Sunday, June 17, 2012

Teaching programming in middle school

One the things K1 will need next year is a TI-84 calculator. This calculator retails for $140, $99 at Amazon for now without shipping. At a time when many kids have computers (at home) which come with Microsoft Excel as well as a plethora of freely available software such as R, Python, Scilab, etc. (OpenOffice is also a free spreadsheet program.) I wonder about the utility of such a pricey calculator.

The only advantage that I can see is that students are able to bring with them into an exam hall. At a time when programming skills seem to be gaining importance and it is possiblel that even college graduates in economics don’t know how to use Excel, it seems questionable for schools in general to adopt a math curriculum that adheres to the use of such an archaic instrument.

I find it the whole middle school math curriculum where she’s at (it’s the IB math curriculum) decidedly backward. Even when graphs and plots are taught there is very little hands on use of software to explore lines and curves. (Graph paper is fine for the beginning, but after awhile it just gets tedious - and that’s what computers are for.)

How hard is it to teach programming at the middle school level? I have no doubt that the concepts are hard - which is why an early introduction even to Excel and VBA is essential. Alice is one organization that is trying to make programming teachable at the high school level. Storytelling Alice is an option for the middle school level but doesn’t seem to have made much inroads.

In general, I am disappointed not only in the math curriculum but in the way programming instruction is being taught at the high school level.

Update: Duke University has some nice Alice teaching material.

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