3 Days of Computers

At the end of every unit, my students take a test and complete a project. The project uses the ideas we’ve been studying, obviously. They’re usually rather challenging, but I think fairly engaging. But I recently came to the end of the rational functions unit, which I had never done before, and had no ideas about how to spin that into something more interesting.

So, screw math, let’s program.

Should I really take 3 days to do something completely unrelated to the curriculum when I’m already half a chapter behind the other teacher who does this course? YEAH DUDE.

Because most of these kids have no idea what computer programming is! Which is ridiculous! We spend hours and hours and hours using computers/smart phones/kindles/nanopets. And we use (most of) them to do really important things. I am a little confused that most schools don’t require any computer knowledge beyond how to use word. I don’t care whether my students are going to become master programmers; it’s important that they understand just a little bit about how machines process information. We make kids take all kinds of science classes in order to understand the world in which we live and figure out how to ask and answer questions about it. Considering that computers are becoming a humungous part of our daily life, I think we need to teach kids what they are. Also adults.

Also (and this is unrelated), I have read a whole bunch of people say that not everybody can program. That is SO DUMB. No offense. But I have a whole variety of kids, some who will never move beyond 7th grade math, in my programming club, and everybody can figure out a few things. Which is important when every single kid in a school system that can afford it is using/seeing computers daily.

Okay enough of that. Sorry.

This week I was doing programming with a bunch of real quick honors kids, so it was pretty easy. I put together a few blog posts with instructions and set them loose. I had them program in CoffeeScript, which is derived from JavaScript. I used this partially because my boyfriend had selected this for the programming club this year and, frankly, I’m currently used to it. It’s a rather forgiving language that doesn’t freak out about whether you put a space in front of an opening parentheses. Also, you can code and run programs right in their browser (www.coffeescript.org — click “TRY COFFEESCRIPT”), so my students would be easily able to work at home without worrying about downloading stuff.

I started off with this google slides presentation, which admittedly is extremely slow for an extremely dumb reason, which is just that I thought it would be cute to make a background that looked like code:

The reason that I included that, basic as it is, was that I don’t think my students have any sense of how their computers work. I wanted them to know how the little thing we did in a blue box on a web page was connected to it all.

In the two lessons, I kind of just threw my kids into the code without much explanation. Last year I had tried to start by explaining what things were and then asking them to start something from scratch, and it was a disaster. So I did the opposite here. Since we only had 3 days, I wanted to focus on how to make stuff happen on computers, rather than definitions.

Here are the two lessons I put together:



The one thing that didn’t go so well was just that students kept skipping stuff. They just didn’t read it. I’m not sure what I could have done to fix that.


In any event, the kids did good work. They created programs that took user input values and then did the quadratic formula and the pythagorean theorem (in two separate programs, that is). And they were so PROUD of themselves. It was fun to see them buzzing about their successful work and being so satisfied when their programs worked.


  1. Mr. Arbit

    Utterly fantastic. I have a suggestion that might help the issue of them skipping text to read: How about making a screencast of you going through the steps you want them to understand? I feel like kids these days are so much more likely to watch a short tutorial video and follow along with it than they are to read a couple of lines of text and follow along with those. Sites like screenr.com and techsmith.com/jing.html have free screencast tools I’ve had a lot of success with in the past. The biggest obstacle is that they only do a maximum of 5 minutes at a time, but there are easy workarounds. I made a 13-minute video lesson for my AP Stats classes for a day when I had to be absent but couldn’t afford to skip a day of notes. All I did was make three different screencasts (5, 5, and 3 minutes long) and put them together in iMovie. Super simple!

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