My Fantasy History/Tech Lesson

If I lived in a perfect world in a school with students who were familiar enough with tech to do basic programming, I would try this lesson plan. NOTE: It has been modified to follow universal design concepts.

Elements of the plan:

Take a look at this altered TPACK graphic to get the gist of my idea:

The basics are that students would have a developer’s version of XCode, an iOS programming tool, on their computers. They would have read background information on the Reformation. They would have studied the concept of abstraction in the humanities. If I really had my way, they would have a biography of  John Milton next to them in another window (or in a hyperlink like I did for this post.) The assignment would include these elements:

  • Read the excerpt from Milton’s “At a Vatican Exercise.”
  • Watch the X-Code tutorial demonstrating how to make an app that displays “Hello World!” on an iPhone or iPad. Further explanation for XCode is here. Students who are more advanced programmers would use XCode to do more complex animation based on their skill level.
  • Produce an app that outputs a single word that describes your understanding of the poem’s meaning in a historical context. Beginner-level programmers would follow the tutorial closely: more experienced programmers could create more complex animations as long it is involves a single word.
  • Cut and paste the excerpt into Google Docs, and annotate the poem. Create links to the definitions of unfamiliar words, and explain thoughts about the poem. Students need to show the thought process they used to justify the word they used. Teacher and fellow students will offer suggestions/assistance on how to understand the poem for those who need it. They could also write down their thoughts on how Milton’s life and idas are reflected in the poem.
  • Either a 50-word maximum explanation that summarized the student’s thinking or a 45-second clean voicethread explaining the student’s thinking.

The rubric would involve:

  1. Completion (whether the app worked)
  2. A few points on aesthetics (did the student meet or exceed the basic requirements for aesthetics in the app)
  3. The quality of the word  s/he chose plus the quality of an explanation that included historical justification of the student’s word choice.

I’d probably do something with InstaGrok too, but that would likely be part of formative assessments. I’d likely have students beam their products to each other’s phones/iPads for peer review as a formative too.

The reasons I think this assignment is pedagogically sound is that it demonstrates and assessment a number of key “21st century” skills:

  1. Abstraction, a form of critical thinking that has a number of real-world applications. The ability to at least understand what a subtle advertisement might convey is a good skill to have: being able to produce such a statement is applicable in a number of job contexts.
  2. iOS programming — a useful job skill as well as an application of object-oriented reasoning. Most computer languages and a number of computer operations are based on understanding how to manipulate objects in a digital space. As the world becomes more visual, object-oriented thinking has become integral to basic education. XCode is a mix of raw language and object-based programming that assesses and reinforces these skills.
  3. Application of facts and concepts. If a student can deduce Milton’s message from this poem and relate it to the Reformation, this shows a mastery of application.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know if I could complete this assignment to my satisfaction, but if  I ever have time I am going to try. I really like abstraction exercises, and I really like understanding basic programming. Many of my students in my old school in MA would gas over an assignment like this.

Egads…I am such a geek.


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