Drag and Drop Programming

Today I had that moment – the moment where you look at what you have been teaching and question why.  This is my second semester teaching an ICS3U/4U class, and we use Python and Java.   The Grade 12’s are in their second semester of Java, through NetBeans, and the Grade 11’s are currently working in Python with Repl.it.

What do my students get stuck on the most?  What frustrates my students and may turn them off from the concepts of computer science?  Syntax!

When we add in syntax the languages, I find that my classroom is filled with frustrated students who are just missing a semi-colon at the end of a line (Java) or who have not fully indented from a conditional statement (Python).  Students become caught-up in the syntax and forget about problem solving through the program or understanding what the various programming constructs can do.  A comparison would be to learning math.  If we were taking the derivative of a function, and kept getting stuck on the multiplication and addition, or simplifying the expression, we would soon forget what we were trying to accomplish in the first place.

The tweet from Rob McTaggart sharing this link: http://t.co/l5WY1qKYcGwas what got me questioning why I teach Java and Python to my students:

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This video raises some valid points – why do we teach students computer science through languages that are no user-friendly?  Why do we allow our students to get stuck on that syntax rather than breaking that problem down to solve it or implementing programming structures to make a process more efficient?  Why are we stuck in “the way it has always been done?”

Looking at my class, I ask myself, why did I choose Java?  Yes, this is in industry and a well-known language, but why Java specifically?  Why haven’t we taken the frustration out of our computer science classrooms and give our students a chance to practice their problem solving skills and critical thinking?

With this in mind, I am going to take on that challenge.  I am going to start to move away from those heavy syntax languages and allow my students the opportunity to test out their understanding of programming structures and their ability to break down a problem by dragging and dropping their ideas.  Knowing that the student’s will not be getting ‘stuck’ on the syntax of the languages, I can now give them more challenging and deep problems to solve.

Throwing the question back out on Twitter, David Neumann, replied with these suggestions:

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Now my project, and my student’s project is to start looking into SNAP!  Our task as a class will be to look into this program and see if it is something we want to pursue.  I feel that it is important that the students are involved in this process as it’s them who will be using this program and learning from it.

How to do allow your student to move past the “syntax” in your subject and find deeper meaning in their learning?

Getting Ready for #gafesummit #Ottawa

It’s a rainy Friday night in Toronto and I am sitting at Pearson Airport watching the planes take off – and waiting for mine to land. The weather has delayed many flights and I send props to those managing the chaos.

I am so excited to be heading to Ottawa for the weekend to participate, present and connect. I have been thinking about it and talking about it all week! But now that I am stuck at the airport, it has given me time to ground and really think on what I want to accomplish this weekend.

I am not one to make goals, or when I do, I often don’t reflect back, but I’ll give it a go. I want to make the most of this weekend.

I want to leave the GAFE Summit with two things:

Firstly, I want to bring back specific tips and thoughts for integrating GAFE into our math classrooms.

As an educator, I feel that technology and the wonders of GAFE integrate seamlessly into some subjects and topics. These apps and tech tools allow for learning to be accessible and interactive for all students. Students have the opportunity to develop that deep understanding in many new, redefined, ways with technology and I struggle with applying this to my math class. With all of the fabulous minds coming to Ottawa this weekend I am sure I’ll be able to find some ideas to take back to my classroom, my department and my school.

Secondly, I want to connect.

The last GAFE Summit I attended in Kitchener, I was… well… overwhelmed to say the least. There was so much to take in, so much to do and so many people who were role models both through my school and through my PLN there. Yes, they were there in person! I saw these people who I have followed on Twitter, read their blogs and learned from their sharing. I felt like a child seeing Harry Potter in person whispering “Oh my! Guess who I just saw!” This time around, I hope to utilize my time a bit better. I want to speak to those people and make those connections. I want to continue to learn from them and start conversations – rather than point and run away.

Although the these are two simple goals, they are complex and difficult in. Themselves. I am an outgoing person when I know the person who I am with, but I often struggle to put myself out there. This weekend I challenge myself to overcome that.

What are your goals for your next PD?

Positive Energy

This season I am the coach of the Sr. Boys Volleyball team at my school. The team consists of 14 players, who are a mix of grade 12+, 12, 11 and 10 students. These students come from all “groups” at school – some are involved in jazz band, the golf team, basketball, and for some, this is their first team. Some students have played rep volleyball, some played on the team last year and some have never played outside of P.E.

The start of the season has had its highs and its lows. We started off the season with a win, and then challenged top-scoring teams, and then took a turn for the worse. We got down on ourselves. We got upset with each other and forgot the power of positivity.

On the court, we strive to be the loudest team. We are loud to show support to each other. We are loud to cheer for each other and celebrate everything. We are loud through cheering and clapping – all positive and all sportsmanlike. We focus on us and our team.

Last week we were unable to make this happen. We got down on ourselves and our team mates and we were quiet. We didn’t find it in us to rise to the challenge. We stopped being positive and started picking on the little mistakes.

Today, however, we found our voices. Down two sets to none, we took a different approach. We just had fun. We did not worry about “the score” or hitting the ball three times, and we just played. We played like we play in practice. We cheered at the great passes and celebrated the points that came our way. We helped each other correct mistakes, but did not harp on them. We found our team.

We practice tomorrow with another game Thursday and will take on this s and mindset. It is easy to get caught up on points and the score, and lose sight why we play. We play because we enjoy it. Yes it is nice winning, but if we don’t enjoy it, what’s the point?

How do we keep up this mindset? How do we stay positive? How do you keep your team ps outlive and herring even in the difficult (and maybe less fun) times?

As a new coach I do not know – please help!

#reflectiveteacher – Day 2 #mathchat

Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year, and why.

One piece of technology I would like to try in my classroom would be to integrate ChromeBooks into my math classroom.

On Friday I had a great conversation with a couple colleagues about the future of mathematics in the classroom. Is mathematics becoming more like Latin? Do we need more than Grade 8 Math in our everyday lives? Do we really need to spend time learning how to draw graphs of functions or should we use technology to graph then work on the interpretation and collection of data for such function?

As technology has the ability to level the playing ground in a mathematics classroom and gives the students the possibility if using the mathematics to make new connections. Utilizing ChromeBooks into math classrooms will also give the students a chance to check their answers, observations, guesses and predictions. I believe that with the integration if the world at our finger tips, our math classrooms become about using the mathematics in the real world rather than getting stuck on the tricks and rules.

Is mathematics becoming like Latin?

#reflectiveteacher – Day 1

“Write your goals for the school year”

What are my goals for the school year? What is it that I want to accomplish this year? My classes are a Grade 11M math, Grade 10P math and a split 11/12U computer science. What is it that I want to accomplish over the next five months? How am I going to achieve these goals?

I think I have one goal that encompasses all of my classes and through coaching senior boys volleyball this semester.

My goal for this school year is to increase the confidence in my students when taking risks

Yes, I do know that it is very general and a goal many teachers have but I think it is specific for my school year. In my classes, whether it is with a new subject like computer programming or in a mathematics class, students need to know they are okay to make mistakes and they have the ability to learn and be successful. Over the past two weeks I have learned that many students in the courses I am specifically teaching are taking that level of math because they believe they are not good at math, that they can’t do math and that there is no need to try. I want to chance this.

In our mathematics classes, we are looking at the How to Learn Math for Students course offered at Stanford University. In this course, students have a chance to learn that they may not like math, not because they can’t do it, but because of negative experiences they have had with the topic. This is my starting place for this goal.

#uglearn14 – Day 2

Day 2 at the UGDSB Learning Fair was a success – the two breakout sessions that I attended focused on metacognition and layered curriculum.  These sessions forced me to evaluate my understanding of metacognition and how I offer choice and motivation in my classroom.  Below are my take-away ideas and thoughts from the two sessions I attended (plus more information on them!)

Fostering Metacognition Habits of Mind – Jenni Donohoo

Jenni focused on three essential questions for students to answer to help them develop into expert learners:

  • Where am I going?
  • How am I going to get there?
  • Where do I go next?

Imagine if our students are able to answer these three questions on each piece of work they create.  How could they develop their understanding of their own thinking and learning through these questions.

Jenni showcased this model on creating an environment where ‘metacognition mindfulness’ is valued and encouraged:

imageOne strategy that really stuck with me, and I have shared on Twitter, is the Yellow + Blue = Green strategy.  This is a new take self and teacher assessment and very visual to both the teacher and the student.

This strategy allows students and teachers to talk openly about what they feel their work is on.  With your rubric, students use a yellow highlighter to identify where their work is at, the teacher then fills out the same rubric with a blue highlighter.   When the colour turns to Green, the reflection of the quality of work matches.  From the yellow and blue left over, the conversation can focus around those three questions: where am I going, how am I going to get there and where do I go next?

Jenni pointed us in the direction of LiteracyGAINS for more information and projects on metacognition.

Layered CurriculumKathie Nunley

Through the discussion of Layered Curriculum, I walked away with the desire to develop a way of applying Kathie’s three layers (C, B, and A) to the Canadian system with our four strands: Knowledge & Understanding, Application, Thinking & Inquiry and Communication.  Kathie explained that each layered matched how the brain learns:

  • Layer C – Branches growth in one area
  • Layer B – Connects new branches to prior areas of knowledge
  • Layer A – Connects neurons in the cortex with neurons in the lower cortex

Each layer relates to the letter grade that it corresponds to.  The Layer C questions focus on the lower level Bloom’s Taxonomy, those tasks such as stating, or recalling information.  I really liked how Kathie explained these as “trivial pursuit” questions.  Layer B, Kathie explains as those unique and novel problem solving questions.  Student’s take the opportunity to compare, contrast, manipulate, and use their interdisciplinary skills.  Layer A questions are those critical thinking questions.  In the lower cortex, is where we hold our morals and ethics and the Layer A questions should use the student’s judgement, opinions, and critique.  The biggest challenge will be to see how this applies to our Ontario curriculum – some deeper thinking will need to be applied.

Looking for some examples of the layered curriculum or how other teachers have implemented this into their classrooms; click here.

What are my goals now? 

I have two goals after the UGDSB Learning Fair:

  1. Develop metacognition into the Grade 10 Applied Mathematics Class.  Through the research and teacher experience, everyone speaks about the influence that metacognition and how it helps develop our students perseverance and deep understanding.  How can I apply this in our Grade 10 course where students struggle for motivation, dedication and drive to learn.
  2. Provide choice in all of my courses and assessment them on the learning targets rather than the assignment.

#uglearn14 – Day 1

Today I was honoured to attend the UGDSB Learning Fair 2014 as both an attendee and a presenter.  The day started with David Daniel speaking about the importance of balance and moderation in the classroom.  More than just in our practices, David reminded us that the scientific research we are usually given it in a supportive, isolated environment, rather than a complex classroom.

After the keynote, I had the opportunity to see two good breakout sessions; one organized by Pamela Brown-Wass and Sandra Kritzer within UGDSB and the other session organized by Laura Gini-Newman.  Here are my take-away thoughts and ideas from both of these sessions:

Inquiry-Based Projects that Engage Students – Link to Presentation

Knowledge Forum is a great place to start building the community research and collaboration.  Students start with a series of questions and them use the prompts available to help them branch out off of each others contributions.  Although Knowledge Forum looks like a great application, I can also see Google Drive’s  Lucidchart Diagram.  This Drive application allows students to create their own flow charts and, with a bit of set-up of sentence starters, this application would mimic some features of Knowledge Forum.  Please note that I have never played around with Knowledge Forum, I am just going off the features I saw today in the session.  I have also seen from the Knowledge Forum website that you can apply for a six-month trial and then there is a cost after that, and I am all about the ‘free’ alternatives.

#GenuisHour may be a great approach to the inquiry-based projects.  Through social media, I have seen the hashtag come up, but never really knew what it was.  I was really excited that someone could explain it to me and I love the idea.  I see GeniusHour being a great way for teachers to give the student’s the opportunity to practice discipline/industry skills well developing their understanding of the content.  So many times, I have given the students a project (or they have come up with a project) at the end of the unit or at the end of the semester where they need to use all of their knowledge in a few days or classes to complete the project.  This works for some students, but most forget those skills that we talked about as they were not always used in those new and unseen circumstances.  Through GeniusHour, students can practice and evaluate the discipline skills as they learn them and build on it from the previous lesson.  I love it!

Finally, the challenge I have taken away from this session is applying these inquiry-based projects into the mathematics classroom which lead me to choosing my next session to hopefully give more of an insight into the specific subject.

Thank you Pamela and Sandy for a great session.  The discussion developed throughout the session and the hands on examples were a great addition!  I can’t wait to see how I can implement some of these ideas in the classroom

Using Inquiry in the Math Classroom 

Creating relationships is important!  As teachers, especially mathematics teachers, we need to create relationships between the concepts presented throughout the course.  The students need to understanding WHY and HOW they connect to each other and the bigger picture.  As my Grade 10 Applied class will be beginning September off with their Measurement unit, I look at this key aspect of a math classroom and see the following connections: area -> volume -> prisms -> pyramids & area -> surface area.  This unit I can easily see how the concepts connect with each other.  This will be one challenge for me to make sure that my lessons interact with one another and connect.

Inquiry is the balance between content knowledge and discipline knowledge.  This statement that Laura made really stuck with me and gave me that new perspective on inquiry-based learning and how it is different from discovery or other methods we have learned about.  (Yes, this was my light-bulb moment!)  I am new, and have struggled with the implementation of teaching through problem-solving, discovery and inquiry-based learning.  It could be that I have never had formal training on the ideas, or that I just couldn’t understand how to apply them to my classroom by Laura’s way of explaining clicked.  In her classroom, Laura has students create questions they can think critically about.  These questions will drive the student’s inquiry and  their understanding.  Then, through lessons and learning activities, students learn the content needed to be successful in answering their question.  Students are not asked to discover the ideas or recreate the theorems, but use their knowledge and provide mathematical justification for their findings.  When they have gained that content knowledge, students will then work through their question and think critically about the methods, ideas and conclusions they are providing in their solutions.

From Laura’s breakout session, I now have a better understanding of how GeniusHour could apply in a mathematics classroom.  Why not have the students come up with their genuine question at the start of the unit and work through it as they gain knowledge from the lessons?  Students use their knowledge, collaborate with one another to prove their conjecture or to disprove it?  Why not use that discipline knowledge of problem-solving and proving in the classroom.  Another way to implement this would be to have larger “big idea” question that students work on throughout their GeniusHour classes that use concepts and mathematical justification from each unit.  What that question would look like, I am not sure, but it will come.  This is a start on my thinking – more to come!

Thank you Laura for a great session, I wish we had more time to look further into examples as I am very much like the explicit classroom examples.

Finally, for the last breakout session, I had the opportunity to present.  My topic was D2L (Desire2Learn – a learning management system) and how we can use blended learning to help foster student confidence and address mental health.  I was quite happy with how the session went; a smaller crowd brought great discussion and many different perspectives.  In the session we had educators who have never heard of D2L, ones that have used it for e-Learning and also administrators who have helped set up credit recovery and re-integration programs using the features of D2L.

Here is a copy of my presentation for your browsing interest – click here.

The biggest change I would make for this presentation is giving the audience the opportunity to provide me with feedback.  Feedback is always happening in my classroom.  Through check-ins (discussed a bit in the presentation) and student interaction, I get feedback everyday about the lesson and the student’s learning.  Student’s receive oral and written feedback from me everyday as well  – so how did I manage to forget the opportunity for feedback on my own presentation?  I am going to say ‘summer brain’ but that is just my initial thoughts.

I am going to leave you with one last idea, that, I feel, will help every teacher out there that assists student’s in developing their collaboration skills.  It is a thought from my first breakout session focusing on those inquiry-based projects.

Get your students to end off their journal entries [or whatever they are seeking feedback/assistance on] with a question to focus feedback and peer help

What a simple idea that is often overlooked.  Students know what feedback they are looking for, but never really ask that question when using blogs, or journal entries or forms to seek collaboration and assistance.  By incorporating a question at the end, now each response will be targeted to that question.  Let’s see if it works!

How do you use inquiry in your classroom?  What is your definition (or model) of inquiry?