I am not a teacher. I do not pretend to know how to teach pupils, manage pupils and assess their knowledge. Its not what I was trained to do. I am a researcher, I am interested in computer science education so I have only really interacted with young people on a researcher level i.e. what information can I get out of them in order to publish my next paper.

Since taking on my new role at Technocamps, I have found myself in a classroom environment teaching pupils foundation concepts in programming. My primary role (as well as delivering workshops) is to decide upon content and making sure that they are at the right level for the group. But also making sure the content is engaging for young people so they go away thinking they want to learn more (this is actually quite difficult!).

The first three workshop modules that have been developed are based upon programming concepts. We have used Scratch, Alice and Greenfoot to get these concepts across. The aim of these sessions is to emphasise the importance of clear instruction giving and sequencing. The next sections will describe my experiences of using these tools.

Scratch is aimed at 9-11 year old students, although we also use it for 12-14 year olds.

Scratch is a fun program to teach. Its drag and drop and does not expose the user to errors. It does not take much to get things happening. E.g. getting a cat to move forward 10 steps is a case of using two drag and drop boxes and pressing start. This is great for younger pupils who are impatient and looking for results straight away.

However, I have found that there were issues in using Scratch. Getting pupils to understand the concept of ‘control’ was tricky. A majority thought that dragging a box over that said move 10 steps would be enough to move the box. It took a while for them to understand that in order to move something you have to give it a clearer instruction. Interestingly, once they got this concept it was much easier to grasp concepts like ‘forever’ or ‘if then’. Sequencing was a lot easier.

Scratch uses co-ordinates for some instructions e.g. glide to x:-13 Y:-102 to get an object to guide to a particular area, however a majority of year 7s had not done x and y co-ordinates so they did not understand this aspect. So for some pupils the ‘go to’ instruction was more appropriate.

A difficult aspect of teaching anything to this age group is the unwillingness to try themselves, ask their friends for help or to experiment. Even after constant encouragement and emphasis on the fact that they will not break Scratch it was still tricky to get these things across. I do understand that this group are not used to learning independently.

As someone who is not trained as a teacher, my instinct to help a student is to take the mouse from them and do it for them. However, I have since learnt that this is the wrong way! I now try to make sure that the pupils are always the ones who are ‘driving’ the computer and to make sure that they are answering their own questions (this can be difficult! Especially just before lunchtime!)

Overall teaching Scratch is a pleasure as once the pupils gain confidence with the interface, get used to experimenting and are happy with how it works, the results we get are amazing. Pupils who come in with little understanding about sequencing are leaving talking about the ‘if’ loop or how making games is not as easy as they once thought. I don’t think teaching this module requires a huge amount of technical knowledge, but rather patience with pupils to help them get the results they ‘want’. Check out this youtube link for examples of what you can do with Scratch:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxDw-t3XWd0

Tune in for the next installment where I will put the world to rights about teaching Alice!


 

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