“I think it’s very important to motivate creativity and search for new ideas. By studying programming, we learn to develop these ideas in practice. When developing a project we also learn to be more accurate and patient.” – Slovenia

“Learning programming may be difficult for students, not only because they have to learn a new programming language, but also, because they have to learn the right way how to tell the computer what to do,” says Barbara Pušnar.

Pušnar came to teaching after working as an IT specialist for nearly 10 years. “I was looking for new challenges,” she says.  Twelve years later, Pušnar is still combining her knowledge of the working world with teaching students at the Tehniški šolski Center (TSC).

“Writing programs becomes interesting and enjoyable if we plan a project with an end
goal,” says Pušnar. “It can be a computer game, or any other problem to solve with computers – the students set the final goal. I think it’s very important to motivate creativity and search for new ideas. By studying programming, we learn to develop these ideas in practice. When developing a project we also learn to be more accurate and patient.”

In Pušnar’s classes, projects are graded in every stage of their progress and student “critics” help others improve their work. “Quite frequently, the programming knowledge is not enough for the full realization of the project, so we have to use the knowledge of other sciences too, such as mathematics, physics, foreign languages, and others,” she says. “I think that the multidisciplinary concept is very important.  For example:  Last year we talked about fractals. Our goal was to develop a program for drawing geometrical and arithmetical fractals (Koch’s snowflake, fractal trees or Mandelbrot set). My colleague, the school math teacher, explained the mathematical background and I explained the computer programming.”

Here, Pušnar talks about the challenges of embracing student-driven classrooms, and why cooperation with local businesses has been such a benefit to her students.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

I think the learning process became more interesting, and most of all the students have fun. Comparing different solutions among the students motivates them to improve themselves and their work. It also stimulates teamwork. Competing in a worldwide competition such as Imagine Cup, and in contests within Slovenia, like the Association for Computing Machinery competition (ACM) or Hackaton (24 hours of programming), enables students to compare their work with the results of other students from different parts of the world. They can make new friendships and get job opportunities as well.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

This way of work is more challenging for the teacher, as it needs long and detailed preparation, a lot of cooperation between colleagues, and cooperation with students. It is also very interesting, because it brings new and fresh ideas from motivated students every day.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

Young people are the first to use new technologies. Every idea that comes from the students involves the use of new technology devices, such as tablets, smart phones or Kinect. We try to use as much new technology as possible.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

I believe that obstacles are just opportunities to help me become more inventive as a teacher.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

Teachers in Slovenia have strong autonomy as far as curriculum is concerned.

Students and professors are encouraged to participate in European Union Erasmus program. I think it’s a very good experience. Our school stimulates cooperation with local businesses. Mandatory twelve weeks practice for students in a business company is a good way to learn new skills.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Working on projects in student-led teams and letting students choose their role on the team (for programming: some students are very good at designing software, others are excellent programmers, some students prefer testing projects, and so on).

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Do not be afraid of new challenges.
Realize your own ideas.
Take advantage of the experience of older teachers.
Occasionally test yourself with exams to remember the amount of effort it takes to do it well.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

E-learning is quite helpful.  My students like to use video tutorials and training. In my lessons I often use e-learning courses. Studying when and where the student wants is much more effective.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

A ball: to play with friends.

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About Barbara Pušnar

Birthplace: Koper, Slovenia
Current residence: Nova Gorica, Slovenia
Education: I graduated in Mathematics at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. I have a master in practical mathematics. I’m also a Microsoft-certified professional.
Website I check every day:  Facebook, home page of our school tsc.si, MSDN forums
Person who inspires me most: My husband.
Favorite childhood memory: When I was ten, I got ill and had to stay in the hospital for several days. It was the end of the school year. One day I received letters with drawings and best wishes from every schoolmate and my teacher. I still keep them.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): New year concert at Wien (pleasure)
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Today. Our dog Lady puts me in a good mood every morning.
Favorite book: Agatha Christie’s books
Favorite music: Bach and The Beatles
Your favorite quote or motto: A day without a laugh is a lost day.

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