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Making Construals as a New Literacy? - "Finally, we did some serious programming!"

Authors: Meurig Beynon, Jonathan Foss, Elizabeth Hudnott

Keywords: making construals, teaching computer programming, online learning environments, open educational resources, computing education, science education, maths education

Abstract:

Enabling people without specialist computing knowledge to use the computer effectively is highly topical. Coding is sometimes described as 'the new literacy', though this claim has been challenged. Be that as it may, there is a well-recognised gap between using a visual programming environment such as Scratch and 'serious' programming in Java, C++ or JavaScript. This workshop introduces an approach to computing based on 'making construals' that exploits a new online environment developed in response to feedback from activities organised in the ongoing Erasmus+ CONSTRUIT! project (which included a workshop at iTAG 2015). This offers much improved parsing and error checking, far better integrated facilities for recording and editing scripts (featuring 'live editing' and an online script management system through which scripts can be stored and shared online by makers with a Google or Twitter login), and new constructs that reduce - or potentially even eliminate - the need for familiarity with traditional procedural programming techniques. The new environment, at the url:

jseden.dcs.warwick.ac.uk/scifest16

was deployed at the SciFest event in Joensuu, Finland in May 2016 in workshops featuring construals relating to 'travelling to Mars' and others interfaced with Arduino.

Our workshop at iTAG 2016 will be based around a worksheet that was trialled in Athens with pupils aged 13-15 in September 2015 and April 2016 and with science teachers in April 2016. The worksheet spells out the steps to make a simple construal of the solar system. The aim of the iTAG workshop will be to promote and appraise the idea that (thanks to the improvements that have been made to the online environment, as first released in December 2015), making construals is a plausible way in which to introduce programming at an intermediate level between Scratch and a conventional PL. (In the words of a 15 year old Greek student: "Finally we did some serious programming!".) It will have four stages:

  • A. a brief introduction to the worksheet and to the environment.
  • B. an opportunity for participants to follow the worksheet in a scaffolded manner so as to get hands-on experience of the principles and techniques.
  • C. time for some feedback from the participants and for sharing and discussing this in conjunction with the feedback from pupils and teachers in Greece.
  • D. brief illustrations of simple extensions of the solar system construal that address topics such as 'planetary recession' and when and how to launch a spaceship to Mars.

All the resources for the workshop will be available online from the project repository at the above url. Workshop participants will be encouraged to work in pairs or small groups - a networked laptop will be required. The resources will also be available for further exploration - and potentially for classroom use, should this be of interest.