On Thursday I did an outreach presentation at Kellogg Middle School. I presented to all three Compression (advanced) 7th grade math classes. Kellogg runs on a block schedule so each presentation was an hour and forty five minutes long. I think 7th grade is a great age to present to. The students are really enthusiastic and less worried, as far as I can tell, about being cool.
I think the presentations went pretty well. I was really worried that I would get through everything and then have nothing left to do. It turned out I got through less than half of the activities I had prepared, which was really nice. I ended up doing the non-peanut butter sandwich activity, the drawing and instructions activity, Lightbot and a little bit of the CS Unplugged Divide and Conquer activity. There was a sub in the classroom for the first two periods and the teacher was there for the last. All of the classes went pretty well but they seemed to get a bit worse throughout the day. I think all of us were really tired by sixth period.
The peanut butter sandwich activity involved the students giving me instructions to make a sandwich and me taking their instructions very literally. All of the classes really liked it. 6th period liked it the best. The people with desks near the edge of the room got up halfway through and sat on the floor between the closer desks so they could see better.
All of the classes (although less 6th period) spent a lot of time on the drawing activity. It involved each student drawing a picture, writing instructions for it and exchanging instructions with another student. They then had to draw a picture following the other student’s instructions. There was a projector in the classroom that would project a document placed under the camera onto the overhead. It was wonderful to have for this activity. After the kids were done with the activity I showed some of their pictures and instructions using it. The drawings were pretty funny. I was amazed by how many of the students wanted to share! I had been prepared to have nobody want to but way more wanted to than we had time for.
After drawing I had the students play Lightbot. They really, really liked it. It was interesting to see how the different groups progressed. For the most part each class divided approximately in half into fast groups and slow groups, with almost all pairs in each group on the same level. I was surprised, I thought there would be much more variation in speed. The teacher really liked the game and said she would use it again. The students were pretty noisy while playing as they were all talking to their partners. Every now and then one or a pair of them would say something like, “Oh I see!” really loudly. They were really excited when they got it. One of the students even asked to play it some more during break.
After playing Lightbot I ended up with 15 minutes left in 2nd and 4th period and 25 minutes in 6th period. I showed the first half of the Santa’s Dirty Socks video and then discussed it with the students. I had created a worksheet with the questions from CS Unplugged and handed that out. We were not able to go through much of it. This was the hardest and, I think least successful, activity. It was especially difficult in 6th period. Some students just got it. They understood, could reason about general cases, and the answers seemed obvious. There were other students who were completely confused and could barely understand being walked through the example.
Overall I think the presentations went pretty well. If I were to do this again I might substitute a different activity for Divide and Conquer. For anyone else that does the peanut butter sandwich activity, make sure not to bring peanut butter, substitute butter or something else instead. I was really glad I was warned about this as one of the students was very allergic to peanut butter.