BETT 2012 & Free Programming Tools

clip_image001Last week I had the pleasure of attending the BETT show in London. This has now become an annual pilgrimage to view what is new in the world of technology and education. At first glance this year’s show didn’t appear very different from other years but when you went under the surface there were some notable gems. In particular there was an increase in “free” quality resources for schools, particularly in the area of computer game creation.

Launching the BETT Show Michael Gove, the UK Secretary for Education, announced plans to overhaul the teaching of Computer Scienceand this topic was very evident throughout the show. His plans have raised some concerns in some quarters as there is a perceived lack of Computer Science teachers, which will be a real challenge. But anticipating that this challenge will be met there was good news for young people and interested teachers and parents in relation to providing access to tools that support computer programming. Gove had the following to say in relation to his future plans:

“Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum.
Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch. By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in university courses and be writing their own apps for smartphones.”

Scratch is certainly a wonderful tool and one that allows young people, of all ages, create and share their work with a global audience. However, I came across two other toolkits that were free to schools and could be used in addition to Scratch – it is not an either or situation I believe.

clip_image003The first is YouSRC. YOUSRC (pronounced “You source”) uses a very simple programming language called ELC (named after the young YOUSRC coder Emma Louise Clarke) that takes its roots from many of the common programming languages around. Because of this it is a very good starting point, and a language from which people can move on to more and more complex and powerful languages and environments.

The site is very easy to navigate and has many similarities to Scratch with tutorials, notes and lesson ideas. It also has a competition for young people so check it out.

The second is Microsoft’s DreamSpark
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Students and schools have free access to the suite of products included in DreamSpark and it is an amazing list. Just a few that struck me were XNA Game Studio, Kodu Game Lab and Microsoft Robotics Studio. There is much more so take some time and check it out.

Implications

Currently the NCCA are developing short courses in Computer Science for second-level students so these kinds of tools should be extremely useful to teachers and students. By providing the tools free to young people it allows them to work on their projects both in school and at home. This factor is essential if we want students to work on developing their ideas. By providing a range of free tools it allows young creators of all ages to start developing an interest in game development and coding, which they can develop as they progress through school. So check out the websites and the relevant resources and tell us what you think?

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