Lean teaching with computational thinking and verb stories

I find unpacking achievement standards for assessment really time consuming and sometimes tedious. When reading through tasks designed for students from tki with students, I find I need to translate, truncate and repeat key elements as I go for students to avoid overwhelm. Using computational thinking with the students, we can read and refine the tasks into an easier to follow algorithm so that individualized task design and conversations about learning throughout the unit can be more streamlined.

In the past I have asked students to use decomposition to break an assessment into task cards so that we can use them on our classroom kanban. They break the task down into more achievable chunks so that they can articulate their work flow. Working together to find an algorithm that we can push repeat on working through is the next step for an even more systemic approach. By breaking the task into verbs, writing it as an algorithm and offering opportunities to debug and refine together, we can take ownership of a task in a more essential and lean form.

Computational thinking is a favourite process of mine that lends itself really well to transparent lesson planning and curriculum design. Decomposition, sequencing, algorithm design, abstraction and debugging all work as interesting ways to think through a unit of work. It is also a fun process to model out loud when planning a unit so that students can have agency in assisting with sequencing and abstraction/replacement of content where applicable.

Decomposition is essentially breaking a task down into small manageable chunks. Then sequencing is working out the most logical order. Having conversations about what most logically comes first and then next can also open up deep discussions about real world examples or best practice exemplars. Modeling the thinking out loud helps students understand the how and the why as well as the basic ‘whats’.

Writing an algorithm as a verb story has to be done with students in mind. Ideate, for example, might not be a word that resonates with a student and ‘brainstorm’ might be better. Similarly where one student can run with the word alone, another might need an image to go with it.

Quick canva verb story infographic example.

With an NZQA moderation hat on, it is important to note that a verb story algorithm is not a replacement for a task. Rather it is a quick fire reference that allows us to look at the essential ingredients without unnecessary muda (waste) or distracting detail. I find that even in the process of making the infographic (or getting the students to make it), the requirements of each task become much clearer. Ideate, develop, refine, define is a verb story (from a recent example) I can refer to in more detail as we repeat the process for each design outcome. Using the verb story algorithm I can also track a student’s progress more easily and with less confusion – especially when other students are working on different standards in the same class. If we need to clarify, we debug against the original task.

Debugging on the job can also be really rewarding. A year 13 student self-checks her work against vocabulary lists and cross-checks against exemplars when we spend time talking about debugging our work and she has confessed that it is her ‘excellence method’. What did we set out to do? How can we show we have done it? Is it clear? Does it meet the standard? Have we followed the algorithm?

It is no secret that I am a big fan of computational thinking. The surprise is that I am now finding that by modeling it as a process for streamlined co-constructed task design with verb stories and infographics made in canva, my students are becoming big computational thinking fans too.

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