The Grading System - a Rapidly Improving Work in Progress

Back in September we wrote a little bit about what we were planning for the year in terms of our grading system. As the year has gone there have been a good number of changes (“everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”, as the saying goes). Most importantly we’ve learned a lot about how this iteration of our planned curriculum works in the classroom environment, and made course corrections accordingly as we’ve proceeded through the year.

As we reach the end of the year, it now comes time for us to roll out our grading program for the year. Students will be awarded badges and certificates in respect of the grades they have completed, as well as (in some cases) for specific modules they have completed within a given grade. Before we set out that plan, a quick high level recap is in order.

Note also that this structure applies specifically to our evening and weekend classes. Our after-school “Tech Clubs” do NOT operate off this system, nor do our in-school programs.

Existing Grades

Grade 1:

Otherwise known as “pre-coding”, this has yet to be rolled out.

Action shot! Students hard at work at Coolmine Easter Camp, 2019.

Action shot! Students hard at work at Coolmine Easter Camp, 2019.

Grade 2:

For students of 2nd-4th class, this course combines introductory computer skills (mouse, keyboard, saving files, etc) with basic Scratch and HTML coding.

Grade 3:

Following on from grade 2. Rolling out September 2019.

Grade 4:

The entry point to our course for anyone from 5th class upwards. Students at this level will learn to write code in Processing (a Java-based graphics framework) and also basic HTML.

Grade 5:

A continuation of grade 4. Students at this level will solidify their understanding of Processing, including a greater understanding of code structure and different types of variables. It is possible for some students to complete both grade 4 and grade 5 in the space of single year.

Grade 6:

Students at this level understand a wider variety of code structures and coding concepts, including how to use external code libraries and developing their own approaches to solving coding problems.

Another student at our Coolmine Easter Camp, 2019

Another student at our Coolmine Easter Camp, 2019

Grade 7:

Students will study code structure (including object-oriented programming) and data structures. External libraries will be used more often, and students will also complete a module in Computer Vision using OpenCV.

Grade 8:

Advanced code structure, introduction to assembly language, string processing, error handling and more. Rolling out September 2019.

Grade 9:

Building larger projects, including integrating with external services (web services, databases, etc). Rolling out September 2020.

Grading for Summer 2019

Not all grades were delivered this year. The “core” modules were grade 2 and grade 4, and these were delivered to both beginners and some returning students.

At the higher end of the scale there was a lot of consolidation going on. Some students have been with us 18 months, some 24, some 36, while some have done no summer camps and others attend two (or more) every year. Along with ensuring that students were happy and always moving forwards, the other key for us this year was to fill in any gaps in their knowledge, so that heading into September everyone knows where they stand in relation to the grading system, and what next year will be like.

Work in progress - badge design for Grade II student award

Work in progress - badge design for Grade II student award

Grade 2 Assessments

Grade 2 is largely assessed informally, and attendance is a significant part of the criteria as well. Students have completed several smaller, informal assessments throughout the year. Given the comparatively young age of these students, an emphasis is placed in grade 2 on engagement with material throughout the year, rather than a capstone assessment on which the entire year will be judged.

Grade 2 students also completed a game design module using a block-based Python language. For students who completed that portion of the module there will also be a separate “Game Developer - Grade 2” badge awarded at the end of the year.

Grade 4 Assessments

As with grade 2, grade 4 has its own HTML module and award which has already been delivered and assessed, and the appropriate badge will be awarded to those students who completed this at the end of term.

Grade 4 also has a number of more informal assessments, which have been delivered throughout the year to ensure students are broadly on track. The year will conclude with a multiple choice assessment, testing students’ understanding of the core concepts from this term (variables, if statements, coordinates, shapes and colours). There will also be a small number of “bonus” questions, giving students the opportunity to show extra knowledge they may have picked up from early finisher tasks and extra challenges throughout the year (see “Grade 5 Assessments below”).

Work in progress - badge design for Grade IV “Web Designer” student award

Work in progress - badge design for Grade IV “Web Designer” student award

As with any assessment, there may be those who fail to reach the required level. They will be given a second chance to show what they’ve learned during the end of year project, where our tutors will also have a chance to work with them to address the key gaps in their learning for the year. If they are still finding the work particularly difficult at that point we will suggest that they would be best served repeating grade 4 again next year, to ensure they are fully comfortable with the material before progressing to grade 5.

For grade 4 we may also award completion badges based on attendance and classroom participation even to those not ready to progress to grade 5. We feel it’s important at this stage to recognise effort as much as outcome - there will be plenty of outcome-focused assessments later in the curriculum.

Grade 5 Assessments

In most cases grade 5 was not specifically delivered this year. The grade 5 material was delivered as part of the grade 4 classes through a series of “extra tasks” within each lesson. While many students, particularly those who joined this year, will not have had a chance to complete these yet, the grade 5 assessment gives those who have been running ahead of the class a chance to leap past grade 4 and 5 in a single academic year.

Those who reach the required level in the grade 4 multiple choice assessment will also have their end of term projects assessed, and where they can demonstrate a solid understanding of grade 5 topics (advanced variables, maths of collision detection, defining and using functions) they may be awarded the grade 5 badge and progress directly to grade 6.

Grade 6 Assessments

Students who have been with us more than a year will in some cases have been working towards grade 6 for some or all of the year. Grade 6 involves understanding object oriented programming, use of loops, use of external code libraries, and quite a bit more besides.

Students at this level will complete a project based assessment in weeks 16 and 17 of term. It’s important to note that for many this will be more of a “mid term” assessment, as they may not have been working towards grade 6 since September, but rather progressed on to this material during the school year.

Students who reach the required level will progress to grade 7 in September, while those not yet fully through the grade 6 curriculum will start back in September 2019 to a freshly baked, brand new grade 6 curriculum for 2019/2020.

Grade 7 Assessments

Students at this level have already completed informal assessments for their Computer Vision module, which will be a separately awarded badge.

For their capstone project they will complete a similar project to grade 6 over the course of several classes. In addition to what is assessed at grade 6, students at grade 7 will be expected to display quite a high level understanding of object oriented programming, data structures, and code structure more broadly.

By grade 7 we expect our students to be writing code which wouldn’t be out of place in a 2nd or 3rd college course, and this is the standard to which they will be held in the assessment.

What’s Next?

From September 2019 all evening and weekend students will be explicitly following a grade level on the curriculum. This will be communicated to parents at the start of the term, along with some key learning outcomes for the year.

For later grades (grade 6+) we will also be assigning homework for the first time from September. Grade 8 and 9 students will also need to bring their own computers to class. We’ve avoided this up to now, but by requiring students to have their own computers there’s a whole new world of software tools opened up which just aren’t practical to use on a shared computer. In particular, using the students own laptops will mean we can introduce industry standard source control tools and IDEs, as well as facilitating things like local test servers for running web apps, and installation of image editing and sound editing tools that can be prohibitively difficult in a school computer lab setting.

Finally we’re working on a series of other events and partnerships to keep our more advanced students interested and engaged with the wider tech community. We want to show our students how exciting the world of tech can be, and how much bigger it is than what goes on in our classrooms. As always: watch this space!