Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Teaching Programming in Gansu

We are helping the school build up a competitive advantage in information technology. When we set up the computer laboratory for them last year, we installed a number of interesting applications, hoping that they would find them useful. Therefore, it was very gratifying to come back this year to find that one of the young teachers there had taught the kids to use Google Earth. Most of the kids have never touched a computer before we set up the computer laboratory last year. It is quite amazing to see them looking for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan using Google Earth, and then sending the information to their teacher. She is an amazingly creative teacher - particularly in consideration that she did not attend a teacher's college.

We have also tried out a number of ideas for the curriculum, including teaching LEGO Mindstorms robotics and Scratch programming. The kids are very receptive and pick up on the concepts quite quickly. There are also three young teacher who can potentially co-teach this subject. So we are going to develop a curriculum for the coming school year for primary 5, together with the teachers. The school is quite excited by the prospects and so are we.

A boy and a girl, both quite eager and sharp, were working together on a Scratch animation. The girl used the mouse to drag and drop an icon to create a new action in the animation; the boy typed some text for a character in the animation to “speak”; the girl pressed the enter key; the girl use the mouse to generate another action; ... Amazing cooperative learning, without explicit coaching from us. They simply worked it out among themselves so that both can get in the action without denying the other. If only we can coach that systematically.

It clear that indeed we can teach those kids programming. Both Mindstorm robotics and Scratch worked well. Robotics is more tangible and provides more physical interactions. Unfortunately, there is not enough equipment to provide each student with a set, and it can easily lead to conflicts. Hence we are inclined to focus on Scratch. Now we are working our the year-long curriculum with the teachers.

Overall, it is very gratifying to see that our work has generated some promising results. The orphan school is on its way to become a pioneering school in information technology in the area.

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