I think were fairly all agreed that Scratch is the No1 introduction to sequencing (underpinning programming) but it would be great to have something that is a little more than Scratch but less than ‘full on’ than a commercial programming environment.
The blocks of code that drag and drop visually are great but overall the graphics are fairly poor and producing anything that has the ‘feel’ of quality is difficult. No real opportunity to discuss a graphical user interface (GUI) for example.
I was recently told about Stencyl (thank you Ian Gover). Stencyl is unashamedly focused on games but is very powerful and can quickly create ‘Angry Birds’ or ‘Super Mario’ clones with some ease. It incorporates effects like ‘gravity’ to help through rapid development and provided ‘kits’ of resources to get students under way without spending too long in making their own (designing ‘actors’, creating sound effects etc). It’s possible to make a pac man game in a single lesson with novice users (if they all pay attention).
The down side – making a game of this complexity takes effort. In sequencing terms there is a lot going on at once and it’s hard to see where it all happens, there is no single button that shows everything so fault finding could be difficult. Of course the same is true for Scratch and Stencyl is certainly far more capable. I’m not sure Stencyl ‘draws you in’ in the way that Scratch does, in this respect it is like Gamemaker but Gamemaker is more of a natural step towards a full programming environment.
I’ve also been looking at etoys and find little to recommend it above the competition. It has a very ‘primary’ feel and I was wondering if it could be a precursor to Scratch but the programming side is more complex so the answer has to be no.
If you’ve ‘done’ Scratch and want something more then Stencyl could be an answer but it feels like more of an after school club then a curriculum lesson to me.
Prior to Stencyl I think that I’d be working students together in teams to develop multimedia resources for Scratch, working in teams and problem solving together – they would need these ‘soft’ skills for Stencyl in any event and it may be that teamworking would be the perfect next step for students who are heavily focussed on working 1 on 1 with a computer.