Week 7 Learning to teach or teaching to learn – computer programming in initial teacher education?

Discuss the benefits (or lack thereof) of computer programming initiaves such as Scratch in the Classroom to develop the personal and professional attributes of students in initial teacher education? Areas for discussion may include –

  • Planning & preparation (lesson notes, objectives, resource materials, creativity & originality)

A confusing principle tries to explain how to plan lessons effectively in the most complicated fashion I have ever heard!! It is not hard to plan a lesson once you have a lesson template/scheme.

Planning and preparation for any lesson is vital to ensure the lesson runs smoothly. If a teacher is unprepared, or unsure of the content in a lesson, children will become aware of this and so are inclined to ‘switch-off’. In order to create the optimum learning environment for learning the teacher should have clear objectives they wish to achieve and be fully prepared for said lesson. A teacher should plan to mix teacher-talk and pupil-initiated tasks. Active participation is key in every lesson so teacher talk should be kept to the bare essentials. For this reason, computer programming initiatives are extremely beneficial to develop the personal and professional attributes of students as through each lesson the children are active. They are not passively reciting information. Similar to any academic subject on the curriculum a teacher should plan and construct materials to accompany the lesson, e.g. form a game using the new blocks introduced in this lesson. When using computer programming, the topics chosen should be exciting for the children, relating to their lives and from my experience even the simplest topic was thoroughly enjoyed by all students. A teacher should make themselves aware of each child’s prior experience with a computer programme, e.g. whether they have used Scratch before or this being their first time using it. Henceforth, a teacher will be enabled to plan activities to suit the range of abilities in the class, e.g. they may use open-ended activities to accommodate this wide range of ability in their class, thereby challenging each and every pupil.

  • Classroom management (communication, scanning, praise, positive cueing, opportunities for group work/pair work, maximising pupil engagement)

From my experience teaching Scratch, I found classroom management more difficult when using computer programming than when teaching an academic subject. This is because you cannot see the activity of each child when they are using laptops, whereas it is easy to spot a child who isn’t completing a writing task, for example. Even though it was more difficult to scan the classroom when using computer programming I didn’t encounter any disruptive behaviour in the classroom. If there is clear communication between the teacher and pupils of expected behaviour, and more importantly the pupils can see why there are rules within the classroom, then the pupils are more inclined to adhere to said rules. Furthermore, in general, the children are intrinsically motivated when using computer programmes so when a task is set they are eager to figure out how to complete it. If a pair are having difficulty, they can communicate with their peers in order to solve this problem or I would assist them. I would never inform they exactly how to solve the problem but I would give them clues in order to scaffold them so they will arrive at the solution.

Pair work is far better than group work or individual work in my opinion, in order to maximise learning when using computer programming.  The pair can work collaboratively to complete the required task, both having the opportunity to use the software and develop their problem-solving and communication skills. All children were engaged and active throughout my 4 teaching lessons using Scratch. They didn’t want the lessons to end! If teachers use computer programmes to develop all curricular areas I think each child’s learning would increase to no end! I have yet to experience using Scratch with a child with a condition but research shows that computer programmes enhance their engagement and so are extremely beneficial in this case.

  • Teaching and learning strategies (lesson structure, pacing, subject knowledge, questioning, consolidation of learning, pupil-centred learning)

Lessons are structured in sequence – they begin simple, exploring the basic functions of a computer programme and lead to using the computer programme in all its complexity. As with any lesson, the pacing of it will depend on the pupils being taught. On teaching placement, we were able to move at what I consider a moderately quick pace as the children absorbed the lesson content rather fast.
Each week the children built on their subject knowledge of Scratch as they were all integrated. Thereby, consolidating material they had learned previously and further developing it.

Similar to any academic subject the teacher should ask higher and lower order questions based on the child’s ability, e.g. which block section would you use to move your sprite? or how do you turn your sprite right? explain.
Teacher talk is be minimised to allow the children to experiment with the computer programme, develop their skills in using the programme thereby becoming active agents in their own learning. Scratch is a user friendly programme which enables this to occur

  • Assessment & evaluation (appropriateness of lesson objectives, reflection, lesson consolidation)

Lesson objectives from one lesson should coincide with the objectives of  the prior lesson/s. At the beginning of the lesson, a teacher should revise prior knowledge of the topic with the children, eliciting from them the required blocks to complete an action for example. This consolidation should also be completed at the end of the lesson also, to assess if the objectives of the lesson have been met. A teacher can use this assessment to reflect on the reason behind a lesson’s success or downfall.

  • Personal qualities & professionalism (motivation, diligence, rapport with pupils, pupil-teacher interactions)

In order to engage pupils a teacher needs to be enthusiastic about a subject and computer programming is no different. If a teacher is motivated and excels a positive attitude toward a computer programme, then the children will become motivated and eager to learn. A teacher requires an in-depth knowledge of the computer programme in order to teach it and encourage children to explore it. If a teacher only knows the required code for the lesson at hand they may hold children back that are exploring various techniques and codes. As classroom management may be more difficult when using laptops in a classroom, a respectful rapport between teacher and pupils is essential in order for a lesson to run smoothly. This would also link with a teacher’s knowledge of each pupil individually, their interests and ‘pet hates’. As children complete set tasks, it is vital a teacher acknowledges that there are numerous methods of completing a challenge, i.e. using different codes to complete the same task. Each child will put their own individual ‘stamp’ on their projects and it is important a teacher offers feedback, praises and affirms their efforts.

To conclude, the time of chalk and blackboards has long gone. We have entered into a new era with technology at the heart of it. Children develop immensely from using computer programming at present, socially, emotionally and intellectually. Furthermore, the use of computer programming in schools allows child and teacher alike to develop the necessary IT skills in the changing technological society of 2013!


Select any three of the learning principles from the curriculum and discuss in detail how the use of Scratch has served/failed to support your chosen principles?

The curriculum ‘aims to enhance the enjoyment of learning and the motivation to learn. It enables children to function effectively in a changing society and to cope successfully with the demands of modern life’. Scratch without a doubt supports the national school curriculum 1999 in numerous aspects, especially through the following three principles:

  • the child’s sense of wonder and natural curiosity is a primary motivating factor in learning

There is no motivation necessary when teaching scratch, if the teacher was asleep up the top of the classroom the children wouldn’t even notice as they are so engrossed in their Scratch programme creating magnificent individual works. The majority of children at present are well accustomed to using a computer and have played a variety of games on the computer, x-box, DS, the list is endless! Therefore, once we downloaded ‘Sonic’ from the Scratch website the children were enthralled. A few children were given the opportunity to play the game; excitement doesn’t even begin to cover the atmosphere in the room. They were ‘buzzing’ to learn how to create their own game, not even one child was lacking in motivation.

  •   learning should involve guided activity and discovery methods

The children are encouraged to experiment with the various blocks in Scratch to figure out how to complete our set challenge, e.g. ‘How would you set it so that when you click the green flag the sprite will display in the top left hand side of the screen?’. Once the children have been given sufficient amount of time, the children are brought back to a whole-group ratio. We elicit from the children the code for the required challenge. Those who have figured it out call it out and we display placing each block into the code on the interactive whiteboard. There is no pressure on the children who struggle to figure out the code, however by the end of the lesson each child is enabled to complete said challenge. Therefore we are enabling them to ‘learn how to learn’ (Curriculum (1999) p. 7). Indirectly the children are becoming independent learners, self-motivated to further develop their skills.

  • the range of individual difference should be taken into account in the learning process

Each child is unique with individual strengths and personality traits. Scratch could not accommodate individual difference any better. Firstly, the child can create an item of interest to them using scratch, not every child’s scratch project must be identical as long as the dominant code of the lesson is followed. For example, we were teaching children how to change costumes and forming a code to make a person dance across the screen. The majority of boys chose a break-dancer, while the girls chose a ballerina and of course the few who chose the dancer to change into a costume of a cat mid-dance!! Each child can put their individual touch on each Scratch project they create.

The range of children’s abilities is also catered for using Scratch. We set open-ended challenges for the children. This enabled the more able children using Scratch to create more complex projects while those less able to use the program can create a project using the set code correctly, e.g. choose a sprite and background, move your sprite up, down, left and right to create an animation.

I haven’t seen it first-hand but Scratch is apparently extremely effective for children with conditions. They are engaged and focused, their true potential shining through. It is a very useful tool in their learning as a result.

Bibliography: http://www.curriculumonline.ie

The educational potential of computer programming using applications such as Scratch is regularly celebrated as affording learners opportunities for a ‘‘mental workout’’ of cognitive and collaborative skills.

The immense benefits of using computer programming in primary schools cannot be denied. Scratch has been awarded its own International Scratch Day due to the endless list of advantages it entails for both adults and children alike. It is a day where Scratch users can meet to explore other users programmes and share their experiences of using Scratch. Scratch day is recognised internationally with 186 events organised in 44 countries last year. Many people are unaware that this programme even exists; I will admit that I was one of these people before taking this module. Therefore, undoubtedly the number of countries taking part in ‘Scratch day’ shall increase tenfold in the coming years.  This year it is taking place on the 18th of May, with events constantly on the increase. If you would like to take part in this event, or even go along and learn about the programme and how to use it you will find details of venues at: http://day.scratch.mit.edu/

However, Scratch is not the only computer programme on the rise in our primary schools at present. These include Codecademy, Coder Dojo, My Kid Can Code and Kids Rugby.

I have had the privilege of seeing this first-hand in the classroom. The children could develop and consolidate their mathematical skills in an enjoyable and practical manner. Children often perceive maths as disconnected from daily life but through the computer programme ‘Scratch’ they could see the importance of it, e.g. using x, y co-ordinates on a graph to move a script. It brings maths to life for the children!

Due to the large number in the class (37 students), the children share a laptop between two/three. Surprisingly, there have been no issues with one child ‘hogging’ the laptop. Once we set them a task they work collaboratively as a team to figure out how to complete said task, e.g. how do you make the script constantly move in random directions? A happy ‘buzz’ permeates the classroom as the children share ideas and experiment with various ‘blocks’ within Scratch in order to figure out how to solve the task. The children are thriving in this problem solving context. They must think logically, ensuring not to skip any step as computers are the ‘ultimate example of cause and effect’ (http://www.geekosystem.com/estonia-kids-programming/) In other words, the computer will only do exactly what it is told. If one group is struggling with working out a code for the task, children who have figured out a code are more than happy to help them. You can see the pure sense of accomplishment in the children’s faces as they help their peers, it is regarded as a confidence boost for them. It is uplifting to see the children succeed! Of course there more than one code can complete tasks so if the children have formed an equally accurate code we feel it is important to convey this to the class as it shows the children have taken initiative, worked collaboratively and usually through a ‘trial and error’ process completed the code.

Scratch is an excellent programme for differentiation within a classroom context. We set open ended tasks like, select a sprite, using various movements (up, down, left, and right) create a unique under water animation. This allows the children with prior experience with Scratch to create a more advanced under water scene, while still enabling those beginning to use the programme to create one too. The children are challenged at the level they are at!

People argued that computer programming was too advanced for primary school children, but from my experience this is certainly not the case. The children are motivated and eager to learn and when given the opportunity it is amazing what they can achieve!!

Scratch in Irish Primary Schools – initial reactions? Discuss your initial thoughts on the potential of Scratch in Irish Primary Education. (Suggested areas for dicussion might include initial introduction to Scratch, usability, college-based workshops, initial experiences after week one of placement etc.)

When given the course outline for this ICT elective I had no idea what Scratch entailed. We were told it was a coding programme which sounds quite difficult; thankfully this is not the case. Scratch is well designed as a user friendly programme, basic understanding is all that is required. Through Scratch one can make games, animations, stories, artwork, the list of possibilities is endless!

We began with basic tasks, e.g. making a sprite move in random directions. For me the fun really started when we created an animation, very basic one with only one costume change but to see it in action is surreal! Each lecture we had with Ronan absolutely flew and it’s not a ‘subject’ you leave within lectures even at home you don’t notice the time flying by as you get caught up in the programme. I’ve only been using it for four weeks so I still have A LOT to learn about Scratch. At present I am using Scratch 1.4 and there are no limitations on the possibilities of integration within the curriculum, e.g. art, geography, history, music, science, sequencing of stories (infants).

On placement this week I was amazed at how fast the children learned how to use scratch and this, once more underscored how efficiently the programme was designed. This week the aim of the lesson was to allow the children to explore Scratch and become familiar with its interface. We set tasks such as, ‘How would you move a sprite to the left? How would you stop the sprite from disappearing off your screen?’ Many children figured this out quickly as the majority had some prior dealing with Scratch. However, I noticed that the minority of children who had never used Scratch before were slow to ask for assistance, which I will have to watch each week I am teaching. Therefore, we ensured we showed the class how each challenge was carried out after a few minutes. Several children had taken part in Coder Dojo, while others had created simply games/animations and placed them on the Scratch website, ‘www.scratch.mit.edu’. Some were eager for their creation to be shown to the class with them presenting it, while others were happy for the class to see their creation but preferred to remain anonymous. Displaying their creations was highly effective in my opinion as it conveyed what can be achieved when using scratch.

To conclude the lesson, the children were exposed to the winner’s game of the Scratch National Competition of 2012 in Ireland. I found this game utterly breathtaking, as did the children. It is fantastic! The children are developing their mathematical skills in an enjoyable manner. Even though they were doing maths, no child wanted the lesson to finish. They were extremely enthusiastic with their love for Scratch shining through immediately.

Although last Thursday was challenging because the children had a far better knowledge of Scratch than we’d anticipated, I thoroughly enjoyed the session. The child’s sense of wonder was explored, along with the development of problem solving skills. In the second session of teaching, we shall bring the children further in their application of Scratch and set open ended challenges to ensure each child is catered for.

I can’t wait for next week!!