What is it?
It is solving problems. That's pretty much it. More specifically, it means breaking down the problem into a list of required steps solve it accurately and efficiently. Just because it has the word computer in the title doesn't mean we can't be talking about solving a maths problem, or constructing a cooking recipe.
How am I promoting it?
On a computer. Sorry, but I'm a computing teacher so that's what I work with. But please don't let that discourage you. Currently, I'm encouraging my students with my own real passion for coding and building. I do this with a variety of products including LittleBits, Minecraft, MakeyMakey, Arduinos, Scratch, Visual Basic, Python and Robotics. All will involve some aspect of getting students to solve a range of problems to within specific criteria of expectation levels.
My next endeavours will involve the implementation of open source coding onto Raspberry Pi devices into the year eleven course starting next year. This, coupled with some additional work in Python, will hopefully lead students to want to experiment with their physical hardware devices on a more advanced level.
I want to incorporate more computational thinking. What should I do?
Over the last term, I've been doing a lot of cycling. This is nothing new. I've cycled before, and always enjoyed it. The difference this time is my decision to integrate technology into the sport.
Upon recommendations from friends and family, I signed up to Strava - a cloud based data tracking system for cyclists. Sounds nerdy right? Well it probably is, but it's also become one of the most motivating reasons to get out there each and every day and enjoy an active lifestyle. The app which I click on and off at the beginning and end of each ride tracks distance, time, route and even the elevation profile of the course I rode. It allows me to monitor progress, set goals and analyse future paths, as well as follow other cyclists. The interest and energy with which I now enjoy cycling, even when I'm not actually on the bike, is enormous. Some screenshots and an example of a heat map provided by a cyclist blogger is shown below to demonstrate some of the cool tools available.
It got me thinking about the application of technology in the classroom. So long as its done right, a simple (and boring sounding) task like data analysis can become amazingly engaging. Rather than analyse data we've taken from the net, why not get the kids outside, go for a long walk, run or ride and then get them to analyse the data each time? This would have the added advantage of getting students outside but also provided a meaningful method of integrating both technology and numeracy into the classroom.
I'm healthier than I was at the start of the term now, largely thanks to Strava. There are obviously thousands of Apps in existence where similar processes can be applied - EasyDietDiary (a food/nutrition intake analyser), and MotionX (a sleep monitor) are some that comes to mind, but the point is we should never stop trying to integrate technology into the classroom, and we must move away from the obvious tools like Google and Wikipedia. I'm sure there is already an App available that would be better suited to many lessons you will one day need to teach.
I just received my final marks for my Masters, and I have now finished! After three years and twelve gruelling subjects, I will graduate at the end of this year with a Masters in Applied Finance.
Why did I bother? Because it was interesting. The subjects may have been tough, and the teaching strategies employed by uni lecturers often leave a lot to be desired, but I really found the whole investigation of finance fascinating.
Where to go now?
Continuing the learning
Many teachers often say they are often students of learning, and while I admire that philosophy, the only true method of maintaining a student's perspective is to actually be a student.
For the past three years I have been studying a Masters, and will complete this (*pending results*) around February next year. I have loved this degree and found so many of the aspects to be absolutely fascinating. I have however, not been overly impressed by the method of delivery for many of the individual subjects.
As a high school teacher we are constantly encouraged to provide a high quality teaching, the NSW Quality Teaching Model describes three key aspects of this - intellectual quality, a quality learning environment and significant in the work. The extract below explains this:
Not only are we encouraged by our employer, but we encourage each other, are encouraged by parents and sometimes even by politics and the media.
The universities I have studied through, which I will purposely not name, have had no issue meeting two of those three criteria - the first and last. They are great at promoting high intellectual quality, and exemplary at utilising significance in the various courses of study. Both however, have failed miserably at providing a high quality learning environment. My experiences as a student, while also being a teacher have given me some profound insight into exactly what students want. Most notably I must admit, it's through negative reinforcement - whenever my uni lecturer did something that annoyed me, I made it my mission never to do that to my own students.
A common example would be not returning assignments back in an acceptable time frame; I once waited four months to get a uni assignment back. As a student, this drove me insane - how am I suppose to learn from my mistakes, if you won't tell me what the mistakes are! Needless to say, I would have appealed this grade if I was unhappy with it. As a teacher, I strive to ensure my students always have assignments back in quick succession. Not only does this support their learning but it helps to reinforce good management techniques for myself around reporting timeframes.
Another frustration I feel as a student, is when I get the assignment back, with little or no feedback. As example from just this year is when I received 19/20 for a task with written feedback saying "Good job". Don't get me wrong - the mark is good, but seriously, what did I lose the one point for? If it really is a good job, why is it not worth 20/20? To this day, I still have no way of knowing what it was I did that was incorrect. Once again, I find this form of feedback very unhelpful, and so make every attempt to avoid it with my students. One of the most effective methods of removing any doubt about where points were lost, is to construct an assignment with explicit marking rubrics or criteria such as the ones I have used for my juniors - see IST for the assignments.
What to do now?
There are plenty of other examples I could list as to how I think universities are doing the worst type of educational modelling, but I don't really want this to sound like a rant. I'm more inclined to say it's learning I did through experience. If not for my decision to continue post graduate education while working full time, I might never have become the stringent assessor and meticulous person and teacher I am now, so in the end it's all positive.
I am curious however, does anybody wish to share a similar experience?
I have been quietly updating several components of the website in the past few days. Most of the content for each of the pages (at least the ones that are completed) serves as a teaser to a particular lesson. My style of teaching greatly revolves around my ability to ad-lib the extra details from a series of bullet points.
It does make me wonder though, how important is the specific content we discuss? Do my students simple accept that each lesson will being with a spiel about something they will have to listen to, only to then be confused when the set questions or exercises have little to do with the content. Most of the time, especially in a technology field, the content is quite literally very different each year. I've only been teaching three and a half years, and I'm unsure if there's a single thing I'm still teaching now from my first year lesson plans.
I find it is usually better to mention the issue (pretty much straight from the syllabus) and then discuss them with the students as adults. Typically by asking them what they already know and, more often than not, confirming it to be true and correct. Thus, why teach all the content sometimes? Wouldn't it be easier for students to see a list of things on the board and simply ask which of them they don't know, don't understand, have never heard of, or want to clarify? How much time could be saved or re-assigned to projects?
One of the reasons I decided to create a new portfolio website of resources for my students, as well as reactivate my old blog has a lot to do with my personal learning network. Mostly through communication means like Twitter, but also Edmodo and TES, I have built a large network of teachers with whom I communicate and share resources online.
For all teachers, I can't stress enough just how beneficial this has been to my teaching. So many ideas and so many new colleagues to discuss teaching with has really promoted my work in the profession far more than I ever expected.
Designated chat sessions through Twitter are especially useful. I have regularly participated in #ozcschat and #AussieED, but others have also proved beneficial.
It has been a while, but with my newfound desire to build my own portfolio of resources and rekindle my enjoyment of reflection and blogging, I have decided to reactivate my old internship blog from my days at uni.
It is interesting to learn four years on, what my opinions of myself as a practicum student were. Now that I am established in my position at Yass High, with several leading roles including timetable and year adviser, it is good to see that my passion hasn't changed. However, hopefully for the better, some of my teaching styles have!
A Computing teacher with a passion for collaboration and open source teaching.