CS Principles: Portfolios

July 30, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A big part of my responsibilities as a CS Principles pilot last year was to pilot three portfolios, aka performance based assessments in my classroom. As Owen Astrachan put it in our meeting, making the portfolios work was where the rubber met the road. We needed to see what worked and what did not. Can we actually give students a set of specifications / requirements and have them turn in projects – programs, research papers, visualizations, etc. – that we can then use to assess their understanding of the material.

Let me start with examining the presumably easiest of all three tasks,  programming.  This PBT does not specify which programming tool should be used. A set of general specifications are provided, detailing what programming components a project should have.  Students are expected to work collaboratively and independently. They can develop a program or a collection of programs using any programming tool of their choice. They have to collaboratively come up with a topic of interest and build their programs on that topic – a lot of fun!!!  The only problem I found last year was that students wanted to design only games; I met with a lot of resistance when I tried to steer them toward other projects.  Regardless, it was very popular with all kinds of male students of various backgrounds. The other points open for discussion are the key components every program or set of programs should have.

For girls, the PBT is certainly successful.  Girls like the project based learning. I find consistently that girls seem to approach a problem differently from boys. For example, given the same tool (eg Scratch) and the same backdrop, a boy and a girl would tend to make the characters behave differently! Game design does not seem to appeal to girls as much

The PBT: Programming work started with me assigning students in groups of  two. I talked to individual students and tried to match up their interests. It worked quite nicely. In a couple of cases, an unexpected benefit was that the younger / less experienced students learned a lot from their partners. It was not unusual to see a student and ask his / her partner for advice on the individual portion of the PBT. At no point were there feelings of isolation or frustration in the classroom

A final deliverable was a reflection component. Students were required to write about their experience creating the program and their experiences while working on the project both individually and collaboratively.

I am interested in seeing how the pilot progresses this year.  It should be a good exercise comparing my experience last year to this year’s.

Keep an eye out for the next PBT analysis a few days from now.



Teaching CS Principles this summer and the upcoming year

July 25, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wow! What a summer this has been. As I am trying to enjoy my last week of summer before I go back to school, I look at June and July with wonder. Where has the time gone? What did I do?

Computer Science education. That is where I have spent all my time. It has been interesting to watch the momentum to increase awareness on the need for computer science education in the K-12 sector, grow over the years. This summer saw the AP Annual conference (APAC 2013) opening plenary speaker be focussed on computer science. I was truly fortunate to be there along with 50 or so other educators who plan on teaching CS Principles in the classroom the upcoming year. Collegeboard has officially announced AP CS Principles to be offered as a course in the year 2016 – 2017 and an AP exam in May of 2017.

As I worked on various professional development workshops for teachers I had a few thoughts that I am taking away to teach in my classroom.

  • There are some amazing teachers out there. I need to collaborate more. I do not have all the answers and the only way I am going to know what works is by working with more and more teachers.
  • Hands on activities. The more I have them the more likely am I to keep my students engaged. This may be the key to differential instruction.
  • Getting girls and other students from various backgrounds is vital to the growth of this field. Without this we are not going to be able to explore all the possibilities of how computer science can impact our society.

As I progress throughout the year, I will revisit these ideas and blog more on these topics. I have some thoughts on the CS Principles portfolio assessments that are being piloted the upcoming year. I will write about them in my next post.

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