My AP Computer Science Principles class is finishing up our first unit on how the Internet works. For the last few years I’ve usually ended this unit with a homework assignment that helps them prepare for a test. But this year I’ve been trying to assign less homework and instead find ways to work those problems into class or abandon them altogether. Here’s one of my favorite problems from this homework assignment:
I like this problem a lot – I’m rather proud that I came up with it. It makes students explain their reasoning; it makes connections between the workings of the internet and the concepts used to build it; and I really like reusing it when the test comes around by having this as an exam question (or rather, as 4 exam questions, but I’m only showing one of them – don’t tell my students).
So yah – I get a lot of mileage out of this question both formatively and summatively. I wanted to find a way to incorporate it into my class as more than just a one-off question – I think creating these ‘links’ between these sets of words is really important and I wanted my students to get lots of experience with it. In trying to think through how to do that, I basically created a structure for what I’m calling a Concept Map Gallery Walk. Here’s what that looked like:
I broke students into groups of 4 by giving them an index card with a letter and a number from 1-4 on it. Each group was represented by a letter – ex: all the A’s were together – and they had a giant whiteboard they would use to write an initial set of words. In their initial group, they needed to create a few links to start their concept map and write justifications for each link as they did it. Here’s what this looked like on a little half-sheet I gave them to start:
After a few minutes of groups creating their initial concept map, I introduced the first round of this activity. Each round starts with two people from each group rotating to join another group. When they arrive at the new group: the two original members explain their concept map to the new people, then the new people suggest at least 1 addition they could add to their new concept map (eventually this gets harder and harder). Here’s what this looks like as a powerpoint animation:
And here are a series of 3 pictures showing what this looks like with students (I got really lucky with these photo-taking moments):
But – it gets better. After students have explained their maps and added any other connections, I then give them a whole new word to incorporate into their map. I designed this activity such that the words I gave them were more conceptual and tied to the larger design intentions of the internet and some of the more abstract bigger-picture vocabulary of the unit. As groups got their next word, they had to add it to their map and add any new connection. Here are the words I used for this particular activity:
Full disclosure: I ended up not using Transportation, and I ended up using these in this order: Abstraction, Fault-Tolerant, High-Level, then Reliability. I didn’t plan this, but these four words naturally break down into two sets of similar pairs – Abstraction & High Level, then Fault-Tolerant & Reliability. Students realized that these typically had the same things connected to them and wanted to just use the same reasoning – but, I made a big deal that the reasonings for each pairing could actually be fairly different and it was a really interesting and deep challenge to have them explain these different reasonings. For example: DNS is connected to both Abstraction and High-level, but DNS is abstract because it hides the IP address from the user and not the same as the reason DNS is high-level: because it depends on the lower protocols to function. Getting students to try and explain these nuances was really cool and led to cool conversations.
Here are some more pictures of this activity in action:
At the end of the four rounds, I told students to grab their phones and choose the two concept maps they liked the best to take pictures of to use as study aides. Several students asked me why they couldn’t just take a picture of all of them, to which I kinda improvised this response (since I hadn’t anticipated this question): I want you to do some mental work to decide why you like one concept map over the other, which requires you to really look at and pay attention to the connections and their justifications. Taking a picture of every one doesn’t require you to actually look at or analyze the maps – it’s a purely mindless activity that won’t help you study when you look at these later. Plus, I took pictures of the concept maps and uploaded them to our Google Classroom account anyway.
Here are the final results over the course of 2 classes:
In conclusion: this was an awesome way to end this particular unit before jumping into projects and eventually a test. I think it’s really the best way to summarize and wrap-up this content in a way that’s both memorable and aligns to what the AP Exam expects students to know about the Internet.
- There was so much talking and so much explaining and so much collaborative learning and it made me really happy. Forcing students to move between groups and giving students the responsibility to explain their maps seemed to work really well for my students.
- I struggle with absences in my classes – but, even if a student was absent for the majority of this unit, this activity is really helpful in getting them caught up, which is something I didn’t plan for but I appreciate now.
- This activity is entirely student driven. There are some not-great answers in those concept maps, but the onus was on the students to check each other and challenge each other to figure out why things should be connected or shouldn’t. I did very little explaining or course-correcting (unless I heard something 100% incorrect) and instead let students monitor and police themselves, which can sometimes be tough for me, but this activity seemed to lend itself to this really well and in an authentic way. Especially after I told a few groups that these would turn into study aides for them, so if they didn’t turn out well, it was more that they were hurting themselves than anything else. And that seemed to push some intrinsic motivation buttons that I hadn’t seen before.Also, as I was writing this whole paragraph, this post by cheesemonkeysf was ringing in my head – I feel like I’m vibrating on the same wavelength as she is in terms of trying to encourage these shifts in student resourcefulness and reliance on each other.
- One of the reasons I drifted towards this activity is because it still lets me use that test question I posted at the top – I just have to edit it to say “one group made a connection between ____ and ____ on their concept map”.
- Students were walking around and moving. That’s always good.
- Having the rotating aspect also empowers students who don’t talk very often or whose voices may be overrun by their peers to speak up, since they may be one of the people who need to explain what their map is about or one of the people to add a new connection. I really liked how many different people I saw explaining things and contributing outside of the students who try to “be first” or lead conversations; other students could take on those roles since the groups switched up so often.