Teaching Thinking

There are currently a couple of initiatives at my school that target thinking as a skill; I’ve been fortunate enough to be somewhat involved in both..

One of these is using the Philosophy framework, i.e. Socrates’ “Logos, Pathos, Ethos” to unpack how we think when faced with situations where we need to make decisions or we need to be persuasive. In a nutshell, what is at the forefront is logical reasoning for Logos, emotions for pathos and ethics, character and wisdom drawn from experiences for ethos. This is a simple framework that is very accessible for year 9s to whom this initiative is targeted.

Another one uses the neuroscience framework, i.e. “Pre-frontal Cortex (PFC), amygdala and hippocampus” – parts of the brain. In a nutshell, amygdala is responsible for our ‘flight or fight’ response or when we allow our impulses and emotions to rule our behaviour and thoughts. The hippocampus is in charge of storing our memories, like a scrapbook of our lives. The PFC – which is not fully developed in adolescent brains – takes care of thinking and decision-making and so, moderating our behaviour. This framework is very accessible for year 8s to whom this is targeted.

In Software Design and Development – and really many (all?) subjects, students need to think logically particularly when critically analysing, evaluating and making recommendations. In SDD, we look at software from the perspective of users and developers and yet I’m finding that my students are not leveraging their extensive experience using software to inform their thinking. Seems like such a waste of resource, right?

So, I told them about the 2 frameworks above. The idea is that the frameworks provide them with another way to view contexts. For example, when they struggled to name features of a banking system, a prompt using their own experience in banking opened a flood of features in far greater detail…and stories (gotta love those). A student who often struggles with staying on-task and is regularly disruptive was also quick to change when prompted with “you’re letting your amygdala rule; try a bit more PFC”.

In our last lesson discussing software installation methods, a richer discussion was had as students were challenged to think of examples drawing from their experience and how they may have felt (connecting to another syllabus content: impact of software to users). And so then, the logic of choosing one method over another makes more sense, from a social-ethical perspective. It may well merit adding to my list of ways to teach empathy.

I’m under no illusions of the impact or permanence of these changes.  What I’ve done is planted seeds that I hope to nourish in the next few terms as I help my students face the HSC and the wider world beyond. I’m teaching them to draw deep into resources within themselves as a way to connect beyond themselves (is any other way possible?). Teaching thinking skills is all part of building student agency.

This may be an unconventional approach to teaching the syllabus but for me, it makes sense. It aligns with my own industry experience and consequently, vision of introducing more of humanities into learning about and creating digital technology.

Print Friendly

Get these 5 right for better oral presentations

The year 11 Software Design & Dev PBL Delta X was to culminate with a pitch presentation to a panel of judges. As part of the project, I gave the students an opportunity to present just to assess their presentation skills. While I had a few who came across as confident and prepared, the majority were not.  I was very lucky to get Melissa Pye, an advertising/startup pitch specialist, come and do a workshop with my students before the pitch.

Melissa went through the steps of creating a pitch deck – the “pitch in a nutshell” which really emphasised elements of the PBL giving it more authenticity. I loved that she mentioned the importance of understanding the problem including audience and purpose as well as how designed solutions can help make it easy, faster and/or cheaper.

Melissa also went through 5 elements to consider when actually delivering the presentation. I believe that these are really useful for all types of presentation, including delivering instruction …meaning, it’s also useful for teachers like me. Here are the 5 elements and a bit more blurb about what Melissa said and did.

5_PresentationElements

Mindset

Think positive. Think confident. Think authentic. Think passionate.

Melissa reminded us about being prepared including anticipating questions. Having done the prep work, the next bit is to trust in this prep that the presentation will go well.

Body Language

Be big and open – stand with legs apart, back straight, arms on the side not crossed. Use open palm instead of pointing finger. Look at the audience (look at noses or foreheads if you struggle with eye contact).

Melissa got each student to stand up and say something. In this way, she was able to provide individual constructive feedback, much needed by many of my students. To one student self-conscious about being over 6-foot tall, she said “You’re lucky you’re tall. Be tall.” It’s pretty amazing how much ‘presence’ can be evoked with appropriate body language.

Voice

Vary pitch (lower pitch is preferred), volume and speed. Variety adds interest.

Again, after modelling, Melissa gave each student individual feedback. She was able to draw out impressive volume from 2 of my quietest students. This was amazing to watch and the transformation is palpable.

Words

Use succinct, positive and confident words. Technical jargon is not necessarily a no-no as it can indicate specialist knowledge.

Melissa emphasised the need to choose appropriate words and phrases. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice saying the words you will say.

Pause

Use pause before or after a key point to emphasise it.

Melissa modelled this to great effect.

 

I’m happy to report that my students employed what they learned in this workshop. Their pitch presentations were so much better than the trial presentations. It was so good, I was gushing (haha).

Anyway, developing oral presentation skills is important and the above are good pointers to help teachers help/teach students. I highly recommend practice sessions and giving students specific feedback just like Melissa did. Another useful post is by Erik Palmer in BIE (Buck Institute for Education), “Speaking Matters! Improving Project Presentations“.

Print Friendly

Delta X

I’ve been mulling about what to do with my year 11 software (SDD) students for their 2nd project/assessment task. Apart from the syllabus outcomes, I wanted one of the outcomes to be an appreciation of how technology can be transformative and that they themselves can create such technology.

Enter CS + X, except I inverted it to X + CS. While this may be irrelevant from a maths perspective (commutative property of addition), it captures better my pitch of “what is a problem (X) that can be ameliorated with the addition of computer science (CS) ?” In other words:

X + CS = Δ X

Another outcome I wanted is to highlight the importance of understanding the problem as a premise for designing solutions….way before coding/programming comes into the picture. This gave birth to the focus question for the next project, i.e.

Is your software design worth developing?

When planning out the details of this project-based learning unit, I found the book “Setting the Standard for PBL” invaluable.  In particular, Figure 5.3 (pp  118-119) Project Design: Student Learning Guide (Sample) was incredibly helpful. In a nutshell, here were my steps:

  1. List the outcomes for assessment (based on planned Assessment Grid)
  2. Outline the syllabus content (based on planned Scope & Sequence)
  3. Define the Final Products and marking/weighting
  4. Identify instructional strategies

Here’s what I’ve got (PDF)

Here’s a student-friendly version

2016 11SDD Project2

I also created a Project Calendar which will be the basis of my students’ Gannt charts for their own projects.

From here, creating the Assessment notification was fairly straightforward with only the rubric for the Final Products left to define.

As luck would have it, I scored us free entry (thank you Google) into The Sunrise Alpha conference. It will feature successful Australian startup founders. I’m hoping this excursion on Monday will inspire my students to see that they too can be part of this.

I’m also negotiating to have mentors from UNSW School of IT. (I am very lucky!)

Finally, I got several staff members to be part of the panel to whom my students will pitch their ideas. The panel will judge whether or not the problem is worth solving and if the recommended solution is indeed viable and worth developing….fodder for next project :)

Of course, this is just the beginning of the story.

Tomorrow, we start in earnest. I’ve told my students about the project and we’ve already started brainstorming about ideas on problems to solve. This will have to be bedded down more when I they meet their teams…tomorrow.

Print Friendly

Dare to be wise

I fell in love with this phrase after reading Ellie Rennie’s post: The Amanda Palmer effect. The post is worth a read and the link to Amanda Palmer’s talk is worth (re)visiting.

As I start a new school year, I’ve been reflecting on some ‘rules’ or ‘wishes’ I have for my classes. One of these was ‘choose to learn‘ – something I’ve been using for a few years now. It’s served me well, I must add.

Yet Rennie’s post and the phrase itself – ‘Dare to be wise’ – have compelled me to re-think and quite likely re-phrase my rule.

I find the phrase more exciting and engaging and I daresay, challenging.While choice can sometimes (often?) necessitate a sense of daring, I think the verb ‘dare’ is more direct and implies risks to be overcome to gain something worthwhile. Wisdom as the goal is also more specific and positive than ‘learn’ (aside: is all learning good? I’).

Implicit in the phrase is the possibility of making mistakes which I struggle to communicate across. I find “It’s okay to make mistakes” a tad trite. Besides, it’s rare for people to set out to fail. Surely, those who expect failure persevere in the hope of eventual success. The act of dare-ing is rendered more significant!

I also love that Rennie highlighted the power or social networking along with the daring of asking (the Amanda Palmer effect). Rennie did not go into vulnerability, what I think is the flipside of daring which, in my experience, opens up possibilities for learning and wisdom.

Perhaps it’s ultimately mere semantics but I do marvel at the effect of words. I don’t know if the phrase will be more effective but I’ll give it a go this year. Marvel and then Dare to be wise.

Print Friendly

Marvel

Marvel is my one word this year.

I don’t usually do this thing. However, as the new year ticked over and the Aussie summer school hols was coming to a close, I thought it would be good to have one to help me re-focus back into teaching. So, I picked one!

Marvel as a noun and verb seemed apt as I start not just a new school year but at a new school.

To be filled with wonder or astonishment.

To discover a wonderful or astonishing person, place, thing, etc.

Marvel, I think, is what brings joy in learning… and, truth be told, in teaching as well. 

May the year ahead be full of marvels!

Happy 2016!

Disclaimer: The link above shows an official site for ‘my one word’. I didn’t use the process documented there as I’ve derived my word before I saw the site. Still, I’m sharing for those of you who may find this process helpful.

Print Friendly