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:
- Activate the students’ prior knowledge, as needed.
- Show the setup of something new. Don’t execute it yet.
- 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.
- Execute the program/problem/algorithm, and confirm the results.
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
Guzdial on what makes a teacher a teacher, different from a practitioner.
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. 🙂
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.)