Trying to keep up
The Victorian Curriculum is trying to kill me.
I’m 42. I was once (until just after Y2K) a professional web developer. I can read code, but if I was any good at writing it, I would probably be earning more than a teacher’s salary.
With completely unfounded confidence, I created a new subject at my school called DigiTech – Web Development. In it, I teach my Year 9s about the separation of Content and Design, file handling and management, how to create and manipulate a database and the various security and people-related issues surrounding the creation of software solutions for small businesses.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. We needed a hard-core programming subject to offset the animation and game design subjects and I desperately wanted to tick off some boxes on the Victorian Curriculum.
At the end of my first semester teaching the subject, I feel a certain amount of pride in my accomplishments, and a great deal of dread in the idea that I will be doing it again next semester.
I told my students at the start of the semester that they would be guinea pigs. That we would be trying a number of different ideas out and seeing what they could handle. That being said, I knew that I wanted them to be able to use CSS and some basic database concepts. I worked with our amazing IT techies to put together a virtual machine with PHP, SQL and FTP capabilities, running only within the school network for safety’s sake.
And then I added people into the perfect solution and watched it explode into chaos.
Here’s what I learned:
- Students don’t read instructions.
- The ftp command line is painful.
- codecademy.com is a beautiful thing.
- I don’t know as much as some of my students.
- I DO know more than most of my students (phew).
- Differentiated learning is absolutely necessary.
- Students don’t read instructions.
My initial idea for a major project was to have the students create a house system where teachers could add or subtract house points from a database, and the resulting scores would be displayed as beautiful hourglasses a la Harry Potter.
The boys decided within seconds that they would prefer to create an order system for the school canteen – a fantastic idea which has worked very nicely.
My next idea was that small teams would work on their own versions of the project and the canteen staff could choose their favourites at the end of semester.
The boys decided that they wanted groups of seven or eight, all with different jobs. After a single lesson watching one person work while six others stood around him making jokes, I capped teams at 3. The customer is NOT always right.
I decided on three basic roles:
- content creator and client liaison.
This allowed for each group to have one person who hated programming, but could still be involved and active in the creation of the site. The programmer would work on the PHP and SQL. The Designer would work with HTML and CSS as well as Photoshop. The Content Creator would collect information, write up process and instruction documents, complete reports for the client and keep the project plan on track.
This necessitated different assessment rubrics. Each team member would be marked on their skillset. Again, this has worked very well. If the team was less than three, and one person was taking on two roles, then they could tell me which role they wanted to be assessed on.
Today, I am working with one very keen student who completed all of the programming over the weekend and has brought the thing into school on a virtual server on his USB. Again, liaising with the tech department, he will have the virtual server installed on the school network and then testing can begin.
The rest are still working on their login screens.
As with any project I ask my students to undertake, I have created my own version of the task. I am creating an order system for the school’s Breakfast Club.
I have FileZilla for FTP. I have Notepad++ for code creation. I have Stackoverflow and w3schools for the many issues that come up every time I try to run a script.
And I’m ready to become a full time History teacher.
Never ask your students to do anything you’re not willing to try yourself. The number of Professional Development sessions I’ve been to in regards to the Victorian Curriculum where I’ve been told “You don’t need to know it to teach it.” Yeah, OK, maybe that is true. But I’m not an empathetic person. I am quite sympathetic. I don’t have a lot of empathy.
Doing this myself has allowed me to solve a number of problems for my students.
Doing it myself means that I have greatly modified my expectations of what they should be able to achieve.
Doing it myself means that I can look them in the eyes and say “Yeah, but if I can knock this off in ten minutes, then you should be able to get it done in three hours.”
Just think: eventually you are going to need to know how to do this stuff, if you are going to teach it. Kids can tell when you’re out of your depth. That’s where bad behaviour comes from. Jump in the deep end now and give it a shot.
And ask for help. Help is everywhere.