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.
A few weeks ago, the new building at Yass High opened. It has been a wonderful experience teaching in such as lavish and beautiful environment. A link to a Storify I created that documented the construction is available here. I've included a couple of pictures below, but it was a remarkable journey to get here.
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?
At my school, a 20 minute reading session is mandatory every day for all students years 7-12, with one day off for sport. As a technology teacher, it doesn't often seem to fall on me to inspire students to read more, but I still love doing it anyway.
I don't pretend to be some hugely avid reader that ploughs through three books a week, or even a diverse reader who will happily jump from one genre to the next. I have my cliques. I love action stories and comedy stories, as well as those books based on scientific advancement or understanding. Little else ever really interests me. When I was at school, the thought of a mandatory 20min reading block would have led to several eye rolls. it was quite common for me to get through the entire year without reading a single book. Cliff notes were my friends during these times. On occasion, I'd catch a break, and manage to see the movie version and simply ask a friend what they key differences from the book where. This was my experience with reading for much of my life under the age of 25.
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've been struggling to support the learning needs of my students this year with the introduction of BYOD or Bring Your Own Device. This is sometimes known as BYOT or Bring Your Own Technology. Essentially, the concept stems from the idea that schools shouldn't need to provide laptops/tablets/etc to students anymore, and it is now the teacher's responsibility to cater to whatever the student already owns.
First, the idea is sound, but the support is flawed. Very little was offered to teachers to assist those who had worked so hard for the last few years to adjust their teaching to suit a laptop aided with pre-loaded software, so unfortunately the latest initiative has not been embraced as well as hoped.
What is the answer?
The answer is Google Docs. I know I'm late to the party, but I really think Google Docs is the answer to "How to support BYOD without really trying", and there's no way I'm the only one who believes this. Whatever you've used in the past, whether it be a document on Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF, etc that you still see as an important teaching tool, you can now easily implement to BYOD using Google Docs, Google Drawing, Google Slides or Google Sheets. And it's not even that hard.
Step 1: Open a web browser (preferably not Internet Explorer, but that's just personal).
Step 2: Create a Google Drive account go to Google Docs.
Step 4: Click on the cog wheel and select "Convert files to Google Docs format".
Step 3: Drag the resource onto the web page and drop it in your Google Drive folder (yes, drag it straight into the browser).
Step 5: Your resource will be uploaded and converted to a Google Doc. Open it and experiment with the text editor (it mostly looks like Word anyway).
Step 6: Click "Share" and adjust the share settings to suit your needs.
(Further details available from Google Docs help.)
The brilliance of the 'share' means you can send this document to a specific person or group of people to freely edit, comment or view. You can also share it to everyone by emailing a link with the same edit, comment or view settings.
So far, it probably just seems like another editing app, but the fact that it is actually an editing program built into a web page, and it's free, means it can be loaded from any type of browser with an internet connection. So straight away you have created a resource that students can load on any device - including iMacs, iPads, iPhones, android tablets, android phones and Windows phones, tablets and laptops. I have included some screenshots below of some of my own resources converted to GoogleDocs with the ability for a student to edit from any device.
Some of you may now be wondering how students can each edit their own copy of a document. The answer is also easy. Assuming the document has been shared by the teacher as 'view-only', then the student has the option of downloading it as an MS Word, PDF, rich text or plain text document. If the student has a Google account, they can create a copy to keep as their own Google Doc and edit it live through the browser. This also has the advantage of saving storage space on the student's device. The benefits of cloud computing will soon be learnt here too. Once they download it in the form of their choice, they can edit immediately.
If you set the file to 'edit' and give it to your students, they will actually be editing the role on your Google Drive account, and you will be able to see the changes live. Don't worry, you can easily edit it again yourself or return the entire document to a earlier version using the revision history (and only you, the owner, can do that).
Effect in the classroom
So far I have used this for various purposes, but one of the best came from a year nine class studying algorithms. I shared a document (easily converted from MS Word years ago) to 15 students utilising four different devices. They not only managed to successfully download and edit the document, but I had the online sharing configured so that they were all working on the same copy at the same time. Since I didn't tell them that they all had editing privileges, the moment they realised they were editing each others' work was one of the funniest experiences I've ever had as a teacher! After allowing some time for the students to enjoy working on the same page simultaneously, they were reminded that there was still a task to complete and what followed was some of the loudest and most engaged collaborative learning I've ever seen. All students were participating and working on different sections to create a very large flowchart algorithm. And the best part, the different devices did not inhibit the interaction of the users or the others. In total, there were twelve students on a desktop machine, two on a mobile phone and one on a tablet. Instantly I realised that GoogleDocs was the easiest shift to BYOD I've found yet.
An additional advantage I have found solves a problem that constantly annoyed me in the past - once you give a student a resource with an error (even a typo), it is difficult to change before you use it again. As this is often very difficult to do during class, you usually have to go back to it later. This was especially tiresome in Moodle and Edmodo as I had to first remove the old file, edit the original and re-upload it. With Google Docs however, you can edit the already shared document live and it will instantly update, not only for the future students' versions, but on the current students' screen too - right before their eyes. Try it, open a Google Doc from two sources, alter it from one and watch how quick it updates on the other. I am still amazed at the speed sometimes.
Have a go
If you have not yet experimented with the applications, I encourage you to try. Plenty of teaching resources already exist throughout this website for teachers to use or modify. Whatever types of worksheets you employ is attributable to GoogleDocs - written response, question and answer, research, crosswords, fill-in-the-blanks, butchers paper exercises, mind maps, shapes, extended response, essays and of course collaborative writing.
I realise there are many applications that incorporate this type of learning, but with the soon to be released Google classroom, I encourage teachers to get involved. If you have used Google Docs in the past, I would love to hear about some of the most successful ways.
A Computing teacher with a passion for collaboration and open source teaching.