Pilot - U5L02 - Patterns and Representation

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I taught this lesson to a group of 7th and 8th graders in an Advanced Technology course. The students were engaged and receptive to the idea that we can communicate meaning using several different verbal and nonverbal methods. The yes/no activity was effective in engaging them in this topic and we had a good discussion following sharing their yes/no methods. After the warmup we launched into the activity. I cut out the animal cards and put sets in envelopes to keep setup easy. I also added in some short modeling of how Monkey could mean A and Monkey + Hippo could mean B. We also reviewed the rules several times. However, several groups still were not clear on the rules of making one, ordered stack of cards. None of the groups managed to make a workable language during our worktime. Tomorrow I will wrap up this lesson by giving them another go. If no solutions are produced I will suggest one possible solution and see what they can do. This is a deceptively simple lesson that proved to be cognitively difficult for my class.

Matt, do you feel like the students were struggling productively during the worktime, even if they didn’t ultimately reach a solution, or did it seem like they were spinning their wheels?

I had to collect the class and model taking one of their systems and giving it to someone else and demonstrate how and why their system did not work. After that model, all the groups seemed to “get it” and used different methods to clearly show when one letter ended and another began. So, to answer your question, there was a lot of spinning wheels UNTIL they clearly understood the key problem of how to represent an individual letter distinctly, then it got much more productive.

I am in a high school in San Jose, CA and have a mix of 9-12 grade students in the 3 classes that I teach this. The class is comprised of students from the highest achieving at the school to the lowest.

The lesson went generally well as written.

The warm up didn’t get me the varied responses that I really wanted but students had fun writing and responding to the prompt. They were really into telling me about all of the slang that is used, whether it was a joke or not. I did not get really anything but this from the students. I guess I did not do a good job of explaining that it could be hand signals, or any other thing that you could think of.

Anyway, the wrap up of the warm up, getting to the point that the yes/no is really just arbitrary and could be anything as long as everyone knew they rules came together well. We did have a fun conversation of why yes is a head nod and no is a head shake. Well, the cavemen….

The activity

I learned in the first couple of classes that student did not understand what to or broke the rules. Students wanted to turn the cards sideways or to have them turned over to be the back of the card.

I began to demonstrate to the classes what a singe stack of cards meant. “Your finished product should look like…” This helped the student to understand what they were to produce.

I did not have the students switch between groups when they were ready with a word to decode. I had them raise their hands and have me come over to decode. This way, I could try and break their solution and give them some gentle to moderate help to get to a solution.
Timing wise, this worked well. Some students finished a first try quickly and other teams took a lot longer. Most groups needed more than one try to get a working solution.

Main mistakes that students made.

  1. The code for each letter was not unique.
  2. They did not use a set number of cards for each letter without using a certain animal as a decimeter between letters.

The two main ways that I think there is a solution

  1. Have the same number of cards per each letter.
  2. Have a card to be the delimiter between letters. That way you can use a different number of cards per each letter.

I did add a wrap up discussing the two types of solutions and asked whether they thought that computers used the same number of cards per each letter or a delimiter. That was a fun discussion.

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Hi John,

I just googled why the nod is yes and the shake is no. Everyone should do that if you haven’t already!

It sounds like the kids needed a lot of support to successfully get through this activity, especially when it comes to understanding the rules. Thanks for calling that out for everyone and being our “pioneer” teacher.

Those are great mistakes for the kids to be making. I’m glad you were able to talk through them with the students and get some good discussions out of it. Given the discussions you had, I’ll be interested to hear what they say in regards to this lesson in their reflection for the week.


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Aww man, this lesson was a big surprise for me. I taught this lesson to all 9th graders. Most students started by taking the six animals as A- F, then used two animals for the other letters. Some students used different combinations of animals to represent letters. Most students thought they had a good representation system, but when I tried to use their code, most pairs realized I was having a problem seeing where one letter ended and the next one began. Students who used different combinations of animals gave the greatest opportunity to demonstrate the problem with students not having a rule for where one letter ended and the other began. After I tried their system, most students could instantly tell me what the problem was. After they figured the problem, many students put something at the end to represent the end of a letter, only a very small group of students chose to make each letter of the alphabet the same length of animals.

On the Activity guide itself, I added a space for students to write the 'Rule for their Stack". I though that would help students understand that they needed a rule, but it did not.

Hey @floresa.vaughn - Thanks for sharing about your experience. Sounds like they may not have found there way to all the answers but did they generally come to understanding the goals of the lesson? Did you get a chance to discuss the solutions as a class?

Overall, they needed more time than I gave them. One of my classes never seemed to understand the idea that they really did need to have rules that they could share with other in order for them to read the “messages.” I agree with Flo that a place for rules needs to be added. 2 of my classes, were told to draw 3 lines at the end of their key and that was where they needed to write the rules. That worked pretty well.

Creating the code took a long time, but I thought it was time well spent because it demonstrated how difficult it was to come up with a code that people could understand and use. When the kids were using other students codes they were able to figure out the words, because it was the only thing that made sense. One student commented “We had to problem solve in addition to figuring out the code.” So we discussed how a computer couldn’t really do that. Eventually, we came to the understanding that a delimiter or certain length would be a way to do the code so it would be clear.

In addition to the learning objectives stated, students are reliving computer history/development and it will help them to better understand the genius and problem solving of those first computer engineers.