Summer Learning

I should be doing a million things right now–grading, responding to email, etc.  but I’m going to clear my head a bit and write a post about summer.  I’m sitting outside on one of the many benches we have around the school.  The birds are chirping.  There’s a slight breeze and it’s warm.  In the summer, I start to get tired of the artificial climate indoors and prefer a little sweltering to the refrigeration of air conditioning.

I am planning a lot of learning this summer, as I do every summer.  I’m repeating a couple of conferences from last year and attending another that I haven’t been to in a while.  I’m going to be at conferences 3 weeks in a row, which might be a bit much, but I know I’ll be challenged and will learn a lot.  I will start my conference going with ISTE, which is here in Philly this year.  It’s been a few years since I’ve gone as I felt like I’d gotten as much out of it as I could.  I’m presenting this year, and I’m looking forward to attending some other sessions on new ideas.

Next, I will go to Constructing Modern Knowledge.  This is where some serious learning will happen.  I’ll be rolling up my sleeves, and actually trying to create a project using programming and materials I may never have used before.  i learned a lot last summer, and I expect to learn more this year.

Finally, I will end with CSTA, a conference I’ve been enjoying for 5 years now.  This is the conference where I get to get into the nuts and bolts of teaching CS and people don’t look at me like I have two heads when I tell them I teach Computer Science.  No one will think I’m teaching word processing when I mention the word computer.

In between, I will likely work on my programming skills, perhaps learning yet another language, and I’ll be figuring out how to approach my new role.  I always tweak my courses, both in response to student feedback and by adding in new things I’ve learned about.  Yes, summers are for relaxing, but they can also be for gaining new perspectives and learning new things.

Savoring the last few days

This weekend is really the last weekend of summer for me.  Tuesday, the meetings begin, and the following Tuesday, the students show up.  I’m already really working, having taught the new MS students how to log into their various accounts.  But I’m trying to hold onto some free time.  So, yesterday after lunch, I didn’t do any school work.  And today I’m here to do some work and teach new US students, but I’m trying to be low key about it.  I’m trying to remember the lessons from Distraction Addiction and my own desire to not get overly stressed about stuff.   I could easily spin my wheels about prepping for class, about getting things done for faculty.  But I’m not.  I’m going to calmly work through my to-do list.  And when I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough.

We shipped Geeky Boy back off to school last night, this time setting him up in his own apartment.  It’s nice having him so close.  As he left, I promised a trip downtown to take him out to dinner in a few weeks.  If he were further away, that wouldn’t work.

Geeky Girl is in sports already, practicing every morning.  Next week, practice will continue, but in the afternoon.  She, too, is trying to capture the last few days by relaxing during her off time.

Life is starting to feel a bit hectic already, but we’re trying to keep the hecticness at bay as long as possible.  It’s a challenge, but we’re working on it.

On your mark, get set, go

Yesterday, I dove in to my “work week”, summer style.  I set up camp outside on the deck, and started into tweaking my CS I course.  Generally, everything took longer than I thought it would.  I ended up spending an hour and a half on the course rather than the hour I allotted and about the same amount on the PD stuff.

I made it through Week 3 of my CS course.  I spent a good 15-20 minutes just figuring out how to set things up afresh in our course management system.  Here’s my syllabus so far.  Ignore the dates.  Those are a work in progress.  Basically, the first 3-4 weeks, we talk about what computer science is, what computers are, what’s inside, and how they work.  I’m calling Week 4 Ninja Computing because I’m going to show them all the secret stuff anyone who wants to call themselves a Computer Guru should know.  My students should be computer ninjas by the time they’re through that week.

In general, I’m adding more assessment in the form of quizzes and discussion.  I felt like this past year in particular, my students weren’t as prepared for the midterm and the more challenging second semester projects because they hadn’t really grasped key concepts or worse, they misunderstood them.  Interestingly, as I was making up a quiz, I found myself really focusing on what they could learn from taking the quiz.  I wasn’t just thinking about ways to stump them or trick them, but thinking, what questions can I ask that will help them remember these concepts.  It definitely made it more fun.  Quizzes will be mostly about terms and concepts while discussion will be about applying those concepts.  I’m going to have them post to a discussion board every week.  Sometimes I’ll have a guided question for them to answer (the first week is “What do you think computer science is?”).  Other times, they’ll be asked to share an article they’ve read in the news and connect it tthe o the class.  I’m stealing from my Race and Gender course the idea of starting every class with something about technology/CS in the media and talking about it.  I really want my students to come out of the class not only with programming chops, but also with an informed understanding of the technology all around them.  I’d say that’s the biggest goal I have for this year.

On the administrative front, I used the time to respond to email and to write a blog post about girls and computer science for our school’s blog.  When that gets posted, I’ll share.  Tomorrow, I need to post something to the technology blog and to tweak the various web sites I manage.  I also need to start diving into a larger web project I’m involved in.  I kind of avoided that today. 🙂

On the PD front, I picked up a Udacity course I had started eons ago.  I had planned to start something different because most of this is review, but I decided I should finish what I started.  My PD and course prep work will eventually converge as I start working on my Mobile Computing course.

All in all I’d say I had a successful first day.  I might head to the pool tomorrow to do some of my work, although I need the internet for much of it.  The noise level outside was louder than I would have liked because they were doing some kind of construction right in front of my house.  I think they were chopping down and chopping up trees.  Needless to say, kind of annoying!

The Pool

Mr. Geeky’s school provides us with the opportunity to join a pool for the summer, which we’ve done for 12 years. Nowadays, I go mostly alone as the teens have no desire to go. It’s been incredibly hot the last week or so and so I’ve been visiting the pool nearly every day. Certain things never change. There always seems to be a kid, named Henry, who is rambunctious. His parents and the lifeguard are frequently telling him to slow down, not to splash, and to wait his turn for the diving board. There are little old ladies who can swim circles around me. They swim the breaststroke and/or freestyle for what seems like hours. I’m up to 10 minutes.

Some days it’s father-daughter day, lots of dads with toddler girls. Very cute. In general, the parents get younger, though among academics, there are plenty of 40 year olds with toddler kids. Either way, I feel old.

My worlds often collide here as a handful of school parents belong to the pool through alumni status or because of a spouse. It’s better than what used to happen, which was running into my boss here. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone from my old (Mr. Geeky’s current) workplace all summer. Many have quit coming as their kids aged or they moved or whatever.

In general it’s quiet, I can read, cool off, relax. I’ll miss it.

Independence Day

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Covered clock (Photo credit: lorda)

I looked back over the last couple of years of summer posts . . . and I laughed.  Apparently every summer around this time, I lament that I’m working too much and not taking advantage of my summer.  I’m a creature of habit.  I did very little yesterday.  I kind of poked at an outline for a workshop I’m giving on Tuesday.  I’m going to spend a tiny bit more time today–maybe–but definitely dive in on Monday.

Today, we’re keeping an eye on the weather.  We kind of want to go see the fireworks downtown, but we don’t want to get caught in the rain. It’s looking promising. Geeky Girl and I are planning a trip to see Despicable Me 2 (she’s accommodating me because I have a soft spot for animated films). And we’ll cook out.  We might hit the pool. Tomorrow we head to some friends’ for the weekend, so I’m on a forced break of sorts.

I think 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. It comes midsummer-ish. It’s almost always hot. There’s food and there’s fireworks and most people are in a good mood. All good.

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The Trouble with Summer

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Don’t get me wrong.  I love summer.  It’s one of the best things about teaching.  That concentrated down time is really great.  But I don’t quite feel like it’s summer yet.  Yes, I was away last week and yes, that was good. But I’ve been working every day that I haven’t been on vacation.  I have a lot to do to prepare for school and I don’t want to find myself two weeks before school starts with a million things to do.  So I’ve been poking away at it.  But poking away at it has meant several hours a day: 5 or 6 at least.  And I’m feeling a little resentful.  It has been yucky outside so at least I’m not missing that, but it’s still meant concentrated time in front of the computer.

I need to schedule more down time, not just an hour lunch, but whole days. Otherwise, I think I’ll be annoyed and won’t be well rested when school does begin.

I do enjoy the things I’m preparing. It’s fun, but it’s also work, using lots of brain power. And using the same kind of brain power for the most part. I need to change it up. Otherwise, the summer is going to fade and I’m going to feel like I didn’t really have one.

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I had zero access to the Internet this week.  I had a little access to cell service, which I basically used to settle arguments after dinner.  When we couldn’t remember actors’ names or who said what when or what words really meant, I went to my phone to look it up.  I also used it for a couple of recipes, but otherwise, I was offline.  I brought my iPad but only because I had books to read on there.  I also had an audio book on my phone.  I read three books while at the beach.  I read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant, and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris.

I liked them all and would recommend the first two to any teacher.  I think there’s a lot of insight to be found in both about teaching and how to reach students and how to interact with colleagues.  I wish Give and Take had been available years ago as I think I would have found it useful to make it through some difficult times and to work with difficult colleagues.  What I liked about both books is that they don’t just offer a look at things as they are, but also offer ways to change things to be the way we want them to be.  So, if you want to be more giving or create a giving culture at work (or in the classroom), there are things you can do.  Similarly with Drive, there are practical ways to tap into your drive or to help others tap into theirs (like our students!).  In fact, I had a couple of truly aha moments while reading both books that will change some things about how I approach and think about work and in my teaching.

There’s more reading to do this summer, and there’s more insights to be had (I hope). Today I go back to my “work” schedule to try to get some things done. Mr. Geeky said something about the summer being nearly over on the way home. I said, “Speak for yourself! It’s just begun!” But it does feel shorter than it should be. Sigh.  I just have to make sure to be restful when I can.

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Balancing work and rest

I have struggle with this many a summer, especially for the last 5 years when I’ve had the summer “off”.  Part of me knows I really need to recharge my batteries, which means being a slug for a while, watching bad tv, wandering around outside in the yard, maybe reading a book.  But I also know I don’t want to get to two weeks before school begins and find I have a month’s worth of work to do.  And then there are the personal goals (the losing weight, the finishing of house projects) and responsibilities (getting a kid off to college).  Even in the summer, it can be a juggling act.

This week through Thursday, I plan to get a chunk of things done.  Today I have to finish curriculum mapping and then pack up my classroom.  This afternoon, I will continue planning my 6th grade class by creating more videos for it.  I hope to start and potentially finish planning my 7th grade class (I have a feeling that’s not going to happen).

We leave Friday for vacation.  I’m going to take my computer with me, but I am not going to do any work.  We don’t have good internet access and most everything I have to do involves the Internet.

I am also continuing to brush up on my programming skills by participating in a couple of Udacity courses and doing some online challenges.  I work on those a couple of hours every day.  I take lots of breaks, and work outside when I can to get myself a lovely atmosphere to work in.  In addition to next week, I’m probably going to need another week of total down time.  I’ll probably take that in early August, before I really need to buckle down for the school year.

The summer is going to go by fast!

Helicopter parenting, parenting mistakes

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Image by lorda via Flickr

Recently, I saw a couple of articles lamenting the helicopter parents.  I am anything but a helicopter parent, though sometimes I wish I had been at times.  There are things I look back on now, like the beginnings of Geeky Boy’s struggle with homework.  Work for both Mr. Geeky and I was too overwhelming for us to intervene much, except to ask whether it was done or not.  Perhaps I should have insisted someone be home when he got home.  Instead we checked in via home, and came home as early as possible.  I didn’t call teachers, though I did touch base with a counselor at one point to try to help Geeky Boy with organization.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, that the habits we’re trying to break now were a result of our lack of intervening–either with Geeky Boy himself or with the school.

Some people have said to me, “just crack the whip, force him to buckle down.” Or some such severe discipline.  I sigh.  Been there. Doesn’t work.  Instead, we get a kid with an even bigger ball of stress to deal with.  And, frankly, he’s his own person.  There are some things that can’t be forced.  But we’re talking about it now.  I just wish we’d started sooner.

I don’t remember ever having to be told how to deal with school.  My parents were really laid back about everything to do with grades, etc.  When boys and alcohol caused my grades to plummet, they just assumed things were getting harder, especially math.  I lived the kind of life Samantha Bee writes about in the WSJ.  I came home, did my homework (which often only took about an hour), and then vegged in front of the tv.  Sometimes I read or wrote or called people on the phone (a landline even!).  But it was very leisurely.  And summer, aside from a two-week vacation, I spent most of it at the pool.  I did no academic camps or music camps or sports camps, though I did have a few friends who did.  I just wasted that good at sports, and music wasn’t my thing.  And yes, I was college bound and smart, but my parents didn’t try to groom me to be a NASA scientist.  I consider myself a late bloomer when it comes to figuring out what to do with my life, to finding something that I really like doing and that pays the bills to boot.  I keep that in mind when I see where Geeky Boy is.

Yes, some parents around here send their kids to academic camps at UPenn or Johns Hopkins or they’re in soccer camp or lacrosse camp or tennis camp.  Some kids are booked the whole summer.  We just don’t have the resources for that.  Yes, it’s been difficult keeping the kids busy.  We’ve gone to the pool.  I’ve encouraged reading and writing.  I’ve assigned chores.  But summer days are long, and there’s only so much structured activity anyone can do.  And while I may have my regrets, I’m not so sure my “cracking down” or scheduling more for the kids would have made them any better off.  I think all of us would have been a bit less happy (and certainly poorer).  And I think the payoff for some of those things is short term–it gets you into the. best. college.  Except when it doesn’t.  Only time will tell how things will turn out.  Which is kind of the sucky thing about parenting.  Feedback comes really slowly.

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Three weeks to go

There are approximately three weeks until school begins, first with a round of meetings, and then actual classes.  I’m looking forward to being back, to seeing colleagues and students, to working hard.  I worked a lot at the beginning of the summer, prepping a new class, getting it mostly done through winter break.  I had thought I might do more prep from now until the beginning of the year, but I’m not really pushing it.  Instead, I’m taking care of some administrative stuff, getting my classroom ready, getting my house ready, and taking some time to relax.  I have a minor injury Im tending too, and I’m trying to establish a good exercise routine.  I’m thinking walking and yoga, which may not shed the pounds quickly, but I think they’re good ways of keeping stress at bay.  I can see a busy, busy year ahead and I think it’s going to be important to stay organized and to take some time for myself.

I’m sure I will be doing some work on my classes, but I think it will mostly be in the getting the details of the first week ready to go, and then I’ll take each day one day at a time.  In all my classes, I have a broad outline to follow.  In my experience last year, things happen that throw you off–students pick things up faster or slower than before, snow days, field trips, etc.  I try to take it all in stride and leave a lot of flexibility in my schedule.

I’m also going to try to blog and tweet a little more about my work.  My school has been very supportive of my social media work and have asked me to help them a bit so I’d like to engage those outlets on a more professional level.  I’m hoping it will be a good outlet for me to think through some of my work as well.  So, you’ll still see me lamenting my weight, talking about the kids, but you may also see more thoughts about teaching and computer science.  You’ve been warned!