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Teaching computing and programming
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Weeble
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 17, 2011 11:01 pm    Post subject: Teaching computing and programming Reply with quote

Anybody seen the Raspberry Pi project? http://www.raspberrypi.org/

I've been thinking about the teaching of computing at schools, and indeed reading what some people have to say about it. Our computing lessons weren't great - a lot of boring office application stuff, a little bit of programming, and a lot of old, dry and fragmented theory on application development (mostly waterfall), networks and random stuff about technologies that were already obsolete. I believe Google's Eric Schmidt recently criticised Britain's lousy or non-existent teaching of science, engineering and maths. But what is to be done about it?

I have been wondering if there's any way to help. I'm not about to quit my job and become a teacher, but I think I might like to contribute in some way. Maybe there's some kind of volunteering I could do? I don't know how hard it is to get involved in anything like that and I don't know whether I would find the energy to keep up the commitment required, but it's on my mind lately. I would love to help kids learn to write computer games or something like that.

Finally, and only loosely related, is university education working? As far as I can tell, we're pushing more and more of our children through university at rapidly increasing cost to themselves with a rapidly diminishing return. Is there a better way for them to acquire the same skills? Is there any other good way for them to prove they have those skills? And if a university degree is more important as proof of ability than as a process of education, are we sinking a lot of money and effort in what amounts to an arms race?
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2011 12:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've had my eye on the raspberry Pi for a while, I wish they'd hurry up and release it so I can get one to have a look at. Great idea.

A friend of mine who never managed to escape mainstream game development vents some of his frustrations through teaching computer science in the evening at college. He's in the US, but I believe it's the same over here, in that if you can demonstrate deep subject knowledge then you don't need teaching qualifications to do it. I went down the official route because I want something more reliable. He says it's a great way to feel like you're actually doing something worth while and making a difference Smile

I think I'll definitely be starting an after school computer club at some point, but I haven't had a look round at what to use yet. If the Pi is out then that'll be a contender. Flash is probably the front runner as they'll be getting some basic lessons on it anyway, which means all schools have it installed. Then there's marmalade, a cheap cross platform api that lets you release on android/ipone/tablet while developing on windows. All kids have smart phones these days. I wonder if they'll come to dominate too, there's a new quad core phone running at 2.5Ghz with a dual gpu coming out soon. Anyway, marmalade's probably too complicated, but worth a look. Then there's SmallBasic, which is Microsoft trying to make a new version of QBasic (I have fond memories of that). The point is to teach techniques, not a specific language, but if kids don't get results fast then it's a struggle to keep them motivated.

Making university less attractive by lumping huge debt onto students does seem like a step backward. Is the return at the end really diminishing though? According to the office of national statistics, a degree puts an extra 12,000 a year on your earnings, so it still makes sense even though you do have to pay back ~25k. Although, some of those 'game design' degrees are a bit dubious.
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Rup



Joined: 19 May 2003
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Location: London, UK



PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 5:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

An old colleague set up a wiki over the weekend with a proposed secondary school computer science syllabus:

Quote:
I made a FAR TOO BIG AND COMPLICATED programming syllabus for secondary schools. Join the wiki and help me improve it!


I don't think he has any background in education, there's a bit of an open-source agenda there, and if anything I think it needs more content to cover a year or two's course. But an interesting start.
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2012 9:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting, the first UK exam board to get its act together with the GCSE computing is OCR - http://www.ocr.org.uk/qualifications/type/gcse_2010/ict_tec/computing/

It seems a bit 'dry', but at least they let you use whatever programming language you want as long as it uses appropriate constructs.

I think Scratch is fantastic, it's like programming with lego bricks. It's free, you can share anything you make very easily on the MIT website or embed your creation on your own website. It's popular with first year secondary school kids upwards.
http://scratch.mit.edu/
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2012 9:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm currently trying to track down something to make iphone/android apps for secondary school kids.

1. it needs to be cheap (or free) - android might be key to this maybe

2. super easy to use

3. have some element of coding (not one of the many 'make an app with no coding' type things you see everywhere)

4. could be used to make a simple game
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Rup



Joined: 19 May 2003
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Location: London, UK



PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2012 12:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On a get-kids-thinking-like-programming, I was going to suggest either Manufactoria or SpaceChem - but I think I'm a bit late - there's a "free SpaceChem for your classroom until the end of January" offer Sad In both of these you build simple machines using a small command-set to process given input into outputs, and in SpaceChem you learn a bit of chemistry too.

It's right in at the deep end, but Eclipse is actually a pretty good IDE nowadays, and free - you could always get them programming for Android in Java? Another old colleague writes Java games for 4k-or-less competitions - here's his latest, but not 4K. Or Joe suggested pygame in his syllabus and there's pygame-for-android I think - python's probably easier for a new programmer to pick up than Java.
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2012 10:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pygame for android looks like it might do, I'll have to get an android phone and check it out (doh!). Thanks for the tip.

Manufactoria is interesting too, Spacechem is a bit trickier as you have to get permission to install it and tech support need to be involved - yawn - red tape, bah!
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Johnh



Joined: 06 Sep 2003
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 04, 2012 4:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rup wrote:
- python's probably easier for a new programmer to pick up than Java.

*cough* lambda functions *cough*.

Also, duck typing would interfere with a young programmer being able to understand how data types work in my opinion. Python would make a better second programming language than a first language (also in my opinion).
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