Python Programming Unit (2019)

Day 1- What is Hacking?

Bryson Payne (Twitter: @brysonpayne) wrote the book we use for class.

In our Making, Hacking, Tinkering class, we have to Hack. I spent my Christmas vacation trying to figure out how to teach programming/come up with activities that suit the gamete of no programming skills all the way to lots of programming skills.

To start, I thought it would be kind of a good entry to explore different kinds of hacking. I was inspired mainly by all the videos floating around in my Facebook and Pinterest accounts. Titles like “15 Phone Hacks” or “Meal Prep Hacks” intrigued me as when did the word hack equate how to be more efficient. So the first lesson, admittedly, was a poorly executed assignment about hacking in the traditional sense vs. what it is now. I’m so embarrassed by this first attempt that I’m not going to even post a link to what it is.

Day 2- Intro to Python

Last year, we used Khan Academy’s Intro to JS: Drawing & Animation computer programming course. Mrs. C and I chose to do so because there were students who were enrolled in Making, Hacking, & Tinkering as well as Computer Science. We were initially going to teach Python using Bryson Payne’s book, “Teach Your Kids to Code” as a start. We had to switch gears when we found out they were going to be learning Python in their other class. But this year, we  discovered that they were going to be using JavaScript as the main language to learn through the CodeHS curriculum. So this year, I spent a while learning Python and figuring out the best way to teach it. To save my sanity, I just broke up the chapters into different lessons for the students.

From my CS session with Sheena Vaidyinathan (Twitter: @sheena1010), I realized the importance of having the students understand where certain terms came from. She stressed how important it was to know Seymour Papert. I mean, we teach the students who Gregor Mendel is in biology, why aren’t we talking about Seymour Papert? Unfortunately, his revolutionary fashion choices of the time period further encouraged certain stereotypes students have about “computer people” (even though we live in the Bay Area!).

Their first program is the traditional, “Hello, world!” Then they went into making MadLibs. Because they are high school students, they could have probably created a story for the MadLib assignment instead of just writing a sentence.


Days 3 to 20- What is Hacking?

In each of the lessons, I referred to Payne’s book for the order of which the lessons will go. For their programs, the students were making a whole bunch of spirals. As the quarter continued, we had a few questions come up:

  • How can we make turtle move faster?
  • Is there anything else besides lines and circles that we can draw?
  • How can I color the inside of my shape?
  • What colors can I use?
  • Where is my turtle, and how can I make it go to a certain location?
  • What is the coordinate system that turtle uses?

These were all really great questions! One student even took it upon himself to figure out how to code a heart so that he can put it on his Snapchat. This inspired me to create a Valentine’s Day assignment for the students. Doing so showed me that the students didn’t really connect what they were doing with the why. For example, to make a square turning spiral, students had to make their turtle turn 90 + 1 degrees. Keeping it at 90 degrees would create a square spiral. When it came time to make a triangle or pentagonal spiral, it was difficult for students to see that they had to change the amount of degrees the turtle had to turn to respond to the shape. I know how I’m going to improve the assignments for next year. For example, we will move through the spiral series just a touch quicker, and add more information to drawing circles sooner. I would also make the information for the programs

Days ???- Final Project

For their final project, I had students create a program of….who knows! The skills they have are:

  • drawing spirals
  • making lists (and calling it elsewhere)
  • pop-up text and num windows
  • some math functions


In the end, my initial goal of all learners loving coding was not met. I need to redo this unit.

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