More on habits

A while back, I posted about trying to establish some new habits.  It’s a work in progress.  It’s difficult to establish habits when you’re not yet into a routine.  Our routine really won’t begin until Wednesday.  Today is a weird administrative day for passing out schedules, getting pictures taken, etc., so it’s not normal.  So, I’m taking it a day at a time, which is what I think I’m just going to have to do.  I never know when I’m going to need to stay late for a meeting or to help a student.  Geeky Girl sometimes wants to do things with friends after school and I’ll just wait for her.  Days just don’t always go as planned.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have managed to keep a few habits that have helped me keep the house a little neater.  I’ve been putting things away rather than to leave them sitting and then have a pile to deal with days (or weeks) later: dishes, clothes, shoes.  Whenever I notice something isn’t where it’s supposed to be, I take it where it needs to go.  So far, I’ve been good about this.  I might miss a day, but never two.

Mr. Geeky and I also started finishing up some long neglected house projects.  We put up the drywall in the bathroom and I spackled the front porch to prep for painting (it’s been naked drywall for about 5 years).  I think we both feel better about keeping things neat when the rooms under the clutter look good.  Speaking of which, we still have a lot of clutter to get rid of, but we’re working on it.

Fitting in exercise is still a challenge.  My fitbit shows my walking activity to be all over the map.  I’d say I’m averaging between 5 and 6K steps per day, far below the 10k recommendation/goal.  I know myself well enough to know that trying to get in an extra walk in the morning isn’t going to work.  I only give myself about an hour to get ready and get out the door.  Squeezing in a 1/2 hour walk isn’t going to happen.  And there’s no getting me out of bed any earlier.  If work started at 9, that’d be one thing, but I start at 8.  I’m planning to walk in the afternoon/evening, bringing clothes to work every day, so that I can go from work if I want.  I’m just really good at talking myself out of taking a long walk.  It’s too hot, too cold, raining, not enough time, etc.  Those are the things I really need to overcome.

Once school really starts, I think there will be other things I want to do, so I’m sure I’ll revisit this issue again.  I keep trying.  At some point, I’ll succeed.

I’m not new anymore

I’m headed into my fifth year at my job.  For the first time during this week of opening meetings and training sessions, I don’t feel new.  I’m not sure why, though I have a working theory.  I think this year we reached a tipping point where there are as many people who are newer to the school than I am as there are those that have been here longer.  Newer people ask me questions about things in ways that they didn’t before.  And I actually have answers.  I know the history of some stuff and can explain it.  On the other hand, a lot of the legacy things (especially in the technology area) that I was dealing with have been replaced with systems I’ve put into place.  The program I was hired to build is now nearly fully formed and thriving.  Advisors, college counselors and division directors now recommend my courses rather than having no idea about their existence.   4 years ago when I offered my first intro to CS course, I had 7 students.  They’ve all now graduated.  My Intro course this year has 29 students in it (I gained another yesterday!).  My upper level courses have a total of about 25 students in them.  Students want to take my courses, which is super cool.    And this year, the 8th graders I started with as an advisor and teacher will graduate.  This graduating class will be the first class where I know almost everyone and had almost everyone as a student.

But there are still things that are new.  I have new department members, with an actual department.  Woo hoo.  We have a new middle school program.  I have two new classes to teach this year.  I’m planning to add another new class next year.  And even in my “old” classes, I’ve changed things up and brought in new things.

And I still love the job as if it were new.  I’m someone who thrives on change.  I almost think you have to in order to be in my field.  Even if the only change is fresh new faces in the classroom, I need something to be different every year.  I’m looking forward to facing this year as someone who’s “been there done that” but who still hasn’t seen it all!

Snow Limbo

We missed Monday for snow, had a regular day Tuesday and now we’ve been out for two days for snow/ice. I can’t seem to make myself do much of anything productive. I’ve responded and sent out email. I had a meeting over the phone that was supposed to be face to face. I’ve done some laundry, but mostly, I’m watching tv, eating, and playing games. It’s weird. I’m not like this in the summer, but give me some unexpected down time and I become a slug. Which is what I said the last time this happened.  Oh well.  I do hope we don’t have much more of this.  A day or two off for weather is nice but this is day 5.  The schedule is messed up.  There are meetings to reschedule that were hard to schedule in the first place.  I can’t even remember what day it is.  I lose momentum.  The kids lose momentum.  It’s not good.

Here’s hoping we get back to it tomorrow and keep going for a while.  I can’t believe I’m actually hoping for steady school days!

Classroom Management

Managing a classroom–keeping students on task, listening, participating–is a whole different ballgame in K-12 than it is at the college level.  I have issues with classroom management, mostly at the Middle School level.  I teach in a computer lab–with spinny chairs.  I have a couple of classes that are really big.  The room has been reconfigured so that I can see all but a couple of the computer screens, but it’s still a hard room to manage.  I’m determined this year, though, to manage it, and to still create an atmosphere of independent work, of not relying on me entirely for help.

I started reading Teach Like a Champion over the weekend, a book that promises practical strategies for becoming a better teacher.  The suggestion at the beginning of the book is to work on your strengths first and make them better, but I really want to improve this one weakness.  It causes me some stress, and more importantly, I feel it does a disservice to my students.  It allows some of them to get away without working, evidenced last year by having a few students each trimester who did not complete some project.  That cannot happen this year.

One thing I think I am good at is lesson planning, so I’m connecting that strength with this weakness.  I’m going to add into my lesson plans the strategies for keeping students on task.  Adding to this challenge is the fact that I’ve flipped my Middle School classes, so that my students have some work to do between classes (the idea being that they can get right to work when they come to class instead of waiting for me to explain something).  So, tomorrow is my first chance to tackle this, and here’s my plan.  Tomorrow, in my 7th grade class, they’ve created plans for a “Choose Your Own Adventure Story.”  They’ve watched a video that details the programming techniques they need to use to begin programming their story.  Here’s what I’m thinking will be on the screen when they enter the classroom:

1. Take a seat.

2. Log into your computer.

3. Log into Haiku.

4. Write down (or type) any questions you have about the video.

5. Listen to answers to questions.

6. Begin work on your story.

7. When I say, save your story in a safe and accessible place.

I may add homework to that list.  I can’t remember off the top of my head whether they have homework.  I think not (but if they did, I’d have that be number 4 and bump the rest down one).  6th and 8th grade classes will look the same. What do you all think?  Suggestions are welcome.

One thing I’m hoping is that keeping the classroom somewhat sane will allow students to work more deeply and learn more. I don’t mind a little loosey goosey, but when there are 22 students at 22 computers, loosey goosey is not going to cut it.

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Marathon Week

2008 NYC Half Marathon
2008 NYC Half Marathon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning I thought about how these first few weeks are like running a marathon (which I’ve never done, but I can imagine it).  You prep, prep, prep and then you have to hit the ground running, and there’s a lot of running.  You hit the wall usually after the first day, and then you see that you have a week of not just teaching, but back-to-school nights.  That’s what happens this week, with 3 evenings in a row (the joys of teaching grades 6-12).  On top of that, I have meetings on a couple of days that run up until those evenings begin.  I remember feeling like a deer in the headlights my first year, but now that this is old hat (ha!), I take everything in stride.  I’m still exhausted, but at least I know what hit me.

It’s very difficult to stay motivated and on your game when you get wiped out night after night, but I’m going to try.  I have set aside time during the day to go over my lessons for my classes on the following day, so I don’t feel like I’m floundering during class.  Plus, that means I can collapse into bed when I get back from these events, which is a bonus.

After this week, school returns to a brisk walk–a long walk, but at least it’s walking and not running.

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Friday Tabs: Back to School Edition

An interesting list.  I’m leaving up even the documents you won’t be able to get to.  This is the smallest list I’ve had in a while.  My colleagues routinely make fun of me for my millions of tabs.  This has been a truly successful week. Busy as all get out.  And today will be busy, too, but I got a ton accomplished.  I gained a student in intro.  I had giggling in Physical Computing.  I had colleagues and students excited about our new LMS.  Like seriously, excited.  It’s Haiku Learning, if you’re interested.  So far, so good.  Next week will be a full week, so I’ll be exhausted.  But hey, that’s what beginnings of the year are supposed to be like!

One day down

Yesterday was our first full day of meetings.  I started at 9 by meeting all the new faculty, then there was lunch, a full faculty-staff meeting, and then I did technology training for the new faculty.

I posted this picture on Twitter, but actually I didn’t feel like this.  I felt energized and ready to go. I was tired, sure, but I was not completely wiped out, which I think is a first. I may feel differently after the first full day with students, but right now, I’m feeling ready.  I am having some back issues, but oddly, they’re working themselves out as I stand/walk more.  In prep mode, where I’m leaning over a computer, I tend to wrench my back.  In teaching mode, I almost never sit, so my back actually feels better.

Today I meet with our new middle school students, so that may wear me out more.  I have a block of time today to set up my classroom and get a little prep done, then I meet with some faculty to do some cool techie stuff, then we have our welcome back picnic.  So all in all, it should be a good day.  There are so many loose ends to tie up.  I think it will all come together.

 

School Year Resolutions

I’ve been setting goals and making resolutions at the beginning of every school year for years.  I definitely find it useful, to at least set a trajectory for the year.  I don’t always accomplish my goals, but I often get close.  My job is definitely no longer new, but every year so far, I’ve been facing new things: new classes, new projects, new initiatives, new students.  I find that refreshing.  Even if everything was the same, I think I’d still be finding a way to make the new year fresh.  Here are my thoughts for this year.

  1. Take care of myself.  I often put this last on my list, but it’s really important to me.  When I get stressed and don’t take time for myself, my physical health suffers, which means I lose time and can’t get done what I need to get done, which makes me stressed, which . . . a vicious circle.  I’m going to continue with my healthy eating and exercise habits.  And I’m going to try to take measures to make myself even healthier, making time for down time, etc.
  2. Increase the use of social media by my colleagues.  This sounds really weird, I know, and I’m a fan of moderation here.  I know of two colleagues who are on Twitter.  I’m not saying everyone needs to Tweet, but I want to encourage my faculty to use social media for its resources and connections, to learn to use it effectively.  It might be Twitter.  It might be Tumblr, Learnist, Storify, a blog, whatever.  It’s a quick way to find information and stay informed.
  3. Increase understanding of what Computer Science is among students and parents.  I’m still struggling a bit with aspects of this because I wear both the CS hat and the Technology (as in bullet 2 above) hat.  I don’t mind both hats; I just want people to understand the difference.  I’m working on revamping some of the web content to make this clearer, and I’m hoping to publicize what I do in my classes more.
  4. Code every day.  I’ve fallen off the coding daily bandwagon.  Last week was stressful.  And even though this week is going to be busier, I’m going to try to get back on the horse.  I’m also going to try to push myself beyond my comfort zone.  I’m actually good about doing this, which is often what makes me resist coding (it’s going to be hard! I can’t finish a program in a day!).  But I’m going to push forward.

I think that’s enough.  There are other things, and I also set goals daily and weekly (usually in my head).  This week, establish habits, i.e. don’t let the busyness push away the habits that will keep you healthy, organized, and stress free.  What are your goals this year?

Teaching Teachers Computer Science

If you’d asked me 3 years ago if I’d be teaching other teachers how to do anything related to programming any time in the near future, I’d have told you no way.  But yesterday, that’s exactly what I did. CSTA Philly invited me to do a workshop on Python, and I did, and I actually knew more than the people around me, which was weird.  I mean, they could have taught me a ton about Java or C or whatever their language was, but very few knew anything about Python.  I showed them Calico, the IDE Mr. Geeky helped to develop and used by many schools.  There are several libraries specific to Calico that I think are great for teaching.  I showed off the Myro library for manipulating robots, and the Graphics and Processing libraries for creating graphics and animations.  I actually heard one person say, “This is really fun!”  Which is exactly why I use it with my students, too.

Yes, I’m excited that I’ve reached a level of proficiency that means I have some knowledge to share, but more than that, I’m developing a community of people with whom I can learn.  I had fun working with them because as a group, they were willing to try things, just poke around and see what happens.  While we’re all at different types of schools, we share many of the same issues getting Computer Science recognized, recruiting students, and developing appropriate curriculum.  The problem of recruiting women and minorities to CS is one everyone is struggling with and I’m happy to see so many teachers really thinking hard about how to address this problem through recruitment and curriculum.  I think K-12 teachers are ahead of college professors here.  Maybe it will trickle up.

I was exhausted at the end of the day yesterday.  I stopped by school after the workshop and chatted with the handful of colleagues who were around.  Although I’m enjoying the time away, I was reminded of how much I enjoy my work and how much it’s my colleagues that remind me of that.  I’m headed back later this week to catch up with folks over lunch.  I’m very much looking forward to it.  I’ll still get my rest and relaxation in, but when the school year gets here, I’ll be ready.