Tag Archives: ICS Addis

Sheer Joy

There is no greater reward for a teacher than when a class of students is enthusiastically engaged in learning and expresses delight in what they are doing. When it comes in the last class on Friday, it’s even sweeter!

This is awesome!

It’s so cool!

I want to do this all day long!

These were the comments from my students at the end of the day and week as they reluctantly packed up their laptops and headed out of the door towards home. They had been thoroughly engaged, both mentally and emotionally, and the energy in the room was amazing.

The Computer Programming class at ICS has grown over the years from around 6 students to now 23 students learning the basics of programming. We’ve used various tools and techniques to teach programming, but we’ve settled on using Processing as an introduction to Java and object-oriented programming (and hence a good introduction to the IB Diploma Computer Science course) …but it is also engaging and appealing to a broad range of students.

In Friday’s class, students were building their first program. They had explored Processing and seen what kinds of things could be built. They’d looked at the code – a mess of {s and ;s and weird words like void and println. Now it was time to dig in and get started.

It was a wild ride. I wish I’d had the time or presence of mind to take photos and videos, but I was too busy bouncing between presenting programming basics to the whole class (what on Earth are those { } for??), helping individuals trouble-shoot, high-fiving kids who were eager to show what they’d done, etc. Every single student had a huge smile on their face and were eagerly sharing with their tablemates what they were doing & asking what the others were doing.

It is that kind of experience which teachers live for.

processingI’m lucky that I teach a practical, engaging course like computer programming. Students are creating new things and actively engaged in learning. They get to immediately practice and implement what they are taught and get immediate feedback when it works (or doesn’t). Sure, there’s a fun element to it (and Processing makes programming fun from the start), but the main thing is the success. They write some code, click “run” and immediately the computer does what they tell it. Their code creates an image on the screen as they imagined. Or it doesn’t, and they have to figure out what they need to do to make it work they way they want. Click “run” again – instant feedback.

My favourite times were when students would ask me, “what would happen if I did ______ instead?” I got to smile broadly and say, “Don’t wait for me to tell you. Try it out!” The students were experimenting and trying things out – a real inquiry activity. I had to give them enough information to make sure they got working programs, but they could alter the data and order of commands to make different programs. As I said to them, “The worst thing that will happen is you’ll get an error message and you’ll need to either fix it or change it to something else.”

If only teaching was like this every day. The reality is that this kind of energetic and energizing lesson is a rare treat. Teaching is one of the most demanding, emotionally draining and stressful jobs around. It’s seriously hard work. (And deadly serious work!)

But when a lesson goes like this, a teacher is on top of the world.

Girls Can!

3doodling“This was great. We should do more of these!”

Over a dozen MS and HS girls came to the ICS Makerspace/Robotics Lab on Saturday for a special girls-only technology session. They designed things, collaborated in teams, taught themselves new skills, faced problems and figured out how to overcome them, made things and had a great time! By the end of the day, every girl went home with something that they had designed and made using high-tech tools. If they had arrived with any doubts that they were capable of high-tech success, by the end of the day they knew that Girls Can!

Why a girls-only event? It’s easy to say that such functions should be open to everybody, but the world of technology is generally dominated by males and ICS is no different. Plenty of boys eagerly join the robotics team, sign up for programming classes, and spend time making and building with technology. Girls are under-represented and we recognize that they might need a little more encouragement to explore and learn with technology …and a girls-only session is a safe spot for them to learn and experiment.

measuringWe had a good mix of girls join us on Saturday, ranging from grade 6 to grade 12. (We even had a couple of elementary school visitors!) We started out with a general orientation to the tools available to the girls, and an explanation of some of the types of projects that they could take on. Some of the girls tried their hands at lots of tools – building robots, printing and cutting designs. Others had specific ideas for a project they wanted to do and stuck with it.

A special guest, Gillian Brewin, joined us and talked about her work with women and technology as well as the work her daughter, Danielle (who graduated from ICS in 2005), is doing: running a start-up workshop to encourage women to explore and use technology in their work.

ada-lovelace-day_indie-event_whiteThis event was also an independent event organized under the umbrella of Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of Lady Ada Lovelace, who in the 1800’s was the first computer programmer. We explained her story to the girls and invited them to read a brief biography of her, as well as a charming (mostly accurate) cartoon about her by Sydney Padua. (Read her book, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, which is in the library.)

It was a great day of learning and exploring!

Here are some photos from the day:

roboticsbuilding robots changingfilamentchanging filament on the 3D printer
3d_designinglearning to build 3D designs computerfiguring out the software preferences
3doodling2doodling with 3D pens cuttingworking with the vinyl cutter
luncha welcome break! teamworkteamwork!
talkan inspiring talk by Gillian lasercuttingwatching the lasercutter cut with a laser (duh!)

 

Cross-posted from my school blog.

 

Full STEAM ahead with Grade 10 students

img_3747“A chance to work on an activity required one to use their hands to build physical objects as opposed to writing or typing.”

There certainly was a buzz of excitement and energy around the SEC on Monday and Tuesday as the entire Grade 10 class worked in small groups on a variety of projects embodying STEAM concepts.

What’s STEAM? There’s been a push in many schools to focus on STEM subjects: that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Those are all important areas of study, particularly for our technology-infused world. But it just doesn’t show off human creativity and ingenuity, so if you add in Art you get STEAM.

Sometimes these areas are addressed by schools as separate subjects, with specific courses. Other times they’re worked into special projects or activities. At ICS, we’ve built in some days off-timetable where the regular class rotation doesn’t happen but students can work on other important projects that don’t quite fit into the class structure. Grade 10 students were given the chance to work on different projects integrating different areas of the STEAM subjects, focusing on group work and hands-on learning, while also following the Engineering Design Process.

img_3660“It was a nice break from the regular schedule, and I enjoyed being able to work on the same thing for more than an hour or so in groups but mostly independently from the teachers. I like how we weren’t doing a project for a grade but just to learn and have fun.”

The students formed themselves into groups of four and then chose a project to work on for the two days. There were six choices, covering topics from Biology to Mathematics to Sculpture to Geography. Each project was designed to be an open-ended challenge, requiring the students to investigate and plan, design and build a prototype and test it out. Some groups quickly came up with a solution while others had to go through a number of different versions until they got one that they thought fit their criteria.

“When we had to think as a group and come up with a solution to purify the water, it made us think and it was fun coming up with different ideas and trying to make them work.”

Integrated STEAM Projects:

img_3576Purification of water was one of the projects. Starting with the problem of polluted water which affects communities around the world, the challenge was issued to the students to develop a method for filtering that water to produce clean water which could be drunk. The students had to research water pollution and filtration and purification methods. They experimented with different filters, including sand and charcoal, and tested out the results. They worked on methods of distillation and condensation, learning about how to remove dissolved impurities. They worked with limited resources, being creative with how to accomplish their tasks with simple materials rather than complex manufactured supplies. In the end, the students spoke about their experiences with different prototypes and how they had to adjust their methods after getting unsatisfactory results. This is exactly how engineers work!

img_3730Another project with a water focus was the construction of a Tippy-Tap hand washing station. The students started with the problem of how poor hygiene can spread disease and how easy access to hand-washing stations can improve hygiene. Students investigated the problem and different designs of the tippy-tap station. They came up with different designs that would work locally (with the plan to install one example on the school campus), and found easily-available materials to work with. Each group built a station and tested out their work themselves and by teachers and other students who needed to wash their hands! Problems arose (muddy ground, difficulty in refilling, etc.) and solutions were worked out. In addition to materials and techniques, students found the group planning, building and testing process an interesting and valuable experience.

img_3755A few projects had Art as a key component, including a study of the cuttlefish’s adaptive abilities and a representation of those abilities in 3D artwork. Students learned about cephalopod adaptation through videos (such as this one about the octopus) and looked at the artwork of artist Ryuta Nakajima who uses the cuttlefish as a motif in his work. Students experimented with materials and designs to try to represent a cuttlefish or octopus in terms of its adaptation to its environment. Students discussed different concepts and ideas on how to easily display the fluid nature of cephalopod adaptation in a static artwork, and worked together to create something that was both representative and creative. Students came up with some pretty ingenious work considering their limited time and restricted access to materials!

img_3790Another project which included a clear Art focus was centered around the work of Alexander Calder, using Mathematics to create a balanced mobile artwork. Students discussed forces and balance, looked at Calder’s mobile and stationary work, tried different materials, and worked on ways to balance objects and represent the mathematical and physical concepts at work in the art. One group even developed a battery-powered magnet to test and demonstrate the effect of a consistent force on their mobile.

img_3741croppedStudents who were interested in Mathematics and Geography, chose a project in which they used the technique of an ancient Greek astronomer from Egypt, Eratosthenes, to measure the circumference of the Earth. Students had to research his technique and adapt it to our locale. They also had to get a measurement from another location other than Addis Ababa. Fortunately, we had a willing collaborator from Ghana, Andy Richardson, who got some of his 8th grade students at Lincoln Community School in Accra to take measurements. Using their measurements along with those we got in Addis, our students were able to make reasonably accurate (considering the tools we had available) measurement of the size of the Earth. In the process, our students learned not only concepts and skills related to math, astronomy, and geography, they also learned about accuracy in measurement and how small rounding errors can lead to big differences in real-life calculations.

img_3608Finally, for those students who wanted a more straightforward engineering task, they had a project to build a “robot” basketball player. With our limited time, they had to forego using our programmable mechanical robotics sets – but they were all invited to join in our robotics After-School Activity! Instead, they had limited mechanical equipment with which to build a machine to deliver a ball into a basket. They explored forces, levers, materials and tested out different designs, working towards a machine that was accurate and precise.


 

All in all, it was a busy and exciting few days. Students enjoyed the change of pace from regular classes and found the projects worthwhile application of academic skills and knowledge to real-life problems.

“I really loved the project and I wish we had a full week of STEAM.”

Cross-posted from my school blog.

Open House in the Makerspace/Robotics Lab

IMG_3435Wow!!

It was universal: children and adults alike were impressed with the Open House we held on Saturday for our new Makerspace/Robotics Lab. The whole morning there was a buzz of laughter and enthusiastic calls of “look at this!” People were moving around the room, checking out what other people were doing and showing off their own work. Kids were building robots and other contraptions, parents were helping them out and taking photos, teachers were demonstrating how to make things with various pieces of equipment …and everybody was having a great time. Several parents and children expressed their hope that this would happen every weekend! Here are some of the things that were going on:

It was a terrific day! We’ll definitely be holding more Open House maker sessions!

This is cross-posted from my school blog.

Here Come the Robots

IMG_3301The ICS Robotics team is off and running for SY1617! We’ve received a shipment of new kits and extra parts, and our high school and middle school after-school activities are off and running.

The official ASA season doesn’t start until next week, but we had a “soft opening” of the new Makerspace/Robotics Lab in S021 on Thursday and Friday. HS and MS students were joined by a few ES students in opening up and trying out new equipment. There was a lot of laughter and excitement as they worked together to build robots.

Thanks to the successful launch of the ICS Annual Giving campaign last year, we have equipment for all grade levels. There’ll be plenty of opportunity for ICS students to learn to build and program robots no matter their age. For now this means in after-school activities, but we’re working on plans for scheduling the space during the school day and making the equipment available to different classes around the school.

There’ll be plenty more to report during the school year. Meanwhile, here are a few photos from our opening sessions:

IMG_3289 IMG_3332
IMG_3286

 

Cross-posted from my school blog.

DIY Learning Projects

gaming_JacobThis semester, we had a new High School course on offer for students: “Project X.” It was an experimental course of “DIY Learning,” where the students took control of their own learning. They chose a topic to learn about, planned their learning, and conducted their own research into the topic. The semester started with some teacher-led instruction of how to plan a learning experience, as well as how the brain works and how to study and learn new topics efficiently. The bulk of the semester had the students taking the lead, and so my role as “teacher” was to guide them and make sure they were on track, sticking to their plan, and making progress.

This week we had them present their learning to their classmates. It was a diverse range of subjects that they’d chosen to study. One studied astrophysics, while another studied graphic design and art using a graphics tablet. A few learned computer programming, and a few studied business plans and entrepreneurship. One learned computer game design, another studied how computers work and created a “visible computer” display showing the exposed components of a computer. The last presentation was by a student who studied international law, and she led the class in the enactment of a trial.

It was a fascinating experience, both for the teacher/facilitator, as well as for the students. We all learned a lot – not only about the subjects we studied but also about how we work and learn.

graphics_AbelAbel showing off art created on a graphic tablet. ExposedComputer_MoMohamed showing off his “visible computer.”
court_NubiaNubia presiding over a class trial. business_SebSeb making his elevator pitch.
Cross-posted from my school blog.

Computer Science in the IB Diploma Programme

A screenshot of a computer scientist from "Pathways in Computer Science" from University of Washington
A screenshot of a computer scientist from “Pathways in Computer Science” video from University of Washington ©

Over the past few years, we’ve been building more opportunities for students at ICS to learn aspects of Computer Science – programming, robotics, logical thinking, etc. As we’ve built those, we’ve had increased enrollment in our programming and computer science courses in the Middle and High Schools.

We’ve now reached a point where we think we can offer Computer Science within the IB Diploma programme. It will depend on whether or not we have sufficient numbers of students registering for the course, and we’ll be canvassing students in grades 9 and 10 to find out how many might take the course.

If we go ahead with this, students at ICS will be able to take Computer Science as part of their program of study – as a second Science (Group 4) choice. Most universities require Chemistry or Biology or Physics for entry, so Computer Science would be a second option. (The IB Diploma requires students to take courses in all of the first 5 groups. Instead of a Group 6 – Visual Arts – course, a student could take a second course from one of the first 4.)

Having this option will help any of our students who want to study Computer Science (or other computing fields), Engineering, Bio-tech or other technical subjects at university. It will also be beneficial to any student who is interested in using computers for analysis, development and creation. Computer Science and programming is increasingly becoming a highly valuable skill in all sorts of disciplines …even the Arts!

Any parents or students who want to learn more details about Computer Science in the IB Diploma Programme should look at the IB website, come to our IB information night on November 10th, or send me a message! I’ll be posting more about this course here on my blog, too!

Meanwhile, here’s a video I showed to the High School students to give them a more realistic idea of what Computer Science is all about:

Cross-posted from my school blog.

Children of Support Staff learn programming

africa-code-week-tagline-date-urlFor part of our Africa Code Week participation, we wanted to provide some opportunities for children other than our students to learn some programming skills. ICS students have many opportunities to learn programming skills: in classes, in after-school activities, on our robotics team and in various events we run through the year. Students in local schools don’t get the same kinds of opportunities.

Leulseged Assefa, our MS Computer Science teacher, decided to host a session on a Saturday morning for children of our school’s support staff. It was hugely popular: the session filled quickly and staff who missed the cut-off asked for additional sessions to be held! We had nearly 30 children, from ages 11 to 17, spend several hours on a Saturday morning learning to build games and animations using Scratch. A few ICS students helped out, answering questions and making suggestions.

The children were all excited to be learning new skills and using new tools, and many asked if they could come back the next Saturday! We’re working on plans to make this a regular outreach for the children of our support staff. We’d love to see Ethiopia’s answer to Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg come out of this group of enthusiastic children!

Cross-posted from my school blog.

ICS students participate in Africa Code Week

This year the first ever Africa Code Week was conducted across the continent, aiming to get children started with computational thinking, programming, and using computers as devices to build software, not just use it. Thousands of children in over a dozen countries had the opportunity to start programming. ICS joined in this activity to help encourage our students to do the same, and we reached out to other children here in Addis Ababa to get them working with code. One week or one session will not make a programmer out of a child, but it can start the process. We’re planning to keep this initiative going through the year, not just within classes, but in fun, engaging activities outside school hours.

 

Cross-posted from my school blog.

Africa Code Week & the value of learning programming

africa-code-week-tagline-date-urlThe first week in October has been designated Africa Code Week, with a push in several countries across the continent to get children building their own programs. There are a few initiatives in Ethiopia, and ICS is joining in. We’re sponsoring a few events next Saturday (10 October) to get our students and some other children learning how to make programs that do what they want, rather than simply using apps that others have built.

There’s been a big push worldwide to get people programming. “Everyone can code,” proclaim advertisements, government officials, teachers and students. It’s a simplistic message which provokes pushback as well as support. People argue that not everyone needs to become a programmer, and that saying that everyone can and should learn to code is ridiculous.

The truth is that everyone uses a computer in their daily lives not only for work but also for leisure. For many, they are mysterious machines that work magic. People who learn some programming skills get that magic demystified and explained: for them, computers are comprehensible machines that work in understandable and predictable ways.

The art of programming also builds in students a logical way of thinking that supports problem-solving. Computational thinking is a way of analyzing a problem or situation in ways that break it down into processes that a machine can perform. This is the skill that all programmers develop, and it helps people better understand complex problems as well as get machines to solve those problems.

JpegFinally, learning to program is a way to gain mastery over computers and hence one of the driving forces of our economy and society. Being a programmer is a lucrative and highly sought-out skill, not only in high-tech businesses but increasingly in other fields. Economists write programs to analyze data. Architects write programs to model building stresses. Geographers write programs to simulate geological processes.

ICS is committed to getting our students to be inquisitive and creative, using computers not only to communicate and collaborate but also to analyze and problem-solve. Learning to program is a part of that, and we aim to have all of our students develop some skills in computational thinking and computer programming. Our goal is that those students who wish to pursue that as a career can do so, and that others will have a better understanding of how computers actually work.

Cross-posted from my school blog.