Middle Schoolers and CS

I did something many of us are not always brave enough to do.  I surveyed my Middle School Students about how they liked the class.  We’re on a trimester system where I get a new group of kids every trimester, and yesterday was my last day with 8th and 6th grade and today was my last day with 7th grade.  I surveyed 7th and 8th grade.  I felt like my 8th grade class was a disaster.  One thing about trimesters is that I get to change things up sooner rather later, so if something didn’t go well, I can fix it.  And boy, do I have some stuff to fix–at least in 8th grade.  While in 7th grade, not everyone is convinced they should take computer science later, they generally liked the class. In fact 13 out of my 14 students said they would recommend the class to friends.

In both classes, I use Calico and we go through several projects.  In 7th grade, I use a Scratch-like language called Jigsaw.  In 8th grade, we’re using Python, taking advantage of the various libraries included in Calico.  In both classes, I think I need to vary what I do more.  While I like Calico a lot, I think I’m going to have to mix things up a little.  Both classes said they would like to create a mobile app.  I’m pretty sure I can’t do that in the time I have, but it’s something to keep in mind.  Both classes also said they liked working in groups.  I do group work but I also do one individual project.  I think I can let that go and just do all group projects.

So 8th grade. First, the class is too big.  I have 22 students (public school teachers, you can stop laughing now, I’m sorry). In fact, a majority of the students, in response to “What would make the class more enjoyable?”, said that the class should be smaller.  I had some major classroom management issues.  I was well aware of the talking and general carrying on and tried to mitigate it in various ways, and decided to focus on the majority of the class that was engaged rather than spending all my time disciplining the kids who really didn’t want to be there.  But, I need to think about what to do about that.  My 2nd and 3rd trimester classes will be just as big.  I have a few ideas–and some of the students actually had good ideas. So I’m going to try some new things on that front.

But, if your material isn’t engaging, then no classroom management technique is going to fix that.  And that’s where I think I failed more than on whether I can manage a room full of 13 year olds (which I admittedly sometimes need to work on).  So while I don’t think I can do everything they asked for, I do think I can vary what they’re doing.   We might do some things from Codecademey or some other tutorial sites.  I have this sense that letting them be a little more self directed might help.  Basically, I think I’m going to do a “choose your own path” route, but do a little more foundational work about how that works than I did previously.  I need for the classroom to be orderly, but I need it to be so not because they fear punishment, but because they have interesting tasks to complete.

One of the things that’s disappointing to me about having a class that doesn’t go well is that I’ve added to the negative perception of CS.  Almost half the class said that their least favorite thing about the class was learning about programming (that’s the 8 answers on the left of the pie):

What was your least favorite thing about the class?
What was your least favorite thing about the class?

Additionally, their responses about their attitudes on programming weren’t very positive:

I would say that programming is . . .
I would say that programming is . . .
Hard 9 16%
Fun 4 7%
Cool 6 11%
Important to learn 5 9%
Interesting 8 15%
Something I see myself doing 1 2%
Something I never thought I’d do 5 9%
Something boys do 1 2%
Something I wish I knew more about 7 13%
Boring 7 13%
Easy 2 4%

Many thought it was hard and boring.  There are some who said it was interesting, cool and something they wish they knew more about, but compared to the 7th grade class, there were more negative responses here.  In 7th grade, no one said it was boring, though just as many said it was hard. More thought it was interesting in 7th grade.  More than half of the 8th graders said they were Not likely at all or Unlikely to take CS in Upper School while in 7th grade more than 50% said they were somewhat or fairly likely to take CS in Upper School. No one in 7th grade was at either extreme, Not likely at all or Very likely.  I’ll take a “well maybe” from a 7th grader.

All this means to me is that I have some work to do–and fast! Second trimester begins after Thanksgiving.


3 Replies to “Middle Schoolers and CS”

  1. Have you looked at App Inventor (http://appinventor.mit.edu/) for mobile app building? It would work fairly nice at these grade levels. There are some usable tutorials with it. I have not looked at it in a year or so but I see there is now a version 2.

  2. I have used app inventor a little, not enough I think to start next week. 🙂 Plus, I only have the student for a total of 6.5 hours–for a whole trimester. I’m not sure I could get far enough for it to be worth anything to them. I’ve also thought about using Game Salad for iOS. I haven’t used it much, but it looks easier than app inventor.

  3. 6.5 hours! Oik! App Inventor does take more time than that. Almost anything takes more time than that. With that kind of time maybe Turtle Art would be fun. Turtleart.org.

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