Monday, 30 April 2012

Python in Schools?

From one of the listserves that I belong to, this question came up I've had a request from our Digital Technologies teacher to install Python on the student Windows 7 workstations. We are running a Windows Server 2008r2 domain. Just wondering if there are other high school running python and if anyone has any opinions regarding students using python? Should we be concerned about security?

My answer...

With the NZC review and the standards realignment there are a number of changes to the area once known as Computing, Digital Technologies is a strand under the curriculum area Technology.

The area that the teacher is undertaking is the Programming and Computer Science Strand.

Under Level 7 of the Construct a Software Program under the Learning Objectives for Digital Technology requires students to independently implement a plan to construct an advanced program, in a suitable programming language, where the modules (including their procedural structures) constitute a well-structured logical decomposition of the task.

Under the the guidelines available from NZACDITT and the University of Canterbury, Python meets the criteria of an advanced programming environment. An alternative to Python that has been recommended is Java.

The University of Otago Computer Science Department has produced Java/Python resources to help assist teachers to understand and teacher the requirements of this Level 2 NCEA course.

One of the best things about Python is the Graphical User Interface that has been developed, with Java it may need access to the command line prompt, though there are shell interface that have been developed. Python has a wonderful GUI called IDLE that allows students to develop programs and run them within the interface shell. Thus removing the potential security risks.

Other things that also need to be considered is providing students various web browsers, one thing that we are finding is that Internet Explorer just doesn’t cut the needs of students now. Google Chrome and Firefox should be provided for the students to use to be able to compare their website development as well as provide better experiences when using web 2.0 websites. Students are now able to expand their coding horizons by using and google apps for education to provide them ways to collaborate on projects and work with clients.

There is currently work happening with the University of Canterbury to provide an extra question type within moodle to provide an interface for developing and marking programming functions with python. Learning Management Systems are becoming an efficient way to develop differentiated learning experiences for Digital technologies students.

With the NCEA Level 3 final draft standards about to be released, there is about to be more changes for the software requirements to be able to teach Digital Technologies for teachers and students. This is going to require some schools to possibly modify their school networks to allow for this, whether it be allowing USB boot for students to run alternative operating systems to install and configure various web services, Virtual machines to install alternative operating systems to be able to carry out investigations and demonstrate complex concepts. Other things that will need to be considered is looking at industry standard software packages, Adobe Creative Suite will allow students to do web development, graphic design, video editing, sound editing to the standards that are required to meet Level 8 of the NZC. Although there are open source alternatives they do have issues and are still being developed by their communities.

This post only looks at some of the requirements for this subject, however, there are many more issues around infrastructure and equipment when the strand Digital Infrastructure is looked at.

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