Tuesday, November 25, 2014

VCE Algorithmics: The journey begins

Today, I had my first class of VCE Algorithmics. This is a computer science course that will be part of the Victorian Certificate of Education for the first time in 2015. Like many other schools, we have a week's "headstart" at the end of this academic year. My class is made up of six girls and me. Four of the girls are in year 11 and the remaining two are in year 12. As for me, I am out of school and in my forties! We will learn much and solve many problems together and I have been waiting impatiently for the course to get under way.

Given that the textbook is yet to be published, I took the opportunity of this week to lay some ground in "algorithmic thinking". The students looked at a few algorithms today and decided what each of them accomplished. Here is one. Do you know what it does?

If you want to work it out for yourself, stop reading!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wonderful advice to young women at the "Go Girl, Go for IT" conference

Today, two colleagues of mine and I accompanied 46 year 9 and 10 girls to the Go Girl conference at Deakin University. After a warm welcome by program director, Fi Slaven, the presentations started with the day's conference patron, Karen Stocks, Managing Director of Twitter Australia (@KazStocks). Karen gave the students 3 pieces of advice:
  1. It is okay not to have a life plan. Follow passions, dreams. Do something that makes your heart beat faster. Trust that you'll end up somewhere good.
  2. Education, education, education. Don't just get a degree, do well. Good grades will show that you can apply yourself.
  3. You will earn credibility through sustained performance. Be humble, patient and respect your elders, even when you feel that you're the smartest person at the table.

Next up was Tammy Butow (@tammybutow) , senior digital strategist at NAB. It was inspiring to see someone achieve so much at such a young age. She encouraged the girls to build products, learn to code and form teams with complementary skills.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A class that showed me what learning looks like

Last year, I began teaching an elective class in year 10 called "Big Ideas in Computer Technology". The first class had 12 girls in it and, this year, the number grew to 17. I was blown away with the number since, in year 10, the girls can take only three electives across the year and the offerings at our school are mind-boggling.

How the learning was structured
This year, I really wanted to work with a principle I learnt from a video by James Paul Gee which I reviewed earlier. Using computer games as a metaphor, I saw my role as designing the learning in such a way that the students could have enough guidance at the beginning - the first two levels of the game - and then learn through experimentation, discussion and some help from me.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Educational beliefs I have let go of

Before becoming a teacher, I used to assume that kids couldn't know things unless they were taught them. I really thought that a comprehensive curriculum and rigorous tests were the way to ensure a quality education. Every time I encountered kids who seemed to struggle with basic numeracy, I would mumble something about the school system lacking rigour. In this post, I want to list some of the beliefs that I no longer hold.

Here are four beliefs I used to hold but no longer do:

  1. Students learn what we teach them
    It is a well-established fact that students construct their own learning and that this construction is influenced by many factors, including what teachers say or demonstrate. I know many teachers, myself included, who finish correcting their students' papers and exclaim: "I told them ...." or "was I even in the room when we discussed this?" At times, I still express my frustration this way but I am no longer surprised when students do not internalise what I said in class.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Learning in "Passion Communities"

This video by James Paul Gee is an absolute gem. One idea I want to discuss here is his vision of people learning in what he calls "passion communities". Passion communities form around video games, popular books and hobbies. Fans of Harry Potter go on sites where they write their own fiction stories in that genre. World of Warcraft gamers develop the skill of solving problems in groups.

So, what are the features of a "passion community" (ideas taken from the video):
  1. They solve problems collaboratively: The group is smarter than the individual.
  2. Learning happens on demand: In a game, progressive levels introduce you to the skills and language you need to succeed. You don't acquire knowledge in a vacuum and expect to apply it later.
  3. They are not age-graded. People of different ages can contribute and learn.
  4. The same teacher can mentor one time and be mentored at another time.
  5. The community sets high standards and provides honest feedback to help its members reach them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Seymour Papert, a Roman Temple and EdTech today!

In 2009, I lived a childhood dream by visiting the Roman temple of Jupiter in Baalbek, Lebanon. The temple was built by many generations of Roman engineers, artisans and slaves. The stones used could not be found in that valley location, so the Romans brought them by sea, used elephants and slaves to drag them up a mountain and then down to the right location. There, they would be carved and set in place. The grandeur of the pillars and the intricate work still visible today spoke of the glory that the Romans wanted the place to have. I remember thinking that we had the technology to execute such grand projects in a much shorter time. It was the ambition we lacked.
Some time later, I came across this video by Seymour Papert . In it, Papert shows the use of the Logo programming language to control a "turtle" either on the screen or on a physical surface. By manipulating the turtle, students can create shapes, animations or music that are personally meaningful. While doing this, they use mathematical concepts and discover some of their own maths.