Camp Sudo, Education

Making a Camp Sudo Lesson

I’m always surprised at how much work goes into making lessons. For every hour of lecture I spend about 5-10 hours in preparation, but every hour in a lesson takes 10-15 hours. Because there is more interaction with students:

  • Greater consideration is put into the different challenges individual students will run into
  • There is more variance in how long activities will take
  • More preparation is needed for different outcomes (eg. what can I do if the class takes a long time? Or if they learn the concept very quickly?)

In short, giving a lecture is usually simpler because the goal is mostly to introduce students to the concepts – discussions and homework assignments will cement the ideas. However, teaching a classroom means taking on the responsibility of ensuring students understand the concepts.

This is especially more challenging when preparing a lesson for another teacher, as I’m discovering while preparing material for Camp Sudo. When I’m making a lesson for myself, I can often omit some details since I have a preconceived idea of how I would present it. Unfortunately, I can’t make that assumption when another person is teaching my lesson.

Through this recent example, I hope here to provide a high-level overview of my preparation ideology. This is not only to help clarify my own thoughts about this but also because I’d like to eventually reflect on how my process has changed over time.

The Preamble

Screenshot 2015-06-16 23.46.02Yup, that’s Khan Academy’s font.

Keep in mind that this is a first draft and thus a little rough around the edges. This lesson is one of the first to be taught at Camp Sudo. At this point, the students have learned basic HTML tags (headings, paragraph, lists, and strong/em, to be exact) and we introduce CSS for the first time using the <style> tag. Making this is mostly just filling in the blanks, since we’ve standardized this section for our lessons.

Planning The Plan

Now that I have down the basic stuff I want to cover in the lesson, I turn to the problem of presenting it in an engaging way. This is always challenging and my approach varies greatly depending on the content.

I start by breaking down the lesson into major chunks. First, we have to introduce the concept of CSS and its syntax. Then, we teach some basic properties related to text styling. Finally, we introduce the anchor tag. For each of these parts, I think about hooks (getting students engaged) and transitions (switching between activities) first. It turns out that getting these right is the most challenging part of making a lesson go smoothly but also something that often gets overlooked.

  • I’d like to make students feel like they just have to learn CSS. One slightly dramatic way to do this is to compare something they can make with a nicer website like Camp Sudo’s. This transitions into a presentation / lecture to introduce CSS and its syntax.
  • To avoid lecturing as much as possible, when we start teaching actual CSS properties I switch to a live demo so students can follow along and interact right away. One favorite transition of mine is to say, “First table to have their laptops ready and sit quietly gets 10 points,” and reward tables with the most points at the end of a week.
  • We can reuse that transition to switch to an introduction of the anchor tag. For a hook, we can once again refer to the Camp Sudo website.
  • Finally, for the final activity I’ll just stick with points transition.

Once that rough outline is done I begin to work on actual content. I borrow (read: blatantly steal) a Khan Academy lesson’s scratchpad as a starting point.

Screenshot 2015-06-20 17.48.24

To review yesterday’s lesson on HTML tags I ask students to recreate that page. Then, students apply some text styles to the page. Finally, students add links.

That seems like a pretty sound foundation so I fill in the lesson plan and this is what I end up with.

Screenshot 2015-06-18 13.39.05

(Not) Filling In the Details

I fill in some minor points that I think shouldn’t be overlooked – teaching what a pixel is, for example. But, this is where I made a judgement call to not micromanage the lesson since I’m not going to be the one ultimately teaching it. I opt instead to leave comments across the lesson about things that I think should be noted but otherwise I try to leave room for Wonjun to express his own teaching style through the lesson.

The lesson ends up being pretty decent, in my opinion. There is still plenty of improvement to be made, but I’ll hold off on it until I can get some feedback from the teachers and curriculum designers to make sure we’re on the same page. I hope that I’ll be able to see improvement over time in both my lessons and my communication with the instructors. Here’s to a summer of teaching!