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Very often is seems as though teacher tend to assign projects that mean little if anything to any one. It is as if we feel that learning is medicine that only works if it tastes bad. If students enjoy a book does that mean it is recreational and so inappropriate for school? Is creating a technically challenging computer game invalid because the result is something that can be played? Do we really think that having fun means less learning is going on? It seems that way sometimes. Oh sure someone may enjoy reading “A Separate Peace” but I don’t know that I personally know any of them. (With the possible exception of a few English teachers.) Some times I assigned a check balancing program to students but, honestly, even I found it sort of boring. My students seemed less than excited about it as well.
Other times we’re smarter about projects. We pick projects that spark creativity, imagination and most importantly they are projects that students care about. And we pick projects that require students to think rather than just follow rote instructions. I think that last part is important.
I talked to a teacher who is working to integrate technology into her schools curriculum the other day. She was saying that she had her 8th graders doing some projects with Glogster. She showed them how to use the site and gave them some ideas of what could be done and then cut them lose. Several of them really didn’t know what to do with themselves at first. They wanted step by step “do this then do this” sorts of instructions because that was what they are used to. This was not the intent of the project though. Eventually they loosened up, started trying things and really got creative. I saw some of the projects and they were really cool. Even more importantly the students were showing their work off to peers, sharing ideas, and teaching each other new things. I somehow doubt that near as much of that would be going on if they had had the step by step project they thought they wanted.
I think that we need to be open ended about projects in computer science. Oh sure we need the general exercise that demonstrates a concepts and the syntax that makes it work. Maybe we even need (shudder) worksheets at times. But when we really want students to learn how to use things, to go the extra bit, and to be motivated to actually remember the tool and develop problem solving skills we probably don’t want to be all “step by step.” There has to be a balance somewhere. There have to be projects that students want to solve for reasons other than just a grade.
This may mean looking for students to help design projects rather than forcing what is interesting to us or what is “good medicine” for us on them. As I look back on the projects that worked best in my classes they are almost always the once that grew out of a digression conversation that was started by students. At some point I would find myself “let’s make a project out of this and see where it goes.” Did it take me out of my comfort zone? A little. Fortunately I have a lot of programming experience (more than the average HS CS teacher I think) and so I felt I could code up a good solution quickly. For someone with less programming that may be even more daunting but at the same time there is nothing at all wrong with a teacher learning along side their students. I’ve looked into new areas for me with students several times. The guide on the side is a wonderful experience.
Earlier this week Microsoft announced the winners of the 2010 Windows Phone 7 "Rockstar" Award. Two high school students from the Advanced Technologies Academy in Nevada won it. Now this is pretty impressive as most of the 131 teams from all over the world were made up of university students. Of course I am a huge believer that many high school students have some pretty impressive skills. They also often have wonderful imaginations. It sounds like that combination is what contributed most to their win. I was reading their answers to the competition’s questions and answers section and one answer stuck out to me.
Question: Who most influenced your interest in technology (teacher, parent, family, friend, etc.)? (Optional) Answer: We believe our middle school computer teacher, Enrico Branchini, influenced both of us the most because he was one of the first people who sparked our interest in technology and computers.
Question: Who most influenced your interest in technology (teacher, parent, family, friend, etc.)? (Optional)
Answer: We believe our middle school computer teacher, Enrico Branchini, influenced both of us the most because he was one of the first people who sparked our interest in technology and computers.
Now I know a little about the school they attend and the faculty there and it’s a great place. But clearly for these two young men their interest started earlier – back in middle school. They had a teacher who they do not hesitate to name who sparked their interest in technology and computers. make no mistake about it middle school is a critical time for students. It really is a time when many of them develop the interests and decide, consciously or other wise, where they will go educationally in the future. For this reason, among others, middle school is a great time to inspire students into computer science and other fields. My hat is off to Enrico Branchini and teachers like him who have a positive influence on their middle school students.
I tried to take most of last week off. Well I guess I actually did officially take most of the week off but somehow I spent more time than I should have on email and Twitter. Perhaps I have a problem. :-) But I didn’t really blog and I avoided most real work. I even made it to the beach for a while. So I feel somewhat rested. The rest of the month will be very busy with ISTE coming up as well as some local events in New England. I did Tweet and otherwise collect some interesting links to start your week off. So here they are.
Rob over @TeachTec has been reminding people that Microsoft will be having lots of activities at ISTE. Join our Hyatt sessions including. breakfast with a tour of Office 2010 & Web Apps Microsoft at ISTE for all the details. I really hope to see many of you there!
From the wonderful people at MIT who bring you Scratch (on Twitter @scratchteam) Scratch wiki: by and for Scratchers is now out. The Scratch wiki itself is at http://wiki.scratch.mit.edu/
From the official Microsoft twitter account a link to a video demonstration of new Windows Live Essentials features that make it easier to organize, connect and share online.
New on the Faculty Resource Center is a new XNA Lab in a Box This is a great getting started lab that was developed to train faculty in Europe. It’s in English BTW. :-)
New on the Dot Net Rocks internet program is an interview with Lynn Langit (@llangit) and Llewellyn Falco on teaching kids programming.
From Microsoft’s Internet Safety team (@Safer_Online) came a link to a great video on how to use Windows parental controls. I wonder how many people even know that Windows has parental controls?
Kathleen Weaver (@kathweaver) follows the @MSFTCrabby Twitter account and retweeted this link to - Crabby's Daily Tip: You can use Office for THAT? — Plan your wedding with Office Now when you think about it that has possibilities for combining teaching students about planning in general, about weddings in particular, and about using software to help with it all. I could have used this when I took “Marriage and the Family” in college. :-)