Love2Learn

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Love2Learn

Make it more humane

“Don’t make the world more high-tech, make it more humane.”

This quote is from a Fast Company article, 10 Crucial Lessons From History’s Graphic Designers, attributed to John Maeda. I’ve never head of Maeda before but the quote really struck a chord with me as this is exactly what I’ve been pursuing in my IST projects this year.

For example, year 10s tried to answer ‘How can multimedia help engage learners?‘ They are also currently working on “How can robots help solve the plastics problem?” Year 9s tried to answer “How can digital movies help address teens’ problems?” and this year’s crop of videos are particularly good. Year 9s are also currently working on Game On 2014, which will be bigger and better than Game On 2013.  I actually launched the year 9 project with the quote above and Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on building resilience (strengths) through video games. One of her most salient points is this:

Good games should …bring out [the best] in players…courage, creativity and empathy…really tap into strengths.

That is my current challenge to year 9s. I’m excited because I believe this class gets this ‘humane’ thing. They are girls who understand the beauty of a flower as Richard Feynman puts it, in the context of computing; they will never look at software in the same way again. This is more of the ‘make it more humane’ stuff. Learning Science helps us understand the world we live in; ipso facto, learning Computer Science helps us understand the digital world we live in…and in understanding, we have a better hope of engineering a better world, digital or otherwise.

What I’m seeing is increased engagement, particularly with year 9s and I feel I struck a goldmine in engaging girls in computing. The catalyst for blogging about this is the story of the women behind Vidcode (Alexandra Diracles and Melissa Halfon ) – where they talk about what it could be like if there were more women in computing along with their journey as a startup company. They echoed some of the issues mentioned in Fortune’s Why Women Leave Tech article. I am hoping these Vidcode women never leave tech, and instead continue to build more humane tech….better futures.

A more humane future, a better future, or preferred future (in ACARA’s Technologies curriculum parlance) is possible and worth pursuing. This is why I am passionate about increased diversity in computing and at the moment, I’m working on addressing the pipeline though issues remain in the industry (re: why women leave tech – read it). And while I still maintain the question ‘why is it so hard to get girls to study computing?’ (a post written just over a year ago), I feel somehow that I’m moving towards the right direction. Some of the strategies I shared in that post are working for me and it feels good to look back to it a year later and be able to see positive changes.

There is hope.

Footnote:

According to GoodReads, the actual Maeda quote is:

“The problem isn’t how to make the world more technological. It’s about how to make the world more humane again.”

This isn’t just about teaching, learning or using technology. It’s not just about integrating technology. It’s about creating technology to make a more humane world…and you don’t have to work in IT to do this….more likely, it would be work with IT for the vast majority…so, a bit of computer science for everyone, yes? (go on, read the Richard Feynman link above).

Shall we?

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I love teaching girls to code

Tomorrow, my classes and club will begin participating in the NCSS python programming  Challenge 2014. It’s our second year and I’m quite excited as it’s a really fun challenge.

Like last year, I introduced the software programming and design topic using dance; except this time, I actually linked it to computational thinking straight away – decomposition, pattern recognition, pattern generalisation and abstraction, and algorithm design.  Timing was on my side as the year 9s have been learning new dance steps in preparation for the Year 9 dance. Plenty of inspiration in terms of computational thinking processes, value of coding, control structures and even functions…with parameters!

There is so much hype on teaching kids to code – nearly 12 million views of code.org’s What most schools don’t teach and the rise and rise of many learn to code sites. There’s also the impending implementation of the Digital Technologies curriculum, etc. etc. etc. But for me, it’s far more than the hype – I actually love teaching students to code.

Learning to code is more than just about writing code; it’s the least of it, in my opinion. It’s all the other stuff about computational thinking and systems thinking and critical thinking and creative thinking. That’s a whole lot of thinking – and doing – right there!

With computation thinking, I think it’s important to point out that we all do most of this already.. in real life! Think of all the procedural and component-based stuff like recipes and routines we have, for example. What is less common is algorithm design, especially in school where we teach ‘tried-and-tested’ algorithms. This is true not just in mathematics where we teach (and test) mastery of algorithms but also in humanities subjects like English as we teach the “right way” to write essays, for instance. In schools, it’s rare for students to design their own algorithms, their own way of doing things.  Learning to code provides opportunities for algorithm design, encourages it even. And I love it.

Systems thinking is taught in many subjects. We are surrounded by systems. We’re made of systems. But, it’s rare for students to make their own systems. Learning to code provides opportunities for designing systems.

Teaching kids to code can be daunting and having set “courses” do help. Learn.code.org is a good entry point for beginners (students and teachers alike). I also recommend  NCSS python programming  Challenge . Both are challenge-based and fun.

I also think it’s a good idea to expose students to the experience of learning another language, mapping similarities and differences – the meta stuff. This includes reflecting on problem-solving methods and attitude when faced with difficulty.

I enjoy doing the challenges with the students. Sharing the joy of wrestling with knotty problems and working out solutions. I love that I have a window to how they think. I love it when they come up with creative ways of thinking and solving problems. I love that they don’t ask “when I’m I ever going to use this?” because it’s fun just getting through it.  I love it when they teach each other and work together and share frustrations and wins together. This, for me, is the fun stuff…and I’m lucky I get a chance to be part of it because I teach coding.

The best part is that I get to play along.

print (“NCSS 2014, here we come!”);

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Excursion to Atlassian

Atlassian-excursion

 

What’s it really like to work in IT? This is one of the questions we hope to answer in the Stage 5 elective course, Information and Software Technology (IST). One of the best ways to find out is to actually do site visits. Last year, we went to Google and Microsoft. This year, it’s Atlassian, one of the most successful Australian software start-ups which is now an international company.

Atlassian head office is in the heritage-listed Westpac building near Wynyard. The stark juxtaposition of the old and new is evident as soon as the lift doors opened. Enjoying free jellybeans washed down with free drinks, year 9 and 10 IST students listened to two Atlassians talk about what it’s like to work in IT, primarily as software engineers or coders as they prefer to call themselves, but also other roles such as UI designers and project managers. These women were inspirational as they spoke passionately about bursting stereotypes from a young age through to high school, university and then now, at work. They highlighted how software programming was a portable skill that could be applied in many industries as well as countries, paving the way for international travel and work opportunities.

After a quick Q&A, the coders left and were replaced by designers who ran a zoo-design activity that simulated the Agile Design approach they use at work. The girls were split into 2 Designer groups and 1 Customers group. Working with playdough, construction paper, markers, pipe cleaners and strings, the Designers set about creating their zoos, in 5 minutes. The Customers drew up a huge list of requirements which the designers attempted to meet. Customers also get to vote for the best design. After 2 iterations with more complex requirements and designs, the girls had a real sense of what Agile Design was as well as what the roles they also study about in IST entailed: Designers, Architects, (software) Construction workers and customers.

Finally, we were treated to a tour of two of several Atlassian floors. Teams corresponding to product suites sat together in one huge open space. The walls were used as meeting and writing spaces and anyone could add feedback long after the meeting had finished – a great idea that is sure to make its way into my classroom. There were also plenty of smaller meeting rooms with geeky names like TARDIS, Serenity and Death Star. There were plenty of breakout spaces including a pool room and dining room with the biggest bean bag and an area for playing board and video games. The video conferencing units were a literal nod to Portal much to the delight of one student who was a Portal fan.

The site tour showed a balance of work and play as well as a love of technology.  The values of being an open company and teamwork came across really strongly.  The tour concluded at the kitchen area where IST students helped themselves to a vast array of free food and drinks, including ice cream.

A few asked about work placements. Several felt the excursion was too short. Most saw the connections to concepts and skills learned in the elective, including UI design and programming in Python and JavaScript. All came away with a better idea of what it’s really like to work in IT.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know that I used to work in IT. I’ve only worked in banking, finance and manufacturing industries, however; nowhere near the cool factor of Atlassian. That said, I did enjoy some of the perks mentioned, i.e. good pay, exciting problem-solving work, variety of roles, international travel, flexibility in work arrangements and portability of skills – stuff I could still draw upon now as an IT teacher.

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Multimedia PBL and wrestling with the marriage problem

After a term break from PBL, I’ve gone back to it with both my 9 and 10 IST classes. I’ve been meaning to share the ‘idea’ but just haven’t got there (Is it really week 4 now?). Anyway, I’m glad I’m doing PBL again now as well as incorporating some of the things I’m learning as I do my Masters in Special Ed.

So then, in this post I’ll share my 10IST PBL plus a (rough) lesson plan that targets content (IST: problem definition, GUI design) as well as an example of teaching approach that promotes active response (one of the effective teaching principles I’ve learned about recently).

PBL

PBL_HowCanMMengageLearners

We’re about a third of the way in and most of the theory have been covered (via direct instruction) by  now. However, I’ve noticed that while students ‘get’ the idea of what engagement looks like or what ‘good’ GUI looks like, I wasn’t convinced that they’ve wrestled with it enough to apply in their own projects.

(rough) Lesson Plan

So I designed this lesson to show how a topic could be presented online in three different ways. The topic is a probability problem popularly known as the marriage or secretary problem.

I divided the class into discussion pairs.

First, I showed the wikipedia version which provided a  brief description of the problem. Discussion was first done in pairs and then as a class. This is the first time the class have heard of the problem so there was a lot of “I don’t get it” and a few, “yeah, I’ve encountered that problem heaps of times”.

Then, I showed this academic article version which provided, as expected, a more academic description of the problem and solutions. There were ‘whoas’ as we scrolled through the voluminous and dense text blocks and equations. Again, discussion pairs followed by class discussions. We got to unpack some of the GUI principles to do with form, function, navigation, layout, etc. just by comparing this with the wikipedia version. They were applying the content previously learned, both in terms of concept and language. Their analysis of GUI design is becoming more sophisticated and this is awesome.

Finally, I showed this NPR article with a sensationalist and attention-grabbing title of How to marry the right girl: a mathematical solution (thank you @fawnpnguyen for the inspiration!). We went straight into class discussions on this one and highlighted which GUI principles made this one more engaging, including the use of graphics and share/comment buttons – a feature they may well include in their projects.

There was also a bit more discussions when one of the students piped in that she thought the wikipedia version was more engaging with its neutral tone and predictable structure. This emphasised one of the key things in the design process, i.e. problem definition and how wikipedia addresses a different problem (and audience) than the other two. Engaging‘ then, is relative (gotta love those lightbulb moments). Therefore, as they set off creating their own solutions (project product), they need to be mindful of the problem they are actually trying to solve.

Then, I asked them to create their own version of the topic in what they think is engaging. Students challenged themselves to learn more HTML and CSS tags and JS scripting, based on what they want to learn and incorporate in their own projects.

Sometimes lessons work according to plan, if not better. This was one of those. It can be better but I sure was pretty happy with it.

Discussions in pairs and whole-class with plenty of opportunities to raise and answer questions as well as working in pairs with plenty of opportunities to synthesise are strategies for active response to help with learning engagement. Students are constantly wrestling with the content from different angles. 

An exciting footnote:

The student who preferred the wikipedia version went on to do more research on the marriage problem because she really wanted to understand it (she was in the minority, I assure you, but enough to make this ex-maths teacher a little bit happy). And in doing so, has illustrated yet again the beauty of tangential learning and the power of inquiry driven by curiosity.

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Feeling like a student

Overwhelmed Flood sign, Upton-upon-Severn
photo by: Bob Embleton [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s often said that good teachers are learners. I believe this to be true. A more recent realisation is the difference between being a student vs. learner.

I’m a student again – started with my Masters in Special Ed. I am learning heaps, for sure but as a student, I’ve re-discovered the appeal of procrastination, the panic of sitting an exam, the need for discipline and rest. My blog tagline is – love to learn – and there is that…especially when I choose what to learn. As a student, I have to learn what has been set out for me to learn and while there are interesting bits, there sure are boring and tedious bits.

Being a student can be overwhelming, a feeling I don’t associate with being a learner.

Faced with so many things to do, it’s like you don’t know what to do anymore. Or worse, “you can’t do anything”, as one of my daughters articulated. As a parent, I’ve seen my daughters overwhelmed by schoolwork; granted, they have healthy extra-curricular commitments (by healthy, I mean they have enough but not too much, not out every day). It’s painful to watch particularly since I don’t recall ever feeling that way as a young student.

 

and so I wonder…

Are we expecting more from our students today? Do we expect them to learn something new every lesson, in all their lessons every day? Do they have opportunities to enjoy what they have learned before they have to learn something new again?

As a teacher, or parent, would you like to be a student again?  now?

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