If you want your kids to have a solid computer science education, encourage them to go build something cool. Not by typing in pedantic command words in a programming environment, but by learning just enough about how that peculiar little blocky world inside their computer works to discover what they and their friends can make with it together.

We shouldn’t be teaching kids “computer science.” Instead, we should provide them plenty of structured opportunities to play with hardware and software. There’s a whole world waiting to be unlocked.

from: Jeff Atwood: Learning to code is overrated – NY Daily News

The article stems from the news that all New York City pupils will be coding in 10 years.  English education is away ahead of them: National curriculum in England: computing programmes of study – GOV.UK

The counter argument is that there are a lot of coding jobs in Scotland waiting for applicants:

Scotland’s tech sector is booming and our employment partners have existing vacancies just waiting to be filled by CodeClan graduates. Learn with CodeClan and become part of shaping the future of the digital world.

from: Home | Digital Skills Academy Scotland | CodeClan
Digital tech sector ‘to see strong growth in Scotland’.

This links very much to the views expressed by Charlie Love on Radio #EDUtalk: we have a lack of these skills in Scotland.

I do wonder how we can gear up for typing in pedantic command words in a programming environment with our current decline in computer science teaching. Should we go down the same road as England or would it be better to take Jeff Atwood’s advice? Is there a happy medium?

Image my own from a brief encounter with processing.

Earlier this month I read The Web Feels Fine to Me on the CogDogBlog, it contained lots of interesting links to pretty amazing websites. I am still mining the vein.

Along the way I discovered Making your own static web site isn’t nostalgia. It’s the future of the web. – Neocities Blog

For starters, nothing is more creative than HTML. Instead of a sad, tiny, highly constrained little square box to put your thoughts in (that ends up being sold to marketers) on ephemeral social networks that have been scientifically proven to make people miserable and depressed, you get the entire web page to put your thoughts into. Or your drawings. Or your music. Anything you can come up with using your imagination. When you make a web page, you’re not working for your social network’s stock brokers – you’re working for yourself.

Which fitted nicely along with various ideas I’ve been nodding along to recently.

Neocities says We provide free web hosting and tools that allow anyone to make a website. and Neocities will never sell your personal data or embed advertising on your site.

There is a browser based html/css/javascript editor and you can upload files via DragAndDrop.

You get 100mb of space.

It looks like they have education plans:

Neocities for Educators. A lot of teachers have been using Neocities to teach HTML to students. We think this is important, so we want to help them by providing special Neocities features for educators. We are also working on developing an integrated tutorial for those learning how to program HTML for the first time.

We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn HTML as a way to obtain technical literacy. It’s also the perfect first step to learning how to design and code software – one of the few careers that keeps growing fast in our information society.

from: Introducing the new Neocities – Neocities Blog

The site is as straightforward as can be, the html editor is pretty nice without being overpowering. It close tags and has nice colour schemes. Uploading files is simple. Perhaps it could be a useful resource for pupils learning a bit of html/CSS/JavaScript as a next step after using some of the online turtorials of the sort Ollie has been blogging recently.

I have kicked the tyres of the site a little producing the rather silly, but fun for me: GifDub (Which probably will not work on Internet Explorer, but seems ok on mobile. )



I’ve been keeping half an eye on the Mozilla Open Badges project, mostly through the blog of Doug Belshaw.

I’ve also being looking at some of the Mozilla Webmaker tools on and off. This time last year I was Playing with Hackasaurus and popcorn and had some fun. More recently I was running an introduction to html, css and a wee bit of javascript for North Lanarkshire computing and business studies teachers and made use of Hackasaurus as a way to look at HTML elements. I had peeked at thimble, the third of the webmaker tools occasionally but not given it much attention.

Yesterday I read Webmaker Badges Are Go! and decided to check to thimble and how it had incorporated badges.


Thimble is an in browser html editor with live preview.

Bad points

Unfortunately I was reading Doug’s post on my iPad and dived into thimble on that. This was not the greatest experience, selecting text was a total pain and the standard iOS text editing was disabled. I could not copy or paste. I managed to do a bit of a better job by linking a bluetooth keyboard where I could copy and paste via keyboard shortcuts. Selecting text was still very difficult.

I then switched to my macbook. Although this is not a recent model it is usually fast enough to get thing done. It runs 10.6 and I use it for all sorts of things. Unfortunately it did not seem fast enough to edit thimble. Again it was hard to select text, clicking somewhere to move the cursor was hit and miss and I deleted some bits of code without meaning too. This could be very off-putting for a school pupil or someone else unused to editing html. I did test Safari, Firefox and Chrome none were much good.

The Good Bits

After not having much fun with my macbook I switched to my work macbook pro. This is not exactly a monster machine, 2.3GHx i5 with 8 MB of RAM, but it handled thimble a lot better.

I began to see what was happening, thimble does a fair job of syntax highlighting as you go, alerting you to any errors. But the neatest thing was the integration of the badges. I had signed in with Mozilla persona at the top of the thimble page. As I added various bits of code to the page small alerts popped up to tell me I had earned a badge. Clicking on the badges button allowed me to send the badges to my Backpack. This entails accepting the badges and then you can organise them into groups.

I guess all the code highlighting and checking to see if you have earned a badge is what slows down the iPad and older mac.

Personally I don’t think I’d be very motivated by badge gathering but I could see this being attractive to some sorts of learners especially as you can show the badges you have earned on a public page and also embed them on your blog or other webpage.

I’ve added some more notes about thimble on the thimble page I made.

Sharing your Success

Badges Badges

As well as the public page there is a wordpress plugin WPBadgeDisplay currently at version 0.8. I’ve not had the chance o look at it. Iain Hallahanlet me know about Badge Widget Hack which will generate some JavaScript to display a group of your badges I found that this limited the display to 3 badges in the group but it was simple enough to edit the code to see more it looks like open badges provides a json feed for the badges (eg: http://beta.openbadges.org/displayer/8358/group/5612.json) which you can use to display badges. Here is a slightly better looking view of my thimble ones.


Open Badges Backpack is in beta, it says so in the url, https://beta.openbadges.org. It seems to be developing nicely and it is now a lot easier to get your head round how badges play out in practise. I can see some real use for thimble and badges in the classroom and I hope to test performance on other older computers soon. Hopefully it is better than on my old (2008) macbook or that the experience will improve over time. I hope too that Mozilla will not forget about iPad users as we are seeing a lot more of these in our classrooms now.

Finally I just used the ‘Start From Scratch’ option in thimble, there are a lot of interesting looking starter projects that you can use to get ideas for what to make.