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Lost in another research paper

Sighing to myself as I try once again to orient myself in the midst of a 30-page article on an educational study — one that has section headings and everything, and is pretty well organized, but still is a bear to read. 

Research articles should have a table of contents. Jeez.

When I’m in charge, were adding that to the style guide.

Activity idea: prediction

From EDEC-625 notebook, Fall 2015, 19 Oct 2015.

Setting up a prediction activity. This is a classic technique for Science classes, where labs and experimentation are part of the process. But it should work really well for Math and CS too, where the algorithm/formula/steps are complex enough that students have to do some mental gymnastics to go from seeing them on paper to knowing what they will do.

What to do:

  1. Activate the students’ prior knowledge, as needed.
  2. Show the setup of something new. Don’t execute it yet.
  3. Ask for predictions. Probe for understanding of the details of the setup and the underlying concepts at play. Discuss in small groups and/or large group, and record the students’ ideas visually as per usual technique.
  4. Execute the program/problem/algorithm, and confirm the results.
  5. Was the outcome understood? Which theory “won”?

Go through this cycle with a well-chosen case, and then do it again with new inputs–maybe once or twice more with inputs that you choose for specific reasons (they generate good illustrations, highlight edge cases or unintuitive results, etc.). Then repeat a few times with the students suggesting the inputs. Repeat until everyone is able to predict together how it will behave.

Allow students to give you crazy inputs. Don’t think too hard about what the result will be, and (unless it’s too crazy) don’t say “no” to a student’s suggestion. The idea is to (a) let go of the usual tight curricular control that we usually exercise, and (b) to help the students poke and prod the concepts you are illustrating.

The overall cycle is: Input > Predict > Execute > Discuss

Key objectives:

  • The teacher holds back his/her own knowledge of the outcome.
  • Teacher draws thinking out of the students, builds ideas before executing, gets them to reflect and understand after the execution.
  • Teacher embraces unknown, novel, or surprising results.
  • Teacher relinquishes control over inputs and problem design.

Activity idea: peer challenge

From notebook EDEC-625 Fall 2015, 19 Oct 2015.

Have students in groups. Each group creates a programming challenge for the next group to solve. They have to come up with something that’s within the class’s ability, using the blocks and techniques they’ve all learned up to that point. Ex:

  • Make the sprite draw _______.
  • Make the sprite do _______.
  • Animate a conversation about ____ with appropriate costumes.

Each group formulates a challenge and passes it to the group to their right. They receive a challenge coming from their left, and they have to carry it out.

The idea:

It’s great to solve a challenge… but it’s an even richer task to think up a challenge. You have to see through it, understand how a person might go about it, understand where the pitfalls are (or maybe intentionally place some). That’s good meta-cognition.

Kate and Kids Code Jeunesse on MAtv

Yesterday our Kids Code Jeunesse founder and chief badass Kate Arthur chatted on Montreal local tv with Richard Dagenais. Great interview — I think Kate did a good job positioning code as a common everyday medium that anyone can (and ought to) get a taste of and put to use, even without becoming a programmer.¬† And maybe some folks in the audience will come away a little less intimidated by learning to code. ūüôā8b8db55d7dcb2cb6_150_montreal

Episode: MONTREAL BILLBOARD October 13, 2015 (Kate starts at ~8:30.)

Cited in the interview: our partner codecademy, who has a great lineup of well-documented, self-paced lessons in a variety of coding platforms. (Seriously, check out their HTML + CSS sequence. It’s not perfect, but they align well with my axioms of programming instruction. It’s a very good entryway for kids and newcomer adults.)

So meta

The Education seminar I’m enrolled in right now is a lot of fun, but is occasionally mind-bendingly self-referential.

It’s easy enough at the surface level: we (a mix of MA and PhD students) are learning what makes teachers effective. The trick is that we’re working on this practice NOT in order to teach K-12 students, but in order to teach teachers.

self reflection photo
Photo by arripay

We’re training to be teacher-educators, in other words. In business terms I’m in a three-month long Train-the-Trainer course‚ÄĒwhich, given my corporate business simulation and teacher-education roots feels like home‚ÄĒbut where the ultimate end topics are K-12 math, science,¬† and humanities. Continue reading So meta

Male-female imbalance in STEM comes down to economics?

To know why fewer women choose math and science, you need to know the principle of occupational choice.

Source: Male-female imbalance in STEM comes down to economics | University Affairs

Here’s a fascinating take on the STEM imbalance from University Affairs: the major dynamic¬†may not be sexism or any other institutional intent, but the accumulation of¬†simple economic choices at the individual level. And the solution may be more background than foreground. ¬†Intriguing, no? Continue reading Male-female imbalance in STEM comes down to economics?

Another kind of tech underrepresentation

A summer program in Baltimore has black middle-schoolers coding, designing apps and altogether hooked on engineering.

Source: Coding Camp to Baltimore Schools: Bring Us Your Bored! : NPR Ed : NPR

The¬†conversations I tend to be involved in¬†about underrepresentation in the technology world are about the gender¬†divide. At Kids Code Jeunesse we’re very conscientious about designing our activities and honing our pitch so we include girls. And in my own reading and thinking¬†(probably colored by who¬†my 2 oldest kids are) I pay particular attention to the ways we can make¬†technology and “computational thinking” accessible to girls.

There’s lots of interesting stuff to think about there: which applications of tech are likely to appeal to girls (and yeah, they are different than for boys); how to teach in a way that resonates with the expressive side of a kid, rather than the purely rational side; and more.

Other divides

But¬†of course there are other divides too, and here’s a great story out of Baltimore about a year-round¬†code camp directly targeted at minority boys: the Minority Male Makers Program¬†(via¬†It’s being rolled out at a handful of Historically Black Colleges in the American south that have engineering schools: Morgan State U., North Carolina A&T State U., Jackson State U. and Kentucky State U. as of summer 2015. Guided by undergrad students at those schools, these kids get to design, engineer, 3-d print, and code their own ideas and products.

This is not the only program of its kind–see the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and AmeriCorps teaming up with CS First, and others. And¬†they’re doing a few key things right:

They’re reaching kids at¬†middle school age. They rightly point out that¬†this is their last shot at reaching kids before their path toward adulthood (and higher education and professional life–if any) starts to solidify and accelerate. Influence them here, show them it’s possible¬†to be creative and use their brains for good, hard things, and you stand a good chance of influencing their choices in¬†next few years. And then they’ll be on a good, productive path.

They’re letting the kids make real things¬†starting right now. With programming, modelling software, and 3d printers in the classroom, this is¬†tinkering with real stuff. Look at the press release and see that these kids are¬†walking out of the classroom with the¬†objects¬†they’ve¬†made. There is no 4-year lecture-driven book learning period, no extended apprenticeship¬†standing between their adolescent selves and being real-world-productive.

Graduates of the Minority Male Makers program
Graduates of the Minority Male Makers program (

They’re looking specifically for kids who show signs of being disengaged and bored in class. They know that disengagement¬†isn’t a sign of being stupid; it’s a sign of needing a more active, hands-on learning method than the¬†school is¬†set up to deliver.

And the NPR article suggests that, rather¬†than opening it up for open registration, they are asking school principals and counselors to bring them¬†students. This is a great way to (1) encourage administrators who are engaged with their students and know them well, and (2) sidestep the self-selection that attracts self-motivated geeky boys to code camps. We have plenty of¬†those already. ūüôā

Bootstrapping the talent pool

I love seeing programs like this, and the overall¬†philosophy¬†is what attracted me¬†to¬†the Kids Code Jeunesse team.¬†All programs of this kind are trying to¬†bootstrap the tech talent pool in a very conscious way. Malcolm Gladwell might¬†say¬†these are ways to solve our talent selection problem, our “quarterback problem.”

If we want to change the complexion of the tech industry and what it produces, it will have to be through initiatives like this: initiatives that intentionally reach everyone, or that intentionally reach underrepresented groups.

If we can keep those going, the tech industry will not only look different in its makeup and its atmosphere;¬†it will start producing output that’s better and¬†that speaks to a wider range of people.


Introducing Mike’s axioms

finger point photo
Photo by jetheriot

Introducing…. Mike’s Axioms for Computing Instruction.

As I do more and more teaching and lesson writing, I’ve started collecting the gemmiest of my design principles.

Little by little I’ll record them here in the blog with some examples and the reasoning behind them, and hopefully they’ll be a useful reference for me and others. As I deepen my formal knowledge and gain more hours of practical experience, I’ll come back and elaborate or revisit.

Continue reading Introducing Mike’s axioms

CS Capture the Flag 2015

Following the recent topic of cryptography for high schoolers, here’s a cool event that popped up on the radar this week: HSCTF, a US-wide high school “capture the flag” style programming competition.

The week of May 17-24, 2015, students from across the US¬†are invited to play a (everyone outside the US too, but they’re not eligible for prizes). Challenges include cryptography, reverse-engineering, and reconnaissance. Continue reading CS Capture the Flag 2015