Saturday, July 01, 2006

recipe or exploration?

The curriculum is not God. A good curriculum might be one that enables a good teacher to teach in their preferred style.

I wrote this in the 'Supporting Upper Secondary IT Curricula' thread at the Game Maker and Education Group:
Here's my perception of what happens WRT teaching programming.

Scenario one: Recipe
Teacher follows a text book / recipe sort of approach. The students imitate that sort of approach. The stated goals of the curriculum are met in some sort of pencil and paper exam at the end of the year. Is their deep understanding, real problem solving? Probably not.

Scenario two: Exploration
Students undertake a real, meaningful programming project - creating something they are motivated about. Teacher acts as facilitator of this. Teachers role is to
  • provide the opportunity for such a meaningful project
  • teach learning how to learn skills, eg. how to read the manual
  • provide just in time support for real problems as they arise that are initially too hard for the students
The real learning outcomes of the second approach may be better but the student grades may be worse.

In reality we probably do a hybrid of the two approaches depending on the type of student in the "class of 200x"

IMO the important thing is the mindset that has some focus towards scenario two. Support the curriculum that is flexible enough to support that. That means allow students extended time for exploration.

Otherwise, what are we really on about?

Keith Richardson supported this in an email he sent me:
Bill, I agree extremely strongly with your second model.
If fact I use it for all of my teaching from Years 8-12.

Easy to do in the pre-VCE years (8-10) and more challenging in VCE, but do-able none the less.

All the way through, the challenge for the teacher is to come up with realistic meaningful grabbing contexts in which to inspire the kids to want to find out how something is done for themselves and then apply what they have discovered practically themselves.

I have found the kids a marvellous source of inspiration here. Usually I come up with a suggestion, they howl me down with derision, I respond with "OK guys, what would be a better scenario?" Usually the class comes up with several and we fly with them - each one being what turns that particular kid on.

At the VCE level, I have to somehow generate additional time for
learning by self-directed practical investigation and application. I do this by heavily using the textbook - the kids have to make their own summaries (that I let them take into the SAC's) and in class we discuss only the bits that have given them trouble, or that I know from previous experience are often misunderstood.

The benefits from this overall approach is that I am continually
invigorated by what the kids come up with, and they tend to be highly motivated for much of the time.

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