Last year at Saint Maur, the Technology Department decided that, starting in the 2012 – 2013 school year, we would offer the IGCSE Computer Studies course to grades 9 and 10 instead of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) course – the course we were offering at the time.
In the ICT course, students learn to manipulate a typical office suite (i.e. word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, web design and database software.) We were finding, however, that students taking the course at Saint Maur already possessed half, if not all of these skills. We needed to find a more challenging technology curriculum for grades 9 and 10.
In addition to this, we’ve noticed a real interest in computer programming from the students who frequent the Mac Lab everyday and computer programming simply can’t be learnt through the ICT course.
The Computer Studies course is quite different to ICT in that it doesn’t prescribe a particular type of software that needs to be mastered. Rather, it places emphasis on the Systems Design Cycle (some times referred to as simply the Design Cycle) and leaves it up to the individual classrooms to decide the software or programming languages they will learn.
This year, we will be teaching Computer Studies through a number of software development projects using the Java-based Greenfoot development environment. (If you are interested in finding out more about Greenfoot, start by visiting the official website at www.greenfoot.org.) We are all very excited here in the Technology Department at the prospect of students developing their own games and simulations.
For my course one project, I designed a unit on computer systems which is currently being implemented in my grade 9 ICT class. The unit employs the same learning model as the one we use in COETAIL:
1. A learning plan is shared with the students through Google Docs. For the computer systems unit, I have made four learning plans. The students are given two weeks for each one.
2. They do the readings outlined in the learning plan. Sometimes I include links to videos that are related to the theme for that week. I want the students to have options on what they write about while staying within the theme.
3. They blog a reflection on the readings. The reflection is given a direction by a question that is asked in the learning plan. The question sets the theme mentioned above.
4. The students write a constructive comment on a blog post written by one of their peers. They have new posts written by their peers delivered to them via Google Reader. I emphasise to the students that blog comments should be constructive, that if the blog post is the first layer of bricks in a wall then the comments are all the layers of bricks on top.
5. They input the links to their comments into a Google Docs spreadsheet and share this spreadsheet with their instructor. This step is important for two reasons. First, I find that students give more thought to their comments, knowing that their links must go into a spreadsheet that I can see. Also, it shows me that students are reading the blogs of their peers.
The cycle then repeats itself.
In my grade 10 ICT class, we are employing this same model to learn about the effects of technology on society. In the first round of blogging after the Christmas break, I would like the grade 10 students to comment on the grade 9 blogs and vice versa. For the grade tens, this will consolidate their understanding of computer systems – something they learnt about many months ago. For the grade nines, this will serve as a preview for what they will learn about next year.