There's no reason to use a one-size fits all approach when it comes to setting exercises. Let's take the sort of thing that could easily be boring: a set of spreadsheet-based tasks.
The usual approach is to get the students to type in or copy/paste the data (either of which I regard as a waste of time unless they had to do research to obtain the data first – in which case that's not a spreadsheet exercise anyway).
The data is usually something to do with sports or prices. Yawn. Why not produce several versions of the exercise and give pupils a choice? It's the concepts that you're trying to teach, so the scenario itself is unimportant, surely?
For example, let's suppose you want to teach them how to use look-up tables – not because that's a topic in the curriculum, but because it's a good example of how you can design a spreadsheet model to be efficient.
In case you're not familiar with it, the look-up table is a device for coping with what is, in effect, a bundle of IF statements. For example, you might grade exam papers according to their marks along the lines of grade 9 for 70% or above, grade 8 for a mark of 60 to 69% and so on. You could set this all out in a look-up table and then assign the grade with a formula that says, in effect:
Look up this number (the percentage mark awarded) in the look-up table, and give me the corresponding grade.
Clearly, you can use such a table in lots of contexts, such as:
- Sports, to work out which league the team should be placed in;
- Business, to work out whether more stock should be ordered;
- Science fiction: is there enough fuel to get back to earth safely?
My suggestion is come up with several scenarios to put them in a text file, and copy and paste the text file into the fruit machine random generator . Then select the exercise randomly.
I've used spreadsheets as an example here, but it could just as well be programming tasks, or news headlines related to Computing.
Maybe this could be used for setting homework as well. It would be difficult to use this approach all the time, but if done every week, say for the Friday homework or the first lesson of the week, it could be quite fun, not to mention a good way of keeping everyone on their toes!
This article was originally published (in a slightly amended form) in 2009, in the Computers in Classrooms newsletter -- which is now called Digital Education. Sign up below for news, views, and reviews, plus competitions, free stuff, and useful links.