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Friday, 11 April 2014

Programming with Thomas Trackmaster


Programming with Thomas Trackmaster

After spending a few hours the previous day developing a long term plan for the new computing curriculum, I started using my five year old as a guinea pig for many of the KS1 resources that had been suggested. He found the bee-bot app easy and a bit boring,  loved light-bot and within 15 minutes was able to create and use simple procedures (he even attempted to use the word). However, before I was able to trick him into testing Kandu, he announced that he wanted to play and so we built, with the help of a 3 year old, a train track using Thomas Trackmaster which involved several junctions where the trains could switch tracks and areas where they could be
stopped.


As the track was still assembled the following morning, we started playing with the track again. It was at this point that I realised that it could be used as a way to introduce some concepts of programming - an idea taken from Phil Bagge’s (@baggiepr) online course Evolving ICT into Computing. I started setting challenges: can you get Thomas to go through the coal pit then the dieselworks; can you move Thomas to let Diesel past. I then used post-it notes to create a language and instructions for each component.


The challenge was then to get Thomas to the dieselworks. To do this another train had to move to another area of the track, which involved changing the direction of gates and then resetting these gates to allow the other train to get to its destination. After a spot of trial and improvement , which I now refer to as debugging, we used the post it notes to scribe a set of instructions using the specific language.


Through this activity the following aspects of the Key Stage 1 computing curriculum were addressed
  • understand what algorithms are
  • create and debug simple programs
  • use logical reasoning to predict behaviour of simple programs

I am not claiming that through this activity he has mastered the aforementioned areas, but he has developed an understanding of the concepts and this knowledge is ready to be deepened.