Resources for #Makered
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Yesterday, I went my third EdCampPhilly. Here are my retrospectives on the previous 3. I could only go to half of the conference because I was attending a board meeting in the morning. I mostly focused on 1-to-1 programs and flipped classroom things, since that’s something we’re working on at my school. I got a lot of good ideas. It’s also interesting to see some of the differences between the way people approach different issues. Schools have many different kinds of constraints. I’m grateful to have relatively few, and to have so many colleagues who share a similar approach to teaching and learning. We don’t always agree, but we have good conversations around ideas. I always get something out of these.
Edcamp is like having those conversations all the time, and hearing from multiple viewpoints. I think it’s very important to get out and see what others are doing. It’s never good to stay in a bubble. It’s also good to talk to people face-to-face. Many of these folks I’m following on Twitter or reading their blogs, but it’s great to have more extended conversations around teaching.
Some of the highlights for me were a discussion of the shift that’s been occurring for quite a while where students have access to tons of information so don’t need us for the basic facts. The way I see it is we need to encourage teachers (our colleagues in some cases) and students to approach the classroom differently. In both sessions I was in, this was the main topic. We talked about flipping, 20% time, and other ideas for having students acquire basic facts from videos, texts, etc. and using class time in more hands-on ways. We talked about assessing differently and about having flexible due dates. As I’ve started planning for next year, these were good discussions to be a part of. We didn’t have all the answers, but we’re at least asking questions.
This weeks tabs. I’m sort of amazed that there are only one or two duplicates. That’s a little scary.
baldwincs.pythonanywhere.com (non-working web application; update: working now!)
Google Groups (help forum for above non-working web application)
Hello, I’m a computer science teacher. Every day, I read another article about another venture, online or face-to-face, that seeks to teach kids to code. We’ll make it fun, they say. I appreciate the effort. If anything, you’ve at least made learning to code look like “the thing to do.” You’re like the iPhones of coding. No one wanted a smartphone until the iPhone came out. That’s all good. That makes what I do a little easier to explain. But if you really want kids to learn to code (and I’m uncertain that that’s you’re real goal), then don’t make yet another tool or start yet another class that’s separate from your nearby school. If you make a tool, share it for free with your school district.1 Contact a science or math teacher and help them learn to use the tool. Host a workshop for local teachers. Hire those teachers for your summer camps. They will share with you how learning actually works so that you can make your tool better. That’s been the model MIT’s Scratch has used. It works pretty well.
Better yet, if you really want kids to learn to code, provide money to teachers and schools for training and buying equipment (like actual computers to code on) through a grant program. Or work on policy at the local, state and national level to incorporate Computer Science into the curriculum. There are organizations like CSTA that are doing this already. Maybe you can help them. Washington State recently decided that AP CS counts as math or science for graduation requirements. That will get CS and learning to code into the curriculum.
See, all this stuff you’re doing does a lot for publicity, but I’m afraid you’re working against actual change. And you’re working against (in some cases) diversifying the field.2 Who has the time and luxury to go to summer camp? To work on their on with an online program? People who have resources and time. People who are likely already thinking about computer science as a field. Often not women. Often not students of color. So, again, I appreciate the effort, but I think it’s time you did this a little more thoughtfully and maybe talked to some educators and schools. Get out of your Silicon Valley bubble for a bit and deal with some of the realities facing teachers and students. Because we do want to teach kids to code and we do want your help, but you need to work with us.
Geeky Mom, teacher
1I’m starting to see tools that aren’t free, not to schools, certainly not to individuals.
2The exceptions are things like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Who Code as well as CodeNow, which target underrepresented groups.
I’ve been wrestling with a student project for the last couple of days. She’s doing part of it and I’m helping. We’re using a tool that I like, but that I don’t know that much about and for which there isn’t much documentation. There are lots of moving parts. There’s python, there’s a database, there’s a web framework, and then there’s just HTML. I started in this computing schtick with databases, so I understand the structure. I know MySQL syntax and some SQL, but I used PHP to interface with those languages. Now I’m using a python web framework.
Basically, I’ve been writing a line of code, running the code, and reading error messages. I was excited when I got new error messages. I came close, very close, to giving up. But I finally turned to a forum, found some better examples, changed the function I was using and voila! Success!
But I completely understand my students’ frustration sometimes. I found myself saying, “What do you mean, that variable is undefined? It’s defined right there!” Or more often, I was trying to figure out what some method returned: a list? a dictionary? an object? all of the above? I have developed a pretty good process for reading errors and figuring out where things are going wrong. My students sometimes get frustrated if they get more than one error message in a row. I don’t blame them. We discussed the image below the other day, because it always seems to be true.
This also happens when you take out one line of code. I like the puzzles though. I can get past the frustration when I have a clear goal in mind, and know what I want the end product to look like. My students seem to be that way as well. With really complex projects, though, it’s sometimes hard to see the end goal. It’s even hard sometimes for them to see the pieces. This project that I’m working on I broke into pieces. My student and I are working on different pieces. And she’s doing a lot of the conceptualizing. We’re hoping to have at least two or three working pieces before the end is here. Or at least have a clearer vision of the final goal. That’s a major accomplishment. I just hope they can see it as one.
It’s hit me in a major way that I need some free time. While next week will be a bit of a break with exams beginning, I still have so much to do to finish out the year. As always the kids’ birthdays being June 5 and June 7 will add to the craziness. And we’ll triple that with Geeky Boy’s graduation and family coming in to celebrate. June 8th, everyone–my parents and their spouses and Mr. Geeky’s parents–will descend on us and be with us for 3 days. I feel like I’m not ready and that I can’t get ready until I get through the school stuff.
My CS II students finish up their “real-world” projects this week, only I don’t think any of them will be completely finished. We were all a bit too ambitious in what we took on. What I’m encouraging them to do is reflect on what they accomplished, what they learned, and what they could have done differently to reach a better conclusion. I’m planning to survey them on whether they’d do something like this again, or if they would like to do something different. Live and learn.
My CS I students have finished their projects mostly, and they’ve turned out well. That class will wrap up nicely.
In Middle School, I have the usual stragglers, students who’ve failed to turn in an assignment or two along the way. This is my last week with them, so I have to track them down.
For all of the above, there will be the inevitable grading and commenting. That will take a while.
Looking ahead to summer, I have an ambitious one planned, one that includes learning new things and making changes to my curriculum. I’ve already been thinking about a schedule for that that allows me to get things done and have some down time. I do have vacations planned, but the summer seems far too short to get everything done. I have high hopes and high expectations. But right now, I look forward to the weekend (already!).
I still think it’s funny that I put “Mom” in my blog title. I started it before the mommy blogger craze was even on the horizon. It’s not that I don’t identify as a mom, but it wasn’t my main reason for starting the blog–as it was for many mommy bloggers. Like mommy bloggers, I relied on the Internet plenty to help with the early days of parenting. It was pre-blogging, though, so I spent time on email lists, chat, IRC, even rolled my own parenting site. So I guess I could credit being a mom, and need an outlet, for my early interest in technology. It was during Geeky Boy’s naps that I learned HTML and CSS.
Being a mom is a complicated thing. It’s gotten harder as the kids have gotten older. It’s hard to recognize how little control I have over my kids. The best I can do is hope they listen. Last night, Geeky Boy went to his Senior Prom. I’ve worried every time he goes out that he’s not going to come back. Most of that worry is unfounded. Last night, he went to the Prom followed by the school-sponsored after party, where he won $75 in gift cards plus a t-shirt. Today he’s off with friends for the rest of the weekend. It makes me feel like I’ve mostly done my job. I’m here to support him, but I’ve done most of the mothering I can do for a while.
Geeky Girl is still in need of parenting, though she’s doing just fine. She’s very open with me, and we mostly have a good relationship. It’s not without its quibbles, but they’re generally minor. These next few years will be a process of letting go, something I feel like will be easier than it was for me and Geeky Boy for a wide variety of reasons. I’ve learned some things as a parent. I’m just in a different place than I was with Geeky Boy 4 or 5 years ago.
I’m sort of looking forward to the “mom” part of my life being definitively not the main thing. I think I always thought of myself as just a person, who also happened to be a mom. But life and society often thrust the mom part of my life on me as my main identity. Had they not done that, I might have embraced it more. I might not have the ambivalent relationship with my blog title that I do. I’m still proud of what I’ve accomplished as a mom. And I really think that what comes next is a different kind of mothering, something that supports my children but recognizes they have their own lives, their own goals, and other support. That can be a difficult shift. We’ll see how it goes.
Yes, I’ve automated it. Thanks to a chrome extension.
I don’t normally promote stuff here, even though I get asked to quite often. I only agree if I like the company or the product. Mental Floss Magazine is having a “Nerdy Mom” sale. I love Mental Floss, so check out their gifts.
While you’re there, check out their “Nerdy Mom” story contest. Maybe you’ll win one of the gifts.