Future Schools Expo – Day 1 (part 1)

Over March 11 and 12 I attended in the Teaching Kids to Code conference at the Future Schools Expo at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney. Here is a summary of day 1, morning session, of the conference.

The opening remarks were by Amanda Hogan, ICT Integrator and Computing Teacher at Tara Anglican School for Girls. She talked about engaging girls in technology subjects and getting them excited to do computing. She also remarked that it is better for students to think algorithmically, rather than learning one programming language fluently.

The keynote speaker was Gary Stager, founder of Constructing Modern Knowledge. He was not complimentary of the Hour of Code movement saying it was not satisfying and where had they been for the past 50 years?! He was more interested in giving students a more authentic experience of computer programming where students have the opportunity to think much deeper. Students are actually having a conversation with the computer when they are coding, and an intellectual conversation at that, and this should be a permanent part of their lives, not just for one hour, 1 day, 2 weeks. Students should be able to outsmart the computer, as well as the teacher, and they do frequently. Gary was concerned that computational thinking was just there so we can all dodge the real hard labour – doing the actual programming. He says that we need to do the hard work, kids need to be able to program a computer, this is such an important skill they need to be able to do, as well as to be able to think computationally.

An important question Gary posed was “Is the computer programming the student, or is the student programming the computer?”. He was firmly on the side of the student being in charge, creating not just consuming. He had an excellent resource, Super Awesome Sylvia, who proved that in this example the student was the one in charge, the one doing the hard work and programming the computer, to do some very cool things, especially for an 8 year old girl. He also plugged her book in which she presents lots of little projects to program the Arduino in lots of fun ways. Another plug below for Sylvia as these resources look wonderful:

http://sylviashow.com/

http://superawesomebook.com/

Other resources he plugged were Scratch, Logo and SNAP. These resources use language for learning and are accessible by students of all ages, especially junior and middle school. He was advocating the point of view that students should be able to discover, let them find out the way to solve a problem, and in many different ways, something I am right behind. Students should be given certain instructions and taught certain skills and then they need time to explore, create, solve, and share their experiences. Scratch was firmly advocated during the whole day and many speakers had lots of good things to say about this resource, more later on this.

Turtle Art was another resource that looked great. This program allows the user to create art using computer programs and can be linked to other subject areas, such as visual art. This program has so much scope in terms of precision, geometry, coordinates, lots of great maths learning. He also talked about the beauty of programming and how code should be elegant, simple, and just how creative computer programming is. One example of using this was to create Islamic art, such as tiling. A wonderful resource for Art, Math and History.

Gary did some live coding and illustrated the power of coding with a few simple algorithms. He said that we should code with the kids and work on multiple solutions to a problem. His final message was of the beauty of programming and the sense of empowerment it gives to young people.

More to follow soon …

Gary Stager, Founder, Constructing Modern Knowledge
Gary Stager at Future Schools Expo 2015
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