As part of a volunteer self guided professional development initiative, a small group of teachers from across grade levels and subjects at my school (International School Aberdeen) have been exploring Computational Thinking (CT) as a way to help students break down problems and design solutions. We even have a monthly podcast surrounding these issues that you can tune into. A colleague in that group shared this article which examined the difference between a product criteria and a process criteria. The points the article makes has various parallels with the idea of CT where the process is the focus for success rather than the final outcome. The highlight of the article was how students helped in coming up with the success criteria which was specific enough for the product but generic enough for the process to be transferable.
Context first. Content later.
One of the first things I did was introduce the context of what we were creating. I came across this idea on social media of creating magazine covers for a post-pandemic world. It felt like the ideal topic since even though we are not a visual arts class, we were working with a visual tool that had elements that could be used to recreate/adapt the same idea. So, the first couple of lessons were spent on slicing and dicing this topic with the leading question : What would a post-pandemic edition magazine cover look like?
The students made an understandably slow start with this as they had to clarify the important key words in that statement first : post-pandemic world, magazine cover, look like.
We started off with CT’s first step: decomposition. Students got into pairs and came up with a list of things any magazine cover would typically have. These included:
- Magazine title
- Magazine theme (what kind of magazine is it?)
- Issue number
- Date of publication
- Location where it was published
- A main photograph or visual. Showcase article.
- Small/big article hooks (small brief titles of important articles inside)
- Bar code of some kind.
- Ads/Coupon etc information
- Balance of images and text
The next step was to connect the theme of a post-pandemic world to this. That investigation gave us the following pointers:
- What will most likely to remain post-pandemic/Covid?
- What will most likely go?
- Which field/area should the magazine be set in?
- How has Covid impacted that field/area right now?
Connecting context to content.
Once the students had some rough idea of what was being expected, they then began thinking of how their programming unit relates to this context. Now they were in a position to do some pattern recognition which looked for similarities and differences between the elements. The list that surfaced as a result of that discussion was:
- Text pieces needed for : Magazine title, issue/date/location, article hooks/ads, credits etc.
- Visual pieces needed for : Main article image, shapes (animated/static), patterns, etc.
- Audio/Interactivity needed for: A background clip that goes with the theme/magazine type, links to articles online that directly relate with this theme etc.
Once they reached this stage, a success criteria was taking shape. They were now connecting the theme to the skills they were learning in the unit. This meant a) they were expected to demonstrate knowledge of the different coding structures we had worked with and b) they were required to connect that knowledge with the idea of a post-pandemic world magazine cover.
The success criteria, created as a result of this process, looked something like this. The main pointers for what was required in the final product was deliberately a bit generic so that students could be a bit more creative with what they were making. Given the wide range of possibilities of both context and content, this was a good way to keep them exploring options.
Given below are some examples of student work that came out of this process. Each student chose a different sub-theme (magazine kind) within the main theme (post-pandemic world) and created a version that was a direct result of the success criteria they had helped co-create. One student even composed her own guitar tunes and embedded them into her work. Please use the arrows in the slideshow below to go through them.
Takeaways from the process.
Student voice can be fascinating when included in the success criteria construction. Their young developing mind sees things we adults can sometimes totally overlook. During the decomposition stage, some of the elements that appeared on the list, such as how many words in the magazine title would typically not have been something I would have thought about. To see them engage with the content at such specific level was refreshing. This process, of course, was not without challenges. Teething problems existed in getting some of the students on the same page with the expectations and also guiding them in how to examine existing magazine covers and apply abstraction as a way to choose what is important. If such a skill of noticing existing work and wondering how about how that can be adapted/replicated/inspired into something original is perhaps the biggest transferable skill.