Monday, February 5, 2007

Best semester ever

This has been the best kick-off to seventh grade computer science ever. (I nearly started this post with "finally something has gone RIGHT".) I think it is a combination of factors, but in six years of teaching seventh grade CS, I've truly never had a year go this well ever.

One factor is that for the first time ever, I made a huge effort to jump immediately into CS content. First, I spent almost no time on class norms. I handed out a list of my expectations, pointed out that it is nearly the same as last year, when most of the students had me, and suggested pretty bluntly that since the students are in seventh grade, I assume they know how to behave in a class. I told them the major difference between me and other teachers is that I want them to ask me before they leave the room. I told them my two major rules, which are "no death" and "respect." I also told them there would be a quiz soon about the expectations, so they should look over them. Then we hopped directly into robotics.

* A note. "no death" and "respect" pretty much cover every situation I've come up against and manage to hit a number of my pet peeves as well. The kids are expected to respect me, each other, themselves, and the physical plant. No one is allowed to die or cause the death of anyone or anything else. Anyone behaving in a way that is likely to lead to the breakage of these rules is reprimanded. The example I give them is that they may not tip back in their chairs. This is because there's a high likelihood that they'll fall, crack their heads on the floor, and die. Ergo, not allowed per the "no death" rule. It also works out because my standard response to potential alarm (such as people tripping on cords) is, "don't die."

I have moved my robotics curriculum to be moreteacher-driven over time, but I've discovered that there's a good middle ground. The fastest way to get the students to know the things I want them to know is to guide them directly through discovering them, but they definitely get charged by more time exploring on their own. I almost went too far and had a very frustrating day racing around solving problems. I ended up putting together some handouts with guided activities and letting the kids just go on their own for a couple of days. They're so thrilled with what they're doing! Tomorrow I'll stop and bring them back together so I can make sure they all understand what is going on (I did collect the handouts but won't have time to assess them before tomorrow - possibly the biggest frustration in being overcommitted.)

I haven't figured out what to do for the first project. I'm torn between stealing an idea from another teacher of having the robots follow a course or whether to do the 'dancing robot' idea that I've done before. Either way I'll have to teach them gearing and how to deal with motors tomorrow. A little stressful - I'm not an engineer and am pretty weak on the hardware stuff. But we'll muddle through and at the rate they're going, they'll teach me everything I need to know.

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