Professor Dave Cohen of the Royal Holloway University, who uses LEGO® MINDSTORMS hardware to support his first year robotics course in the computer science department, offered some helpful tips to teachers on Wednesday in a talk about how to address the new curriculum demands to teach computer science.
“Programming is to IT as maths is to engineering,” he said, but what IT has traditionally done in schools is teach students how to use existing software packages effectively. In the future he says, students will need to understand the science of programming, i.e writing code to make computers solve problems.
He says schools will need to address the following basics:
- Principles of programming languages: How programs work.
- Understand how computers run programs: What computers do with programs.
- Understand how to add a new program to a computer: How to create a program from source code.
- Understand how to use simple programming tools: Use programming environments.
Dave believes that even though only a minority of pupils is likely to choose computer science at university, teachers can make the subject fun and relevant for whole classes. He demonstrated how LEGO® MINDSTORMS and NXT or Scratch software programs make programming simple and appealing for students and recommended websites such as nxtprograms.com for lesson activity ideas. “Show the robot to anyone between 5 and 85 and they will say “I want to do that!” he said.
He also offered an example of how writing a program of instructions for how to lift a glass of water to your mouth can provide a fun introduction to the significance of good programming skills, without even the need for a computer!
Dave gave his talk in a breakout session during the SATRO Festival of Science and Engineering at Brooklands Museum, Surrey. The festival brings together students and teachers, industry, commerce and professional bodies to celebrate and award GCSE, GNVQ, Diploma and A level science and engineering projects.
Photos by SATRO on Flickr