My two “things-I-teach” have always been Math and Info Tech / Computer Science / Digital Media / whatever-else-you-want-to-call-it. The community of math teachers online have stretched my teaching, my philosophy, my pedagogy (whatever that means) and also just been a lot of fun. As such, that’s often what I’ve been trying to blog about here as well – giving a little back to the people who helped ease me into this job.
Plus, the challenge of teaching math is a huge one. Take a subject that’s not just the most abstract one around, but is in fact about abstraction itself, and try to present it to kids whose brains are only just growing the ability to deal with abstractions. Face kids’ math anxiety from years of past “failures” due to timed drills, being behind the curve, or just accepting the message of “not being good at math”. Stare down that 48ton gorilla and try to help them understand trig functions anyway.
So as a learning challenge for me, math teaching taken a lot of my focus. But I’ve had a soft spot in the back of my mind for letting kids play on computers. “Here, kid, make something cool in Photoshop. Yes, we’re going to call it work, but shhhhh we all know better.” I’ve been fortunate enough to get to hit both of these subjects in my career right from my practicum onwards, including one block of IT10 last year.
There are kids who struggle to understand layers, or get lost when trying to use control constructs in Alice, or don’t feel comfortable with their ability to build Lego robots. But honestly, Info Tech classes have always felt like a break compared to a room full of math-phobic grade 10’s. This is especially ironic because it’s not like I’ve ever had much time to sit still in Info Tech classes – there’s always someone unsure how to do something, or something glitching out to debug, etc. But I haven’t sweated over how to keep a room full of kids engaged.
This year, I’m not sure if I just got an early Christmas present or if I’m hitting a new level of challenge-mode teaching.
I just got hired a couple of weeks ago as a just-over-half-time Digital Media Arts teacher at a middle school. This is simultaneously exactly-what-I-dreamed-of, and totally a different world. I’ve never taught for more than a month or so at the middle school level, and never taught a full course of Digital Media to this age group. Plus, there is no prior Digital Media program here – I am it, and I get to invent it.
I started off with a ‘short list’ of things worth learning to do that I might be able to do with the kids. Then I quickly realized that I only see these kids for about 30 hrs per group, and my ‘short list’ started getting a LOT shorter. From talking with other Explorations (“Explo”) teachers I found out that it’s pretty normal to just stick with one topic of focus per grade and only get through somewhere around two or three major projects completed.
My super-short-list now includes:
- learning some basics in Office-type apps
- Photoshop Elements
- interactive storytelling (maybe leading into game design) via Scratch
Now, I had a longer list of “creative” skills in there before – video work, maybe sound? Web publishing via something like WordPress? Adding Scratch in there was something I felt like I was sneaking in, sort of a pet project that I would let slide in under the radar along with the other stuff.
But then I kept hearing from other Explo teachers – this is where you get to teach what you love, what you’re passionate about. Pick something you know well and bring that to the kids.
So it looks like Scratch is coming out from under the radar and possibly becoming my main focus for Grade 6’s once we’re done with this Office-y stuff. And I don’t know why I felt like I had to quietly tuck this in. Scratch lets them create animations with cartoons characters. It lets them make basic interactive games. So they’re going to have a blast, and along the way pick up a foundation in computational thinking. I don’t think anyone’s going to object here.
I’m not sure where this is all going to end up or how permanent this role will be. But it’s kind of weird how it’s bringing this blog full-circle back to my early pre-teaching ramblings on game design. I’d imagined settling into a school teaching some standard courses and then maybe starting up a little after-school game design / development club for students. Now it looks like I might not need to, because I could bring it to kids in the classroom.