MEA this week: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

Thursday and Friday is the Montana Educators Association (MEA) convention.  For the first time in a long time it is here in Missoula.  I rarely do out of town wingdings like this, simply not worth the travel and motel expense.    My school does not pay for any event like this.  I am presenting two sectionals.  One is “Computer Programming: Free Stuff is Everywhere”, the other is “Game Programming with Blender and Unity”.  I have given the Free Stuff presentation twice before and have it wired.  If I do not hesitate or wander too much I get it done in 55 minutes.  I get some good responses from this presentation.  It is amazing how much schools think you have to spend to teach a course in programming.  They seem to like to spend money for a mediocre programs for teaching programming when there is good free stuff out there.

This will be a first time for the “Game Programming” presentation.  It is just a summary of my observations and experiences from the last year of giving it a try.  I hope that a few more teachers will “give it a try”.  Teaching anything new in CS is always “giving it a try”.  For the Unity and Blender it is not like some kind soul has written a high school level textbook that is more than a “follow the bouncing ball and type the following” textbook.  There are a lot of tutorials like that out there and some are excellent tutorials but tutorials rarely explain in any detail why you just typed what you just typed.  And tutorials never explain any of the design behind the plan.  I just plan to discuss “here is what seemed to work and here is what did not”.  Of course I have a lot more “did nots” than “dids”.    Perhaps the biggest thing I want to point out is that a gaming course with Unity is not a good way to go if a teacher wants to teach programming.  It is more in the direction of problem solving and research (finding the right tutorial to explain what you want to do in a manner you can understand) type objective.  I sort of throw projects out there and we sort of dig up solutions.  My last project was for the kids to write a simple Google Cardboard “game” and then control the motion with a Bluetooth controller.  That is all I said.  We then look for solutions together and show each other what we found.  Like I said, not a lot of formal programming but a lot of hair pulling with trial and error.

Doing these presentations is somewhat interesting.  The first time I did the Free Stuff I was expecting like 5 attendees.  I got more like 45.  The second time I did it I figured the first time was a fluke.  Nope, I got about 30, mostly administrators.  This time I am thinking the 75 people in the state that were interested have come and gone.  I will get 5 attendees.  I will bring 45 handouts just in case.  The Free Stuff is also an 8:00 session.  That should thin out the crowd.  The 45 was a bit much.  Small room, many people, PTSD, not a good mixture.  I survived.  I like it best when teachers come and ask questions.  It keeps my mind off many people in a small room.

Montana is pretty much a CS desert.  The number of schools that offer anything other than an apps course can be counted on fingers and toes.  I hope that I can help the small schools and the teachers inexperienced in CS to “give it a try”.

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