ButterBox Project

image: butterbox project sample

Most comuter skills curricula include segments about word processing, spreadsheets and maybe even databases. Mostly, the pattern of instruction is very step-by-step with activities designed to show that students have completed the very clearly defined tasks.

Once in a while, though, it is good for students to have learning experiences which challenge them to create skills in a more open format. This project is designed to help you (a teacher or technology comfortable parent) to help a young person get some computer skills and learn how to find answers to their skill questions along the way. The project encourages exploration rather than rote learning. Children quite naturally learn through a process I call "Playful Exploration" which

The idea was to start small. After introducing the project plan (approximately 2 weeks of 40 minute classes), I gave instructions to be sure that the Draw tools were visible (and how to get them back if a prior student had turned them off), I asked students to do a series of simple things and to make notes for themselves as needed. They were to raise their hands when finished. I'd look quickly to see they had finished and put a mark on my seating chart to show that they had done the task. The beginning day, I raced around the classroom. Gradually, the warmup activities took longer and I could spend more time with individual issues. I'd answer questions, but avoided showing the steps of how to do something. I encouraged students to help each other, showing what fancy things they'd done, but asked them not to be too detailed about how they did it beyond identifying tools on the toolbar, menu options, and similar leading information.

image: Draw toolbar

Student tasks:

1) Draw a rectangle using straight lines. Learn the effect of modifier keys like shift, control, alt.
2) Learn what happens when you click and drag: end point handles, middle of line.
3) Draw a rectangle with a shape tool. Make a square. Make a triangle. Make a circle. (modifier keys?)
4) Make a red circle which just fits into a blue square and a yellow triangle that is just big enough to fit into the circle. (Clues given along the way about the importance of stacking order and/or raising/lowering the object.) (Students encouraged to help others, but asked to avoid giving exact solutions.)
5) Draw a house with a minimum of a roof, chimney, door, four-pane window. (Extra credit given for things like roof tiles, 3D perspective, color/pattern, etc.)
6) Use the fancy text tool to create a colorful shaped word or phrase.
7) Create text boxes and find out how to get them to fit. Compare to making text in an object like a circle. Find out how to change the orientation of the text (sideways, upside down).

Homework: (assigned at the beginning of the first week, due at the end of the first week): Bring in an empty box of cereal, a box for toothpaste, butter, or another product to be used as a guide to the project you make. The sample will be available for others to use in all the classes doing these projects.

Project: Choose from the available templates (butterbox, cereal box, toothpaste box) and create a detailed copy of an actual product or use your imagination to create your own product box. Make sure you include images, text, a bar code, and any other elements to make your project look like the real thing. Ask for help and suggestions. Be helpful to others in the class, too, but avoid giving them step-by-step instructions. Definitely do not do work on another student's project. After your project is accepted, print two copies, one to turn in, one to take home to keep, and give your saved project file to your teacher. Your teacher (working with you if possible) will print a copy of the project on index card paper. Use scissors and glue to make a 3D box from the printed project and turn that in for final credit.

I put a bit of effort into getting the project to work. I really think that the first time we did it, the students did the best work. They were involved in showing me which practice activities worked well and which ones were unclear or too difficult without some guidance. They apparently liked being guinea pigs for the project. I expected them to give honest feedback about the project and they regularly gave me honest recommendations about how to improve it. The project worked well for me and my students over several years. We even had the chance to do it with more than one program.

You are, of course, welcome to use these ideas yourself and enjoy the experience of getting things going with your own students. On the other hand you may prefer to have a "packaged" activity instead of developing it yourself. Therefore, I'd like to offer you a couple of files done using the OpenOffice.org suite. You can get OpenOffice for Windows, GNU/Linux and Macintosh from http://wwwopenoffice.org. Looks specifically at the download page. http://download.openoffice.org/other.html

Package Files:
Warmup Guide
Project template and Sample

image: CC-BY
This project and the package files are free to share and reuse, remix. Please acknowledge the source of the information and files. Encourage the Commons.