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I am interested in the application of the learning sciences and in leveraging technology tools in the service of learning. I am passionate about encouraging diverse participation in CS and understanding the role of women in the field.

twitter.com/pati_ru

www.circleducators.org

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CT for Developing Dispositions

1 min read

According to the International Society for Technology in Education and the Computer Science Teachers Association, the set of dispositions that student practice and internalize while learning about CT can include: 

  • confidence in dealing with complexity,
  • persistence in working with difficult problems,
  • the ability to handle ambiguity,
  • the ability to deal with open-ended problems,
  • setting aside differences to work with others to achieve a common goal or solution, and
  • knowing one's strengths and weaknesses when working with others.

https://blog.google/topics/education/computational-thinking-dispositions-perspective/

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My Dissertation in a Haiku

1 min read

Today I stumbled across Dissertation Haiku and decided to write my own:

 

what are the factors

that encourage women to

persist in CS

 

Female Computer Science Undergraduates: Reflections on Participation in the Academic Computer Science Landscape

My dissertation is a phenomenological study designed to investigate the lived experience of women in undergraduate computer science programs to better understand the factors that might encourage or discourage their participation in the field.

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Why I am pursuing my research trying to understand the lived experience of women in CS.

2 min read

To push back against the gender and other sociocultural stereotypes and misconceptions in the field and support the participation of more women and underrepresented groups in the field. In their article titled Gender digital divide and challenges in undergraduate computer science programs, Stoilescu and Egodawatte (2011) illustrate the issue:

When asked how gender inequity could be addressed, Mike, a third-year student participant, argued, “That is the difference between the female brain and male brain. I don’t think any motivation can help.” Ravi, another third-year male student participant, argued, “women might actually have been helped more than might generally seem to be the case.” He sustained an offensive and discriminatory posture by suggesting that “women aren’t that good at working hard. They should be encouraged to sit quietly more, maybe that helps.” (Stoilescu and Egodawatte, 2011).

In my dissertation, I write:

As technology tools become integral to our daily lives it is essential that both women and men learn to program the tools that contribute to the sociocultural environments within which we are now participating. These tools, after all, are transforming the way we learn, work, and live (National Science Foundation, 2014). All people need to be able to use the tools available to them in robust ways. More importantly, they must be able to program the tools that are available to them and in programming them, contribute additional affordances to those tools. As Phillips (2014) describes, people with different backgrounds bring new information and interacting with socially diverse groups leads to more innovation than working in homogenous groups. Subsequently, people are unique and individuals of different genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds have different needs; tools made by only one person or group will not necessarily be as applicable or useful to individuals in other groups. We need to ensure that there is good representation of differences in the developers of our tools.

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Advancing STEM Learning for All 2016 Video Showcase

4 min read

NSF recently hosted the Advancing STEM Learning for All 2016 Video Showcase. 156 videos were included in the showcase and all of them share the innovative work that is being done in the STEM fields. Videos can be filtered by several categories, as a K12 educator, I found the Age/Grade level filter especially helpful as I tried to find projects related to the work that I do in 9 - 12 education. One topic that blew my mind was the work being done around embodied design. Embodied learning designs set up the conditions for learners to engage their body in learning activities through interactive learning environments and whole-body interactive simulations (Lindgren, Tscholl, Wang, & Johnson, 2016). In a recent study of middle school students, Lindgren, and colleagues (2016) found that enacting physics concepts and experiencing these critical ideas in an immersive, whole-body interactive simulation led to significant learning gains, higher levels of engagement, and more positive attitudes towards science when compared to viewing a desktop version of the same simulation. One of the researchers behind this study, Robb Lindgren, submitted this video to the showcase: Gesture Augmented Simulations for Supporting Explanations. Other examples of embodied learning include a video about Advancing New Science Learning and Inquiry Experiences via Custom-Designed Wearable On-Body Sensing and Visualization and this one about VEnvI: Learning Computational Thinking Through Creative Movement.

Wanting to learn more, I went to circlcenter.org where I found the DIP: Developing Crosscutting Concepts in STEM with Simulation and Embodied Learning project and the Promoting Learning through Annotation of Embodiment (PLAE) project. I also found more information on  VEnvI: Exploring Grounded Embodied Pedagogy in Support of Computational Thinking.  As a teacher, I appreciate projects with content and ideas that are immediately applicable in the classroom. For example, the VEnvI software is available for download and use in classrooms; the team is currently seeking funding for wider dissemination to teachers and students. Their software allows students to program a virtual character to move in realistic ways. In the showcase video, the VEnvI team shows clips of the dance routines that they have developed to help students learn programming concepts. Students first learn a dance routine and then move to computers where they program their avatar to do the same routine they just learned. You can see students repeating the routines as they write their program, engaging their bodies in the learning activity. I haven’t found the dance routines available to teachers online, but I can clearly see the value of movement to teach basic CS concepts. As a teacher who might benefit from this team’s work, I hope the team gets more funding for the implementation stage of this project. Thinking about other practitioners who might also benefit from the work that has already been done by this team makes me wonder about how the team might disseminate this project to a broader audience. Modifying the VEnvI website to provide a space for teachers to develop and share content for the tool might be one way to do this. Like other projects that are still in the development or concept stages, this project will be very interesting to follow.

I encourage other teachers and practitioners to take a look at the Advancing STEM Learning for All 2016 Video Showcase and tell me what you learn. Comments and videos are accessible on the site for this year, so go check them out. While you can no longer comment, there, you can leave comments here and we’ll get them to the researchers. Please look for next year’s showcase where you, too can provide feedback to researchers!

 

Reference

Lindgren, R., Tscholl, M., Wang, S., & Johnson, E. (2016). Enhancing learning and engagement through embodied interaction within a mixed reality simulation.Computers & Education, 95, 174-187.

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Practitioner POV of Constructivist Approaches

8 min read

This post originally appeared in the CyberLearning Educator's Corner Blog.

As a teacher studying the learning sciences in graduate school, I understood  constructivist practices in theory, but I often wondered what constructivism looked like in action. Taking a constructivist perspective, Windschitl (2002) describes learning as an act of both individual interpretation and negotiation with others, where knowledge is the collection of what is constructed individually and collectively. In classrooms, a constructivist or open approach should support learners in actively constructing their own knowledge, but what does that really look like? How much time does it take? What are the challenges?
I spoke with some teachers to learn more about how they support an open approach to learning in their classrooms. This post will focus on the strategies of a middle and high school math teacher I interviewed. Future posts will focus on the work of high school Spanish and English teachers.

Math Classroom Example: Christine Trying a New Curriculum
Christine DeHaven is in her fifth year teaching middle and high school math. In her Honors Algebra 1 class at Pacific Ridge School, she always taught in a very guided or instructivist approach. For example, if the topic was lines, she would first lecture about lines, then work out one example in front of the class, and then students would do some problems on their own in class. For homework, students would complete more problems that progressed in difficulty. The class would then move on to the next topic. Christine noticed that students were just memorizing steps instead of problem solving, so she decided she needed to change her teaching approach.

Christine had learned about a new curriculum that allowed the students to learn through conferences and visits to other schools, including The Bishop’s School, Deerfield Academy, and Phillips Exeter Academy(where the curriculum was developed). Christine and a colleague decided to swap their traditional direct-instruction approach for a problem-based approach. Christine had seen the new curriculum in action, and felt that it could work at her school, too. Still, she modified the curriculum slightly for her students. Sometimes the transition to a new approach needs to be done gently. Here is what Christine’s curriculum looks like now.  

First, students are assigned 8-10 homework problems per night. The goal for students is that they attempt all of the problems before class. When they arrive to class the next day, students pick a problem to solve on the board. Multiple students may put up the same problem, and everyone contributes at least one problem. After all of the problems are on the board, groups of students go to the board to present one problem at a time. If there are multiple solutions to the same problem, Christine leads a discussion about which solution is more efficient. With this new method, Christine finds that her students have more ownership of what they are learning. They apply problem solving skills to the homework and construct their own understandings through their solutions and conversations about their solutions. When they present their work and discuss the various solutions, students gain a better understanding of the concepts because they have to make a case for or against a certain way of solving a problem. Christine also encourages students’ use of graphing as a method to solve the homework problems. Students use tools like the Desmos Graphing Calculator to see a visual representation of the problem. In this way, Christine guides students to look at problems in three different ways: numerically, algebraically, and visually.

Parent education and administrator support has played an important role in the ease of adopting her new curriculum. While Christine initially received some negative feedback about her approach from parents, she felt well supported by her school administrators who are able to point concerned parents towards research and articles about the success of this approach. Open house became an opportunity for Christine to educate concerned parents--she even encouraged them to work with their children to solve the daily homework problems. Christine still attempts to engage parents by encouraging them to follow along on the course website. Many do, and often share stories of working on problems with their children. While parents were initially skeptical, many now tell Christine how much they appreciate the new approach and they have fun helping their children with their math homework. In the beginning, Christine also got negative feedback from students. But - for the most part - they have come around now that they have more practice with the approach. Something else that has helped students adjust is that the homework problems they are solving are very realistic; students can relate to them. For example, one problem, which aims to help students understand how dangerous glancing at a phone is when driving, asks students to compute how far they would drive down the highway in the time it took them to read or respond to a text message. Many of Christine’s students are learning to drive or have friends who are, so problems like these are relevant and engaging to them. (Please don’t text and drive!)

Though challenging, Christine persisted in adopting the open curriculum because she felt that it was the best approach for her students. She thinks that students have a better understanding of the concepts they have covered. For example, they understand how to factor a polynomial and aren’t just guessing and checking. She reports they are able to prove why the square root of 2 is irrational. They also have a better sense of how a graph relates to algebra, and they persist in solving problems. When solving homework problems, students don’t always know the math theories or strategies they are using, but they are developing algorithms and figuring out problems as they go. These are essential skills for mathematics. Additionally, when students don’t solve a problem the first time, they are willing to try again and again. In this way, they are developing a growth mindset and starting to see the payoffs. 

This approach has been more time consuming for Christine. It’s the first time she’s seen many of these problems on the homework, so she needs to solve them all in multiple ways before going to class. She needs to think like her students and try to anticipate the problems they’ll have and the misconceptions they might bring to a problem. This means she really needs to know the content she’s teaching. It’s more prep time before class, especially in the first year, but this way she knows how to guide discussions and ask the right questions. Christine uses her expertise to help students gain a deeper understanding and make connections to content they have seen before. She’s not lecturing as much anymore, but she remains the content area expert. 

This idea leads to something that might be a struggle for some. It is described by Harland (2003) like this:
When students arrived at a position where they could function well together and drive the enquiry forward, they seldom asked for help, and the teaching team no longer had their old roles and familiar student contact. Paradoxically, we felt some sense of loss at this stage and concluded that a lot of pleasure in teaching had gone…”

For Christine, though, she simply sees her role as a teacher changing. She is now more of a facilitator who ensures that students hit certain key points. She guides students in thinking more deeply by helping them ask questions instead of giving them answers. Her connection with students is now stronger, in her opinion. Preparing for class is more involved and time-consuming and her role in the classroom is smaller. But for Christine, that’s okay. What excites her about teaching is helping students discover the math that she loves, and she’s doing that. 

If you’re interested in learning more about open approaches to Mathematics education, Christine recommended the Exeter Mathematics Institute and the Mathematics Visionary Project. We would love to hear what you think and the questions you might have for Christine or other teachers. 


Harland, T. (2003). Vygotsky's zone of proximal development and problem-based learning: Linking a theoretical concept with practice through action research. Teaching in higher education, 8(2), 263-272.

Windschitl, M. (2002). Framing constructivism in practice as the negotiation of dilemmas: An analysis of the conceptual, pedagogical, cultural, and political challenges facing teachers. Review of educational research, 72(2), 131-175.

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SuperBetter: Gameful Learning at It's Best

2 min read

I found a game that I really like: SuperBetter. This is big, since I don’t really gravitate towards games. Monument Valley was the last one I played; and I haven’t even finished it!

What I love about SuperBetter is that it allows you to choose a challenge from a list; this then focuses your playing experience (my current challenge is working out). It is full of power-ups, quests, bad guys, and allies that relate to your challenge. I am going to use it to transform my bad habits (the Bad Guys), into good ones. I liked this game so much that I got McGonical’s book SuperBetter. I appreciate McGonigal's message about accessing our powers to "become happier, braver and more resilient in the face of any challenge". I agree, that there are many things we can control; for example, our attention (feelings), motivation, willpower, compassion, and determination. We need to learn to leverage these psychological strengths in the face of extreme stress and challenges. I appreciate McGonigal's willingness to share her own story and her application of technology and her knowledge of games to help others. Check out her book and game!

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CS ED in NYC

2 min read

I recently added a bookmark to an article that appeared in the NYTimes: De Blasio to Announce 10-Year Deadline to Offer Computer Science to All Students

This is a topic of interest to me. More specifically, I'm interested in spreading the awareness and availability of CS and engineering in education as a way to increase diversity in these fields. As a technology educator, I strongly believe that everyone should be able to choose whether or not they want to be an engineer. In order to do so, they need to have a foundation in the field and understand what it means to be an engineer (among other things).

Back to the NYTimes article - I ended up following links and doing some research on my own which eventually lead me to this blog (and post) by a Mike Zamansky, who has been teaching CS in NYC since 1992. 

cestlaz: I should be happy but feel like I've failed

This is post was really enlightening for me - someone who doesn't know much about New York's journey to the 10-year deadline anouncement. This blog also helped me see that there are great people already teaching Computer Science. I also learned that there are tensions in the system that create problems. 

I want to keep thinking about how CS education can be effective in a large school system like NY. I found myself wanting to know more about Zamansky's ideas, his vision, and what happened with his plan. 

This would be a fascinating case study - hmm... I will need to write one of those soon.

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Can Templates Help Us Understand Others?

2 min read

In the Introdcution to "They Say/I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, Cathy Birkenstein and Gerald Graff provide templates designed to guide writers to express their ideas and responses in a clear and organized manner. Specifically, Birkenstein and Graff argue that the types of writing templates they offer help writers listen to others' arguments and engage with them in shared meaning making. As the authors themselves put it, templates "have the potential to jog us out of our comfort zones, to get us thinking critically about our own beliefs, and perhaps even to change our minds." Although some people believe that templates can stiffle critical thinking and imagination, Birkenstein and Graff insit that using templates merely guides writers in how to say what they want to say; without dictating or limiting their content.

I mostly agree with the authors. In my view, the types of templates that the authors recommend serve as excellent guides. For instance, this blog post uses a template that appears on p. 15. I have mostly adhered to the template, but I have modified it when I felt it was appropriate. In addition, following this template has challenged me to summarize the authors' ideas, ensuring that I understand them more deeply. Some might object, of course, on the grounds that my understanding is still based on my own worldview and unique perspective. Yet I would encourage those who question my experience to also use this template to see how they experience the the process for themselves.

Overall then, I believe that templates might help me more effectively respond to others, consider multiple perspectives, develop arguments, and support my own ideas with evidence - an important point to make given that I am still developing my ability to enter into complex, multi-sided conversations with others.

What do you think?

 

Book Title: They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing

ISBN: 0393935841 (ISBN13: 9780393935844)

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How Can We Measure Learning?

1 min read

This video:  Educause Review Video: Why Is Measuring Learning So Difficult? helped me think about measuring the learning that happens in schools like the one I work at. In k-12 education, we tend to focus on grading and the assessment of learning to understand (hah! understanding can't be measured) how students are progressing.

As this video points out that there are so many complications surrounding learning. As some of the speakers mention, this is a complex task and so unique for every learner. We can't really understand learning or measure learning from a test, a portfolio, or even a conversation with a student. 

Learning is very context related and can be domain-specific. 

If we as educators, can't really measure learning because we can't get into our students' heads. How, then can we coach students to use metacognitive skills to measure and regulate their own learning? This isn't something that they will be able to do on their own, but we can help them with metacognitive strategies to really understand their own learning and help us understand it, too.

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Beyond Technocentrism

1 min read

In Beyond Technocentrism: Supporting Constructionism in the Classroom, Karen Brennan writes: "technology needs to be accompanied by a clear theory of learning, guiding the use of technology in the service of learning."

This way of thinking about constructionism and technocentrism makes sense to me. In my world, I'm used to seeing people center learning tasks around technology itself instead of using the tool to learn with. I am passionate about helping teachers use technology as a tool, but have struggled to help them understand the distinction between learning about the tool and learning with the tool. Helping teachers understand that the most important component of our educational system is its people and the culture (as Papert said), is important to me and this article contributed to my ability to do so.

In giving me the vocabulary to talk about technocentrism as it relates to tools and constructionism, this article helped me think about translating these ideas when working with teachers in learning environments. For me, this article highlighted the importance  importance of balance between tools and learning and "the interplay between matter and what matters" (p. 296).