Stuck at home? Let’s make the most of it!

Not all coding takes place on a computer. This week’s Make it! DIY gets you coding through cipher wheels and maze challenges, as well as the ever-popular “program your grown-up” game!

Check out our half-day Make it! Summer Camps for more fun maker activities, including Puzzle Masterminds and Space Engineers — all designed and led by our amazing educators. See you there!

Ready. Set. Make it.

Coding Unplugged

1. Cipher Wheels

Send secret messages to your fellow spies and others with a homemade cipher wheel. A cipher is a secret or disguised way of writing — in other words, a code! Ciphers have been used through the ages to send out messages that only certain people can read. Create your own decoder wheel out of cardstock, paper, or a paper towel tube and see if anyone can crack the code!

Suggested Materials:
– Scissors
– Cardstock
– Pencil or paper clip
Cipher Template
– Optional: Cardboard, paper towel tube, markers

Tips and thoughts:
– Make sure you give the person receiving the message the code to one letter so they know how to figure it out.
– Want to make your own code? Use a blank Cipher Wheel Template
– Remember to change your code every time you send a message! You can do this by rotating the wheel.

Potential Resources
Video for Younger Students
Video for Older Students
Written Instructions

Take this challenge to the next level: Create a replica of the Cypher disk invented by Thomas Jefferson! 

Links to Cipher Templates:
Basic Cipher Wheel with option for blank wheel
Thomas Jefferson’s Cipher Wheel

2. Program your Grown-Up: The Exact Instruction Challenge

Computer programming or “coding” is how we give instructions to a computer or robot. Ever wondered what it would be like if your grown-ups acted just like robots? Put your coding skills to the test by writing out exact instructions for a specific task, such as drawing a butterfly or making a sandwich. Then challenge your grown-ups (or siblings) to follow your “code” and do only exactly what you wrote down.

Suggested Materials:
– Paper
– Pencil
– A Grown- up
– Any materials needed to complete the task you are writing instructions for.

Tips and Thoughts
– How can you break the task down into specific steps? What happens first? What happens second?
– Try walking through the entire task before writing instructions. The Order of the instructions will often be very important!
– Good codes are sequenced and specific! Use as much detail as possible to get your code right.

Potential Resources:
Drawing Challenge
How to make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Written Instructions

Click here to take this challenge to the next level

3. Unplugged Coding: Escape the Maze

A program is a set of instructions given to a computer or robot that tells it how to complete a specific task. Create a maze, using paper or Legos, and then challenge yourself to write a “program” that helps a robot (or human!) escape the maze. Use specific commands or symbols, such as arrows, and put them together in order to test your program. Remember, your program may have a “bug” that you need to fix, so be patient and persevere! Will you escape?

Suggested Materials:
– Paper and pencil
– Ruler for making grid
– Index cards or sticky notes for writing commands
– Optional: Legos, small toys to act as your robot

Tips and Thoughts
– To make your maze, start by making a 5 x 5 grid. Decide on the start and end point for your robot and create your maze inside. That way you can tell your robot to go step-by-step through the maze.
– Start with simple commands, such as “Take one step forward” or “take one step back”. – – – Then, add in more advanced commands, such as “Repeat” or “wait”
– Up the challenge by adding obstacles or items to collect in your maze. What new commands will you need in order to collect items or avoid obstacles?
– Many codes use symbols instead of entire sentences. Can you re-write your code using abbreviated instructions or symbols?

Potential Resources:
Younger Video: Coding a Lego Maze! 
Older Video: make a human coding grid maze! 
Written Instructions

Take this challenge to the next level: Try out your maze escaping skills using block coding in Blockly! 

4. Morse Coding

Morse Code is a way of sending messages and information using simple dots, dashes and spaces to represent letters and numbers. It was invented in the 1830s as a way to send messages over long distances using electrical impulses and a machine called the “telegraph”. It is still used today when communicating with ships! Use the morse code alphabet to write secret messages. You can even use a flashlight or clapping rhythms to send them!

Suggested Materials:
Morse code Alphabet
– Paper and pencil
– Optional: Flashlight, toy that beeps, String, 3 types of beads (see our “Take it to the next level” Challenge)

Tips and Thoughts
– Start by trying to write your name using the morse code alphabet
– Remember to put spaces or pauses in between each character or word
– How can you send your morse code message? Try using a flashlight or tapping out a rhythm with two different sounds for dots and dashes!

Potential Resources:
Video for Younger Students
Video for Older Students
Written Instructions

Take this challenge to the next level: Make Morse Code Bracelets!

5. Intro to Scratch

Ready to take your coding skills online? Scratch is a completely free, web-based block coding platform that is easy to use and offers endless possibilities for learners aged 3 to 100. Create a simple animation by picking a character (sprite) and giving it motion, sound and other actions. Remix an existing project or create your own!

Suggested Materials:
– Laptop with internet access
– Webpage open to https://scratch.mit.edu/

Tips and Thoughts
– Don’t want to create an account? No problem! Click “Start creating” on the homepage, and get started! Remember, you won’t be able to save your projects without creating an account.
– Want an even simple language for younger learners? Download the free Scratch Jr. app for mobile devices.
– Remember to test your code as you go! Troubleshooting, or “debiggin” is an important part of learning how to code.

Potential Resources:
Intro to Scratch Jr (for younger learners, available as a free app on mobile devices): how to videos
Written Guide
Older Video: Getting started in Scratch
Info for parents

Here are some ideas for starter projects:
– Create an “All about me” Animation: Pick three sprites of things you like (for us at KID Museum, that would be Robots, Kids and Ice cream!). Then, use the motion blocks to animate each one!
– Make a Sound Machine: Pick a few sprites that represent things that make noise Then in the “sound” blocks, pick a new sound or record your own for each sprite to play when clicked.
– Animate a conversation! Pick two sprites, and have them talk to each other using the “Say” block in the Looks menu!

We'd love to see what you make!

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