Seducing to program (very fast)

My first draft started with “Seducing girls…” but I assume this would have produced a lot of false hits ;-). Nevertheless, this is one starting point of my journey: teaching computer science I often ask my students (age 14-15) what they are interested in. Every time I propose “programming” most of my boys are very interested while I can be sure to hear “Naah, I don’t like programming” from one or almost all of my girls. Every time I hear this I suggest a deal: give me one hour to convince you that this can be fun, interesting and empowering. They never believe. Every time until now I can convince them. This mini-curriculum has been proven to be successful:

  1. 1 hour: I use AppInventor to create Apps on their own mobile phones. This can be a little demanding as the phones have to be in the same network (that is Wi-Fi) as the computers they are using (Standalone PCs in our case), they have to log in to AI using a google account (or create one) and they have to load AI Companion onto their mobiles. The first program to write is “Hello world” using a button and a label showing custom text. Not much fun but perhaps interesting. Then change the output of text to be spoken using “TexttoSpeech”. VERY much fun and enough for the rest of this unit. Perhaps show them to use shaking the mobile (“Acceleration sensor) as an input.
  2. 1-2 hours: Given the link to the tutorial “Magic 8Ball” they can put together all the building blocks for a simple but rewarding app (no problem that this tutorial is written in English). Encourage them to change the answered texts to anything they like. Propose that the answers could be spoken instead of written. Propose shaking for an answer. My last group of students had many different ideas on how to customize this, e.g. the answers were just the names of their peer group. It seemed they could have laughed endlessly asking the 8 Ball “Who is…”, “Who does…” and getting a name as an answer. Not always politically correct. But VERY much fun.
  3. 1-3 hours: Given the list of projects for AI2, they are very interested in doing more things with their mobile. Even if they only get a premonition of what they are really doing just putting everything together and modifying the projects is very interesting and motivation for much more than the usual x percent of them (replace the number you are experiencing).

So in 3-6 hours, you can build a solid foundation for your students about programming in general without any exact knowledge necessary. For my older students (Secondary, 15-18) I use this approach as a starting point, delivering the exact definitions and all the rest afterward. As AppInventor will be available on iOS soon all of them can use their mobiles, although working together in a team of 2 or 3 students is a joyful experience of its own value.

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