Posts tagged ‘Scratch’

Visiting NTNU in Trondheim Norway June 3-23

Barbara and I are just back from a three week trip to NTNU in Trondheim, Norway. Katie Cunningham came with us (here’s a blog post about some of her work). Three weeks is enough time to come up with a dozen ideas for blog posts, but I don’t have the cycles for that. So let me just give you the high-level view, with pictures and links to learn more.

We went at the beginning of June because Barb and I (and the University of Michigan) are part of the IPIT network (International Partnerships for Excellent Education and Research in Information Technology) that had its kick-off meeting June 3-5. The partnership is about software engineering and computing education research, with a focus student and faculty exchange and meetings at each others’ institutions: NTNU, U. Michigan, Tsinghua University, and Nanjing University. I learned a lot about software engineering that I didn’t know before, especially about DevOps.

If you ever get the chance to go to a meeting organized by Letizia Jaccheri of NTNU, GO! She was the organizer for IPIT, co-chair of IDC 2018, and our overall host for our three weeks there. She has a wonderful sense for blending productivity with fun. During the IDC 2018 poster session, she brought in high school students dressed as storybook characters, just to wander around and “bring in a bit of whimsy.” For a bigger example, she wanted IPIT to connect with the NTNU campus at Ålesund, which just happens to be near the Geiranger fjord, one of the most beautiful in Norway. So, she flew the whole meeting to Ålesund from Trondheim! We took a large cruise-ship like boat with meeting rooms down the fjord. We got in some 5-6 hours of meetings, while also seeing amazing waterfalls and other views, and then visited the Ålesund campus the next day before flying home. We got work done and WOW!

For the next week and a half, we got to know the computing education research folks at NTNU. We were joined at the end of the first week by Elisa Rubegni from the University of Lincoln, and Roberto Martinez-Maldonado came by a couple days later. Barb, Elisa, and I held a workshop on the first Monday after IPIT. A couple days later, we had a half-day meeting with Michalis Giannakos’s group and Roberto, then Elisa led us all in a half-day design exercise (pictured below — Elisa, Sofia, Javi, and Katie). In between, we had individual meetings. I think I met with every one of the PhD students there working in computing education research. (And, in our non-meeting time, Barb and I were writing NSF proposals!)

Michalis’s group is doing some fascinating work. Let me tell you about some of the projects that most intrigued me.

  • Sofia (with Kshitij and Ilias) is lead on a project where they track what kids using Scratch are looking at, both on and off screen. It’s part of this cool project where kids program these beautiful artist-created robots with Scratch. It’s a pretty crazy looking experimental setup, with fiducial markers on notebooks and robots and screens.
  • Kshitij is trying to measure EEG and gaze in order to determine cognitive load in a user interface. Almost all cognitive load measures are based on self-report (including ours). They’re trying to measure cognitive load physiologically, and correlate it with self-report.
  • Katerina and Kshitij is using eye-tracking to measure how undergrads use tools like Eclipse. What I found most interesting was what they did not observe. I noticed in their data that they had no data on using the debugger. They explained that in 40 students, only five people even looked at the debugger. Nobody used data or control flow visualizations at all. I’m fascinated by this — what does it take to get students to actually look at the debuggers and visualizers that were designed to help them learn?
  • Roberto is doing this amazing work with learning analytics in physical spaces, where nurses are working on robot patients. Totally serious — they can gather all kinds of data about where people are standing, how they interact, and when they interact. For tasks like nursing, this is super important to understand what students are learning.

Then came FabLearn with an amazing keynote by Leah Buechley on art, craft, and computation. I have a long list of things to look up after her talk, including Desmos, computer controlled cutting machines (which I had never heard of before) which are way cheaper than 3-D printers but still allow you to do computational craft, and http://blog.recursiveprocess.com/ which is all about learning coding and mathematics. She made an argument that I find fascinating — that art is what helps diverse students reflect their identity and culture in their school, and that’s why students who get art classes (controlling for SES) are more likely to succeed in school and go onto post-secondary schooling. Can computing make it easier to bring art back into school? Can computing then play a role in engaging children with school again?

The next reason we were at NTNU was to attend the EXCITED Centre advisory board meeting. Barb and I were there for the launch of EXCITED in January 2017. It’s a very ambitious project, starting from students making informed decisions to go into CS/IT, helping students develop identities in CS, learning through construction, increasing diversity in CS, and moving into careers. We got to hang out with Arnold Pears, Mats Daniels, and Aletta Nylén of UpCERG (Upssala Computing Education Research Group), the world’s largest CER group.

Finally, for the last four days, we attended the Interaction, Design and Children Conference, IDC 2018. I wrote my Blog@CACM post for this month about my experiences there. I saw a lot there that’s relevant to people who read this blog. My favorite paper there tested the theory of concreteness fading on elementary school students learning computing concepts. Here’s a picture of a slide (not in the paper) that summarizes the groups in the experiment.

I’ll end with my favorite moment in IDC 2018, not in the Blog@CACM post. We met Letizia’s post-doc, Javier “Javi” Gomez at the end of our first week in Trondheim. Summer weather in Trondheim is pretty darn close to winter in Atlanta. One day, we woke up to 44F and rain. But we lucked out — the weekends were beautiful. On our first Saturday, Letizia invited us all to a festival near her home, and we met Javi and Elisa. That evening (but still bright sunlight), Javi, Elisa, Barb, and I took a wonderful kayaking trip down the Nidelva river. So it was a special treat to be at IDC 2018 to see Javi get TWO

awards for his contributions, one for his demo and an honorable mention for his note. The note was co-authored by Letizia, and was her first paper award (as she talks about in the lovely linked blog post). It was wonderful to be able to celebrate the success of our new friends.

On the way back, Barb and I stopped in London to spend a couple days with Alan Kay and his wife, Bonnie MacBird. If I could come up with a dozen blog post ideas from 3 weeks, it’s probably like two dozen per day with Alan and Bonnie, and we had two days with them. Visiting a science museum with an exhibit on early computers (including an Alto!) is absolutely amazing when you’re with Alan. But those blog posts will have to wait until after my blog hiatus.

June 28, 2018 at 7:00 am 2 comments

The General Purpose Blocks Programming Language, GP, is now in beta

GP, the powerful new blocks-based programming language (that I wrote about here, helped show at SIGCSE 2017, and used for MediaComp in a new kind of ebook here), is available for beta-testing as the Scratch 2017 conference starts in Bordeaux, France.  You can access GP at http://www.gpblocks.org.  You can run projects in your browser on the website, or download the application.

GP is a free, general-purpose blocks language that is powerful yet easy to learn.

GP can:

  • generate high-quality graphics computationally

  • manipulate images and sounds

  • analyze text files or CSV data sets

  • simulate physical, biological, or economic systems

  • access the web and use cloud data

  • connect to hardware via the serial port

  • deploy projects on the web or as stand-alone apps

Source: About · GP Blocks

July 19, 2017 at 8:00 am 14 comments

Attending the amazing 2017 Computing at School conference #CASConf17

June 17, Barbara and I attended the Computing at School conference in Birmingham, England (which I wrote about here).  The slides from my talk are below. I highly recommend the summary from Duncan Hull which I quote at the bottom.

CAS was a terrifically fun event. It was packed full with 300 attendees. I under-estimated the length of my talk (I tend to talk too fast), so instead of a brief Q&A, there was almost half the time for Q&A. Interacting with the audience to answer teachers’ questions was more fun (and hopefully, more useful and entertaining) than me talking for longer. The session was well received based on the Tweets I read. In fact, that’s probably the best way to get a sense for the whole day — on Twitter, hashtag #CASConf17. (I’m going to try to embed some tweets with pictures below.)

Barbara’s two workshops on Media Computation in Python using our ebooks went over really well.

I enjoyed my interactions all day long. I was asked about research results in just about every conversation — the CAS teachers are eager to see what computing education research can offer them.  I met several computing education research PhD students, which was particularly exciting and fun. England takes computing education research seriously.

Miles Berry demonstrated Project Quantum by having participants answer questions from the database.  That was an engaging and fascinating interactive presentation.

Linda Liukas gave a terrific closing keynote. She views the world from a perspective that reminded me of Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten and Seymour Papert’s playfulness. I was inspired.

The session that most made me think was from Peter Kemp on the report that he and co-authors have just completed on the state of computing education in England. That one deserves a separate blog post – coming Wednesday.

Check out Duncan’s summary of the conference:

The Computing At School (CAS) conference is an annual event for educators, mostly primary and secondary school teachers from the public and private sector in the UK. Now in its ninth year, it attracts over 300 delegates from across the UK and beyond to the University of Birmingham, see the brochure for details. One of the purposes of the conference is to give teachers new ideas to use in their classrooms to teach Computer Science and Computational Thinking. I went along for my first time (*blushes*) seeking ideas to use in an after school Code Club (ages 7-10) I’ve been running for a few years and also for approaches that undergraduate students in Computer Science (age 20+) at the University of Manchester could use in their final year Computer Science Education projects that I supervise. So here are nine ideas (in random brain dump order) I’ll be putting to immediate use in clubs, classrooms, labs and lecture theatres:

Source: Nine ideas for teaching Computing at School from the 2017 CAS conference | O’Really?

My talk slides:

July 10, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Visit to researchers at ExcITEd Center at NTNU

In January, Barbara Ericson and I were invited to visit the new ExcITED Center at NTNU in Trondheim, Norway. ExcITED is the Centre for Excellent IT Education. It was a whirlwind trip, fitting it in after the start of our semester at Georgia Tech, but really wonderful. We got there just as NTNU was celebrating their new Department of Computer Science with an “IDIovation” celebration which included some great research talks and (a highlight for me) a live coding computer music performance. The whole event was recorded and is available here.

Our host for the visit was Michail Giannakos, who is a learning scientist interested in a variety of educational technologies. We got a chance to meet with several of the faculty and many of the students working in ExcITED. Like I said, it was a whirlwind trip, so please excuse me if I only mention a few of the projects we saw — the ones that particularly stuck with me, despite the jet-lag.

One team at ExcITED is logging student interactions with the IDE that they use in their classes at the University, like the BlueJ Blackbox effort. What makes what they’re doing remarkable is that they’re immediately turning the data around, to present a process mirror to the students. They show students a visualization of what they have been doing. The goal is to encourage reflection, to get students to realize when they’re spending too much time on one phase of their work, or maybe not enough (e.g., in testing). The challenge is mapping from the low-level user interactions to higher-level visualizations that might inform students.

There are several projects that are working with children who are programming in Scratch (which can be localized to Norwegian). The one that most captured my attention was where students were programming these beautiful robotic sculptures, created by professional artists. The team is exploring how this influences student motivation. How does motivation change when the robots under the students’ control are neither student-generated nor stereotypically “robotic”?

The Tiles project by Simone Mora, Francesco Gianni, and Monica Divitini aims to engage designers in ubiquitous computing. They have these cool cards that they use in an activity with designers to get them thinking about the kinds of everyday items in which computation might be embedded. They want designers to think about how sensors and actuators might be used to support user activity.

IMG_4159

They’re now working to extend these cards with ties to JavaScript code that would actually allow designers to build the things that they designed. It’s an innovative activity to engage designers with embedded computing and then to carry the designs to prototype.

On the weekend after our visit, the chair of the department, Letizia Jaccheri, took Barb and I off to ski in Sweden in Åre. We arrived on a Thursday, spoke at IDIovation that night, met with ExcITED researchers on Friday, traveled to Sweden to ski on Saturday, back on Sunday, and flew home on Monday. An absolutely amazing trip for which we were both grateful to have had the opportunity!

March 29, 2017 at 7:00 am 2 comments

A goal for teaching CS: Fostering Creativity Through Computing

Aman Yadav and Steve Cooper have the CACM Viewpoints Education column this month. They raise the questions of how learning computing can lead to greater creativity, and how we can design computing education experiences to draw students in to greater depth.

Computing has the potential to provide users opportunities to extend their creative expression to solve problems, create computational artifacts, and develop new knowledge. The pervasive nature of computing and accessibility of digital tools is also transforming K-12 education as students move from being mere consumers of content to engaging in the subject matter by creating computational artifacts. Take Scratch, for example, which is one of the many tools designed to teach kids to code, and comes with varying levels of support for educators implementing them in both formal and informal learning settings. Scratch provides students with an opportunity to express their creativity through stories, games, and animations. While Scratch has the potential to be a powerful tool, it is often used as little more than a presentation tool in the classroom. Studies of Scratch users show that few projects use variables or control flow data structures. While the Scratch environment provides a ‘low floor, high ceiling’ that allows beginners to dive into the environment without frustration, many students do not advance to a higher level. Tools like Scratch can empower students to showcase their creativity like never before; however, the way these tools are taught by teachers and used by students significantly influences whether students move along the creativity continuum. While Scratch is widely used, we know little about how it influences students’ creative thinking.

Source: Fostering Creativity Through Computing | February 2017 | Communications of the ACM

February 13, 2017 at 7:56 am 1 comment

Introducing GP: A General Purpose Block Language

GP is a new blocks-based programming language being developed by John Maloney (most well-known for developing Scratch), Jens Mönig (developer of Snap!), and Yoshiki Ohshima (one of the developers of Squeak EToys) in Alan Kay’s group. They are all part of the new partnership between Alan Kay and Y-Combinator Research: HARC (Human Advancement Research Community). GP started in the SAP-funded CDG (Communications Design Group).

GP is not yet released, and there’s not much publicly available on it yet. The GP Team published a paper and poster in the Blocks and Beyond Workshop at last year’s VL/HCC on GP. The best introductory article on GP so-far is on the Scratch Wiki at MIT based on John’s presentation at the Scratch conference last year.

What makes GP remarkable is that it aims to be a general purpose language. John’s vision for GP is to be the language that students might move to after Scratch, with the highest possible ceilings. Think about GP as Python or Smalltalk in blocks — and even more the latter than the former. From the virtual machine (VM) on which it runs to the class browser, GP feels like a blocks-based form of Smalltalk. Because GP is VM-based, it’s portable — there are versions for Mac, Windows, iOS, and even a JavaScript implementation of the VM so that GP runs in the browser.

GP is an exploration of the question, “How far can we go with a blocks-based programming language? Do we have to move students to a textual programming language to let them develop everything from data analyses to real applications?”

GP users can do a lot with GP’s built-in blocks. However, as they grow in mastery, some users may wish to add new blocks to GP (e.g. to manipulate images), or even to extend the GP programming environment itself (e.g. by adding an image editor). GP is designed to be extended in itself using the same blocks language that users already know. However, unlike Smalltalk or Snap!, the GP language itself cannot be extended (e.g. to add a new control structure) without modifying the virtual machine. Keeping the GP language simple and fixed is intended to ease the learning path for beginners.

A brief tour of Smalltalk-like features of GP

When you first start up GP, it looks like Scratch. The blocks palette is different, because it’s covering a larger space of blocks. GP includes blocks for dealing with data (e.g., JSON, comma-separated values), media generation and manipulation, connections to the network and external devices, and the ability to create and coordinate multiple objects.

Your_basic-GP-opener

There are even blocks in there for manipulating pixels in an image and samples in a sound. GP is the first blocks-based language in which I’ve been able to do both sound and pixel Media Computation examples. I built the first version of MediaComp blocks for GP, then John figured out which ones were actually useful and then re-implemented them in GP much more efficiently than what I did.

I’m introducing GP here with the GP Team’s permission in order to show you a prototype ebook I’ve been building the last few months. You can play with GP at http://home.cc.gatech.edu/GPBlocks. This is the browser-based version which is offered with no guarantees — the browser version will likely change dramatically as GP is still being developed, and even the examples in the ebook may break over time. (Note: These browser-based examples are best viewed in Firefox on a desktop or laptop computer; they do not yet work on iOS or Android tablets.)

Here’s a brief series of snapshots to give you a sense of what makes GP so interesting and powerful compared to most other blocks-based languages. In the stage area (upper right-hand corner) right-click (control-click on a Mac) to bring up the stage menu.

StageMenu

The menu options for a workspace and to browse will elicit warm feelings of recognition for Smalltalk and Self programmers. Go ahead and click on the browse menu item.

class-browser-blocks

Scanning the classes along the left hand side you realize that this is a full Smalltalk-like language. All the pieces are there and inspectable. The middle panes show the instance variables in the class (top) and the methods for the class (bottom). The rightmost pane shows the code for the method — in blocks!

One of the big goals of GP is that all of GP is written in GP. Even the lowest levels of GP (e.g., how bitmaps and blocks are constructed) can be manipulated in GP, all in blocks. Those methods are real code and “live.” Change them and you change how GP is working immediately. Right now, that’s super dangerous — there is no “editing” mode. Move a block out of place, and the method is changed at that moment. Beware of re-defining how Integers work! The GP team is currently working to complete this part of GP, allowing the GP programming system to be used to modify itself, like Smalltalk.

The GP team is also exploring the stages between blocks and text. At the top right hand corner of GP is a slider between blocks and text. Switch it to text, and all of GP is presented and usable in a textual form. (There’s even an interesting middle stage between blocks and text.)

class-browser-text

I’ve been using GP for about nine months. During the Spring semester, I’ve been using GP with an undergraduate research assistant, David Tran, to build a prototype of a new kind of ebook structure. Play around (muck/MOHQ around) in the GPBlocks MOHQ, and in the next blog post, I’ll explain what it is and what we’re exploring in it.


My thanks to the GP team for review and comments on drafts of this post.

June 13, 2016 at 7:28 am 26 comments

What’s the impact of the Hour of Code? It goes way beyond an Hour

Code.org has just released an interesting survey about their Hour of Code initiative.  They’ve been criticized for providing only an hour and overly focusing on puzzles (see Mitchel Resnick’s article here).  The results suggest that they’re reaching a diverse audience, and having an effect beyond an hour — students keep going, and teachers start teaching CS.

Programming is a literacy, and no one develops any kind of literacy in just an hour of practice.  Games are not the most interesting and powerful kinds of programming activities.

But they’re a start.  Particularly when we get past the Inverse Lake Wobegon Effect of thinking about students as being like us.  We know from many studies that students are afraid of computer programming. I’m teaching Media Computation again this semester, and at least a third of the students who have come talk to me after class have started their conversation with, “I’m one of those people who just don’t do computers.”  And that’s just those self-reporting without prompting!  Students associate CS with being a geek and wouldn’t want to let their friends know they like computer science, even if they do.  Few students get any kind of computer science education outside of Hour of Code.

When we think about most people, sustained activity in programming for one hour can go a long way to reducing fear, increasing self-efficacy, and nurturing interest. (Consider an Hour of Code compared to less than <5 minutes typically spent at a museum exhibit.) Games are a useful place to start because they’re well-structured. Aptitude-treatment interaction tells us that more structure is better with students who have less background in a subject.  Open-ended, constructionist activities like those that Mitchel is promoting are more successful with more privileged students, those who have more experience which results in higher-ability students. The Hour of Code can help inspire students to get that additional experience needed to develop more ability.)  An Hour of Code is a good first step for the remedial state of computing education in the United States today.

Hooray for Hour of Code, and thanks to Code.org for promoting it and for sharing these data.

The onus is on us to turn the Hour of Code into a Lifetime of Computational Literacy. 

After the Hour of Code, we asked participating organizers how it went and got some fantastic news for our field.

  • 98% had a good or great experience.
  • 85% of those new to computer science said the Hour of Code increased their interest in teaching computer science.
  • 49% said they plan to continue teaching computer science beyond one hour.
  • 18% said they began teaching computer science after a previous Hour of Code campaign!
  • 87% said their students did more than just one hour of coding.

Source: What’s the impact of the Hour of Code? | Code.org

January 22, 2016 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

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