Building a smarter computing culture in Fargo, ND
Keep it secret, keep it safe[?] — Gandalf the GreyThis post examines my thoughts on when and how to reveal the architecture of code to the Tech Team at Madison Elementary, which is comprised of 4th and 5th graders.
Helen J. Burgess, in From A to A, writes about her two favorite moments in her classroom: the first is watching her composition students react to the view source feature in their browser, and the second is when they later begin to understand how markup works. I wanted to do the same, but in Sugar, and with 4th and 5th graders.
To do so, and in a creative way, I thought about conducting a session around the modification of the Sugar Home file, favoritesview.py. It was my initial hope that a “successful” attempt to have the students modify their favorites view would prompt them to see the potential fun and freedom of learning how to program. But, I couldn’t do it alone, so I recently requested help on the IAEP (It’s All About Education) email listserv, asking advice on how to modify the Sugar Home favoritesview.py file. The series of responses were very thought provoking, leading me to wonder as a teacher-researcher, how soon is too soon to see the more complicated stuff?
Before I jump into that question, I must say that I love this Sugar community. I received numerous responses that were all very helpful with a variety of different suggestions and tips. Walter Bender even chimed in with information regarding the development of a sandbox of sorts for tinkering with the Sugar toolkit without destroying the OS, and in our case, the SoaS. It’s this kind of willingness to help one another that gets me even more excited about opensource projects.
Looking at the question, when and how should kids start computer programming, through the lens of this particular introductory exercise, I see three main possibilities, if I were to go ahead with the favoritesview.py activity:
So, is this an activity good for 4th and 5th graders? I still think so. The young minds that I’ve worked with thus far can take in a good amount of information and aren’t afraid to climb some tall debugging walls (except on some bad days). Keeping the code secret and safe from the kids isn’t going to help them engage the computer at a more nuanced level.
As an educator and beginner-coder, myself, I think this activity could propel us (myself, Kevin, and the Tech Team) into some nice, meaningful Turtle Art sessions mixed in with some Pippy, which would be a new activity for the everyone. I suppose this makes us stop and consider what parts of programming are we really highlighting when we’re doing these activites, which is just another good application of constructivist learning.
# Next stop
>>> print “Hello [New] World!”
Hello [New] World!