Think Like a Programmer – Brownie

Brownie Badge


The standard guidance for this badge involves using nothing but paper and markers, girls explore computational thinking through paper programming activities. The Boolean Girl Scout version completes similar qualifying activities on a computer, programming in a language called Scratch.

The activities in this course help girls understand creating algorithms, the importance of sequencing, and using basic computing constructs: Loops and Events.

The first activity is an offline game that introduces algorithms, sequencing and loops. The second activity though not required for the badge helps girls understand how a computer works and the key components based on guidance from the Computer Science Teachers Association, see below. The third and final activity involves the girls building a program in Scratch that uses loops and events. While more practice is required to achieve all the recommendations for a third grader, this short Boolean Girl Scout activity plan introduces key concepts and empowers the girls to pursue additional learning through camps, clubs or online using resources like Boolean University.

On this Journey, Brownies will do hands-on activities to learn how computer programmers think through problems. They’ll learn to follow and create algorithms, break big problems down into smaller ones, and persist when faced with challenges.

You can help Brownies think this way!

Encourage them to keep trying when their first few approaches to solving a problem don't work. Tell them that they can solve any problem if they break it down into smaller ones. And remind them that they can use those skills in their daily lives as well.

Why Scratch?

Scratch is a powerful language that is easy to learn. Teaching a kid a language they are not ready for can do more harm than good. Kids get frustrated with syntax errors and lots of work before they see something happen. This can lead kids to believe they are not good at coding.Invented by MIT, Scratch was developed to teach kids how to code. It is a free, open source programming language so you can use it for free to build stories, games, and animations.   If your troop says they know Scratch, remind them it is taught in schools and used in colleges to introduce coding concepts, check out this video: Top universities teach Scratch

Activity One: The Block Game

Warm Up (10 min)

Start a discussion with the troop.  Use open-ended questions:

  • What do you think we are going to learn?
  • What do you think we will do today?
  • What are you hoping to do / to learn?
  • What do you like to do on a computer?
  • What is your favorite computer game?

We are going to learn to build algorithms today.

  • What is an algorithms?  A set of instructions for a computer.
  • Do you know a different name for these instructions?   Code, or a program.
  • Who are the people that write these instructions? a computer programmer What other names do we have for a programmer?  Coder, Developer, …
  • What do coders do, what do they look like, what do they make?
  • What tool does a programmer use? A computer? If you have a laptop show it to them.

Today we are going to play a game and write some code off-line then we will write the program on a computer we build.

We will work in a language called Scratch.  Has anyone ever used Scratch? It uses blocks to write the code.  Like these. Show the plastic blocks.

Like a lot of computer games, stories or adventures such as Minecraft, a character is essential. When you start Scratch the main character is a cat.  Does anyone know what we call the characters in Scratch? A SPRITE.

You will all use these blocks to tell a sprite (a character on the computer) what to do.

Main Activity (30 min)  The Block Game

  1. Find a whiteboard to set the blocks up on. If one is not available, lay them on a table or have one of the instructors hold the blocks for the game.
  2. Find two volunteers. One will be the Programmer, and one will be the Sprite.
  3. The Programmer will use the blocks to build a script for the Sprite to act out. The Sprite should not look at the program or script till it is ready.
    1. Explain that a script is just commands that tell the Sprite what to do. This is called an Algorithm.
    2. Programmer fills in the white space with a whiteboard pen
  4. Add the “When Clicked Block” and explain.“When Clicked” is what starts the script.
  5. The Programmer is given a green flag to wave to run the script.
  6. Choose a second pair of girls. One Programmer and one Sprite again.
  7. Repeat the game many times. Usually every girl wants a chance.
    1. As new blocks are introduced discuss them.
    2. On some scripts, change the order of the blocks and discuss how that changes the program.
  8. The Dancing Cat project (completed at the end) has the simple script shown to the right. It helps to act this out if there is time. Try to get the last girl to do this or do it yourself.


Computer Science Standards

Did you know that Computer Science Teachers Association and the K-12 Computer Science Framework set guidelines for learning computer Science skills and that the state of VA (and other states) have set up standards of learning for every grade?

For Brownies (by the end of 3rd grade) girls should be able to:

  • Construct sets of step-by-step instructions (algorithms)
    • using sequencing;
    • using loops
    • using events.
  • Analyze, correct, and improve (debug) an algorithm
  • Create a plan as part of the iterative design process, independently and/or collaboratively using strategies such as pair programming (e.g., storyboard,
  • flowchart, pseudo-code, story map.
  • The student will model how a computing system works including input and output.
  • The student will identify, using accurate terminology, simple hardware and software problems that may occur during use, and apply strategies for solving problems (e.g., rebooting the device, checking for power, checking network availability, closing and reopening an app).

Activity Two : Build the Computer

Pass out the Boolean Box computer kits and explore the contents.

Use the attached PDF file to learn about and build the computer.

Once set up, the computer looks like this.

Activity Three : First Program

Warm Up (10 min)

Introduce Scratch - if you have a TV or projector use that.  If not, gather the girls around the monitor or download and print the image below.  See downloads to the right for a PDF of the image.

Emphasize proper terminology: Sprite, Stage, Block, Block Pallet, Stack or Script, Script Area.

· Sprite- The character that is given commands. By default, the character will be the Cat.

· Stage- The place where the program is acted out by Sprites.

· Block- The commands that are used to tell the Sprite what to do.

· Stack or script – A collection of linked blocks that form a program of part of a program.

· Script Area- The place where Blocks are dragged and stacked to build a script.

Show the girls how to drag blocks, stack blocks, and unstack blocks.  Show them how to run the code by clicking on the blocks or by clicking on the green flag.

Main Activity - Loops - Dancing Cat

Students will learn about how loops can be used to more easily communicate instructions that have a lot of repetition by looking at the repeated patterns of movement in a dance.

Optional: watch the video about Loops, Lesson 3 -getting-loopy.mp4. Then build the Dancing Cat program together.

Practice Together

Use the plastic blocks or projector to demonstrate the program. The blocks should still be on the whiteboard from the Block Game.

Part 1

Slowly build the script as a group, see downloadable PDF document . Discuss each block as you add it and any edits to the blocks.

Drag the block on to the Script area. Click the block to make the cat move. Note how little the cat moves with 10 steps on the stage.
Add another block to the script area.  Make the steps -10. Ask the girls what a -10 will do? Answer: Go backwards.
Click the stack of blocks to see what happens. The cat might not look like it moves because teh two blocks run so quickly you don't see it.
Add a wait so the cat looks like it is dancing. 

Click the stack of blocks to see how well it works.  Typically, the one-second wait is too long. 

Change it to 0.1 seconds

To make the cat dance, wrap it in a repeat and add a second wait
Finally, add the “when green flag clicked” to make it run. The stack from Part 1 should look like this.

Optional: do part two of this project as described in the PDF.

If time allows, let the girls play with Scratch.  Ideas and tips are in the PDF.

Finishing the Journey, Your Take Action Project

You are not finished yet. According to the Girl Scout guidance, Brownies earn two awards on completing this Journey:

  • Think Like a Programmer award
  • Take Action award

However, to get the awards you need to complete a Take Action project. Instead of repeating all the guidance provided by the Girl Scouts, what follows are the most critical points and a list of ideas for projects.

“Take Action encourages girls to develop a project that is sustainable. That means that the problem continues to be addressed, even after the project is over. Sustainability simply means coming up with a solution that lasts.”

Ideas for take action project include:

Issue: Some girls think computer science is hard or boring or just for boys.

Solution: Educate and inspire others. Create a Boolean Girl STEM club at your school. Contact Boolean Girl for help with this. Talk to a teacher or parent that might want to lead the club.

Issue: Not all kids have access to computers and people that can help them learn how to code.
Solution: Educate and Inspire others by reaching out to a school that may have many girls from low income families. Make a video or a presentation for the PTA about the importance of after- school learning. Find some useful facts that will help the PTA understand the value of starting a coding club.

Here is one to start: By the time they reach sixth grade, middle-income children have spent 6,000 more hours learning than their lower-income peers, primarily due to differences in afterschool and summer learning opportunities.

“The 6,000-Hour Learning Gap.” ExpandED Schools. October 30, 2013.

Solution: Educate and inspire others. Create a Boolean Girl STEM club at a neighboring Title One school. Find a sponsor for the club so the participants can join the club for free. Contact Boolean Girl for help with this. Talk to a teacher or parent that might want to lead the club.

Issue: Kids want to learn how to code at home but parents are afraid that they can’t help their kids because they don’t know how to code. Did you know that 72 percent of parents agreed that their child’s better understanding of technology made it difficult for them to help their kids learn.

Solution: Do a Show and Tell for parents that demonstrates how easy it is to code in Scratch.

Issue: Parents are worried about screen time...72 percent of parents reported having taken steps to limit their child’s screen time. Limiting screen time can also mean limiting opportunities to learn useful skills like coding.

Solution: GET CREATIVE, make a video or slideshow that shows how learning to code not only teaches kids to program but it allows them to get creative adding music, animation and story telling to the program they create. Boolean Girl will post the video for you on our site. Get the school to send links to the video to parents at your school.

Issue: Not everyone knows about women who changed the world using their knowledge of computer science.

Solution: Educate and inspire others.Research the “hidden figures” in your community.They might be women who have helped shape history, like those portrayed in the movieHidden Figures. Or you might want to profile computer science teachers who have made a difference by mentoring and encouraging girls. You could create a display about their accomplishments for a library or community center or make a video about them and show it at school

Need more ideas? Check out Girls Changing the World on the GSUSA website. Girls post their Take Action and Bronze/Silver/Gold Award projects on this site. You can search by project topic or grade level.(And after the troop has done their project, please post it so they can inspire other girls!)