Diagnostic Questions for Computer Science #DQ #CompSci

With my classes on exam leave or preparing for their end of year assessments I have been teaching a variety of revision sessions and lessons recently. While I feel it is valuable to prepare students with exam style or past paper questions, time management strategies, peer review of answers I realised we hadn’t reexamined student thought processes with particular focus on programming and problem solving questions.

The weekly #CASchat on Twitter reminded me of www.diagnosticquestions.com. I had investigated it before prior to mock exams  in January but hadn’t used it with my classes. The reminder was perfectly timed as I had just interviewed students about the areas of the course covered so far that they felt less confident about. I had my focus areas and a purpose for use of diagnostic questioning.

I curated a mixture of pre-created questions from the Computing topic into quizzes and allocated them to classes. It was very easy to build the quizzes and set up the classes. Students joined the class using a code which I shared via email.

DQ shows the selected questions and accepts a single multiple choice answer from each student, however it then asks the students to explain the reasoning behind their chosen answer. This can allow the teacher to uncover and address misconceptions or gaps in learning. I wasn’t sure what the students would make of this but, after a few sample questions to get used to the system and my expectations they, in the main, worked their socks off to explain to me why they chose one answer over another. The results sorted the questions into order of most commonly answered incorrectly so I could highlight the correct answer with a small group or as a whole class discussion.

At the end of each class today I asked the students how the site compared to for example Kahoot!, and I fully expected to be told that the other multiple choice revision tools were more exciting or interesting. However almost every student loved DQ and requested more sets of questions do they could continue to review and improve their own learning! The fact that you could see peer explanations (even from other students around the world) gave my classes another viewpoint with which to deepen their understanding of a topic.

The site has its glitches of course: the convoluted way to de-select quiz questions is a particular highlight. As is the lack of ability to create your own scheme of work for your subject area.

However it is so easy for teachers to create their own content (I made two PowerPoint templates for my IGCSE and IB question sets in around 10 mins and import the individual slides as images into DQ) I now fully intend to use it regularly throughout the year and track student understanding not only across topics but also across year groups and courses. It has definitely become another useful tool in my Flipped Classroom box.

My first job #teacher5aday #memorymarch

A photo taken this morning enroute to my current job

This post is part of a series linked to the #memorymarch initiative created by Ritesh Patel for #teacher5aday. Please visit his blog post for more details and join in if you can!

“Childhood and memories in general are priceless. Yes there will be some bad memories but also some memorable ones! That’s life & we have to keep going and stay positive! This month, lets reminisce and share together.”

My first job was, like many others my age, a paper round at age 14. The pay was terrible for the work (if I remember correctly £4.25 a week PLUS a free video from the limited selection in the village shop) however I really enjoyed it. The round itself was easy enough – about 70 houses – which took about 90 minutes by foot and a bit quicker by bike. I remember the weather being generally nice which is strange for North East Scotland so I’ve probably blocked out the months of rain and howling wind.

What I really enjoyed about the job was the thinking time. The process of delivering the papers to the houses quickly became second nature and I just daydreamed my way around it. Much like today I came up with ways to link my learning together (although I probably didn’t actually realise I was doing this), whatever it was at the time. I now know that reflection of my students is one of the most important parts of the learning process. There has to be gaps to reflect both inside and outside of school.

I think that this kind of job is now pretty much obsolete with the increase in digital news consumption and the loss of local village shops to larger supermarkets however I do think that thinking time and reflection remains as important as ever. Italians have the right idea here, with aperitivo time every day where they sit, chat, read and think. It helps that there is often sunshine of course but, speaking as an 18 month resident of Milan, there is a lot more rain, fog and chill than most people realise!

That said, it is beautiful today…

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.

CPD 2011-12 Summary

With one week to go until school session 2012-13 I thought I should summarise and categorise my CPD blog posts this year. I think, to be honest, that I should have posted much more about my offline reading and twitter conversations but I struggled to fix on a method for sharing my thoughts. However I set out to make an impact at my new school and to push for changes which would benefit my learners and I achieved this with a lot of help and support from local and international colleagues so THANK YOU for your tweets, emails, discussions and blog posts: I owe you a coffee when we meet in person!

Please click on the link to CPD 2011-12 to see a summary list of all my blog posts against my initial CPD plans. Also please feel free to post a comment linking to your own CPD reflection or pass on tips of how to nail those targets every time!

TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2011

On Wednesday evening I once again found myself at MacRobert Building, University of Aberdeen six months on from the last one organised primarily by Stuart Brown. The wikispace advertising the TeachMeet can be found here and, in addition to this, Stuart made use of social media to extend the reach of the promotional material. This approach, along with the assistance of Jim and Linda at the University in selecting the optimum date for engaging PGDE and BEd students, resulted in over 60 attending the evening. At times the online stream had viewers into double figures but we were beset with technical issues, most disruptive was the lack of constant wifi and this seriously hampered our online impact as well as preventing the planned link up with TeachMeet Strathclyde. However the evening could be considered a success and as we were able to record most of the presentations on the laptop I hope we can – in time – share the talks with a wider audience.

To whet your appetite, here is a YouTube playlist of the May 2011 TeachMeet Aberdeen presentations.

When I find the time to edit and upload the individual presentations to YouTube I’ll update this post but I’ve included my notes on each presentation and relevant links to the web sites mentioned.

Stuart Brown – “Why de ye bother with aww that?’ – Justifying the use of ICT in the classroom

Stuart Brown: "the way we communicate is changing"

I felt this was an excellent start to the night. Stuart highlighted the fact that 19C teaching methods and environments are not suited to 21C learning. That most pupils have access to instantaneous information using devices which are often more technologically advanced than the computers and resources available in school puts today’s teachers at a disadvantage. I agreed (through gritted teeth as I recognised the phrase “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” from many unfocussed, confused presentations on implementation of Curriculum for Excellence) with Stuart on the need for all teachers to adapt, not rebuild to ensure that we are serving our learners sufficiently. I recommend you watch Stuart’s last TeachMeet talk (May 2011) which is a stepping stone to this presentation.

I loved the phrase Stuart used in the presentation “to stratify education” – but felt it needed explanation. Internet searches show this to be standarisation of education or use of standard tests and tracking methods.

Ian Simpson – “Becoming Orson: Podcasting the War of The Worlds”

I did this so I won’t comment for long on the actual presentation. On reflection this talk was a little early, my lunchtime podcasting group had only been working on this for about 5 weeks (30-40mins per week) and despite their excellent progress there was little evidence to share with the teachers present. However it was a good starting point for a future presentation (maybe TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2012?) on how these learners have self-organised themselves into an amateur radio drama production group. After working with them the day after the presentation and seeing how they continued to innovate and collaborate with the newly-arrived high quality microphones I have high hopes of achieving our ambitious target to have recorded and shared the full radio play by next October. Follow the progress via this blog or my twitter stream @familysimpson.

In addition Dave Adams, DO Curriculum and Quality Improvement Service for South Lanarkshire, got in touch in September and kindly sent his ideas based around the 1938 Orson Welles War of The Worlds radio play for CBS. I’ve emailed Dave to see if these lesson ideas are publicly available and will update the links section if this is the case.

Nikki Stobbie – Random Name Generator

Nikki Stobbie describes how she uses classtools.net with her classes

A presentation from a press-ganged student! Nikki showed us http://www.classtools.net and, in particular, the random name generator. Great resource to use in class and a great 2 minute presentation!

Mark Hay – ‎”Look what I did…” E-Portfolio’s using glow wiki

I didn’t see this presentation as I had to run to the shop for supplies but will update once I’ve extracted the presentation from the video clips currently sitting on my laptop.

Martin Coutts – “Maths is just a game”  – Using GBL to raise attainment

Martin showed how he used Mangahigh with an Access 3 / Foundation class to improve their motivation and attainment. Pupils were taught maths through combination of games and Prodigi technique. Competitive aspect through bronze, silver and gold and school leaderboard. Martin especially recommends sigma prime.

Kathryn Roper – “GeoBus – A mobile Earth Science Resource”

GeoBus: based at St Andrews University but a national funded resource for secondary schools (or P7 at a push). Kathryn seems very passionate about Earth Science and claims to be able to develop activities to suit your curricular area.

GeoBus launches January 2012 but those interested can get in touch with Kathryn now via kathryn.roper@mac.com

Gretchen Perk exemplified how she uses the Frayer model to enhance literacy

Gretchen Perk – “Frayer Model in Literacy”

Meldrum Academy English teacher Gretchen spoke about the Frayer Model which is a “vocab aquisition graphic builder”. She found it great for more effective learning of keywords through use of higher order skills such as analysis and synthesis. I personally found the use of non-examples especially useful. Gretchen highlighted the fact that it is a good teaching strategy for all subjects I’m already thinking about how to use this with Computing classes.

Charlie Barrow – An outward facing classroom using Augmented Reality – Junaio

Charlie repeated his May 11 talk on using augmented reality in the classroom but wanted to inspire teachers to build an Aberdeenshire channel for augmented reality. I’ve included the video of his presentation from May and hope to be working with him in the future on his vision for an Aberdeenshire channel.

More information on his own use of augmented reality in the classroom can be found at http://www.charlesbarrow.com

Stephanie Orr – Medieval Law and Order

Stephanie gave a quick 2-min presentation on using games in class to motivate and educate by stealth. http://www.tudorbritain.org/joust

Ed Walton – Fusion, Meta-cognition and The Learning Story

Presentation written during teachmeet! Ed shared how Fraserburgh Academy used Glow effectively to dissemenate work to pupils unable to attend school during snowdays. Three themes; fusion, meta-cognition And the learning story. Ed showed snow work posted for AH on glow featuring embedded prezis for self-directed learning, stagework.org which allows users to be the director for a scene from His Dark Materials. It looked fantastic! Ed showed Comic Life which he has used with classes and whole-school assemblies to explain meta-cognition. Finally Ed explained how Fraserburgh Academy has been using Honeycomb / I Can as a trial school to build an ePortfolio which remains with the child as they progress from primary through secondary. I was interested to note that because data is stored on a separate server from Glow there is no upload limit so videos and large image files can be posted. To be honest the presentation was actually 3 or 4 but there was lots of useful information.

Darren Gibb describes how he uses a variety of ICT tools to enhance learning and teaching in the English classroom

Darren Gibb – ICT teaching and learning tools

The last talk of the night was delivered by Darren Gibb, teacher of English at Banchory Academy. He exemplified many ICT tools that has augmented his learning and teaching. Again the audience was treated to a suite of presentations on different services from Todaysmeet to Evernote, Wikispaces to Glow.

This Is My Classroom, May 2011

It’s May and the certificate classes are on study leave. This is a time to catch up, reflect and plan for the coming session. One of the things I want to do is keep a visual record of my classroom as it changes (and share it with other educators for advice or feedback). I think it would be great if we could get a few teachers uploading images of their teaching environments and reflecting on how it affects pupil learning so, with that in mind, I’ll start!

If you are interested in joining in. Here’s some guidelines I’ve quickly come up with to maximise the dialogue:

  • Post the images of your class – I’ve taken photos of my desk, the view from the back of the room and the display areas.
  • Post a link to your site in this blog and I’ll be happy to comment!
  • You have free reign to comment on my post. See something you don’t agree with, or don’t understand? Feel free to ask! I might be missing something or might have something useful to share!