What's our purpose? The Princess & The Toad has been created in order to engage young students (and especially girls) in coding, by focusing on its creative (rather than its technical) dimension. The Scratch programming language has been chosen as it enables students to concentrate on this creative aspect, without having to worry about the strict syntactic rules associated with most text-based programming languages.
What's the concept? Coding is compared to writing a play. The play analogy not only provides students with an ideal setting in which to engage their creativity, it also builds on the way that the Scratch Canvas is actually organised. During this creative process, students are introduced at the same time to some of the key principles and techniques associated with coding. (Students may work individually, in pairs, or in collaboration with parents or mentors).
Who 's it for? The project is aimed at students between (approximately) 7 and 14 years old and their teachers or parents, and is designed to support co-learning (students plus teachers/parents). It provides an ideal introduction for those with no background in coding. However, it is also aimed at students with some coding experience; and advanced students should be able to create their play from a blank canvas (without the need for instructions).
How does it work? The project consists of eight scenes from a play, where each scene is a separate programme written in Scratch. For those who are new to coding, step-by-step instructions are provided to enable them to assemble the first scene of the play. In this way, participants learn how to find their way around the Scratch Canvas, how a computer programme is structured, and how to use combinations of blocks to code the programme's functions.
How is it 'creative'? With these foundations in place, students are ready to unleash their creativity by working on a copy of the play that they can then personalise. Depending on students' competency and the time available, personalisation can range from relatively minor programme changes to major changes to the play's structure (involving new functions, characters and scenes). Experienced students can jump straight to this stage, and advanced students may prefer to work from a blank canvas.
What does it cover? The project focuses on those function categories in Scratch which most closely support the creative process of composing a play - Motion, Looks, Sounds (including Voice-overs), Events, Control (limited), Sensing, Operators, and Variables. The intention is to carefully regulate the amount of knew knowledge that students and teachers or parents are required to absorb in one go.
What else is possible? Thanks to the play format, much of the programmes' content consists of dialogue between the characters. This means that coding can potentially be taught alongside (human) language teaching. For example, students could be asked to generate (grammatically correct) sentences for the characters to speak, or to translate dialogue from their first language into the target language? (The play is currently written in English, but other language versions are always possible).
What's the backstory? The project was originally conceived in response to the chronic gender imbalance within ICT, by emphasising the creative nature of coding, and with the aim of making it more attractive to both sexes. A proof-of-concept was piloted by the Den Haag Coder Dojo at a Greenlight for Girls event at the British School in the Netherlands in February 2020. Using the lessons learned, the project has since been refined, restructured and extended, with new scenes, characters and functions added. The project was entered into Code Week 2020, with half-a-dozen schools taking part and a similar number of university students providing regular online mentoring. The all-new version of the play produced by the school pupils can be viewed here.