CS Pathways video for NSF Showcase

Akira Kamiya produced this video to highlight our project for the NSF “Advancing STEM Learning for All” 2016 Video Showcase. Enjoy!

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Farzeen discusses career trajectory with Ms. Bell’s class

Project research assistant Farzeen Harunani visited Courtney Bell’s classroom on March 11, and led a discussion about her career trajectory, from computer science student to industry professional to researcher.

As described by Akira Kamiya, project teacher learning center directory, Farzeen discussed “her experience as a woman of color, and the students were completely engaged, asking questions for almost 20 minutes after her presentation was over! I especially liked the fact that it was mostly the girls of color in the class that were doing most of the talking.”

Ms. Bell added, “Farzeen was amazing! The kids were so engaged the whole class and they were making connections between their interests and potential futures in computer science.”

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Team presents at MassCUE 2015 conference

The CS Pathways team members at MassCUE, October 21, 2015. L-R: Erin Natale, Dawn Munro, Akira Kamiya, Denise Salemi, Molly Laden, Lori Blank, and Fred Martin.
The CS Pathways team members at MassCUE, October 21, 2015. L-R: Erin Natale, Dawn Munro, Akira Kamiya, Denise Salemi, Molly Laden, Lori Blank, and Fred Martin.

The CS Pathways team delivered a successful presentation, Middle School Project-Based Computing, at the MassCUE 2015 conference at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA on October 21, 2015.

The session immediately followed the opening keynote, and more than 40 conference-goers attended.

The presentation was organized by Akira Kamiya, who led the session itself. Molly Laden, Fred Martin, and Everett teachers Denise Salemi and Dawn Munro also contributed.

The session covered the goals of the project, provided an overview of the curriculum, and offered live demos of student work from Ms. Salemi’s and Ms. Munro’s spring 2015 classes.

A copy of the presentation slides and other handouts from the session are available.

CS Pathways summer camps were a huge success!

We hosted 72 Everett and Medford middle school students for our 2015 CS Pathways summer camps!

The camps were held July 6 through 10, at Medford High School and Everett High School.

At Medford, project teacher Mike Scarola was joined by PhD candidate Mark Sherman, along with Jessica Hamerly (Medford Public Schools) and Damian DeMarco (Revere Public Schools) in leading the session. UMass Lowell undergraduate Katherine Brunelle assisted.

At Everett, project teachers Denise Salemi and Dawn Munro were joined by Prof. Fred Martin in leading the session. UMass Lowell undergraduate Qiana Curcuru assisted.

Akira Kamiya, the project’s Teacher Learning Center Director, made sure all of our technology worked as smoothly as possible.

The Everett Independent published a lovely article about the kids’ work.

Thanks everyone!

A simplified MoleMash

The MIT MoleMash tutorial for App Inventor introduces several best practices.

But sometimes “best practices” distract novices from what they really need to understand.

MoleMash means to introduce these particular big ideas:

  • sprites—which can move around and react to being “touched”
  • the random function, and using it to move a sprite by setting its X and Y coordinates
  • keeping a score variable, and incrementing it.

But the tutorial obscures these ideas by forcing you to learn other stuff:

Subprocedures. The code to move the mole around is put into a subprocedure.

  • But it’s only two lines long. We don’t need a subprocedure for this.

Positioning the mole by querying the canvas for its dimensions, constructing them as a ratio, and scaling it to the full canvas size by multiplying by the “random fraction” primitive. Seriously? I can barely understand this.

  • Let’s just hard-code some X and Y limits. It’s easier to explain to kids this way.

Concatenating label text with a numerical value. The approach for keeping score uses both a label to hold the word “Score” and a global for keeping track of the score number. Then, to update the score, the label “Score” plus the number value are concatenated.

  • Let’s just put a number only in the text label. Then we don’t need a separate global, and we can increment the label’s text directly.
  • Also there’s no need for an UpdateScore procedure.

With this simplified MoleMash, the entire code is this:

Code for simplified MoleMash.
Code for simplified MoleMash.

This is far, far simpler than the MIT code.

Notice that the bounds of the random X and Y coordinates are 1 to 100. These are the default parameters of the “random integer” block when you pull it out of the palette.

This means that the mole will only jump about in the upper left corner of the canvas. That’s fine! Kids can figure out on their own how to expand the range.

For beginners, it’s better to use concrete values than abstract functions.