Building a smarter computing culture in Fargo, ND
It’s been awhile since I have been able to make it over to Madison. I was thrilled to see so many students at the tech team for this first Turtle Block portfolio session. I’m also thankful that both Kevin and I were able to come to this meeting, since the dynamics of the group intensified with seven vs. the usual 4-5 students. If there are this many students next Tuesday, I think I’m going to have to come in with some more applied knowledge of this Turtle Block portfolio, since I’ll be the lone guide for them for the next round.
This session included two students who have not been coming as consistently as the other core group of 4-5 students. One in particular had not come since near the beginning of this project when we were working within Etoys, so this project in Turtle Art proved difficult for her to handle at times.
I believe Kevin noted her constant questioning throughout the entire period. She initially asked either myself or Kevin, but I think she soon realized that we didn’t necessarily have the answers either. This made it easier on us, to be honest, since we didn’t need to redirect or respond in some fashion to her questions, since she proceeded to ask her fellow students instead of us.
from what I could gather, as I worked with her a few times during this 45 minute session, she seemed to be frustrated that she didn’t understand the program as well as the other students in the core group. I remember this student during the first wave in Etoys shyly telling us how she was pretty good at computers. I noticed that she kept trying to use Windows based navigation techniques, such as drag and drop repeatedly, which only added to her frustration throughout the session. I tried to have her consider how this is a different program than Windows in an attempt to sympathize with her frustration, and she usually responded with a “Yeah” followed by a sigh. She and her friend seemed much more comfortable during the Record activity. No code blocks to deal with there. Just point, click, shoot, then save. Yet, this Save function to the Journal didn’t work as well as for some of the other tech teamers.
One student, who has been a new “regular” to the tech team had some issues, when she tried to combine some text with a picture that she had taken in the Record program. She wanted to embed a picture on the left with a title and some text on the right side of the picture. A few of the other students had just figured this format (or something similar out), and yet none of her pictures would actually embed into Turtle from her Journal.
I sat with her while she “debugged” the code and we noticed that the icon that represents the file turned red, which we seemed to think meant something was not working properly with the file, since her code looked just like one of her friends’ code. This social debugging was exciting for me to watch, as she and her friend tried to figure out what could be done differently. I can’t remember who suggested it, but someone thought about making some new pictures and saving them to the Journal. Well, she did so, tried the code and upload again, and it worked. She was thrilled and it was a great way to end the session with her triumph.
I’d also like to respond to Kevin’s notes from his post:
Kevin wrote: Despite the biggest group in a long time (maybe ever), and despite this activity being less fun than making art (although taking photos was fun for the kids), the group worked well and on task.
Agreed. I think many educators would come in on our sessions thinking that these kids aren’t really doing any substantial learning with a lot of laughing, chattering, and of course playing in Sugar. I will add a note on how I noticed that two students who had not been to the group in awhile were the one’s who were initiating Chat activities between each other while everyone else was trying to figure out the portfolio features. This may connect with Kevin’s thoughts on the design of Sugar to focus on one activity at a time versus the multi-tasking, multi-tab features that we are all so used to. I think this may be something to value in the classroom.
Kevin wrote: One of the two who had not been there in a long time asked over and over, “what do I do now?” Those who have been coming regularly were much more independent as learners. When students asked this question, I almost always re-directed to other students because, quite frankly, I didn’t always know what to do.
Agreed, as noted earlier in the post.
Kevin wrote: Getting the kids to look in to the code of the portfolio was hard. They really want to work on a trial-and-error basis, rather than take a deductive, logical approach. I was finishing Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows last night, and he refers to some interesting studies of easy and hard interfaces, and found that users of easy interfaces rely on trial and error. Those habits seem to carry over in to Sugar, but maybe long enough exposure to Sugar will encourage deductive thinking.
Also, agree. I tried at least three different times with a few different students, asking them to slow down and consider what the template blocks of visual code were telling the program to construct, but I think only two of the students got to that level on their own.
I’ve also noticed that many of them like to have a clean interface to work within, yet still struggle to juggle the blocks of code on the screen and the material that they are producing. There were numerous “trips” to the trash window, and numerous sighs and grunts when they couldn’t have a nicely managed workspace. I think this stems from the large learning curve with the navigation and halo features that differ from Windows. I think maybe I will be sure to show them how they can collapse and even hide the code when they are finished programming a slide.
I wonder if this is some indication of “cultural” differences and preferences within our software environments. We are enculturated, so to speak, by these interfaces and certainly learn the motions, modes and practices of a particular OS and/or software. Sugar, as an environment to navigate and learn, has definitely been a barrier for some of the students, and still is for some.