Archive for the tag “programming”

Trying to keep up

Phew!

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.
  • Programmer
  • Designer

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.

Creators not Users

I usually talk about cyber safety. Today I say to you: the best way to be safe in the cyber-world is to be a creator and not just a user.

creatorsThe new Digital Technologies curriculum is coming into place next year. ICT capabilities (using word processors, spreadsheets, answering emails, creating wikis) will be incorporated into the rest of the curriculum. It is now assumed that students will know these things but if a History teacher wants a Word document handed in, they’ll have to check to make sure that the student is using styles for headings and not just pressing space a hundred times to get the heading into the centre of the page. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can you get Word to auto-create a table of contents using the headings from your report?
  2. Could you create a budget in a spreadsheet program that automatically updates as your financial situation changes?
  3. How would you find out what the Iranians called the Iranian Hostage Crisis?

This is stuff the students should know by the time they hit Year 7. Obviously, that means the teachers need to know it as well. That’s beside the point. We’re not teaching this stuff in IT any more, unless we need to as students hand in reports on the new DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES curriculum.

The idea behind Digital Technologies is that in a rapidly changing technological world, teaching students how to use Word is teaching them software that will be outdated by the time they hit the workforce.

We need to teach them how to think. That’s the concept that underpins Digital Technologies. Students are going to become creators rather than users.

If you know how to break down (decompose) a problem into smaller manageable pieces, and then create a series of steps (algorithms) that can solve each of the steps in an ordered way (computational thinking), allowing for the possibility of change in scope, then little things like working out how to do a mail merge in Word become easy, because you know the steps to solve that problem (Google it).

http://xkcd.com/627/This cartoon by XKCD sits above the desk in my office. It is guaranteed to turn anyone into an IT support person in seconds. Live by it. (link: http://xkcd.com/627/)

The easiest way for students to demonstrate computational thinking, decomposition and the creation of algorithms is to code. There has been a massive push in around the world to make sure the younger generation can code. It has finally made it to Australia and from next year (if they haven’t already started) students in primary school will be coding as part of their curriculum.

Where does that leave us? The secondary classrooms that haven’t been explicitly coding? We need to do some catch up. It might take a few years for us to be teaching the Year 7 curriculum. And that’s fine. It won’t take our students long to pick up on the concepts they missed out on.

And why am I doing this spiel on a blog? Because as parents (or teachers), you can help. Let’s get our students introduced to coding in a fun way before they need to do it in class. Start them on the basics so that they can take on the more structured lessons as they progress.

Here are some resources being thrown about at the high school level:

  • https://www.codecademy.com/ – This is a great resource we’ve been using with our Coding Club. It has courses in Javascript and Python – two very popular languages out in the world.
  • https://codecombat.com/ – learn to code while killing goblins and orcs! You tell your character what to do using code and learn while you’re at it.
  • http://Code.org/learn – The Hour of Code is a fantastic starting point. There are coding hours starring characters from Star Wars, Frozen, Minecraft and Angry Birds. Students can create their own Flappy Bird game, mazes and puzzle games as they progress.
  • https://bitsbox.com/ – good for Year 7s, but probably not much further on from there. You can subscribe for printed booklets with hundreds of little coding activities.

 

Digicon15

DLTV DigiCon 15 (the #digicon15 summaries)

Twitter is a marvellous beast. We can only go to one session in every slot during a conference, but thanks to Twitter (and the teachers using it) I have resources from dozens of sessions that I couldn’t make.

Over the two days, we discussed a number of technology issues and heard from some very clever and entertaining educators. I’m going to philosophise about a few things and post some links about the things we found out as I try to unpack all of the information shoved willy nilly into my brain. Please feel free to add to/dispute any of the information I place on here. And enjoy.

First up, something I picked up from my first VITTA conference: Storify. I typed digicon15 into the search bar, pressed SHOW MORE about a hundred times and then stuck all 2000 tweets into a storify article. From that point, I could start to order what happened over the two days and create:

https://storify.com/DamianPerry/dltv15#publicize

WHAT I LEARNED DURING DIGICON 2015.

Risk is not a dirty word!Teachers in general are a risk-averse bunch. And fair enough – we are providing a product to parents and we are accountable for our stuff-ups to a number of different groups. However, technological innovation is all about risk taking. And surprisingly, people rarely die from taking risks in this arena. So go for it.

Similarly, we are scared of letting our students take risks. But we need to relax and let them free. Just make sure you’re a member of the union first. Wrapping your students in bubble wrap means that they are ill-equipped to deal with the outside world.

Don’t tell your kids “Be risk takers!” and then “…but don’t do this because you might get hurt!” Schools have too many rules.  Set them free. If they fail, if they get hurt, they’ve learned something and will do better next time.

On the subject of failure, Anne Edmonds performed for us. She’s a very funny comedian and she extolled the virtues of failure as a learning device. Risk and failure = success (eventually). But only if you learn from your failures and don’t let them beat you down.

Hamish Curry played games for us, ate a banana on stage and was from that point on part of #bananagate, which I still don’t completely understand. During his keynote, the sales of Duet, Paper Fox and Monument Valley shot through the roof.

Four RussiansWhen you’re planning lessons, Corrie Barclay (@CorrieB) introduced us to the 3 Russian Brothers and their cousin:

Morov, Lessov, Ridov and Tossin.

What do you do that works that you can do more of (Morov)?

What do you need to do less of (Lessov)?

What do you need to completely get rid of (Ridof)?

What else can you toss in (Tossin)?

He made some excellent points about authentic assessment and enquiry learning. His Doomsday website shows what students can come up with when they aren’t limited by teacher expectations.

The philosophy of being a teacher came up over and over. One of the better quotes that popped up on the screen during keynotes and Spark events was: There is no such a thing as a teacher or a student; there are only co-learners. Especially in IT, we learn as much from our students as we teach them, and the successful teacher is the one that is willing to take the new on board and have a student explain it.

As for the venue, Swinburne is a great place to hold a conference. The wi-fi was flawless, which is usually where these days fall down. The food was delicious and plentiful. Winthrop provided us with free “real” coffee for the two days. And apart from getting up way too early on a Saturday morning, the public transport was a doddle.

And I reinvigorated my company pen collection:

pens

Specifics

ICT v Digital Technologies

how to make a paper plane

My instructions

Digital Technologies = Producer. ICT = Consumer

In one of our sessions, we made the distinction between DigiTech and ICT by making paper planes. I had to make a plane, write down the instructions, post the instructions to Twitter. Then I found instructions from someone else and followed their instructions to make a plane myself. Digital Technologies involves the creation of a product. ICT involves using a product that someone else has created. This activity allowed us to do both.

Implementing Digital Technologies presents the age-old problem of where to stick it. Do we create a separate Digi-Tech class at a year level? Or do we break it up and stick it into a number of different classes?

The instructions I had to follow

The instructions I had to follow.

Technological Innovation

I attended a session about getting students out of school using technology. The idea is that one a couple of days each year, or semester, whatever the school is comfortable with, the students stay home from school and the teachers present classes digitally. There are a great number of reasons why this would be a good idea. Just as many reasons not to do it, especially in our risk-averse teaching society. But it’s an interesting concept.

The teachers at Nossal High School send their students home twice a year for a school free day. The teachers timetabled on for that day teach their regular period via online teaching. They use webcasting, pre-recorded content and online assessment to present and assess their classes.

This was a daunting task for a number of teachers, but through collegiality, a bit of courage and a good implementation plan, the program worked – and continues to work – well.

I’m not saying that we should all send our students home for the day twice a year – I think our parents specifically would have a kitten over the idea – but there is definitely merit in using a collegiate approach to upskilling the teachers in our schools and getting them to embrace technology. Maybe a Digital Day twice a year where students take classes digitally at school. Something to think about.

Coding

I didn’t make it to any of the coding sessions, but I got a great deal of feedback from the other teachers from my school, as well as a friend of mine and of course the multitudes of Tweets.

Some of the better results:

Coding = repetitive failing until you get something that works. – @rissL

Programming, or “coding”, is simply making a list of instructions and having them executed.

I saw someone “coding” a human being. This sounds like a great introduction to the concept.

3D

A 3D scanned me.

A 3D scanned me.

The 3D offerings at DigiCon15 were phenomenal. The ideas I saw put forward will completely change the way I run the curriculum next year. There’s too much to go into here, so I’ll put up a separate blog post on the subject (and link to it when I’m done).

Questions without answers

How can we shape lesson and curriculum design that keeps us as teachers engaged, creative and innovative? – @CorrieB

So many benefits for teaching students the Arts. How can we make schools value this more? – @wongmichy

Links

Corrie’s session: Redesigning Curriculum for the 21st Century.

DigiCon15 on Youtube

And finally, the teachers at Northern Bay being superheroes for the sake of education:

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