Friday, October 19, 2018

Connecting Math and CS with probability game simulations

One of my goals for this school year was to build out a few interesting and relevant projects into the 7th grade curriculum, which seemed a bit dry and skill-focused. One area that seemed to beg for an application project was the first unit on Data and Probability. Since one of my other goals was to incorporate more computer science into my classes, it was a no brainer. Developing a cross-over computer science project for this grade level proved to be a bit tricky because students are all over in terms of their experience with programming - we have students who have been coding for years as well as new students who have never coded anything before. I tried to develop a project that would differentiate appropriately and allow students to either explore the CS or the Math parts in greater depth, depending on their interest in and experience with programming.

Here is the project description. You'll notice that I created three distinct strands with different goals and let students select the one that was most appropriate and interesting for them. I was also lucky that the computer science teacher was able to come to my classes for some of the time that students worked on this project. Having many intermediate checkpoints for students to submit pieces of the project was very helpful here in ensuring that I could identify those who were behind or struggling and work with them during class.

Things that I would still like to build out:

  • A more robust peer editing process -- I'd like students to be able to present their optimal winning strategy to peers and get critical feedback on how convincing their reasoning is that they would be able to incorporate into their final draft
  • A revised rubric to make it more concise
  • Move some pieces of this project out to computer science class - this definitely took up quite a bit of time, especially because I felt that most or all of the coding work should happen during class where students would have support
  • A clearer division between group and individual aspects - this is always a challenge for me when designing group projects in terms of maximizing student learning and individual accountability. Students seemed to work well together during class, but this isn't an explicit part of the project currently. 
  • Some sort of final presentation - for projects like this, I think that having the final product on display or presented to others creates a much more authentic need for clarity and functionality. I haven't figured out a good way to do that for this project. Should students do a gallery walk of projects within the class? Can this be presented or shared with students in other classes somehow? What about with parents?
  • Other connections - is this something that can connect to students' work from previous years so that it feels less like a stand-alone project and more like a continuation of ongoing work and thinking? Are there other aspects of this project that can connect to other disciplines, like writing? Can we build on this in future years of either computer science or math curriculum?