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This interview is part of my ongoing research/writing project for Mozilla. That research involves my asking the question "Do we need Scratch for HTML5?" to a bunch of folks who are thinking about teaching, learning, writing, coding, building, computing, creating and other associated verbs.

Phil Wagner (@brokenairplane) is a science and math teacher, a curriculum developer, a programmer, and currently the Exploring Computational Thinking Curriculum Fellow in Science at Google. He's also the developer of the Physics Gizmo app in the Android App Store, a mobile device for data collection for science class. I wanted to talk to him about designing educational software, teaching computer science, and teaching computational thinking.

My notes from our conversation follow:

K-12 and CS: If programming is the new literacy, how do we incorporate computational thinking across the curriculum (as in "writing across the curriculum")? Is the goal to have students become coders? Or can it be to see how CS plays a part in the world? Do we see CS as a discipline for some, or as a principle for everyone?

Teaching and Technology: How can we help support teachers? Lack of experimentation, lack of modeling in science classes. What happens when we pair up math and science and humanities teachers? (Again, how can we help work across disciplines) Do we focus on the tools, or do we focus on instruction? We do worry too much about "knowledge" and not enough about learning and exploration?

Getting Kids Interested in Building: "How do we get kids to write their own poetry, code, paint." How do we motivate and empower them? Emphasize creation not just consumption. What's great about Scratch: less about "teaching the tool" than recognizing that computing is a "means to an end."

Barriers to CS: CS books not exciting, not student-friendly. Why have robotics and Marker Movement been successful? Don't need to emphasize badges, contests, points, but rather project-based learning -- "show people why in the world they should care?" Are we perpetuating bad practices in teaching (CS)? CS is, of course, a new discipline -- is it just a matter of "catching up" and going through the stages of development like other disciplines have?

Brainstorming What a "Scratch for HTML5" Tool Would Look Like:

1) Getting learners engaged quickly. "By the end, I should have a website."
2) Be like a puzzle.
3) "Turn the WYSIWIG on its head." "Give tools but create tools." "Create a tool that lets me do and build."
4) Should be instantly viewable, interactive. "See the Web."
5) Hosting (as an instance?)

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Audrey Watters


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