Monday, May 27, 2013

Teaching programming with Light-Bot

This last week was fairly relaxing and fun. Its the end of the semester for the high-school, and once the tests are taken, many of the classes are over until the next semester starts. To help celebrate the end of the semester, I decided the computer lab could play a game.
I looked around for some educational games that were related to computers, somewhat self teaching, and fun to play. After a bit of searching, I decided on Light-Bot ( This is a simple game where you program a robot to complete the task of turning blue squares yellow.

The game starts out fairly innocuous and the first several levels introduce you how to program the robot. Move forward, turn left, turn right, jump, and change colors. But then, it becomes a bit more challenging by the inclusion of functions, and more than that, recursive functions. Nearly every level could be solved in multiple different methods and allowed for creativity and learning.
Out of the 12 levels, I dont think anyone completed level 10. I have played this game off and on for years, and only this last week did I finally pass level 10 myself.

Below are the levels and commands I used to complete them. This is more for my sanity in case I plan on using this game again.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

Level 6

Level 7

Level 8

Level 9

Level 10

Level 11

Level 12

Monday, May 06, 2013

Teaching computers in Honduras

It has been a few months now of teaching at AFE in Honduras and I am finding that I really enjoy teaching. Currently I am only working with the high school, so many of the "computer basics" such as how to use a keyboard and mouse have gone over fairly quickly. My own personal goal now is to get everyone familiar with using the tools and applications they would find in an office - i.e. Microsoft Office.

My first pass was simple - Microsoft Office basics. It turns out there is quite a bit of information available on the internet in English and Spanish that covered MS Office basics. I added in a few projects such as a budgeting spreadsheet, a document about the students favorite things, and even a PowerPoint presentation. This first pass seemed to go well, but practice is needed to ensure things stick.

Second attempt - have the students write up reports about jobs that use computers. This starts them looking to the internet at ways computers can be used in business, starts using MS Word to document information and create a report, and then PowerPoint to create a presentation. Once all the presentations were ready, we covered a few public speaking pointers and they then presented their findings to the class.
I was quite surprised by the end results - many of the students created projects beyond what I expected, and a few of them appear to be natural public speakers. There is still room for improvement (that's the reason for school), but it was very encouraging.

One of the other teachers mentioned wanting to have his students build a web page for the books they are reading (Chronicles of Narnia). He suggested it might be a good way for me to introduce the students to the Internet, and more specifically to the validity of things on the internet. I decided this would be a great time to cover the history of the internet - what it is, where it came from, how it became what it is, how to use it and be safe, and possible futures.
This gives rise to my third pass at using MS Office tools - instead of teaching the students about the internet, I can let them teach themselves. Our current project is about the history of the internet, they are currently creating an 8 page report (1 cover, 1 bibliography, 6 information) in Word about the history of the internet. This is a fairly broad subject and therefore there is quite a bit of leeway in the project, but if all goes well, at the end of this week they will have completed a college level report.
Next step is to convert this document into another presentation. My plan is to start with more information about public speaking, and how to create a viable presentation in PowerPoint - i.e. write down talking points, don't read the slides, eye contact, etc... When finished converting the reports to presentations, they will then take turns sharing in front of the class.
Once the reports are finished, I am debating talking about plagerism. Apparently it is quite common in this country, and even in the colleges here there isn't much of an emphasis on it. I personally believe it needs to be discussed, but at this point I am concerned about hurting their feelings and discouraging them from working hard in the future.

I am still debating on what the next project should be. I think a break from researching, documenting, and presenting may be needed, so I am debating about using a game such as Light-Bot to explain some of the basics of computer programming. After a week or so of playing games, I figure they can't hate me too much, and maybe it will stir some excitement about programming.

Finding our way in Honduras

A few months ago Jana and I bought a car here in Honduras. We have been having fun exploring Tegucigalpa and finding new places and stores. However, 1 main question was still lingering - How do you find your way around in a foreign country?
In many US cities, there is a plethora of street signs guiding you to popular destinations, plus the street names and addresses are normally designed in a way that makes finding things quick and easy. But in Honduras there are few street signs, if the streets are named there is rarely an order to their naming, and there are no addresses.

Enter the magic of GPS. A few years ago we received a Garmin GPS for Christmas and enjoyed using it to find locations both locally and for road trips. On a whim, I decided to bring it with us to Honduras in hopes that it would work here as well. A little googling and I found the Open Street Map project, a web site that builds maps for the entire world that can be downloaded and installed to various GPS devices.

Using the Garmin here is a little different since addresses aren't commonly used, and those that do exist I haven't gotten the GPS to recognize. However, I can still search for locations by name by or by type such as shopping, gas, etc...

Links to the resources I used for Honduras