ATARI AT A SCIENCE MUSEUM
U.C. Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science WorkshopBy MICHAEL CIRAOLO Antic staff Writer
Every year, thousands of fourth-to-sixth
grade students discover Atari graphics programming at workshops in Lawrence
Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley.
Reservations for these one-hour workshops cost $3.25 per student and must be booked months in advance. Some teachers put their kids on a bus for five hours to take part in the hands-on Atari sessions.
A workshop holds 16 to 30 Students, no more than two people per computer. The hour starts with a quick explanation of input, output, the central processing unit and computer memory, plus [DELETE/BACKSPACE] and other keyboard items. Most youngsters at the classes have used computers before and are familiar with these basic concepts, if not the exact terms.
"You're about to enter a room which contains everything you need to draw a picture. What would you need?" asks instructor Nathan Reichner, a student at U.C. Berkeley, as he faces the fifth and sixth graders from Carson City, Nevada.
"Paper," respond a few students.
"Color." Student response picks up quickly. There is little inhibition in this class.
Blue screens fill the room as Reichner tells the students how to turn on their computers.
"You want a piece of paper. To get one, type in GR. 3." The teacher writes BASIC commands on the chalkboard as he talks.
As students enter the command for Graphics Mode 3, Reichner continues. "What color is our paper?" Students describe their screens, and the instructor makes sure everyone has gotten the correct result.
"To get a crayon-you have a choice of four colors-type in COLOR2. Now-why do you suppose there's no dot in front of us? That's right-you haven't drawn anything yet. Draw a point with the PLOT command. PLOT 5,6 will draw a COLOR 2 dot on our GR.3 paper."
Reichner gives the class 10 minutes to discover the screen's size and the other three colors by playing directly with the Ataris.
When everyone has discovered the size of the screen, Reichner introduces the DRAWTO command. He hands out graph paper with boxes corresponding to the boxes in Graphics 3 to help students plan the pictures they will work on for the last 25 minutes of class.
During this time, Reichner answers questions about the Atari-what happens if you type in GR.2 or GR.7? How do you clear the screen?
"Some people freak out when they see their first syntax error. We tell them that computers are very forgiving, that they don't mind your mistakes, and in fact, by the time the error message is on the screen, the computer has already forgotten the error," said Debbie Calhoon, curriculum developer and instructor.
In another class, the students are slightly older and more experienced. School computer instruction started for these children in kindergarten and half have personal computers in their homes.
This class of sixth and seventh graders moves faster than most. The instructor, Jeff Maktiwi, is straightforward.
"What's the first thing you have to do to use these machines? Right-turn them on. Now you're in text mode. We want to be in graphics mode. Type in GR.3, for a low resolution graphics mode-it's the easiest mode to start with.
"Pick the color you're going to draw with. You have four pens. Use colors 1-3."
The class is familiar with graphing on a Cartesian coordinate system, so Makaiwi tells them to PLOT 5,5. "What do you suppose will happen if I type 5, 10? "
"It'll draw a new dot," one student suggests. Sure enough. Makaiwi tells the class to find the largest x and y and the other three colors. "But first, tell me how you're going to do it."
Several students respond, "Trial and error."
Makaiwi tells the students about the two error messages most likely to appear in the search for the largest x and y, and tells students how to clear the screen.
This discovery period takes less than half the time it took the first class to learn the same things. As the class discovers the limits of what they've just learned, Makaiwi introduces the DRAWTO and SETCOLOR commands. After this, he gives everyone a choice: try drawing a picture with what you've learned, or experiment with higher resolution modes.
Three of the 16 class members choose to experiment with Graphics Mode 7. Several of the seventh graders choose to program their own graphics. The rest choose to draw pictures, experimenting in Graphics 3.
Makaiwi said, "After PLOT, they go where they want. I answer questions."
For the remainder of the class - about 30 minutes--Makaiwi wanders around the class offering individual suggestions as he's bombarded with questions. "How do I do this?" and "How can I make the computer do ... ? " are frequent refrains.