Thursday, July 18, 2013

Programming: then and now

Four months ago we enrolled Connor in an online Scratch Programming class for elementary students.  It was expensive, but at the time I knew I would not be able to effectively teach my child to program in Scratch.  Caskey may have been able to teach him to program, but I would not be able to manage it from home while Caskey works his long hours.  We settled on a Scratch for Elementary Students class offered by CTY (of John's Hopkins).  The class began a few weeks before we opted to start teaching programming classes at Monte Vista as well.  We decided the chance to see some of the lessons would be beneficial to us as well.

Each week Caskey and I would work together to cobble together a 60-minute lesson plan for 5th and 6th grade students who were above average in math.  We would rush through the planning, create a sample program and Caskey would give me a crash course in the lesson.  In the classroom I was still not very comfortable.  I was okay doing whole group instruction, including students in the concepts we were teaching, but when it came to actually debugging the software or figuring out nuances to the programming - I was lost.  I would ask the students to work with the others around them (which had its own benefit) or wait until Caskey was available to assist them.

As the weeks progressed I found I knew less and less about what we were teaching.  But that was okay because Caskey was becoming more and more comfortable with the students and the students were learning more and more.  But I had a growing sense of dread as to how I was going to continue these classes in the fall for twice as many students.  Caskey's advice was simple - program more and you will become more comfortable with it.

I was thrilled though when I found out Google was joining teams with MIT to have a short 6-week course where educators could learn more about teaching Scratch programming to students.  It was free, online and collaborative.  It was a dream come true.

Connor just finished his online class, just as I have started to develop 20 lesson plans to be shared with the entire Foothill community to be used in classroom for 3rd - 6th graders.  Now I feel like the class was a big waste of money.  I could have taught him these things!  (To be fair the class was very well supported in videos, class materials, a professor available daily via email.)

I am amazed at how my comfort level has changed so drastically in the last 4 months.  I have no problem now saying things like computational thinking and making appointments with administrators at our school site and other school sites and collaborating on curriculum across 6 elementary schools.  I have offered free Scratch training to other parents who want to teach it and plan on offering some online classes to students in the community as soon as that feature becomes available on Scratch.

I never knew I would become a programming junkie like my husband.  But the research is there.  This is the future.  Our children need to know this just like they need to know how to read and do math.  There are so many fabulous opportunities available to them - all free.  I'm glad I feel comfortable enough with Scratch to teach it the students in our community.

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