I’m sorry I got behind in posting about the enrichment class last week. After week 1 went so well, I thought I’d easily be able to post updates weekly, but alas, it was not to be. However, this wasn’t just because of other workload. The week 2 class actually didn’t go as quickly as the week 1 class. The lesson plan I thought would be light enough to cover in one session has actually taken up the hours for both weeks 2 and 3. I’ve posted the lesson in my Fedora People space.
It turns out that one of the most difficult things for the kids to grasp has been return values. That is, understanding that when you run a function in Python, a value is often generated as a result. Python can either do something with it, or not. This is deeply tied to understanding the usefulness (if not the concept) of variables as a way of holding on to those results for later use.
This concept is inherently difficult for fifth graders who haven’t yet been exposed to concepts of algebra or the unknown. Math and science up to this point in their education are decidedly concrete, and focus strictly on known quantities. I underestimated the difficulty of introducing the concept of an unknown, indeterminate object like a variable.
Fortunately, Python has made it simple for the kids to try smaller steps on their way to understanding this concept. Python’s particular style of input/output at the interpreter allows them to see how return values are generated. Then it becomes a matter of understanding the concept of variables, and assigning that return value to a variable. This is not as easy as it sounds for fifth-graders, but by the middle of week 3′s class light bulbs were switching on!
Regardless of the difficulty of the class, the students in general have loved the class, and are excited when they show up each day. I wish I had more time with them, but alas, the class only lasts for four weeks.
We have one more class coming up on the Monday afternoon after Thanksgiving. Based on the experience thus far, I expect we’ll spend the majority of the last class on conditionals, and understanding the if statement. Courtesy of the Fedora Project, I have some wonderful swag items to give out which I think the kids will love, like buttons, stickers, and temporary tattoos. Also I plan to give them their Live USB keys, as well as a note for their parents on what the keys contain and information on how to use them.
I will try like mad to have a blog post up sooner after next week’s class!