Data Data Data

Data fascinates me. Ironically, much as I enjoyed mathematics in high school, I did not enjoy Statistics and Probability – strands that haunt me particularly in my professional life. Another ironic thing is that while I enjoyed working with databases in my previous career in IT (I love SQL), I’ve not really ‘taught’ databases in high school computing in a way that genuinely shares this joy.

This post is not about Stats, Probability, or databases but rather something more fundamental.

This post is about data and, in particular, some novel ideas I’ve heard/read lately about what data is…and I’m fascinated even more!

3 ways to spot a bad statistic

in this TED talk, Mona Chalabi is charmingly entertaining as she unpacks the problem with polls and averages, as well as people’s perception of data. The thing about averages is not new to me but I love her (new to me) rationale for her hand-drawn visualisation which strengthens her strategies for spotting dodgy data. I teach these data concepts but I love the (new to me) way of framing them.

Can you see uncertainty?

There’s usually a big emphasis on data accuracy and precision (oh the beauty and irony of floating point representation in computers). Chalabi points out this problem when dealing especially with human behavioural data (ha! Recall my action-research on well-being). And truly, sometimes we got hung up on quantification and numbers, sometimes losing sight of the real story the data is trying to tell.

Can you see yourself in the data?

The second point is interesting because it’s not just about whether data is personally relevant. But rather, it’s to do with granularity and visualisation techniques, particularly when only aggregated data is shown. People cannot be summed into one data point so it makes sense to look for other data points or perspectives or axes, e.g. over time or split into gender.

How was the data collected?

If there’s anything I learnt from working with decision-support systems it’s this, be careful what questions you ask as the answers you get may not be what you’re after in the first place…and the good ‘ol “rubbish in, rubbish out“. This point is certainly about the source and process of data collection but more importantly, it is about data integrity.

Data Humanism

I stumbled on this term as only one can in the wonderful world of hypertext. Internet serendipity is a thing! This post on Data Humanism by Giorgia Lupi was an eye-opener.

Data Humanism by @giorgialupi

Connect data to what they stand for: humans – people, behaviour, knowledge

Lupi extols ‘Embrace complexity’. Here I am, schooled in the idea of ‘keep it simple so the audience gets it’ but,

We can write rich and dense stories with data. We can educate the reader’s eye to become familiar with visual languages that convey the true depth of complex stories.

And here’s me scratching my head why school reports show a bunch of numbers and letters, maybe some written comments, that quite often fail to tell the ‘true depth of complex stories’. Context is usually missing because (I know) it’s in the ‘too hard basket’.

So, here is the challenge I’m setting for myself:

Data, if properly contextualized, can be an incredibly powerful tool to write more meaningful and intimate narratives.

 

I’ve got such a long, arduous and exciting learning journey ahead of me!

 

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The joy of creating

Well hello blog and I finally succumbed to the inspiration.

Tonight, an (ex)colleague, an esteemed mentor, Brad Merrick introduced me to Ben Folds (yeah, which rock have I been hiding under?). Anyway, it wasn’t just any music video (Ben Folds has lots!); it was this where Ben composes a song in 10 minutes using crowd-sourced inspiration (A minor !!! upbeat – in a minor key?!?, and ‘These new spaces – The Kennedy Center – are all designed to be flexible)!

There are lots of amazing things from this video which you’ve got to watch, if you haven’t yet. I do want to highlight the following in particular:

  • Ben and the musicians looked like they were enjoying this process – a palpable sense of  playfulness
  • The trust! Ben trusted – and respected the skills of – the musicians and vice versa – “You know what you must do”
  • Each one brought their own specialty/expertise and what a rich texture of sounds they created…harmoniously (and that’s part of the genius, right?)…”Let’s hear it all together and make sure it’s not crazy”
  • Communicating via the conductor. Communicating via the music jargon, e.g. keys, chords, and volume (mezzo forte, forte, …fortissimo…and the five-tissimo was just plain cute!)

What an awesome way to announce his role as the Artistic Advisor.

Anyway, this got me hooked and googled more to discover Ben Folds did something similar 3 years earlier, this time with a youth orchestra. The orchestra is less polished than the professional NSO but very good nonetheless. The video has considerably a lot less views but the highlights above are there as well; audience participation makes it all the more special, I think!

It is so much fun to watch the creative process unfold. I’m sure it would have been fun to be in  the orchestra and actively take part in the creative process.

Just a few more points, this time linking to teaching and learning:

  • Subject-specific knowledge with its own jargon, concepts, and skills is important because together, in harmony,  it makes it possible to create something special. While some put forward a false dichotomy of subject ‘silos’ vs integrated learning, I think it would be better to have both rather than either-or.
  • Trust is important between teachers and students. We co-create learning as we learn together and get good at what we’re supposed to do: teach and learn.
  • Make time to play and find joy in the creative process of learning and application thereof.

Share the joy!

G’nite!

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How I teach computing with Grok Learning + ACA and python (mostly)

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Grok Learning; it’s great that the Australian Computing Academy (ACA) is also using Grok as a platform to deliver some of their resources. My students have even asked me if I’m on Grok’s payroll 😀 (I’m not). This post aims to highlight how I use Grok in curricular and extra-curricular settings.

9 and 10 IST (Information and Software Technology)

NCSS Challenge – python + Intro to programming courses

I’ve been using NCSS Challenge since 2013 to teach the Software development and programming option. This python programming challenge runs in Term 3 (like, right now!) and goes for 5 weeks.

When I introduced this annual challenge to IST in 2013, I embedded it into the teaching and assessment program. In a nutshell, I allocated lesson times to complete the challenge and discuss syllabus topics. The associated assessment typically included engagement and achievement on the challenge and then application and/or reflection piece. The range of ability streams within the challenge facilitated differentiation. As students work independently, I monitor and track their progress such that when a student stays too long at a particular problem, I go over and offer to help. When there are 3 or more stuck, I hold a small-group teaching session. I get them to help those who need help later and I listen just in case.

Generally, I get students to do both Beginners and Intermediate streams in the first two weeks. By this time, students and I know which stream best suits their ability…as I kept saying, ‘Easy is boring.’ Occasionally, I got students to also attempt Advanced. So far, I’ve only had one student complete Advanced and that was last year.

This year, colleagues (yes, I have colleagues which is highly unusual for a computing teacher!!) and I agreed to exclude challenge achievement in the assessment. Assessments will instead look at application of what they learned through a coding project, reflection piece, and some problem-solving activities…on paper. I’m quite excited about this change. The Advanced stream this year is VERY different focusing on learning some AI concepts creating a card-playing bot. I hope to get ’round to sharing how I enthused students on another post (yeah, right).

Before or after the challenge, as well as during the challenge for early finishers, I get students to go through the Intro to Programming courses. Sure there’s repetition of concepts but that’s a good thing. The problems are different so students get to do more practice problem-solving with code.

web comp – html/css + new JS courses

Web comp runs at the start of the year. It’s a good way to learn web design as part of the internet and website development option topic. We’ve been using this for 2 years now and each time, the comp served as a platform for learning consequently applied in an assessment task… you guessed it – a website. The task was a ‘choose your problem to solve’ project which involved algorithm design (another story and resource worth sharing in its own right…eventually).

This year, I have some really keen programmers and I told them they could use JavaScript to enhance their sites. My students were clamoring for a JS tutorial in Grok…alas, it didn’t come till after the fact.

Anyway, after the task, I stumbled through teaching basic JS (I’m a beginner learning with the kids)! It’s like ‘where do you start teaching PhotoShop‘, right? I decided to set some JS programming challenges (thank you 101computing.net – this book is gold – no, it’s not Grok) because some kids can fly and they do. At some point, ACA released via Grok their Cookie Clicker JS course which I personally found helpful and really went a long way to help those who struggled to make sense of other online tutorials. Admittedly biased, there is a reason why my students and I love courses in Grok – the scope and sequence, language, pace, challenges, and whole delivery are very good. I’ve yet to check out the space invaders JS course by ACA, also in Grok.

SDD(Software Design AND Development)

I get students to complete Intro to Programming, and preferably also course 2. My main focus here is to strengthen their computational thinking as well as exposure to a range of problems that can be solved with code. There are risks as there are discrepancies between their programming experience and the syllabus. To name a few:

  • fixed length arrays
  • python has no built-in post-test repetition -> though conversion from pre to post is a good skill
  • python multiway selection means students often use ELIF in their pseudocode
  • array indices could start from one (1) in the syllabus, not the usual zero
  • dictionaries are not part of the syllabus

I’m like a broken record on discrepancies. On a good day, it means good discussions on evolution of hardware and software which are also syllabus content. On a bad day, we all just feel the syllabus needs updating (which, by the way, is in the works).

I love how python is easy to learn and has much to offer – or as we say in schools: low-floor/high-ceiling. I use it to demonstrate a lot of SDD concepts including precision in floating points (a series of division by 3s), boolean algebra, ASCII (ord and char), data types, control structures, standard algorithms.

During the NCSS Challenge, I allocate at least one lesson a week for students to participate. It’s a great opportunity to live and talk about the syllabus, i.e. error detection techniques, maintainability of code, internal and intrinsic documentation, test plans (what do you think the hidden test case is?). Fabulous!

extra-curricular

Grok has free courses, several thanks to ACA. Currently, we have a school subscription so everyone has access to all courses and comps. When we started the coding club, we got students to do the Intro to Programming courses. If a student is referred to me needing extension, I get them to Grok so I see how they think.

It would be nice to see coding as part of other curricular and extra-curricular activities. The above is what I’ve used it for.

 

Hmm, the above seems a bit broad-brush but I thought I’d just capture some thoughts and it’s been so long since I blogged I needed to start somewhere. Maybe I’ll add more in the future.

If you’ve come this far reading this, perhaps you care to comment and add ideas (please do, thanks).

Post has been updated 14Aug  to correctly attribute JS courses to ACA.

 

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PBL to learn JavaScript

I’ve been meaning to learn JavaScript but always fall flat largely due to the good ol’ lack of time. Really though, I think it’s because learning a new programming language is overwhelming – there’s so much to learn and some resources can even make pros like Brad Post feel like an idiot. And yet, I normally send off my computing students to do tutorials. The irony!

Anyway, I decided that the best way for ME to learn JS is to force me to dive right in with a project. Not totally for selfish reasons, actually, as I think my students would benefit from learning it too. Many of my year 11 Software (SDD) students can program in python (thank you Grok Learning) and a few can do java (thank you FRC). While many can also write HTML/CSS (thank you again Grok Learning), none would own up to knowing JavasScript. We could all be beginners!!

So I launched a PBL with the driving question “Can we do better than the textbook?” (There are several PBL models but I love, love, love the Hewes’ version – check it out). My students and I will learn JS and SDD topics to create a website with topic pages and interactive review pages. There will be only one site for the two classes so the product – and code libraries – will be shared. Additionally, this PBL helps exercise effective learning strategies (The Learning Scientists), e.g. elaboration, concrete examples and dual coding for creating the topic pages and retrieval practice, interleaving, and spaced practice for completing the quizzes.

The plan is to learn/discover, create and share with purpose.

Model the system

Because the site is a software system in its own right, I modeled it using the systems modeling tools in the SDD syllabus. I believe modeling is a good teaching technique and certainly good experience for my students to use models generated by others.

Not only would they learn JS, they’re going to live the syllabus in an authentic way. Oh the questions! Rich as…as I showed them the models including the storyboard and structure chart below  (click to enlarge and thank you lucidchart)- these 2 diagrams on a recent assessment task gave many students grief.

Our site would start off with the Hardware and Software topics so I could allocate one each, with one to spare for me. It’s easy for them to research and there’s loads of multimedia resources as well. We have two weeks to do this.

 

Storyboard

Storyboard

Structure Chart

Structure Chart

Model the learning

When I launched this PBL to the class, I also showed my rather ugly login and menu screens – a student quipped, “I can see why you’re a computing teacher and not an art teacher“. Ha! I actually styled it better by next lesson. Also, the pseudo-login (no cookies just parameter passing via JS) did not work which I owned up to as something I was still working on (it sort of works now).

In fact, this was what I planned for students to do, i.e. focus first on their HTML content and then style later, insisting on a separate CSS file. And I also planned to introduce JS once they’ve handed in drafts of their topic pages.

Learning with the kids (Kids are awesome)

I was alone in settling for an ugly page initially because they soon went off playing with their CSS files. They went off exploring various HTML tags and CSS styles in ways I could not have predicted.

  • There’s this super-quiet kid who I gave a shout-out because he was doing gradients and image blurs via CSS (I didn’t know it could!) – while a couple was doing that in PhotoShop (what is it with kids and gradients????). Anyway, that opened the gates for wider sharing in the class…not something I anticipated, silly me.
  • And then there’s this kid who said he had no programming experience and there he was with JS script to load date and time. He wanted them to display on one line  but my CSS inline-block technique suggestion failed. I did know about string concatenation so we solved his problem via JS – will be sharing that with the rest of the class next week…it’s legit syllabus content.
  • There’s another kid who worked pretty quickly so I suggested animated asides. Rather than going for a CSS solution, he’s decided to do it via JS …with image blur to boot, because he’s found out from a peer. I’ll be sharing all that with the rest of the class next week.
  • There’s another kid who insisted on animating a shape so it ‘bounced’ left to right…whatever for, who knows?! This algorithm makes use of flags, functions and several control structures they have to learn – will be sharing that with the rest of the class next week.

In fact, several students have already incorporated JS into their code, problem-solving with me and peers as they went along.  Here I was with my contrived pseudo-login to provide a JS problem to solve yet they were soon busy finding/creating their own problems. I’ve got loads of examples from students now.

So yeah, I was learning with them.

It’s not an assessment

A week in and a week to go, the  task is not over and I’ve only got their draft HTML/CSS – reluctantly submitted as still being rough – or empty (but stylish). I can tell students are engaged. I can tell they’re keen to learn and are learning….together…with me.

This is not an assessment…at least not a formal one. It is a rich source of formative assessment  though, even for me.  Like Bianca Hewes said, PBLs are “a busy, complex, yet organised ecosystem of learning“.

I’m cool with that 🙂

 

Aside: I use my blog for my own reference and to help me remember, I often link to resources used as I’ve blogged them in context. I’m adding here a really useful resource Brad Frost (mentioned above) shared about writing kinder and more helpful technical documentation created by Jennifer Lyn Parsons. This’ll come in handy when we get to that part of the syllabus!

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Hope

Action-research done and dusted and I got my application approved for Experienced Teacher accreditation today! It’s been a looooong and arduous journey. My blog hasn’t kept up with it though I did have one at the start, then the middle-ish, and now the end.

Data analysis confirmed what I intuited and shared in the second post, i.e. systematic integration of self-regulation processes really does impact student well-being. It could be positive as well as negative. Interestingly, student self-report data was inclusive. Teacher observation data confirmed it but there’s the observer-expectancy effect niggling at the background. Triangulation using student performance tasks (there were 3) helped.

I was going to blog more about details but this late in the piece, I’m literally over it. Instead, I want to note down for future reference what I plan to integrate into my teaching practice from next year.

Self-regulation practices

Teach students about self-regulation. I will use Barry Zimmerman’s SR learning model just like I did in my action-research. This means giving them a framework, conceptual understanding (and eventually appreciation), as well as the language of self-regulation.

Goal-setting

Set distal goals at the start of the year and revisit each term. Since we have a strong effort  (with personal and social aspects) and achievement narrative at school, I’ll most likely get students to set goals for these two at least.

I want this noted electronically so maybe in our LMS.

Set proximal goals at the start of the term and then again weekly. This practice will help re-focus on distal goals and the little steps to get there.

I’m happy to give students flexibility on this. They may use their school diary, own journal (I love my bullet journal system), or electronically.

Performance Monitoring

Retrieval Practice will be a regular activity at the start of the lesson. This worked so well in my project that I kept it going. I actually had a schedule of topics to allow for interleaving and spaced practice. Prompts required elaboration, dual coding, concrete examples or pure recall. (Check out these learning strategies from learningscientists.org). I love Blake Harvard‘s method of colour-coding for retrieval practice and will definitely give it a go.

Track key measures at least once a week. I discovered trackers when I discovered bullet journals. Data collection could easily go crazy so I will have to think this through more carefully. It could be as simple as emojis for effort and achievement that lesson. I’m more interested in helping raise self-awareness as a premise for self-management and regulation, than the actual data.

Model proximal goal setting and monitoring using checklists for learning tasks and activities.

Self-evaluation

Reflect on (learning) process and product (learning outcome) at the end of each unit and/or task. I used Google Forms, OneDrive Forms, paper-based forms, and whole-class discussions for this. Our new LMS present new ways to do this, too.

Remind students regularly about the relationship between effort and achievement, and the notion of progress. Skilled self-regulators attribute achievement to personal effort; it’s getting naive self-regulators to do the same that’s really tricky. I found that it helped to point out their progress which means they’re on their way towards achievement.

 


Doing my action-research “forced” me to systematically integrate the self-regulation practices I wanted students to engage in.  Everyone got better at it and their achievement and well-being improved. Their last reflections were detailed and with appropriate attributions showing many have internalised the effort-achievement narrative. One particular student who was so anxious and owned up to being poor at reflection wrote 6 months later, “I no longer fear the future. …”

Hope is found in actions – belief that one’s effort will improve one’s future.

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