At PLSM back in August I pledged to run a PBL unit getting my computing students to write video games and publish to a public audience. This may not seem like a lot to you but it was for me.
I’ve never written a video game before, let alone teach and inspire students to do so, using a programming language I’ve never really used before. My students have only just learned how to code – in Python – so, a different language (syntax, UI, etc).
While I’ve run PBL before, I’ve never had a public audience. I honestly didn’t think it was necessary until challenged at PLSM. And yet when I launched this PBL with my students, I told them they would have an audience beyond me, beyond the classroom,and possibly beyond the school.
My students took on to the task well enough BUT they did not take the public audience bit that seriously…..which, of course, challenged me even more! and made me more nervous as well. This PBL was running mostly AFTER formal assessments were done so I was also worried about the motivation factor as their efforts would not go towards grades or report comments.
The original plan was to have this Game On event with the public audience being the target audience of the game, i.e. our junior school (K-6 students). But as end-of-year schedules typically are, it was difficult to find time to schedule the event, let alone synchronise with junior school as well. I’ve yet to share this with our junior school.
And, to complicate matters, we decided to use the event to launch the idea of a computing club ready for next year. The good thing about that was the opportunity to collaborate with @townesy77.
What I really wanted from a Game On event can be summed up thus: give my students a public audience, raise the profile of gaming, raise more interest in computing (why just play games when you can make them, right?), outsource feedback and give purpose to learning (software programming and concepts). Lofty aims needed a big event!
yada yada yada….let me just tell you a few of my strategies (which fortunately worked):
- I picked Scratch because no downloads/installs were required for either developer or game player. That, plus Scratch has a Studio feature which makes it super-easy to create and share a game arcade.
- I participated in the PBL. That is, I went through the PBL myself and designed and wrote my own game. Two, in fact. This forced me to learn Scratch more. Having to think through different algorithms demanded by the different student projects made me learn super-quick
- Get @townesy77 to do her magic…creating posters, organising and running the Xbox station for the Game On event, setting up the computer lab with generic logins ready to play the Game On Arcade, help me to announce the event at assembly, etc etc etc
- Get my students to talk up the event, invite their friends as well as speak at assembly
- The turning point was getting Google to sponsor the event. Much like how my Google excursion came to be, I just asked. Well, okay, I wrote a proposal! And they gave me enough funds to buy prizes and more besides (and really, this is worth another post…really, really). When I told my students about the sponsorship, they were stunned (as was I) and realised that I was serious about this public audience thing. I told them I sent a link to the arcade as part of the proposal (with only 3 games in it then) and that it wasn’t just me holding them accountable for delivery. Amazing!
- I tied prizes to feedback. For every 3 game reviews, each reviewer got a chance to win a prize (chocolates). The drawcard, however, was the Google goodies – which I got from my visits to Google (I just remembered I haven’t blogged about my other visit!). It’s a pity not all my students were at the event because they missed out on feedback that weren’t written – the buzz, the ‘oh, this is fun!’ comments, the ‘that looks good’, etc.
- Get my students to decorate and help out at the event.
- I called on my PLN to visit the arcade.
The Game On event today was amazing! My room looked amazing. The prizes looked desirable. The ‘sponsored by Google’ thing provided more gravitas. Many came and participated on the 2 main activities: playing Game On and Xbox. All up, I got over 60 entries to the feedback draw with contributions from all year groups! Ditto with Xbox participation. This is awesome stuff considering there were other events happening at the same time!
I’m knackered but my heart is full
Thank you to Bianca and Lee for staging PLSM and challenging me. Thank you to@townesy77 for being my mockingjay (Katniss). Thank you to Google Australia for sponsoring my event (special mention to Sally for giving me another Oprah moment) and Chris for opening my eyes (and my students) to the wonders of open source software. Thank you to Jeannette for getting her students to visit the arcade. Thank you to all the participants in the Game On event.
Most especially, thank you to my IST students for delivering! There wouldn’t have been a Game On event if there were no games at all.
Now for some pics:
I spent more days at Google this week than I did at school, 1 day for excursion and another 2 to attend the Digital Technologies Curriculum Summit. I took away heaps of ideas and inspiration but here’s one that stands out: Google has a lot of initiatives to promote Computer Science (not just coding/programming) at school, uni and industry levels. Let’s just say that, from a Design process perspective, I’m hopeful that my question of why it’s so hard to get girls into computing is shifting from ‘understanding the problem’ to ‘ideation’ – generating some possible solutions.
This post will focus on the excursion as I’ve promised a few of you that I will share how I got there and suggest how you could do it, too.
How it happened
It all started with a question in the NCSS Challenge forum (yet another perk of joining the challenge – do eeet). I noticed that one of the tutors, Sam Thorogood (@samthor), worked at Google so I asked about the possibility of an excursion there. I’ve since found out through Sam about Google’s culture of do-ocracy and what people might actually do for their 20%. Sam helped me arrange to get this happening including enlisting Lisa Zhu and Valley. I get to do the fun part of following the protocols of school excursions (oh joy!), find another teacher (lucky that @townesy77 said yes), arrange public transport (a story and half, right there) and announcing it (using Python just for fun).
What was it like?
There were 4 agenda items: Computer Science workshop, site tour, Q&A panel, lunch with the panelists.
Lisa was the MC as well as facilitator of all of the above. Sam and Valley were there, too, helping things run smoothly; it was really good to meet them. Lisa used a few activities on binary and hexadecimal numbers, from the CS Unplugged resources (a free open-source gem which was a key part of the Summit, but more on that at a later post).
The site tour made it evident that Google values creativity by providing different spaces for people to chill out, escape, and/or work. Sorry, no pics of this one but trust me, you will want to see for yourself.
The Q&A panel consisted of female engineers. This session made it evident that Google values degrees/careers in STEM and diversity in the workplace.
Morning tea and lunch were yummy though some of my students thought these were too gourmet-ish. Having panelists join us extended the conversation at a more informal level. It was evident that Googlers do enjoy working at Google and the food there is yummy.
My students and I and @townesy77 all had a wonderful time. We learned heaps as well. It was affirming to have current IT professionals (as against ex, i.e. me) say things I’ve been saying in class. And yes, we also got Google merch – a delightful surprise. There was no spruiking of Google products at all – I guess they don’t have to; they know the students there use Google for searching, YouTube for videos, Maps for directions, etc.
How you could go there, too
Apart from not having time to write this post straight away, another reason why I delayed writing was figuring out exactly how this excursion could be replicated. I have 2 answers, in fact, though there may be another option as there was another school there when we went and they had even more students…a coach-load as against my 17.
You could wait until Sally-Ann Williams (Engineering Community and Outreach Manager) comes out with a scalable program to make excursions easier to organise with set agenda (maybe several options). I have no doubt that this will happen since at the Summit, it was clear that Google is committed to scalable practices as a good approach to making Computer Science more accessible.
You could also contact Sam (@samthor) who kindly reminded me of Google’s do-ocracy culture. Depending on what he can pull together, the agenda may be different from the one I mentioned above.
With Year 9 exams next week, I spent some time today revising some software development concepts with my class. With the end of NCSS Challenge ending a few weeks ago, it’s been a while since my students last coded in Python.
The focus today was on errors (ha!) particularly desk-checking and variable tracking. So, I wrote this code on the board:
I got student volunteers to write out the values for variables: sites, mysites, i, len(mysites) and print.
Short as this code may be, it provided plenty of opportunities to revise a fair bit of content. Anyway, the sites the girls elected to have were Google, Apple and Sony, so print showed:
Option 0 Google
Option 1 Apple
Option 2 Sony
We then went on to editing the code to start printing from Option 1, instead of 0, etc., followed by this bit code (with opportunity to correct syntax errors for relational operator and if statement):And thus updating the value of print to show:
Option 1 Google
This is where we’re going
and I kept writing ‘on November 5′
“We’re really going to Google?”
“Are we really?”
Plenty of squeals and smiles.
To which I can only reply, “Wasn’t that a fun way to break the news?” *do it in code*
Two birds with one stone. And happy students to boot. Got to love that!
At my school, an independent all-girls school, there are 3 Computing electives: one in years 9-10 – Information and Software Technology (IST) and two in years 11-12 Software Design and Development (SDD) and Information Processes and Technology (IPT). I started in this school this year and I was told that while SDD had been offered for years, there were never enough girls to viably run it year-on-year. We only have IST and IPT at the moment …and for how long?
One doesn’t have to look hard to know that there are initiatives to get more girls into computing, in general, and into software engineering, in particular. For example, Sydney Uni runs Girls Programming Network, UNSW has Robogals, TAFE has Digi-Girls (program seems to have stopped) and Google has BOLD diversity program. Strangely though, my precursory look indicate that Computer Science or Software Engineering degrees don’t seem to include computing subjects as pre-requisites….how will students know if it’s for them if they haven’t been exposed to it previously (just wondering)?
Why is it so hard to get girls to study computing?
Fact is, there’s no easy answer….which means, there’s no easy solution. But first, some ideas on the problem.
Not counting conversations I’ve had on Twitter particularly with @asher_wolf, the following articles I read recently are indicative of the complexity of this issue.
- To my daughter’s HS programming teacher - by Rikki Endsley (a woman in IT) about her daughter’s awful experience of sexism whilst still in high school (tbh, there were more issues in that school)
- Titstare app at Techcrunch – report/outrage over a showcased app that lets you ‘stare at tits’
- The Brogrammer Effect – looking at why there are even fewer women in IT now than in the 1990s; also contains some positive ideas
- What it’s like to be a woman in Y Combinator – an interview with Nikki Durkin, creator of 99Dresses; i.e. a success story of a woman in IT and I’ll get back to this article because she has some positive ideas
- Terri Oda, Mathematician, debunks ‘women are bad in math’ [sic] myth – includes a brilliant, entertaining and informative slideshow debunking assumptions that the lack of women in STEM fields is due to being worse at science and math
Before I was a teacher, I was also a woman in IT. Luckily, I was never subjected to any of the sexism that Endsley’s daughter had or even Durkin who was “denied” programming electives, being offered Textiles instead (ironically, I teach both at my school). Durkin is quite upbeat about being in the minority saying it is an advantage because she stands out more and THAT is important for entrepreneurs. And like me, she also hasn’t suffered sexism – the cynics will probably add ‘yet’ to that. My wish for her is that she never does especially in a way that would hurt her positive spirit. This is to say that even though I didn’t suffer from it, I acknowledge that it exists. This is important because when I talk to my students about careers in IT, I can tell them of these 2 sides to the story….as well as some strategies to address it.
Durkin mentioned that part of the problem is that girls aren’t exposed to it. This was also mentioned in The Brogrammer Effect. These 2 articles confirmed my theory which inspired me to change the existing course scope to include software programming (see related post); that was a risk because girls chose this elective thinking it will be on Digital Media and web design…no mention of coding. Anyway, as it turned out, most of the girls loved it….actually more than I thought.
Endsley’s daughter was lucky to have her mum talk about careers in IT. Most girls don’t have people talking to them about it/IT. As one lady said in The Brogrammer Effect, women just don’t know about the perks of working in IT like flexible hours and “work on amazing projects with amazing people” – certainly an experience I could relate to as well.
…..I’m beginning to sound nostalgic about a past career….let’s move on….
I needed to write this now to reflect on my practice and will use the Stop, Start, Change, Continue framework for some future actions….and this is where your ideas could come in really handy….please make suggestions.
- feeling so depressed about the situation; that doesn’t lead to anything but ….well, feeling depressed
- talking to girls outside of my computing classes about the benefits of studying computing…and that doesn’t mean going into an IT career. Computational thinking is beneficial in and of itself
- building a community of students who can pursue such interests
- searching for ideas to understand and solve the issue
- connecting with women in IT like @asher_wolf and @kcarruthers who could be mentors as well as moral support (think: this is worth fighting for so don’t give up)
- connecting with fellow computing teachers and participating in #ozcschat
- trying to inspire current computing students
- seeking help
- computing course scope to include more Computer Science stuff; after all, students already do plenty of movie-making and web-designing in other subjects
Can you help me here please?
OR should I just give up…and go back to IT (that’s adding 1 to women in IT, right?)…or maybe teaching Maths?
Last Saturday, I went to the Project Learning Swap Meet organised by Bianca and Lee Hewes. It was inspiring, challenging and ultimately motivational in a ‘Make this happen’ sort of way. So then, while I thought my first blog post about PLSM would be about the day, I’m now blogging about how I came to making it real and happening on my first school-day back, in the middle of an existing project.
Circled are some of the ideas I thought I’d implement straight away.
I teach 8 Technology and on my rotation, students learn about Textiles and Digital Technology with a project involving the Design, Production and Evaluation of a pyjama set. It’s a common task for 4 classes taught by 3 teachers, including myself. The task has plenty of PBL elements including student voice and choice. Collaboration happens but more incidental than planned. Products are displayed along the hallway for all the school to see.
After attending PLSM, I felt inspired, challenged and motivated to implement some of what I learned on the day. Because I spent hours yesterday designing a Project Packet for year 7s (subject of another post), I decided to focus on something smaller for year 8s; something NEW that would be beneficial straight away.
Year 8s are submitting the Design products tomorrow which include sketches of their ideas and Final Design (the PJ set they’re actually going to make). I thought it would be good for them to get peer feedback prior to submission.
Techniques used (got all these from PLSM):
- Gallery Walk – items for feedback are put on display and peers write feedback on post-it notes
- Scaffolded Feedback – Based on @missjessm ‘s suggestion of “I like…Have you considered…”, the class decided to use +1 for “I like” and a star for the “Have you considered…”. Students suggested the ‘star’ and I’m still unsure why, maybe because it’s easy to draw?
- Goals, Medals, Missions (I’ve used this before but the document here is new to me) – using the task assessment criteria, I listed the Goals. These were the basis of the +1 and star comments as well….i.e. things to consider when writing feedback
Students each had 3 post-it notes so they had to be more picky of what they wrote and who they wrote for. They could always add a +1 or star if they agreed on what has already been posted. It worked really well and every design got peer feedback. This went on for about 10-15 minutes.
Everyone then got their sketches and considered the peer feedback and filled in their Goals, Medals, Missions sheets.
Here’s what I observed:
- Quality of peer feedback was excellent and the use of scaffold was evidently effective (eeek, that sounds so teacher-y)
- Students appreciated the +1s and even more so, the stars – i.e. suggestions for improvements
- Students were surprised at how true the peer comments were, making the +1 even more affirming
- Students were more motivated and directed to create better quality products
- Some students noticed things I haven’t (how good is this??? and yes, I’m collecting the post-it notes and GMMs)
- I’ll know my students more based on their GMMs
It was soooooo worth getting this happening straight away. Read more about the above techniques and MORE in Bianca’s super post about managing the mushy middle.