Do you have an amazing new App to share with your students? How about a great lesson idea using a new technology tool?
Learning about a new app or tech tool is pretty exciting! But not so much when you have the pressure of learning new content or completing a complex assignment.
Formative assessments are as appropriate for new technology as they are for new content.
Before you use the technology for an assignment - give the students a chance to play. Play is a non-threatening way for students to become comfortable with new technology without the pressure of also learning new content. You just may be amazed at the increase in student creativity and productivity when they learn to play first.
If I am using a new tech tool or app in the classroom, I start with some sandbox or play time for students to become familiar with the technology. The first mini assignment has little or no new content. This allows me another opportunity to assess background knowledge and gives the students an opportunity to focus on learning the new technology without the pressure of learning new content. Once students have an understanding of the new technology they can tackle more challenging work. For example, if you are teaching students to use a graphing calculator, you will not give them a problem they have never seen before that requires a complex series of key strokes to solve first. More likely you will help students learn how to use the graphing calculator by first practicing simple, familiar problems. Apply the same idea to new technology. It is easy to assume that our Digital Natives can master new content and technology at the same time because they use more technology in their free time.
I keep the following in mind when creating tech-based lessons for my students. If I am introducing new content then I keep the amount of new technology to a minimum if any at all so my students are successful. Conversely if I am introducing new technology I keep the new content low to insure student success.
Sandbox Time in My Classroom
The unit is introduced with the Code.Org 9 minute video called "Code Stars" about computer programming as a learning goal for all students and an amazing career opportunity. The video features Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, will.i.am, Chris Bosh, Jack Dorsey, Tony Hsieh, Drew Houston, Gabe Newell, Ruchi Sanghvi, Elena Silenok, Vanessa Hurst, and Hadi Partovi.
Next I give students a 10-minute overview of Alice as an introduction to computer programming.
Alice is a free 3-D drag-n-drop animation program developed by Carnegie Mellon University. The program allows students to create animated Alice worlds while learning the basics of Java programming. The development environment for Alice uses the same terminology and big ideas of organization you would want a new Java programmer to know and understand.
The first time I taught this unit I gave my students a very specific assignment. They had a choice – create an Alice world add 5 things to tell me something about you or add 5 things tell me what you think your life will look like at 40.
The students did exactly what I asked. I had them upload their Alice world to the class LMS and I graded them. Yawn. I got exactly what I asked for and nothing more.
I was disappointed because what I had seen the students create during their sandbox time was much more creative. Many students created new methods and began creating simple games modeled after the example world, Flight Simulator.
The next time I taught the lesson I extended the sandbox time and told students they would be presenting what they learned about Alice by creating an Alice world they would share with the class. The results were AMAZING! Yep, shout intended.
There was a great deal of student discourse as the shared what they learned and others asked them to share how they did it. I love the student ownership of their work!
Did they fail during the sandbox time? Yes. But they also persevered, asked questions, gained confidence, and were; well, joyful about their accomplishments.
Alice is not just for aspiring computer programmers.
English Language Arts
One of my PLTW students had a book report due for his ELA class. He asked his ELA teacher if he could great an animation for the book report. It was approved and was a huge success. Not only was the report an excellent retelling of the story but he used Alice methods and properties in unique ways.
My science students created Alice worlds to explain and demonstrate Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. Creating Alice worlds showed that students could apply what they learned about Newton's Three Laws of Motion in a new context - mastery of content!
Want to learn more about Alice?
Download Alice 2.4 – the latest version has all the characters from Garfield and the students love this new addition.
What are some other ways to use Alice in the classroom?
Check out these great step-by-step Alice tutorials and lesson plans from Duke University, Durham, NC Adventures in Alice Programming.