Screenshot from the completed activity

Christmas is near, and before we know it, we'll be into 2014. Next year the new National Curriculum becomes statutory, including the new Computing curriculum. As you will probably know, the new curriculum places a far greater emphasis on computer programming. Why not launch into 2014 with a Christmas-themed computer programming activity with your learners?

Santa is in training for Christmas Eve, and needs to ride around his 'cloud track', keeping his trail within the track. As he laps the track he will get quicker and quicker. How many laps can you do before his trail leaves the track?

This activity should be accessible to learners from Year 3 upwards. (During the past week, I have used it successfully with Year 3, 4 and 5 classes at Parkfield Primary in Wolverhampton). Older children can extend the activity - see the 'Possible extensions' section at the end of the post.

Creating 'The Santa Race' game

In this activity, your learners will create a simple Santa-themed game using ScratchScratch is a free piece of software from MIT in the US, and will be one of the most popular software choices for working with learners on the computing aspects of the new curriculum. If you work in a Wolverhampton primary school, you may well find that Scratch is already installed on your network. If not, request its install from your IT support technician, and download it now for yourself to try out the activity:

Here are the files you will need for the activity

Both images are from

Before working with students on the task, make sure you've had a run through it yourself first. As you work with your class try to highlight at least some of the following key ideas:

  • An algorithm is a sequence of instructions, organised in the correct order to achieve a particular goal. If you open the 'completed game' file linked to above, you will see two main algorithms in the scripts - these have been commented to highlight what each does.
  • Debugging is the identification of problems with your algorithms - i.e. they don't achieve what you intended them to - and then modifying or adding to your program to solve these problems. (In the Santa Race activity, the main example of this is when the algorithm to increase the 'lap number' is originally added .. and doesn't work as intended).
  • Repetition is the use of loops - e.g. 'forever' or 'repeat' commands 
  • Selection is the use of 'forever ... if' or 'if ... then' commands - i.e. commands in which something happens based on some criteria.

(These ideas are some of key pieces of terminology in the new Computing programmes of study for 2014)

Here are the two main algorithms from the completed game (click onto the images to open at full-size)

Possible extensions

Here are some possible extension activities that learners might make to the game:

  • Can you use the 'add comment' function in Scratch (right-click on the background behind the scripts) to describe, in detail, what each of the scripts does?
  • Can you make Santa 'countdown' before starting to move? e.g. say (in speech bubbles) "3 ... 2 ... 1 ... Ho! Ho! Ho!". Use 'say ... for x seconds' commands.
  • Can you record the countdown using the microphone on your laptop / a headset, and make it play as Santa counts down?
  • Can you make Santa shout out in delight every time he begins a new lap?
  • Can you reset Santa's starting position every time the game begins?
  • Can you add additional obstacles to the track, and make the game end if Santa crashes into them?
  • Can you use alternative 'costumes' for Santa's sleigh and change the costume to a 'crashed' version if he hits an obstacle?

I hope you and your class enjoy creating a Santa Race! As always, if your school requires support in implementing aspects of the new computing curriculum for 2014, please contact us.