CS Teachers Conference at UWaterloo

I had the pleasure of attending this 3 day conference where I was able to learn some older and new technologies that are available from the university as well as things that other educators are doing in their classrooms daily.  For me, it was an amazing opportunity to learn because I have been focused on my math teaching for the past 3 years.   There were come key themes that I took away and some questions I have for the next steps.

The first thing that I continuously thought about (as well as something that I heard from others) was the desire from our students on instantaneous feedback.  Students want to know how they did, if they need to improve, and how they need to improve as soon as they complete a task.  Although this may sound like exciting news, it is not always as great because some students do not want to think about how they can improve, but rather want you to tell them how to improve.

One way the University of Waterloo and other websites provide a way for instantaneous feedback in coding is through “tutorials” where students do not have to download the IDE.  Some examples we looked at in the conference were CSCircles, Codingbat, and Websheets (this is a newer one where you create your own code).  All of these provide some information on the program, the elements you will be tested on, and then a space to code the program required.  When students “ran” the code, the sites would compile and run test cases against the solution code.  It would give error messages and give results based on the test cases.  I found the test cases very helpful because it allowed to student to see that you need a number of test cases and need to make sure that you test a lot to find subtle problems.  They do not all track the students progress as they are to complement the student learning rather than be the classroom they are in.

The other concept that a lot of teachers were implementing was the idea of using cloud services to submit files and to promote collaboration on code.  One industry tool that is constantly being used for coding and other services is Git and Github.  This is a neat tool that creates online repositories and then allows you to share the code with anyone you allow (free Github makes all code public).  In order to collaborate together, you need to give special permission to the other users.  In our session we were all able to access the code presented in an easy way as we didn’t have to download the files and then locate the package to open.  The only downside was that you needed an account and some boards block the use of Git and Github.  Once I get the handle on this, I will hope to use it in my own classes so that students are able to work together and learn skills that the workplace already uses.

The last take away was not the newest concept, but was something that I would like to practice in my classes (even math) and that was the idea of Genius Hour.  The one teacher took it a step forward and talked about how they implement aspects of project management into the genius hour sessions.  In order to work through their personal project they are required to complete the basic components involved in project management.  Every session also included a basic exit card that had key ideas, such as what they learned, what they did, where they need help, and what their next steps were.

As always it was great to go to a conference that stretched my thinking and made me reflect on where I could go next with my learning.


Teaching Resiliency

This year I have taken over a class after a month and a half of being taught by another teacher with a different mentality and different teaching style.  It has been a tough three weeks for both the students and myself, but for the most part we are all getting used to each others tendencies.  Included in the Growth Mindset approach to my teaching, I am trying to help my students (both that I teach and coach) about resiliency.

In the mixed level math class the students had a test from the last teacher that needed to be done when I walked in.  I immediately worked on diffusing the anger and outbursts that the students had towards doing a test after not being properly prepared.  We spent a few lessons ironing out any misconceptions, and my main goal was to instill confidence in their abilities.  I knew that most of the students would be successful but needed to have the right mindset to do so.

As I anticipated, there were students who were not thrilled with the outcome of their test.  I tried to talk to those students individually by letting them know that there is always a chance to improve and a chance to learn from our mistakes.  From that day on, I saw a big change in some of the students and saw them fight through the troubles they had before.  Just today I saw them face the challenges of the lesson with a positive attitude and with more courage to take risks.

I had a moment of learning resilience myself.  I had a few bad lessons where students were not focused and they had a bit of attitude towards what we were doing in class.  After having a bit of a hard time after school with what my next steps were I remembered what I told my students when they were struggling with things.  I feel like it is something that new teachers often forget, to live by the words we teach our students.  I know that after taking a step back and thinking about it, I was able to bounce back and realize that I need to show the same resiliency that my students showed.

Growth Mindset

Yesterday I attended Edcamp London and went into a session about growth mindset.  Not knowing what this would entail, I was wondering if the topic was going to focus on the growth mindset of educators or students.  When I went in I was hoping to get the perspective on how we as educators can help students in their mindset.  I currently feel that my Grade 12 class would benefit from me educating them on persevering in their education as most are off to college in September.  It was my goal to get a better idea of how I could educate my students to have a better mindset in their future education.

Great conversations started from Andrew Kwiecien, Ryan Chisholm, and Jeremie Roselle about the book on mindset from Carol Dweck.  The book covers how we can use our growth mindset when we want.  It looked at the mindset of professionals in education, corporate businesses, and parents and discussed how their own mindsets affect their life.  It is a book I plan to read shortly because it sounds like it will be very effective for helping me inspire my students to take on the challenge of having a growth mindset.

In our conversations we talked about the stigmas and the preconceptions students have about their ability to succeed in a particular subject.  For example, if a student has not been successful in math throughout elementary school, they will come into secondary school with the mindset “I’m not good at math, so I can’t do it”.  I know that I have seen this in England where I taught and this was one of the challenges we regularly talked about but never thought of the solutions on how to overcome this.  In our conversation we also looked at how students take the praise they have been given by parents and teachers and use it to create a “mask” that puts them into a comfort zone in the classroom.  We also talked about how students use this mask to shy away from taking chances and asking questions to help their learning.

One of the solutions we started to develop in the session was the idea of  modelling the growing mindset to our group of students.  This directly linked to a new approach to problem solving I am currently taking.  When we are solving a problem in class I talk about the thought process I am going through so that I model to my students how I want them to approach the problem.  I also want the students to understand that even the teacher has to think about the problem before coming up with the solution, nothing “just happens” for us to answer a question.

The issue we foresaw with that is that these new “masks” may be created from this new praise, which would defeat the purpose we have for praise in the first place.  Although from this point it seemed like a daunting task and one that was a catch-22, we as a group had an interesting thought.  If all of us (or a vast majority of us) in a school came to the agreement to start working on this growth mindset, we may start seeing more success and “I can” attitude in our learners in subjects they didn’t feel they could do before.  The question that sparks from this: How could we get more fixed mindset people in our schools to adopt to the growth mindset mentality?

We, as teachers, will face these challenges when it comes to having students think about their ability before they enter the class.  It is our job to help students “break” the mask they have created and provide them with the opportunities and experiences to gain new comfort levels in situations they usually feel uncomfortable in.  My question to you is: how do you work with students to change their mindset and make them feel confident in all areas of their education?