Students Should Free Themselves From Pen and Paper, and Start Learning By Doing

Posted 17/11/2021 by Sónia Reis

With 25 years of teaching experience, Alexandre Gomes is practical about the role of technology in education. The physics and chemistry teacher, and T³ Europe instructor, believes that technology education in schools must evolve from theory to practice. "You need students to free themselves from pen and paper and to actually start learning by doing. And learning by doing, using Texas Instruments technology, makes perfect sense.”

For Alexandre Gomes, the main issue to overcome to implement technology in schools, specifically the Python programming language, is clear. "The biggest challenge to introducing Python in schools is on the side of the teachers,” Gomes said. “A lot of them are not very comfortable with the idea and think Python is a very sophisticated language. They need a lot of training to cross the initial barrier. But once they do, most teachers who have done training end up concluding it is much simpler than they imagined."

Although the Python programming language in Texas Instruments technology is new, it has not proved to be an obstacle for the younger generation. "Students don't have any difficulty. On the contrary, they seem to find it easy and are keen to work with these tools,” the science teacher said.

Workshop by Alexandre Gomes during the Sharing Inspiration Conference 2019
Workshop by Alexandre Gomes during the Sharing Inspiration Conference 2019.


The importance of programming in school

"With programming, and in particular programming in Python, students work on developing many skills that they sometimes have difficulty with, such as computational thinking, mathematical thinking, prediction and the relationship between cause and effect," said Gomes. Since these are all key competences for future professionals, he concludes that programming "is a different way of developing skills in students. And if it can be part of the curriculum, that’s even better.”

Gomes, who teaches at the Oliveira Júnior Secondary School in São João da Madeira, said that while the integration of Python in calculators by Texas Instruments is new in the classroom, it is accessible, especially for beginners. "Programming with the calculator has been made easy with the menus and the pre-written syntax. So, it is very easy to start and develop projects from the simplest to the most complex, since the process is intuitive and straightforward.”

Practical application of technology in several projects

The teacher who guided the electric wheelchair project, and recently won a trip to NASA for the University of Lisbon, is proud of two other projects that allowed his students to apply the technology.

Prize-winning team of Alexandre Gomes’ students
Prize-winning team of Alexandre Gomes’ students.


"One of them is about a remote communication system where one of the participants is supposedly blind and deaf. The aim was to find a solution for how the receiver can communicate with the caregiver or a family member. My students worked with two BBC micro:bits that communicated via radio and created a coded system of messages. The person who is blind and deaf has contact with a little motor that vibrates and whose cadence is a kind of Morse code, but tactile," Gomes explained. "Then, they can use the two little buttons on the BBC micro:bit to answer simple or complex questions that are also encoded. The students were not only working with technology, but the concept of social empathy. If we would focus on more extensive communication (we started with the basic yes or no), it could turn into a mega project, which would be even better," he concluded.

"The other project was also based on the BBC micro:bit and had people with disabilities or motor difficulties in mind. This project aimed to facilitate the interaction of people with their pets. We used two BBC micro:bits, one of them attached to the collar of the pet dog or cat. When the animal approached a pet flap there was an exchange of coded messages between the animal’s micro:bit and that of the house. If the coding matched, the pet flap would open," Gomes said.

What the students develop in the classroom must be simple, he said. "The programming is perfectly basic, and the students, even when they are new to programming, understood exactly what they had to do to make it happen."

There is, Gomes said, a common element to both projects: empathy. "Again, it's a simple thing, involving concern for the other. We are not using technology just to turn on a light or play sounds,” he said. “Since we have a support unit in our school for students with disabilities, all our students are in contact with boys and girls with all sorts of limitations. There are kids in wheelchairs and kids who can only move their heads. So, all our students live with this reality, and maybe that's where the inspiration came from.”

Controlling a “wheelchair” (Rover) with head movements
Controlling a “wheelchair” (Rover) with head movements.


Like the winning wheelchair project, these two projects will also be submitted for competitions. "They will participate in the international BBC micro:bit programming competition. These two special projects including Python programming were successful with 10th grade students who had never programmed before, but they managed to do it, albeit with my help,” he said. 

Texas Instruments provides access to technology and STEM education

Texas Instruments has introduced technology into the school environment, adding directly to the democratization of access to technology. Gomes has no doubts: "With this technology you bring the work of research centres and sophisticated academic structures to the classroom level." He also highlighted the accessibility of Python on calculators: "I can carry out a very sophisticated project with Python integrated in TI-Nspire™ CX technology, but I can also get students without any experience to do very basic things, starting from scratch. That's the big advantage of Python on TI-Nspire™ CX technology compared with Python on any other platform."

Gomes believes introducing Python and STEM projects in school should be supported on two levels, for both students and teachers. "Fortunately, Texas Instruments is committed to professional development and has done a lot for teachers in Portugal," he said.


Alexandre Gomes gave presentations during two recent Sharing Inspiration conferences: