What is The Language of Machines?

The Language of Machines is a new subject being successively introduced into the curricula of schools in Wrocław. Within The Language of Machines the pupils will learn the basics of programming. The members of the Academy of Young Scholars and Artists have created a teaching program and adequate applications to support the teaching of programming.

We don’t need to convince anyone that machines, and in particular computers, play an important role in our lives. The Academy of Young Scholars and Artists created a pilot teaching program which aims at breaking the barriers between sciences and humanist and artistic topics. The program will be preparing children and youth to function in the contemporary world.

 

 

 

 

 

The Idea

Programming holds a special place within contemporary knowledge. It’s hard to find a social, scientific or artistic field nowadays in which some programming techniques don’t play a part. The theoretical-practical character of programming makes it an important and useful supplement to education. On the one hand it exercises basic logical-algorithmic-mathematical skills, on the other, it has practical uses in social life, in economy and business. Moreover, through attempts to find creative solutions it also teaches independent learning.

 

 

 


 

The Language of Machines, Promotional video (short version, in Polish)  


 

Programming skills reinforce a person’s position in the mechanized world and puts people in a superior position over the machines with which we interact every day. Knowing a computer language allows us to consciously participate in fast changes of the surrounding world and at the same time to take them in naturally and without fear.

The intention of the project is not to tie children to computers. The thing is that they should know how computers work. Machines were created to serve people but over time they started ruling us. In the classes we want to learn their language and the machinations according to which the world of machines is arranged.

History of the project

Inspiration came from a notable artist, an Oscar Award winner, Zbigniew Rybczyński who suggested a teaching programming in the context of art, in particular, in the context of image and sound. According to Zbigniew Rybczyński a computer today is a tool the same as a pen or a paintbrush used to be in the past. The idea was approved by the Mayor of Wrocław Mr. Rafał Dutkiewicz. The first discussions in the Academy on the topic were initiated by Jakub Jernajczyk. The initial works were coordinated by the Director of the Office of Cooperation with the Higher Education Institutions of the Wrocław City Council Maciej Litwin. The idea started a gestation process. The fate and shape of the subsequent stages of the project were shaped in many meetings with the representatives of arts, sciences and the active participation of the Academy’s members. Finally four members of the Academy of Young Scholars and Artists took part in further works:

  • Jakub Jernajczyk – graphic artist, mathematician. Scholarly interests: media arts, multimedia programming, relationship of art and science, popularization of science, researching of discrete phenomena,. Initiator and main agent of the project.
  • Jarosław Drapała – computer scientist, statistcian. Scholarly interests: mathematical modeling, complex systems, numerical methods, neural networks, decision support systems (DSS) Second main agent of the project.
  • Bartłomiej Skowron – philosopher, mathematician. Scholarly interests: ontology, theory of the whole and the part, mathematical modeling of philosophical structures, topological philosophy, logic and ethics.
  • Radosław Rudek – computer scientist. Scholarly interests: scheduling, resource allocation, computational complexity theory, algorithm construction, metaheuristic algorithms, artificial intelligence.

The team (mainly Jakub Jernajczyk and Jarosław Drapała) designed the in-house project of a teaching program for the subject of The Language of Machines. The project was well-received by educational and academic circles; over 60 schools in Wrocław declared their intent to take part in the pilot program. Elementary education teachers, history teachers, Polish language teachers, philologists, arts teachers, biology teachers etc. also expressed interest in participating in the first training sessions– notably, not only information technology and mathematics teachers. 134 teachers participated in the first training sessions. Currently the project is coordinated by the Wrocław Center for Teachers’ Improvement with the support of the Education Department of the City of Wrocław.

 

The Language of Machines is not supposed to be “informatics” or the standard teaching of programming. The fact that the teaching program is the effect of cooperation between a programmer, an artist and a philosopher indicated that there’s a new direction in thinking about education. The pupils will not start with learning the dry block diagrams and algorithms because that would only lead to a confirmation of the division between science and the liberal arts, and in the spirit of the Academy that division is artificial and untrue.

 

Jakub Jernajczyk, author of the applications KoLo and KoLeS

The program envisions some teaching stages. The form ensures the gradual shift from playing to programming as a game (application KoLo) to end with true programming (MrówkaGo in the Octave environment).

The pupils start with intuitive programming of the movement of a circle with the use of arrows [‘koło’ in Polish means ‘circle’]. The programs are carried out both without the use of computer (for example magnetic mats), and with the application KoLo. The author of the application KoLo (for pupils) andKoLeS (teachers’ version) is Jakub Jernajczyk. The applications can be found at: http://www.wroclaw.pl/jezyk-maszyn. We encourage you to give it a try!

The original graphic programming language is based on pictograms and the way they look indicates action. A big advantage is the simplicity of the program and how easy it is to impart its main elements.

The easy language of a circle and arrows allows us to introduce the basic construction elements of programming, such as variables, loops, conditional instructions, without the need to refer to abstract formalism. Through the learning process the formal recording is introduced gradually in order to solve more and more complicated problems. In the first stage the accent is placed on the ‘image’ and so-called image thinking – which until now has been more in the domain of arts and not sciences.  Visual thinking is one of the keynotes in the creative work of the Academy’s member Jakub Jernajczyk.

Jarosław Drapała, author of the MrówkaGo (‘mrówka’ in Polish: ant)

The reference point of movement in the first part of the project was a stage. The object was moved up and down, right and left, like a pawn on a chess board. The directions were indicated in relation to the stage. In the second stage the point of reference is an object. All directions are specified by the object, which – like a person looking ahead – may go forward, turn right or left. The second new element is the change of notation. In the place the arrows which were used up until now, we use the signs on the computer’s keyboard which are accessible in basic word processors. That change is one of the stages of the students’ smooth transition from intuitive recordings to abstract notations used in real programming.

 

 

At this stage the students learn more advanced programming techniques. Jarosław Drapała wrote the MrówkaGo program intended for just that (for the Octave environment). Thanks to this program the students have access to real programming tools. The program can be downloaded here:  http://www.wroclaw.pl/jezyk-maszyn . Feel free to take a turn with the ant from the MrówkaGo program.

Summary of the pilot program report of 2013/2014

  • The Language of Machines is an attempt to spread programming skills a on mass scale. The core of the project is to form basic programming intuition, which will enable the students in the future to create machines creatively in various areas of life.
  • The pilot program Server the purpose of verification and perfection of the potential teaching program: The Language of Machines. The students that participated in it belonged to three education groups. It provided the ability to observe the workshops’ process in three age groups: a younger and an older group, both from elementary schools, and a middle-school group.
  • Over 1000 students and over 100 teachers from Wrocław’s schools participated in the  pilot project
  • Methodological support was organized for the teachers running the classes of The Language of Machines in the form of training sessions, consultations and materials. Sets of diagnostic exercises were prepared to collect information about the students’ achievements.
  • The pace of work in the particular age groups was varied. The children in the youngest group were doing well with programming the circle movement on the boards. Children from the second age group were successfully using the KoLo and KoLeS applications. The middle-school students quickly learned the skills of programming the circle and their programming skills in the MrówkaGo application were satisfactory.
  • The classes of The Language of Machines were measured with evaluation surveys for the students, parents, teachers and headmasters from schools which took part in the project.
  • Most of the respondents evaluated The Language of Machines positively: for 72,5% of students the classes were an attraction, 82% of parents and 89,7% teachers stated that they found the project interesting. 16,4% students, 5,7% parents and 6,9% teachers evaluated the project negatively. The remaining percentage chose the response “I have no opinion”.
  • 66,3% students, 77,4% parents, 56,9% teachers and 66,7% of surveyed headmasters said that they were for a continuation of the project. 20,8% students, 5,7% parents, 20,7% teachers and 16,7% headmasters do not want the project to be continued. The remaining percentage chose the response “I have no opinion”.
  • 72,6% parents noticed that The Language of Machines had an impact on stimulating the interests of their children, whereas 8,5% did not notice such an influence. 18, 9% chose the response “I have no opinion.
  • Over 62% teachers rated the influence of The Language of Machines on the development of the students’ skills positively and the program’s usefulness with relation to other subjects
  • To sum up, it has to be said that The Language of Machines was welcomed positively and enthusiastically by the teachers, school headmasters, parents and the students as well. On the basis of these positive survey results it may be stated that after considering some small improvements, The Language of Machines should be continued in its original form.

Opinions of the project

  • “The classes help me get to know the computer, they are interesting and cool, the exercises are similar to games so by playing I’m able to learn something”
    Hania
  • “KoLo is a very cool program and very, very interesting. I love The Language of Machines
    Marcelinka
  • The Language of Machines is a favorite and every week an extracurricular lesson that is looked forward to. It is very pleasant learning through play. The exercises and puzzles are interesting very well explained”
    Parent
  •  “My child goes to the Language of Machines classes with pleasure and thinks the classes are interesting and that they develop logical thinking”
    Parent
  • “The idea of the project is very good; the skills it shapes are definitely very useful. In my group I have a few students who had had some experience with programming and they are doing really well and students who have done programming for the first time. For the first group KoLo was too easy, they solved the tasks very quickly and the implementation on the computer did not make any impression on them. The second group on the other hand worked significantly slower and they liked working on the computer. There are people who pick up the way of thinking very fast and some need much more time. I’ve started working with Octave not long ago. For now, my impressions are better than with KoLo”.    
    Teacher

 

 

 


 

 

 

Project in the media (in Polish)

Puls Biznesu, Wrocław koduje informatyków

Radio RAM, Wrocław koduje i pracuje

TVP Wrocław, Fakty (od minuty 10:36)

TVP Wrocław, Wrocław się! (od minuty 19:46)

www.wrocław.pl, Nowy przedmiot w szkołach – pilotaż

www.wrocław.pl, Warsztaty dla nauczycieli, potem kolej na uczniów

Pryzmat, Programowanie jak nauka czytania

 

 

 

 

 

18.05.2014

The Language of Machines, Promotional video (long version, in Polish)

 

17.02.2014
The Language of Machines, Promotional video (in Polish)


 

17.02.2014
The Language of Machines, Promotional video (in Polish)