Tuesday May 22, 2012

Games, Robots, and Java, Oh my!

The 2012 Maker Faire had several interesting presentations at center stage, including "Gamification, Robotics, Simulators: How to Get Started Using Java." This panel, with an emphasis on students and newbies, focused on why Java technology dominates cutting-edge software development, and provided a ways to get started learning programming and Java. Justin Kestelyn hosted a panel of Oracle employees Caron Newman, Daniel Green, Kevin Roebuck, and Ultan O'Broin, who were all excited to be at the Maker Faire.

The first question was Why Java is such a great tool for education? Kevin said that it's because Java has been around for a long time (23 years!) and is ubiquitous.  Daniel agreed. "I can't control my students are running at home, whether it's Windows, Mac, Linux or something I haven't heard of. If they have a computer they've already got Java or it's easy for them to get it." For Alice and Greenfoot, in addition to the software, there are active online communities to provide support.

And now for introductions...

Using Java, Alice, and other tools to teach programming concepts, Oracle Systems Engineer Daniel Green volunteers in activities that encourage use of math, science, and programming to engage students. He is Director of the Kansas City Community College Computer Club and uses Scratch, Greenfoot, Alice and NetBeans to teach students (and adults) how to program. "I call Scratch, Greenfoot, Alice and NetBeans my Grand Unification Theory of Freely Available Tools," he explained. Rather than playing games, he wants students to create their own games.

Kevin Roebuck is with Oracle's Global Education team and works on academic computing. Kevin's glad to see a maker revolution in education. "I can't image anything less exciting for kids than to have kids all the same age in the same place at the same time being moved through content like an industrial production line and that has to change" he said.

Caron Newman manages curriculum development for Oracle Academy. "If we think about it, we all do programming," Caron asserted. "In our daily lives, we take problems, analyze them and break them down into tasks." Oracle Academy prepares students for 21st century careers and provides teachers with world-class training. They provide curriculum and support 1.5 million teachers in 95 countries.

Ultan O'Broin is Director of User Experience, and deals with usability for applications. "The main problem with gamification is the name!" Ultan exclaimed. Gamification is the idea of getting game dynamics (exploration, discovery, competition, etc.) into everyday and enterprise applications. For both kids and adults, if you are having fun, you will keep at a task and learn something along the way. Daniel mentioned the game Minecraft, which is written in Java. Minecraft players are getting in and hacking the game, and along the way they are learning programming. It's not all fun and games. Just most of it, with Java.

View a video of the full panel discussion Gamification, Robotics, Simulators: How to Get Started Using Java. All the Bay Area Maker Faire center stage presentations are available for viewing.

View pictures of the Java Zone at the Maker Faire.

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