Scratching about with planning

Work on redevelopment of EDP4130 came to a halt over the past couple of weeks because there was other work that needed to be done immediately. That, and the fact that I spent a few days scratching around with some ideas about the revisions, resulted in silence here. Now that I have completed a couple of other jobs, both related to EDP4130 and the review and accreditation process, I can try to do some more work on the revisions before I head off on leave to travel for several weeks.

For as long as technology has been part of the general curriculum in Queensland (and across Australia) it has fitted the pattern of what is often referred to as Design and Technology. The mantra of the national curriculum statement that appeared in the late 1990s was “designing, making and appraising with materials, information and systems”. That was variously interpreted and linked with other curriculum areas in different states. In Queensland, the 3 verbs of “design, make, and appraise” became 4 nouns – “investigation, ideation, production and evaluation” – but there was a broad consistency. Information and ICT figured in the curriculum but was not central.

In 2012 the development of the Australian Curriculum has progressed to the point of releasing a document on The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies that proposes two subjects, Design and Technologies and Digital Technologies. The first of these will require some adjustment in our preparation of teachers but shares much with what is already in the technology curriculum. The second represents new ground, including concepts about computer hardware and software for which we are not currently preparing our graduates. It will require more substantial changes to enable graduates to approach teaching about concepts that many of them will not have been exposed to in their own schooling.

Because the proposed scope and sequence for Digital Technologies includes basic concepts of computer programming – linear, branching and looping instructions – which will be new to our teacher education students I wanted to introduce those concepts in a way that would quickly build the basic concepts they need but could also suggest how they might approach the teaching of the same ideas in schools. Thus I came to be literally scratching about with Scratch, which provides a visual programming experience that is simple enough to be accessible to children and sophisticated enough to support teaching the important programming concepts.

Having decided that Scratch is likely to be a suitable basis for developing the important programming concepts I need to devise a workable plan for that component of the course. We run a 13 week teaching semester but students are out for 3 weeks of professional experience placement, leaving 10 weeks of actual course time available in 2 blocks, each of 5 weeks. For students studying on campus there are 3 hours of class time each week, conventionally divided into an hour of lecture (whole group in a large space) and two hours of tutorial (groups of 20 to 30 in smaller spaces). If Digital Technologies is to have equal billing to Design and Technology in the future curriculum then allocating one tutorial hour to each (and some suitable balance in the ‘lecture’ hour) would seem reasonable. That would allow 10 hours of class time to introduce students to computational thinking and the essential programming concepts via Scratch or otherwise. That’s not a lot of time but it will have to do.

There are possibilities other than Scratch that may deserve exploration so it will be important to allow some time for that. Students are likely to come to these classes with different background experience and skills so some flexibility in that exploration would be appropriate. If there are students with prior coding experience or access to particular hardware and software they might be able to tackle more ambitious projects. Possibilities for exploration might include building games with GameSalad or Stencyl, making simple apps for smartphones using Infinite Monkeys, coding with Google blockly, learning a ‘real’ programming language with Codecademy, or one of many other rapidly evolving options.

My first thoughts about how to block out the time are along these lines:

Class weeks Activity
1 – 3 Introduction to Scratch using ideas from the Scratch site resources
4 – 5 Common project using Scratch – prescribed outcome
6 – 7 Individual project using Scratch – free rein
8 – 10 Exploration of alternatives – breadth and/or depth

That pattern should ensure that everybody develops fair familiarity with Scratch, including some ideas about how to structure learning with it. It should also provide opportunities for exploration of multiple alternatives (breadth) or selecting one alternative and completing a simple project (depth).

Because a proportion of the students take the course entirely online it will be necessary to develop any materials and activities to support that mode. Students on campus will have the opportunity to attend classes in a computer laboratory where they will be able to obtain support as and when they need it.

That’s the core of my plan for that part of the course. Materials will need to be developed and some form of assessment designed but that will take a little longer.