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Day 9: Jonathan Kung, Teacher (Delview)

September 17, 2012

I had this guilty feeling one day while teaching a senior InfoTech class.

The students were learning some computer programming and two students in particular did not seem overly excited.  Actually, I probably have this guilty feeling all day, every day, but this time I had an idea.  I had seen the two students, Sean and Owen, earlier with their mobile phones, talking about specifications and things they could do with those devices.  During a programming activity, I walked over to them and asked whether or not they had ever programmed an app for their phones.  Owen showed me a simple program he made for the quadratic formula in Math class.  It was crude, but absolutely worked.

Right then, it dawned on me that this was the perfect opportunity to have my students create something that was both relevant, fun, and would allow them to meet and exceed the requirements for the course.  Most of all, it was the perfect way to break down the classroom walls and get something that they created out to the rest of the world!

So began our experiment with app design.

I had never designed apps myself, but that didn’t matter because I felt that my job was not to be the expert programmer, but rather to help guide the project and find them the resources they needed to make their first app.  It was an eye-opening experience and an uncomfortable one at first as I had to let go of certain structures in the classroom and in assignments that the students and I were used to.  Sometimes you only learn when you put yourself in uncomfortable situations and that was the case for me and hopefully for my students as well.

The two students spent the next few months learning and doing market research, storyboarding, learning how to access all the phone’s features to use in their game, and also learning more about programming and about the business of apps than if they had gone through what I had planned for them.  They mostly worked on their own and only reported to me on their progress by occasionally meeting with me to get my input on their plans.  They set their goals and took on the challenge of creating a published game and learned everything they needed to make it a reality.  What better way to learn than that?

For assessment, I did have several rubrics throughout the semester for their market research, their planning documents, their storyboards, and for their finished product.  However, for them the important feedback came from the gaming community who informed them on their likes and dislikes and what they would like to see in the future through comments on their market website.  It is this instant feedback that keeps them going back and improving their app, honing their programming skills, and learning how to deal with the many issues that arise, not just with technology, but with the people who install their game.

The only disclaimer after going through this would be that in this case, the students were already keen to do this and it may not work with any student.  However, what I realized from this is that I would certainly strive for this model of teaching whenever possible from small activities, to long-term projects such as this.  It would be most ideal to design learning around reaching a certain goal or to solve a certain problem.  This is the stuff of “Backwards Design” (Wiggins and McTighe) and “Inquiry Based Learning”, which I am continuing to explore as I learn more as a teacher.

The best part of all is that Owen and Sean’s hard work doesn’t just live and die in the classroom.  It is not just another project that I post on the wall or an assignment that the students take home and stow away, but rather it is published for the entire world to see and play and evaluate and discuss.  It is something that is now out of my hands (and probably never was) and is something that Owen and Sean will continually improve over time.

Owen and Sean’s app may be found here (you need an Android phone to run it – get it while it’s still free!): Awesome Space Shooter 9000
This is a review that one user wrote on a blog: Android Game Review

Jonathan Kung has been a teacher at Delview Secondary School for 9 years now.  He teaches Grade 9 Science and InfoTech 8-12.  You can follow him on Twitter (@coolpuddytat).

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2012 3:09 am

    Jon, thanks so much for sharing this post! What I love most is the game review on the linked blog. I think it’s an amazing example of authentic assessment – students are getting authentic feedback from an expert out in the field! You should be so pleased with both the project and this post!

  2. September 18, 2012 11:06 pm

    Hi there! I think what you did with these students was very cool. Learning through doing has been the best way to learn anything since we started trying; it seems to be applied to practice less and less these days.
    I apologize that my review of the application has some potty language in it, but I will not edit it (I never claimed to be a saint) – so if you can just kinda look past it, that’d be great… I meant it all purely as constructive criticism.

    • September 19, 2012 4:41 am

      My students and I really appreciated your review of their app and the important feedback you provided which will help them improve their game (which they are now doing). BTW I hear all sorts of potty language all day long and I do spend time helping students speak properly and respectfully to each other, but I had no problems with your post or any blog post for that matter. I could spend hours on Urban Dictionary but I won’t because it was the content that mattered. Thanks for being candid!

  3. October 19, 2012 5:10 pm

    Such an outstanding example of authentic learning! No wonder your students were so engaged in their learning!

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