Turtles, Pi and ICT education

Turtles, Pi and ICT education

Some of you  may be aware of a very exciting project to bring  the ability to understand computers and get people programming in the form of the Raspberry Pi.

I have been following this project for some time as I believe that the state of ICT education in the UK is worse than it was 30 years ago when I was at primary school. The Raspberry Pi project is hoping to get children producing rather than just consuming. In English lessons at school we teach our children about books, how to use them, how to read; but we also teach them how to produce written work, how to write stories, reports. Why should ICT lessons just be a vehicle for teaching how to safe the web responsibly, send messages and create a few slide decks and completely ignore the aspects of computing which are creating these applications and systems?

I have recently had direct evidence of the level of computer literacy taught through Key stage1 & 2: My eldest son, now started high school, had a task to write up a report on computer for the first time as homework. After a while he asked for some assistance and input on the report and when I looked at what he was doing I was horrified. He was attempting to use PowerPoint to create a written report. Page by page dropping text boxes in for headings, formatting, and even entire pages of text. I enquired why he wasn’t using the word processor to be greeted with “What’s that?”. After opening up the application he admitted he had never used it, even in ICT at school. I convinced him that it was easier and better to use it to produce his report and off he went, however – still using carriage returns at the ends of lines and attempting to use it in the same way as PowerPoint. And this was the level of education being given in a school with a very well equipped ICT suite, computers in every classroom and teachers that should be far more computer literate than most from my school age.

This prompted me to think back: What did we actually get taught in primary school in the 80’s and 90’s through to the age of 11?

I can clearly remember being taught the fundamentals: Starting the computer up. Saving and loading files from 5 1/2 inch floppy disks. Loading applications. *Backing up your work!!*

But also I remember being taught how to create documents using WordStar (An early word processor) and also to program (YES PROGRAM!) using LOGO and Turtle Graphics. It taught us to break problems down into component parts, subroutines, loops and also did a fine job on our geometry and maths skills.

This was in a  school where they had 2 BBC model B computers, on trolleys, to share between 14 classes of children. Everyone got a go eventually and time on the magical computer was coveted. This scant time left me with a level of computer literacy that, in my opinion, exceeds that of my son at the same age, even though he is surrounded by all the technology of the modern world, google, face-book, YouTube he is mearly a consumer of other people’s ideas with no concept about the background or workings (or disciplines). While today’s applications (such as PowerPoint) allow things that look good to be created easily and quickly for that instant feeling of gratification, I don’t think all our children should be taught is how to copy and past from a web page and create slides. Anyway – how about seeing those cool pictures on the screen from LOGO and even, if you were lucky, having a plastic robot turtle draw them on a large sheet of paper on the floor of the school hall!

So my mission (and I have chosen to accept it) is to get my son a copy of Logo on his PC, and also maybe Squeak and eToys and get him to think about programming – But I will not, of course, call it that………He will be creating Apps (It’s all about how you sell it)