Using Squeak Etoys in Middle School Information Technology Elective Classes

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Nov 18, 2013 (3 years and 10 months ago)

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Using Squeak Etoys in Middle School
Information Technology
Elective Classes

Christopher Gordon

Center for Education in STEM

University of North Carolina Wilmington

United States

gordoncr@uncw.edu


Abstract:
The authentic integration of Information

Technol
ogy
(IT)
is rarely
conducted in

middle and high school classrooms. Squeak Etoys
,

a

computer
-
modeling

environment,

offered
as an elective c
ourse
has the potential to

link STEM concepts

together through
student produced
computer models and simulations

stren
gthening student understanding
. Participants will lea
rn
basic Squeak Etoys skills and

interact with student gen
erated models and simulations that were
devel
oped during elective classes.
P
rofessional development activities designed to prepare
teachers to
deliver
successful Squ
eak Etoys elective classes

will be discussed
.



Introduction

The possibilities presented by an authentic integration of computers into K
-
12 education have
yet to be
realized (
Brinkerhoff, 2006; Ertmer, 2010
). T
eacher participant
s

in
a NSF funded grant titled USeIT (Using Squeak
to Infuse Information Technology into the STE
M Curriculum in Grades 7
-
12),
taught middle school students how to
write computer programs using the Squeak Etoys

programming

environment. Squeak Etoys
utilizes
dra
g and drop
programming,
is free to download and will run on
nearly
any compute platform. Students' responses to Squeak
Etoys were so positive that
some teachers

decided to develop and
implement

Squeak Etoys elective classes
.

While
conducted differently,
these elective classes h
ad only one objective: expand

student problem solving
a
nd
computational thinking
skills
beyond what was possible in the reg
ular classroom setting. What students and
teachers

learned from this experience has led
to the following con
clusion
,
if we as
teachers

provide a learning
environment that
has

opportunities for learners to apply their unde
rstanding
in

meaningful way
s
,

learning is deeper,
better,

and
students

are more motivated to learn.


The Purpose of the Presentation


The purpo
se of t
his presentation is to share
experiences,
from a

teacher’s perspective
,
on
using Squeak
Etoys to help other teachers develop and implement Squeak Etoys elective classes by providing evidence of need,
introduction to and justification for using Squea
k Etoys, programming
ideas,

and elective class configurations.


Squeak Etoys: How Computer Programming Can Deepen Student Understanding
of Mathematical and
Scientific C
oncepts


After using Squeak Etoys for
five

years as a classroom teacher,
the next ste
p was to become a

mentor
to
middle and high school mathematics teachers to help

them

teach

their students
how to
use Squeak Etoys
. The goal
of the mentoring was to
enable

teachers not

to just teach

Squeak Etoys
;

but

to teach mathematical and scientific
co
ncepts,
principles,

and procedures

using Squeak Etoys. I
NCOME
-
Integrating Computing and Mathematics
Education

p
roject
funded by the Department of Education

and has the
purpose of
teaching

middle grade
mathematics teachers
to
integrate computing in teachin
g mathematics concepts
. The culmination of this project will
be teacher participants

designing and implementing computer programming elective classes in their respective
middle schools.
The project goal

is
,

as a result of
Squeak Etoys

integration, teache
rs
will
make changes in their
teaching
practices,

and students

will

become more interested in mathematics and science subjects by using
technolo
gy to apply what they learn. T
he following sections will briefly describe ways in which we are preparing
teache
rs to develop a computational
elective course using examples. R
eflections and lessons learned

will also be
shared
.


Computer Programming in Schools

Computer programming is taught in many but not all of the nation’s high schools.
In spite of an increased
need for computationally proficient
students,

the number of schools offering computer science classes has been
decreasing (
Munson, Moskal, Harriger, Lauriski
-
Karriker, & Heersink, 2011
).
Only fourteen states have
implemented the Computer Science Teachers
Association’s standards for high schools, and computer programming
is not a requirement for graduation in any state
(Wilson, Sudol, Stephenson, & Stehik, 2012)
. The m
iddle school
curriculum
proposed by the Computer Science Teachers Association focuses on using computer

technology rather
than learning the skills involved in writing computer programs. Lee
(2011)
noted that “the instructional methods
adopted in K
-
12 schools do not take full advantage of the latest computer technologies; the most common use of
computer in
K
-
12 education is word
-
processing and the computers are not tightly integrated into the curriculum” (
p.

527). This same practice of use rather than creation is reflected in technology standards for middle and high school
students at the state level (e.g.
www.ncpublicschools.org). With the proliferation of computer technology, students
should know not only how to use the technology, but how to write programs to accomplish any task they choose.
The lack of computer programming requirements in middle school

and high school are a drastic oversight

(
Munson
et

a
l
.
, 2011
)
. During middle school
years,

many students are deciding what direction they want to take in their
educational careers. Middle school is an especially critical time for girls as demonstrated b
y Denner, Werner, Bean
and Campe’s assertion that “girls actively begin to explore identities, interests, and talents, and make initial
decisions that affect the pat
hway to partici
pation in IT”
(2005
, p.

91
)
. Due to the large number of virtual programs
that have been established to teach computer
programming, one can assume that there is high demand from
individuals seeking a way to acquire programming skills or for individuals who possess computer programming
skills. Entrepreneurs have attempted to fill the void created by public education’s lack

of motivation and foresight
on the topic of computer programming by designing curriculum and on
-
line interactive classes that are easily
accessible and for the most part free. A quick Google search for “free online computer programming (for kids)” will
g
enerate several results including Codecademy, Code
Now,

and Google Code University. In addition to these
programs,

there are several free university and iTunes U courses devoted to the subject of computer programming.
These programs may be too advanced t
o teach novice middle school students computer programming; however,
there are several programs such as Squeak Etoys, Alice, Scratch and Kudo that are more appropriate for these
students.

Computer programming in middle school is not a new concept. Scope

Math is a computer mathematics
course developed by the Curriculum Research & Development Group and the College of Education at the University
of Hawaii in the 1980s. This course offers several problems relevant to the middle school mathematics curriculum

taught through the use of computer programming skills all middle school students should possess. Computer
programming in general and Squeak Etoys specifically teach several skills necessary for success in a globally
competitive society such as critical t
hinking, systematic processes, team work, independence and trouble shooting
skills. Squeak Etoys also is perfect for addressing most of the Standards for Mathematical Practice outlined in the
Common Core State Mathematics Standards.


These include:

1.

Make s
ense of problems and persevere in solving them.

2.

Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

3.

Model with mathematics.

4.

Use appropriate tools strategically
("Common Core State Standards Initiative" 2012)
.

The use of
computers and
computer programming in middle school requires teachers to change the way they
approach teaching

(
Allan, Erickson,
Broo
khouse, & Johnson, 2010
)
. This ch
ange will require students to be focused
more on
action

and product than the repeated manipulation of a step
-
by
-
step process to solve problems.
The teacher
will take on the role of a mentor rather than instructor.
The skills students will be required to
demonstrate in
mathematics class are easily developed, strengthened
,

and demonstrated through the use of computer programming.


Squeak Etoys: An Object Oriented Programming Tool

Squeak Etoys is an object oriented programming e
nvironment that is free,
use
ab
le

on

nearly

any computer
platform, and is small enough to operate from a flash drive. Squeak Etoys utilizes drag and drop tiles to enable
students to perform what Alan Kay calls “grammar programming”
(
2010)
. These tiles are basic statements that can
be strung together to form scripts used to control objects.
The use of
text
-
based

tiles allows novice pr
ogrammers the
focus on concepts, rather than focus on the syntax of typical programming languages.
For programmers to use this
type of programming
successfully
they must first define a task, and then break down this complex task into its
simpler sub
-
parts
. This process is what
Denner, Werner and Ortiz
(2012)
call “algorithmic thinking”

(
p. 241
)

and is
often the most difficult part of the entire programming process. After students break the task into its simplest
compone
nts,

they must then model these individual sub
-
parts by using the simple tiles available in the Squeak Etoys
menus. When all the sub
-
parts operate
correctly,

they collectively model the complex behaviors. After creating the
script, programmers must run t
he script to determine if it operates as intended. If the script does not operate as
intended,

careful examination is required

to identify and correct errors. Squeak Etoys is unique in its ability to alter
the program while it is running which makes trou
ble shooting and
correcting errors in

the program much easier and
efficie
nt even for novice programmers. Altering the program while it is running allows for dynamic investigation of
the program.

Although Squeak Etoys is simple enough for students in fourt
h grade to use, it is extendable enough to be
used in high school and college, includ
ing graduate school.
Lee utilized Squeak Etoys in a graduate course titled
“Constructivist Learning Technologies”
(2010)

to teach educators the value and components of software that is both
interactive and educational. Squeak Etoys’ extendibility plus its
capability

to inte
grate multimedia, construct games,
import real world data and the ability to control things in real world makes Squeak Etoys
the perfect modeling tool
for use

in middle school by teachers and students alike.


How Squeak Etoys Can Be used in Middle Grades

Squeak Etoys
classroom
application takes
two basic
forms
.
These form
s include, t
eacher
developed
models fo
r student to interact
with,

and student produced

models
where they are
demonstrating their understanding
of the topics
under
stud
y
. Both methods
ar
e

effective

ways to use Squeak Etoys to i
ncrease
student understanding of
the concepts
under investigation
.

Using Squeak Etoys during regular classes, one day per week, was an inadequate amount of time for

some

students;

so

requested

additional Squeak E
toys time

was
provided
. This extra time took the form of elective classes
focusing on programming in three different configurations. The first configuration
consisted of

one student who sat
at the back of the room
independently exploring Squeak Etoys
. T
his student developed models and when he needed
help,

he would
seek teacher advice
. This student was very independent,
bright,

and motivated; his programming
skills
improved rapidly
. The second configuration consisted of four students who met

every other

day for 45
minutes
. These students were average students with good Squeak Etoys skills and over the course of the
semester,

every student in this group became excellent programmers who specialized in integrating periphery devices such as
the Wii remotes
and Lego robotics. The third configuration was the largest and most problematic, consisting of 20
-
30 students who had not asked to be placed in a programming class. Several students missed class regularly due to
mathematics pullout or required meetings w
ith other teachers. The inconsistency of student attendance contributed
to some groups’ inability to complete their p
rojects on time without
major flaws in programming or
scientific/mathematical content. This class worked as paired programmers on fewer,
but more ambitious projects
like game design and global travel projects.
Student experts provided the just
-
in
-
time expertise for this class
, with
teacher

help being the last resort. This was intended to strengthen student
trouble
-
shooting

skills as well
as allow
pair programmers the chance to observe other methods of

accomplishing similar tasks. Anecdotal observations of
t
his large class
produced the following

mixed results. The strongest programmers at the beginning of the class
showed the greatest gai
ns as judged by the complexity of their programs. The students who missed the most class
had fewer gains and often relied on their pair programmer to do most of the work.

All of the elective classes had some similarities: the whole class discussed th
e task in
detail

before
beginning; students worked on the tasks and were free to share what they were working on with other groups and
before beginning work for the
day
,
students
had time
to share with the whole class.

One of the biggest complaints about

Squeak Etoys is that it lacks a large body of step
-
by
-
step guides to
programming.
T
his
should be considered the

greatest
strength

of Squeak Etoys because without the guides, one is
required to explore the program to develop
an
understanding of how to com
bine the tiles to create scripts. This
exploration leads to a real understanding of the program and taps its true potential. Independent exploration will
also help avoid the pitfall of mindlessly following steps doing exactly what everybody else does dur
ing which time
no learning has take
n place or nothing new
generated.


A new grant funded project
titled INCOME
-
Integrating Computing and Mathematics Education

has
allowed for the expansion of Squeak Etoys use in schools
. INCOME provides participants wit
h over 60 hours of
professional development the majority of which is face
-
to
-
face time devoted solely to developing Squeak
Etoys
programming skills.
The
INCOME team of
university
faculty

and staff

develop
ed

and deliver
ed a week long
summer workshop f
or te
achers. W
orkshop
followed up included

mentor
ing

and
aidi
ng
teachers

in the
formation

of

their elective classes.


The d
evelopment

of the summer workshop included generating several new Squeak Etoys models focused
exclusively on mathematics linked directly
to the Common Core State Mathematics Standards. Some of the models
included M & M activity where a virtual bag of M & M’s is randomly generated then subjected to a series of
statistical analysis; disease propagation, a graphical and visual project where a
n epidemic spreads through a
population; raci
ng objects with variable speeds;

and the
100
-
locker

problem. Each teacher participating with
INCOME will develop and deliver an elective class and recruit other teachers to join them in becoming Squeak
Etoys te
achers in their school
. The elective classes
designed to fit the needs and time constraints of each school.
Participating teachers have embarked on a period of independent practice of Squeak Etoys skills
,

project
development,

a
nd

elective class preparati
on.


Reflection and Lesson Learned


I
nvolvement with USeIT

and INCOME has instilled
the importance of introducing

middle school

students
to the concepts of computer programming. This intro
duction should be implemented during

the standard school day
on a
regular basis though an elective class. The need for a computer programming elective class manifests itself
several ways.

Teachers who have a rapport with students will know how to motivate students when they are
challenged because “many novice programme
rs do not persist in the face of challenges”
(Denner et al., 2012
,
p
.

248
)
. A programming and robotics program called iCODE showed that though participation in extensive, rigorous
programs involving computer programming and robotics “
students developed real engineering and programming
skills, and their attitudes toward STEM subjects improved”
(Martin et al., 2011
,

p
.

277). The iCODE program
held
as an afterschool and summer
program, which

had
issues with attendance for a variety of reasons such as work,
sports,

and conflicting band and club meetings. The attendance problem prevalent in any after school activity can
lead to “students who missed sessions would get out of step with their peers, a
nd require extra assistance to
catch
up” (Martin et al. 2011
,

p
.

269).

Teaching these concepts as an elective class during the school day will eliminate or
greatly reduce issues related to absenteeism.
Lee, Denner et al., and Martin et al. stressed the i
mportance of
increasing the amount of time devoted to programming activities
; this increased time best
se
rved as
an elective class
solely devoted to computer programming using Squeak Etoys. Middle school students will need extra time de
voted
to programmin
g if

they are
expected to master the complex concepts involved in computer programming. In
addition to time
,

the students will need access to “experts” for just
-
in
-
time guidance
,

delivered
from teachers or

fellow
student
s
, which is best

provided during el
ective classes.


References

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. Teacher professional development through a
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