This past week I researched connectivism as a learning theory. It was interesting reading George Siemens and Stephen Downes the gurus of connectivism. In short, connectivism believes that “learning is ubiquitous” and that in order to “learn you must connect to a network”(Siemens, 2004). In other words, “knowledge exists everywhere and can be accessed by the learner”. Learning about connectivism made me want to try to design a unit in my grade 6 technology class. After thinking about how connectivism would work in my class I decided to use a slice of connectivism (meaning make it a part of the unit not the entire way we learn throughout the unit) when teaching an upcoming unit on basic programming in grade 6 technology. I was not comfortable with only immersing grade 6 students in programing through only making connections and accessing the available knowledge on the web. I say “slice” because in actuality I’m providing students with a base knowledge of scratch. In the unit, students are introduced to the basics of programming with Scratch which is a programming language developed by MIT. When first designing this unit I thought using a flipped classroom model would be effective to differentiate the differing starting points of programming for each student. After my pre-assessment activity I realized that only two students in each class had played with Scratch. “Played” meaning in this experience that they had experimented with it by adding three or four blocks to make the Scratch cat move or change color. I used these students to model to the class what they knew and then I modeled to the class other basic functions of Scratch. The format of modeling was showing two or three specific functions and then giving students time to try out and explore and create something using the specific functions. They then shared their progress with others in small groups. After two lessons on the basics, students shared how they used the basic functions with the class. This shows students and me (the teacher) what they understand and what they need to build on.
The next steps are where connectivism or rather somewhat controlled connectivism comes in to play. Students were encouraged and given time to explore the various projects in Scratch (there are many demo projects to learn from ranging from basic movement to space invader style games). The idea is students find projects they are interested in and learn from looking at the specific programming scripts of different projects. In addition to the scratch demo projects included in the Scratch program, students were also introduce and encouraged to explore the Scratch website, which includes the entire Scratch community with loads of Scratch projects to watch, play, learn, download and modify. It’s a place where people have uploaded their scratch projects to share with the community so others can learn from them. I’ve set specific guidelines for our scratch project based on including certain control structures and elements to the project. Students will create a project that tells a story. Every project will be very different and depend on what the students are interested in. If a student is interested in making a game then their story will somehow be told through a gaming experience. This project will give students a basis for using Scratch to learn a programming language and provide many cross-curricular projects in the future. I could have choosen many other programing languages like Alice or Squeak but the Scratch Community and ease of use to teach computation is perfect for grade 6 students.
My reasons for specifically teaching students the basics and then allowing them to move beyond the basics by learning from the plethora of Scratch projects in Scratch and on the Scratch website are based on keeping students excited about Scratch. My worry has been that if I use the flipped classroom model to teach students the basics of Scratch they may give up or become frustrated. This could be a good thing and bring on more targeted teaching of certain basic Scratch functions. In the future, I would like to try to incorporate flipped classroom to see if it changes the excitement around working in Scratch and better targets areas that students need more specific teaching on within learning Scratch.
Punya Mishra said “technology should not drive pedagogy, or “technology is just a tool, a means to an end, not the end itself”. I agree with these statements. Scratch is used to teach students “mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively”. There are a number of ways to teach mathematical and computational ideas. I could have designed a project with physical blocks to do that though that would not have considered what I learned from the TPACK framework nor would it have reflected relevant learning in 2012. “Technology should not drive pedegogy” and this not the case. The truth be told, using technology to teach programming is better. Using Scratch is better than using physical blocks. Students can program better, they can build reasoning better, and they can learn new ideas from others all over the world and in time share their projects with the world. This is better.