What I learnt from a "hands-on" digital tech subject
In the last semester, I taught a new Year Nine elective at my school, "Out of this world: Technology to take us to Mars." I am writing this post to force myself to evaluate my practice and to document what I learnt from the experience.
|DJI Robomaster EP Core, programmed as a simulation Mars Rover
What I learnt from running the course
- Physical computing is worth the effort.
Students learnt how the automatic lights in their classrooms and automatic doors in shopping centres worked. They saw how many areas of life are driven by a combination of devices and software.
- Physical computing is not a good way to teach coding.
I had already become convinced of this from previous experiences. If you want kids to become good computer programmers, then teach them in a software-only environment. They will concentrate their time writing and debugging code, rather than fiddling with the electronics.
- Scaffold code reuse.
I had been hoping that students would be able to reuse code between tutorials and to take code from one tutorial to their own project. They found this process challenging and I believe I needed to model this project more than I did. In fact, I think that they need a scaffolded activity where they nominate where they can find code that performs a specific function and then apply it in a slightly different context. This would then become a "template" for their work.
- Sound file management is the answer to life, the universe and everything!
As with everything requiring programming, sloppily naming files and not knowing which folder your code is stored in, results in wasting a lot of time. I cannot stress this enough.
- You need a dedicated space.
Students need to be able to peruse different devices and decide to try to use, say, a dust sensor. They also need to be able to continue building their projects from one lesson to the next. Students also need to make models out of cardboard, paper and various adhesives. For all of these reasons and more, you need to be able to use the same room with everything that they need in it.
- Allocate more time to projects than you think they deserve.
Students will feel the need to add colour to their cardboard. They'll work together rather than divide up tasks. You will want them to enjoy the experience, so save yourself and them the anguish of tight deadlines!
- Designate roles
Yes, you want students to collaborate but there need to be separate responsibilities. I did not do this and I have learnt my lesson for next time! There needs to be a project manager and they need a checklist of things to verify periodically to be provided by the teacher. This will teach students a valuable skill and you won't be the one pushing them to finish or to get going on their writeup whilst someone decorates the model greenhouse.
- Bring an engineer to work!
In a course like this, the word engineering will come up a few times. Most students don't really know what an engineer does. When I was asked the question, I was lucky to know a few former students who have gone into that field. Two of them, a chemical engineer and a structural engineer, were happy to appear via Zoom and explain to the girls what they did in their jobs. I hope to write a post on this experience too.
Why this course
Some course content
If she chooses to become an engineer in the future, she will be great a it.