Sugar Digest 2015-06-07

Sugar Digest

1. I am en route to the Google Code-in meet up in San Francisco. Looking forward to meeting Ignacio and Sam, our two finalists. I am hoping we’ll get some coding time in amidst all the activities that Google has planned.

2. I was home for less than 48 hours, having just returned from Tel Aviv, where I ran a Turtle Blocks workshop with 30 children. The workshop was organized by the Center for Education Technology — many thanks for Ilan Ben Yaakov for all of his preparations, including completing the Hebrew translations. The kids did great, as expected, and where as this was only the second time I had run a workshop using the Javascript version of Turtle Blocks, things went more smoothly than I had expected. I did make one change to the UI as a result of my observations during the workshop: I disable screen-dragging by default as it was definitely confusing some kids, who would accidentally drag their blocks off the edge of the screen. It is not really necessary for the smaller programs that novices tend to write; experienced users can presumably enable dragging in order to have more room to organize their stacks of blocks. Tip-of-the-hat to Larry Denenberg from Trip Advisor, who also helped with the translations and has contributed to the design. The Turtle Blocks workshop was the quid pro quo for participating in four days of meetings with CET.

The first two days were spent at MindCET, an incubator for educational technology in Yeruham in the Negev directed by Avi Warshavsky. Avi had organized a hackathon: we formed fifteen teams to work on project ideas. My team — Arnon Hershkovitz, Revital Rauchwerger, and Shachaf Sagi — worked on an extension of Turtle Blocks that opens up the opportunity to explore the power of “big data” by providing a “Cloud-service” for data collection and a new block, “fetch”, for programmatic access to the data. Our specific use-scenario was to address environmental issues through research-based learning, enriched via actual data collection and investigative programming. Together with the staff at CET we built a working prototype: an Arduino-based weather station that feeds data to the Cloud and the client-side Turtle code. I think the potential for such services is enormous: students engage in critical thinking in the process of being active citizens; they experience computational thinking and purposeful programming; and they collaborate on local and global levels. At the end of two days, each team presented to a panel of youth critics. Their reaction to our project was to ask, “Isn’t programming hard?”, to which I had an opportunity to quote Marvin Minsky: “Learning is hard fun.”

Back in Tel Aviv, I participated in a conference, Shaping the Future, where I had the opportunity to hear a wide variety of perspectives on education technology. The focus was on going beyond the screen. The morning session was a series of presentations from the commercial sector: Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, and ???. Lots of impressive wares, but none of the presenters made a compelling case for learning potential of their technology. Indeed, the theme seemed to be “look what we built” instead of “look at what you can build”. But things got more interesting from there: Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine and the Makerfaire, gave a nice overview of the maker community aesthetic. In my presentation, I pointed out that 50 years ago, Logo was already “beyond the screen” and subsequently give a quick snapshot of various Turtle Blocks projects involving sensors, robots, web services, etc. In the ensuing discussion, we touched on the issue of privacy. I took the minority opinion on the panel that there was never a reason to risk compromising the privacy of children and that none of the on-line tools that routinely mine identity data from children are necessary to use in the classroom. The audience, which was mostly comprised of teachers seemed to concur with my position. Next up was a presentation by Robert Gehorsam, whom I knew from his days at Prodogy in the 1980s. Robert is executive director of the Institute of Play, which has a intervention in one of the NYC public schools. The kids use game design as the basis of a project-based learning program, where the “core” curriculum is motivated by just-in-time learning. Steve Hodas completed the day’s talks with a description of IZone, an innovation incubator for the NY City public schools. His message: market disruption will not change schools; only organizational disruption will change schools. Something for us to think about as we plan the future of Sugar.

In the community

3. Call for papers for the special issue of RED (Journal of Distance Education):”Skills for coding and pre-coding”: The deadline for submitting manuscripts: 31 July 2015. The estimated publishing date is 15 September 2015. Publishing standards and guidelines for authors can be found at []. Llamada a contribuciones para el número especial de RED (Revista de Educación a Distancia): “Competencias para la codificación y la precodificación”: * Fecha límite para enviar manuscritos: 31deJuliode 2015 * Fecha estimada para la publicación: 15 de Septiembre de 2015. Normas de publicación y pautas para los autores [].

4. We will be holding an additional Sugar Labs oversight board meeting (SLOB) this month (we hold a meeting the first Monday of each month). Please join us on 15 June at 19:00 EST (Boston), 23:00 UTC on #sugar-meeting, to discuss strategy and tactics as we move forward as a community.

5. For those of you who are interested, we hold our GSoC group meetings on Fridays, 11:00 EST (Boston), 14:00 UTC on #sugar-meeting.

6. I am running a Turtle Blocks workshop in Bridgeport, Connecticut on 16 June.

Tech Talk

7. Martin Abente has announced that we are now in the testing phase of Sugar 105. Your feedback is important to us.

Sugar Labs

8. Please visit our planet.

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