Friday, May 25, 2018

ACSE Gmail Chat


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The ACSE gmail group recently erupted with dozens of wonderful discussion posts on a variety of computer science curriculum, staffing and policy ideas. It has taken me a little while to read through all the many informative and thoughtful emails. But, of course I wanted to chime in with my own views!
Refreshing curriculum
As others have noted, we have had a relatively large upswing in computer science learning at elementary. This has been boosted by two years of The Learning Partnership support and this year by other additional organizations accessing CanCode funds.
On the one hand, I think we are finally getting past the questions on “How can I teach this, it is not in the curriculum,” with a strong emphasis on subject integration, and acceptance of creative coding platforms such as Scratch and the many robotics devices that bring learning to life. We also have the provincial resource, Coding in Elementary, that is housed on Edugains. It takes a strong integration approach.
In our board for example, we just concluded offering PD to all Kindergarten teams on Coding and Computational thinking using BeeBots. We also have K classes using Scratch Jr. I think we need to be planning for learning pathways for these students.
The end result is that students will come to high school with a good foundation in drag-and-drop programming. Some will have more. For example, Swift Playgrounds reveals the actual code. So does the Codesters Python environment used by Hackergals. App Inventor also offers a more sophisticated environment for elementary students.
This winter I was conducting a workshop in a borrowed classroom. It happened to be used mostly for BTT and CS courses. The poster on the wall included success criteria for using Spheros to code commands, loops, etc. These same assignments could be completed successfully in many junior classes, that is Grades 4-6.
So, when I looked at the call for writers for refreshing the Science and Technology curriculum, I wondered two things.
First, are we at the point of incorporating these skills into the actual elementary curriculum? That would be great as it would lead to broader PD opportunities and therefore more equity for our students.
As well, I couldn’t help but think back to that BTT poster. Surely it would be a good thing if the province would look at the continuum of age-appropriate computer science learning and adjust both the elementary and secondary expectations to match what is truly the reality in many schools in 2018.
Qualifications
I have been weighing my views on the level of rigor needed to qualify secondary teachers to teach CS. Naturally I have identified with the group of self-taught CS teachers, as that is the category I fall into. However, I know my limitations and if I had to teach Grade 12 tomorrow…
You know what? I would. I do not have the background today. But I could build my skills based on where I am now. I could also access a wide variety of learning platforms to gain proficiency in a given language. I could reach out online or in this ACSE group for resources and project ideas, which everyone is so willing to share. I think we are entering an age where proficiency or even mastery in a subject are freely available to those who are willing to inquire, persist and work hard. To quote my computer science teacher (from one of my two CS credits): “To get better at coding… you need to code!”
I believe that the issues identified by others about the two-year program, industry salaries, etc. are hugely important and should be addressed. But I think even more important is the vision of where Ontario will go with the curriculum. That framework would lead to an examination of needs across the province…


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Looking back at our TLLP


What a great opportunity to reflect on a truly transformative experience!
I was fortunate enough to be a member of the very first TLLP cohort. I was teaching grades 7 and 8 at a rural and northern middle school. We were a large school for our district – but small compared to other locations at about 250 students.
When our principal got the email, he said we should think about applying, but that he couldn’t and wouldn’t get involved. He put some chart papers up in the staff room for us to post our ideas, and to add our names if we wanted to be involved.
With my strong competitive streak, I told my colleagues we needed something “sexy” so we would get chosen. They hooted with laughter, and not really in a good way:)
I put up the words Blogging for Literacy, and despite the fact that no one knew what a blog was, about half our staff signed up. I became the project leader because I had about five minutes experience with blogging; I had once posted a reply on another person’s. And I love doing grant applications.
Our group of seven teachers brainstormed some basic goals, submitted, and was accepted.
Our learning and leadership opportunities were pretty much endless, due to our starting point. We had enough release money for six or seven monthly half-day meetings. I now think of the T-PACK model and can see that our success was in part due to very strong pedagogical and content knowledge. From there, we learned how to use the Edublogs platform and dove into day-to-day blogging with our students. We had a great blog site, with group areas for each participating class and lots of tags. We posted what would now be called Digital Citizenship tips in our computer lab. Most of us used the blog in conjunction with our English classes. One teacher used it extensively for math thinking and communication. After a few months, two teachers who had opted not to join our team, asked if they could put their classes in. We also had a French teacher use it.
Meanwhile one of our original members had moved to another school, and we were able to have an authentic blogging communication with her students – beyond our walls. Pretty powerful stuff in a pre-Skype era.
For me the biggest learning had to do with mentoring adult learners. Because we were already friends, the initial discussion about norms was very frank. One person said don’t go too fast, don’t assume I understand what you are asking me to do. I stopped sending suggestions and tips via email and waited until we were together, so we could go through steps visually, and model the ideas and results. I would say this really brought the concept of DI home to me. Having learned this from my peers, it gave me practical knowledge when the term began to be used for classroom instruction.
The TLLP was an essential stepping stone for someone like me, with “lone wolf” tendencies, in order to achieve my career goal of being a TELT contact and program coordinator for my board. Yes, I have always been an early adopter, but the TLLP showed me a path forward as a facilitator in my school, which in turn benefited others.
With my students, I used blogs extensively for several years. Sometimes they had their own, sometimes we would contribute to a single class blog. Mastering one totally new platform made me much more confident in introducing many more in the following years.
This project had a huge impact on our whole school, moving forward. The idea that we as teachers could form a group, devise a long-range plan, implement and monitor put us in a good place when we had to start doing CIs. It really built trust between me and the other teachers, such that a few years later my principal fostered a project that permitted me to be in all English classes once a week for a tech-based CI. The co-planning, co-teaching and moderation of this project was another huge learning and leadership experience for all of us.
In addition, at the Toronto PD sessions, I met two teachers from Ottawa Catholic DSB who also had a technology project, and we are online and in-person friends to this very day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Things are taking off


So this is a bit of word play to lead into a post about “piloting” a few technology initiatives in our board.
Whenever I write an email to the system, I always think no one will respond:) However it is amazing to see that many dedicated teachers will a) step up to earn something new, b) be willing to learn alongside their students, c) let me join them and get in on the action, d) give their time in tech clubs, and more. Here is a summary of what’s flying this spring.
Hackergals
We had one Grade 7-12 school go ahead last fall and thanks to them the momentum has spread to 5 schools. All the new schools are K-8, and students participating are from grade 6-8. They are attending Hackergal learning sessions on their recesses and getting ready for the national Hackathon on May 2. Last week, I ran into two teachers and a parent, all from different schools, all talking about how enthusiastic the girls are, and expressing gratitude for the opportunity.
App Inventor
Wow! This was all new for me. Back in December I reached out to one of our CS teachers for a suggestion for a Grade 8 student who wanted to build a very specific app idea for Science Fair. Flash forward four months: the student learned AI, Anne learned AI, we did some de-bugging together. Right before the student took Gold at the regional fair and earned a spot at Canada Wide. I absolutely love this platform and believe it fills a "missing link" between Scratch and high school CS courses. Challenging and engaging - a winning combination!
Coding and Computational Thinking and Pedagogical Documentation in K
We are part way through a series of seven workshops for our K teams of teachers and ECEs. I am so thrilled to be able to introduce these concepts, and to see how natural it is for educators to make the connections between BeeBot activities, unplugged coding, and the K program goals.
Minecraft Education Edition
We have had some hiccups with this one, mostly firewall related. I have been a facilitator at one school, and beyond the enthusiasm for participating, I have observed a significant improvement in what we would have simply called behaviour in the past. Now I can frame this in terms of global competencies. There is no doubt in my mind that the increasing levels of respect have been prompted by building cooperatively in Minecraft. There have been great examples of collaboration, communication, creativity and more. In four weeks our group has doubled in size by earning the right to attend, and participants have significantly reduced conflict by working together.
Makey Makey
Everyone loves Makey Makey and our pilot classes are no exception. For me the main excitement comes from the growing awareness, that has evolved naturally, of a makerspace mindset. This is new to our board and not yet broadly promoted. I was so excited to be in a class where students had gone home unprompted over a weekend and built a joystick, surprising their teacher with a request to test it on a Makey Makey. She hid her surprise well, and just told them to give it a try. They were rockstars to their peers when it worked perfectly, and were able to give me a great explanation of their structure.
Micro:Bits
The same two teachers who volunteered for Makey Makey and invited me into their classes are going to move forward with our new Micro:Bits later this spring.
Coding Quest Arcade
Not a pilot – but an expansion. We have few more schools on board this year and our big celebration is approaching fast. We also piloted Coding Trek with our primary classes this year, and the students were whizzes at learning Scratch Jr. (See previous post).