The Caring Scholar

February 24, 2013

Quotation Collector Made in Scratch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janet Dee @ 7:10 pm

This week’s assignment for Learning Creative Learning was to use Scratch to express what I love to do. I am certain most of us are racking our brains for what we could share, after all the challenge is quite open ended. Prompted by this week’s readings, I realized I love to acquire inspirational quotes and use them with my students. I decided to make a Quotation Collector that the now 9,754 members of the LCL course could contribute to. These individuals have already shared many inspirational ideas and images. As is the course, this Scratch project is an experiment. Please visit it and share your favorite quotation with me.

Scratch Project

Kitchen Math and Learning to Fish

Filed under: Learning Creative Learning — Janet Dee @ 1:50 pm

Chapter 7 of The Children’s Machine by Seymour Papert introduces so many of the strategies that have guided my learning and teaching.
“Kitchen math,” which needs no explanation to most generations was a critical foundation in my education of proportion, scale, and reference skills. Did you know that the back of any standard cookbook used to contain pages of conversion facts? I would pour over those, wondering when I could apply some of them to my everyday life. What sources do you recall using for conversions as a student?
Papert refers to the proverb “Feed a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” I grew up hearing this proverb from my parents who often had a saying for life’s lessons. As an accounting teacher, my students would often try to get me to “walk them through” the solution to each problem. One such student would relentlessly beg me to do each problem with him. I responded with the fish quote and he asked me to explain what it meant. Initially he would argue that this was accounting not fishing. Finally, one day, he raised his hand and said, “Mrs. Dee, I am ready to fish, let’s do it.” It took persistence, but the payoff was well worth it.
Papert leads us into the role of “constructionism,” by suggesting that in kitchen math we see “the success of the people who had developed their own methods for solving such problems – not what schooled failed to convey to them but  what they constructed for themselves.” I do not know when I constructed my own method for subtraction but it has served me well. I add back from the solution. For example, take the problem: 952 minus 276. Here are the steps I would take:

  1 1               The 1’s are what I carry forward
+676               The answer is 676.  

How do you subtract two multi-digit numbers? Is it the same way you were taught in school?

February 17, 2013

A Deck of Playing Cards

Filed under: Learning Creative Learning — Janet Dee @ 1:40 pm

After reading Seymour Papert’s essay on the “Gears of My Childhood” and reading many other peoples’ reflections, the object of my childhood that held my interest and influenced my play became totally obvious to me.
No matter where I was it seemed that a deck of playing cards was always close by. I loved numbers from an early age so the playing cards were very comfortable to me. From the time I could hold cards, I played solitaire games and when I tired of one my mother would teach me another. The reality is that in solitaire, most of the time I lost. Oblivious to the odds, I would play once again with the confidence that this next time I would win. Unlike the digital solitaire today, It took a long time to layout the solitaire cards each time; sometimes longer than it took to play the game. That taught me persistence and gave me time to reflect on the last game and strategize for the next.
The rule in my house was that everyone learn to shuffle cards. It was my entry in to playing cards against my older siblings. It taught me some dexterity but mostly it was fun to make the sounds. I would often practice my shuffling to impress my family. A good shuffle meant that once again there was an equal chance I would get the card I needed. This random quality of cards meant that I could also play card games against older siblings and still have a chance to win. A new deck of cards, although shiny, was tough to shuffle so here I learned that new was not always better.
Finally, when a deck got really worn, we would use them to construct card houses. At that point, it didn’t matter that the king of hearts was torn at the corner or sticky. I never mastered this construction challenge but it was always fun to get to the second level and to see how long the vulnerable structure would last.

9,098 and Counting

Filed under: Learning Creative Learning — Janet Dee @ 12:00 pm

I am currently participating in an online experiment with thousands of people brought together by their curiosity and by their commitment to the value of creativity in learning and in life. We are all part of the free and online Learning Creative Learning Course from MIT. Although this course has great speakers and a rigorous syllabus, it is in fact being played out in one very large Google+ community (as of this morning, there were 9,098 members). I was not one of the 24,000 brave souls who actually registered for this course, believing that I did not have the 4-8 hours per week to dedicate.  As it turns out I am in good company (of many thousands). The organizers created groups for those who did register, but many groups have welcomed any and all newcomers. There are also groups forming independently around native language, special interests and geography.

I will be documenting my journey with this experiment here. The first assignment was to write about an object from your childhood, in the spirit of Papert’s gears. The reflections that participants have written range from charming to awe inspiring. I encourage you to visit the LCL Google+ community and see for yourself.

June 19, 2011

What do you now see with new eyes?

Filed under: Lessons — Janet Dee @ 2:13 pm
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“What was the most confusing part of accounting?”  I asked on my student’s final exam this year.  In all my classes, I include feedback questions either on the final or on a particularly lengthy assignment. I began doing this after completing a grueling graduate course in Non-Euclidean Geometry.  The instructor harped all semester on the importance of seeing the totally familiar with new eyes; because without the laws of Euclid even a triangle becomes strange. In the ensuing debate over what his final exam would contain, we convinced him to include a question on what we now see with new eyes.

For my classes, I ask more concrete questions and I give a small amount of credit for answering them, which ensures that students will take the time and complete these questions. I am careful to make it obvious that there are no wrong answers except those that are left blank. Examples of my questions are noted below. The reward for me is in reading the responses, some of which are funny and others of which are brilliant. They don’t always make me smile but they all make me think. Here are some from this semester:

To the question of what was the most confusing part of accounting:

Answers: “those two students who rarely came to class”, “income statements”, “this exam”, “retained earnings”,”everything because I didn’t pay attention-sorry Mrs. Dee.”

To the question of what was the best part of the PSA video for a charity assignment?

Answers: “learning about my charity”, “working independently”,”finding music”

See Student Reflections on PSA Video Project for all answers.

To the question of what changes should be made to the Programming class:

Answers: “more Scratch because it is fun”, “more VPython because it is cool”, “more Python because it is useful”, “more real world problems”

As a result of the feedback here are some changes that I know I can make for next year:

  1. Improve the material and explanations for financial statements.
  2. Identify more content areas to incorporate music, after all music motivates.
  3. Create lessons in Scratch and VPython for other disciplines so more students can enjoy fun and cool programming.

Depending upon the course here are some questions I tend to ask:

  1. For a certain topic: was the time spent too much, too little, or just right?
  2. For a classroom portal (Edmodo, Edline): in what ways was it helpful, confusing, distracting?
  3. For a major assignment: what was the most interesting and what was the most difficult?
  4. To all my students I ask: what changes do you recommend for this course or assignment?

After this year, what totally familiar parts of your teaching do you now see with new eyes?

February 20, 2011

“Let’s try it” – Reflections on a Scratch Educator Meetup

Filed under: Lessons — Janet Dee @ 3:47 pm
Tags: ,

To kick off February school vacation, I chose to attend the Saturday Scratch Educator Meetup hosted monthly by the ScratchEd folks at M.I.T.  I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised that 30 other local educators were in attendance.  I signed up because I needed to learn more about Scratch and to make connections with people who were using it with high school students.  I was so impressed that many of the teachers attended (on their own time) having no idea how or why to use this program.

I spent an incredible hour with a handful of very gifted teachers, sharing and solving problems. We started by asking the question: what can be done using variables and lists (arrays).  With the benefit of a projector and screen, we created a program that captures the coordinates of a freestyle drawing and then redraws it either based on the original coordinate values or any transformation of those values.

Having this program to share with my students is terrific, but the real treat for me was the process. Every time one of us suggested a step for the program, the answer was “let’s try it,” and we did. The program evolved before our very eyes and we had great satisfaction in the script that we created. I came away realizing that Scratch is indeed robust enough for high school students to program with, and more importantly it provides an outstanding opportunity to create and problem solve in a team.

Try out our basic record and redraw program (which was created in about thirty minutes) and then check out other more intricate examples of Scratch at the following collections: ssbb’s projects and superzipzop. Thanks to Paddle2See, here is a great List Tutorial done in Scratch.

February 2, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — Janet Dee @ 8:15 pm

As I reflected on the outcomes of my fall semester computer courses, I was dismayed at how little interpersonal dialogue occurred during class time. Further, as more of my instruction is computer based resources (less paper and chalk talk), I am not learning as much about my students.

Part of it is the C shaped physical layout of the lab which was designed intentionally to minimize visibility of  cables and cords, provide a collaborative environment and ensure that the teacher has ready access to all the students. We even have “swivel” chairs at the workstations. As a result, I can clearly see the student’s monitors (which is great)  and the back of each student’s head (which is not so great.) In addition to the impact of the physical layout, it is clear that a monitor (or screen of any kind) is a magnet for a teenager’s attention and very difficult to counter.

I used to break up the monotony of my keyboarding classes with Fun-Day-Fridays, during which we would have activities and contests that would require students to get away from their computers and interact with classmates while still reinforcing the skills.  My curriculum is no longer monotonous and I hesitate to break up my lesson plans in this way.  This is also more difficult now that we have a seven day class schedule.

Inspired by a PLP blog, Free2LearnFridays, I am incorporating Face2FaceonDay5 into my Computer Programming Class. Using the ten tables in the middle of my spacious lab, every Day 5 we will unplug and do activities from the csunplugged and the ECS: Exploring Computer Science curriculum.  This way students will still have plenty of computer time to learn the programming languages and also learn the valuable skill of communicating face to face with others.

January 16, 2011

Student Led Conferences instead of Midterms

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janet Dee @ 1:51 pm

It is that high stakes time of year. No, not the state standardized tests but our own midterm exams: cumulative pencil and paper (often multiple choice), 2 hour assessments, that count 20% of the student’s semester grade.  Students have already spent over 4,000 minutes in each class and at least half that amount preparing and producing work outside of class. Wait, 120 minutes is 2% of the time they have spent on this subject so why does it count 20%. Did somebody put the decimal in the wrong place?

Why do we spend a week of precious learning time and resources (printed exam review guides and  exams) on this endeavor? What outcomes do we gain? What costs do we incur?

Here is one terrific alternative just blogged on brokenairplane: “We ask the students to reflect and present upon the previous semester and to describe the challenges they have experienced and the growth that they have seen in themselves.” Our freshman are already doing these student led conferences at the end of the year. What a fascinating learning week it must be to have the entire school involved in Presentations on Learning.

My Web 2.0 students will be presenting during midterms, but on a specific assignment they have been working on for the past week. It is designed as an opportunity to show me what they have learned. Next year, though, they will be reflecting and presenting on their personal journey in this course.

November 14, 2010

Graded Rubrics on Google Docs: Priceless and Paperless

Filed under: Lessons — Janet Dee @ 3:26 pm
Tags: ,

Each project assignment in my class has at least one grading rubric.  In spite of my pleas to students to hold on to their returned rubrics, I often find the papers left behind or tossed into the recycle bin.  I remind the students that the graded rubric is the proof of their grade in case there is a question later on.  Apparently that does not impress some students. So I have decided to grade the rubrics electronically using Google Docs and email them to the students.

This is accomplished in 5 easy steps: 1. Create the rubric template as a Google Document. If you already have one as a Word document, just upload it to your Google Docs account.  2. Make a copy of the template. 3. Rename the copy with the particular student’s name. 4. Enter the points and comments as you would normally do. I find that my typed comments are more detailed and easier to read. 5. Share the student’s document to their Email account.  Steps 2-5 need to be repeated for each student.

There are several benefits to this system.  Google Docs is free to use and can be accessed from anywhere. I always have the original graded rubric for each student.  There is no printed paper to leave around or recycle.  My comments are always legible. I can carefully review my comments before I send them to the students.

Although it took time to figure out the best way to do this, I can now complete the grading in much less time.

November 8, 2010

Inspired by Google Code-In

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janet Dee @ 12:19 am

November 22 marks the beginning of the 2010 Google Code-In.  It is designed for pre-university students to win prizes by completing tasks for open source organizations. I have looked over the possible tasks that students could sign up for and most of them involve programming languages that differ from the curriculum I currently teach.  The one exception was WordPress.  I found their documentation and outreach tasks to be ideal for students to attempt.  How cool would it be for students to run a WordPress meet-up at our school or help with screen shots for WordPress 3.1?

Whether my students participate in the actual code-in or not, I have decided to use the WordPress platform for my students in each class.  My second year accounting students will use it to make accounting clear for others.  My programming students will use it to reflect on their class experiences and their journeys with Scratch and Python.

To read more about the WordPress tasks go to WordPress Google Code-In

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