As an Engineering teacher I strongly believe in the power of iteration and reflection. Everything I ask my students to do, I ask them to do more than once. This gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Iteration is how real design works, so we should teach accordingly. I am such a fan of the concept that I apply it to my teaching practice. What follows is my coding lesson reflection for my first iteration.
The first iteration of creating coding lessons using App Inventor 2 did not go as well as I’d hoped. Because it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped I have Two choices before me. I can scrap the lesson, or I can reflect on it and how to make it better for next quarter. What follows is my reflection on this past quarter. If you haven’t read the first Two posts in this series you should check them out here, and here before continuing. I’ll wait.
Coding Lesson Reflection – Complete Successes
My primary goal for Middle Grades Technology Education is to introduce new technology or technical concepts to my students. In terms of technology and concept introduction this lesson was a complete success. Every student in my class was able to have some success in making mobile applications.
The lesson was easy to both scaffold, and differentiate. Depending on individual student ability I could give more, or less help as needed. I was also able to easily alter portions of assignments in order to bring each student to the level of challenge they needed. Everyone stretched, but no one was drowning (at least not for long). Additionally, I think that all of my students were both engaged, and entertained by this lesson. The only times students seemed to lack engagement was when they felt overwhelmed by the content. In this case I could simply add scaffolding to bring them back.
The vehicle for learning here was outstanding. MIT App Inventor 2, worked as well as I had hoped. The interface is well within the comfort level of all of the grade 8 students in my class. They were also able to apply learned concepts to other problems. The phones, and tablets worked how I expected them to with minimal problems. For next year I will need to buy devices for my classroom out of my own budget, but based on how my test devices performed I am comfortable doing so. Ideally, these phones will still be available when my equipment gets purchased.
Coding Lesson Reflection – Mediocre Successes
Though MIT App Inventor 2 worked exactly as I had hoped, the tutorials I used didn’t. I have a fairly specific vision for what I want to teach in the course, and the tutorials I used were not exactly right. They were also not as easy for my Grade 8 students to understand as I was hoping for them to be. I am not particularly surprised by this as I have yet to find something made by someone else that I am completely happy with when it comes to curriculum. Using videos for teaching app programming however, seems pretty solid. I also like that the format is comfortable for my students, that they can refer back to the information contained in them, and that it allows me to spend class time scaffolding learning for individual students.
Encouraging collaboration was also “sort of” successful. In the beginning of the quarter I suggested that my students lean on one another for assistance, and tried to facilitate that communication. As the quarter progressed I added collaboration, specifically through web site comments as a requirement. Students were successful in helping one another, but resisted when I added the collaboration requirement later in the quarter.
Coding Lesson Reflection – Unsuccessful
The lesson itself was an overall success, but I am left with a distinct feeling that some things went terribly wrong. First, I stepped back to far, and too quickly. By this I mean that I only went through one complete tutorial with my students before giving them the others, and having them try to figure out the tutorials on their own. Doing so was certainty a conscious choice, but it was the wrong choice. I essentially gave my students scaffolding that didn’t involve me, and made the assumption that if they got stuck they would ask me for help. Unfortunately, they didn’t ask for help until they were completely frustrated and lost. The result was that many of my students didn’t get as far as I’d hoped they would.
Next, the way I graded this lesson was deeply flawed throughout the quarter. Typically in my classes I use a participation grade. Most of the time this method of grading is perfect because I’m not expecting work outside of class. By the time I figured out that I should move to a grade by assignment model everything was already thrown out of whack. I then made the mistake of doing a combined model, which really didn’t work out. Finally, I added different types of grades in the middle of the quarter. The result was grades that poorly reflected the work being done.
My expectations of my students were also incorrect. I had the expectation that many if not all of my students would be doing some of the work for this class at home. Though I had a few do so, most simply didn’t. Some told me they didn’t have a computer or internet at home, and others said they were to busy with other school work.
Coding Lesson Reflection – Immediate Changes
The great news about all of this is that I have an opportunity right away to solve some of the problems with this lesson. A new quarter just started, and my coding lesson starts anew along with it. I am certain I can remedy all of my failures, and likely improve some of my mediocre successes.
- Grading: Beginning with a project based grading system, and setting the expectation early on should allow grades to more accurately reflect the work produced. Additionally, I will insert a collaboration requirement from the beginning, and stress the impact of this requirement on overall grades.
- Expectations: Now that I am more familiar with what students are capable of I can tailor my expectation accordingly. I can closely examine what is happening in the tutorials I assigned last quarter, as well as the results achieved with them. When I look at what my students did in relation to what I was looking for I can eliminate or scaffold as needed. Additionally, I can be more cognizant of what students are likely able to accomplish at home, and assign work accordingly.
- Role of the Teacher: In this next iteration of the lesson, I will simply increase the amount of scaffolding I give my students, and be more active in checking up on their work. By increasing this I should be able to achieve better results.
- Collaboration: This quarter I will institute a collaboration requirement from the start to make collaboration a greater part of classroom culture overall.
Coding Lesson Reflection – Long Term Changes
In terms of long term changes I am going to focus on the tutorials themselves. As I mention above, though the tutorials I have found are useful they are still not quite right. During summer break it is my intention to make my own tutorials with which to teach this lesson. When I do I will add a new section to SuperStarSTEM.com where my tutorials will live.
Thank you all for reading, and if you have found this post useful please share links wherever you can. Doing so will allow other educators to benefit from our work on SuperStarSTEM.
Note: Just about any Android phone will work for App Inventor 2. Ideally you will find some that are $20-$30, and have both an auto focus and a flash. Those two features are not required, but will allow you to use Rocketbooks in your class. The only required features are an accelerometer, a camera, wifi, and possibly GPS.