Dusa Vukovic believes that computer programming should be accessible and fun, and her efforts to expose even the most basic beginners to the possibilities of programming have paid off. Vukovic’s project “Exploring Science through Blogging” was recognized at the 2008 European Innovative Teachers Forum (held in Croatia). Her work on applying technology to teamwork received a Creative Schools award. But more important, she’s helped to spark an interest in programming with students who may have thought the challenge was too tough to tackle. We asked Vukovic to share some of her best practices, and to consider what must change in order for computer programming to become a more mainstream skill.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
Since my specialty is programming, I made the biggest impact in that area. Together with my colleagues, Stanka Matkovic and Mijodrag Djurisic, I created a new way to introduce programming to children different than the most common ‘Hello world’ approach. In 2006, we published book and teacher’s guide which are now widely used in our country: Introduction to Programming GUI Applications Using C# Programming Language.
We created many programming solutions that are similar to applications children use, like word processing software, drawing software and games. We simplified problems so they could be understandable to programming beginners, but kept all important functionality so that the children can learn how a computer works. The teacher’s guide contains instructions on how to teach students programming using the Windows environment. Over the years, my colleagues and I held a professional development course for teachers called “New trends in teaching programming,” which is now part of the Serbian Ministry of Education’s program for improving the education system. With that course we reached hundreds of teachers all over Serbia.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Programming used to be very difficult for students to learn, especially in an environment without a graphical user interface. This new approach in teaching programming made it more interesting and approachable for students. More fun in the learning process brings great results and smiles to students’ faces.
How can other educators facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through this project?
Very easily! Whoever teaches programming can just switch to a free and easy-to-use programming environment – Microsoft Visual C# 2010 Express. Starting with the examples I created and with a little imagination, a lot can be done. I’ve included some pictures of applications that can be created with students who are programming beginners.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Older people not understanding the new technologies, and not realizing that children grow up surrounded by technologies that are not “extras,” but essential to children’s lives. The world looks different through the eyes of our children. We should respect that and involve more technology in school. Rigid curriculums we are used to are not adequate for IT because it changes constantly. Take a look at my story “TV is as necessary as a bed!”
What is your country/region doing right to support education?
The Serbian Ministry of Education has a program for improving the education system which consists of courses for teachers from elementary and high schools, because it is very important for teachers to be lifelong learners. There are also groups of enthusiastic people in my country who put extra effort to bringing information and support to teachers. There is an excellent Microsoft Partners in Learning program in Serbia which provides a magazine for teachers and supports some educational on-line courses. Of course, there are some schools, especially Mathematical High School and High School for Computing in Belgrade, which always set new standards and bring innovations to curriculums and the teaching process.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
Our country should provide higher salaries for teachers. Teachers earn very little money
and are forced to find additional jobs in order to survive. Doing more than one job makes people very tired and constantly worrying about money, which causes lots of stress and of course affects the quality of teaching.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Change the concept of school. Teachers should work with fewer students at a time so that
more attention can be given to each student. The teaching-learning process should be more personalized and students should be more active and able to work at their own pace.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Listen to children’s needs and interests. They will learn more if you listen to them more
and if you at least try to understand them. Be open-minded to their ideas and don’t ever use force as a method of teaching.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be?
No educational tool could ever replace a good teacher. From the bottom of my heart, I wish all children in the world would have at least one excellent teacher who will be their role model and someone to place a seed of love for knowledge and learning into their hearts and lives.
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About Dusa Vukovic
Dusa Vukovic teaches computer programming in two prestigious secondary schools for
talented students. She has published several books on programming in C#., and has collaborated extensively with colleagues from Cyprus, Austria, India, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany and Serbia. For many years, Vukovic has been active in karate competitions as a contestant, trainer and judge.
Birthplace: Belgrade, Serbia
Current residence: Belgrade, Serbia
Education: Computer science studies at Mathematical Faculty, University of Belgrade
Websites I check every day: gmail and hotmail for my mail, my schools’ web sites – www.mg.edu.rs and www.rg.edu.rs, as well as sites for Serbian teachers http://klikdoznanja.edu.rs/, http://e-pismen.rs/ and www.pil-vb.net.
Person who inspires me most: My teacher and now colleague Mijodrag Djurisic, who taught me not only programming but what a teacher’s job is about and that is not only passing knowledge, but helping students become adults and showing them how to deal with obstacles in their lives.
Favorite childhood memory: Me drawing scenes from beautiful garden of my family country house in Pirot, a town in eastern Serbia.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): During the past two weeks I visited Rome in Italy, Barcelona in Spain, Agros and Limassol in Cyprus, and Athens in Greece. Next I plan to stay at home for a while.
Favorite book: Der Himmel Kennt Keine Gunstlinge by Erich Maria Remarque
Favorite music: Metallica, Megadeth