The U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration put out a document, STEM: good Jobs Now and for the Future. According to ESA, science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers drive our innovation, competitiveness, and new industries. There is a projected rise in STEM jobs over the next 6 years, and these positions are desirable. However, our nation struggles to compete with others in the areas of science and technology.
In the primary and secondary schools, focus has primarily been having students learn how to use computers by adapting to the creativity of others in use of their software. We may be missing a point. Silicon Valley and Hollywood create dreams that everyone else pays for. When you take a computer out of a box, you benefit from the fruits and labors of software engineers from far reaches of the earth. The user is limited to the creator’s vision. Perhaps instead of preparing them for the future, we encourage them to create their own future.
Many countries have progressed economically due to advances in the area of computer technology. According to author Thomas Freedman (2005), the painstaking task of designing hardware and software has been outsourced for the most part.
Scratch is a game or animation maker created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology using a series of blocks to build programming language into interactive stories, animations, games, music and art. This tactile GUI allows students to drag and drop blocks of conditions onto sprites into correct order to produce an interactive product for others to enjoy. Students are driven to think critically and creatively considering user-end experience. Before the syntax of programming is learned, students are able to create, mix and remix programming structures through a trial-and-error experience. The program is ideal for children or early elementary school age and up to middle and high school aged children.
Alice is a similar idea to Scratch wich teaches students computer programming in a 3D environment. It makes it easy to create an animation for storytelling, playing interactive games or animating movies. Alice uses drag-and-drop tiles to create a program and immediately see how their animations run. The trial-and-error approach allows for manipulation of programming constructs and direct result viewing of results.
Google initially put out a similar program for creating apps on the Android platform. App Inventor initially hosted by Google in Beta, was adapted by MIT once Google announced it needed to end the program. The MIT Center for Mobile Learning took it a step further and provided a database of lesson plans for teachers. The design is so closely related to MIT’s Scratch where blocks are used to assemble a programming sequence to create an individualized experience for its users.
The 2D platforms are closely related, the programs created by the students can be played on a computer using Scratch running JAVA, and App Inventor running an Android emulator. It is unclear if projects from Scratch can also be used on a mobile device. The stage in Scratch is square, not rectangular like mobile devices are.
Gamestar Mechanic and GameMaker 8 are games other communities designed to teach the principles of game design and systems thinking. Here, elementary, middle, and high school students are motivated to create using game design tools. This game-like environment provides challenges to create, and allows students to develop computer games without computer programming experience. Like Scratch and the others listed here, the drag-and-drop system allows students to intuitively create games by visually organizing icons on the screen.
A colleague of mine, Sterling Worrell, shared with me yet another platform for game programming/game creation. Construct 2 is a HTML5 Game maker. With Flash being a phased-out technology, and the rise of HTML5, this makes building games for multiple platforms much easier.
Over the summer I hope to put together a plan for teaching programming using some of these tools. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this later.