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Programming case study: Encouraging cross-disciplinary projects

To give fellow teachers an idea for how they can teach our curriculum in a classroom setting, we are creating case studies. Here's one case study of how teacher Ellen Reller uses our curriculum in her classroom in Lowell High School in California.
What classes are you using the Khan Academy programming platform for?
I have two programming classes this semester. One has 32 students (10 females, 22 males) and the other has 25 (16 females, 9 males). We meet every day for 40 minutes. Most of the students have computer(s) at home, but may not have access it because it's shared with other family members, so for many of them, this is the only time they have to code. Additionally, since this is an elective class, they may not make much time to code at home because of the demands of their other classes.
What curriculum are you teaching?
At the beginning, I taught the traditional way, using Powerpoint presentations, and then asked students to use Khan to create the programs. Soon in, I started using Khan in addition to those Powerpoints, to show students what they could do by demonstrating it in my own programs.
Then I gave the first assignment, a set of 6 progressively harder drawings, and gave students 2 weeks to work on them. As I'd walk around the room, I would pay close attention to their questions, and I would tailor the next lessons I gave around those questions. I keep those lessons to less than 10 minutes at the beginning of each class, to give students a lot of time to work on their programs. I try to teach with programs that they can re-use, adapt, and change as they learn more.
At the start of the 3rd week we started animation, and that's when I started playing the Khan Academy talk-throughs directly. Students had very good reactions to them. I spend a lot of time walking around the class to see what the kids are doing and being there if they need help or ideas.
Because this was the first semester that our school is using Khan Academy for CS, I almost felt like using the pre-made curriculum was like cheating or something -- the teacher who taught the course before me had designed all of his own curriculum and I felt like I should do the same. Then I started thinking about how I teach other classes from text books that I didn't write and how similar Khan CS lessons were like that. That let me relax a lot.
Now, I spend much of my time thinking about how to bring out the power of us all coming together in the same room to learn to program. The students naturally ask each other a lot of questions, bounce ideas off each other, and help each other debug their code. After the assignments are due, the students share their programs with the whole class, and that's a lot of fun. One of the things that we plan to try soon is pair programming, as an additional form of interaction.
What are some cool assignments you've done?
Having taken many art classes that involve learning a skill as well as using a creative process, I knew that developing good assignments would be key to getting students to jump right in. I didnt want to restrict the students who already had ideas of what they wanted to do and I didn't want to intimidate students who didn't have any ideas where to start. I combined ideas from Khan with some of my own -- and this collection produced some fun results and really developed their design and drawing skills -- I'm pleased at how fast the students can code drawings and are able to think a project out in their heads and then start coding.
For drawing, our mini-assignments for the first two weeks were: Olympic Rings, Animal, Landscape (flowers, mountains, city…), Self Portrait, Abstract Design. For the bigger drawing assignment after those, students had to choose a book they had read in an English class at Lowell and without using any text, create a book cover for it. We had a lot of fun together, guessing what each book was!
For animation, students did the official Khan projects, Public Transportation and Design an Ad, and enjoyed both of them very much.
Check out a montage of those assignments below:
Montage of book covers assignment

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