edutopiaWe have this tendency to think that learning at school takes place only between the opening and closing bells of the “regular school day.” Oh we know about after school programs but there is a tendency to think of them as babysitting at worst and remediation at best. Occasionally we have the good sense to think of them as opportunities to expand beyond the curriculum. That is where I think the after school or out of school programs can really shine though. That is where we can get students to learn based on interest. And we can occasionally teach and students can learn things that don’t “fit” in the regular curriculum. What I really hadn’t thought about much before today was the opportunity to create a new and in some ways better environment for learning after school. An article in Edutopia (Got Game: How to Keep Girls Interested in Computer Science ) brought this home for me today.

One of the problems we see in computer science education is a “boy’s club” atmosphere in the computer labs. This is hard for even the most committed teacher to break during the day in a traditional setting. So Pat Yongpradit (yes, regular readers of this blog have read me write about Pat before) put together an after school program for girls to program games for Zune handheld music players. Yes, programming, games and girls all in the same sentence. Girls may not like the same games that boys do but that is not the same as not liking games. In a supportive environment with tasks and devices that are relevant to them girls do just fine thank you very much! Not a surprise to us old-timers (especially those like me who are married to a woman who made a good living writing code back in the day) but a surprise to some who see only the current boy’s club.

You really want to read the article but just as a teaser – how well is it working? The school is hiring a second teacher to handle the demand for computer science courses.

But maybe you are not ready for XNA and high level game development. A number of schools have used Code Rules! and Visual Basic in after school programs. Others, including in middle schools, are using Small Basic (see Small Basic starting curriculum resources on the right hand side of the page) as a fun introduction to programming. There are many game examples available. For younger students (say 7-8 and up) there is the very graphical and simple Kodu (see also www.planetkodu.com for shared projects and ideas ). And there are more options as well. But the important thing is that it can be done, a comfortable lower stress, more collaborative learning environment can be created with real learning going on.

If you want some XNA resources check out http://www.microsoft.com/education/facultyconnection/bz/articles/articledetails.aspx?cid=2031&c1=en-bz&c2=BZ and http://www.microsoft.com/education/facultyconnection/bz/articles/articledetails.aspx?cid=2084&c1=en-bz&c2=BZ 

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