The Power to Speak

I began my Educon experience Saturday morning with first, a session on feminism and second, a session on race.   Those two conversations became a thread for me throughout the conference.  I kept talking to people about them, and I’m still talking about them today.

As someone who’s been teaching at all-women’s educational institutions for the last 12 years, and as a women, feminism is obviously very important to me.  It’s colored my life since I can remember, but I’m still striving to practice feminism well.  Things change constantly and feminism has evolved to meet the needs of modern women and others who find themselves oppressed by a patriarchal system.

But, damn, it’s hard, and it’s complicated.  One example came when I attended Chris Lehmann‘s session on distributed leadership.  It was a packed room, so I stood in the back, basically directly in Chris’s line of sight.  I found myself among mostly men in my smaller.  There were maybe 10 of us and only 3 of us were women.  But the room as a whole was fairly evening distributed.  Chris’s style is to set the foundation, then ask a question, have us discuss in small groups and then share more broadly.  At some point, Chris pointed out that he’d noticed mostly men were responding to his questions (yes, Chris attended the feminism session).  I then tweeted this:

And during the smaller group conversations that followed, Chris came over and said something like, “We point it out and we keep trying.”  Yes, yes, we do.

Later that evening, Chris and I talked about this again.  Chris made a huge effort to call on more women, even those that didn’t have their hands up.  And I made an effort to say more, and I think some other women did, too.  I explained how hard it was, even for me, someone who enjoys talking and generally isn’t afraid to speak in front of people, to speak out.  I just told him all the crazy things that go through my head, that I have to push out of my head, just to say something.  They include, but are not limited to:

  • If I say something, I’ll be talking too much (whether I’ve spoken at all or not)
  • What I’m thinking is stupid and if I say it out loud, people will be thinking how stupid it is, how stupid *I* am
  • What I have to say isn’t important
  • When I say something, I may pay for it in some way in the form of negative comments now or later
  • Judging, lots of judging

It sucks.  I relayed my conversation with Chris to someone else down the table who had been in both sessions.  He told me that right after Chris pointed out the issue, the guy next to him said, great, no white guys will talk now.  But, actually, this guy told me, the very next person to speak after a woman Chris called on was a white guy and then another white guy–because they don’t wait to be called on.

In the feminism session, we talked a little about how to shut down that dynamic in the classroom, but it’s clear that even among adults, this is a big problem.  Even among, I should say, a group of adults who generally are sensitive to these issues and who want to do the right thing.

What do we do? We sometimes do what Chris did, point it out, try to correct it.  We can’t put it all on women, but women should do their best to speak more.  Making it more normal can help.  And, of course, make the balance of men and women more equal.

And this is kind of the small stuff.  There’s equal pay and rape and all kinds of other things to deal with, but we have to start somewhere.

And if you want to read more about the speaking issue, here are some great articles, one as recent as two weeks ago.  So yeah, we’re still dealing with it.

Study on why women don’t speak up 

Why Women Stay Quiet at Work

Women Don’t talk more than Men 

Is Making Gendered?

I’m at EduCon today, skipping the opening keynote.  The thing I like about EduCon is that it always makes you think.  On the train ride in yesterday, I checked the Twitter stream fro the #educon hashtag and noticed a link to an article called “I Am Not a Maker”.  As a self-proclaimed maker myself, I had to see it.  I was expecting an argument about rejecting tech for say, meditation, walking in the wilderness or something along those lines.  I could handle that. Making isn’t for everyone, though I would argue it doesn’t have to be all about the tech.  Instead, it was an argument about making as a masculine domain, one that was fairly deliberately hiding the behind the scenes work of primarily women.

Of course making rises from our current culture; it’s not separate from it.  So that means it takes with it the racism, sexism, classism and other -isms inherent in our existing culture.  But claiming to be a maker does not mean that you’re advocating for some kind of return to a 1950s masculine-dominated mindset.  Chachra puts it this way:

Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.

I just don’t think that’s true.  First of all, I would say that makers are not interested in making products.  Most makers I know are interested in the process of making and what they learn from it, and empowering themselves not be beholden to the marketplace.  They want to make stuff for themselves that doesn’t exist in the market.  They want to fix the things they have so they don’t have to buy something.  So, I see makers as running counter to capitalism.  Now, I do think making has been somewhat commodified, but I think many makers are uncomfortable with that.

Just prior to the quote above, Chachra says this:

The cultural primacy of making, especially in tech culture—that it is intrinsically superior to not-making, to repair, analysis, and especially caregiving—is informed by the gendered history of who made things, and in particular, who made things that were shared with the world, not merely for hearth and home.

Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not.

Now, yes, I do think we should be critical of the world of making and to be thoughtful about how it does or does not reinscribe cultural norms.  And indeed, there are ways that it does, certainly if Make Magazine is your primary insight into this culture.  And, I think it’s important to have a conversation about that.  I teach Computer Science and I’m always having a conversation about the male domination of the field and how it got there and how it affects the tools we use every day.

And maybe because I’m approaching making from the angle of education, I think making is all about the people; it’s about using the maker process to engender a mindset that is resilient, independent, and thoughtful.   And I also don’t devalue caregiving and other “non-making” activities, but as an educator who teaches “making”, making has to happen in my classroom.  It’s just like a math teacher who might value English as a subject, but they’re not going to include much, if any, in their classes.  Education and learning is about having students be a little uncomfortable and try things they wouldn’t.  If my students leave my class and don’t become “makers”, I’m not only okay with that, I fully support it and often suggest careers and fields to my students that fall into the “non-making” category.  But I do hope that being a maker, or if people prefer, participating in the process of making, for a while in my class has some kind of impact.

I understand Chachra’s discomfort with the maker movement as a cultural phenomenon and especially the connections that have been made with Silicon Valley.  What I don’t understand is her complete rejection of it, instead of pushing for change within it.  Her field, engineering, is extremely skewed gender wise and maybe doesn’t have the hype of the maker movement, but certainly has issues, issues similar to CS.  It’soften unfriendly to females, certainly privileges certain kinds of work over others, and yet, she doesn’t reject it and say, I’m not doing that.  If female scientists had said that science was male-dominated and capitalist and unfriendly to women, so I’m not going to do it, we’d have no female scientists.

The maker movement deserves our critical eye, for sure, but it should be changed and not rejected.  Its focus can’t be on what makes white middle aged men happy–robots, cool gadgets, cars–but we need to point out when this is happening and correct it.  Fix it from within, I say.

Productivity goes to 11

We’re in the middle of exams.  Mine was on Friday, then we had the long weekend, which I spent celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday, which is to say no work was done over the weekend.  Because of exams, I have no classes until 12:30, my one middle school class.  So, I have hours of rare free time ahead of me.  Yesterday, I situated myself in the faculty lounge, set a timer, and started grading.  Then I shifted gears to working on the new school website, then back to grading, etc.  I had lunch, went to my class, met with the 1:1 director, met with one of my department members, did some more grading, went home, worked on the web site, ordered pizza, worked on the web site, answered email.  Broke for an hour for dinner.  I did an interview, then ran a Twitter chat (#makered).  And I didn’t feel insane or like I was rushing around trying to get things done.

I think I have to thank UFYH for this.  For all of that, I used the 45/15 method.  45 minutes of work followed by 15 minute breaks.  Knowing that you get to stop and that you have only a small amount of time to work has a couple of benefits.  If the work is drudgery, then you know it has a limit and won’t go on forever.  The limit helped me set goals, like getting a whole section done or getting so many exams graded, which was also nice and probably helped me work more efficiently.  On my breaks, I tried to walk around rather than sit and play games or read since most of my work this week requires being stationary.  Yesterday was admittedly a low step day for me.

At any rate, I’m hoping for super productivity the rest of the week, so I can enjoy the weekend at Educon and be ready to start the semester off next week.  Do you have productivity tips that work for you?  How do you trick yourself into doing work you may not want to do?

Why teaching not coding

Every once in a while someone asks me why I’m not a professional programmer.  I think they wonder why the heck I wouldn’t want to get paid six figures. It’s a long story, of sorts, which makes me have to confess I have no CS degree (which wouldn’t preclude me from being a professional programmer, but always feels weird to say).  I’ve never been a professional programmer.  As I sometimes explain to people, working with technology is how I paid the bills while I pursued my humanities degree.  In all my jobs, I’ve toyed with code, mostly via the command line.  I built one small thing with PHP once before I got the teaching job that I have now.  I honestly don’t know if I’d like being a professional programmer or coder.  I suspect maybe.

But I consider myself a professional teacher.  I’ve been studying and working on my teaching skills as long as I’ve been poking around in a computer (well over 20 years now).  And I get a lot of joy out of teaching.  And, I’ve taught poetry writing, composition, literature, and now computer science, and teaching computer science is by far the most fun.  There is something so cool about watching a student get it for the first time, or make something super cool using code, especially when, as is often the case, they didn’t think they could.  I love finding ways to help students remember and understand complicated ideas.  And I love supporting them as they go beyond the classroom to do even more.  It’s problem solving of a different kind, I guess.

I also like middle and high school teaching way more than college teaching.  These students are so open to learning and discovering new things where many college students have already decided what they’re going to be and that it doesn’t involve you or the thing you’re teaching them.  I may be jaded by the fact that I taught a required course. Those who’ve actually taught CS in college may have a different experience.  I taught a Gender and Technology course once that was a hoot and a half.  I revised that for my high school students, and it was even more fun! Just saying.

So teaching is my thing.  And I do like to code, but given free time, you’re just as likely to find me reading a book about teaching or designing a lesson as you are to find me coding something.  They’re both fun, but the former has more draw for me.


Exams are coming up in just a little over a week.  Before the break, I gave a quiz in CS I over what we’d covered so far, and the range of grades was what you might expect.  A few failed, a few did super well, and a lot were in the middle.  Many of my students are super worried about the exam, based on how they did on the quiz.  What they may or may not know is that whatever they missed on the quiz, they probably understand now.  I went over the quiz in detail, round robin style, having each student  try to answer the question.  We also talked about strategies for eliminating questions and I gave them hints like loops usually reset variables, so if you see a loop without that, it’s probably wrong.

On the one hand, I’m not a fan of tests.  On the other, it is a good way to solidify your recall of certain concepts.  I’m not going to lie.  My test is hard.  It’s on par with the AP Test just in a different language.  I’d say I cover 1/2 to 2/3 of the concepts covered on the AP test and my questions are quite similar.  So a little worry is in order.  However, the bulk of my students’ grades come from the work they do in class: labs and projects.  What I find is that students who are doing well on those, which is most of them, aren’t affected by the exam, even if they do poorly.  Students who struggle on those tend to struggle on the exam and therefore do poorly on the exam.  Which makes sense.  You have to understand the concepts to complete the projects.

I do, however, want to change some of my assessment strategies.  I’ve been reading Specifications Grading, and while it’s geared toward Higher Education, there are some ideas in there that are worth considering and modifying.  My department works on a project-based level, but we do want to make sure we can clearly articulate the skills our students are acquiring, some of which are soft skills like figuring out problems independently and coming up with creative ideas.

I’m going to try a version of this in my Mobile Computing class that starts in a few weeks.  I’ll report here on the process and progress.  I’d love to hear other ideas for assessing longer-term projects and skill mastery.

Accountability, Realism, and Motivation

Yesterday, as I was walking in the bitter cold, I thought what a crazy idea it is to set resolutions involving the outdoors, heck, maybe anything, in the dead of winter.  The cold is not motivating (at least not for me).  But there I was, bundled up, and walking, because I promised myself I would, and now I’m telling a bunch of strangers on the internet. Because accountability.

I haven’t set my walking goals too high.  Over break, I aimed for 5,000 steps.  And right now, I’m aiming for 7500.  I’m being realistic about my motivation.  I can make myself walk, but if it’s 5 degrees out, chances are I’m not going to be motivated to walk very far.

Ditto for cleaning.  I can’t do it all in a day.  We’re tricked into this by tv shows that clean up a whole house in 48 hours, often with a remodel thrown in for good measure.  It’s important to recognize that doing even a little every day makes things better. So, yesterday, I cleaned for 15 minutes, but that netted me the dishes in the dishwasher and a super-clean bathroom cabinet.

On the cleaning motivation front, I’ve joined a small group of folks on Tumblr posting before and after pictures.  Not only do I feel the need to show some improvement, it’s also very motivating to see what others accomplish and that it’s often not perfect, but it looks way better.  And it’s nice to see that there are others who let things slide and can’t see their dining room table or their floor.  It makes me feel like I’m not the only one.

So, one work day in, it’s going okay.  I’ll keep trying to keep it real, stay motivated, and accountable as I go along.

Computer Science Predictions

Alfred made some interesting predictions for CS in 2015.  I agree with many of them, but as Mike said, it’s hard to know exactly how things will pan out.  There definitely seems to be some momentum behind having CS count and getting it into schools.  But will that momentum hold.  What will CS look like in 5 or 10 years?  Will it really get treated like Math and Science?

States could do weird things with CS, like let applications classes count.  Or they could let it count, but no schools will offer it because teachers are hard to find or in the race to build up test scores, they decide it’s not worth focusing on.  CS is as bound up in the issues with the whole system as anything else.

What that might mean is further bifurcation of CS offerings. Schools with wealthier students might offer CS while schools in disadvantaged areas won’t offer it.  So, you’ll get a further skewing of CS in the white, male direction.

That might be one reason to argue not just for letting CS count, but making it required.  What if, of the 6 or so math and science classes most students are required to take, one of them has to be a CS class?  Will we ever get there?  Some schools already require a CS course — a real CS course, not some information literacy course — but I think most are pretty far away from that.  Even my school, which has generous CS offerings, is not ready to make CS required.  Schedules, teachers, testing, etc. all present obstacles to making CS required.

So, I don’t know what to predict except that it’s going to be an interesting ride for the next few years.

On the eve of break’s end

Yesterday was productive.  I did a lot of cleaning and reorganizing, with more planned for today.  I still have work, work to do, and there’s a trip to the grocery store in my future (unless I talk Mr. Geeky into it, which I might).  I don’t think I will finish all my grading, which is okay, I think.  I’ll get through most of it.  I have to keep telling myself that I deserve a break as much as the kids do.

Tomorrow is going to be rough.  I can feel it.  I got up at 8 today.  Tomorrow I have to get up at 6.  And I’ve been going to be at midnight.  I’m going to have to try to get to sleep by 10 to make that early rising time manageable.  And then there’s just dealing with work tomorrow.

One of the things I’m going to do today is take down the Christmas tree and put away the decorations.  That’s going to be tough.  It’s such a signal that break is over.  A friend on Facebook was struggling to do this herself, and was encouraged to leave everything up a little longer.  I got my decorations up late this year, so I sympathize with her.  I just want to spend a little more time with the shiny lights.  But if I don’t do it today, it won’t get done, so I’m setting aside some time, and it will get done.

I’m looking forward to getting back to school, but it will be a challenge to get back into the swing of things.  I’ll squeeze in some more fun time today in between getting things ready.

Last weekend of break

This was a good, relaxing break.  I think two weeks is the right amount of time for a vacation.  It takes me about 4 or 5 days to settle down and to stop getting up at 6.  With just a week, you end up with just a day or two to really relax.  With two weeks, you’ve got a whole week to sit back and enjoy time with family and friends.

I have checked in on work email a couple of times, but luckily, there’s been nothing I’ve needed to deal with.  I did put off the grading I wanted to do, and now my plan is to get through it this weekend.  Honestly, it’s a good way to ramp up to the work week.  In a semi-leisurely way, I’ll do some grading and planning, with plenty of break time built in.  I’m toying with the idea of taking a no-screen day today or tomorrow to motivate myself to do some reading.  We’ll see.

My goals are going well so far, though next week will be the real test.  I’ve walked every day, and I’ve aimed for 5,000 steps a day (half of what I will start aiming for next week).  Since I’ve been starting my day fairly late, and haven’t had much to do, I decided not to push the 10,000 steps for now.  I will get there.

The cleaning using UfYH app has gone quite well.  But I’m realizing it’s going to take a long time to get where I want to be.  I’ll be surprised if I make it by summer, and it will likely take until this time next year.  What I’ve been doing is a random 5 minute and 10 minute challenge, followed by 20 minute sessions on the room I started my main cleaning work in.  Yesterday, I did three sessions just to get through one small area. I think I won’t finish the room until the end of the week.

It’s amazing how much stuff one accumulates over a lifetime.  We’ve been in this house for 10 years and we’ve been together for over 20.   We used to be better about purging stuff.  Mr. Geeky is sentimental for all kinds of things, which makes it hard to get rid of stuff.  But it makes me sad when I see some of the stuff he cares about not get treated well because it’s in a pile somewhere.  I’m going to try to fix that somehow.

The kids are off on their own adventures this weekend.  Geeky Girl is hanging with friends, and Geeky Boy went off to New York.  I had thought I might get to spend some time with them before break ended, but it looks like that’s not going to happen.  Ah, living with teenagers.

So I’m looking forward to a final 48 hours without major responsibilities.  I hope that gets me off to a productive start on Monday.

Friday Fun: Cat/Dog Door tracking

Ten or so years ago, when I was working part time and trying to decide what to do with my life, I declared Fridays as a day to learn something new.  I taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so my week was done, but I was in the process of retooling myself, so I usually learned some kind of new techie thing.  I taught myself Flash and some CSS stuff and searched for new Linux software, among other things.  I’m going to try to go back to that this year. And some of it, I’m going to share with colleagues, which is another thing I used to do regularly.  So today will be the first of those.

For Christmas, I got the WeMo Maker kit.  I have it set up, but I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do with it, until today.  A while back, I started working on an Arduino-based cat/dog door tracker.  It was just a simple tilt sensor and I had that all connected and working, but for the logging part, I needed several other parts, an RTC shield (real time clock), which then required a battery.  I got all those, but never got them connected because, well, work.

With the WeMo plus IFTTT, I should be able to attach a tilt sensor to the door and log it in Google sheets.  We’ll see how it goes!