In the last few days I’ve had several conversations about the use of programming software in schools. Scratch, Alice, Kodu, Logo, Starlogo, Gamemaker, Scratch BYOB, Greenfoot, BlueJ, IDLE… the list goes on.
A number of people have tried to convince me that I should drop Scratch for Scratch BYOB, drop Gamemaker for Starlogo, etc. Now I know these people (in a virtual sense, at least) and I know they are speaking from their own experiences and beliefs. I know they want what’s best for the pupils, the teachers, the future, etc. And I tried really hard not to get too defensive about my position. (And I’m really not aiming to offend them. Really.)
My position, as Head of Department, is to set out a curriculum that will help my students, as taught by my staff. That means that although one of my staff loves Alice, because a majority really don’t then we’re not going to include it. This doesn’t stop colleague A from using it as and where he sees fit, but the written Scheme of Work, resources, etc. for the department as a whole will not include Alice.
Likewise, I’ve tried Starlogo. We wrote a Scheme of Work, taught it, and it didn’t work. Maybe we should try again, maybe we should try harder. Well, one of my colleagues has spent a great deal of time getting into Gamemaker and writing a Scheme of Work. Under no circumstances am I going to turn around and tell him we’re not using it because someone on Twitter told me Starlogo would be better.
I’m also not convinced that there is a right way to introduce programming using these graphical tools. In fact I *am* certain that there isn’t one.
I got really grumpy a minute ago when I saw someone tweeting that Kodu “SHOULD replace Scratch in schools!”. I have several issues with this. First, our all-in-one PCs, our thin clients, our netbooks and our Macs all refuse to run it. We do have some PCs that will run it, but not enough for every pupil in a cohort. Secondly, WHY should Kodu replace Scratch? Nothing other than a link to the Kodu page was posted. I’ve seen Kodu, I’ve had someone from Microsoft demonstrate it for me. It looks lovely. I can see why someone might WANT to replace Scratch with this. I can see why someone COULD replace Scratch with this. I disagree strongly with the suggestion that we SHOULD.
Somebody asked me why I was considering a Scratch-based animation unit and not using Flash. This was a very fair question, and being made to question our decisions is a good thing. No-one was telling me I was wrong, they were just trying to get to grips with my point of view to see whether I had a point. In hindsight I think they were right and I think I’m going to run a couple of lessons in Scratch followed by a few more in Flash and then compare them. But at no point did anyone say that I SHOULD be using Flash.
To give another example, I am a *huge* fan of Moodle. Enormously so. I honestly don’t believe I have told anyone that they HAVE to use Moodle, or that they SHOULD use Moodle. I’ve told them that they COULD. I’ve told them that I will help. I’ve generally also told them about Edmodo in the next breath. Sometimes Frog. Sometimes a blog. Sometimes a wiki. I just don’t believe that telling people that they SHOULD do things is really the right way to go.
So there. I’m being a grump today. Harumph.