Once again, we can use the Scratch Editor to create the wheels of the float. We need to create the wheels separately because while we can also have them glide across the screen, wheels need to rotate. So, students learn how to use a combination of turn (15) degrees instructions and wait instructions to make this happen. These instructions are placed within a forever instruction, which creates an infinite loop, making the wheels turn indefinitely.

Yet if we then program the wheels to glide across the stage after we’ve written this first part of the code, they will not move. This is because the instructions indicate that the wheels should turn indefinitely, not allowing the code to move on to the next part. So how do we make this happen simultaneously?

We need to add two when backdrop switches to [ ] instructions from the Events category so that the wheels turning and the wheels moving across the stage happen simultaneously. We also need to position the wheels so that they match with the float. Notice, too, that we need to make sure these sprites - the wheel and float - are shown in this scene, but hidden in other scenes. There are a lot of moving parts - literally and figuratively - to this code!

This concept of using two Events starters to make code happen simultaneously is used again in the animal scene. In this scene, we need the parrot and bat to continuously flap their wings while moving across the screen. The bear needs to constantly be changing its costumes to make it look as if it is walking, AND it needs to move across the Stage.

The parrot and bat are easier to program, as there are only two costumes for these sprites. Either their wings are up or down. With the bear code, as shown above, there are a variety of costumes among which we need to switch in order to make it look as if the bear is moving. At this point in the program, students understand the concept of making code happen simultaneously and switching between costumes. Adding additional costumes and movements helps to further challenge their skills and build upon these concepts.

The Scratch portion of this module is packed with a variety of concepts - from understanding the xy-coordinate plane to syncing music with moving sprites to learning how to rotate sprites so that they sync with other parts of the scene. This is only the first portion of the module, but even if your students only complete this portion, as you can see, they will be learning and utilizing a variety of concepts!

Part 2a: Designing 3D Balloons & Floats

In the second portion of this unit, students learn how to use Tinkercad’s 3D Design program to create parade balloons and floats. Working in this platform helps students learn the basic principles of 3D design, including designing objects to scale, aligning objects appropriately and creatively combining shapes to create new objects. We begin by teaching how to create different objects as balloons using various shapes. For example, students learn how to create a butterfly balloon using cylinders for the body and antennae, and hearts for the wings. 

Once students master how to create individual objects, we build on these skills to create more complex objects - parade floats. In the image above, multiple objects are grouped and adjusted to create this winter-themed float. To start, students learn to decrease the height of a basic box shape and extend its length to create more of a rectangle shape. In Tinkercad, for each object, a small black cone will appear above it when selected. This allows the designer to raise or lower the object above or below the workplane. So, students learn how to raise up the rectangular object which will serve as the base of the float.

From here, students learn how to rotate, align and group the fence posts together to create a boundary. The fence posts are already available in the Tinkercad library, so students do not need to combine shapes to create their own fence, though they may if they choose. To align and group objects, you need to hold down the Shift key and select each of the objects you want aligned or grouped together. As mentioned in previous entries, this is a transferable skill that can be used in a variety of programs. This unit provides students the chance to practice learning how to group and align so that it becomes easier and more familiar.

As with the fence posts, there are a variety of wheel options already created in the Tinkercad library. Students can choose from these and learn how to group and connect them to the base of the float, which they have since learned to raise above the workplane, to create what looks like a moving float.

Students have the opportunity to explore shapes already created in Tinkercad when customizing their floats. The trees and snowflake shapes have already been made. However, students can also duplicate and rotate images to create the multiple angles of a snowflake and design their own objects for their float. This unit provides students with the knowledge of how to use and navigate all of the Tinkercad tools in a way that suits their projects best.

Part 2b: Creating a Motor Circuit

In the final portion of the second submodule, we connect the idea of making parade floats operate to creating a motor circuit. Students learn how to use an Arduino computer - the power source - and a hobby gearmotor to create this circuit. As we mentioned in our previous entry that focused on the “At the Pumpkin Patch” unit, it is important that we connect all hardware in the circuit using jumper wires in order to create a closed circuit and allow electricity to flow in one direction.

Students then learn to write block code to operate the Arduino and the circuit. This basic set of instructions involves a forever loop, which creates an infinite loop. The jumper wires in the circuit are connected to the Arduino on the GRND pins and pin 10. So, for our code, we need to set pin [10] to [HIGH]. Recall that the word “HIGH” is similar to turning “ON” or activating the pin. Once the simulator is started, we would then see the gears on the motor turning. Similar to our other units in Tinkercad, we then explore how the block code looks in the text form of the C++ programming language. Visit last month’s post to learn more about this feature of Tinkercad and its uses.

Combining It All

This unit combines coding, circuitry, 3D design, mathematical and historical concepts together in one. Students have the opportunity to learn about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, while learning how to program different scenes and actions in Scratch. 

Because this unit involves motion, there is a lot of focus on using the xy-coordinate plane correctly and adjusting coordinates so that objects land in their desired positions. When we move into Tinkercad, we continue to build upon the concept of motion, bringing gearmotors into play.

Learning 3D design involves the mathematical concept of scale and proportion, as the Tinkercad workplane is measured in millimeters. To make our objects scaled correctly, we would need to convert so that our prototypes are accurate. While we do not always require this step in Content Library Junior, we begin to build the foundation for how to do this. Additionally, geometry skills are brought into play when students learn how to manipulate, align and group shapes to create desired objects.

As with all of our units, there is not one subject-area or skill that the unit teaches. We do not start by teaching theory or concepts in isolation. Rather, students learn all the necessary skills they need to complete the task presented to them in the module. These projects encourage students to tap into their creativity and utilize critical thinking skills in order to take the concepts they’ve learned and design the best prototype of their ability as a result. This is how STEM thinking works, and it is so important we continue to encourage our students to think outside the box, and use a variety of skills from all subject areas, to solve problems and complete any given challenge.

To get your students started with this unit and others that promote STEM thinking, be sure to head to our website and sign up for a free trial of our Content Library

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