CodeWorld Rises Again!
About three years ago, I started work on an idea about technology-based math education. The idea was to get middle school students to work passionately on using mathematics to create things, by:
- Doing their own original, creative work, instead of following instructions or reaching set answers.
- Getting instant feedback 24 hours a day, so they can tinker and learn in a self-directed way.
- Building confidence by working on their own ideas, inspiring pride and excitement.
- Experiencing how concepts from geometry, algebra, and physics can be springboards for creativity.
- Becoming creators, rather than just consumers, of technology.
That’s a lofty set of goals, but it was very successful. In the 2011-2012 school year, I taught a small class of six students, two to three hours per week. We had an awesome time. They built their own computer games throughout the year. We struggled together, worked our way through, and finished the school year with an awesome expo where the students showed off their work to local technology professionals and participated in a question-and-answer panel about their experiences. It was fascinating listening to this, because a few patterns arose:
- Students didn’t really think of what they were doing as math. This remained true, even when the skills they learned involved describing the behavior of systems using equations, functions, and variables; describing complex shapes in terms of geometry, the coordinate plane, and rotations, translations, and scaling; coming to grips with the meaning of probability and randomness; etc.
- The students who entered the year being “good at technology” weren’t necessarily the most likely to succeed. Talking to these students broke all of the stereotypical molds about computers and technology! Students took to the activity and wildly succeeded were very often girls, and had previously thought they were more the art-and-music type.
At the end of that year, I had plans to teach this program in multiple schools the following school year. Unfortunately, things then got a little sidetracked. I started a new job at Google over the summer, moved to California, and dropped the program. The web site that students had used to build their projects fell into disrepair, and stopped working. I stopped doing anything about it.
Over the last week and a half, though, that’s changed! CodeWorld is back!
The CodeWorld web site is (as always) at http://www.codeworld.info.
Any web browser will do, but you really need to use the latest version of whatever browser you choose. If you’ve been putting off upgrading Internet Explorer, it’s long past time!
You’ll also want a Google account. You can log in using your Google account, and save your programs to Google Drive. Because your programs are saved to the cloud, you can use the web site from any computer you like, even computer labs in a school, and your programs will follow where ever you go.
Using the web site is simple. Type your program on the left. Click Run to see it work on the right. You can sign in to open your existing projects and save your projects. You can also get links to share your projects with others. There are sample projects along the bottom of the screen, including Yo Grandma!, a game written by Sophia, one of my students from the original class.
Unfortunately, instructions on how to write the programs are still mostly missing. If you already know the language, a link to the generated documentation might help. Otherwise, hold on! Once the programming environment is stable, I plan to put together a comprehensive progression of exercises, tutorials, and examples.
Behind the Scenes
Under the hood, I mostly recreated this from scratch, throwing away most of the original project from a few years ago. This new version of the environment has a lot of advantages: it runs your programs on your own computer, so your program runs a lot faster. It’s less restrictive. And I completely customized the language to make a lot of things simpler and easier to understand.
- The programming language for CodeWorld is called Haskell. Haskell is an awesomely mathematical language, but parts of it are also notoriously complex. The new incarnation of CodeWorld still uses Haskell, but goes a lot further to hide the rough edges. In particular, you’ll rarely see any classes, and there’s an obvious type for most things (e.g., all text has the type Text, and all numbers have the type Number.)
- Previously, CodeWorld was based on a library called Gloss for the Haskell programming language. Gloss is great, and I saved as many ideas from it as I could. But CodeWorld is now its own library. This let me clean up some terminology, align the meaning of programs more closely with the goals of algebraic thinking and math concepts, and work with the simplified version of the language.
I’ll try to keep posting here as I have learning material ready to use with this tool. Stay tuned!