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Going Back to High School

Having just finished my first full year as a Computer Science (CS) major at the University of Regina, I was surprised to find that my summer job would take me back to high school. Billy Hamilton, another U of R student entering his second year, and I worked on the development of an online version of the Grade 11 Computer Science (CS20) course for the Regina Catholic School Division (RCSD).

My high school offered several computer-related courses so I was able to take CS courses in grades 11 and 12. However, few of my peers at the U of R have been as lucky as I have since relatively few schools offer CS20 and CS30 (the Grade 12 Computer Science course). The online version Billy and I worked on for the RCSD may help solve that problem for some students: online learning allows students to take part in courses, which would otherwise be unavailable, without being in a particular place at a particular time.

Billy and I were hired to write content for this course because, as first year students, we are closer to the target audience for the material. We had ambitious ideas for making this introductory course fun and interesting for students who would be looking into Computer Science for the first time. We thought about what drew us to Computer Science and decided to focus on tools that would allow students to create uncomplicated, graphics-based programs and simple video games. Our goal was to create content that is challenging, engaging, and would be used for years to come.

Our one restriction was that the course needed to follow the Government of Saskatchewan's existing CS20 curriculum (circa 1999). Although the fundamental concepts of logic, programming and design have not changed much in this time, many of the computer proficiency learning objectives outlined in the curriculum were more appropriate for 11 year olds than Grade 11 students of the current decade. The course definitely needed the facelift that Billy and I were more than happy to provide.

We considered several software development environments for students to use, and chose Build Your Own Blocks (BYOB) from the University of California, Berkeley and Greenfoot from the University of Kent.

BYOB, based on Scratch from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, is a visual programming language. It provides a fun and easy to use interface that allows students to click, drag, drop and snap together blocks, representing pieces of code, in order to build dynamic programs. BYOB allows beginner programmers to get a feel for basic programming concepts such as control structures, and modularity without facing the intimidation of finicky syntax in text-based languages.

Once students are comfortable with the basics, they are able to graduate to Greenfoot. Unlike BYOB, Greenfoot allows students direct access to the code underlying their Greenfoot projects. Using Greenfoot's API, students write code in the Java programming language to control the behaviour of their projects. The part of our course that uses Greenfoot builds and expands on the skills acquired with BYOB and applies them specifically to Java.

Both environments can be used to generate eye-catching graphical output and entertaining applications that students will enjoy creating. This course provides tools for students to create programs like our Rocket Demo and Pizza Patch games. You can see a demo of these programs at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Gn71RvsdrrM

We are pleased with the content we have produced and are positive students will enjoy the introduction to CS through this course.

This online course is now open to registrations for students anywhere in Canada. International students are welcome to participate however credits for course completion cannot be issued at this time. For more information, please visit www.rcsd.ca/learningonline or contact Chantal Ounsworth at Regina Catholic Learning Online.

Tori Verlysdonk
Undergraduate, Computer Science
University of Regina

Chantal Ounsworth
Teacher, Regina Catholic Learning Online
Regina Catholic Schools
Phone: (306) 791-7239
Email: c.ounsworth@rcs.sk.ca

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