Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bright Ideas: Innovations in Teaching Programming

I just got back from Frisco, Texas - in the Dallas area. I spent the week at Collin County Community College teaching a Fundamentals of Wireless LANs workshop for 13 faculty from throughout the Texas region - a pretty grueling 40 hours delivered in four-and-a-half days. Collin is home to the Convergence Technology Center, a National Science Foundation-funded regional center focused on creating convergence technicians - a sort of all-purpose IT technician.

For the past six years, Collin has hosted this event - 2007 Texas State Working Connections - part of a national IT professional development initiative started by the American Association of Community Colleges, Microsoft, and the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies. This year, the tracks offered were:
  • Convergence+
  • Intro/intermediate Voice over IP (VoIP)
  • Fundamentals of Wireless LANs (me)
  • Ethical Hacking
  • Social Networking (Gordon Snyder) / Office 2007
  • Game Programming
This is Mike Dawson a really bright young guy (thirtysomething) who was the instructor for game programming.
What's interesting about Mike is not his love of Brownie Sundaes or his insistence on asking for extra hot fudge - instead it's the really innovative approach he takes to teaching programming.
BRIGHT IDEA: Combining his writing ability, his programming expertise and his love and knowledge of gaming, Mike teaches programming within the context of game development. Using a textbook he's written - Guide to Programming with Python, Mike takes a difficult subject - programming, that many young people find dry and uninteresting and makes it engaging. Why were faculty from Mike's workshop so excited? It's because they know firsthand the challenge of teaching programming, particularly to kids. They recognize the great potential of Mike's approach and are eager to give it a try. Imagine that your students become so immersed in creating the game, that they forget - at least for the moment - that they're programming. From the workshop description -
Introduces principles of game programming through hands-on creation of simple games with the Python programming language. Major topics include Python syntax, data structures for games, designing game worlds with objects, sprites, audio playback, player input, animation and collision detection. More advanced topics, such as simple physics and basic artificial intelligence, will be covered if time permits. Both text-based and graphics-based games will be examined. As a final project, attendees will program a 2D action game, complete with graphics, music, sound effects and animation.
There's also a retail version of Mike's book, Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner - here he is holding a copy at the Frisco Barnes and Noble - not quite Vanna White.

Take a look at how you're teaching and the context within which you're teaching - are your students like the meerkats in this video or more like this one?

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