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05 Jun 2010
OCRI: Final Spring 2010 Update

This week marked the last session that I spent volunteering my time at a high school as a programming mentor for the current school term. Here are some of my thoughts about the experience.

Over the last 2 months I’ve been continually surprised by the ideas that the students have come up with. As I wrote in a previous post, the 5 groups that I mentored all came up with very different game ideas for their projects. I was really pleased that all of them were interested and committed to the class and that I didn’t see any of them get bored or lose interest. What was even more impressive was the degree to which they actually finished the game ideas they presented to us. My main worry was that they would bite off more than they could chew and end up with some half-finished product that didn’t run, or just stopped part way through the game because that was how far they’d gotten. We tried from the outset to impress upon them how important having something that worked was and how they could implement their gameplay in increments. Judging by the state of the projects that I saw on Tuesday, this advice seems to have paid off.

The teacher whose class we were attached to had some great feedback on the project as a whole, but first some background: The project is not just about people like myself going into classrooms and helping out with the students. There are also several off-site days organised for them where they get bussed out to the IBM offices in Kanata and get to do things like take laptops apart, have an introduction to a development environment and more.

However, the thing our teacher said was that none of the off-site trips were really important to him and his class. For starters, they took time away from other classes and therefore made the whole scheme less attractive.

The XO laptops weren’t the main draw either: Sure they’re excellent machines and there are educational aspects involved in learning about the target market. OLPC is a great project. But in the classroom, from a programming perspective, it was sometimes a hindrance. The testing cycle was always longer as code had to be copied across to the laptop every time a change was made. We didn’t have as many XOs as project groups, so we had to share and give limited time to each group. Furthermore, there were issues with performance. As anyone who has ever done any embedded development will tell you, optimizing code to run on a target device is a huge consideration. For grade 12 students who are just learning programming, worrying about how many times you can redraw the game background before the performance suffers (for instance) is not high on their list of priorities. Nor should it.

The most important aspect of the whole OCRI program for our teacher was us. The mentors. His opinion was that even if there had been no off-site visits or XO laptops then he would still have wanted us to come in and talk to the students and help them out. That was what made the difference, and it meant that the students didn’t get bored, or lose interest.

OCRI is currently looking at what form the program should take next  year, and I’d like to be involved in it whatever form it takes. That said, I will also talk to them about the pluses and minuses of the current scheme and see if we can’t improve it for the next batch of students.


Thanks for reading! If you like my writing, you may be interested in my book: Healthy Webhook Consumption with Rails

David at 11:32

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