Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Students presenting at a teachers' conference

On Monday, August 29th, I was joined by three of my students in presenting a workshop at the Victorian Information Technology Teachers Association conference: Leading and Learning from the Edge. We ran a workshop entitled: "Building mobile Apps for iOS and Android Devices using Corona SDK." I was very proud of the three girls (I work at a girls' school) and I wanted to write this blogpost in their honour.

Context
At our school, an Apps programming club has been running for a term and a half. When I received the "call for papers" from VITTA, I thought it would be a good idea to involve some students as this would motivate them and give them a special experience. As we came closer to the conference, I realised that we had covered less ground in the App Club than I had anticipated. The student presenters and I were not as confident anymore.

How we prepared
I began by building part of the App we would use in the workshop. I then met with the three students during a few lunchtimes to build the remaining functionality. It became clear early on that they really wanted me to build the whole thing. Given how busy our school tends to be and given that these girls were involved in other activities at lunchtime (not to mention that I was looking after a soccer team), our meetings were few and far between. 

A week from the conference, we had six powerpoint presentations: one introducing us and the programming environment and 5 "steps" for building the App. We also had some workfiles which our participants would modify in each step. We tested every step to make sure that the instructions in our presentations were accurate and presented in the right sequence. In the last week, each of the girls had a run at presenting her part to a small group of students. Throughout the weekend, each of the three practised her part and two of them emailed me questions.

The day of the conference
On the day of the conference, we made sure we got to the venue early and checked in the configuration of the computers our participants would use. We chose four computers and checked them. Three were fine but one didn't have one program installed. The technician who was there assured us that he would get to that one.

We were now at ease and went to attend the opening keynote speech, summarised in this post. When our session started, we discovered that, although it was to span sessions 2 and 3, the participants had been allocated a different presentation in session 3! Still, we got started, each girl having her turn while the remaining two and I helped the participating teachers debug their programs. Much to our delight and relief, no one left half way through. The workshop went really well and the student-presenters grew in confidence and looked like they were right in their element. What was particularly pleasing was the way they called on each other's help when they one of them was unsure how to help a teacher who was stuck.

Step 3 was mine to present and, at the end of it, the participants took the workfiles away in case they chose to complete the App at home or work.

After the session, the students enjoyed the gourmet lunch on offer. When I received a message from the deputy principal who had come to pick them up, I rushed them to return their plates and head out. On the way out, they saw a coffee cart and asked to be allowed to have a hot chocolate each. After the great job they had done, I couldn't say no!

Lessons learned
If we get to do this again next year, this is what I will do differently:
  1. Begin planning earlier: Expect the students to be busy over many lunchtimes. Three weeks weren't enough, five weeks would be better.
  2. Insist that the students have a greater input in preparing the workshop files and presentations.
  3. Include more source code (programming lines) in the workfiles. The less that the participants have to type from scratch, the better
  4. Ask the organisers about the directory structure they intend to use and replicate it on the my laptop (the presentation workstation). This year, the participants found the files in "Other files/presenter files/1206 Corona/workfiles". This is important since many teachers aren't used to Macs.
  5. Schedule a review session with the students. They too can learn a lot from reflecting on their experience.
Finally, observing those students do so well in what could easily have been an intimidating environment filled me with pride and joy. For the next two days, I was on Cloud 9.

I intend to repeat this experiment, even inside the school. In an email they sent me afterwards, the students remarked: "It was a nice change for us to be the teachers and them to be the students."

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