Learning to Code: Are block or text-based languages best?

Learning to code with Snap!Many people assume that graphical, or block-based interfaces for programming are a “baby step” in learning to code. Not true! This article, written by a software developer helps dispel that myth and explains why graphical programming languages are “real” programming.

From: TechAge – Graphical vs Text-Based Coding for Kids. Read the whole article! But here’s the summary:

  • Graphical vs textual isn’t really that important an issue.

  • It’s whether a particular language allows your child to do what they want to do in a way that’s efficient and enjoyable for them.

  • Start with what they want to make and find a good language for that which is suited to their expertise level and the way they think.

  • It’s a myth that adults don’t use graphical languages. They do.

This is a good article to share with parents who are pushing back on learning to code with Scratch and arguing for “real” programming languages like C++.

I’m in favor of this functional argument for learning to code. The best language is the one that does the job. If the job is to “mess around” with some of the big ideas of programming, then graphical languages do that well. The argument that we should teach children “real” programming languages used in the “real” world of work falls flat when you consider:

  • There are many, many different kinds of languages used in the real world.
  • Today’s languages will not be tomorrow’s languages.
  • Just because a language is used by software developers doesn’t make it a developmentally appropriate language for learning to code.
  • There is lots of coding done in the real world outside of software development. Every area, from history to biology to music production has languages that are specific to the field.
  • Last but not least, the experience of coding is about acquiring mental models of computing that meet your personal needs and interests, not about getting a job in the future. (Or at least that should be true.)

For more information about a variety of graphical, or block-based programming languages that support learning to code, see The Invent To Learn Guide to Block Programming.

FabLearn Fellows – the start of a new journey

fablearn fellows
Some of the FabLearn Fellows

It’s been a busy few months! I’ve been traveling a lot, speaking, trying to write, and last but not least, working with the new cadre of 20 FabLearn Fellows for 2016/2017. This is a continuing role for me–I was the principal advisor to the 2014/2015 cadre. I’m so thrilled to be starting out with a new group, and even more thrilled that many of the 2014 Fellows are continuing on in the role of Senior Fellows.

I just posted a roundup of their first blog posts – getting the exciting news,  reflections from the FabLearn conference, resources, and some confessions!

Please read about these amazing folks, and subscribe to their blogs,  follow us on Twitter using the hashtag #FabLearn, or follow all the FabLearn Fellows on this Twitter list.

Makerspace on a shoestring? Yes, but…

sylvia-FETC-makerspace-session
Me waving my hands at my makerspace startup workshop at FETC earlier this year

One of the questions I get asked quite a lot is about budgets for educational makerspaces.  We are doing this on a shoestring, is that OK? We don’t have any money, is it still worth doing?

My first reaction is typical, I think – of course go for it! No one should be prevented from having a great hands-on learning experience because of lack of funds. There are lots of things that can be repurposed and borrowed. In fact, recycling is a hallmark of the “maker mindset.” Doing more with less is a worthy engineering constraint that develops ingenuity and practical skills.

Yes…but…

However, I think there is a “yes… but” that should be understood. When educators are trying to change culture and practices in an organization, it matters that you acknowledge the size of the shift you are trying to accomplish. A bigger shift requires a bigger and more explicit commitment, and having a budget is a visible and commonly understood sign of commitment.

Whether it’s wanting STEM courses to be more inclusive or shifting teaching practices to be to more project-based, it’s about how far you want to go from where you are. You want big changes? Do big things. Of course, it’s not always about money. Your commitment might be towards long-term professional development, but that’s a commitment of time, an even more precious commodity.

But wait, there’s more!  – Want to hear more about making, makerspaces, design, and STEM? Come to FETC in January – I’m leading two workshops and two sessions! 

PBL Gets a “Make”-over: Supercharging Projects with Maker Mindsets and Technology

Maker technology plus PBL

Schools around the world are embracing the idea of authentic hands-on technology-rich projects for students that support all subject areas. Students say these project-based learning (PBL) experiences are powerful and engaging. Teachers agree!

But often there seems to be no time to integrate these experiences into the classroom. Curriculum is overstuffed with facts and assessment tests loom large. How can teachers take the time for “extras” like in-depth projects? When do busy teachers have time to learn about technology that is ever-changing? Several recent trends combine futuristic technology from the maker movement with design thinking – creating experiences that engage and inspire learners in areas that integrate well with curricular expectations.

PBL + Maker

Maker technologies like 3D printing, robotics, wearable computing, programming, and more give students the ability to create real things, rather than simply report about things. They provide onramps to success in STEM and other subjects for students who are non-traditional learners. Students are empowered by mastering difficult things that they care about, and supported by a community that cares about their interests.

These opportunities are not just good because it’s about getting a good grade, but it’s about making the world a better place with technology that is magical and modern. 3D printing is a fantastic learning opportunity because students can work in three dimensions, making geometry and 3D coordinate math come alive. But that’s not all – it’s literally making something out of nothing. It transcends getting the right answer by adding creativity, complexity, and best of all, you get a real thing in the end. For some students, this makes all the difference.

Look for ways to

  • Introduce challenges that are open-ended
  • Solve real problems (student-designed rather than teacher-assigned)
  • Use an iterative design methodology
  • Allow time for mistakes and refinement – there should be time for things that don’t work the first time
  • Support collaboration with experts in and out of the classroom

Maker mindset

Another aspect of the maker movement is the “maker mindset.” Similar to a growth mindset, this is a personal trait valued by makers world-wide. Like MacGyver, the TV show about a tinkering crime-fighter, the maker mindset is more than just persistence. The maker mindset is about being flexible, thinking on your feet, looking for the unconventional answer, and never, ever giving up.

It’s a mistake to think that you can teach students persistence about tasks they don’t care about. That’s not persistence, that’s compliance. When the classroom is about invention and making real things, persistence becomes personal.

Students who experience success on their own terms can translate that to other experiences. Frustration can be reframed as a needed and welcomed step on the path to the answer. Students who figure things out for themselves need teachers to allow a bit of frustration in the process. In the maker mindset, frustration is a sign that something good is about to happen. It’s also an opportunity to step back and think, ask someone else, or see if there is another path. This may be a role shift for teachers who are used to answering student questions quickly as soon as they hit a small speed bump.

Luckily, with maker technology, it changes so rapidly that no one can be an expert on everything! In fact, this rapid evolution may make it easier to adopt the attitude of “if we don’t know, we can figure it out.” This attitude is not only practical, but models the maker mindset for students.

Adding maker technology and the maker mindset to the well-researched and practiced methods of project-based learning is a winning combination! Maker + PBL = Engaging learning opportunities for modern students and classrooms.

Future of Education Technology Conference Blog (crossposted) Article By FETC 2017 Speaker, Sylvia Martinez

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sylvia martinezSylvia Martinez is the co-author of the book often called the “bible” of the classroom maker movement, “Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom

To learn more about supercharging PBL with maker mindsets and tools at Sylvia’s FETC workshops or sessions click here. (Get a discount on registration!) FETC is in Orlando, Florida in January, 2016.

School friends. Let me save you $6,000

Google gets into the whiteboard business – Techcrunch

back of the interactive whiteboard
The back is really nice, says Techcrunch

Google is getting into the interactive whiteboard (IWB) business with a product called “Jamboard,” a touchscreen hub built around Google Apps – only $6,000.

It’s only a matter of time before schools get the same sales pitch – you have the free Google suite of tools and apps, you have Chromebooks – this is just a way to extend that investment. OK, so the interactive whiteboards you have now aren’t really being used… well, that’s going to be solved now because these are NEW and BETTER. They are 4K, for goodness sakes! The problem was pixelation!

Techcrunch says, “The board also has 16 levels of pressure sensitive touch and nice little animations that bring small things like erasing to life, as you watch the text flake and fall off the display.”

That’s terrific – what schools need is to bring erasing to life.

We’ve been here before

Six years ago I wrote a post called, “Let me save you $6,162″ about the then “innovative” touch tables that were all the rage at educational technology vendor booths. For only $6,500 you could play virtual tangrams with canned applause when you got the “correct” answer. Now there’s some innovation! Judging by the dearth of touch tables in schools, I guess wiser heads prevailed.

Schools wasted millions of dollars in the last two decades on interactive whiteboards. The reason they were a failure is because they were a bad idea in the first place, not that they didn’t work properly. Gary Stager concisely makes this case in “A Modest Proposal” written in 2011 and still true today. It starts out,

“IWBs and their clicker spawn are a terrible investment that breathes new life into medieval educational practices. … They reinforce the dominance of the front of the room and teacher supremacy. At a time of enormous educational upheaval, technological change, and an increasing gulf between adults and children, it is a bad idea to purchase technology that facilitates the delivery of information and increases the physical distance between teacher and learner.”

So, sorry that I can only save you $6,000 (per classroom) this time around, but I’m trying!

Repeat after me…. Innovation isn’t buying new stuff.

Workshops – Melbourne 2016 – Invent to Learn, Wearables, STEM

Join us in Melbourne this week! Space still available – Register today!

Monday 22nd August, 2016
Invent to learn with Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager
Join colleagues for a day of hard fun and problem solving — where computing meets tinkering and design.

Tuesday 23rd August, 2016
Girls and STEM / Wearable Technology with Sylvia Martinez
Wearables and Soft-Circuits for STEM Education – Supporting Inclusion and Equity with Hands-on Maker Technology

Thursday 24th August, 2016
Reinventing Maths with Gary Stager
This workshop moves beyond the goal of making math instruction engaging for children by providing educators with authentic mathematical thinking experiences.

Moment(us) teaching

At Constructing Modern Knowledge 2016, Carla Rinaldi, president of Reggio Children, gave an impassioned talk to the gathered educators about the lessons of the Reggio Emilia pre-school approach.
carla rinaldi cmk2016

She spoke about love, beauty, and respect for children (of all ages) and their learning process. She showed some photos and videos of children learning together and how teachers have the opportunity to make small decisions in this process. To watch or intervene; to ask a question or remain quiet; to suggest an expansion of the complexity of the children’s investigation or to help them simplify their ideas.

What struck me is how quietly these moments happen. These momentous moments are the heart and art of teaching.  Not only is this skill too often devalued and disrespected, but the time it takes to listen is dismissed as “wasted.”

Momentous is a word that is usually associated with BIG EVENTS, but the heart of the word is moment — a fleeting second of time where teachers make decisions that are not simple or fleeting.

Too often overlooked and underestimated, the moment occurs only when listening is valued, when respect exists between all the participants, and there is time to slow down and think hard about what to do in that moment.

Girls in Tech handout – Intel Australia

Girls in TechDownload this free guide with tips, research, resources, and ideas for turning “Making for All” into reality, especially for girls in tech and STEM.

Sponsored by Intel Australia, this is a compact handout about Girls in Tech. Learn how maker education programs and the maker mindset can support equity in education plus interest girls in STEM.

Download this full color 8 page PDF – Girls in Tech.

 

Girls and STEM – ISTE 2016 presentation

These are the slides from my ISTE 2016 presentation “Girls & STEM: Making it Happen.”

Martinez girls and stem ISTE 2016 (PDF)

Resources

Maker

Invent To Learn

MakeHers: Engaging Girls and Women in Technology through Making, Creating, and Inventing (Intel infographic)

Power, Access, Status: The Discourse of Race, Gender, and Class in the Maker Movement

Leah Buechley – Gender, Making, and the Maker Movement (video from FabLearn 2013)

Associations

National Girls Collaborative Project (links to many others)

National Council of Women and Informational Technology

American Association of University Women

Unesco International Bureau of Education (IBE)  – Multiple resources such as: Strengthening STEM curricula for girls in Africa, Asia and the Pacific10 Facts about Girls and Women in STEM in Asia

WISE (UK) – campaign to promote women in science, technology, and engineering

My posts about gender issues, stereotype threat, and other topics mentioned in this session

HOW TO COURSE CORRECT STEM EDUCATION TO INCLUDE GIRLS

LET’S STOP LYING TO GIRLS ABOUT STEM CAREERS

Stereotype Threat – Why it matters

Inclusive Makerspaces (article for EdSurge)

What a Girl Wants: Self-direction, technology, and gender

Self-esteem and me (a girl) becoming an engineer

Research

Securing Australia’s Future STEM: Country Comparisons – Australian Council of Learned Academies

Generation STEM:  What girls say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – Girl Scouts of the USA (2012) (Girls 14-17)

Effective STEM Programs for Adolescent Girls: Three Approaches and Many Lessons Learned

Women’s underrepresentation in science: Sociocultural and biological considerations. (2009)

Gresham, Gina. “A study of mathematics anxiety in pre-service teachers.” Early Childhood Education Journal 35.2 (2007): 181-188.

Beilock, Sian L., et al. “Female teachers’ math anxiety affects girls’ math achievement.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107.5 (2010): 1860-1863.

Teachers’ Spatial Anxiety Relates to 1st- and 2nd-Graders’ Spatial Learning

Statistics

National Center for Educational Statistics

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center