Today I took two students from my school to the Programming Challenge 4 Girls event at the University of Melbourne. I can’t remember how I found out about it, but I registered them a couple of months ago and they were certainly excited to participate. They haven’t had any experience with programming and since we’ve spent quite a bit of time in my Language of our Times class discussing the need for better representation of women in the field of computer programming, they were keen to have a go.
The programming language they were using was Alice. It has a graphical user interface and the students were dragging and dropping commands into it - they could preview what the commands were directing their characters do and were learning by doing. While they got the hang of the drag and drop interface, the precision and attention to detail required to get the character to perform the most basic of functions was very challenging for them. After the 3 hour challenge, they came out quite exhausted with the mental effort that was required to see them create 15 seconds of what would equate to a game type interface. I’m very sure they have new found appreciation for the programmers of games they play and the thousands of hours that must go into creating the landscapes and complex scenarios.
While they were participating in the challenge, the teachers present were listening to Steven Bird, Associate Professor in Computing and Information Systems at theUniversity of Melbourne. Steven was discussing the new Unit 3 and 4 VCE Computer Science curriculum due to be offered across the state in 2015. My tweets from the day are below:
*apologies for the spelling mistakes! When you’re trying to tweet and keep up with the presenter, mistakes happen!
What was very interesting was the discussion around delivery of this curriculum. Steven Bird and a computing professor from Monash University are going to be delivering some of this curriculum via video using Google Hangouts and utilising Google + to form the learning community around it. This is in recognition of the fact that the expertise to teach a curriculum like this is going to be difficult to source in Victorian schools.
Is this the beginning of MOOC style delivery of curriculum for VCE students? It looks a bit like it to me, and why not? If expertise is required and it’s not available within our ranks, then we do have to do the right thing by our students and find ways to provide it.
The challenge is going to be finding students who want to study this discipline. Teachers at the event today were talking about the low numbers of students choosing the VCE IT Software Development course. Steven was talking about how the new Computer Science course is really directed at the kinds of students who are currently selecting courses like Specialist Mathematics and Physics and teachers were again sharing how courses like these often attract only small numbers of students. Hopefully the new Australian Curriculum Technologies subject will see some students’ eyes open to possibilities, but Steven discussed how that curriculum doesn’t go far enough into the computational mathematics and algorithmic thinking that is required for Computer Science. It was mentioned that we may have lost an opportunity given that our new Australian Curriculum for Mathematics has not identified computational mathematics within its scope and sequence.
If you’re a Victorian teacher and interested in joining a discussion around this new VCE Computer Science curriculum, an event is being held at the University of Melbourne from November 20th – 22nd. The programme for CS4HS looks very interesting. I’m hoping to make it to the first day at least.
Thank you to the organisers of the Programming Challenge 4 Girls. Definitely an event that has me thinking!