Just in time learning, part 2

You might want to read part 1 first. But I promised that I’d show you how I avoid complete chaos with this approach. And here’s how I do it.

Once they submit their GDD (Game Design Document), I check it for any gotchas: too ambitious for the time and the platform, not enough details, too hard/too easy…. Generally I say “you’re good to go” or “fix this one thing” or “you won’t be able to make Call of Duty in 4 weeks in Scratch by yourself”. Usually, students are so eager to start that they dive in without even waiting for my approving the GDD. So I try to read and approve them fast.

At this point, or sometime over the next class or two, I hand out paper copies of the rubric. My rubrics are skill-based, so students have freedom to build what they want as long as they meet the goals of the project. For instance, in Scratch, I may require the use of at least 2 working variables. That leaves it up to them to decide where those variables make sense in the context of their game: lives, health, levels, timer? I hand the rubrics out at the beginning of class and collect them at the end, keeping them in a folder in the meantime. And the rubric gives point values for each skill, so they can check them off as they go, keep a running total of their grade, and figure out what they need to do next.

While students are all working on their own individual games, I practice MBWA. I Manage By Walking Around. I look over their shoulders, see what they’re doing, offer advice, encouragement, whatever is needed. And I generally put about 2-3 miles a day in my classroom, doing this!

Now here’s the tricky part — how to answer everyone’s questions. And inevitably, everyone has questions! I learned long ago that if I become the source of all knowledge and wisdom in the classroom, two bad things happen. First, I will never get to all the questions, because students feel they must wait for me to explain something to them. And secondly, it creates a passivity in the learners. Stuck? Just wait for Mr I to get there and answer your question. And you don’t have to do anything till he gets there!

So here is how I handle answering questions:
I always answer a question with another question. What have you tried? Who did you ask for help? Where do you think you might find some answers?
I point to ready-made resources: my YouTube channel, my curated list of videos, other students….
I have a rule on the board: “ASK 3 B4 ME”. If they skip that, I just go to the next person. Kindly, of course!
I put a help list on the board, with 2 columns: I need help with…. and I can help with…. If a student is stuck on something, they can check to see if another student has figured it out!
And most importantly, I recruit student experts as we go.
Often these are students who don’t feel that they’re “good at coding”. But I’ll announce, “Who needs help with setting a timer? Ask Matilda. She’s the expert on timers.” And when those students become experts, their confidence grows, and the learning is passed along. Then the next person becomes another expert. After a while, you’ve got a solid knowledge base in that very classroom!

So this is how just-in-time learning works in my classes. Sure, it’s a little chaotic. I’m not the sage on the stage doing all the talking with students dutifully writing down everything I say. Learning is messy. But when the students need to know how to do something, that teachable moment, they can reach out and get it! And then they can move on the next challenge. All I can tell you is…. it works! I’ve seen it happen with hundreds of students and dozens of classes. Give it a try in your classroom!

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