Entry Points

 

I make no apologies when I admit my preferences and soft heart for computer science.  Over the years, no other subject has changed so much in content and pedagogical approach.  It’s a terrific computer science teacher who stays on top of all of this.

Over the years, there has been no shortage of debate as to what to teach, when to teach it, how to teach it, …

If you do reading from many blogs who address one concept of computer science – coding – you’ll find that there are a number of posts giving “## reasons to teach coding to students”.  Some talk about it generally so that it could be understood that it should be taught somewhere in a child’s educational career and others specifically make reference to why you’d want to teach coding in elementary schools.  My preference would be, given the large number of places that computers are used in other ways in the curriculum, that the earlier the better.

But the kids aren’t ready!  Really?  How many have helped mom and dad program their smartphone?  How many have their own and have customized it to their liking.  They’re already tinkering and learning.  They are ready.

I’m a firm believer that since we’re big fans of technology, we really want to ensure that students become educated users of the technology, and part of that is to just get a sense of what it’s all about.  Now, I don’t think that we’re expecting our students to create the next great web browser, but there’s so much value in knowing what coding is all about and a sense of how it’s done.  I’ve mentioned it in this blog before but I really believe in the message of Douglas Rushkoff’s “Program or be Programmed“.  Your school’s teacher-librarian needs to have a copy of that in your professional library.

Through the introduction of this awareness, it also opens the doors to the whole discipline where the students just may wish to extend their abilities.

The real question, to me, remains largely unanswered.  Where should coding, as an introduction to computer science, be introduced?  It’s amazing the number of teachers who will agree that it’s a good skill to have as long as someone else introduces it!

I’ve been playing around with Code Monster from Crunchzilla and can see where it may solve the problem for implementation.

Code Monster is a number of things.  It’s an environment to learn about Javascript (not to be confused with Java), it’s a play as you go tutorial, it’s a place to see immediate results for instant feedback, and it’s a conversation with a monster who steps you through the process.

The use of the tutorial provides feedback to the learner and gives an instant sense of achievement.  Recently, I tried it out here at dougpete labs.  (which is really a couch and two recliner chairs with a dog who wants to be part of everything)  Within minutes, my guinea pig made the comment “Hey, I could actually do this … it isn’t all that hard.”  The more I started to think about Code Monster, the more I liked it.

As a beginning learning environment, you’re not presented with a large confusing interface with a tonne of options like you would find in a professional IDE and the concept of the code in one window and the results in another window right beside generates that instant feeling of gratification that comes from writing good code.

With your friendly monster leading the way, learning is quick, efficient, and fun.  The deeper you get into the tutorials, the more you want to experience.

I can see an application like this having multiple entry points in schools:

  • in a computer studies class, an introduction to Javascript with a proceed at your own pace functionality;
  • in an elementary school classroom, where the desire is there to easily introduce coding to students;
  • in a computer club where students learn the concepts on their own in a group setting.

Working through the tutorial with the monster will indeed give a sense of what coding is about and hopefully generate enough interest to take on something else.  There is so much available once you get started – Scratch, Alice, GameMaker – and a good start to coding is a great way to ensure success.

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