computer programming for the ICT illiterate

Posted on November 6, 2012 by Claire.
Categories: programming.

With changes taking place to the Primary curriculum for ICT it would seem that programming, i.e making things happen, is taking more of a vital role as per KS2, 2&4.  So us teachers need to get clued up on the availability of programming software and how it works if we are to successfully teach it.

So, I remember back in the days of attempting to undertake A-level computing, trying my hand at simple computer programming.   I really didn’t get what we were doing, I just remember lots of  ‘write this’ and ‘if this…read that line’ in green writing on a black screen – welcome to the ‘joy’ that was MS DOS.  Yes I am showing my age now,                                                                             “MS what?” I hear you shout!  Granny’s Garden anyone?  I remember begging our teacher daily to allow us to play this game on the one computer that the entire year (4 classes) had to share. Anyway enough reminiscing, back to programming for the ICT illiterate.

So, recently we have had the pleasure of being introduced to the modern world of programming.  Programmes such as Scratch and Kodu aim to make programming accessible to young children, a vital tool in an ICT rich world.

However, although much easier to understand and work with than MS DOS, Scratch still tested my own understanding of programming.  The programme involves clicking together parts of a jigsaw to create a set of instructions that when put together correctly with some careful consideration, makes your ‘Sprite’ (character) do as you’ve instructed.  This is however more difficult than it sounds.

  Bash the badies  was created after a lot of trial and error.  Teaching a class of 30 seven year olds to play this would likely create more problems than any teacher would wish to encounter EVER!
In the following session we worked in groups to create a resource.  We decided to create a game based around habitats.  The idea of the game is to remove from the sea the animals that don’t belong there, leaving only sea creatures at the end.  The good thing about Scratch is that timers and counters can be added, giving the games a more (or less) challenging context.  The idea behind the resource is that children could then add to it by creating a new background and thus a new habitat.  They can select the animal ‘sprites’ for the habitat and ensure that animals not native to the habitat can be removed by the game player.
One thing I did find with Scratch was the complexity of it.  It does not appear possible to begin programming with only a select few options available.  Users are presented with a wealth of programming options which at times feels somewhat overwhelming.  However getting started guides, scratchcards and video tutorials are all available from the Scratch website and can easily be printed off for pupils to use independently or in  small groups.
Another programming app for ipads I have come across is ‘Daisy the Dino‘.  This is a much more simplistic programming tool   enabling children to make Daisy dance across the screen.  This app would be ideal for younger children such as KS1 (2c) and also children who may struggle to comprehend the complexity of the Scratch software.  After all is it not our job as teachers to ensure all children are included in learning and are able to access the curriculum at a level suited to them!
Having played around a little with these programmes I definitely feel more confident about teaching it.  I think I would begin with Daisy the Dinosaur if the children have had no prior experience of programming and then move onto Scratch.  After an initial demonstration I would get them to use the scratchcards to create specific resources.  As their confidence develops I would allow greater autonomy and encourage them in small groups to use trial and error and discuss what they think they need to do to make things happen.  This would develop their comprehension of what is involved in programming rather than just following a set of instructions.  It is important to remember that all children are different and will have had differing experiences.  The children will likely need to access the programming software at different points (e.g. not all children in the class may need to begin with Daisy, some  may be competent enough to begin exploring Scratch).  As teachers it is our job to promptly assess each child’s ability and move them on/step them back accordingly.
What are your thoughts on the above?
(by the way I have no idea why the last few paragraphs are not separating.  They look fine on the dashboard and I have tried playing with them but it makes no difference to the layout on the site.  Maybe my post is too long!)
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