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.

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.

We write our own reports?

Ever had an idea you just had to act on?

Today with my year 10s, we had 15 minutes to ‘spare’ after we de-briefed their yearly exam paper. Just then, I had a thought to get them to write their own report comment. I figured ‘why not?’

So, I asked my students to spend the next 15 minutes drafting a 500-character report comment for IST. I mentioned that I have already drafted their reports – which was true – and that I wanted to make sure I did not miss anything – which was also true – and that I would use their input – which was more or less true.

One of the more astute ones asked, “Does that mean we write our own reports?”

Boom!

I replied yes, of course. I write the words but in fact, what they do (or not) throughout the year is what is written in the report comment. So technically,  students do write their own reports. Right?

Awesome as they are, they humoured me and actually did the activity.

It was an authentic context to reflect on the year that was, how they were as learners in my classroom and even how they could improve. No scaffold. No prompts. No advice from me….just the time and space to do it…and a bit of ‘rah rah’.

I was so pleased by their honesty and accuracy of self-assessment. I was also pleased that my report comments got validated by theirs which, for my part, means I do know my students and that my data collection (via formative and summative assessments) and feedback systems work.

Writing reports can be onerous, often due to sheer volume and tight deadlines. This has been a ray of sunshine.

I would do this again as a win-win activity. That is, students reflect meaningfully on their learning – content and process and I, their teacher, gets validation and more importantly, personalised insights about them.

 

NCSS Summer School

The idea of going to NCSS Summer School posed a mini-dilemma for lots of reasons but in the end, I decided to go and what a good move that turned out to be. The ‘intensive’ in their blurb is for real. It was intense.

This year, there were over 100 participants including 15 teachers (like me) who were meant to be just like the students – relieved of ‘duties’, so-to-speak. That’s interesting, in and of itself. I pride myself of being a good learner but being a student is different. Being a student (learning the content) as a teacher (learning the process/meta stuff, e.g. can I use how they teach to teach my students?) was full-on. I struggle to articulate all that just now so I’ll focus on my main NCSS reflections as a teacher….and hopefully, this would encourage other teachers (my main blog viewers) to give the camp a go.

The camp is project-based learning, a high-quality PBL.  I’m actually struggling to write this but if I don’t do this now, it may never get done so I’ll use my Process, Tools, People (and Products) post as a framework. Here goes…

Process

PBL as a term was never mentioned but that’s what it was. 4 groups had to develop social networking web applications and 2 groups developed embedded systems. Lectures were streamed as per student ability, interest and/or systems. Throughout most of the 10 days, there were Lectures followed by lab so students had opportunities to apply what they’d learned with the help of amazing tutors (more on this later).  Tutors also helped with task and time management throughout the project which started officially on day 6. Groups had to brainstorm and decide on what they wanted to develop. There was even an all-nighter as happens sometimes in the industry. The camp culminated with a ‘graduation’ and presentation of group videos. Except, I’m finding out now that the project has not really ended as students continue to work on the projects and are now available online – for an even wider audience.

There were also plenty of fun activities with plenty of opportunities to develop collaborative skills and team-building: Newspaper tower challenge, Trivia Night + Chinese (Whispers) Charade, Scavenger hunt, cryptogram, simulation/theatre sport, programming challenge and excursions to some sponsors’ sites (WiseTech Global, Atlassian and Google). All these activities were cleverly designed and well-executed.

Tools

We used the University of Sydney’s School of IT facilities. We were told not to bring computers because, indeed, there were enough. We also used GitHub for version control and Sqlite3 for the database. They’ve configured Tornado for ease of use supposedly but I honestly wouldn’t know the difference – it still looked complicated for me.

Analog-wise, whiteboards were used for planning and tracking.

Tools used are all ‘free’ so in theory, anyone can do this.

People

This I think, is the strongest point of NCSS. At the helm is Dr James Curran (a very clever man and an endearing lecturer – I can only name 2 others in my experience), very ably supported by Nicky Ringland and Tim Dawborne plus an army of very clever and enthusiastic volunteers and industry mentors (they have to apply to be volunteers year-on-year – whoa!). There’s a fine mix of academia and industry perspectives to make the experience of app development realistic. I watched with interest how they interacted and managed students…including me (I was always there for roll call – haha – and definitely needed 1:1 help). It was good to see tutors get excited by a tricky problem/question

And then there were the students (and teachers as students). Such an amazing bunch of cleverness! I do believe every state was represented, and NZ, too. High levels of enthusiasm (boosted by cordial,  perhaps?) and engagement (good program, see?). Very few seemed homesick – alas, I was one of them! (who knew?)

Products

Videos are yet to go up but there are links to the web apps. Our group developed Word by word (my only visible contribution there is the tagline: write a word. read a story.). Other groups developed Tableau and Pose challenge. Amazing stuff!

I honestly cannot replicate these projects in my classroom.

tldr version

It was a fun, intense, immersive and challenging experience. I met some amazing people, young and not-so-young, and had many fascinating conversations – people are truly interesting! I learned more about computing technology and computational linguistics(just a teensy bit). I learned more about teaching technology. I learned more about kids and how stereotypes persist even amongst the like-minded (still wrestling with why it’s so hard to get girls into computing). I learned more about effective pedagogy including planning and delivery. Surprisingly, I learned more about me.

Not sure if I could make it to NCSS2015 or if I’ll ever get accepted again but I sure would like to go back.

This snippet from a WiseTech Global t-shirt just about sums it up for me:

ncss2014

 

My next challenge is to incorporate some of what I’ve learned into what I teach.

Why is it so hard to get girls to study computing?

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.

  1. 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)
  2. Titstare app at Techcrunch – report/outrage over a showcased app that lets you ‘stare at tits’
  3. The Brogrammer Effect – looking at why there are even fewer women in IT now than in the 1990s; also contains some positive ideas
  4. 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
  5. 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.

Stop

  • feeling so depressed about the situation; that doesn’t lead to anything but ….well, feeling depressed

Start

  • 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

Continue

  • 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

Change

  • 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?