The following is a guest post written by PGCE Computer Science Teacher Josh Dadak, all about his experiences with TouchDevelop.
The curriculum in the UK is changing; with a push to include Computer Science in compulsory education and get the UK back on top with technology. With this push comes a whole range of new resources and technologies. Its no surprise Microsoft has developed some fantastic technologies that are currently available for use.
As a trainee teacher, I’m at the forefront of this push. A lot of pressure is currently on trainee computer science teachers to deliver this new curriculum content, as the current ICT teachers simply aren’t trained in this field; they aren’t programmers or computer scientists, they’re experts in IT.
TouchDevelop is one if the technologies I have been using with my students this year. Microsoft has designed this in such a way that it is accessible to those even with little to no coding experience.
In its younger form, I had concerns with TouchDevelop. I found that my students were mindlessly clicking where the platform told them to click and not actually understanding or remembering any of this information. However, recently I have returned to TouchDevelop and found that it has made significant improvements.
The tasks are now broken down with a step-by-step instruction phase followed by steps to be completed without the platform telling you what to click. This is key in the classroom to gauging if the students are actually learning. Breaking up tasks with mini-assessments like this is a must in your lessons; it’s an outstanding feature in an OFSTED observation. This is a huge benefit to all teachers, not just those in training!
A lot of the demonstrations are themed with current popular icons. The Flappy Bird game craze is a prominent feature in my lessons to date. The kids can’t get enough of Flappy Bird. We had a look at creating the Flappy Bird game using Scratch, allowing the students to work out some of the basic logic dragging and dropping code blocks to achieve the desired effect. To view this from another perspective now we are going to look at coding the flappy bird game using TouchDevelop. This can directly link to the curriculum; a visual language with Scratch and then TouchDevelop comes with a textual language. In addition to this it also can cover the segments in the curriculum on app development. Lots of schools are opting to use AppInventor, which is another great platform. However, TouchDevelop doesn’t require any software installed on the local network, which I know a lot of schools are having issues with.
As a developer myself, I also have started using TouchDevelop in order to quickly prototype new ideas for apps and game mechanics. The ability to have a functional app working, in just a few minutes, simply by tapping buttons on the screen (if I’m on my tablet) or clicking the buttons on my PC, is exponentially useful. In the past I have wasted hours coding up a prototype of an idea I had only to realize that it wasn’t actually that great an idea. Now using TouchDevelop, sure I might come to same conclusion that my idea wasn’t great, but its not nearly as disappointing if so much time hasn’t already been spent developing it.
At the minute, I’m working on a ‘Heads up’ style game that’s targeted at my examination year classes in order to help them revise. Coding this in visual studio can be fiddly to get the accelerometer working – in TouchDevelop it’s done in a few button presses. An early prototype for this app can be found here. See how easy it is to code an app like this?
There are resources available – which include an entire scheme of work mapped to the new curriculum, demos, tutorials and classroom wall displays at the following site: http://touchdevelop.weebly.com/
These should kick-start your TouchDevelop experience and adoption in the classroom, even if it’s just a one off Hour of Code.
All in all if you haven’t yet checked out TouchDevelop I recommend you do so. If you already have a Microsoft Live account you’ll be coding within seconds. There is a huge range of tutorials available and the possibilities of what you can create are endless!
– Josh Dadak