Whitby’s IT Department has begun a pilot initiative to introduce programming to Grade 3 and 4 students over the course of two 3 week engagements. “We’re excited about the opportunity to provide lower school students exposure to ideas and skill sets that will allow them to extend their learning farther when they get to the upper school” says Whitby’s Director of Innovation Tim Schwartz.
The first part of the engagement started with the students giving commands to Mr. Schwartz playing the part of a robotic chef. “The challenge was to get the students to give me the right set of directions that would allow me to make a hummus and cucumber sandwich” says Schwartz. “The kids loved this activity”.
The next part of the engagement involved introducing the students to a program called Scratch. Scratch is a programming language developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab that lets users create their own interactive stories, animations, games, music, art.
The idea behind Scratch, is that the user is able to visually understand the “blocks” of programing. Interactive stories, games, and animations are tested, created and then shared within a robust online community.
The benefits of Scratch can be seen the moment a child starts working on a program. The programming relies on the ability of the user to think creatively; but yet, systematically.
“Everyone focuses on the ‘life skill’ angle of programing,” says Victor Vrantchan, Technology Support Specialist and Whitby teacher, “but what programing does is teach visual thinking.” Vrantchan also expresses how the process to achieve a functioning program is to confront mistakes instead of being stopped by them. “You are always making mistakes, but learning from each mistake is the only way to progress.”
Mr. Vrantchan also hosts a weekly Hackers Lunch where students are given a problem that they must program themselves out of. “It’s an opportunity for kids to share programs that they work on at home or school.”