The past week has been a fruitful one. Students were engaged in some interesting and fun work that was challenging. It was not clear when students started if they would be successful or enjoy their assigned task which was to learn the basics of coding using Turtle Art. I had a feeling that it was the right way to begin teaching coding but I had some doughts about how receptive students would be to using the program. This is my first year teaching MYP Design. I am trying things I have never tried before with informed and educated risk-taking. So far so good!
The first lesson was a non-lesson. I told students that they had one class to figure out how to write their names using Turtle Art with no input from me other than a little trouble shooting along the way. Constructivism has different forms and teachers approach the constructivist model with varying degrees of support. The risk I took was that I would lose a class period if students could not figure it out and then I would need to deliver a full How To lesson the following period. I was after the early failure. Fail early, fail often, and learn. As it turned out students were mostly successful, at least with some letters of their names.
This of course was a pleasant surprise but it also set us on a path to do even more complex and complicated designs and patterns.
The following class we started with a reflection on what was learned from the process and experience of figuring out how to write a name with computer graphics coding (Turtle). Some students were excited and they said “I figured it out by myself” and “I made mistakes that were cool”. Other student reactions were mostly positive but some were not. Some students were troubled that I did not show them how to do it and give them directions. Fair enough.
At the end of this reflection I gave students examples of complex patterns from the Turtle Art website that also contained coding. My thought was that they were forced to figure out the basics of Turtle Art without instruction. From this experience they knew how the pieces fit together and how the basic functions worked so they were ready to look at more complex sets of code. I spent some time looking at the specific menus, commands, and functions with the class. I also made my own pattern in front of students to give them an exemplar of what I was looking for. The students who wanted demonstration and instructions started making connections.
The next class I gave students the assignment to Make 3 complex patterns by the end of class. I encouraged students to talk to one another and show each other their work as it developed. I did not allow them to copy or use any code that they did not understand. Again students were more successful than I expected. Students seemed to accelerate their productivity as they became more comfortable with the code.
From this experience I learned that students really can take charge of their own learning when we set them up for success. For many students this is the richest model of learning and they can really flourish. I also know that I need to make sure that I am offering opportunities and challenges to students of all learning styles and dispositions. Overall I am happy with the results below and the process used.