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How can I use the MicroWorlds in Action resources most effectively in a computer lab?

MicroWorlds Logo is a wonderful tool for learning, but most students need some support to get the most out of their learning experience. MicroWorlds in Action provides a bridge for teachers and students of MicroWorlds that honors the spirit of constructivist learning.

Here are some specific suggestions for using MicroWorlds in Action in a computer lab:

  1. To begin, give students a chance to play with projects from a range of folders. At this point they are getting a taste for what is possible with MicroWorlds. They are enjoying the end products and not concerning themselves with the process yet.
  2. Give students the option of working through all of the projects in one folder or working through the first two or three projects in one folder and then moving on to another folder. There is value in depth and breadth.
  3. Encourage students to reconstruct a project from scratch. They will need to copy and paste the shapes into the shapes tab or draw their own. They should consult the project map for all the needed buttons, turtles, textboxes, pages, and so on. They may copy and paste the procedures or retype them. Reconstructing a project can be a powerful way to gauge one's understanding.
  4. The extension activities address three levels of understanding as the student begins to construct new meanings. The "What If?" questions are the most basic, testing a student's ability to use the commands and/or number values. The "Challenge" questions ask the student to apply the new knowledge in a slightly different context. The "On Your Own" questions usually ask the student to create something new with the new knowledge. You may want to encourage students to work through all of the extension activities for a project to really take ownership of this new knowledge.
  5. Part of the learning process occurs when students to have a chance to share and discuss their new knowledge. Assessment can become an integral part of the learning process itself. A student's completed project can serve as a stepping stone to a discussion of the process involved. Can the student demonstrate understanding of new programming skills by actively addressing the three levels of extension questions? Consider letting students share one-on-one with a teacher or peer rather than writing down answers to the extension questions. They may demonstrate and discuss with a peer or teacher how they have answered the questions through project work. If you would like to track each student's progress carefully, the peer or teacher could indicate on a checklist if the extension questions have been completed satisfactorily. The extension questions may also be used more informally as a means of self-assessment and a source of new project ideas.
  6. Students who have completed several projects in one folder may be considered as possible peer mentors for others who are just beginning work in that folder. Soon we will be posting some specific suggestions for training and supporting peer mentors.
  7. The project folders form the core of MicroWorlds in Action, enabling users to acquire new programming skills in a flexible way: choosing among folder themes and programming emphasis, choosing depth or breadth, choosing which project elements to consult in the process of constructing new meanings, sharing new understandings with others. We hope that the other resources on the site offer valuable support as users extend their understandings. But the emphasis should always be to learn by doing and to direct one's own learning path.
  8. Sometimes it can be helpful to present a 5- or 10-minute mini-lesson to the whole class or a small group to introduce a new programming skill. Many children (and adults) learn more effectively through an oral explanation and demonstration than through reading project notes on their own. Of course, they learn best by doing, so keep mini-lessons as brief as possible and then give the students plenty of time to apply the new skill in their own projects.
  9. Open-ended questions can provide valuable scaffolding at many points in the learning process:
    • In the brainstorming/planning stage of a project, you might ask:
      • What is the main goal of your project?
      • What project elements (turtles, shapes, textboxes, buttons, sliders, graphics, pages, sounds, etc.) will you need?
      • What will you need to teach the computer to do?
      • What help might you need?
    • In the development stage, you might ask:
      • What procedures (new words) might you need?
      • How would you write those procedures in plain English?
      • What primitives (Logo terms) do you already know which might be of use in developing these procedures?
      • What MIA resources might be useful as you develop this project?
    • In the testing/debugging/evaluating/revising stage, you might ask:
      • Does your project work the way you hoped it would?
      • Is your project user-friendly? How might it become more so?
      • Did you run into any stumbling blocks?
      • Have you shared your project with others? What is their reaction? Were there any suggestions? What do you think of these suggestions?
      • If you were to keep on making your project better and better (just as we have new improved versions of software), what might you do next?
      • How did you feel about the process of developing this project?
      • What did you learn from developing this project?
  10. In a relaxed, supportive environment, students will come to view "mistakes" as learning opportunities. Does a car float up instead of moving left to right? The student observes the mistake, laughs, and identifies a solution. Encourage positive thinking and independence on the part of the student. Constructive thoughts about troubleshooting might include:
    • "This problem can be fixed."
    • "I understand what needs to be done to fix this problem."
    • "I can fix this problem myself."
    • "This works pretty well, but I can make it work even better."
    • "I understand the problem. I need a little help with the solution. I know how to get the help I need."
    • "This is an interesting challenge."
    At the early stages of working with MicroWorlds, students may depend rather heavily on a teacher or peer mentor for troubleshooting help. While offering support, encourage the student to describe the problem and identify a possible strategy for solving the problem. The MicroWorlds in Action site introduces new skills gradually in an effort to minimize frustration. Even still, some students may feel discouraged when they first encounter error messages or other "bugs" in their programs. We want to bring them gently from a possible inclination to think, "This is hard I can't do this!" to "This is a fun challenge and I'm learning! I can do this!"
  11. After students acquire facility with some of the basic features of MicroWorlds and Logo programming, support them in developing their own projects entirely from scratch. At this point, the MicroWorlds in Action project folders and other resources may become a helpful reference, as needed. MIA is designed to help give students their wings not to clip them!
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