Thursday, June 02, 2005

Theoretical Underpinnings for Kids' Programming Tools

During the weekend, I happened to come across a cheap scanner for sale, and I grabbed one so I would have the tools to start working on my website again. This then inspired me to take another look at the tools available for teaching kids to program. It looks like the same stuff as always--Squeak, ToonTalk, and Logo. Of course, all of these tools have strong theoretical underpinnings describing interaction models, learning processes, etc., whereas my website simply focuses on recreating the programming environment available to me when I was a kid. I'm no longer confident that I'm taking the right approach any more. Will my website (assuming that I ever finish it) have the correct foundation for teaching kids to program? Should I take a more holistic approach to the site and try to provide a complete environment for "experimentation" as opposed to simply creating something that focuses solely on just programming? Hmm. Perhaps I'm being naive. Kids today associate computer with great graphics and sound. Creating an environment that focuses on programming and doesn't allow kids to immediately generate flashy animations might lose their interest too quickly.

When I learned programming, all computers were textual. In fact, I didn't even own a computer. I was fascinated by flowcharts and wrote my first computer program out on paper by hand. The books available for teaching kids to program focused on real languages and on real syntax issues. And that's what I wanted to learn when I read those books. That's why my website is based on Javascript and focuses on syntax. But maybe those old programming books for kids died out for a reason, and maybe that reason was that kids aren't interested in learning programming that way any more. I guess I'll have to think about it.

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