Thursday and Friday of last week I attended a seminar on Microsoft’s Creative Coding through Games and Apps. This is a complete 18 week curriculum written for first time programming students. It would be best for grades 7 – 9 depending on the kids. In the beginning I was just curious. I had looked at this curriculum when it first came out and was not overly impressed. I am not crazy about video based curriculums. After the seminar I am still not sold on the video idea but I think what Microsoft has built here had good possibilities. The curriculum is very easy to tailor to the teacher and students, it comes in Word, and with a little bit of extra work it would be possible to reduce the video time if needed. One of the presenters, Dave Burkhart, has taught with the curriculum and says the videos do not take over the theme of the course. The course is still mostly teacher/student interaction based. The language itself, Touch Develop, takes getting used to. For old programming teachers (teachers that have programmed for a while in other languages, not teachers that are just old) the language syntax seems backwards in many instances. It takes a couple hours to get the flow. I am seriously considering using this with my freshmen next year. I think multiplatform languages are the teaching languages and industry languages of the future.
The curriculum is definitely written for first time programming students. The pace would drive an experienced programming kid nuts. It is also seems to be built for teachers with little passed programming teaching experience. Not that an experienced teacher could not or would not use it, it is just a bit slow and step-by-step in places where an experienced teacher might use a different approach. But as stated before, it is easy to rewrite the material.
What I liked the least was the lack of hard copy documentation for the language and the course material. I like a paper reference manual. There was material online on the course website but that is just so inconvenient most of the time. If I want to review I want to be able to thumb through the book, not go find a video. Apparently this is being written.
More interesting than the course material were the people in the course. Everything from business teachers that were not sure what programming was to teachers that are teaching APCS or upper level college prep programming. Uber-geeks to no geek. Public school, private school, alternative school, it was all there. Looking at the laptops people brought was very telling. Teachers from rich schools with i7s or new Surface Pros, to the lady next to me with a school owned museum piece. (Luckily I brought a spare laptop she used for the whole event.) It absolutely amazed me how many teachers had to get special admin privileges on the school laptops they were using just for this course. From this sample of avid computer using teachers most public schools seem to have no trust in their teachers. There were also teachers that were not too interested in the whole programming thing. The guy that sat to my right simply said this made no sense and spent almost the whole seminar surfing the net. Kind of reminded me of some of my students.
A huge chuckle was the tech used by the presenters. Last month I went to a tech presentation given by Microsoft. The presenters were wirelessly connected to the projector, used Ink extensively, had everything laid out on a Surface and wandered the room doing their presentation. Very technologically slick. This group was a bit lower tech. Switching the VGA cable to the projector from laptop to laptop by hand, a remote slide advancer that was picky and lots of tech clutter on the table in front of the screen. The room was fairly large so a wireless microphone was really needed but the presenters seemed to not know how to work it most of the time. Not their fault. Most of it seemed to be not their equipment. Microsoft cannot spring for a projector, a wireless mic and some Surface Books for their people? I would also have used a wireless projector that other people in the class could project to so programming questions could be put on the screen for the whole class to look at. The difference between techies and programmers.
It was fun to talk to the people that were actually involved in the design of the curriculum. I was also able to talk to one of the Touch Develop implementers and one of the Touch Develop code writers. I was really bummed to find out from him the Mindstorms NXT, EV3, Arduino and Sphero interfaces are no more. The TD team is only three people so the time to work on all the SDK updates for various platforms is zip. They are working on the Micro:bit SDK. Too bad there are no Micro:bits.
So in the end was it worth two days? Yup. Is CCGA worth looking at? Yup. Do I want a Micro:bit? Yup.