A Fresh Perspective on Teaching Computing

An interview with William Lau,
author of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools

When a full-time teacher has a young family but still manages to find time to write a book, you know he is passionate about his subject … and has an angelic spouse! In college, Will studied computing and business and then began teaching IT, video editing and graphic design. He still recalls his first computer class at the age of 10 and feeling incredibly lost. So lost, in fact, that when the teacher asked students to shut down their machines at the end of the class, Will pulled the plug out of the wall! His shame and embarrassment when he realized his mistake was so acute that he vowed to help others not get so lost when learning about the power of computers and what makes them tick.

Zulama CEO Nikki Navta loves her copy of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools!

His approach is user-friendly and assumes no prior knowledge of hardware and software. In fact, when teaching preschoolers and kindergartners, he starts off with basics like developing fine motor skills needed to operate a mouse and keyboard. With Will’s methods, it’s possible to teach anyone who wants to learn.

Yet Will admits that when teachers are unwilling or being forced to learn about computers, it’s very difficult to help them gain the right skills, much less get their students excited about computing. He recommends that administrators make sure teachers have adequate resources, primarily time and money.

His advice for teachers who want to learn and teach computing?!

  1. Develop your own skills
  2. Focus on student thinking rather than the activities

Unpacking that second idea, he encourages teachers to study how expert computer scientists think, and understand common misconceptions people have as they learn about computing.

Computer science is an incredibly dynamic subject to teach, because it changes every day. One day a teacher may understand mobile app development, and then a new technology like augmented reality emerges. Teachers need to be given time to constantly update their own skills.

How does Will stay up to date?

He follows cognitive scientists and educators like Daniel T Willingham (@DTWillingham) like Greg Ashman (@greg_ashman ‏), Paul A. Kirschner (@P_A_Kirschner)‏, Joe Kirby (@joe__kirby), and Doug Lemov (@Doug_Lemov) on twitter, where they post their research. He recommends Python as a starter programming language, especially because there is a robust online community and resources available on pythonprogramming.net, pythonschool.net and youtube.

What’s Will currently into?

Teaching Advanced Placement Computer Science, and learning about Pygame through Al Sweigart’s books. He feels a strong responsibility to give back to the network of computer science learners by providing research-based mentorship.

His goals for the future?

Let’s develop a global network of computer science educators, rather than remaining siloed in our localized CS communities! For example, we don’t know much about how Russia teaches computer science, but they are graduating top talent into the workforce. Computers are global, why isn’t computer education global?!

You can find William Lau @MrLauLearning on Twitter!

Tsuro: The Game of the Path

Zulama Staff

Zulama staffers playing Tsuro

Today’s lunchtime game at Zulama was Tsuro, a beautifully crafted board game. We had 4 players. We played twice, and each round took less than 20 minutes.  We can best describe the game as “Chutes and Ladders meets Chess”. The game play mimics the metaphor of choice vs destiny in life. Ideal gameplay involves thinking ahead by about 3 turns, which hurt my brain but is a fun dynamic. We think the ideal is probably 4 players. I’ve also played it with 2, but thought 4 was more interesting and fun.

Overall, we liked the game, but thought there was too little control by each individual player to really make it feel like a true strategy game. It was a fun, enjoyable play, but we aren’t clamoring for a rematch.


The board, pieces, and box.

Some of us wanted to sit and ponder our moves for a while, while others were more impulsive. If you’ve played this game, did you feel the same way, and/or did you put a time limit on each player for each turn?

And yes, we were eating El Burro tacos. Mmmmmmm!

You can see our scores and more information about the game below!

Possible Points Points Awarded Judging Criteria
Components 5 4 How do the pieces feel, look, and function?
Setup 5 5 Is the game easy and fun to set up?
Rules 5 1 Are the rules clear & concise?
Quality of Gameplay 10 8 There are lots of different kinds of games. Fun games, serious games, fillers, epic journeys. This rating is for how well the game does what it sets out to do.
Fun-ness 10 8 10 being “I want to play it all the time” down to 1 which is “I never want to play this thing again!”.
Overall group score 5 3.375 Each person gives an overall score, this is the average of all scores
Game Title Tsuro
Designer Tom McMurchie
Artist Shane Small
Publisher Calliope Games
Year Published 2012
# of Players 2 to 8
Mfg Suggested Ages 8+
Mfg Suggested Playing Time 15-20 mins
Language Dependence none
Honors Creative Child: Game of the Year & Preferred Choice
Dad’s Gaming Addiction: Favorite Games
Geek Dad Golden Bots
Category survival
Mechanic strategy, chance
Family Tsuro of the Seas
Website http://www.calliopegames.com/

Tsuro Game Review

Digital Promise: Improving Ed-Tech Purchasing

Zulama helped contribute to this enlightening report that was released recently from the Digital Promise, the Education Industry Association, and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research and Reform in Education.

Download the report—it’s worth your time!

Improving Ed-Tech Purchasing

Making Games Equals Learning with Zulama!

Educational Value from Making “Stuff”

American RadioWorks has conducted a great interview of Sylvia Libow Martinez, Co-Author of “Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom.”

Many educators say the best way to learn is by combining what you learn in school with real-world practice and that making something yourself or with peers is its own reward.

Sylvia discusses how standardized testing has narrowed the focus in today’s classrooms. She says that many of the engineers and game designers she has worked with were “bad at school”. Yet they are incredibly creative and inventive people.

Sylvia’s Top 3 Classroom Game-Changers:

  • 3D Printing
  • Robotics and Fabrication
  • Programming

These tools all focus on “making”, while also incorporating computing. The use of computers can help students iterate and gain practice using the same technology they will find in the workforce. Any time you can make the learning experience more authentic, for example, by bring real scientists’ tools into the classroom, students better understand the connection between school and the “real world.”

The podcast: Invent to Learn

Zulama: Making Games in the Classroom

Making and making games are real-world activities that are at the core of every Zulama course. We’re already on this!!

Examples of work students have made in their Zulama courses:

Students work on their "barnyard" game.

Students work on their “barnyard” game.

Students work on their project in Zulama's Game Design Studio course.

Students work on their project in Zulama’s Game Design Studio course.