It’s been a long time between blogs, but thought this would be a useful platform to reflect on my learning experiences in one of my final courses (EDP 4130) before I finish my education degree. This course focuses on the concept of technology as it is presented in the Draft Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority[ACARA}, 2013). It is important to remember that the concept of technologies in this curriculum addresses both design technologies (e.g. thinking creatively) and digital technologies (e.g. computational thinking).
The first activity introduced us to Scratch, a website designed to teach basic computer programming skills (computational thinking). I have always been interested in the idea of introducing kids to coding (see Sploder, Game based learning, and Consumerism vs Creativity) and providing opportunities for them to be creators of content rather than just consumers.
I set up a free account and followed the directions from studydesk to manipulate my sprite (the cat in the image below). The functions are stored under different headings (e.g. motion, command, sensing etc) and then the programming component works on a drop and drag function. I found that like most of my experience with digital technologies, trial and error are a big part of learning (despite the fact there are clear instructions with illustrations) but there was a sense of satisfaction when the sprite did as he was told.
Click on the screenshot above to view the finished product
The second task was based on an Etch a Sketch program written by Stephen Houghton, and allowed the user to experiment with drawing polygons using direction, line, width and angles. As you become more familiar with using the building blocks, you begin to appreciate the precision required for order and sequencing to manipulate the sprite.Katie Reed made a similar assertion in her blog. If you don’t program a stop or repeat then the sprite won’t perform the way you want it too, and problem solving becomes time consuming albeit a learning experience as you scroll back through the block formations to find out where you went wrong. For example I had not proved a block to clear the previous work, and found a plethora of ways not to clear the screen but also discovered a few extra features that I may not have been exposed.
How could you use this program in the classroom?
I am an advocate for teaching computer programming from the very beginning of a child’s education, and this view is supported by other educators and students, as highlighted in an article by Judith Burns entitled “School ICT to be replaced by Computer Science Program.” This article identifies the short term goals of maintaining student motivation and log term goals of future employment, however the target audience for this type of digital technologies education is aimed at students in the middle years. I believe younger students will only be capable of coding once they understand the terminology associated with digital technologies and the concept of following instructions as in a procedural text, to solve technical problems that may arise. This type of hands on learning aligns quite nicely with game based learning in that students will be learning on their feet. The role of the teacher will be one of facilitator (which means they have to know how to operate the software) so that they can ask relevant questions that will help students solve problems for themselves. Although ultimately it would be ideal for students to consult other online platforms such as tutorials, FAQs and forums to solve their problems and subsequently help others solve similar problems. Therefore the understanding of terminology and concepts need to be in place before students can experience success with programs such as Scratch.
And before I conclude this long winded post here are the final two activities assigned for the week, a car racing game and the all time Grandfather of computer games “pong.” Just click on the screenshot to be taken to the site.
Corrine Owen has also blogged about Scratch and ventured beyond the learning activities to create an animation, another feature of scratch and one that is sure to keep students motivated.