Paul Rayner Uses Authentic Problems for Authentic Learning
“Suddenly the most simple math problems can be really deep learning experiences within Tynker when you have to embed them in code.”
|Diocese of Rockhampton|
|Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia|
A large part of Paul’s role is helping teachers feel capable of teaching computer science. When teachers were first required to teach computer science, Paul explains that they needed support: “They needed to see that this was not some university-level stuff that we were doing.” Paul often models for teachers how to teach computing, and in doing so often puts them at ease as they realize it’s something they can also do.
Tynker has been a great resource for teachers as they’ve taught computer science: Schools in the diocese use a variety of devices, from iPads to laptops running Windows, and Tynker is compatible with all those devices. This uniform adoption helps when teachers need assistance because there are many people they can collaborate with who are all using the same coding platform.
Students benefit as Paul encourages them to use computing as a problem-solving tool. Paul recalls an instance where a student who didn’t generally shine academically had the chance to show her problem-solving skills:
“The problem I had given [students] was to represent a relatively small number, I think 100, where they’re using text or numbers. I was hoping that they would use dots or pen marks to represent that number in an array. So, they had to work through sequence and iteration to put 100 dots on a screen in 10 by 10 rows.” Paul remembers that the students struggled with this task, which called for some problem-solving strategies, like acting out the problem.
And then it happened: “One girl got it pretty early. And so I said, ‘Why don’t you see if you can represent a million.’ And almost by the time I’d turned around and gone off to help some others, she’d taken that small instance into a fairly large example of the power of computing, that we can easily upscale it to do all sorts of things.” This is an example of how Computer Science can engage kids with different learning styles and abilities: “That’s what we’re doing with Digital Technologies. It’s often an opportunity for kids who don’t normally shine, who perhaps think in a different kind of way, to really show others what they’ve got.”
We asked Paul about the role of computer science in preparing students for the future. Queensland’s economy is largely based on agriculture and mining, which Paul says doesn’t deter him from thinking that programming is a useful skill for students to learn: “I don’t see what we’re doing in the primary schools as being about developing programmers for the future. Only about a handful of those kids are going to go on to be a programmer. To me, the core of what we need to be doing is to develop those skills of problem-solving and those dispositions like grit, resilience, and persistence, so they can go out and be great at whatever they do.”
When it comes to career choices, those may change as time goes on; a large part of what teachers are doing now is to simply give students options for the future: “If we give them the exposure, who knows what careers these kids are going to go into in 5 or 10 years. But if we’ve done a good job with some stuff in the digital technologies arena, kids can go, ‘I remember doing some of that stuff in primary school, let’s see if I can work with it and solve the problem.’ That might not happen, but they’ll still have some problem-solving skills in whatever they choose to go into.”
For Paul, it’s vital that students have authentic learning experiences. That’s why he feels that pairing coding with math is a great fit: “I see the natural integration for Tynker to be within maths. Suddenly the most simple math problems can be really deep learning experiences within Tynker when you have to embed them in code.” He also uses physical computing to help students learn more about how programming works: “I use the Spheros and the Parrot drones, and I see a lot of benefit to those, because any real-life stuff is going to be pretty engaging.”
Paul stresses the value of computational thinking while working with students, and sees Tynker as a way to help reinforce this problem-solving framework: “For me it’s that computational thinking, that decomposition, the pattern recognition, abstraction, and the algorithms. Those four areas of computational thinking. That’s where I think Tynker comes to the fore.”
Not surprisingly, Paul feels that a theme of his career has been helping students learn computation in meaningful ways—something that all teachers should try to do! As Paul puts it, “Try to get kids to engage with whatever they’re doing and to do that in an authentic way, whether it’s something in STEM where you’re posing an authentic problem or an authentic problem in Tynker that they can go through and solve. If we can make it real, then there’s a good chance kids will see the value in it.”
We’re excited that there are teachers like Paul Rayner who are helping teachers and students better understand computer science!
Read our previous article about how students in Zimbabwe are learning to code as part of the International Institute of Junior Coders and Engineers!