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.
By Sarah Hampton
I wish there was an extra planning block built into every teacher's day for locating quality, relevant resources. Educators and researchers are out there doing amazing things that I rarely hear about through the grapevine. Yet, when I spend a bit of time down rabbit holes on the internet, I stumble across exciting and innovative practices like STEP: Science through Technology Enhanced Play in which young students pretend to be bees and watch their bees interact on screen while an XBOX Kinect sensor bar maps their movements. If you have had similar challenges finding resources, then I have GREAT NEWS for you! Researchers funded by the National Science Foundation have created three-minute videos of some of the best things happening in STEM education in their projects and share them in a showcase. I have watched most from last year’s showcase, and I was surprised to see how many were free, easily implementable, and relevant across all disciplines--even those not traditionally considered to be under the STEM umbrella such as geography. You can also filter the videos by subject or grade level to find ones most helpful to your classroom.
As a science teacher, there are several hands-on activities that easily correlate to the content. As a math teacher, meaningful, engaging opportunities are harder to find. That’s why I was thrilled when I saw this video on teaching Algebra through coding using Bootstrap. The connections to Cartesian coordinates, the distance formula, and functions are tangible as students create their own video games. I have already proposed this idea to another math teacher and tech teacher at my school and they have responded with enthusiasm and buy in. We are hoping to meet over the summer to work through the free curriculum ourselves with intent to implement it through the eighth grade technology class next year.
My trip down this particular rabbit hole felt so much like Wonderland that I am counting down the days until the 2017 Stem for All Video Showcase: Research and Design for Impact funded by NSF beginning May 15. I hope to find you there. More importantly, I hope you find resources to implement in your school there. This is an exciting time to be in education! Check out the showcase and find out why!
Students pretend to be bees in STEP. STEP uses OpenPTrack, an open source platform for sensing position and movement of large groups of people.
Students write basic code to program their own video games in Bootstrap as a means of learning algebra.
By Sarah Hampton
From STEM programs to one-to-one device campaigns, we hear a lot about the importance of technology in the classroom. Like most initiatives, this is for good reason! We live in the digital age, and producing students who can responsibly and productively use the numerous technologies at their disposal is a crucial 21st century skill. Also like most initiatives, our tendency might be to view technology use as a bothersome requirement handed down by well-meaning administrators. When we approach anything with this attitude (read: the oft-dreaded professional development), we miss out on the spirit of the requirement. In this case, that means implementing technology in ways that genuinely improve student learning or enhance classroom organization and workflow. In this series of posts, I will share my favorite tech tools for streamlining my middle school classroom and promoting student learning. Let’s start with Google Drive, one of my favorite student-centered learning tools.
Technology is useful when it allows you to do something you can’t do with a whiteboard and markers, or when it allows you to do something better or faster. Google Drive frequently allows me to do both. You probably already know that Google Docs is a powerful collaborative writing tool. Multiple studies have found that web-based collaborative activities, done well, can promote learning outcomes, teamwork, social skills, and basic computing skills among students (Zhou, Simpson, & Domizi, 2012, pg. 359-360). In addition, I love how easy it is to give comments in Google Docs and how easy it is for students to work together. If you haven’t incorporated it yet, then make a class writing project a priority. Here is one example. If you are already a Google Docs pro, then check into using Slides or Forms. Our school frequently uses Forms for quick polls and surveys. Google Sheets is also a must have, particularly for math and science teachers. I would like to demonstrate how powerful this app can be by sharing how it helped me create one of my best lessons this year for middle school algebra (my class included mixed ages of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Algebra 1 students).
After watching the Olympics this summer, I started to wonder why some countries seemed to do better than others. I posed that question to my students and we brainstormed two main categories that we thought might correlate with a country’s Olympic performance: population (greater probability that gifted athletes live there) and per capita income (more opportunities for athletes to practice and/or have access to high quality facilities and equipment.) I had each student pick three to five countries, research their populations, per capita incomes, and total medal counts in the past four summer Olympics, and add their information to the class spreadsheet. Then, in groups, they created a scatterplot for their assigned factor and analyzed the data using linear regressions to see which factors more highly correlated with Olympic performance. If you want more specifics or want to see the results, then check out our class spreadsheet. You can also find instructions for a similar project at Mathalicious.
This project was organically cross-curricular and addressed multiple algebra standards by necessity. It incorporated geography, because the students placed push pins in their countries on a giant world map, and economics, because they wondered why some countries’ per capita incomes were very high or very low. It gave meaning to population density when the students saw the size of a country on the map and then noted its population on the bar graph. (Iraq and Canada have similar populations? But Canada is soooo much bigger!) It increased number sense when they created bar graphs, scatterplots, and histograms and realized that some of the values were literally off the charts--like the per capita income of Monaco (which presented the perfect opportunity for me to introduce vocabulary like “outlier.”) Astonished, students were naturally curious enough to research why. This led to lessons on digital literacy as we discussed how to appropriately locate, evaluate, and use information from the internet, a skill that is frequently overestimated in today’s students according to a study commissioned by the British Library and JISC (University College London, 2008).
The students really got into this project and even asked to do an extension! They hypothesized that countries with lower average temperatures would perform better in the winter Olympics, so, of course, we analyzed that, too. This matches perfectly with the International Society for Technology and Education’s claim that, “When students take responsibility for their own learning, they become explorers capable of leveraging their curiosity to solve real-world problems” (ISTE, 2017).
As it turns out, we weren’t the only people to look at what factors affect Olympic performance. After the project, my students found two websites that helped explain things further. The first was written by an economics doctoral student and the second by a senior editor at The Atlantic. (Bian 2005, O'Brien 2012) The other sites concluded that the same factors we studied were major contributors, and their charts and methods remarkably resembled our own, albeit with some more advanced statistics in the case of the doctoral student’s article. My students’ excited comments indicated that they felt validated in their reasoning and felt that they were doing “real math.”
This project hit the sweet spot: students were engaged in deep and relevant learning, and Google Sheets significantly contributed to its effectiveness.
How have you used Google Drive to create more student-centered environments? What outcomes did you see when you used them? Did anything (good or bad) surprise you? I would love to learn from your experiences by reading your comments!
Students proudly displayed their results in the hallway outside our classroom.
Citations and Further Reading
Bian, X. (2005). Predicting Olympic Medal Counts: the Effects of Economic Development on Olympic Performance. The Park Place Economist, 13(1), 37-44. Available at: https://www.iwu.edu/economics/PPE13/bian.pdf
International Society for Technology and Education. (2017). Essential Conditions: Student-Centered Learning. Available at: http://www.iste.org/standards/tools-resources/essential-conditions/student-centered-learning
Mathalicious. (2017). Hitting the Slopes. Available at: http://www.mathalicious.com/lessons/hitting-the-slopes
National Writing Project. (2017). Directions for Teachers Participating in Letters to the Next President: Writing Our Future. Available at: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/doc/nwpsites/writing_our_future/directions.csp
O’Brien, M. (2012). Medal-Count Economics: What Factors Explain the Olympics' Biggest Winners? The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/08/medal-count-economics-what-factors-explain-the-olympics-biggest-winners/260951/
University College London. (2008). Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future. Available at: https://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20140614113419/http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/reppres/gg_final_keynote_11012008.pdf
Zhou, W., Simpson, E., & Domizi, D.P. (2012). Google Docs in an Out-of-Class Collaborative Writing Activity. Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 24(3), 359-375. Available at: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1000688.pdf