By Sarah Hampton
At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about my school's plan to implement Bootstrap, a curriculum that integrates computer science and mathematics. We just finished our first attempt at Bootstrap at Sullins Academy and we’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are some of our observations:
Overall, we continue to be encouraged about the potential of Bootstrap and are working to give it the time it deserves next year. Have any of you done Bootstrap as part of your algebra curriculum? If so, how are you implementing it? If you’re running it exclusively through your algebra classroom, do you find that you have time to do it and meet your required standards? I would love to learn what’s working so we can productively continue our adventure!
Real life meets Geometry class...
A few months ago, my students (Sarah Hampton here) were able to design and build a parking lot for our school. In their own words, here’s how it happened. This blog post was written by them.
Parking Lot: What's the problem?
We have a huge real world problem that our geometry class can solve! Our school’s upper field parking area is somewhat of a mess. There are no instructions as to where parking is permitted, so, as a result, many drivers claim more parking space than needed and don’t leave any space for other drivers. This leads to a traffic jam, causing a slower and confusing flow of traffic. In addition, because of this catastrophe, many drivers are forced to drive on the running track in order to exit the area, thus damaging the surface and placing pedestrians at risk for being injured.
In order to address these problems, Mr. Mark Hill, the Head of the Building and Grounds Committee, tasked our Geometry class to design a parking lot. We had to fulfill the needs of a counterclockwise flow of traffic, follow local regulations, and maximize the number of parking spaces, all while making safety our number one priority. This fell into a two part project, first, we designed a blueprint for the parking lot, and secondly, we laid out the actual parking lot.
Our small class was divided into two teams: a team of the three girls and one of the four boys. To get to the best solution, the teams competed on making the best and most effective design possible. After working hard, both teams presented a pitch to three judges, Mrs. Hampton, our geometry teacher, Mr. Hill, the Head of Building and Grounds and a civil engineer, and Mr. Vermillion, our Head of School. As the pitch started, Mr. Hill set the tone for the students saying “Let me tell you this; this project is as real-world as it gets. If you were an engineering consulting firm, you would be doing the same thing right now. You would prepare a preliminary solution to the problem and “pitch” that to the project owners. In this case, that’s Sullins Academy. If we liked your design, we’d hire you to do the work. As students, you may get to see your design actually implemented, which will be a tangible reminder of your time here whenever you go up to the field.”
The three judges came to a conclusion that there were positive elements in both teams’ designs. As a result, there was a draw and Mr. Hill made a new blueprint combining ideas of both teams. On a cool day, the class went up to the track to start marking the parking lot. We built a curb stop template and an angled line template and took all of our other supplies: string, stakes, measuring tapes, a speed square, and a few sharpies. Then we measured out the correct angle and distances for each parking spot, which used our knowledge in geometry and basic math to figure out where to put everything.
Throughout this project, we learned how to use an engineer scale, create a blueprint, and include trigonometry in real life situations. Most importantly, we learned the significance of proportionality in similar figures. In the end, we realized how much work and math really go into constructing a parking lot!
By Sarah Hampton
In a former post, I wrote about a site I discovered while exploring the 2016 Stem for All Videohall called Bootstrap.
Bootstrap designs curricula that meaningfully integrate rigorous computer science concepts into more mainstream subjects such as math and science. Developed with the help of Brown, WPI, and Northeastern, Bootstrap has backing from several major players including Google, Microsoft, and the National Science Foundation. If that isn't enough to pique your interest, initial research shows that Bootstrap is one of the only computer science curriculums that demonstrates measurable transfer to algebra, specifically on functions, variables, and word problems. (Wright, Rich, & Lee, 2013 and Schanzer, Fisler, Krishnamurthi, & Felleisen, 2015)
Recently at our school, Sullins Academy, the middle school math teachers (including myself) and the schoolwide technology teacher met to discuss and coordinate implementation of Bootstrap's algebra curriculum for our eighth graders. The curriculum combines principles of mathematics and programming as students create their own simple video game. Before the meeting, we independently worked through the first unit which included dissecting the parts of a video game, relating the coordinate plane to positioning, relating the order of operations to program evaluation, and planning our own basic video game. After talking about our reactions to unit one, we worked through unit two, distinguishing data types used by programs and writing functions to manipulate them, as a group.
After working through the first two units, we knew Bootstrap was something we wanted to try with our students for three main reasons:
So we knew we wanted to implement Bootstrap, but we still had a big question: when and through what class (math or technology) would this be taught? Similar to most cross-curricular projects, there would be difficulty meeting standards organically for both classes. We decided to implement the curriculum predominantly through the technology class with crossovers in the eighth grade math classes as they naturally arise. (I am lucky to work in a school where we are encouraged to work across classes. Flexibility and collaboration are two of my favorite things about our school.)
Now that we have a plan in place, we are all really excited about the potential learning outcomes. We hope it shows students that math and technology do not exist in individual bubbles and that standards are not just isolated facts to memorize or know for a test. All subjects and content are integrated in real life for authentic purposes. The technology teacher hopes that this will make students realize that programming is within their grasp. It’s not this abstract, crazy, no-way-I-can-do-it sort-of-thing thing. Even if students don’t program again, the technology teacher hopes that it helps with troubleshooting abilities and independence. In addition, she hopes it will motivate students to improve their typing skills and realize why attention to detail is important, for example, when they see that even one missing parenthesis or misspelled word will break the program. Beyond the obvious desire for students to better understand algebra, the math teachers hope it allows students to see that math is really useful beyond the classroom. Most importantly, we hope working on Bootstrap displaces the teacher and puts the students at the center of the learning by improving metacognition and developing perseverance as they work through their error messages. In this way, students might grow out of the teacher-dependent mentality and learn to trust and rely on themselves and each other.
Keeping it real, we are concerned about a few things as well. It was interesting to see our reactions to the curriculum because the technology teacher has ample programming experience, I only have some, and the third teacher has no former experience. This was a fortunate coincidence because it represents the spectrum of prior knowledge our students will have as well. Overall, Bootstrap provides enough scaffolding for any previous exposure to programming as long as you are comfortable with a “learn as you go” approach, although occasionally, it did seem as if Bootstrap made an optimistic assumption about what students would know coming in. For those with no prior experience, we would have liked more direct instruction on key vocabulary, syntax requirements, and reading and diagnosing error messages. Another concern is keeping all students engaged for the length of the project. Undoubtedly, some students will be able to fly through the curriculum while others need a bit more time. We hope the answer to this problem lies in offering the extensions Bootstrap has built in for quick learners.
Overall, we are really looking forward to seeing what Bootstrap can do for our students. Our plan is in place so may the adventure continue! I will keep you posted.
Have any of you implemented Bootstrap or another computer science curriculum like Logo or Scratch? Did you see transfer to math or science? What advantages did you notice? Are there any obstacles you can help us navigate? We would love to learn from you!
Citations and Further Reading
Schanzer, E., Fisler, K., Krishnamurthi, S., & Felleisen, M. (2015). Transferring Skills at Solving Word Problems from Computing to Algebra Through Bootstrap, ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 2015.
Wright, G., Rich, P. & Lee, R. (2013). The Influence of Teaching Programming on Learning Mathematics. In R. McBride & M. Searson (Eds.), Proceedings of SITE 2013--Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 4612-4615). New Orleans, Louisiana, United States: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
Center for Computational Thinking at Carnegie Mellon.