Making Maths Meaningful Using Coding and Scratch

We know that students learn best when content is meaningful and has a direct connection and application to their lives. However, while some maths concepts, such as telling the time or using money, can have immediate relevance, others seem to have very little application to children’s daily lives. How often will 11 year old children really need to measure the size of angles, or work with cartesian graphs?

I’ve found that teaching children to code may be part of the answer.

This year, I’ve been teaching students in Years 2-6 to create simple arcade games using Scratch. In order for my students to be successful, they’ve been required to apply some core mathematical ideas that I’ve struggled to find a relevant use for in the past.

1. Cartesian Coordinates

It is almost impossible to do anything in Scratch without using X and Y coordinates. They are required to define the exact position of any object, and to allow objects to move either vertically or horizontally.

Cartesian coordinates are required in this simple script to command an object to move to a specific location:

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 3.48.45 pm

Here’s another simple script, this time using cartesian coordinates and the arrow key to move an object down:

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 3.49.18 pm

2. Negative Numbers

The concept of negative numbers is one that my students often have trouble relating to. For some primary students, the idea of negative numbers is just too abstract. Coding with Scratch has provided a meaningful use for these.

The background stage in Scratch is a basic XY grid. Anything placed to the left of, or below the centre will require positioning using negative numbers. The cat sprite in this picture is positioned at X-125, Y-76:

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 3.50.50 pmMovement also requires negative numbers. For example, a script that allows an object to move in a downwards direction will require an instruction to change Y by a negative number.

3. Degrees of Turn

Working with Scratch has required my students to experiment with the size of a turn and use them to control objects. These two simple movement blocks the types of options that are available.

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 3.58.23 pm

4. Decimals

Understanding and ordering decimals is usually challenging for primary school students. In Scratch, students use decimals to perform various functions such as adjusting the speed of an object. If they want to move an object to the right, they can change X by 1. But to slow that movement down, they need to start using smaller numbers.

In this movement block, the size of the movement along the x axis has been reduced to 0.15. My students experiment with the size of decimals until they achieve the result they are after.

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 4.12.39 pm

Getting Started

When I started this project with my classes, I had no experience with Scratch and have been learning along with my students. The great thing is, it’s easy and there are many resources out there to help teachers who are at the beginning of their journey.

These free Primary Lesson Plans from Scratch.ie were my starting point. Each lesson takes around 45 minutes for my students to work through and they’ve provided a great foundation for the creative projects we’re now working on.

My students are learning maths by applying it creatively to something they love doing.


I’ve also found the Scratch Website to be helpful. It contains easy to follow tutorials, and allows you to learn by viewing the projects others have created and examining the code.

Scratch is available free: you can either download a desktop version, or work directly on the website. Try it out using the step by step tutorial here.

 

Making Maths Authentic

Coding with Scratch has become an authentic way for my students to engage with mathematics. Rather than practicing concepts for a test, or because they have to complete a page of a textbook, my students are learning maths by applying it creatively to something they love doing.

 

Feature image adapted from photo courtesy of Flickr, ScratchEdTeam.

10 Comments

  1. A light bulb moment for students when they realise they are using maths , amazing to watch their reactions when they see that maths has meaning. Great resource , thanks Corinne.

    1. Thanks for the comment Susie! It is a wonderful reaction :) The link between learning and purpose is certainly becoming easier to draw.

  2. My students with low standardised testing scores thrive when working with Scratch. A few have become the experts. Thanks for the lesson plans.

    1. It’s amazing how the right outlet allows every child to thrive. Thanks for sharing that Sallyann and really pleased you have found the lesson plans useful.

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