Next semester I will be co-teaching a grade 7 robotics course with our Design and Innovation Specialist at our school. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, our Design and Innovation Lab was newly opened this year, and our Design and Innovation Specialist is new to our school this year. She is also fairly new to the teaching profession, in her third year of teaching, and thus, this is a good opportunity for me to push in, and bring some of the great learnings from COETAIL to her teaching repertoire and the students. Our school operates on a 6 day cycle and this grade 7 class will meet twice a cycle, each class being 80 minutes long. Additionally, these grade 7s will have had some exposure to robotics and coding as they took a mandatory class last year for a quarter. During this quarter class, they had some basic exposure to the Lego Mindstorms.
Knowledge and Skills
The options I am currently working through are whether to use Sphero’s or Lego Mindstorms with this group, or a combination thereof. Last year, these students had exposure to Lego Mindstorms, but the challenges were minimal and not authentic in any way. The students were not taught through any problem solving frameworks, nor were any standards used for assessment, as the course was strictly a “Pass” or “Fail” situation. One process I would like them to walk away with understanding is the Design Thinking Framework and a deep understanding of how to use it, not only in robotics, but applying it to other situations, problems, or challenges. Additionally, since they had some exposure to block coding through Lego Mindstorms last year, I would like them to walk away with a deeper understanding of block coding through more complex and authentic challenges.
The ISTE Standards I plan to use throughout the semester are as follows:
1a – Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes
4a – Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
5c – Students break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.
5d – Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.
I chose these ISTE standards for several reasons. I chose “1a” as we have discussed time and time again, it’s so important for students to be able to reflect on their learning and their process, and in fact, it’s part of our Design Thinking process used at our school. Additionally, I chose “1a” because students are expected to set learning goals and monitor how they achieve them (or don’t), a skill much needed in the 21st century. Standard “4a” appealed to me because of the “deliberate design process”. We will be using the Design Thinking process in our class to drive this standard. Standard “5c” was chosen as students will be expected to break their design challenges into parts, and will be expected to solve complex problems. Lastly, “5d” was chosen due to the automation and computational thinking aspects of the course, and its applicability to the Design Thinking process.
Applying Learnings from COETAIL
As I briefly mentioned above, I would like to apply the deep learning concepts that we have been learning about throughout course 4. All of our units will have some design thinking and PBL elements as part of the unit. We know that deep learning takes place when students have voice and choice in their learning, the learning contains success criteria, that continual feedback is part of learning, that teachers partner with students to build efficacy and grit, and that students have opportunities to construct new knowledge. I plan to use all of these elements at one point or another throughout the semester. Some of the other aspects of deep learning that I plan to incorporate are the step towards teacher as designer of learning experiences. This is where the opportunity to work through a problem, creates a unique learning experience for the students. Also, the idea that the teacher learns alongside the students is fundamental to this course. What makes challenges exciting in robotics is the notion that no student will solve that problem the same way.
Why This Unit?
As I mentioned, I have not drilled down to one specific unit as yet, that is the current challenge. I know I will be co-teaching the robotics class for the semester, and that we will be using either the Sphero Robots or Lego Mindstorms to teach the kids. I am even thinking that we may start the semester with the Sphero’s, and as the students progress, move them onto the Lego Mindstorms. We will be mapping out the units as we move forward throughout the semester. HERE is an example of one unit that we have been working on, framed through the Common Ground Collaborative Framework. The units we develop for the course next semester will follow the same organizational structure.
Evidence of Learning
Some of the obvious evidence for this course would include examining student code for the different design challenges and in some instances, measuring their success, or whether they are able to pass the challenge. As I plan to incorporate the Design Thinking Framework, evidence of learning may include ideation notes, a variety of prototypes, and final versions of work. Most importantly, student reflections are an exceptional way to understand their thinking throughout the process and hear in their own words what exactly they learned. Additionally, it is an opportunity to hear from them on how they dealt with setbacks or mistakes; where the deepest learning takes place. We have shifted from Teacher Led Conferences to Student Led Conferences at our school. Students create a Google Site and provide evidence of learning and reflections on their learning on the Google Site, and use this as a discussion starter when their parents attend. This shift from teacher to student has provided the platform for great discussions when parents come to the school, as well as forming a portfolio for their learning journey at ISC.
My concerns are not necessarily about the unit redesign, as I feel confident in that department. I believe I have a good grasp of the standards and the technological knowhow. But having been out of the classroom for over a year, there are some concerns there for me. Being responsive to the learners in the room in terms of their needs is something I need to be aware of. Keeping in mind that I need to meet the students where they are, not where I expect them to be. Additionally, classroom management is something I need to be aware of. Our school is known for having boisterous students who like to engage in their learning. It’s important that I have good structure from day one in order to keep them focussed on the learning.
Shifts in Pedagogy
I have already spoken to the fact that I plan to incorporate Design Thinking and Project Based Learning into this course. They are frameworks that provide opportunities for deep learning. Additionally, I know I will need to shift towards allowing more reflection time in my classroom. I have a habit of finishing a unit of learning, and then wanting to push forward to the next unit of learning. Being sure to create time for students to not only reflect, but share their reflections through their portfolios, is something I must be conscious of.
The first obvious skill that students will be cultivating will be to code. I am thinking about this in a more broader context of algorithmic thinking, problem solving, and computational thinking. The ability to problem solve, and more importantly, having the determination to continually push through challenges (grit) are 21st century skills that all of our students require. What do they do when the code does not work? Is the first thing to say “Sir it doesn’t work?” Or is it to try again, look up an answer (use your resources), ask a friend? Building within them the ability to “fight through” and try several different approaches is important. Other skills that I see being further developed are communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Being able to communicate clearly and effectively are essential in any classroom. Some of our challenges will be done individually, while others will be in groups, so being able to communicate and collaborate are key. Collaboration is a skill. We often put students into groups and ask them to collaborate, but have they been taught what that means? In many instances they have not, so it is up to us to do so. Lastly, critical thinking skills are essential to problem solving and Design Thinking. Again, students are expected to do this, but we do not teach them how to. Solving problems, empathizing with others, asking “how” and “why” are all great starting points for thinking critically.
I am definitely looking forward to jumping back in the classroom, after being away for a year. It will be great to co-teach with an energetic young teacher, and I am sure I will learn just as much from her, as she will from me. I am definitely eager to read about my fellow COETAILers plans for our last course!