10-minute unplugged activities that teach computational thinking
1 researcher & designer, 1 teacher
3 weeks of design
BY JAMIE KENT
10-minute classroom activity cards
Every teacher knows that dreaded moment. You’ve completed the activities for the day, but there are still ten minutes left in class. The students are getting restless. You don’t want to waste the last few minutes, but there is not enough time to start new material.
I worked with Josefa Castro Amenábar, an English teacher at Escuela Cáhuil, to design a solution for those last, lingering minutes of class. We knew we would have to design something fun, since we would be dealing with restless students with low attention span. Together, we designed a set of cards, describing short activities and games, which make use of those last 10 minutes of class.
Our goal was to turn the final minutes from agonizing to anticipated. After success with students in Cáhuil, we are applying for grants to continue our educational work.
Design 10- to 20-minute classroom activities for the final moments of class, when the main lesson for the day is finished. Ideally, these activities bring to life design-thinking and computer programming concepts.
Enter Computational Thinking Activity Cards, 10-minute activities designed to utilize the last moments of class. These are cards that teachers can add to their arsenal for unplanned parts of class. To start, we’ve created five activities that introduce the concepts of computer programming, design, debugging, user experience and algorithms.
During the Inspiration phase, I embedded myself in three public schools in Chile. I spent weeks observing classes, observing how teachers approached STEM education in Chile. I was able to frame my design challenge.
Although Chile’s public schools are usually well-equipped with computers, many teachers are not tech-savvy. If we truly want to integrate 21st century skills into the public education system, we have to start with the teachers. I wanted to design an easy way for non-technical teachers to teach computational thinking concepts.
One insight came while working with my research partner, an English teacher at a public school. She had an arsenal of games prepared for when her course material was falling flat with students. I realized that making students think they were playing would be core to the solution.
Because I had observed lots of classes, I also knew the last few minutes were usually not utilized. I set out to design an activity for the last part of class. I figured it would be an easy pitch to teachers: here are these activities you can use when you don’t have anything planned.
With the last 10 minutes of class in mind, we brainstormed a list of possible ideas to occupy these last few minutes. Many of these ideas were games, which also had an educational component. When we began bundling our ideas, we realized most of our favorite game ideas required no props. Keeping our solution simple, we designed a prototype that could be tested quickly. We created a set of large flashcards, each describing the mechanics of a short, succinct activity.
We decided to test my some of some of the activity ideas in the classroom. One activity involves a blind-folded student who has to find a hidden ball, using only the verbal instructions from other students. The aim of the activity is to illustrate the importance of giving clear commands. Both computers and people operate better when there is no ambiguity. During testing, we realized that students enjoyed the game part, but didn’t understand the principle we were trying to illustrate. We realized it would be especially important to create discussion about the concepts behind each activity.
From IDEO.org’s Design Kit, here’s how to apply this method:
- On a large sheet of paper, list the distinct activities, behaviors, and emotions you’re looking to research.
- Next to each one, write down a setting or situation where you might observe this activity, behavior, or emotion. For example, if the activity is “use a device at the same time every day,” parallel situations might be how people use alarm clocks.
- Have the team vote on the site visits that they would like to observe for inspiration and arrange for an observation visit.
- When you make your visit, pay close attention to what it is you’re seeking to understand, but remain open to all kinds of other inspiration.
When applying this methodology, we started with our requirement: it has to be fun. We wanted to examine the way we use games to enjoy ourselves when there is nothing to do. I assumed my ethnographic post, and observed friends playing Cards Against Humanity. I was inspired by the conversation the game inevitably leads to. Although the game itself offers “something to do,” more so, it offers a launch pad for interesting and out of the ordinary conversation. With this in mind, we were inspired to develop a set of activities that foster conversation around computational thinking concepts.