CoSpace Rescue – Not As Bad As I Thought

When I first prepared for teaching skills relevant to CoSpace Rescue I thought this would be a relatively poor platform for learning proper software engineering techniques and computational thinking.  After teaching CoSpace-based curriculum for a few months in both Primary (Zhenghua) and Secondary (Pei Hwa) CCAs I have to admit the virtual simulation platform is starting to grow on me.

Unfortunately, as I have become more enthusiastic about the CoSpace framework, I’ve also simultaneously realized that my first instincts about it are also true.  As a gamification system for coding, CoSpace Rescue works well.  For the Primary School level, the GUI really helps in removing obstacles to getting started, as opposed to an all-text-based coding environment.  Kids can quickly add rules and test various event-based decision trees, without knowing any coding language.

They quickly internalize boolean operator concepts, and competing decision priorities and choices.  It isn’t a very big jump from that to utilizing state variables to create simple state machines.  Still, it has been challenging to get students used to this environment to shed the security and comfort of the game GUI with the freedom and efficiency of pure and abstract C coding.  Without the ability to abstract from the Simulation Gaming environment to the underlying C code, the students are unable to make the leap of faith and leap of computational confidence to go hacking.  That’s where the benefits of the platform start hitting a serious wall – students inculcated in nothing else for several years turn into great CoSpace Rescue developers, but not great developers… A work in progress.

Still, I’m proud of the Junior team at Zhenghua who managed to clinch the ambiguous “Judge’s Award”!

A :Bit of Fun @ Muhammadiyah Welfare Home

We managed to find the time for a half-day, multi-disciplinary workshop at the Muhammadiyah Welfare Home for at-risk youth.  The computer lab at the center was limited to fourteen PC’s, so we had a group of fourteen kids, and we chose to use block programming as a medium, utilizing the popular and relatively cheap BBC micro:bits.

Stage One

Our team included Yoni (myself), Shenghao (resident hacker with only good intentions), and Zahab (master chemist with a heart of gold).  We wasted little time on formalities and niceties and started the secondary school-aged kids on sequencing, repetition automation, and conditional foundations using the Microsoft-provided, and Google Blockly-based simulator – social enterprise can bring out the best in everyone!  By the end of the first hour, the attendees had already designed a digital book of microMojis, original taglines, and built-in jingles, complete with pagination logic utilizing the micro:bit’s A & B buttons.

One PC was on the fritz, so Shenghao multi-tasked between troubleshooting student code and troubleshooting PC hardware.  He had all fourteen working by the time we left…

Stage Two

After a short break, the class returned to begin their second challenge – authoring their original, digital music.  At this point we handed out the actual micro:bits, so the students could start downloading their code from the simulator and into their own pocket PCs.  The brand new :bits took a bit of wrangling and calibration to setup, but we were all back to coding in a few minutes.

Once a student had completed their musical number, the obvious next question was – “how come my micro:bit doesn’t play sound?”  Which is a perfect segue to explaining the available actuators and sensors on the micro:bit.  As far as actuation, there’s not much more than the 5×5 LED matrix.  So, everyone was relieved to find we brought alligator clips and piezo buzzers along.  If we had more time, Zahab could probably have tantalized the students with her tales of piezoelectric effect on various materials.  Alas, we were anxious to move on to our next mini-module.

Stage Three

In the last hour, some students had enough foundation to be able to explore on their own and we allowed them the free time to do as they wish.  We strongly believe in open-ended projects, self-exploration, learning by trial-and-error, and mastery through play.  For instance, Zahab worked with one row on Radio blocks, which  utilize Bluetooth broadcasting for inter-micro:bit communication.  The kids in that row had fun messaging each other micro:tweets.

For other students, we devised a mini-challenge to utilize Sprites in the Game blocks menu to create a simple Cat and Mouse game using various inputs and the LED matrix visualization.  This was a stretch project, and not all completed it successfully.  The looks of joy and appreciation on everyone’s face – after the initial cries of frustration – betrayed the fact that, by and large, our mission was accomplished.
Another of our strong convictions and inherent lessons in our activities – it’s OK to fail!

In Conclusion

When we left, the attending staff member suggested we could return soon, as the fourteen students we managed to fit into the computer room were just a fraction of the boys who would be interested and could benefit from our programs.  We look forward to meeting more of the Muhammadiyah community on our next visit!

Like to join us in our volunteer sessions? Have the right STEM skills, want to do volunteer work, but don’t want or don’t have the resources to do it alone? We organize volunteer STEM courses whenever we can and will be happy to have you join us. We welcome everyone, from students to experienced robotics trainers.  Just drop us a mail at