Campaign for Real Computer Science

Here’s a pre-Easter thought. Someone poisoned Computer Science; now it’s wandering around like a mindless video-zombie. What happened to real computing?

In the early 80s, my parents had a very English caravan stuck on a wind swept field near Skegness, UK. Video arcade machines started to show up in the penny-arcades and I was duly given a few ten pence coins to occupy myself while they fed one armed bandits.

I was a total expert at Spyhunter. I could make 3 lives last 3 hours. I liked being good at it, even though it had a habit of crashing when things got too hectic.

By the time the micro computer appeared I would be waiting at the newsagent for this month’s Computer and Video Games. Then I’d spend hours typing in line after line of code for some game, that took twice as much effort to debug. So much for French homework – I had code to copy. I was a brilliant copier – and half decent hacker.

Learning about computers was unheard of in school, so when I eventually enrolled  in Computer Science A Level,  I was not impressed.

The course had nothing to do with my brilliance at Spy Hunter, or the fact I could hack Elite and win any trade-war.

They taught the fundamentals of computer science! How code worked! It took a while for me to begin noticing – that the code I was blindly copying from C&VG started to make sense.

What I was interested in outside the classroom, became meaningful inside the classroom – as the teacher took the time to let use hack code, tinker and re-write programs to do other stuff. He was a scientist, mathematician – had a proper beard, and knew his stuff.

I think the introduction of ICT over Computer Science was a point in time marking decline.  It has been reduced to formatting and using software to communicate —  programming reduced to one unit in a two year course using Visual Basic or HTML.

We’ve massively turned the computer science teacher into a go-to-support desk admin teacher and completely ignore the fact that teachers as academics and researchers – are being clubbing them to death with outcomes that are meaningless. But we do need them for fix the network, plug in the scanner – who else is going to do it. No one. Get out the seat and return to your paper mine. For we are Scientists.

We’ve managed to reduce computer science to computer using … and now at a time where virtual worlds, games and social-play have replaced TV, penny-arcades and magazines. We block even that.

Academically, computing should be a Science and not be co-opted into a blended beige curriculum where being able to format text counts as learning.

I hope that the revamped IST, SDD and IPT in the National Curriculum will embrace the potential and growth of what technology offers today – a world where no one becomes an information worker. We also see declining numbers in those subjects – especially in girls — and you wonder why?

Join the Campaign for Real Computing Science.


Creativity, Curiosity, Consideration, Consistency Part 3

Science Cafe Seminar @ 21st Century Kaitokudo
Image by skasuga via Flickr

The final part of this three part look at how we got here, looks at engagement.

In just a few years, Web2.0 has re-energised teachers to discuss and share ideas about learning frameworks on a global scale. Learning is changing on a global scale, the personal learning network is the learning management tool for many educators. These teachers see more than software and more than the internet. They see an opportunity to recreate learning frameworks, adapt technology and the re-engagement of students. The generosity of these people allows the rest of us to understand how they are doing it, and to me, these people demonstrate some common traits.

How effective 21st Century teachers tap into student interest.

  • Creativity: Cognitive skills applied to creating and making using technology – that the activity allows interest driven opportunities to remix, remake and construct understanding by ‘doing’.
  • Curiosity: Enquiry approaches, not knowing all the facts and not needing to have all the answers. Encouraging students to ask their ‘own’ questions is more important than answering the teachers’.
  • Consideration: How students learn using technology. How they collaborate, what it means to be a global citizen and develop an ePortfolio to build a positive digital reputation as a life long learner. Preparation for examination and assessment, balanced with our responsibility to adequately prepare novices to become life long learners.
  • Consistency: Establishing pedagogical ‘norms’ that allow students to learn inside frameworks that support learners, using relevant language, protocols and mediation.

Insistence that a teacher has to include ICT in an assessment task is just a bad idea if they are not able to do it. It doesn’t matter if the school is instructional based, inquiry based, under or well resourced. If schools are going to use the Internet, and offer students access to information and services on it – then these are criteria in which they can assess their learning frameworks. We simply need to admit that might have to start again, to accept that building planes in the sky is not working. We may need to accept that we are no longer able to teach effectively with ICTs until we re-evaluate how we use them in the 21st Century Context.

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Graphic-A-Day#8 – What I hope I do.

My job says I have to ‘teach’ students skills and information to pass exams. The result of my efforts has a determination on the immediate steps that students can take, and things they can do.

If they choose to go to University,  I hope that the way in which they learned gave them ideas and skills to be creative and enter further study with that mindset rather than some form of human photocopier.

Graphic-A-Day#8 – Printers

Give a teacher a printer and make a friend for life. Todays poster is for all those teachers who love a printed worksheet. Some just love to print out ‘content’. Last year I did a study with year 12 students in the lead up to the HSC. Most said they were getting well over 100 sheets of paper a week. Most also said that they didn’t read it. The sheets they read were the ones that had ‘work’ on them, and even so, the majority said that it was easier to use the internet to get the answer than it was the paper.

Some teachers love the printer so much that they will come into school during the holidays just to get print outs ready.

To these people, that is what computers are for: Preparing CONTENT or TESTING for content retention.

If you want a rebellion, pull the toner drum out for a day. Teachers will chase the IT department with pitch-forks and torches. If they cannot use the printer – then a computer is like a car without wheels.

The reality is that it takes less effort to save a document and share it via the internet, than it does to print it and get a class set photocopied. Trying to explain the benefits to them – and the students is not something that goes down well. The notion of being parted from their printer it too unthinkable.

It is maybe ironic however, that the paper-pushers also claim Google and Wikipedia use as one of the ‘yeah but’ arguements against using computers in the classroom. The most common other one being lack of time (well printing and photocopying is very time consuming). These teachers do that themselves with technology. When going beyond the class text book, they can be seen preparing ‘content’ sheets. Its almost a cottage industry in some schools. The above poster really tries to sum that activity up – as a satire on process driven learning.

Create the document, and share it with not just your class, but other teachers is more efficient and consistent. Posting that online where kids can get it, is more effective. It saves time and paper. How many paper pushing teachers hear from students ‘I didn’t get the worksheet or I don’t have it here’. This 20C activity is easily improved.

Put that content or worksheet in an online space where students can discuss it, creates conversational learning. Developing a GoogleDoc with collegues, and then sharing that with students is even better. Working on a GoogleDoc with students is engaging and promotes one to one learning.

“Yeah but” … I don’t have that much access to computer classrooms, so I need to print!

Well, yes and no. It’s all about rethinking how you use the time you have. As a teacher, it is possible to take the time you will be in and ICT classroom, and create an activity which promotes improved classroom practice and professional development. In short, it’s not so much about access as it is about building your own capacity to begin changing how you use technology with students.

If you are designing lessons, that are essentially question driven – based on students seeking similar information that you yourself ‘found’, then that is BORING. It is also low level activity, and is not building capacity in the students.

If your printed worksheet contains instructions such as ‘go to and answer the following questions … then that is fairly basic and boring. If you say go to Google and do it, then the kids will be struggle – as you are not teaching the most critical skill – how to select and justify quality information.

A better way would be to ‘tag’ several sources in delicious – and ask why one is more applicable or more authoritative than the other. They will still learn the ‘content’ but the need for learning is to compare and justify it, not just use or identify it. Delicious is the ‘worksheet’. All you had to do was create one ‘tag’ for the students, which is less work that stripping out content and re-packing it for paper delivery.

If you can’t give up paper – then this activity can be done with paper. Students can use the tags and the content in the ICT lesson, make paper notes and then do some offline activity. That is a better use of the time you have – and you are teaching critical literacy.

So thats the rant for today – make the most of the time you have in ICT, and don’t simply make it an electronic search of the classic text book chaper task. Kids can find millions of pages about anything you ask them to look for … there is TOO much information now. A decade ago there was less. It was easier to find it and much more obvious if Site A is better than Site B. That is no longer the case. Think before you print! Finding ‘the’ answer is not as important as choosing the ‘most relevant’ in a context.

Healthy Meals for kids

Rethinking approaches to teaching with technology starts with re-thinking the way in which we learn. I previously talked about going on an ICT Diet, so this post is about what could in a healthy classroom.

Rather than ask the student questions that relate to explicit content, how about putting the content together ahead of time and get students to pre-prepare for class?

One of the most critial elements of running a project is the Driving Question. In an ICT classroom, that is a double edged sword, as you should by now be asking questions that they can’t Google the answer.

Heres an example of why I mean by a healthy classroom question.

“How has the way we think about war changed since Gallipoli” for example (HSIE in Stage 3). Here is the outcome from the syllabus (standards).

  • Research significant events in Australia’s history, eg Gold Rush, Federation. Students choose one of those events and write about life from a person’s perspective during that period of time, eg a miner, a war correspondent, a soldier, a child.

There is no one answer to that question, it’s pretty Google Proof. But how they answer the questions should promote the use of Wikipedia and Searching, but not rely on it as ‘the answers’.

Students of course would just offer personal opinions at the outset, based on a general understanding of war and ANZAC cove. If the teacher then goes on to think about the ‘end’ product, then there will be elements of other syllabus outcomes that need to be demonstrated in the project. Let’s assume we go straight from the syllabus on this one point for now.

The end product has to be given to the students. “I want you to go an make…” is not as powerful as asking them ‘what could be a great way of answering this question’.

Rather than plod through a time line of Australian’s at war, create a timeline and share it with the class. If you select the ‘content’ key elements from quality sources, then it is fairly easy to embed them into the timeline or in PBL terms – ‘entry document’.This can be a mix of text, textbook references, video and audio. It allows the teacher to engage students by appealing to their individual learning styles. It also gives them a good idea of what you are ‘expecting’ to see, read or hear.

Don’t stomp on their ideas! – If they want to make a podcast, then that might be a skill they need to learn along the way – but encourage them out of the boring old standards (MS Office).

Even the best student needs a scaffold, so put enough in the timeline to indicate the kind of learning that they will need to do to meet the goals of the teacher – though these goals do not need to explicitly outlined to the students.

So now you have a question, have given students the opportunity to think about the way they are going to represent their answers and some formal pre-class reading.

Next, construct some discussion object, that check for understanding of what to do. Most often this a rubric, but it its key characteristics is to allow students to self-measure – which is a vital skill.

Moodle could do that, or so could a forum online. “If you were going to war, what would be five things that you would have questions about – before making a choice to go to war or to lobby against it”

By encouraging students to generate their own questions, you can check that they did the reading, if they understood the issues etc., From that you can get them to collaborate and share their questions with each other. Are there any common questions, which question stuck you as surprising etc., This is giving teachers hard evidence as part of the formative assessment process. To be effective, you have to learn how to ask questions that will promote reflective answers.

At this point, the power of online discourse communities kicks in. Students will not be in a herd, some will the asking simple questions, others will ask more complex one – perhaps bringing in social, cultural and ethical facets. This watershed, gives the teacher an ability to compare the student to a taxonomy.

Being able to apply what they are saying to what you would like them to say requires some skill. Each student needs to know from the outset, if what they are about to ask/do is too easy or too hard.

During the project, you can ask them specific questions – if you think that they are not covering enough ground, but again, make them interesting and reflective rather than list, find, identify things.

The power of using a scaffold and prepared language model to do this means that any feedback you give them, can be understood and applied by other students. This creates in-built peer assessment. If you are using a forum to do this, then it is simple for students to see who is doing what, and they will model ‘where next’ to a large degree from what they see.

That requires the teaching students how to set goals, and write about reaching them, and giving them feedback using informal online spaces – not marking.

As you didn’t ask for low level answers to start with, then it is quite hard for them to head for copy and paste, as all the questions – and answers are fundamentally reflective and justified by the individual, not the group. Teachers need to keep a running record of this activity and growth, so developing a new formative assessement record is critical – but it’s not complex. The ‘teacher’ journal can be replaced with an eJournal.

As the project moves forwards, the teacher needs to ask each student questions to steer them through each of the ‘learning gates’ or re-direct them. Ideally, reference a student who has gone through a gate and ask the student who missed it to suggest why they missed it the first time. Linking their learning to each other is very powerful and motivating. It avoids saying ‘you are wrong’.

Like VET based vocational learning, I don’t think learning is yes or no anymore but merely a competency. Some answers or obviously fixed – ‘”What is the formula to measure the area of a circle” but giving them a task in which they find and apply that formula is a milestone in achieving a greater goal.

Teachers like to mark things, but marks in this context don’t work, its easy to mark the ‘area of a circle’ formula, but thats no reason to hold onto it forever. Context and information fluency is more important.

There is no harm in letting kids take another shot. So rethink what you consider to be summative assessment. Of course you can’t do that if you have given the answer already – and that happens because a lot of questions are geared towards having an answer.

Ultimately, you will cover the content, and the students will collaborate, but doing to so to meet individual goals. More complex management of groups is required if you are indeed forming ‘groups’.

You end product could be something like a dairy entry – how a soldier felt when first signing up for war, and what he felt like after being there for a short time. They could then write a letter as a elderly person, reflecting on how war has changed – or not changed, by reflecting on evidence and the questions that they raised. Of course along the way, you can still drop in a test. Moodle is great at 10 minute ‘oil dips’. Tests do motivate students, but they are not truely reflective of ability in collaborative environments.

Presenting to someone from the RSL, gives the whole project validity and passion. The questions the students created can be directly commented on by the ex-serviceman, there is a personal, authentic connection. A student just presenting a slideshow about ANZACs will merely contain linear facts.

The evaluation at the end of the presentation, is critical. It could be done by students recording a Podcast, and having a conversation about their questions and the things they decided were reasonable answers. They will not only present their work, but learn from critical feedback. So even being assessed does not have to be a once only affair, it’s okay to make summative assessment something other than a ‘test’ or a ‘hand in’.

The teacher will have a comprehensive formative record of EACH students progress. They will be able to easily demonstrate a growth in the learner, and a one to one conversation. One key indicator if the project design is individualized and comprehensive is that the end products will be different!

This automatically allows for differentiated learning and encourages creative solutions. Eric Gill (typographer) said “The artist is not a different kind of person, but every person is a different kind of artist.”

Presenting learning in interesting ways and encouraging interesting, creative use of ICTs to solve authentic projects create engagement and builds effective critical thinkers. Its healthy for the school too, as students are ‘busy’ learning not ‘busy’ looking to entertain themselves with poor behaviour – a symptom of boredom in my view.

Go on an ICT Diet – you need it fatboy

If you are a teacher, or know a teacher that uses and ICT classroom, this ones for you.

What are you feeding your kids? – How do you know that what you are feeding them is good for them? Is your classroom really that healthy?

Diet, according to the mass media, is vital to our health and well being. We also hear how playing video games is bad for teenagers – they should be out playing ball. But is it all bad? Here is a great post in Teen Health to read later.

Going past the ‘home’ use of technology, I’d like to propose the idea of a ‘healthy ICT environment’ for learning in school. I propose that many teachers need to go on an ICT Diet, and loose some pounds and bad consumption habits.

Googling is not healthy. Nor is skulling Wikipedia. Both activities do not promote healthy consumption of information, and the student brain rarely turns it into knowledge.

Fact based information is everywhere. Asking questions that can be easily Googled is hardly going to break students into a sweat. And as all the fitness gurus tell us – no pain no gain. ICT in classrooms is not to be used as the Ab King Pro (click it’s funny).

Using a computer is not short cut to learning and water, I mean information retention (ah the fitness puns come thick and fast). I think that many ICT lessons are fundamentally unhealthy.

Here are few things that I think are serious problems in high school ICT lessons.  Sharing a computer with someone else is NOT collaborative learning. Asking kids to look up answers to things you wrote on the board in NOT enquiry learning. Showing kids a powerpoint you made last year for the same class is NOT a teacher exposition. Writing answers on a worksheet after they look them up on Wikipedia is NOT multimedia – nor is adding sound effects to power point.

ICT Workouts for healthy classrooms

Firstly, I don’t like the digital native idea – Don’t assume that someone in primary (elementary) taught kids how to touch type, no kid was born to text – they learned it.

Being a competent typist is much more important to 7th graders than being a ‘blogger’. It might look good to administrators and parent – ‘hey, look how 21C my abs are’ – but if you only have limited hours in the ICT gym – teach them to type please.

Make sure that they have key mastery skills, take on board differentiated learning needs. Assume nothing. Make sure you have a list of things you want to ‘check’ for before launching into your newest Web2.0 love. They have to type, they have to read, they have to know where to look for information, they have to JUSTIFY it. If you are finding that kids are heading to the cookie jar (Control Copy/Paste) then make sure how screw that lid down tight. (Ask questions they can’t Google).

Paper is still an Olympic champion – think of ways in which you can use paper in formative assessment. Give kids paper that they can use to construct meaning. Don’t give them things to fill it – eating between meals will spoil your ICT appetite. Come up with formative scaffolds that help them work online. Don’t assume because they eat at Bebo, that they know what to bring to class. They don’t know, and mum doesn’t know what to pack for a healthy ICT lunch either. Design paper things that help them learn WITH technology.

Use the ICT gym equipment safely. Put the kids on the IWB, not your powerpoint. Use tools like Mindomo as a vitamin IWB enhancer. Get them to work collaboratively to solve a problem, not to colour in or click things. Its a big visual space so let them run around a bit.  The internet is VERY BIG, take them on a virtual field trip. Find ways to put them in front of the board, not you – you’re the coach, you don’t need to run around all the time. But you do need to keep them motivated.

Leave bad habits at home. Don’t bring your MS Office bias into class. Honestly – how teachers ever do a mail merge or set up a macro – or need to teach kids to – EXPLICITLY? Most people use like 10% of Word’s ability. Instead, go have a look at GoogleDocs, Buzzwords or Zoho. Think about how you can get kids to work collaboratively with you and others – using the same core functions that Word has been drip feeding you for a decade or more. Don’t learn more Word Tools, learn more collaborative writing tools. Maybe there’s a project idea in which they’d need to learn to mail merge – give it context and purpose.

Get in a coach or pro mentor. No one ever said that getting healthy would be easy. Connecting to people who can help you – is called a Personal Learning Network. You can get all kinds of great advice and also give advice. You+Network=Winning Team. You+Bad ICT Diet=Unhealthy Learners.

I think that if we took the average ICT lesson to Dr Learning, we’d find that it is unhealthy for the students. Chris Lehmann talked last week about technology being like Oxygen for students.

I think oxygen is not the only thing we need to live, diet and (brain) exercise will create collaborative, creative and engaged learners – who will suck down plenty of O2 in ICT classrooms.