Python Revision FUN

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:

code part 1

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):google2And 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!


It’s happening

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.

notes on the back of the booklet Bianca shared

notes on the back of the booklet Bianca shared

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.

Learning to code

Software programming hasn’t been taught at my school for years. It was a bit of a gamble for me to include it in my programs for 3 subjects I teach: 9IST, 10IST and 11IPT. I was intending to do programming with the year 9s but decided to extend this to the year 10s in the hope of drumming some interest for the Software Design  HSC course and to the year 11s because the students expressed interest in learning.

Intro to programming

I used different ways to introduce the topic. First up were the year 10s who I got to play with Context Free Art (visual programming) which I barely learned at the CS4HS at Sydney Uni a few days before. Next up were the year 11s and I took them straight to Python for Beginners course with groklearning; the first couple of modules are free and sufficient to get beginning programmers going. Finally, with the year 9s, I went completely analogue. In groups of 3, they had to design a dance move for 8 beats and write it in pseudo-code. Another group gets to execute the move using the pseudo-code.

The year 9s had the best fun and, in my opinion, really learned what it means to design and code software programs. They experienced the challenge of breaking down the problem (dance move) into smaller components and think of sequencing, concurrent processing and even looping. Then there was the challenge of coding the move. Also, they realised that code – if unclear – could be interpreted in different ways or worse, wrongly (not as designed). They got the big picture: developing algorithmic-thinking and coding skills.  As quoted from @gilfer in a previous post, Software is poetry

… programming is not really the practice of writing lines of code. It is the art of taking big, intractable problems and breaking them down into ever smaller ones which can be understood, explained and then carefully assembled into a living, breathing work of art.

Software is poetry. It’s the expression of ideas in the most elegant form a programmer can devise.

Learning Python

I really enjoyed my road-test of NCSS challenge last year and so changed my new school’s IST course so I can include it in (he he).  As mentioned, both my years 9 and 10 are doing the NCSS challenge 2013 in its spiffy new groklearning platform. It fits right in with the IST syllabus (core topics + software design option) as well as my experiential approach to teaching. I even decided to make this one of the assessment tasks for year 9s; I’d have done the same with year 10s except their doing exams instead.

Both classes started the challenge today – Beginners. Starting with a quick campfire, I told them about pair programming (one of the strategies I learned yesterday as good for success in introductory programming – go on read it; I will try the other strategies later) and of course, remind them to have fun. It’s too early to tell but hey, I’m excited because the students were totally engaged in the challenge and were having fun….hard fun….as in, easy is boring kind of fun.  In both cases, I had to boot them out at the end of the period as they wanted to keep going – and we’re talking they’re supposed to go to recess or lunch….not another subject that perhaps they don’t like!

Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me but the year 9s did better than the year 10s. Was it the dance move intro? 🙂

There are a few year 9s who I will have upgraded to the Intermediate challenge as Beginners seem too easy for them. #proudmoment

I thought I’d share my here as well; feel free to reuse, upcycle, remix – if you do, all I ask for is feedback to how it can be better….atrribution would be nice, too. 2013 – 9IST – Assessment 3 – NCSS (PDF)

Using ClassDojo

I used ClassDojo before when I first ran my Digital Media Jedi Academy (also for 9IST). As before, I’m using it to communicate my expectations and award points. The points this time is for a request for an in-school competition outside of the national challenge. I do listen to my students and besides, using ClassDojo really forces me to look at each kid and see if they are showing expected behaviours…and my favourite is “exceeding expectations“. In this way, ClassDojo is my tool to remind me to check in with every kid as I have a visual reminder of eveyrone in my class and the ones who are not racking up points (are they not showing the expected behaviour or am I just not seeing it – go look, Mrs Mawby!). The points system is handy also for the teacher observation component of the 9IST task.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not using the Negative Behaviours (removing points) because in my 6 months with these classes, I’ve never had reason to control negative behaviour….yes, I’m lucky.

expected behaviour

expected behaviour


Okay, have shared heaps now and will stop – just wanted to leverage the excitement of the day to churn out a blog post 🙂

UPDATE 12 August 2013: I just added the task in PDF (I forgot to attach it last time….oops!)

Was it a waste of time?

My year 10s had just had their storyboards assessed and approved.

They were supposed to get started with planning for the next  stage of their multimedia projects; maybe even get started developing components of it.


My year 10s were visibly unsettled today at period 1. They said they had an English assessment next period – speech. They exchanged stories of how late they went to bed to get this ready and the ‘winner’ (not in my class) went to bed at 4:30 a.m. How anyone could function with such little sleep is beyond me!

We ploughed through the work that needed to be done but they were easily distracted and not really focusing.


In the end, I succumbed and gave them the last half hour of the lesson to practice for their speeches. They had to pretend it’s the real thing so they had to perform in front of everyone as against doing it quietly in their own ‘corner’.  I figured, they weren’t really being productive in my subject so they might as well be productive in something.

Here’s a gist of what happened:

  • I had a glimpse of their creativity, literacy and thinking skills in another context (English)
  • Students took on roles voluntarily as time-keeper and editors
  • Students gave each other constructive feedback
  • I gave constructive feedback
  • Students felt more settled and ready to face their assessment, even those who did not perform but still got editing help
  • We’ve got a concrete example of positive collaboration – one I’m going to keep promoting in MY class

Part of me feels like I’ve been sucked in. Yet, was it really a waste of time?

Campfire Fun

Thank you to my year 9s for injecting a bit of fun at the start of today’s lesson AND giving me a huge nudge to blog. It’s been a month since the last post!

A few weeks ago, I introduced the archetypal learning spaces (Bianca Hewes makes an appearance here yet again as a source of inspiration). Since then, we used campfire, waterhole and cave on a regular basis. To my surprise today, my year 9s decided to voluntarily form a campfire because apparently, “it’s tradition” and “it’s fun”…like, checking in with each other (not quite the definition, I know, but still….). Also, one of the students used her tablet to display a roaring fire. We soon realised that this was indeed fun and a photo opportunity…..smartphones galore…mine included.


This class is shaping up to be a real community of learners, happy to be in the classroom and almost reluctant to leave even for recess or lunch. Go figure! They have become comfortable with the self-directed approach and regarding each other as resources for learning AND me as NOT a font of all knowledge…more like the font of questions! Subsequent iterations of Medals and Missions (mentioned in this post, Making Progress) are better with me being less austere with the medals (haha). I don’t even have to prompt them to do their missions…they just get done.

No deep post here; rather, a celebration. A good reminder that sometimes, things work and when they do, life’s good.


Life’s good. 🙂