Experimenting in Education | #6

I think that it’s vital for educators to experiment while working. I can understand why many parents might object to having their children learn from an experimental lesson plan, but I think that it is in everyone’s best interest. For the teacher, it’s a way to try and see what does and doesn’t work. Just because we’re a teacher doesn’t mean that we can stop improving and we can only get better by trying something new. So long as we systematically drop bad ideas and keep good ones our efficacy should, on average, improve. On a more grounded note, it also stops us burning out from sheer repetition. This was probably more of an issue for me given that I was teaching the same class each week every week, but for a teacher who’s been working for decades I think the same burnout and apathy could set in after a while. For the students (and by extension, their parents), learning from an experimental lesson plan does have the potential of them receiving a worse experience than those who were in the class the week prior. On the other hand, the average quality of the lessons should hopefully keep rising and should definitely beat out following the same standard plan that we started with. There’s also more flexibility here; depending on the students we can speed up or slow down since we’re not on a strict schedule. I want to keep learning as I work and making changes and trying out new things keeps me more interested in my work week-to-week. I don’t think I can handle spending eight hours a day running on a mental treadmill; and I have learned some things to improve my teaching skills while working here.

  • Organizing code into blocks and commenting everything is well worth the large cost in time.
  • Regularly quizzing the students in the form of a small coding task on something they’ve done before helps a lot with retention, though these have to be spaced out (preferably a whole day from when the material was learned, but I didn’t often have that luxury).
  • Find some cosmetic or non-essential side activity to do (in this case, animating and detailing their sprites) so that everyone has something to do while the slower students catch up. Be careful of the disposition of the slower students though, if they have behavioral issues they could get jealous or resentful and turn, well, nasty. This is an issue I still haven’t figured out a good solution to.
  • When possible, hold votes on what to learn next. Give them options to chooses from and vote on. This helps give them a sense that they’re directing their education, helps get them more involved in what they’re doing. Even if they eventually have to do everything on the list, doing it in order of votes still gets them more invested. I used CGP Grey’s simple voting system where each student can vote for as many options as they want. This helps ensure the least amount of moaning from the students.
  • Make sure there’s a variety in what’s being done. As with so many thing there has to be some contrast. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be coding all the time, but the type of stuff they’re working on has to change. Throw in some time to work on sprites. Program in different types of interactions. Fitting this in with the voting point above, make sure you don’t have too many similar options to vote on. Also I’ve found that after learning from one of their options you can throw in something that they didn’t vote on in a sort of “one for me, one for you” sort of system and they’ll grumble a bit but won’t be too disappointed.

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