In our previous studies, students learning to program in MSWLogo, KPL and Scratch were provided with worksheets which required them to carry out all specified activities at each programming step by answering the guiding questions. It was found that the guidance had contributed to students better understanding of programming concepts and development of more disciplined programming skills.
In light of these concerns, this article has three purposes: (a) to lead students step-by-step through the programming process of need, analysis, design, algorithm/coding and reflection to develop a project; (b) to bring adaptability and flexibility to programming instruction; (c) to become a viable replacement for commonly used programming textbooks or handouts;
The Reflection Step It contains a number of questions intended to prompt students to clarify important programming concepts/constructs and/or think about how they may improve the project by adding additional capabilities. Students are also encouraged to meditate on and interrogate intensively possible problem-solving solutions to sharpen their logical thinking skills and programming skills.
Each example comprises a sequence of cards of increasing difficulty levels.
In addition to distinguishing the level of difficulty, the pattern of the same degree of difficulty also offers different themes for students to choose freely.
Considering that diverse students of a class often have widely varied computer abilities, such design can meet learners with different competence, interests and needs. The more various and challenging the Scratch cards become, the more flexibility and adaptability the programming instruction contribute. Consequently, rather than squandering time waiting for classmates to finish their projects, fast learners who are able to complete a project expeditiously may progress in the advanced projects of higher and higher difficult level and do as multitudinous projects as the class time allows.
On the other hand, weak leaners complete even easier projects lingeringly and are also temporarily incompetent in the more complicated projects. Accordingly weak learners are offered the opportunity to finish interested/different theme projects of the same difficulty level for the purpose of intensifying their efforts and acquiring important programming concepts/constructs.
A coding scheme is used to denote the set of command blocks used in a project.
One can distinguish from the codes that the higher the level, the more kinds of command blocks are used, which typically means the application is more complicated. The code associated with each card can be utilized by an instructor to select suitable projects for a particular unit of instruction. Furthermore, projects that have the same code but are of different themes allow students to choose the one they are interested in.
Each of the Scratch cards and its reference solution are printed double-sided on a piece of A4 and B5 paper respectively. The paper is laminated with a thin layer of plastic for protection to increase durability so they can be used repeatedly by students of different classes and for many years to come. This eliminates the need for students to purchase textbooks or for teachers to prepare handouts; however, students still have something tangible for individual reference in class.
A printer and a laminate machine are the only equipment that a teacher needs to make their own Scratch cards. In addition, a whiteboard pen and a wiper are also provided to take notes or answer puzzling questions to clarify programming concepts and efficient solutions of the project. If students cannot complete the project individually and independently for a considerable time, they are provided with reference codes of certain sprite partially in the project to help think out the codes of other sprites.
New cards can be added to the collection anytime. Not only can teachers add projects with new themes or extend a project to a more difficulty level, but also can students be highly desirable to involve in co- construction of Scratch cards. In other words, students prominent projects can be incorporated into the collection, enabling students to become producers rather than just consumers of the cards. It is worth mentioning that the cards can be made and replaced without difficulty.
Names of the students who create the projects for inclusion in the collection will be clearly shown on the cards to appreciate their contributions. The prospect of having ones own work become potential learning material used by other students in the future should have the effect of encouraging students to be more engaged in learning and expressing their creative ideas. As the collection grows in size and variety, more and more flexibility and adaptability in programming instruction can be achieved as time goes on.
The instructional Scratch cards described in this article have been used by some elementary school computer teachers in their classes and were found to be a good replacement for the traditional learning materials they had used before.
The cards were also welcomed by students. Informal interviews with some students revealed that they found the step-by-step guidance easy to follow and it helped them greatly to finish a project in a disciplined manner.
Classroom observation also showed that many students were eager to challenge themselves with as many projects as possible. Whenever they finish a project of a level, they would enthusiastically ask for cards of the next higher levels. The instructor, in the meantime, could spend more time to help struggling students.
The usability and instructional effectiveness of these cards certainly have to be further verified with carefully designed experiments rather than being based on feedback or anecdotal data as stated above. We are currently devoted to producing as many cards so we wound have sufficient amount of experiments to verify our major claims that the use of these cards would promote flexibility and adaptability in instruction. It is also hoped that findings from the experiments will inform us on how the design of the instructional Scratch cards can be further improved.
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