Making computing accessible for all (6/6): Compassionate computing lessons

Making computing accessible for all (6/6): Compassionate computing lessons

This post is the last of six in a series with ideas and resources on how to make computing lessons engaging and demanding for as many students as possible. Click here for the original post.

Compassionate computing
Ideas and resources for compassionate computing lessons

I know. If I read this, I’d be questioning the sanity of the author too. How can computing possibly be described as compassionate? More importantly, why should Computing ever be compassionate? If we define compassion as a warm fuzzy feeling that we experience when we see cute-looking-cats or an uncomfortable guilt we try to ignore when we see bad news on TV then we’ve missed the point. Some of my students have volunteered with a fabulous charity whose founder – who established the charity on seeing a room full of children with learning difficulties left to rot in the dark, in their own filth – defines compassion not just as sympathy or empathy, but as empathy with action. When we see the broken world around us, the big question is not “How do we feel about that” but also “What are we going to do about that”.

Whatever you may think about Microsoft, it’s hard not to be moved by the aims (and achievements) of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set up by Microsoft’s founder to ‘invest’ his wealth helping to alleviate some of the world’s biggest problems. Whether you think Mark Zuckerburg and other billionare tech philanthropists give away money for tax reasons, for their own benefit or because they’re genuinely ‘good’ people is irrelevant. The fact is that they are able to give. Their skills have enabled them to be successful. Their success has enabled them to accumulate fabulous wealth. Their wealth has enabled them to setup, support or save charities around the world to make a difference on their behalf.

Students are often idealists. They want to change the world around them but feel powerless to make a difference. It can be both liberating and hugely empowering for them to realise that the skills they learn in computing can be put to good use now and in the future, not just to make money but also to support the causes they are passionate about.

Ideas:

  • Invite a representative from a local charity to come and speak to your students about how they use technology and social media to raise funds and raise awareness. Contrast this with the dangers of using social media as part of a lesson on eSafety.

    e.g. “Go to the BBC news web page and see if you can work out how to change one of the headlines to “Cure for cancer found”. Our visitor today works for a charity that is working hard to make that headline a reality. They’re going to explain today how your computing skills can help

  • Discuss and research current events with your students. Take time to get them thinking about how technology can help or hinder any big news item (e.g. refugee crisis / terrorism / poverty / conflict)

    e.g. As part of our web design unit we’re learning how to use HTML tags to make our own web pages. Today I want you to use <h1>, <img> and <p> tags to make a newspaper headline

  • Create a display full of ideas of how students can use the skills from each project / topic / unit of work to make a positive difference to the world around them. Students can help with ideas.

    e.g. “Today is our last lesson on game design. As homework I want you to choose between: A) find a game that promotes or advertises a charity or B) Think of an idea for a game that could promote a charity. e.g. The UNHCR is the United Nations charity in charge of refugees. They could have a game where you have to rescue refugees and catch people traffickers.

Example Activity: Obesity crisis

This activity teaches students how to use 2D lists / arrays in python. Use the above code to plot a map of obesity in different countries. Use the link in the code to find out and add the obesity stats for more countries. Discuss with the class how technology might be to blame for obesity in some countries and how technology can be part of the solution.

Then, get students to write the code for turning a BBC micro:bit into a pedometer that can encourage people to take more exercise:

Making computing accessible for all (5/6): Curious computing lessons

Making computing accessible for all (5/6): Curious computing lessons

This post is the fifth of six in a series with ideas and resources on how to make computing lessons engaging and demanding for as many students as possible. Click here for the original post.

Curious computing
Ideas and resources for curious computing lessons

I’ve sat through some programming lessons as part of my degree which were probably some of the dullest hours of my life. There was a well-informed, well-meaning lecturer and the  subject content was interesting, but listening to someone else explain coding concepts without any opportunity to try things out was just painful. It’s also tempting as a teacher to guide our students towards avoiding common mistakes. However well-intentioned this may be, it’s not nearly as memorable or useful as allowing students to make the mistakes then discussing together why problems arose and exploring different ways of avoiding them.

Curious students enjoy learning because they take ownership of their discoveries. Students who are encouraged and equipped to follow their curiosity are more independent and resilient: far less dependent on the teacher – which has significant benefits in the long term (and for summative assessment!). Learners encouraged to be curious during a lesson are much more likely to follow their curiosity outside of a lesson to read around the subject and develop a wider and deeper interest and understanding.

There’s a danger though. If every new skill is ‘discovered’ by students, they can feel abandoned and unchallenged. You need a certain level of confidence – if not a starting point of core knowledge – to be able to follow your curiosity to discover new skills or solve a problem for yourself. The students who either lack the initiative, desire or confidence to explore or research for themselves are the ones who have the most to gain from a ‘curious’ lesson activity but they’re also the ones who will need the most support to engage with it.

Ideas:

  • Combine ‘curious’ research with incentives to help and support others. Avoid always pairing up a student who’s able to discover for themselves with someone who always needs support 1:1 because this can actually feed the dependency and ultimately frustrate or hinder both students. Instead, split the class into teams and create an incentive for the whole class to demonstrate a new skill. Allow them to help each other but don’t allow them to do someone else’s work for them.

e.g. “The first whole team who can show me a web page that includes a paragraph tag, a heading 1 tag and an image will be the first team to leave. Start with the example on the board, search on w3schools and help each other – but remember: you mustn’t touch anyone else’s mouse or keyboard”

  • Equip students who have less independence / initiative by setting regular research challenges at the start of the lesson that involve searching for data online. Start simple with definitions that they can copy / paste, then get them to dig deeper for opinions, analysis, comparisons or ordered data

.e.g. “While I take the register: search for and try out three different ways of drawing a square using python. There’s a merit for the person who can do it using the fewest characters”Encourage “What happens if” activities by planning them into your projects and by praising anyone who asks that sort of question and creating a chance to follow a tangent to explore the answer every now and then.e.g. “Beth’s just asked what happens if we play the sound at 8KHz rather than at 44KHz. Great question! Thumbs up if you think it’ll sound higher, thumbs down if you think it’ll sound lower or thumbs to the side if you think it’ll sound the same. [play sound] What other difference did you notice between the two sounds?

  • Provide step by step instructions or demonstrations to get people started with a project but then create opportunities for open ended challenges where you mention some places to start looking for hints but don’t tell them exactly what to do.

e.g. “Follow these instructions to get your code to play “Happy Birthday” then see if you can write code for a TV theme tune and a song in the charts. You can search on … for song ideas”

Key questions:

How do I react when my students show me something I didn’t know how to do? What opportunities and incentives are there in my lessons for students to share their discoveries?

Example Activity: ASCII text data representation challenge

The above code lets you type in some text. It takes each character that you type in and converts it into binary based on the ASCII value for that character. It then draws the ASCII data as a black and white image. Ask your students to try the program for different messages and discuss what ASCII is. Then, show them the following images and see if they can work out the messages that they contain. Finally, get them to create and share their own messages for others to decode in the class. You could even use it to encode a web address with a hidden message…

 

Make computing competitive: What attracts you to computing? 4/6

Make computing competitive: What attracts you to computing? 4/6

This post is the forth of six in a series with ideas and resources on how to make computing lessons engaging and demanding for as many students as possible. Click here for the original post.

Competitive computing
Make computing competitive

Everyone loves to win a prize. Even if the prize is really lame. I love getting cheap and tacky Christmas presents because they’re recycled straight into prizes. The weirder the better. Most of the time though, prizes are unnecessary – students just love the respect and recognition of being appreciated, affirmed for winning – whatever that looks like in practice.

Competitions can be quick or last multiple lessons. You can compete on speed of completion, quality of ideas, depth of understanding, quantity of challenges solved, amount of help offered, level of independence / resilience displayed… pretty much anything can be made competitive.

When someone wins, others inevitably lose out so it’s never a good idea to rely too heavily on competitive projects, but an edge of competition in a lesson can do wonders to boost the pace through a dull or tricky topic.

Ideas:

  • Combine collaborative and competitive activities as a way of getting students to support each other whilst also boosting the pace and enjoyment of a lesson.

e.g. “You’re sat in teams for today’s lesson. There are four ways to win points for your team: 1) Be the first to correctly answer a question. 2) Be the first in the class to complete a challenge I set. 3) Be the first whole team to help each other complete a challenge I set. 4) Be the first whole team to be sat silently with screens off when I ask for your attention.

  • Mix up competitions so that sometimes you reward pace, sometimes quantity, sometimes quality, sometimes independence, sometimes assistance towards others and sometimes depth of understanding.

e.g. “Before we start the new topic today we’re going to see who’s the best at touch-typing in the class. You have 5 minutes enter as many races on play.typeracer.com as you can. The student with the highest WPM score and the student with the highest accuracy rating will win today’s …”

  • Liven up revision lessons or end of unit tests with interactive quizes. You can also get students to create these quizes for a homework.

e.g. “You have 20 minutes to revise “Binary / Decimal / Hex conversions”. You can use this self test quiz to help. At the end of your 20 minutes we’ll play a Kahoot to choose our binary champion.

Key questions:

What’s motivating my students to work quickly / carefully / creatively? What incentives are there to go beyond the minimum expectations?

Example Activity: Competitive Programming in Scratch

Competitive Programming in Scratch
Competitive Programming in Scratch

Split your class into teams and get them to compete as a team to solve a range of programming challenges. This link outlines how to do this in a way that promotes independence, resilience and collaboration as well as boosting computational thinking skills.