If Microworlds, Squeak, Scratch, Agent Sheets, Alice, GameMaker, Python and Ruby don't sound like random gibberish to you I need your help! I'm trying to describe the computational thinking capabilities that are drawn on and developed when kids operate in these programming environments. I'm also trying to sort them along a developmental continuum. Have you used these with kids? Why? What did they get out of their experiences, and how might that learning connect to more formal CS learning? THANKS!

Tags: gaming, pedagogy, science

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Thank you, Greg. I get a sense of what motivates you to use these tools with kids-- it is a very creative learning space. Do you think kids you mention get a glimpse into a bigger world of computing? I hear about a lot of teachers using one program or another with kids but I don't hear how the learning connects up with next experiences or optimally, study in CS. Your thoughts? Any thoughts about gender while we're at it?
Thanks, your insights are helpful. Do you think the latter set (second paragraph) are born, or MADE? I'm thinking there's some nurturing that can be done to help kids see how computing solves problems they care about. Say a kid is interested in medicine or criminal justice. The innovations in those fields are more and more frequently reliant on computational science (think: mapping the human genome, impossible without computing.) Maybe it's through these other pathways that kids (esp. underrepresented types) will find their passion in cs.
If they are born, why do so many more boys than girls become computer sciences? Maybe the serendipitous experiences work better for boys? Or somehow interfere with what would be a natural progression for girls? I know I can get you into Lawrence Summers trouble asking this question!
I have taught Scratch to students in a couple of groups over the past couple of years. One was an afterschool enrichment program; the other was as a part of a project I was doing with my 50 7th graders.

I found a couple of things to be really helpful:
1) Building in play/discovery time so the students have time to "fool around" with the tool.
2) Creating a collaborative environment. Students should be allowed to float around and ask/answer questions of other students.
3) Give a increasingly complex set of small, short term goals. Like "add a costume," "make the character talk," etc.

In terms of your bigger question, what happens is that soon the student want to do something that requires more complicated logic or variables or something. So then you can have a more CS type conversation/lesson which is really about programming more overtly.

I hope this helps.
It DOES help, and I agree with your three points. I also agree that when they hit the limits of these programming 'shells', they are likely ready for (hungry for!) more formal CS. Thanks, Gerald. JK
One other thing I am working on is developing a curriculum/project where the students learn to build circuit boards that connect with Scratch. The circuit boards would have sensors for environmental inputs and outputs so that the real world and the Scratch world can interact and allow them to make models/operate robots. I also like that it adds to an engineering knowledge base, and is hands on.
Gerald,

I have wanted to teach some programming to 6-8 graders. I have played with Scratch a great deal. The initial learning curve kept me away. It seemed like there was a significant investment in the environment just to get the most basic application. I worry about catering to their shrinking attention span. At Educon, I was shown Turtleart, which is a subject of logo that is used to draw graphic arts. My plan is to teach Turtleart in the 6th grade to get them used to a graphical programming environment and drawing commands. They can create drawings iteratively and produce something significant within the first class period. I hope that there is lots of collaboration ("see what I draw" and "how did you do that?").

I would love to see some of your Scratch assignments. In addition, I am looking at StarTNG if students exhaust Scratch (also a way to get them thinking about virtual worlds)

Thanks in advance for any feedback.
Thanks for the heads up on Turtleart. Here's a wiki that looks like it has a ton of info. It looks a lot like Scratch. We are doing Robotics with the new NXT Lego kits and the Carnegie Mellon curriculum. They too have an icon programming look.
Here are the best two links. They published a few books of example to get people started. Neat aspect of the file format is that it is a graphics file with the code embedded.

http://www.blurb.com/books/368087
http://www.turtleart.org/programming/
I teach gifted kids, they use Scratch and Alice and are now into Atmosphir (a video game developer). Here is my only problem, OK two problems. "How do you encourage them to dig deeply and not just skim the application and quit when it gets hard?" Since I don't know the application inside and out (and don't want to) I'm not "teaching" them. AND "Does anyone have checklists/rubrics to guide assessment?"
WOW those are tough questions. On the middle part, about not knowing the app in and out, I wonder if the online community of Scratch is of any help? I'm imagining older kids, parents, or teachers helping out?
As for the rubric, I was sent a very nice summary of the computing skills advanced through Scratch. It wouldn't be too hard to build a rubric from it. I can't link to the file as its not online, so I am uploading it here.
Attachments:
Thanks Jane, I'll take a look. N

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