Best Teaching with Coding – Finalist: Zaana Cooper, Mixing hardware and software


Name: Zaana Cooper
School: St Peter’s, Cambridge
Name of coding activity: Mixing hardware and software

Describe the coding activity that you want to be considered for the award?

In Year 8 Digital Technologies students have been using Scratch to code multi-level maze style games with moving obstacles, collectables and scoring. Students theme their games to suit their own passions, whether it be a grid iron player dodging opposition and collecting balls on a field or a panda in a bamboo forest collecting leaves and avoiding hunters. Using the Makey Makey, students explore how it is possible to control their games with tangible objects. Students follow this class with a transition to fabrics design, where the boys especially are drawn into the opportunity to make their own game controller out of socks and conductive thread. Their controller ties into the them of their game and includes four buttons to move the game player around the screen.

Why did you choose to use this activity?

Digital Technologies is usually taught as a standalone subject but the potential to work across the curriculum is unlimited. I wanted to team up with the fabrics teacher to explore further possibilities of bigger and longer projects that could mix different skill sets and achieve cooler things. Sometimes the kids make great projects on Scratch but they don’t go out of the digital technologies class or on a website. With the use of the controllers, there was more of a reason to showcase the games in our common room where students could experience games with their peers in a true context and real-life players to give feedback and purpose to the product they made. This project was also a way to engage the boys in Fabric design.

How did you implement and use it?

To begin the unit, students were immersed in a range of arcade style games and had to think critically about the positive and negative aspects, the elements that made them addictive. challenging, boring and engaging. This thinking formed the basis of their success criteria for their own game making. Year 8 students had a good grasp of design, movement and sound with basic looping from Year Seven. We built on that by exploring smaller projects where we learned could experiment with certain elements such as broadcasting messages, showing and hiding sprites, using “if then” statements, creating and changing variables. Students took what they learnt in each smaller project and used their understanding to improve the complexity of their game designs. Students who came to the class with a good understanding of these skills, chose their own goals to work toward which meant some games had extras such as shops to buy objects or choices of music, backdrops or players. Students then went on to explore the key aspects of game controllers and used a design process to make and test their creations.

What outcomes has it achieved for you and your class?

The students have been engaged and motivated by looking at each other’s designs and taken pride in their own creativity in their personalised themes. They have been able to work at their own paces and slowly develop more confidence in their own problem solving when their coding is not working as intended. By mixing the software and the hardware, students have been able to share in a more exciting and real way. It helps them to have the user in mind when they are designing and reiterating. It makes them think of their coding in a broader and more real context. Because the games are to played by their peers, the students are self driven to add things that make their game stand out from others and therefore ask more questions to drive their own learning. Having a tangible controller to take home, the students engage in more conversations at home about what is sitting inside a computer, therefore they are more likely to showcase their coding outside of the classroom. It is a pity they can’t all take the makey makey home with them as well – next step is to find a way for students to make such a similar device that is cheap and not too complex so they can all take a working controller home.

Additional resources:

Below are some links to the coded games so you can get an idea of the coding involved:


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