RBOC: the cool and crazy edition

Life always gets in the way. I’m doing a million things, and yet, there’s more to do. Here are just a few items in my head.

  • There are interesting conversations on the CSTA mailing list about teacher certification and computer science. Let’s just say it’s a mess.
  • I’m helping Mr. Geeky develop curriculum and documentation for Calico, an IDE/programming environment he’s helped develop. Because I needed more to do.
  • I’m loving Flipboard’s new “create magazine” feature. I’ve been creating collections of things as I read them. You can also share them. It’s mobile only as far as I can tell, but it’s definitely nice.
  • I’m exploring Google plus more. I like the communities. The one I’m liking the most, oddly, is Python. The education ones are so far disappointing. Also, having a hard time getting a good system of sharing going.
  • I can maybe see the light at the end of the tunnel. Summer is coming. I’m ready.

The Dongle Incident

So, there was yet another incident involving a woman at a tech conference enduring unpleasant comments that were insensitive. Sexist, some say. Crude, very likely, if indeed the word dongle was used in the way most of us are assuming it was.

I’ve read many, many articles and blog posts about the incident. And just scrolling down to the comments of any of them is enough evidence that indeed something took place that made the woman involved feel uncomfortable, maybe even threatened. A Wired article I read earlier today had exactly zero female commenters of the 100 or so comments I skimmed. Many of them were along the lines of, “You shouldn’t be offended by the stupid stuff we say. You’re too sensitive.” Wow.

Just this morning, Mark Guzdial, who is a staunch advocate for getting more women involved in computer science was surprised that ten years after Unlocking the Clubhouse, women still experience bias, veiled threats, and ostracizing. Um, yeah, a book, even a good one, doesn’t fix things. A thousand paper cuts, indeed. Every time I go to a conference, and there are very few women, cut. An ad that assumes women can’t figure out a remote, much less a smartphone, cut. The Best Buy guy who talks to your husband and not you, even though you’re making the purchase, cut. Ads for tech where there are no women because, hey, only men invent things, cut. And I have tough skin. Imagine what that does to a 14 year old girl, or a 20 year old college student. Some will tough it out, but many will decide it’s not worth bleeding over.

What Adria Richards did was try to fix things in a very public way. Thanks to social media, her little revolution was televised. In my mind, she basically refused to sit at the back of the bus. Her attempt backfired, as it did, and does, for many people. Luckily, she lost only a job and not more. At least one of the men involved also lost his job. That’s at least some sense of justice.

But how do we fix this? There’s the Sheryl Sandberg mentality of leaning in, toughening up. But that is not enough. From what I can tell, many women are already doing this, have been doing this. I offer a few solutions. One, men need to step up. I know many who do. They need to recognize that these things happen, and just because they don’t see bad behavior doesn’t mean there isn’t any. Don’t participate in the activity and tell others who do to cut it out. That’s what we tell our children to do with bullies. A bystander is as bad as a bully.

Two, companies and conferences need to be more explicit about appropriate behavior and the repercussions for it. PyCon had such policies in place. What they didn’t have, apparently, was a set of procedures. I’m not going to say that Richards’ posting the incident to Twitter was right or wrong. She did what she thought she needed to do. I might have done the same thing, but if pyCon or the company the men worked for had clear reporting procedures, she might not have turned to twitter. Hard to know, but I know if I thought sending a private message to a specific email address would definitely get some action, then that might be the route I’d go.

Three, we just need more women. I have to believe the one-sided nature of all of this leads to some bad behavior, or at least lack of perspective. It’s a vicious circle, though. Incidents like this turn women off to tech, so there are fewer women. And more incidents like this, turning more women off . . .sigh.

Taking Responsibility

There’s a really interesting conversation going on over at Scott Mcleod’s blog about teachers who refuse to use technology. I titled this post “Taking Responsibility” instead of professional development because it it’s not just about PD, especially not about school-provided PD, which is often the complaint teachers make about using technology. “They tell us to use tech, but then they don’t train us.” Would you say the same thing about teaching your subject area? I do think that schools have some responsibility to provide opportunities for pd, but that teachers need to figure things out for themselves at times. And yes, that takes time, often time you don’t have.

My friend Alan Levine once said that you can’t and shouldn’t create a step by step recipe for people to use technology in their classroom. They need to experience it and live it and figure out the best way that works for them. Here’s his disposition on that idea, which is still worth reading today. I complained a lot about having to fish for people, or worse, as Alan put it, to create fish nuggets for them in neat little packages. As I was digging around my own blog to find references to these complaints, I saw a progression of increasingly feeling like I was on an assembly line rather than being valued for my ideas. So against my own philosophy that I left.

The culture I’m in now isn’t like that, though that’s not to say there aren’t a few who feel that someone should do the tech for them or just don’t use it because they don’t prioritize learning it. But mostly, teachers are figuring it out for themselves. I may lead them in a direction, but then they go off, do some exploring, come back with ideas and even teach me new things. I feel that we still have a long way to go in getting to a place where it’s just part of what we do without thinking about it too much.

It’s tough figuring out what to do about helping folks get this culture. Just telling them to do it doesn’t seem to work. Workshops aren’t always enough. Boot camp? Sending them out for conferences, especially edcamp like ones? Pressure from students and parents? Make it part of Ed programs? And how much do we push? What level of integration do we need to see before we feel like we’ve satisfied some level of tech integration? The thing is, you can’t stop. That’s what I think bothers people most. Technology changes at light speed. Just as no paper is ever finished–there are always revisions that could be made–you’re never done getting tech into your classes. I’m not using the same tools I was using 4 years ago. Some are the same, but I’ve added many more. And I keep adding more and dropping those that don’t work. Nothing is fixed. Not curriculum. Not technology. Not learning. We ask our students to keep learning. So should we.

Even 8th graders like infographics

Yesterday was the first day I’d seen my 8th graders in three weeks. I introduced them to our project, put them into groups, and had them decide what they wanted to collect data about. I then reminded them via our homeroom bulletin to collect their data. I was fully expecting them not to have their data. But they did!

I had them put their data into a spreadsheet and generate a couple of graphs to see how their data looked. They actually had fun with that. Students have collected data on favorite broadway shows, favorite travel destinations, favorite froyo flavors and toppings, and the hair and eye color of the whole 8th grade. I’ve had no whining or claims of boredom, etc.I can’t wait to see the end results next week.

I think there were two main things that have made this successful so far. One, groups, and two, having a clear sense of the end goal. Showing the examples seems to have really stuck with them as they mentioned them several times. Another factor is probably that this is the first group I’ve had since 8th grade. They just know me better. Whatever it is, I’m glad, and I really think they’re getting something out of it.

Controlling, not controlling

The year is off to a good start. Yes, I wish I had a few more students in my CS classes, but I generally like where all my classes are headed. In my middle school classes, I think I’ve come up with a curriculum that will not only teach them some cool things, but will also keep them engaged. I’m still doing web site design in 6th grade, and they seem exited about that. Scratch is going over well in 7th grade, where I’m hearing “cool” and “wow” and “come look at this” around the room. The 8th graders seem happy with their assignment and happy to be in groups. We’ll see what the end result is.

And the upper school students seem happy, too. Some have even said so out loud.

A non-teacher colleague saw my middle school class the other day and said, “Wow, some of those kids are hard to control, aren’t they?”. Um, yeah. Especially when they’re sitting in front of a computer in spinny chairs. Basically, I don’t worry about having complete control. I try to get across my instructions to them in relative quiet knowing that the three girls in the back are going to ask again.

Across the board, I know that I can only control so much. I can create curriculum but I have no control over how students will interact with it. They might go slower than expected, as my CS II students are. They might be excited by it or bored by it. The best I can do is adjust as needed to make sure every student can learn. So I might go slower or I might create a new project that gives students more freedom or that they will find more engaging. I might cede control entirely as I let the students determine their own direction.

I often find it difficult to cede control in the classroom, but I’m almost always happy with the results. The students often do more than I thought they would or go in very interesting directions. But, yes, it’s sometimes a bit unsettling. I just have to go with it.

The Tech People

The tech people, aka the IT staff, have a tough job at the beginning of the school year. They do a ton of work to prepare, wiring classrooms, imaging computers, testing things. Still, with most teachers away until the week before school starts, the pressure in those last days is pretty intense. My IT staff is awesome. I consider them partners, and for me, they really are. I do my best to help in any way I can, troubleshooting with teachers as I can, but I know I can pass things off to them easily and they will get it done. They also ask me about getting teachers up to speed on things, strategies for making things easier for them, and what technology we should invest time and money in. We really work together.

I feel like I’ve dumped a lot of work on them this year. I’ve submitted many tickets. I’ve asked for a miracle from our web guru. And I can tell they’re feeling a little ragged, though they won’t say so. I’ve been in their shoes. Just go through the archives of my blog. It’s a tough, often thankless, job. I’ve worked alongside good tech people and bad. Unfortunately, many tech people get lumped into the bad category immediately because people have had such bad experiences with them. And I’ve experienced that myself. It feels awful. I hope our tech people don’t get treated that way. They’re good folks, working like crazy, trying to make the school year get off to a good start. So here’s a shout out to them. Thank you, thank you. We couldn’t do what we do without you.

Data, data everywhere

The middle school was doing some shuffling around of classes, including my 8th grade class. At the end of the year last year, we had mostly decided that my tech class should prepare students for their science classes. I was perfectly okay with this since I’d struggled so much in hitting the right note with my 8th graders. I hadn’t figured out quite what to do by the end of the summer. I’d focused on my upper school classes, which meet more often and have more material to cover. After another shuffle, it was decided that I didn’t need to focus on prepping students for 9th grade science, so i was free to cover what i wanted. I liked the idea, though, of a math/science focus, but I also wanted to cover some computing things. I was struggling with what to do last week. I’d search for some things online and most of what came use was keyboarding and word processing. Bleh.*

A shout out to Twitter gave me a few suggestions, but nothing very concrete. Finally, in the shower one day, I came up with the whole thing. I’m doing data visualization in my CS class, so I decided it might be fun to do the same in 8th grade. I have only 10 weeks with each group of 8th graders, and I only see them once a week. Basically I’ve broken the time down into 3 chunks. The students will work in pairs/groups, which I find works especially well for this age group. Here’s the breakdown:

  • First third: What is data? Presenting data in infographics vs. pie/bar charts. Create your own infographic.
  • Second third: Data tells a story. What story does your data tell? Create a newscast based on your data.
  • Final third: Manipulating data. Using graphics and other methods to distort data. How to recognize poorly presented data. Correcting bad representations.

I’m actually quite excited about this. We’ll be using spreadsheets and image editing software. We’ll get to use our new multimedia project room with its video camera and green screen. All the while, the students will be learning something valuable. This is why I love my job!

Women in Tech, Best Buy, and Media Messages

Last night I tweeted about the following Best Buy ad, which first aired during the Super Bowl:

Watched it? Okay, good.  The ad features a series of inventors, mostly of things related to smart phones, and they’re all men.  I tweeted the following:





Mostly people retweeted without comment, but at least two people said, they’re just aiming at their target market: men.  Okay.  I get that.  I also get that it is actually hard to find a slew of women directly responsible for something smart-phone related that everyone’s heard of.  Though there is a list of some things here. But here’s the thing, the commercial is a) airing during a show I am watching, so clearly men can’t be their only target audience; and b) a commercial isn’t just a commercial.  So, about a).  I have written about a couple of hilariously bad experiences at Best Buy before.  I go into Best Buy all the time and usually walk out empty handed.  The only thing I’ll say is their stores = their commercial, all guys all the time.  Demographics are working against them.  More than 50% of the population are women and many of them make more money than their spouses and/or have no spouses.  And they like their technology.  Just sayin’.  It would be good business sense to at least try to appeal to women.

About b).  Here’s where my having my Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition pays off, though I think a good couple of classes would be equally useful.  Lesson one in Rhetoric is that everything sends a message.  That Best Buy commercial isn’t just trying to sell me a smart phone.  It’s also telling me that men do the inventing, men like tech, and men buy tech.  Women, shown at the end, sell the tech.  Honestly, it’s one step above booth babes. Is it sexist? Not blatantly, no.  And Best Buy certainly has no obligation to attract women into the tech industry.  But they’re certainly not helping.  And by not helping, they may also be hurting their own bottom line.


Over the last week or so, I’ve been primarily using my iPad for everything. It started at edcamp when I brought it with me because, let’s face it, it’s much lighter than my laptop. I’ve used it nearly every day for the last year, but only for very specific activities. I take roll on it via our web-based reporting system. I read the news on it via flipboard, and I play a variety of games.

There are things that are harder to do on the iPad. Typing is a hunt and peck endeavor, which is just wrong for someone who took two years of typing and can type upwards of 70 words a minute. Switching between apps is a pain, and there’s no way for me to to see two apps side by side. Having Evernote open alongside a web site is impossible. I have to switch back and forth. It’s a bit like a pre windows computer in that regard. Copying and pasting takes some getting used to. Autocorrect can be both a lifesaver and can land you on Damn you autocorrect. And certain web sites either display poorly or not at all (flash, ftw).

That said, it is certainly an interesting device to work with. I’m looking forward to trying out explain everything, an app that allows you to create videos/slideshows using images, drawing, and audio. I’ve been playing with cargo bot, a game that teaches programming skills. I’m hoping to try out the programming tool, codea, that was used to create it. I like flipboard and hootsuite better than what I use on my laptop.

I can do most of the things that I do on my laptop on the iPad, but it still feels a bit lightweight to me. While I created a whole presentation on the iPad just a week ago, it would have been easier and faster on my laptop. And, of course, I still dislike the lack of hackability and coding. Yes, things like codea exist, but that’s specifically to create apps. If I want to do more than that, I need a “real” computer.

And now I’m going to spend 20 minutes putting in links, which would automatically have been created on my laptop, so there.

Changing things up

Much as I hate to switch plans mid-stream, my experience teaching Scratch in 8th grade has floundered.  Next year, I’ll move it back to at least 7th grade, if not 6th.  I still wanted to do something interesting in 8th grade, something that would be challenging and would allow them to express themselves, which is primarily what they seem to be interested in.  My most recent class actually did a really nice job when I just set them free to do what they wanted.  I still think I need a few more parameters for them.  So today, I spent some time figuring out what to do.  I decided to draw on ds106.  I went through their assignment list and selected some that I thought would be appropriate and appealing for 8th graders.  We have 10 weeks.  They will have 2-3 weeks to work on each project, completing a minimum of 4 projects.  With each project, they will have several options.  They’ll do Design, Audio, and Video projects, plus a modified Daily Create project.

Here are the ones I selected as appropriate options so far: Design & Audio.  I haven’t picked out Video ones yet.  And Daily Create will be entirely up to them.

We’ll see how it goes over when I introduce it on Wednesday.