January 31, 2014

Pencil Code at Worcester Technical High School

I spent a day last week at Worcester Technical High School with all their CS students, using Pencil Code as a teaching tool.

Vocational students are motivated by real-world applications, and the teachers at WTHS are amazing. They bring their entire group of students through four years of rigorous CS classes, ending with AP computer science in their Senior year. "There is a difference," the teachers explain, "between offering CS exposure and teaching mastery. We teach mastery."

For this group of CS-focused students who have been learning Java, ASP.NET, and HTML, Pencil Code is a terrific tool. The instant feedback lets them apply and experiment with difficult concepts quickly. And because it is so open, Pencil Code is lets them assemble concepts from varied areas.

Here are the worksheets we used in Worcester:

Combining Three Languages using HTML
Exploring Recursion with Fractals
Using Subclasses to make Moving Sprites

In all three of these lessons, the turtle is a starting point, but it is just a stepping stone into real-world applications and deeper concepts.

The day was terrific. We found that we taught some unexpected lessons. The teachers pointed out that the indent-based syntax of CoffeeScript (and the instant-error checking in the IDE) connected with several kids for the first time who now could really "get" how scoping works. Some kids never indent their blocks, but with CoffeeScript, they have to! And surprise - once it is indented, they can see clearly how it works.

After the day, the AP students in the group suggested "We should start with Pencil Code!"

I am holding hackathons to build more lessons and materials that take advantage of the Pencil Code environment, and to improve the tool itself based on what we are seeing in classrooms. The first hackathon is on February 14 - sign up at hack.pencilcode.net.

Posted by David at January 31, 2014 08:56 AM
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