The students in my Year 10 English class are encouraged to pursue one of their passions as a Personal Interest Project (PIP). Over the years I have found that many students find it challenging to generate their own project. School is usually about doing what someone else gives you rather than a free choice of content and approach.
This particular group is an all boys class of volunteers. They nominated themselves as there are more opportunities to use technology in this English class than usual. With this in mind, I suggested a range of possible ideas for a PIP including website-building, blogging, video-making, machinima or writing a (graphic) novel. I emphasise that students will need to reflect about their project and share skills, collaborating to help each other produce their products. Often we explore an individual’s initial ideas and open a dialogue about the processes that will possibly assist production. Sometimes we all explore an idea in a lesson and work on it together. For example, one boy has a GoPro and wants to use it for video footage at his ‘surf & skate’ blog while another wants to make a videoclip for his original music. It is a great way to reward a hard-working student who completes set tasks with the opportunity to focus on their PIP or assist a peer.
This year there are many boys who are enthusiastic about coding but only one who already has skills in this area. Several have repeatedly asked me if they could learn how to code. I usually respond with jump online at home and just do it. However, it made sense to pursue, initially in a teacher-directed manner, this interest with the whole class to see how many would respond positively to the challenge of coding. We watched the video below and briefly discussed the message about schools disseminated via code.org.
The boys then joined Code Academy knowing that there are a wide-range of courses to complete. Some students in the class are not much interested in learning to code but agreed that an hour exploring how the tutorials worked was fair enough. I sat back and watched. Some struggled but persisted as their buddy explained how to do it. I had the students polled at the end of the lesson and 65% “loved’ learning to code and wanted more.
The next lesson some students came into class and just continued on with ‘Code Academy’. I was happy to let them do it while the rest worked on their blogs, read or completed set work they had missed earlier in the week. Students continued to assist each other when stuck. One person asked me for assistance but before I could help another students had already said, “I know how to do that, sir” and sorted out the syntax for him. Class Dojo is ‘pinging’ often at the moment.
The English syllabus certainly provides great flexibility re: content and approach. The students in this class are likely to make more progress with choice about what they study. I look forward to seeing the uses they make of any coding skills gained in coming months.
Are students coding at your school?
I’m intrigued by a number of things you mention in your post. The PIP seems to be a cool way to tap into the kids interests, but could you describe how PIPs “fit” in the English KLA? Overall, I just love the idea that kids are “learning” – maybe not what they think they should be learning in a typical English class, but learning that matters over time. I’m discovering that a lot of the things we do in the name of “schooling” don’t actually result in much “learning” – Great post – Jonesy
Here’s some outcomes and content for stage 5 English that permit students to do PIPs and explore language, including coding:
“Developing proficiency in English enables students to take their place as confident communicators, critical and imaginative thinkers, lifelong learners and active participants in Australian society. It supports the development and expression of a system of personal values based on students’ understanding of moral, ethical and spiritual matters and gives expression to their hopes and ideals.” p. 7
“Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) content in English enables students to develop and apply skills, knowledge and understanding of ICT in their composing, responding and presenting, and as part of the imaginative and critical thinking they undertake in English. The ICT content has been incorporated into the content of this syllabus to ensure that all students have the opportunity to become competent, discriminating and creative users of ICT and are better able to demonstrate the syllabus outcomes of English through the effective use of ICT.” p.9
1.1 respond to and compose a range of imaginative, factual and critical texts which are increasingly demanding in terms of their linguistic, structural, cognitive, emotional and moral complexity
2.4 combine processes of representation to create cohesive texts
2.7 identify and articulate their own processes of responding and composing.
2.11 ways of developing their strengths, addressing their weaknesses and consolidating and broadening their preferences as responders and composers of texts
4.4 experiment with and explain altered perceptions of ideas and information that result from changes in language features and structures
5.1 apply knowledge of language forms and features and structures of texts to respond to, compose and adapt texts to suit new and unfamiliar contexts
5.3 adapt their own or familiar texts into different forms, structures, modes and media for different purposes, audiences and contexts
5.5 explain the cohesion of syntax and content in familiar and unfamiliar texts.
5.6 the ways in which existing skills, knowledge and understanding about language can be used to access and express information for new purposes, audiences and contexts
5.7 predicting, speculating, hypothesising and paraphrasing as strategies for accessing texts with unfamiliar ideas or structures
5.8 how particular forms and features of language and structures of texts can be adapted to new purposes, audiences and contexts
6.1 explore real and imagined (including virtual) worlds through close and wide engagement with increasingly demanding texts
6.4 compose texts using a range of literary and non-literary texts as models
6.5 experiment with ways of representing the real world imaginatively
6.7 ways in which literary and non-literary composers transform ideas and experience into texts, including consideration of their insight, imaginative powers and verbal ingenuity
9.1 respond to and compose texts that reflect their expanding worlds from the personal to the public
11.2 choose appropriate topics for investigation and negotiate these with their teachers
11.3 identify, plan and monitor stages of tasks and topics with guidance
11.4 choose learning processes, resources and technologies appropriate for particular tasks and situations
11.5 use individual and group processes to generate, investigate, document, clarify, refine, critically evaluate and present ideas and information drawn from books, the internet and other sources of information
11.6 establish and adopt roles and responsibilities, negotiate and implement strategies and meet deadlines
11.12 their own learning strengths and learning needs including their preferred ways of gathering, processing and representing information
What do you think? Amazingly tight links to the syllabus document? 🙂
You probably don’t think of what you’ve done as courageous (or perhaps you do?) but I reckon if more teachers look at their respective syllabuses with an eye to student centered learning rather than ticking traditional exam fed content boxes, then schools would change by themselves.
Love your work! Jonesy
Oh no, the word ‘courageous’ always make me think of Sir Humphrey Appleby’s warning to his minsister. 😉
I’ve been trying to get students (primary school ICT Yr1-6) starting with coding this year using Scratch. We’re having a lot of success with students enjoying it but running into road blocks with students making authentic tasks and learning beyond the classroom. Having said that we have two or three yr6 boys that are taking their programs home and challenging themselves. Hopefully I’ll get those boys onto code.org by midway through the year.
UPDATE: Sarah Vaughan from Microsoft AU skyping with my class on Thursday about the skills the company needs in employees.
This is all sorts of awesome, bravo! Coding can be difficult task for anyone. How do you think the ability to code has on the students self esteem? and do you think you have been able to reach any particular student in a way that made you think that if it were not for coding, the rest of the subjects taught in school would not have challenged them enough?
Thanks for your comment.
The students were able to choose if they wanted to code or not. All thought it was challenging but a high level of peer support/mentoring meant that it was a positive experience. I think ‘school’ is challenging for the vast majority of students but sometimes our very brightest cannot see ‘the point’. Freedom of choice can assist these students in small ways to feel more satisfied with their day IMHO.
WOW! This is fantastic. I know this particular group of boys and I can only imagine that they are thriving in such an open learning environment.
I am trying to work really hard at the moment to get staff thinking outside the square and looking at ways of engaging students in critical and authentic learning experiences, such as this. This is just the tip of the iceberg – thank you for sharing.
Can I pass on this post for the team to have a look at?
Share far and wide Miss Gilbert (especially as I have provided the outcomes to justify). 😉
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