Notes on a failed lesson

DIY Board Game by San Jose Library, CC BY-SA 2.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanjoselibrary/4788007123/sizes/m/in/photostream/
DIY Board Game by San Jose Library, CC BY-SA 2.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanjoselibrary/4788007123/sizes/m/in/photostream/

 

At the very start of this session I used the idea of simple games to get to know my Higher Computing class and clearly define the importance of rules, structure and boundaries when problem solving. They had the option to play War, Shove Ha’penny or Penny Football and learn how to win (or at least how to avoid defeat). My class were well motivated by the opportunity to spend around 80 minutes exploring, in some cases, these >new< games! The intended outcome, relating to computer programming, seemed to be an easy step for them and I noted that the students, having spent the time playing those games, were able (in the main) to use them as a reference during the remainder of the unit. So far, so good.

In the next unit I returned to the games analogy when tackling the Fetch, Execute cycle (which relates to the internal workings of a computer processor). Instead of having the Higher Computing class play simple games which relate to the need for boundaries I gave the class the boundaries and rules involved and set them the task of coming up with their own paper-based game to reinforce the intricacies of the Fetch, Execute cycle. I asked the students to create rather than consume and hoped that the freedom I gave them to come up with their own ideas (in groups) would result in some interesting interpretations. It did, but not as I’d hoped.

I made a few big mistakes:

Firstly, the subject matter may have been a bad choice for this kind of task. Higher Computing exams tend to require regurgitation of the Fetch, Execute cycle steps – there is no scope for scenario-based problem solving here – so it’s all a bit too abstract really I suppose. In the past I’ve employed other kinaesthetic methods for teaching this – usually involving bouncy balls or whiteboard pens being passed around the class and ending up being aimed at a target (a clean metal bin is perfect for this and gives reassuring auditory feedback). Each student had a role to play in the transfer of data from one part of the room to another. A major drawback was (I felt) that they were consuming another game and perhaps not engaging with the subject matter as deeply as they could – hence the change this year.

Secondly, I hadn’t asked the class to create a paper-based game for me before. I hadn’t modelled it either. Really daft when you think about it actually and I’ve already identified a few opportunities to introduce paper-based game creation during the programming unit for next session.

The resulting game ideas (no group finished their game in the allotted 80 minutes, although they were all keen to continue creation for the rest of the week!) all had one thing in common. None of them related to the Fetch, Execute cycle at all! The students had concentrated on the game mechanisms before thinking about how they were going to reinforce the subject matter. After “letting go” and listening to (and attempting to guide them a little in)  their discussions I knew about 40 minutes in that they were going about it the wrong way however I held on to the hope that they would suddenly “get it” and produce the goods. You already know that this didn’t happen and I ended up looking at a deck of cards, monopoly board and snakes and ladders board. No group had any inkling how they were going to create a structure for their game.

The intended outcomes of the lesson were to be able to correctly sequence the Fetch, Execute read and write cycles and use the correct terminology when doing so. However by diverting the focus from the content to the means of delivery I undoubtedly failed the class that Monday morning.

So I spent the next two hours of non-contact time creating my own example game (which, in retrospect I should have done anyway!) that mimicked the process of the Fetch, Execute cycle and forced the players to use the terms and sequences to make progress. I tested the finished game out with some of the students later in the week and, although it had a few flaws, I feel they learned about the subject matter. This was what I really wanted from the class in the first place, but I also wanted them to engage more deeply by creating their own resources. I wanted them to create rather than consume. Next time I’ll remember that if I want students to change, they need help and mentoring to do so.

Higher Computing, Programming and Edmodo Badges

40 days since the start of term and my Higher Computing class are now comfortable using Edmodo. We have explored notification options and most of my students seem very quick to check the site when replies and new posts appear. I was online this evening and noticed that a few of the students had logged on as well. (I wonder if it was to see if anything new had been posted or to recap previous posts and resources? I’d love Edmodo to introduce a feature that showed a student’s active time on the site). I realised that I could quickly provide them with a pre-lesson task as well as explain what is to be covered in the coming week and posted the following:

 

 

The new scheduling feature in Edmodo is excellent. I’ve lined up my resources to appear tomorrow morning just before class begins so I know any response to the above is a result of the student’s own work or Internet research. For example, this was posted soon after:

 

 

 

This isn’t quite right but gave me the opportunity to intervene before the lesson tomorrow with a quick reply:

 

 

 

 

 

I would have loved more responses this evening but I have to admit it was a little late when I posted the message. I intend to try this again, but set up the message to appear on Friday afternoon to maximise the opportunity for all students to contribute.

And win those badges of course.

Digging deeper with Edmodo

I learned a lot about Edmodo today. I used it and talked to other teachers about it a lot too.

In fact, in the past week I think I’ve taught more classes through Edmodo than in the whole of last term!

My learners have, on the whole, been fantastic adopters of the new system. My Higher Computing students have curated information sheets on flow charts, pseudocode and structure diagrams and risen to the challenge of completing homework quizzes through Edmodo; Advanced Higher students have received timely notifications on classroom changes, avoiding the need for paper signs and crossed fingers and are beginning to access the simple but well-designed audio player to revisit concepts or catch up on lesson podcasts; My S3 class have been making use of digital cameras to record their learning and have been accessing the notes folder to read up on concepts before, during and after class. I had a quick check of the analytics this evening – there has been 225 visits to our various class groups by pupils and teachers since we introduced them to the system 6 days ago. It has been a really good start, echoing  sentiments from this eSchool News article from August 2011:

“They also want more time to reflect on what they learn… Too often, because we have so much to cover in the curriculum, deeper understanding is lost in the milieu” – Mike Larzelere, Teacher at Port Huron Area School District, Michigan

 

The feedback I’ve received from them has been great too – highlighting issues with sharing links which were posted directly to me (I’m still working on a solution to that one) as well as pointing out that the quiz timer doesn’t stop when you navigate away from the questions. I solved that one by increasing the time limit for my quiz to 24 hours (1440 minutes seems to be the maximum allowed by the quiz module) but may need to use the assignments option rather than quizzes in the future, although I do like the feedback mechanism of the quiz more.

 

I’m excited about the new ways we are going to take responsibility for our own learning over the coming weeks. We are awaiting installation of AVS Video Editor on first teaching and then all student desktops in the Computing department. I can’t wait to see what my classes can do with the HD video capabilities of the digital cameras we purchased last year to document their individual learning and to share their work with others. Recap and revision podcasts – historically recorded by me and consumed silently by learners (both rewarding because they are being listened to and frustrating because of the passiveness of that act) – will now be a shared responsibility which should highlight and celebrate their learning achievements as well as increase engagement in the learning process. I’m also keen to experiment with the dialogue opportunities Edmodo offers through its Facebook-style interface. For example, tomorrow afternoon my Higher Computing class will be role-playing System Analysts who have to extract as much information from a variety of clients using direct posts and replies. I’m not sure how easy it will be for me to carry on all of those conversations at the same time, but in an attempt make it a little easier I’ve created sub-groups of pupils in Edmodo. I hope to post again soon with the results of that experiment.

Using Edmodo to Engage Learners From Day 1

Over the past week I have been introducing my S3, S5 and S6 pupils to their myriad Edmodo groups and getting them to set up their profiles, communication preferences and folders. Compared to last session (BE: Before Edmodo) the learners have hit the ground running with regard to interacting with their peers and making a contribution to class discussion.

I introduced Edmodo as an electronic extension of their classroom. This helped set out my expectations quickly without having to labour through lists of rules. Over three quarter of the 31 pupils surveyed found setting up their pupil accounts straightforward and our mechanisms to ensure an element of data privacy (if not protection) – first name and initial of surname only, and no real profile photographs – were easy to implement.

Opening tasks were straightforward but promoted collaboration and contribution. For example my S3 class were investigating the different graphical user interfaces encountered on mobile devices and making notes in their jotters for a future lesson. While they did so I took photographs of their devices and uploaded each one to Edmodo. The class were then encouraged to either log in or use the mobile app from home and claim the photo of their device and say why they liked or chose that particular make or model. So far, over half of the class have successfully completed the task (and the follow up dialogue!) and been awarded the “Alert” badge I created for learners who keep up to date with their group posts outside of class time.

My Higher Computing class, who began today by learning how to play and then extend the card game War, Shove Ha’penny and Penny Football, were then set a paper-based challenge entitled Mia’s Maze. This task was a Primary 2 homework  sheet dutifully completed by my daughter a few years ago but is, I think, perfect for reinforcing the need for establishing good boundaries before developing winning strategies. The target is zero or lower. I used Edmodo to successfully share a video of the solution but want to encourage my learners to start submitting their own screencasts or video responses in the coming weeks.

Out of all the benefits to me as a teacher I think the top one is the quick construction of positive relationships with the classes. Already I feel I know more about my S3 and S5 classes than I usually would at this stage in the term (less than 1 week in!). Also all my learners are included in the dialogue. They can take time to formulate and express their opinions and connect more with the lesson objectives. I’m excited to find out if continued use of Edmodo will help deepen their understanding of the course.

I thought I’d finish with a quick Edmodo tip: if you want to award badges to multiple pupils from your group. Right click on each desired pupil name in the posts section of Edmodo and select “Open in a new tab”. This allows you to award the pupil their badge and then close that tab while still being able to see what is going on with the rest of the group.

Improving learner-teacher dialogue using Edmodo

On Friday afternoon I heard some great news. My school is to extend the trial of Edmodo until Christmas, allowing other teachers in my department to experiment with using Edmodo to positively impact their learning and teaching. This may prove to be the beginning of a big change in whole school policy as, up until now, use of external websites was limited to passive teaching resources such as YouTube and Prezi – only teachers were allowed access.

As part of the approval process I wrote a report on how my Higher Computing class made use of Edmodo in their classwork, homework and preparation for assessment. I was able to answer the concerns of the school’s IT manager with regard to data protection and responsible use. I’ve embedded the document below for anyone else who is interested in investigating Edmodo further.


If the extended trial proves successful Edmodo could become the main resource for allowing external access to pupil resources and, most importantly, providing learners with a permanent record of their knowledge development in a place where it is much less likely to be lost or damaged. Learner-teacher dialogue can be referenced and revisited; gaps in knowledge due to absence could be filled; knowledge could be pulled from the class group rather than pushed. I intend to share my experiences in using Edmodo with my colleagues and blog readers in the coming months.

I’m excited about the possibilities but know Edmodo is not a magic bullet. As part of my research into how Edmodo is used worldwide I set up a Twitter search via TweetyMail and received hourly summaries peppered with disillusioned, confused and angry students who were being forced to use the service simply because it was there, not because it enhanced the classroom experience. I can see the benefits of opening classroom discussion with carefully crafted questions on Edmodo, where every learner has the opportunity to contribute not just the one who thinks fastest. However I can also see the potential for misuse by the minority who want to use Edmodo to keep their classes quiet or too busy to realise that their needs are not being met. It needs to be used in a carefully considered way where it should enhance the learning and teaching of all students in the classroom, but teachers also need to bear in mind that it offers the advantage of being able to hold a 1:1 discussion over a long period of time. The teacher has to make time to read the comments and adapt their usual classroom practice to best serve their learners.

So, in short, it offers the opportunity to deliver a flipped classroom model of education. I’ll investigate this further in future blog posts.