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.

 

Measuring Hope

Earlier in the year, I blogged about my action research on hope. Since then, I’ve refined my research question (and Lit Review) to ‘Does systematic integration of self-regulating processes into a year 12 Software Design & Dev class impact on student wellbeing?”

After many iterations of defining my construct, I settled on what I started off with…HOPE. It is one of ACARA’s dimensions for wellbeing and aligns strongly with my school’s aspiration to inspire global hope.

I also kept the notion of ‘active hope’ where hope is found in actions and belief that such actions would lead to improvements. It’s true that a huge element of this aligns with Bandura’s self-efficacy which helped with finding literature for the review and fleshing out my project. However, I also wanted to maintain the social aspect of hope that extended beyond self-efficacy.

This ‘extension’ was partially driven by the need to find something more easily observable and measure. It was also because the classroom is ultimately a social context and each student is a contributor, not merely a recipient of social influences. I think James Arvanitakis said it well in  From Despair to Hope – The Curiosity Lecture Series (available here),

…if openly shared and freely distributed, hope can spread throughout the community.

I did not set out to measure inspiring societal (or global) hope as such but one of my action research ‘interventions’ (if you will) was to have students act as peer models. That was a bit of a stretch for ‘freely’ but there was definite sharing and distribution of active hope.

I haven’t fully analysed my research data but it is likely that it will empirically support my observation that YES, integrating self-regulation processes does impact student wellbeing (hope) positively and negatively (the 2-tailed question was intentional). I imagine many teachers suspect as much but now I’ve got data to (hopefully) prove it, notwithstanding the risk of observer-expectancy effect and other risks to the validity of my meager social research attempt.

It would be premature to state a conclusion prior to data analysis but were I to generalise my learning so far, I daresay my teaching practice even when targeting academic achievement does impact student wellbeing. While it often seemed futile to measure hope, I am glad I’ve made this attempt.

 

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.

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.