We Don’t Need a Technology Integration Team

Last year, I was a member of my high school’s Technology Field Test Team, a group of teachers, Technology Integration Specialists, and administrators who were piloting various technology initiatives (e.g., one-to-one iPads, BYOD, iPad carts, etc.). This year, that team is morphing into a team focused on technology integration building-wide rather than additional pilots. Along with the two Technology Integration Specialists and another teacher, I will be leading this team. Over the summer, I was asked to think about the vision, the scope, and The Why of this team.

After some thought, I realized:

We don’t need a Technology Integration Team

Instead:

We need a Teaching Best Practices Team

The very idea of a technology integration team puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable. We need a team that can help our teachers adopt pedagogically-sound best practices for teaching. Often, those best practices may involve the integration of technology. Sometimes, they won’t. Regardless, the technology isn’t the first step; and, furthermore, if the technology doesn’t support pedagogically-sound best practices, we need to make sure our colleagues are aware of that.

To be clear, I’m not against technology in the classrooms. I try all sorts of stuff and see what works for me and my students. I feel much better when a particular use of technology is supported by educational research. So, while I don’t send students home at night to watch Khan Academy videos, because that doesn’t help students learn (and may actually reinforce their misconceptions and make them over-confident), I do use iPads as a key tool in peer instruction and follow a process supported by educational research.

Here’s a helpful matrix on the spectrum of technology integration. By focusing primarily on the technology, I think teachers can get stuck on the left side of this spectrum. They use technology in a substitutive manner in which they are doing the same things in a somewhat better way. If we focus first on doing better things, we can explore more transformative uses of technology.

I have a theory that these transformative uses of technology occur in quantum steps. Having a great Learning Management System (LMS) like Instructure’s Canvas enables students to create online portfolios of capstone projects that are easily shared within and outside of the classroom. Having access to seven laptops and Vernier’s LabPro and LoggerPro make possible a whole collection of physics labs. Having access to 15 laptops and Tracker allows pairs of students to learn about physics through video analysis. Having access to 30 iPads and NearPod allows the discussion and debate of rich questions during peer instruction. Having one-to-one of a uniform device and set of apps enables students to … well, I’m not sure since I haven’t experienced that, but I expect it will be another quantum step.

I don’t know who coined the phrase or if the context was even related to technology, but I think this sums up my philosophy of technology in education:

Doing Better Things over Doing Things Better

When I wrote the above quote, I was reminded of Agile Software Development, which was a major focus of mine in my previous career. Personally, I find a great deal of similarities between my educational technology philosophy and my software development philosophy. In fact, upon revisiting the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, I found it surprisingly relevant to the world of education and technology when viewed from that perspective. Here it is:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions    over    processes and tools

Working software    over    comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration    over    contract negotiation

Responding to change    over    following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

From one perspective, I think these principles could apply to the relationship between teachers and students in a classroom. From another perspective, I think they could apply to the relationship between teachers and our technology integration team.

I think there is a lot of wisdom in Stephanie Chasteen’s post about a talk at the AAPT Summer Meeting by Chandra Turpen in which she promotes the idea that “we should focus on providing powerful experiences with educational innovation that allow faculty to see success for themselves.” This perspective combined with developing a growth mindset in our faculty could be a powerful combination.

So, maybe I’ve finished my summer homework. The Why of our team is to better help students learn by helping teachers adopt best practices. Our scope is advocacy and support for pedagogically-sound teaching best practices that may or may not require technology integration. Perhaps our vision could be captured by rephrasing the Agile Manifesto in the context of the relationship between teachers and our team.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have thought about this. I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences and share those with this new team.

Pedagogue Padawan 180

I’m going to attempt to keep at 180 blog this year. I infrequently make time during the school year to write long blog posts; so, I hope I can share more of what we do via Pedagogue Padawan 180. I don’t have 180 days with students; so, I’ll include some extra days along the way. I’m starting today because it is the first day back for teachers (students won’t arrive until Wednesday). I’m starting with Day 0 since I teach computer science as well as physics!

A couple of days ago, Fran Poodry announced on the AMTA list a Modeling Instruction-focused 180 blog aggregator. If you are interested, answer the related survey.

Honors Physics Changes

Several factors combined into a perfect storm that set the stage to make major changes to our Honors Physics course. One, last year was rough and several aspects of class were disappointing. I’m not going to dwell on those here. Two, we have an extra section of Honors Physics this upcoming year and another physics teacher will join my colleague and I in teaching Honors Physics. She is a really good influence on us! Three, we want to pilot the AP Physics 1 course to prepare for the first official year of AP Physics 1/2 in 2014-2015 and prime a pipeline of students ready for AP Physics 2. As a result, we are changing almost every aspect of this course.

First is the curriculum. We are aligning our curriculum to that of AP Physics 1. This changes the emphasis from content to understanding and skills. As a result, we will finally be able to implement Modeling Instruction in Honors Physics! The shift to Modeling Instruction, which we have been using in General Physics for a few years, will have a tremendous impact on these students. We are also taking some of the most successful aspects of my AP Physics B course and incorporating them into Honors Physics. We will have formative quizzes for each unit and we will have peer instruction to focus on conceptual understanding.

This change in curriculum and pedagogy required us to redefine all of our units and materials. All new standards, in-class packets, quizzes, lab activities, lab practicums, and exams. Fortunately, we didn’t have to create too many materials from scratch. We started with Kelly O’Shea’s Honors Physics Standards. We used worksheets from the Modeling Workshop along with portions of Kelly’s packets. We used peer instruction questions I compiled for AP Physics B. We combined quiz and exam questions from a variety of sources. We kept our favorite labs and found or created new ones.

We are also trying to incorporate and emphasize certain themes throughout the course. One is growth mindset. Reading Dr. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset and Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code this summer, helped me to find the commonality of behaviors and attitudes that some physics students, especially honors physics students, have that make them really struggle in the course. I prepared a mini-lesson (upcoming post) to introduce the concepts of fixed vs. growth mindset and deep practice. Another area of focus will be measurement uncertainty in labs. While we have a good set of measurement uncertainty activities, we don’t sufficiently reinforce these concepts throughout the year. At the most recent QuarkNet Workshop at Fermilab, we heard and discussed how critical it was for students to understand and appreciate the concept of measurement uncertainty.

A good sign that we are on the right track for this revamped Honors Physics course is that I’m excited and looking forward to this class this year. Without these changes, I don’t think I would be saying that….

AP Physics B Reflections and Plans for Next Year

I’ve been collecting my thoughts on this past year throughout the summer. Since I’m about to start a new school year, now is a good time to review these reflections and share my thoughts and plans for the upcoming year.

This past year was the first year that we officially offered AP Physics B. In previous years, I’ve taught a one-semester Advanced Physics course which covered those topics that are part of the AP Physics B curriculum that were not covered in Honors Physics. So, while a full-year class was new, the content was familiar. Another significant difference between the old Advanced Physics course and the AP Physics B course was the pace and the prior background of the students. Advanced Physics moved at a lightening pace with no review of topics previously covered in Honors Physics. The AP Physics B course, covers all topics that are part of the curriculum, even those covered in previous physics classes. This allows students that have previously taken either General Physics or Honors Physics to be successful in the class. I was pleased that about a third of the students enrolled in AP Physics B had taken General Physics the previous year.

I tried several new ideas in AP Physics B. Based on student feedback, the most successful activity was peer instruction. I specifically followed the techniques in the article Combining Peer Discussion with Instructor Explanation Increases Student Learning from In-Class Concept Questions to maximize the effectiveness. All questions selected were conceptual. I found that conceptual questions lead to more lively discussions among students and, historically, my students have struggled more with conceptual questions than quantitative problem solving questions. The questions were a combination of Paul Hewitt’s Next-Time Questions and clicker question banks from University of Colorado Boulder and Ohio State University. I started using clickers from Turning Technologies, but transitioned to the Nearpod app on iPads. Students preferred the Nearpod app since they could read the questions off their screen rather than off the projected screen. I was very pleased with the level of student engagement, discussion, and debate during these peer instruction activities. I will continue peer instruction next year and we are expanding its use to our revamped Honors Physics class this upcoming year as well.

While students shared that peer instruction was the most effective class activity, their favorite activity was the capstone. I previously shared the capstone projects. We will do capstones at the end of the fall semester again this coming year. In addition, we will be doing capstones at the end of the spring semester in the revamped Honors Physics class.

Another significant change was providing one or two quizzes for each unit. Feedback from students in Honors Physics and insights by other physics teachers to a previous post, helped me to realize students needed additional formative assessments in order to accurate measure their understanding of the current unit. These quizzes were scored by the students in class (not for a grade), which provided insight into how AP problems were scored, and copies of solutions were immediately distributed. Often, I would collect the scored exams to flip through them and note which students were struggling and which concepts needed additional class time. I believe these quizzes worked well since they provided students with a clear and immediate feedback as to whether their level of understanding was where it should be well before the unit exam. As a result, fewer students needed to take advantage of reassessment opportunities after unit exams in AP Physics B than in Honors Physics. These formative quizzes are another activity that we will be incorporating in the revamped Honors Physics class this upcoming year.

The fourth new activity I introduced in AP Physics B was computational modeling. For most of units that focused on mechanics, we explored and extended computational models. We had mixed success with computational modeling. Several students struggled to come up the learning curve with the limited amount of class time that we dedicated. The most successful activity was using VPython to model projectile motion for an early lab. This activity was successful because of the additional time provided and the clear utility of using the computational model to solve a problem not easily solved in other ways. Despite the mixed success, I’m going to continue exposing my AP Physics B students to computational modeling. I may be a bit more selected in which units we explore the models and perhaps spend more time on those specific models.

Looking ahead to the upcoming year, I’m going to change very little. Overall, I’m very pleased with how last year went. In addition, we are making major changes to Honors Physics (upcoming post) and I’ve made a lot of changes to AP Computer Science. Next summer, I’ll restructure AP Physics B into the new AP Physics 2 class; so, I’ll wait until then to make any major changes.

AP Computer Science Reflections and Plans for Next Year

I’ve been collecting my thoughts on this past year throughout the summer. Since I’m about to start a new school year, now is a good time to review these reflections and share my thoughts and plans for the upcoming year.

Last year was the first time that I taught AP Computer Science. Based on my experience teaching Physics, I appreciated the significant difference between content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. I spent the year building my pedagogical content knowledge and trying various types of activities to determine which would be most effective. I expanded my network of computer science teachers throughout the year and attended a couple of great workshops this summer: the AP Annual Conference and the Tapestry Workshop.

One aspect of the class that did not work well was the textbook. The textbook was old (it didn’t cover Java 5 features) and didn’t align with my personal teaching preferences (I’m a strong object-oriented proponent and start objects first). We stopped using the textbook after the first couple chapters. My department chair was super supportive and I was able to purchase Cay Horstmann’s Java Concepts book for the upcoming year. I spent a lot of time this summer creating units, choosing questions, and selecting programming activities based on the new text, but it will be well worth it.

Students spent most of class time working on programming activities. These activities were small in scope, focused on a specific concept, and not graded. They were formative assessments. I spent most of class time visiting students, asking questions, and providing direction without being too helpful. Perhaps my favorite part of this class was that I had the opportunity almost every day to talk individually with every student and directly observe their work. This upcoming year, I hope to spend even more time on these programming assignments. I hope that with the better textbook, I can minimize lecture and notes and just focus on highlighting key aspects the assigned reading and discussing questions that the students have after having read the chapter.

One part of class that worked out very well, was providing choice in the programming activities. My students were fairly diverse in both interest and background knowledge. Providing them with a variety of programming assignments, all focused on the same concept, but of varying degrees of difficulty and application, allowed each student to challenge themselves and yet be successful. I stumbled upon this by accident when I was unable to decide which of three programming activities would be the best. I decided to offer all three and was surprised at increased level of interest as students chose their favorite. While I’m changing most of the programming assignments this upcoming year, I consciously defined sets of programming assignments to provide students with choice.

Related to these topics of choice and diversity, I quickly realized last year that some students would complete a programming assignment in 10 minutes while others would need an entire class period. Again, by accident or intuition, when I first encountered this diversity, I spontaneously created an extension of the programming activity to challenge student who finished quickly. After that, I made an effort to define extensions to most of the programming activities. I also encouraged students to explore their own extensions. I will offer some of these to this year’s class. Throughout the year, these extensions were generalized into the idea of “add more awesome.” As students finished the base assignment, they would start to “add more awesome” without direction.

While I’m changing most of the programming assignments, many of the summative programming labs will remain the same. The programming labs are submitted for scoring and involve significant effort compared to the programming assignments. We will continue to do the Game of Life lab, Media Computation, Fractal Trees, and Capstone projects. A few labs will be new. For example, we will try a Word Search lab from Stuyvesant High School.

There are a couple of new ideas that I found lacking last year that we will try this year. I want students to have more experience with Test Driven Development and unit testing with JUnit. I also want students to present their work to their peers; specifically, their capstone projects. While there was plenty of interaction among pairs of students last year, I didn’t provide an opportunity for students to present to all their peers.

My final focus for the upcoming year is applying some of what I learned at the Tapestry Workshop to increase the number of female students and under-represented minorities in computer science. Some of these efforts will be outside of class focused on administrators and counselors, but others will be in the classroom. Everything from my choice of programming activities to the decor of the lab can reduce stereotype threats. I hope to see a change in enrollment of the coming years!

Computer Science Capstones

During the spring semester, before we started reviewing for the AP Computer Science exam, we spent a week working on capstone projects. These capstone projects were inspired by and modeled after the capstone projects I did earlier with my AP Physics B class. I introduced the capstone project as follows:

Our final project for the year is a capstone. Capstones must do the following:

  • Show synthesis of multiple concepts in unfamiliar situations. A capstone requires you to use more than one idea to solve a problem, and it isn’t just a rehashing of work you’ve already done.
  • Show initiative. A capstone isn’t just your teacher telling you what to do. It is you unleashing your curiosity to discover what you want to do.
  • Are open ended. Capstones don’t have ends. You should always feel like you could dig deeper and discover more if you had more time.
  • Are public. Capstones are not private projects you share only with your teacher. They are public endeavors that you share with the class and the world at large. Successful capstones require you to collaborate with classmates.
  • Involve significant revision. No one gets it right the first time, no first draft is perfect, and you must plan accordingly. A capstone will not be eligible for grading by me until it has undergone at least one revision.

Ideas that may generate a spark:

  • GUI applications
  • numerical methods
  • simulations
  • games
  • data analysis
  • databases
  • multi-threaded programing
  • network programming
  • AI algorithms
  • audio/video processing
  • 3D graphics

I used the following scoring rubric:

AP Computer Science Capstone Rubric by gcschmit

Students pursued a wide variety of capstones. The links display their portfolio where they have described their capstones in more detail and have a link to download the source. Here are some:

  • JavaChess by Nathan L: a GridWorld-based, two-person chess game
  • Super Tic-Tac-Toe by Matthew W: a Java implementation of Super Tic-Tac-Toe
  • Doge Defender by Max B: a sophisticated arcade-style game with multiple levels and sound
  • Cat Fountain by Jessica H: an app that displays cats spewing from a fountain; strange and surpringly addicting to watch

I only planned for a week to complete these capstones, which really wasn’t enough. As a result, students didn’t have the opportunity for significant revision. This coming year, I’m going to plan for two weeks. The other change I’ll make is that I’m going to have students present their capstone to their peers in class. My class this past year was definitely lacking in terms of opportunities for students to present to others. Despite these shortcomings, students were very engaged and created some fantastic software.

Media Computation Collages

One of my, and my students’, favorite projects this past year was a series of activities based on Mark Guzdial and Barabara Ericson’s book Introduction to Computing & Programming with Java: A Multimedia Approach. I read their book over winter break and decided that it would be a great way to get back into the swing of things after break (no pun intended). Before winter break, we made it through arrays and the media computation project was a great review when we came back in January. While the book covers pictures, sound, and movies, we just focused on pictures.

We worked through several activities, focusing on filters and transformations. The students enjoyed seeing that they could write programs that performed some of the same features as Photoshop. The unit concluded with a collage project in which students combined several of their filters and transformations into a final and unique image.

I was extremely pleased to see that one of the new AP Computer Science labs, Picture Lab, was developed by Barbara Ericson and is based on her book. I think this new lab will bring an authentic and engaging series of activities to a wider audience.

Here are some of the collages that my students created last year.

BrianLol

Li raymond late 2784455 25010819 collage

Lindquist nathan 2773682 25010244 collage

Truong brian late 1367561 25010797 nairb s nyan cat thingy

Wang larry 2782126 25010473 NoctisFinalPicture

Zhou tony late 2762744 25051039 collage3