My Teaching Just Got Agile and I Love It!

For the last week I’ve been running a bit of an experiment in my classroom. Not in a scientific way (I think human subjects are generally frowned upon anyway), but in a take a risk in the classroom type way.

So, year 12 have been coding now for 5 weeks. The majority of them have never coded before and have been on one of the steepest learning curves they’ve ever known. It’s amazing to watch (and on occasions heartbreaking when you remember that awful feeling of ‘what was I thinking signing up for this?’), but they’ve moved on so far.

Part of the course is not just to teach them to code, but also introduce them to standard development models. The standard model that is used in academia is the Waterfall Method. This lends itself to an academic project so well as each stage is visited in a clearly defined block. For students, this also brings the benefits of being able to write the style of documentation that is required by the exam board. There are a number of reasons why it is wholly forgiveable for schools and colleges to teach this method as an introduction to the SDLC (I stand by this having instilled this in my year 13s who are creating a massive project under huge time restrictions!).

However, year 12s need to understand a variety of different methods and have a need to practice what they have learnt so far – mainly because at the end of this year they have a practical exam where they are expected to be able to produce working and tested code to a set algorithm within 2 hours, under pressure. So why not try Agile rather than just read about it in the book?

Monday:  Sprint Development Meeting

I introduced the concept of Agile to both classes and asked them to self-organise themselves into groups of six or seven people. Within the teams, they would need to allocate a Scrum Master. I would be acting as the Product Owner and as such would have no influence over their decision of team or Scrum Master (in fact, I would be watching from a distance and evaluating how they organised themselves & silently telling myself not to interfere!).

As a Product Owner, I gave the teams the following goals (for a week… this was aiming high!)

  • Create a game similar to the 1980s Simon Game
  • The game should show a random pattern of 4 colours
  • The colours should show on the screen for 0.5 seconds
  • The screen should clear between colours
  • The game starts with a pattern length of 1 & increases by 1 colour each round
  • The user should be able to enter in the pattern they saw using the keys R,G,Y & B
  • The game should repeat only if the user input is correct

After this, I gave them some stretch goals (because if I was going to be a client, I wanted the world on a stick):

  • The game could output to the user how long it took them to respond
  • The game could allocate a score based upon time
  • The game could write the high score to a text or CSV file (5 weeks… they’ve been programming for 5 weeks.)
  • The game gets faster after each round
  • The code is made efficient with procedures

The world on a stick. And they had a week.

Every day for the past week, each team has met either in a classroom or via Skype (or Xbox Live!) for a 15 minute Scrum Meeting where they worked out how their team was doing and what they needed to do to achieve their goals. This wasn’t organised by me, but by the teams themselves. I was suitably impressed.

During the course of the week, I was asked for help by a number of the teams, either from individuals or from groups. In the most part, this was to help them move above their current understanding and to help them implement something that they had found online (one example of this was to help them create two parallel dynamic arrays – impressive stuff for a class who I haven’t actually taught arrays to yet!).

Monday (7 days later): Sprint Review Meeting

So today was our first Sprint Review Meeting. Each of the four teams did a live demo of their code so far and I was blown away, The effort they had put into this was astounding – they OWNED their code. (one team even linked theirs to a Makey Makey to give it extra playability!).

After each of the Sprint Review Meetings, we had a reflective session where every member of the team used an A4 piece of lined paper for a five minute silent write. In this, they could vent their feelings about how they worked as a team member, what went well, what they would improve and anything else that they felt that they needed to say in confidence. I then took these in with the promise that I wouldn’t share them with anyone (not even the internet – don’t ask!). What was most interesting was that those who felt that they could have improved had the clearest picture about how their team functioned as a whole.

So Agile for students has had a few unexpected benefits so far: The group dynamic has improved in both classrooms with students actively wanting to help others and share their knowledge in most cases (and where this didn’t happen, students have identified how to move forward), and more unexpectedly, almost every student without exception has worked autonomously to progress their knowledge without me guiding their understanding. They have shown Grit, they have shown resilience (of course they have, coding never goes right the first time!). I am prouder than a parent at a Nativity play right now.

So that was Sprint #1 – It may be a fluke. Even so, I can’t wait to see the product of Sprint #2.

Could this be the start of something new? Agile Dev meets Teaching : Agile Teaching?

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Sucking at Something is The First Step To Becoming Sorta Good At Something

Excellent quote from my favourite cartoon dog.

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As the term really gets into swing, one of the things I seem to be repeating in every class is that I don’t mind if they hand me a piece of coding that doesn’t work. What I want to see is that they’ve created it, rewritten it, shouted at it, looked on the Internet and tried everything then handed it to me with wild hair as they mutter about how much they hate the program. Because you know what? That’s what programmers do. We get hold of a problem and roll it around in our heads like a insanity ball that eats away at our souls until BINGO! We get it. Then the joy can commence.

Getting stuff wrong isn’t bad. Repeatedly sucking isn’t the goal. The idea is to suck a little bit less each time until you’re basically bloody awesome. But that takes practice.

I’ve met a few students who got the bug early and made it their mission to practice at every given opportunity. I love the lunchtimes when they bounce into the classroom to show me their latest ‘thing’, all sorts of weirdness from nods to Pokemon to 8 bit music programs, to card games. Every one of these came from them taking it on themselves to bend their heads around the code. All I did was show them the yellow brick road – they followed it. I’m stupidly proud of them.

The same applies to how I see my teaching ability. The more I do this, the less I suck. I’m not scared of trying some new stuff this year, because if I suck at something to start off with, it’s just the first step to being sorta good at it. And so far we’ve been in the zone.

What time is it? Adventure Time!!

Thanks Jake.

The only way I shall acknowledge Christmas before December

So, I have three topics to cover with three different year groups.

Year 9s – intro to python programming
Year 12s – finite state machines
Year 13s – Mealy & Moore machines

And a set of raspberry pis. Enter overexcited teacher.

So as a gentle introduction, welcome to the Christmas Computing Display board idea…

Print out a reindeer picture on card and get out a raspberry pi and the GCSE electronics kit (from Maplins.  Very cool).
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Connect a 200 resistor to the shorter wire on a red LED.
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Then make two wires and twist them onto the end of each side of the LED . I could use jumper wires, bit have you seen how much they cost??!

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To save the pins on the raspberry pis, I’m using a GPIO lead which turns the male pins into female ones wjivh ypu can push the wires into.

These go into pin 25 for the resistor side, and pin 7 for the other.
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Connect up the pi and set up a python program to set the led to high then low each second (the code comrs from http://www.ocr.org.uk).

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Next, open a terminal session and type in

sudo python rudolph.py

Get stupidly overexcited when it actually works!
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Push LED through a small hole in the card for Rudolph’s nose and tape the wire to the back of the card.

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So, the plan is to duplicate the process with a number of year 9s to create a flashing wall display for the end of term.

Use wall display with year 12s to demonstrate FSMs and give year 13s free range to create their own versions which allow input to create mealy machines.

Today was a good day 🙂

Free stuff! For free.

It’s going to be one of those days. Earlier I uploaded my newly created Image technology for computing CSI style resources, and now after much faffing about (and general non payment of commission) by Amazon, I’ve uploaded a link to the PDF version of the book here.

If I’m not going to get paid for it, at least it might help someone get into coding. And that’s worth a free (and legitimate) download.

All I ask is that you acknowledge it’s mine and chuck a link to the page, or at the very least keep my name on the book. It is my hard work and a good few months of my life there!

Enjoy 🙂

download from my book page

CSI in the classroom – Teaching Imaging Technology

You know you’ve watched a bit too much CSI when you start planing lessons around it. The start of next half term for my GCSE & AS Computing people will commence with a spreadsheet. Yep, a spreadsheet.

The plan is to introduce some practice of the binary & hexadecmial that they looked at last hald term and combine this with an understanding of bitmap and vector images and the theory behind them. (It’s the zoom in, enhance that image ongoing joke that prompted the whole project) There is a real possibility of this topic being very dry and losing the interest that was sparked in the first half term with programming. When it’s dry, it’s just as boring to teach as it is to be taught. Enter CSI School…

The spreadsheet guides them through a set of tasks where they answer questions and undertake practical activities from picking out hexadecimal colours from a bitmap to find a secret message, to writing a program to calculate maximum file size, to using a drawing list to create a vector.

I’m planning on this taking a good 6 lessons for them to go through all the tasks and create a set of written notes (A Level) to highlight the key terminology.

CSI School Dashboard

It looks like fun. So, here’s a copy of the resources basically because I’m lovely.

CSI School

Note: You’ll also need the BMP file and password for the ‘nope’ sheet. Please drop me a message and I’ll email them to you (wordpress don’t allow bitmap uploads)

All PGCE Courses should include saying the word ‘penis’ in public.

And it’s official. I’ve made it through my first term back in the state sector and ya boo sucks to you Hogwarts, I’ve not only made the last 8 weeks alive, but emotionally in tact! Today’s teaching was sponsored by a litre bottle of Kick (cheap own brand Redbull) which counteracted the minimal sleep and made me a VERY enthusiastic teacher, with only minor chest pains.

I’ve discovered a number of things so far:

I don’t speak teenage girl anymore. The speed at which deliver detailed information about their incestuous friendship groups indicates that their brains must be functioning at breakneck speed. This is usually reflected in their essays which contain volumes upon volumes of words. Words that eventually lead to a point which may or may not be connected to the original question. I may mock here, but I clearly remember being in year 10 & 11 and all the hysterics and heartbreaks that go with it. It’s not a great time for those who feel the need to be very small adults before they’ve learnt to appreciate being outrageous college kids. The TV show The Inbetweeners has unwittingly done a huge favour to a generation that suddenly saw what they could do between child and adult stages. They made a levels attractive in a way no educator or government ever could. And. AND they coined the phrases ‘clunge’ and ‘buswanker’. Pure bottled genius.

I know my shit. You’d hope so really, but there are still times that I wonder if I’m just spouting a load of tosh. Turns out, I can pick up two new programming languages and teach them without a nervous breakdown. Python & Pascal, I salute you for being decent languages which support the syllabus and have a place in industry (if only because Pascal is derived from C++ and as such borrows a fair amount of syntax). Not only do I know my programming, but I am an algorithm goddess (after a glass of wine, or too much redbull). Today’s end of half term brain teaser was an algorithm which included the need for iteration and selection which described how to recharge Mrs B. This involved a process of eating pizza and drinking beer. Once beer percentage was less than 0.1%, Mrs B must be pronounced asleep. A few of them (sixth form! Not school age! Theirs was much more age appropriate!) traced the algorithm and shouted from across the room “Miss, is this your plan tonight? You’re going to eat pizza and drink beer ’til you fall asleep??…. Lad!”. Bless, yes that is my plan (actually, it’s fried chicken and beer), but it also includes knitting and TV. Not quite the lad.

State school isn’t scary! Much to the contrary of the horror stories told at Hogwarts, state school is a NICE place to work. With supportive teams that want to make education enjoyable. It’s not a walk in the park, and there are classes that I walk out of wondering if evolution really is right. But, on the whole as long as you’re ok with standing your ground (without losing your temper) and are not disturbed by the teenage boy sense of humour, then combined with a few years experience and a diary that holds details of everything you need to achieve each day, it’s frankly the best job ever.

A note on teenage boy humour – look in the mirror. Now say penis, willy, porn, boobies and breasts and the top of your voice. Red in the face? You’re doomed. All PGCEs should include a full unit (hehe) on saying and hearing the word penis without reaction. Differentiation could apply here – top achieves could also show no reaction to vajazzle, pussy wagon and shclong alongside descriptions of their latest piercings.

Just a thought.

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Ada, that’s ADA Lovelace

It’s International Ada Lovelace day today, and as a fully fledged computer science teacher (and a bit of a feminist on the side) my classes today were filled with projects on investigating and creating something for the findingada.com website.

Cue fun lessons and me getting totally overexcited about why the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine were so important. They created some stunning stuff.

….. It’s all fun and games until someone Googles her name without the Ada bit….

“Miss, is this her?!”
“No. DO NOT click that!!!”

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