I knew that Computer Science and logic were closely tied together, but I’ve been surprised by how difficult that logical thinking comes to my students. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have to say my writing background is perfectly suited to CS. Writing = Logical Thinking. When I started doing some programming several years ago, I struggled mostly with syntax, but once I switched to a language with a more logical syntax, a lot of the thought process of programming came naturally.
My students, though, are struggling a bit, at times. We’re working right now on just using functions, loops, variables and some simple calculations. We start using some boolean logic next class period. It takes them quite a bit just to wrap their heads around calling functions and using variables (instead of putting in actual numbers). Calling a function within a function totally blows their minds. I think the issue is a difference between concrete and abstract thinking (as well as logic). So, for example, they’ve been writing programs one line at a time in a “do this”, “do this”, and then “do this.” kind of fashion and not thinking, okay, I’m doing this 3 times, maybe I should use a loop. Or I’m having to calculate this by hand every time, why don’t I write a function I can reuse over and over again.
My plan for next class period is to take their existing programs and rewrite them to both take advantage of abstraction and to include some boolean logic. I’m just going to keep repeating and going over these things until it sinks in.
For Halloween, I wrote a little program to do this:
Not the most exciting thing, but all done with (gasp) math and programming.
One of the most fascinating things about running this robotics club is watching kids figure out how to work together. The mantra about 21st century learning is that cooperation and collaboration are at the top of the list, because things like cloud computing make it possible to do across time and space. But working together is a really hard, especially for girls who are smart and used to achieving individually. I’ve watched kids bickering, individuals doing all the work, individuals complaining that “no one is helping”, people wandering off from the group, and people getting frustrated. It’s all part of the process. I spend more time talking to kids about how to work together than I do talking to them about how to build a robot.
Some of them literally don’t know how to work as a team. I find this interesting, though not unexpected. They’re young; they’re not asked to do this very often. And they don’t actually see the end goal very clearly because they’ve never done this before. They’re all trying. So although I hear complaints and see bickering, those are their ways of trying, so I talk to them about better ways to communicate, how to delegate. I’ve seen kids make great strides. Students who were bickering a couple of weeks ago now delegate work to the rest of the team. And I find it kind of fun to try to come up with ways to help them work together.
I can’t emphasize enough how important I feel this skill is. In the “real world,” we all have to work with people we don’t like or don’t agree with. If we just worked with people we liked, we’d never accomplish anything. Am I perfect in this regard? No. But I work really hard at it, because I think it’s important in order to achieve things within an organization, even as an individual. Very little that I’ve done has been accomplished without some kind of help, directly or indirectly. I hope to teach my students this as well. We’re all in this together. Working together is how we are going to solve the problems we face.
I mentioned the other day on Twitter that I was spread out across too many social networks. I have Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, the blog, a Ning I’m participating in. It’s all too much. But each of those networks is a slightly different audience, so I feel compelled to participate. There are things I like about each of them (except Facebook; its redeeming qualities diminish every day). I used to have a fairly nice setup where I’d read blogs mostly, and then I’d check in with Twitter a couple of times. And then I had Facebook sending me email when I was really needed there.
Also, I’ve been doing this social media thing for almost 10 years. Some of my tools are aging. Delicious has been purchased and revamped into a nearly unrecognizable form. My RSS feeds from there that fed to various resources pages is no longer working. I’m waiting for a fix. And I moved my blog over here when Haloscan quit working (ah, Haloscan). Aside from the technical changes, there’s also the shift in culture. Does anyone besides Alan Levine blog anymore? Even Laura at 11D hasn’t been an every day sure thing. All the action is happening elsewhere. Some are claiming it’s going to Google Plus. I think most people are still in Twitter. And therein lies my problem. Not all my Twitter people are posting regularly to Google Plus yet, so I still have to check there anyway. But most of my Google Plus people are still on Twitter. Only my old high school friends are on Facebook. And they’re just not on my priority list.
And then there’s the question of where to post myself. I like the longer form of the blog, but most people prefer shorter snippets, which all the other social media out there offer. I do post links to both Twitter and Google Plus. And I love the way I can share things from my Android easily (much more easily than via my laptop–go figure). But much of what I want to share requires more typing than Twitter or even maybe Google Plus. I guess I’m trying to figure out what the best bang for my buck is. I have a hard time imagining “blogging” over on Google Plus. I guess that’s how journalists felt (feel?) about blogs. I’m Internet old.
Audrey Watters wrote a nice post about me for Ada Lovelace Day. I was going to mention Ada Lovelace to my faculty yesterday as we were having our first in-service, but decided not to. In my mind, though, our technology-focused in-service was kind of about Ada’s legacy. In a sense, helping faculty embrace and engage new technology tools helps our students (all girls) engage it in a thoughtful way as well.
On Ada Lovelace day, one is supposed to name a woman in technology or computing who has inspired you. Honestly, I haven’t had the opportunity to have a female mentor in technology that has truly inspired. There are plenty of women in the field I admire, but they’re not people I’ve worked with that closely. Instead, I’m mostly inspired by my students, both current and former. I spend much of my time trying to find ways to help them, either to understand more about computing or to further their careers in computing or related fields. I also learn a lot from them as I try to see things from their perspective. My students over the years have taught me that teaching really means learning. Even if I think I know more than them, I often realize, we really are learning together.
I was so sad to hear of Steve Jobs’ passing last night. Of course I didn’t know him at all, but his company has touched my life in many ways. My first computer was not an Apple, but in 7th grade, I took a CS class. We had a TRS-80 and two Apple IIe‘s. Mostly, we played games on them, and I remember playing Lemonade Stand on the Apple for what seemed like hours. I didn’t see another Apple or MacIntosh again until college. PCs dominated for a while in the early 80s. I acquired an IBM clone my sophomore year in college. When it collapsed my senior year, I used a friend’s MacIntosh to complete my senior thesis. I was pretty hooked by then, so when I went off to grad school, I sought out the Mac Lab. Yep, we had separate labs back then.
Throughout grad school, I was platform agnostic, and found my way around Macs, Windows machines, Solaris (unix-based), and NeXT‘s (a Steve Jobs creation). Apple was anything but platform agnostic, of course, and until Mac OS X came out, I spent my time mostly in Linux-based computers. But I’ve been a Mac person ever since. I’m typing this on my MacBook, and on my desk is an iMac. Next to me is an iPad, and up until this summer, I had a first generation iPhone.
Apple did a lot of things right, and many of the innovations they came up with are now seen across multiple platforms. It can be argued that Apple made mainstream the GUI interface we now all take for granted, as well as the touchscreen interface that has many of our kids trying to pinch regular computer screens. Apple engineered for consumers rather than for engineers. I dare say consumer electronics would not be the same without them. Without Apple, we’d be stuck with buttons and scroll wheels. And though Google is mostly associated with cloud computing, Apple’s Mac Air pretty much insisted on having things stored in the cloud.
Had he not gotten cancer, Jobs would likely have continued innovating for another 20 years. What great things will not happen because he’s gone?
Via Jackie, I thought this was a great meme. And honestly, I could have answered almost the same way she did.
1. Going to Rhodes College. Almost every day, something I did there or learned there helps me. Even my experience in a sorority has been extraordinarily beneficial. We actually learned how to make good small talk, which seems like a silly thing, but when you find yourself at a cocktail party with people who can advance your career or fund your project, you’d better be able to make conversation. The whole small liberal arts scene worked for me, though I didn’t always realize it at the time.
2. Marrying my husband. He is my best friend, and he has provided me unwavering support and great advice throughout the many bumps in the road.
3. Quitting my last job. I learned a lot from my previous job, but it was not a good environment for me.
4. Staying with my dad right after my stepmom died. A small thing, but something that brought us closer, and that I think was helpful to him.
5. Having kids. I was trying to avoid saying this, but it’s true. My kids are awesome, and my life would be much less rich without them. For all the frustration and angst they sometimes bring me (can you tell I have teens?), they provide much more love and fun and general joy.
You’re never fully prepared sometimes. I spent the summer developing my course. And yet, the other day, after going over my plan, tweaking a few things, and adding others, I still didn’t feel prepared enough, and I still feel like, afterwards, the lesson could use some work.
Once a week is not enough for my middle school technology classes.
Prep and grading sometimes fall to the bottom of the priority list when you have other things to do. And I really hate that.
I feel way more comfortable in the classroom than I did last year, especially when it comes to classroom management.
I sat down at lunch today and said, “I love this place.” And I meant it. My colleagues are awesome.
I’m running in-service day this Friday. It’s been a real pleasure organizing. People have stepped forward and really helped me out. And really, it’s run by the rest of the faculty who are leading workshops for the day.
On the home front, I’m a little obsessed with Geeky Boy’s impending (in two years) entrance to college. He seems not just ambivalent, but downright uninterested. Sigh.
I’ve signed up for an online CS course that covers some of the advanced stuff I haven’t really gotten into much. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m looking forward to taking some more CS-related courses in areas that I might teach–iOS programming, for example. Always something new in my field.
I’m throwing my hat into the ring to help some very worthy projects get funded (see widget to the right). Science bloggers around the interwebs are soliciting donations this month through Donors Choose, a great site that allows teachers to post what they need and for people to contribute to those specific needs. I’ve created a page with several projects I think are worthy. Of course it’s hard to pick, and I’ll be adding more.