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Creating Coding Lessons – Grade 6-8: Part 2

Creating Coding Lessons – Grade 6-8: Part 2
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coding lessons reflection

Any time I try something new I get some unexpected results. Often I learn something new. Usually I tweak something. Sometimes I find a connection to something else. My students find the lesson easier or harder than I expected. I’ve even discovered that some of my basic assumptions were faulty before. This time is no different. This coding lessons reflection will be of dubious use to you without having read this post. Don’t let me dissuade you though, read away. What follows is an outline, and reflection on what I have done for the coding lesson I am working on so far.

I tend towards jumping right in, and being flexible as I go with new lesson ideas. I know that others prefer to have every moment planned out in advance (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but I am more comfortable winging it a bit. That isn’t to say I don’t have a plan, it’s more to say that my plans are fluid. I trust my research and experience to guide me as I go. This post is a bit different than usual as well. There are a lot of moving pieces to this lesson, and I’m writing to focus my own thinking in addition to documenting what I’m doing for others.

Refined Overview

I am working towards several goals in this lesson. First, I want to provide a solid foundation in computer science to my grade 8 students. Second, I want to introduce my students to some basic web design. Third, I want to give them an outlet for their desire to create. Fourth, I want my students to be less dependent on me for the knowledge they require, and finally I am exploring how to differentiate a performance based lesson across students of varying needs.

Students learn different subjects in different ways. Some students require more scaffolding than others in order to benefit from a lesson, other students learn best with more independence, and still others require something in between. I have always been of the opinion that it is not a given student’s responsibility to learn how I teach. Rather, it is my responsibility to teach how they learn. In the immortal words of Mr. Miyagi: “Teacher say, student do”. My hope here is that I can create a lesson for all students.

Assignments Thus Far

As mentioned here, I started of with a simple tutorial for the Talk to Me App in App Inventor 2. Additionally, I assigned the students to create a google site, populate it with an About Me page, a Links page, a Classwork page, and a Portfolio page. We did the tutorial, and the web site assignments together during class. They were also given a question to answer about computers in general.

Students are required to create a project page for each app, and to fill it with documentation and reflections on each project. After the first assignment they have been given several more in rapid succession. They were assigned the second part of the Talk to me App, the Ball Bounce App, and were tasked with making unique improvements for each app as well. All of the apps up to this point are part of App Inventor’s Hour of Code. As part of these apps we have discussed the concept of abstraction in computer science. Additional App assignments will be designed to cover other topics mentioned in my last post. As an assessment for this first, basic section I asked students to work through the set of tutorials under the Paint Pot App. This assignment is different as I am not giving students class time to complete it.

Coding Lessons Reflection

All assignments are given in the google classroom, and students are encouraged to ask any questions in the google classroom as well. They are also encouraged to answer each others questions.  The first App assignment, and the first web assignments are the only ones we do together in class. The rest will simply be assignments. Students are given class time to work on their assignments. I also expect them to answer many of their own questions through internet research.

There was some push back on these ideas at first, but students are really beginning to embrace this style. This manner of having video tutorials, and performance tasks is allowing me the time to help those students that need it while allowing other students to work at a more accelerated pace. I don’t know yet how the assessment will pan out. My goal is to have students doing work outside of class which will foster greater levels of collaboration on their sites, and in the classroom. My main concern with this is that some students may be unable to work from home because they lack a computer with internet. We’ll see.

I’ve mapped out the app assignments for the rest of the quarter already. I am however, still trying to fit in the concepts & practices I discussed in the first article. That portion is a moving target that I will revisit periodically. Certainly, the app assignments will have most of these ideas built in. My challenge will be to pull out these specific concepts & practices to shine a light on them. A lot of this will come into greater focus as student move away from tutorials, and into building their own unique ideas, but I need to keep them at the top of my mind.

Differentiation in Coding Lessons Reflection

One of the pleasant surprises I’ve come up with is that assigning work in this manner is exceptionally easy to differentiate. In my current class I have several students who are incredibly comfortable with the subject matter, several who are moderately comfortable, and several who need significant scaffolding in order to be successful. By taking myself out of the initial distribution of knowledge to my students, I allow myself to be available to scaffold where needed.

Additionally, by forcing my students to add unique features to their apps I have allowed my students the opportunity to dictate their own level of challenge. Improvements to an app can run the gamut from changing the color of the screen, to translating typed text into another language before “speaking” it. What I’m left with is a room full of engaged students who are given the exact amount of support they require. This has allowed me to view all of my lessons differently, and will change how I teach moving forward.

Next Steps

This Coding Lessons Reflection would be of reduced value without a discussion of where I plan to go next. The rest of the course will continue to be focused on App Tutorials, and web design. In order, the apps I will assign are:

 

As time goes on the tutorials begin to focus on specific features without repeating information. Many deal with some pretty advanced programming concepts so, I’ll have to pay close attention to how my students are doing. There’s a good deal of work left to do on this unit, and I expect to make revisions as I go. I will continue posting about what is going on with the apps individually, as well as what’s happening in my classroom. The really interesting items will be what the kids come up with for individual apps.

Conclusion

Though I am essentially 20% through this first iteration of my coding lessons curriculum there are still a huge number of questions that need answering. I feel like it is going well, and I am excited to see how everything pans out in the end.

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