Getting Your Feet Green in Java

Tonight’s entry into the Teacher Tech. Tools series is also a personal cause of mine.  Greenfoot is an entry-level Java IDE (integrated greenfootdevelopment environment) that is tailor-made for education.  This software package allows a complete beginner to begin creating interesting and engaging games and simulations almost from the moment lessons are begun.  Given the rapid growth of the IT and Software Development industries, anything you can do to stimulate interest in computer programming is going to be beneficial to your students.  Greenfoot teaches legitimate Java syntax and “real world” object oriented programming theory while hiding the more complex operations “under the hood” so to speak.

I teach basic programming to high school sophomores at for a rural school district in North Texas and I can vouch for the interest and engagement value this software and it’s curriculum provide. We began class with Michael Kölling’s book “Introduction to Java Programming with Greenfoot” and by the end of the first lesson, the class was hooked.  We have since moved on to Eclipse and more advanced topics but my class constantly requests that we go back and visit one of the Greenfoot projects.  As I am presenting a coding boot-camp at the TCEA state conference in Austin, TX (also over Greenfoot) during the first week of February, my programming class will be running a Greeps competition in my absence.  Those who are initiated into the Greenfoot world will understand and rest assured, my kids are ecstatic at the prospect.

“But I don’t know anything about Java, or coding, or computers, or greeps for that matter.  I DON’T teach computers, How can I possibly make use of this tool?”  Believe me, teaching with this program is every bit as easy as learning with it.  There is a wonderful community of users, most of whom are also educators, who are happy to help get a newbie up and running.  Lessons and projects abound on the forum and Michael Kölling has an excellent text book available to provide inspiration and support.  His blog site, The Joy of Code, is a step-by-step tutorial on how to teach java, object oriented programming, and introductory computer science to anyone at almost any age.  This curriculum would be useful as it is in a middle school or high school, and, with minor modification, could be easily ported to an even younger group.

I have tried other “educational” software development products (Scratch, Alice, Lego NXT) and all have merit.  They do NOT, however, as a rule teach legitimate code technique and syntax.  Most are a “drag and drop” interface that has very little connection with the real world.  Greenfoot teaches Java.  It explains the concepts of class, objects, inheritance, constructors, methods, and other ideas that the neophyte programmer will still be using long after college and landing a job in the field.

Each year a programming event called The Hour of Code occurs in schools and other educational venues around the world. The idea is to get young people interested in technology and particularly, software development.  First, visit the link above and find out why you need to be teaching an hour of code, and then check out the Greenfoot link to see if it is not the perfect tool for teaching programming.  When the lesson is over, you might hear something from your class that you are not used to…applause.

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