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The Future of Programming

Discussion in 'Computing and ICT' started by 10101010, Apr 14, 2008.

  1. Thanks for the link.

    I get sad(!) about the demise of programming in the UK.

    It's a real shame that so many schools dropped Computer Science (sorry, "Computing") as an A level in favour of the "easier" ICT A level (and I quote "it is not within the spirit of the qualification to use a stand-alone programming language.")

    We never had ICT lessons at school. We had a single ZX81 and a Research Machines 380Z. Students weren't allowed to use them and they did a great job collecting dust in the physics classroom.

    We learnt to program during the home-micro boom - 13 year olds writing Assembly language programs - nothing comes close to that now.

    I've started to introduce a lot more macro work in my KS3 lessons and the kids love it. I'd like to start a programming club, maybe Action Scripting in Flash or scripts on the Mac.

    Would anyone be interested in starting up something on the programming or computer science front? I want to introduce kids to this sort of thing at our school using pod-casts, DVDs and the school web-site. Maybe a few like minded ICT teachers could start working together (rather than another National Strategy)?

  2. Totally80s

    Totally80s New commenter

    You must have been at school with me!

    We had a ZX81 and a RM380z living in the Physics lab. Every lunch time we would go down and peek and poke the ZX but the bell would go too early for the end of lunch and Tony the science tech would take great delight in pulling the power supply and then putting the ZX81 to bed till the next day.

    From what I remember the RM 380z was used mostly in Chemistry as it had a RMM program on it, useful if you were doing A level chemistry but a lot slower than getting your reference guide out.
  3. Ah the memories. We got very excited when our teacher at 'junior school' pulled out a ZX80 and proceeded to program with it. I distinctly remember him trying to do typing on it, the screen would refresh after each key was pressed before the letters appeared on the screen. I remember him saying "See, these computers are not for typing stories on, we use them for programming".

    I was captivted from then on and got the speccy and programmed games etc at home. At secondary school I think we had BBC micros and/or the 380z. We were able to use them in the 4th year, I think, for GCSE Computer studies. It was all systems design and development and programming.

    I am trying to introduce some of this sort of thing now in my classes, I'm in a new school and the kids are used to doing powerpoint etc and it's hard to change that expectation/mindset.

    I think I'll go listen to that link now...
  4. autismuk

    autismuk New commenter

    Don't think I got a mention :(
  5. cj3


    I think you are on to something here and I think this very issue is being discussed at higher levels... for my part I never did any programming (and feel the lesser for it!)but am just beginning to get into game authoring and see this as a possible way of reintroducing the kind of learning that old computer studies/programming promoted, whilst bringing it into the present. It would be great if we could collaboratively produce some Moodle unit for programming - but what would you use? Alice? Greenfoot? Scratch? Gamemaker? Flash? - really time consuming to get your head round all of these. What do you think would be the most appropriate 'modern' programming language to select to focus on or start with? It would certainly put a bit of beef into the 'control' units.
  6. I think you are so right,cj3.

    I have downloaded and played with some of the programming languages you mentioned (there are so many out there, now) and think they are great (although alice and scratch had very obvious limitations to how far you could take them - although they were fun).

    I'm certainly going to experiment with using alice to introduce KS5 kids to programming next year (if the techs will let me have it on outr RM system, grrr) but I know I can't hit assessment criteria using it.

    Those of us interested in this area really need to decide which language gives us the right combination of FUN, nice IDE and open-endedness.

    That's quite tough one, I think.
  7. Yes, Moodle is a cool way to introduce "unofficial" learning in school - just create a new course and allow anyone to enroll if they are interested. It's nice to offer things to all students, not just those on the gifted and talented register. I bundle the stuff to students as "ICT+", something extra that they wouldn't normally get during standard ICT lessons. It's a nod towards the idea that there is more to computing and ICT than what usually gets taught in schools. I'm totally free to put in anything I like about binary, encryption, compression, UNIX and 8" floppy disks.

    Some of the students have a go at VBA coding in Excel, but would really like to learn C++ to create Windows apps, or Java. Maybe it's easier to install a free copy of Delphi or some other Rapid Application Development environment to show them just how easy it is to create a Windows application from scratch. Lots of fun interface stuff with very simple coding to make things happen.

  8. rubikwizard

    rubikwizard New commenter

    I too am getting fed up with the current curriculum and am always trying to find ways to introduce programming. At KS3 we have used LOGO, GameMaker and ALICE quite a lot. Without doubt these topics are the most popular that we teach with the students. At KS4 we don't do anything because of the pressure from management to get everyone 'Cs' from OCR Nationals. At KS5 we are stuck with Applied ICT as we are not allowed to offer Computing :-(

    Without doubt the best programming that I teach is in our annual activity week where I teach interested students BASIC using real and emulated Commodore 64s (I have about 5 fully working C64 systems and those using emulators have the option of transferring their work to a 5" floppy disk to test it on the real thing). The excitement when they manage to write a few lines of BASIC to move an asterisk around the screen with a joystick is unbelievable. No comparison to inserting a few images into Powerpoint/Word/Publisher and discussing how effective they are!!! After last year a couple of students got their parents to buy them C64s from Ebay and they have been using them ever since. I have now guided some of the brighter students to explore memory maps and start using assembler/machine code and they are learning so much about how a computer actually works without a modern OS getting in the way. I am doing the same activity this summer and it is already oversubscribed!

    I have also taught 6th formers (who do NOT do ICT because they think it is ****) to use Active Server Pages linked to an Access database to produce dynamic web pages - they love it and are far better 'computer scientists' than any student on my Applied ICT course (which sends me to sleep...)

    I hope that something might change in the future otherwise I will be quitting the subject and going back to teaching maths that I did for many years before switching to ICT with the misguided notion that I would be teaching programming (or at least a little bit).

    Off topic, but since I am ranting I will also say that I am appauled by the skills I see in many so called ICT teachers and trainees. Many of them can use Office and think they are experts. Mention programming and they turn a strange colour ...!

  9. rubikwizard

    rubikwizard New commenter

  10. I'm sure this discussion has taken place but...

    1) Personally I think good programmers are born not trained

    2) C++ - not the friendliest is it?
  11. rubikwizard

    rubikwizard New commenter

    I absolutely agree with you, johnbrown.

    I did O level and A level computer studies in the late '80s. Most students in the class did not learn anything and the students that did well knew how to program already.

    I know this contradicts some of what I was saying previously, but from experience in the past few years KS3 students have been most engaged when doing topics that had 'hidden' programming i.e. ALICE and some event/action stuff in Mediator. We have put more emphasis on these topics at the expense of other NC things and have seen huge improvements in student motivation. IMHO there needs to be more specialised courses at KS4/5 to cater for the few budding computer scientists, as well as the current rubbish for the masses. Maybe I am being a little harsh but have had a long day followed by a parents evening with some parents demanding to know why we don't offer 'proper' programming courses.
  12. autismuk

    autismuk New commenter

    The best programmers are born and not trained. However, IMO you can train people to be programmers.

    The reason your O and A level Computing may have taught you nothing in the 80s is because your teacher didn't know very much. (Unless it was me .... in which case it's your fault). I would agree that some people "don't really get it" but the emergence of componentised programming and Visual IDEs makes it possible for everyone to achieve (things like Alice being examples of such). Almost *anything* is better than what laughably passes for "technology" now.

    I don't think the masses like the current rubbish ; I don't think people like teaching it very much, and I think a lot of it is a total waste of time anyway (anyone who thinks being able to piddle out a website in DW or muck about with Powerpoint will help students careers in anything very much has no clue IMO).

    However, the one upside of the current **** is anyone can teach it with half a brain, and almost anyone with no brain at all.
  13. > Personally I think good programmers are born not
    > trained

    Maybe not born, but it's important to get them young enough so they get the idea that computer programming is really nothing special or difficult. It's all just stuff made up some chaps over on the west coast of the US - it's not like physics where you're trying to figure out fundamental laws of nature, or literature where you're trying to express the complexities of human thoughts and feelings. Programming is a handy tool to investigate other things with, like being able to read, or being taught how to do a mind-map (er, being able to read is probably the most important out of that list, mind!). Part of the problem with programming in schools today could well be the preconception that it's "difficult".

    > C++ - not the friendliest is it?

    C. All the power and flexibility of assembly language, with all the user-friendliness of, er, assembly language. C++. Same thing. With objects. Use Python, maybe? Indentation of code is part of the language syntax, so at least they have to keep code neat and readable.
  14. rubikwizard

    rubikwizard New commenter

    "The reason your O and A level Computing may have taught you nothing in the 80s is because your teacher didn't know very much. (Unless it was me .... in which case it's your fault). "

    Actually my teacher was very good - and taught well - I didn't learn anything because I knew more than him (At O level time I wrote several 6502 machine code articles for a popular magazine and by A level I had written games that were commercially published by leading software houses of the time [bought a copy off ebay recently!]).

    "I would agree that some people "don't really get it"

    Absolutely - programming is not for everyone, nor should it be.

    "the emergence of componentised programming and Visual IDEs makes it possible for everyone to achieve (things like Alice being examples of such)"

    I totally agree - we have huge success with such programs - most students will never get beyond ALICE etc. but they have learnt so much in doing so - all my students point out that topic as their most enjoyable during year 8 (along with GameMaker, LOGO etc.)

    "I don't think the masses like the current rubbish ; I don't think people like teaching it very much, and I think a lot of it is a total waste of time anyway (anyone who thinks being able to piddle out a website in DW or muck about with Powerpoint will help students careers in anything very much has no clue IMO)"

    Hurrah!!!!! My sentiments exactly!
  15. And the way forward is......
  16. rubikwizard

    rubikwizard New commenter

    I wish I knew ........ !!!!!

    :D But whatever we think, something else will be imposed upon us, I suspect! All I know from my experience is that kids love it when we do something challenging (programming, Alice, logicator, LOGO etc.) and they all complain when I do the **** in the KS3 curriculum - maybe because I am bored with it and unmotivated is the reason the kids don't like it - powerpoint/publisher etc. etc.

    What the answer is, I don't know - but I do know that the current situation is not right (IMHO).

    I think this discussion is great and look forward to reading further posts!

    BTW I haven't listened to your original link, johnbrown, but will do when I get chance.
  17. If you go to a working printing museum you will discover boxes of lead type called, conveniently, upper and lower case from their position on the bench. It required considerable skill to set a page of type by using the type from the boxes.

    Should we teach these skills before moving on the using a computer to create a page?

    I still teach Logo programming when the opportunity arises and find that it marks out those kids who have good logical skills.

    There is rarely an opportunity for programming otherwise because 'office skills' are ubiquitous.

    Returning to creating pages. Who does it properly? It always looks like a round of dumping text and graphics randomly in publisher to be told, "that's good" by someone who wouldn't know if it was or not.

    Even the 'easy' skills are taught badly or not at all.

  18. There certainly is a way forward, but the trouble is it would never be adopted in UK state schools. The American Computer Science Teachers' Association has produced a superb curriculum model and an analysis of the poor state of computer education in the US. Its findings apply just as well to the situation in the UK, except that here, mediocrity is imposed from above and rigorously enforced by the Ofsted thought police. All the signs are that will continue for ever. And of course, not just in computing / IT. (I refuse to call it ICT). If you get a moment, look at their report: http://www.csta.acm.org/Curriculum/sub/ACMK12CSModel.html

    The only way I can see to implement something as cool as this is independently of the state sector. It also has to lead to a qualification that is acceptable in the UK if it is to survive in the market place, but that might just happen....

    By the way, you can join the CSTA for nothing.
  19. tosha82

    tosha82 New commenter

    Must agree with JB, C++ is not a teaching language. You can get in terrible trouble with memory management. Read Scott Myers books on C++ if you want to understand the details.
  20. In considering C++ versus Pascal for teaching programming...

    C++ will let a beginner write a program that LOOKS as if it will work, compile it successfully, run it and get unexpected results. Classic case: student attempts to test equivalence using single = operator instead of == operator! C++ and C will also allow you to unwittingly mix data types using casts. Great fun optimising code though with pre and post operators etc.

    Pascal is "safer" - the compilation is much stricter (although this is frustrating for kids that they can't get away with programs that don't work) and it's also a strongly-typed language, meaning that the programmer has to think really carefully about their data types and structures. I loved using Borland Delphi before I became a teacher, the underlying programming language being ObjectPascal. Ahh, memories...

    p.s. Hats off to the poster that refuses to call it/IT "ICT". You star.

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