Phase 6

The MSUrbanSTEM program has had more of an impact on my overall practice than I probably even entirely aware of. A few examples follow:

  • Flipping AP Statistics  – I use an IPEVO document camera ($99), Screen-Cast-O-Matic (free), Youtube (free), Edpuzzle (free), MathXLforSchool (Pearson $15/student), and a nine-year-old iMac to create videos for my students. I create the videos with the IPEVO camera, the iMac, and Screen-Cast-O-Matic. Creating picture in picture videos with the webcam and the document camera at the same time is easy and most of my videos feature my talking head in the lower right corner so students can see me  while I explain concepts. Edpuzzle is my video delivery system; I first upload the videos from Screen-Cast-O-Matic to Youtube and I import them from Youtube into Edpuzzle. Edpuzzle lets me create a class of students and lets me create assignments for them; it gives me a report of which students watched which videos, the percentage of the videos watched, and a report on how students did answering questions I insert into the videos that they answer in real-time. The teaching need this technology has answers is that I have multiple students in different places in terms of skill level; I have students in the class who can legitimately get a 3 or 4 on the AP test, and other students who need much more support, either because of lack of prior preparation, talent, home-life, attendance or some combination thereof. Combined with skills based grading and a mastery philosophy, I have been able to create a situation in which there are many second chances for all students and almost every assignment and skill-based assessment can be attempted as many times as students wish, with multiple chances to show mastery, before the final deadline. Importantly the videos and the MathXLforSchool provide support 24 hours a day, on demand whenever my students need support. These tools create one-on-one coaching opportunities when we meet in person, as much of the class is occupied and I have time for conversation with individuals or small groups of students.
  • Promotion of Digital Citizenship in Computer Science – I use Google classroom now much more proficiently than I did last year, and I use a much wider range of tools than I did before. Rather than just documents, I use a lot of the other apps – Slides and Sheets than I used to. I also have students use their phones much more than I ever have in the past. Students usually have more than one choice in how they want to share/present their projects to other people: and one of the major tools they often choose is to take pictures or video and upload these to Google slides. I started on the second day of class with a similar warmup to the one we had with our STEM cohort – a selfie with something significant to you that you then had to upload to a shared google document and then explain. And that fumbling first day has now turned into proficiency with Slides and their phones to support their learning and communicate their ideas. Last, I now seek out and use web 2.0 tools that I do not think I would even have thought existed, pretty routinely in my classes. Example: one of the computer science lessons calls for Lego blocks. I did not have any and a tub of them costs $40 and I still may not have had enough of the right kind of block. Last year, I would have bought the Legos anyway. This year I thought to look online to see if there was not some sort of Lego building tool out there: there was; indeed, there was more than one. I ended up using a tool from a company called Everblock which actually fabricates giant Lego-style structures from the models people make with their online tool. With Everblock, the built-in clipping tool in Windows, and Google Slides, we had some killer student presentations!
  • Personal Websites for each student in Computer Science – This is a dry-run tool students have learned to use which will be later used to put together their ImagineIT learning portfolios when we do our programming unit. I used Weebly for this because they have education accounts that make it easy for teachers to manage student websites. A Loyola computer science student visited and assisted and we were able to do lessons on setting up a basic page, menus, embedding videos, inserting pictures etc. Students also used Pixlr (free, online) software to do image editing and create personal banner images for their websites. I do worry however that the Weebly platfom is not flexible enough and too limited for my purposes; the sites students can make with their education accounts are limited only to five pages.
  • Raspberry Pi and now robot club – I have been meeting every Thursday after school working with students on Linux basics and we have wired breadboards and written short Python programs to make LED’s blink in sequence etc. The display with the students’ work was a big hit at the school open house. We also have a set of Lego EV3 robots which we are just starting to figure out.

ImagineIT update, November 29My ImagineIT will not take place in full-fledged form until the programming unit — the longest and most central unit of the course — in second semester. My ImagineIT theme is creativity in computer science and the plan is to encourage creativity in various forms and to actually attempt to measure and evaluate it using creativity rubrics,one of the specialties of the fellows and some of the education faculty at Michigan State. Originally, I expected that the creativity thread would be carried through all the units in the computer science course. I imagined, for example, more ‘maker breaks’ or ‘maker days’ like the quickfire cardboard construction games we made in our last Chicago meeting. But I have had some trouble getting these things off the ground, partly because of materials (my Donor’s Choose failed; I ordered the wrong voltage batteries for paper circuits; expense; not knowing where to start). One of my goals is to have at least one of these maker days before December 13, maybe with encouragement and advice from some of the STEM fellows on how to overcome obstacles with materials. As mentioned above, I have had students create personal websites and that is a step toward creating a learner’s portfolio for their programming unit. The learner’s portfolio is not a random selection of student work, but instead deliberately chosen items that show one’s progress in learning over the course of the unit. Students choose artifacts and projects that they did to represent different stages of their learning and part of the project is to write about how the items they chose tell the story of their progress from the start of the unit to the end. This is still something I need to learn about — and I mean more pedagogy, in this case than technology. Finally, I still need to get one of these creativity threads into one of these project units or use this somehow on one of the maker days to practice up before the actual programming unit starts and we are doing this on an ongoing basis. And again, how to take into account student and teacher fears about evaluating creativity, which many see as not something that is possible or desirable to evaluate.

ImagineIT Final Update December 13:I read  Anna Richert’s What Should I Do?: Confronting Dilemmas of Teaching in Urban Schools. Richert makes a distinction between a problem, which has a clear-cut, sometimes technical, solution, like a broken copier, and a dilemma, for which there is no easy or ‘right’ answer that tends to pit competing important values against one another. Richert, quoting Burbules (1997) describes a teaching dilemma: “Not just a difficult choice between two options, not just a balancing act between alternatives, not just second-guessing a decision we might have made differently, but a recognition of deep, intractable contradiction between competing aims and values” (Richert 6).  During the December 2 face-to-face meeting at Michigan State, my partner Mike and I made two lists of competing values that form the push-pull for a typical teaching dilemma. On the one hand, you have what might be called ‘outside forces’: district mandates, state standards, one-size-fits all curriculum materials, school policies, and the sense that students should generally be treated the same way. On the other hand, you also have: the realities of the urban context, holes in the knowledge of the students actually in front of you, student social emotional and psychological difficulties, the teacher’s own personal morality, and, finally, the sense that it might sometimes make sense to treat some students differently in the light of their personal situations.

It may be that something like a dilemma was raised in regard to my ImagineIT in the sense that both the students and the teaching colleagues I conferred with about the idea of creating a creativity rubric, encouraging creativity, and trying to assess creativity met with skepticism. Both the students and the teachers thought that more creativity in computer science class would be a good thing, but the students worried it would not be fair; the students especially worried that some students might not have the technical skills to create the creative ideas they dreamed up, and they might get a bad grade, and that did not seem fair. On the teacher side, teachers thought it might be best if encouragement of creativity was part of a hidden curriculum and never actually stated as a goal for class projects, and if it were that it should be called something else, like ‘application of new skills to a novel situation of the student’s own devising’ because of the association of creativity with ineffability and also because of the worry of the idea falling into the wrong hands with a teacher grading people not on technical skills but because of the teacher’s own subjective preferences.

To be honest, this really may be a dilemma, and I do not know that I have actually decided it. I did just do a Human html tags activity in which students stood with whiteboards holding up words, phrases, and html tags that gave certain effects that were asked for in the assignment e.g. a three word phrase with the middle word bolded and noted as important with <strong> tags. Students were to use index cards, white boards, sheets of paper, or whatever else they wished to show that they understood and could use the <strong> tags. Students received encouragement and vague assurances that I would look the other way on other missing work if their work was especially creative; I ended up getting a wide array of responses, many of which I had not thought of at all, including a group that took over five computer screens in a row, displaying one word or one HTML tag on each screen before taking a picture of the entire thing. What I did not yet have was any specific, scientific rubric valuing creativity and it was not named as a specific them of the unit or the course overall. Again, however, we have another project coming up where there are certain technical things I need to see — they are going to use the html table tags to create an array of pictures organized around a certain theme; each picture must take the user to a related web page– so the students need to code the table, the image tags, and the link tags properly but the theme and the specific images are up to them. This might be another opportunity to at least offer extra credit for demonstration of creativity– and if this is presented as extra credit perhaps the worries of the students at least about being graded down for not being creative enough might be assuaged.  I look forward to spend time looking again at the creativity articles I read over the summer and the creativity rubrics suggested by MSUrban STEM teacher-leaders during the second half 0f winter break when I know I will have some days free. I am not sure that my colleagues and students need to be as afraid of the assessment of creativity in computer science class as so many say they are.