Last year, I had the privilege of being the ICT teacher at a P-6 primary school. The school is in a low socio-economic area of town and not many students would have a computer at home. I started in the second week of the term and was handed the school’s bee bot backpack containing information on various different approaches to using them. Over the past few years of studying the best practices of teaching student ICT capability, I decided that this was a great opportunity to ‘practice what I preach’. In this article, I will reflect on this and share my experiences and advice with you so that you too can maximise student capabilities in your classroom.
Coding is a great way for students to learn how to be innovative and bee bots is fantastic in giving them a good start to this. It has applications throughout the entire curriculum and there are now more advanced versions of them for older students. Whilst I did not disregard the bag of information I had at my disposal the methodology that I implemented proved to be effective in determining initial student capabilities. My aim was to determine this first to see what they know and then once they had proven that they can operate bee bots sufficiently then we were to move onto the other activities in the bag. Later, I realised just how good decision this was as – meaning no disrespect to their former teacher – they had done bee bot work in the previous term but had not really developed good capabilities.
To begin, it was always best to ascertain if the students could program a bee bot to make simple shapes and my choice was a square and a rectangle. More complex shapes were then added onto their list as they progressed.
Now the question is “did I give them the instructions to make a shape?” The answer to this would be no. Giving students instructions would not help them develop their higher order thinking skills. In order to get the process started, I always began the lesson in a whole class discussion. It was best then to point out the different directional buttons and demonstrate what I would do. For example, I would think out loud for the students to hear my thought processes and say “I am going press this button to move forward” and “I am going to press this button to turn right”. By doing this, I hope that the students would be able to follow my example. During this as well, I would also probe into their thinking and ask them the why, when, how, where questions.
My next step was to divide the students into groups of manageable sizes (this approach does work best when you have adult help). Students were instructed to practice making squares or the shapes they were working on at the time. Research has indicated that Whole-class or group discussions is the best way to teach ICT capability. The process was then carried out in front of the smaller groups.
The process of teaching ICT capability in a whole-class or group discussion also serves as a great way to assess student capabilities. After I had demonstrated both my actions and thought process to the students it was then necessary to ask them to do the same. It was essential that they were able to indicate to me that they were following my example. To assess students, I needed to know if they were able to perform a technique after having seen a whole-class or group demonstration. Initially, they needed some support in the form of a reminder. However, if the student continued to need this kind of support, then my assessment would be that he or she was not making adequate progress and I would then try to find out why. For this purpose, I created a checklist.
The teaching of ICT techniques is something that most teachers would be familiar with but to develop ICT capable students, they need to go beyond just learning a particular technique or skill. Being able to assess techniques was a relatively easy thing to do. I used this approach because it best suited my needs. However, depending on what you are assessing you can use a coding system of your own choice.
In relation to the techniques, it was necessary to determine how they were carried out. For example, was the student hesitant, steady or fluent in creating the shape. What this enabled me to do was to plan opportunities for the student to move from hesitant to fluent in the technique. Along the way I take note of any mistakes or misconceptions the student would show.
The development of student ICT capability cannot be achieved without the use of higher order skills by the students. It was therefore, significant that I judge the decisions the students would make in order to create the finished product and in this case it was simple shapes. In addition, I assessed their higher order skills by the extent to which scaffolding was necessary. For example, I wanted to know if a student was able to make decisions about which button to press to move forward, turn right or left and how many times would the button be pressed.
Throughout the ICT lesson it was important that I also determine other things such as the students’ attitude to ICT, whether they were confident, or if they dominated the group activities or were they reticent?
In conclusion, I found the above method to be very efficient and effective in determining their ICT capability (their ability to use bee bots). Most students did make good progress with the older students doing better than the lower junior classes. It should also be noted that it took some students a number of times to move on. As a suggestion for you to use, it might be better to include other areas in the checklist to use if you have time for further teaching. For example, include a section to record the dates students moved on from being steady to fluent. So this was my approach and you may have used something similar yourself. The development of student ICT capability is a crucial part of primary education and teachers in this sector need to integrate technology like bee bots in an efficient way in order to fulfil the curriculum requirements. Feel free to let me your thoughts on this article.
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