This weekend I had the great opportunity to attend an event hosted by SparkFun at a local venue called Geekdom. The event was a class for young students to learn how to use the free programming language, Scratch, developed by M.I.T. The students also learned how to use Scratch with a PicoBoard, which connects to your computer with a USB cord, and has different sensors that can interact with your program.
Parents were allowed to “audit” the class. That was great for me for several reasons. One was that I got to see 7 of my current and former students (including my daughter) participate in the class. Watching them learn and problem-solve was wonderful. Another reason was that I have been meaning to learn Scratch, but hadn’t had the opportunity.
SparkFun is a retailer, but they also have a “Department of Education.” This department includes online tutorials and curriculum. But they also recently went on a national tour, and our weekend class was included in their stops. Unfortunately, their tour ends today (11/18/13). Hopefully, they will schedule another one really soon. I would love to see more events like this, particularly ones that would include educators. Being able to witness the students learning programming from people who know what they are doing was very helpful for me. I now feel braver about tackling it in my own classroom.
I would also like to see more girls at events like these. There were 30 students in this class. 7 of them were girls. At the end of the course (which lasted from 9-3, and completely kept the attention of all of the kids the entire time), the students could volunteer to share their programs with the group. The audience then voted on the best ones. There was a tie – between two girls. One of the winners happened to be one of my former students. (Her dad teaches Computer Science, so I take no credit for her expertise at all!) Her program was so amazing, the SparkFun folks jokingly asked if she wanted a job.
I want to thank SparkFun for this awesome opportunity, and plead with them, and other companies, to provide more of this for our young people. There is definitely an interest and great demand, I believe. More importantly, this type of learning provides 21st century skills in technology, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration.