Montana continues to be a CS desert

October 20, 2014

Last Thursday and Friday were the Montana Educators Association conference days.  It is supposed to be the time to meet and greet all the people in your teaching field and attend inspiring sectionals.  It was a big no-go.  There were no sectionals in CS, programming or IT.  The closest thing was stuff like “How Google Can Change Your Classroom”.  Considering the number of high school CS programs in Montana I guess it was to be expected.  Next year I plan to solve the problem (unless the MEA conference is in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, like Billings or Glasgow).  I would have presented some sectionals this time but missed the submission deadline.  I figure I can do a sectional on offering high school dual-credit Python and another on dual-credit Java.  Maybe something on why we should teach programming in the high school.  Maybe “Three years of English, one year of programming: the curriculum of the future”.  That ought to start some dialog.  Or a riot.  Either would be fun.  I also need to poke some university types with a sharp stick to get them involved.  The local universities want to expand and improve their CS programs but for some reason have not figured out those students they want have to come from high schools that offer some form of CS.  They need to promote their programs by stimulating the high school teachers to do some kind of show-and-tell at these events.  Both Montana State University and Rocky Mountain College have robotics programs that would be very nice recruiting carrots to attract new students.  MSU offers summer courses for teachers so they can teach some of the preliminaries for the MSU courses.  MSU’s advertising for this course is word-of-mouth.  Not the best way to get the word out.

I need to be a bit more proactive if I actually care about CS in Montana.

Mathematics – Technology or by hand?

October 14, 2014

Yesterday I was teaching some linear programming to my seniors.  I had to graph the constraints and all I had was a whiteboard and a marker.  I have to draw the coordinate axis, make tick marks and sort of wing the constraint graph.  This is my usual technique and as usual the resulting graph was less than optimal. Lots of room for artistic interpretation of the resulting picture.  I have a laptop and a projector in the room so with all this nifty technology I should be able to find a better solution for this task.  I know there is software out there that will solve LP problems; enter the objective function, the constraints and stand back.  Magic will occur.  I do not want to go quite that far, I just want pretty graphs.  The first option was Geometer’s Sketch Pad.  It did not like x = 32.  It would draw it, it just would not do anything useful with it like finding intersections.  I then tried Geogebra, a free app I have very little experience with.  Our Sketch Pad teachers gave me poor reviews for it but I figured for the price it deserves a try.  It took a few minutes to figure out the people who wrote the tutorials were geniuses (or idiots) who live in a cave and never deal with people who do not know the software. So I decide to just tinker.  Five minutes later I am drawing functions (and x = 32), and finding intersections.  It will even do inequalities and the appropriate shading of the half-plane.  Just what I wanted.  But now comes the big question, do I want to show this to the kids.

What it boils down to is this – is finding the intersection of two lines, which they supposedly know how to do, a critical skill that needs to be constantly reinforced or can I just get on with solving LP problems?  These are very simple LPs with only two unknowns so doing them by hand is not complicated but it does take time.  The flip side is do I want to teach math and software?  In the real world (whatever that is) the math and software is the obvious route.  In the very contrived world of the math classroom being beat over the head with hand-based mathematics is the traditional winner.  Years ago it would have been a no-brainer, beat them over the head until they cry for mercy.  Maybe I am getting soft in my old age but the software just seems to just make more sense.  Learning software is a 21st century skill, finding the intersection of two lines by hand seems not so much.  If the software was not free or multi-platformed I would not be so tempted.

Nuts on it.  My drawings are confusing even to me.  I am going with the software.  I want to teach senior level math, not 8th grade algebra.

There is sort of a weird evolution going on with math and technology.  It started with the introduction of the affordable graphing calculator (I still remember the great graphing calculator wars of the 1980s), was further confused with the TI-89 symbolic manipulator and now there is WolframAlpha for free in the internet.  How much of the hand stuff do we hang on to?   When I was in high school if I wanted a square root I whipped out a slide rule.  If I wanted more accuracy I had an algorithm that worked sort of like long division on steroids.  Now I suspect there is not a math teacher in the US that expects square roots be found with either method.  Is there a point in this evolution where we throw out the baby with the bath water?  In the workplace almost nothing mathematical is done by hand, there is not time.  In the classroom all sorts of archaic methods are used to solve problems.  As a math teacher I sort of pick and choose but I know that my picking and choosing is different for one of the other math teachers in the building.  She loves old school math, I like solving problems with anything I can get my hands on.  If I want the roots of a polynomial I grab a laptop while she starts looking at factors and alternating signs.  Interpreting Shakespeare is a piece of cake compared to the math and technology evolution debate.  Too bad I am in the middle of the hard one.

How good is school IT?

October 8, 2014

I called in a pro to fix my Hyper-V issue.  Two hours later we have success.  Powerschool is alive.  We lost 2 weeks of data but we can live with that.  I may actually be able to get that back.  What have I learned?  BACK UP EVERYTHING TO AN EXTERNAL DRIVE!  I should know this but I have had no catastrophic failures before this that a backup would have cured.  This is what happens when you operate on used equipment, untrained IT and a zero dollar budget.  About the only thing I have an influence over is the quality of IT service.  With my time and training level I simply have to be more neurotic.  Back to backups.

I can honestly say this is the second most un-boring job I have ever had.  The first was a bit too fatal at times so I love second.  If I am bored it is by choice.

This little incident does kind of highlight a point.  How well trained are high school IT personnel?  I know a pretty good number of the IT people in Montana.  Montana is a bit of a small sample but it is what I know and I suspect it is not that different from other small population states.  Most are former teachers that sort of wandered into the IT job.  None I know came from the commercial IT world.  All training is on-the-job, usually when trying to figure out a disaster.  Some of the school IT people I know are very good at the job.  They could easily go to the commercial side and perhaps double their income.  But they came into education originally because of something other than money and they seem to still have the desire to stay with it.  I just wonder if this patch-work school IT scheme is going to continue to work in the future.  I know my limited skills make me nervous when I have to deal with servers and Microsoft backup systems.

School IT is getting more complex and more expensive.  Budgets are not changing.  The incentive to be the school IT is somewhat lacking if viewed by a non-educator and there is absolutely no formal training program.  The stress levels are sometimes a bit uncomfortable, especially when trying to accomplish tasks that might result in major issues for the teaching staff.  I know of one tech that quit this fall because of his school board was convinced pencil and paper were all the kids really needed to succeed in school and therefore he did not need a budget.  (It took him two days to get hired by a bigger school district for more money.  There is a major shortage of school IT people in Montana.)  I know of another that has threatened his school board with walking out if he does not get help.  School IT is reaching the knowledge requirements of the corporate world.  School SIS software, internet filters, iPad management on a rather massive scale, multiple servers, wireless systems, BYOD, IP telephone system and really bad bell ringing software (long story), all on a voter controlled tax budget.  I predict bad things will happen.

This is one of those situations where I really do not see any solutions.  If schools cannot acknowledge the need to educate students in the digital realm, then they sure as heck are not going to admit that they need a trained IT department to sustain that non-existent digital realm.  Large school districts do hire trained IT personnel, but most schools, particularly in rural states, are not part of large school districts.  Most small schools in Montana, which is by far the majority, have part-time IT with no training.  I have not the slightest doubt that this situation is not going to change.


October 5, 2014

Then there are those of use that think we are digitally educated who get digitally wasted every now and then.  My student information system, Powerschool (PS), is on a virtualized server.  It was running out of hard drive space. Microsoft Hyper-V, the virtualization system I use, has a simple way to expand the hard drive space.  There is this little warning about expanding a server that is using something called Snapshot.  I turned Snapshot off, and happily ran the expanded function.  Bad things happened.  The Snapshot was not off.  The server will not run.  I am in full panic mode.  I have found a script that is supposed to fix this error.  I do have hope.  Tomorrow I will give it a try.

There are a lot of things I should have done before trying this expand thing.  Running a backup on my PS to an external hard drive just in case, trying the expand on a less critical server, backing up the virtualization file and most of all, paying more attention to little yellow warning symbols.  All of these things were doable but are only obvious after the fact.

Being a school IT guy means being able to do things you have absolutely no training in.  Everything from school bell software to messing with Hyper-V virtualization.  Budget constraints are such that calling in an expert is not something to be considered.  Learning something new every day keeps my brain on the top or its game, at least as top as it ever was, but there is always a gamble that what I do not know will come back and bite me in the posterior.

Laptop education for all should be Common Core

October 3, 2014

“I do not want laptops/iPads/technology in my classroom.  It interferes with my teaching.”  As an IT guy and a technophile I hate to hear that argument but as a classroom teacher I can identify with it.  When I am at the front of the room and the kids have their laptops open I have absolutely no idea what they are looking it.  It bothers me.  Student technology also seems to always have some issue when I start to depend on it.  Many teachers just want a board and a marker.  That way the students’ attention cannot be divided, it is always ready, and it takes very little training.  There is one minor problem with this approach; except for teaching there are almost no jobs that require skill with board and marker, or that require someone be skilled at watching someone use a board and marker.  Everything our students do, except for those that live in the deep woods off the grid (I live in western Montana, we have those), requires they has some proficiency with a computer.

I see laptops in the classroom as a learning duality.  The kids can use the laptop for the course material, the obvious and most talked about use.  But hidden in the background is that the kids learn how to use the laptop.  I am not talking about using a word processor or playing a CD or watching a funny YouTube video during the brilliant lecture.  I am talking about learning to save their term paper in the cloud so when the laptop gets orange juice spilled on it and dies they are not going to think of suicide.  Preventing data loss, anti-virus protection, network printing, troubleshooting wireless issues and other need-to-know-in-the-present-computer-world type tasks are lessons 21st century students should learn.

It is this second, usually hidden learning that I see in my school causing the largest problem in the classroom.  Teachers seem to be able to adjust their curriculum and lessons to having kids do internet research, build presentations, type papers, turn them in electronically and other direct laptop tasks.  It is when things do not work the way they are supposed to that drives the teachers up the wall.  Things like the internet being slow (usually caused by that teacher streaming music), the wireless not cooperating, the laptop not charged, the needed software not installed, the projector not working correctly and, most entertaining of all, the amazing missing file.  It is this infrastructure hassle that interferes with teaching the most.  Heck, just handing out the laptops and getting them turned on can take time out of a period.  If a school is operating on 40 or 50 minute periods this added 5 or 10 minutes is significant.  One minor glitch can destroy a lesson plan and burn in the idea “It interferes with my teaching.”  I hear teaching technophiles stating to always have a backup plan in case the technology does not work.  So to use technology in the classroom teachers should be making two lessons when they plan to use technology?  It is much easier to not use the technology.

This is not to say teachers should or should not use laptops in the classroom.  It means to say that teachers should look at the dual nature of using laptops in the classroom and consider possible approaches or advantages.  Schools and teachers will never have technology reach its potential until the students are educated on how to use their own devices.

Assuming students know how to use their laptop because they are members of the technology literate generation is a big mistake.  Today I noticed one of my smartest kids doing her on-line physics on one of the lab computers instead of her own laptop that was on the desk next to her.  On asking why she simply said it did not work on her laptop.  The site stated it required Adobe Shockwave and she did not have the slightest idea what that meant or how to get Shockwave.  Downloading required software like this should be trivial but it is not something that is instinctive or is imparted by the morning vitamins.  Of course the little detail that most teachers are even less tech literate than the kids is a problem.

Our “digital natives” are pretty much digital idiots because there are no teachers to teach them digital skills.  Most teachers are either not digitally comfortable or do not want to have the digital world interfere with their primary goal of teaching the subject they spent years of college and experience getting proficient at.

So what is the solution to getting teachers and kids up to digital speed?  Waiting for the new generation of teachers to come out of the universities is not going to do it.  I see a pretty good collection of student teachers through my school and they are as bad as the kids when it comes to digital knowledge.  “Hope and pray” has been a traditional approach to many education problems for years but since prayer is frowned upon in public schools they cannot use that one.  (Luckily I am in a Catholic school so the approach is still good.  I am just not too sure about the viability of the approach.)  As much as I hate the idea I think this has to be a top down affair.  Someone way up there has to come down and say all schools will educate their students and staff on the intricacies of the digital world.  If No Child Left Behind and Common Core can be mandated then surely something that is actually needed and makes sense can be also.  The present strategy of low level advocates (tech teachers) trying to promote the need to an ambivalent administration is simply going to take too long to break through a rather solid wall based on tradition and apathy.

iPads and pens in the classroom

September 26, 2014

One of my favorite blogs is Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice.  His posts and the resulting comments are one of my must reads.  One of his latest post is “iPads for Young Children in School”.  It is a good thought provoker.  One of the commenter’s, Teachling, made a point that really grabbed me.  His school is dealing with iPads in the classroom.  There was concern by parents as to “What data are you collecting to gauge their effectiveness and impact on improved learning?”  The response was “That’s like asking us to collect data on the ways in which pens improve learning outcomes”.   I love it.  Would those parents ask the same thing about calculators? I can remember when the graphing calculator hit the classroom.  An amazing about of hoopla for and against.  “Kids will never learn to think!” and “Kids will be free to think!”.  Not much changed.  Kids still do not want to think.

Many schools dive into the technology in the classroom pool without any thought, aka the Los Angeles Unified School District, and just dump money down the drain.  But other schools go the other way and will not even look at putting a toe in the pool.  I am not an iPad fan.  In fact, as the school IT guy, I do not like the things as a teaching tool for most things schools are trying to use them for.  A laptop is a much better tool for many of the things teachers are trying to make the iPad do.  But for some things it is the best tool for the job.  For example in K-4 it is great as a targeted learning tool.  There are a lot of good apps that will target one topic and the little ones can play a game that achieves that goal.  No matter how you use it the iPad is still just a tool.  It is how the teacher uses the tool that is important.  That is where I see things falling apart in a big way.  For some strange reason many school administrators have the view of “give it to them and they will use it” in regards to technology.

Let’s look at a teacher that has been teaching say 5 years.  It took a couple of years to stop being afraid of the students, a couple more years to become comfortable with the curriculum and a year just to be in the happy zone of teaching.  Now throw a new and expensive device at this teacher and require the teacher get the school district’s money’s worth out of it in the classroom.  Odds are the teacher was not consulted on this piece of technology and I am willing to bet big money they have had zero to minimal training on the device’s use in the classroom.  The teacher is no longer in their happy zone.  This is not the road to success.

This is somewhat the pattern that has taken place in my school.  The first year iPads were handed out to each of the teachers to “play with”.  Most put the iPad in a drawer.  There were 3 one hour in-services by an iPad enthusiast consultant.  Nothing shown reduced the teacher’s classroom load, it was all just something else to add to the load.  The next year the classroom sets of iPads appeared.  The teachers were expected to know what to do with them.  The results were interesting.  A couple of teachers wanted them but used them primarily as an internet device.  Many teachers initially tried to integrate the iPads into the classroom but found they did not really contribute to the present curriculum and just added to the already heavy workload.  The simple task of adding an app to 20 iPads, no matter what the method, requires time.  The little details like keeping them charged, loss of wireless signal, a student putting their own account on the iPad and downloading app with that account all add to the confusion of working with iPads in the classroom.  After 3 years iPad use in our classrooms is starting to work itself out.

The iPad, like any classroom technology, is a tool.  Without training tools are pretty worthless, especially tools that require a lot of work to integrate.  Without time to plan the tool is useless.

I need a nap!

September 10, 2014

As Lili von Shtupp said in Blazing Saddles “I’m tired”.  It is only week 2 and a half and I am beat.  I only have three courses to teach but all will require attention.  I also do all the IT work.  The beginning of the school year is always a mess IT-wise.  New teachers, new kids, and new hardware.  Is there some law of nature that ensures all the hardware ordered over the summer shows up the first week of school?

I did not teach the Senior Stats or Programming I last year and the Programming with Java is a first time offer.  The Stats has been up graded to an honors course so I have to redo the course plan I did have from previous years pretty much from scratch.

The Programming I is always work.  Keeping the geek kids happy is easy.  Keeping the kids that are in it because they could not find something else in the time slot happy is work.  They are all good kids but I have to do quite a bit of “dog and pony show” to keep some focused.  For example today we did the peanut butter and jelly exercise.  I bring in a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly and a loaf of bread and they have to write a “program” to build a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I then have a kid build the sandwich while I read what is written.  The builder can only do what the directions tell them to do.  The Mr. Literal kind of thing.  The results are very entertaining.  “But that is not what I meant” is the usual comment.  “Pick up peanut butter jar.  Remove lid. Pick up knife.  Scoop out some peanut butter. Smear peanut butter on bread.”  Really hard to do with the peanut butter jar and lid still in the hands.

The Programming with Java should be fine once we start actually programming.  It is all the setup that is work.  Heck, picking an IDE to use is turning into a pain.  The University uses Eclipse but I am finding that is not so hot for beginners.  Too much too soon.  I did manage to find a textbook.  Since this is a dual credit course the University wanted me to use the text they were using.  The $100+ price tag would have killed that plan.  Amazon sells an earlier edition for $6.99.  The difference seems to be cover art, font and rewording of some of the problems.

I am also helping coach girls soccer.  The new coach has never coached before so I figured she might need a hand.  That is good for a couple hours a day.  I have already pulled a ham string trying to run with them.  Mountain biking is not good sprint training.  I used to be able to sprint with anybody on the field.  I still can but for only 25 yards then I limp for the rest of the week.  My wife suggests I slow down because I am getting old.  Silly girl.

Next Wednesday I am heading to North Dakota for a 3 day mountain bike ride with three friends.  We are going to do the Maah-Da-Hey trail.  It is a 96 mile trail that is the longest continuous single track mountain biking trail in the US.  The un-fun part is the 12-13 hour drive to get there.  I am also not too crazy about the fact we are camping out.  We have a company hauling our gear from camp site to camp site which makes that part easy.  Thanks to the US Military I am just not a camping kind of person any more.  I did too much “camping” with them to make it something I do regularly on purpose.  Oh well, it will be a male bonding experience.  And three days of cool trails can fix all sorts of issues.

All things considered this job is still more fun than a box full of puppies.  I get to play with computers, I get to play games with kids, I get to show kids cool stuff, I get to let kids show me cool stuff and I get paid to do it.  What more could anyone ask for in life?

What is “Classroom Technology”?

August 22, 2014

In one of those on-line CS courses I am sort of participating in, one of the discussions was to talk about the classroom technologies the teachers were using.  Almost exclusively the conversation is Smart boards, computer labs and a teacher iPad.  Some discussed computer lab management software like LanSchool.  One teacher even said she used classroom technology every day because she entered her grades into grading software.  Is this stuff really classroom technology considering the year is 2014?  Here is my idea of classroom technology – the kid has it in his or her hand whenever it is needed.  The kid can project to and for the class when needed.  The kid has all the software needed, at hand, whenever needed.  This does not mean the class goes to a lab when needed.  It means the kids open their backpack and fish out their classroom technology.

Here is my present math and programming classroom.

  1. Every kid has a laptop. If they do not I have some loaners but I rarely have a kid needing one.  Parents seem to have added laptops to the school must have list of supplies.  (My programming kids need a Windows laptop.  Macs resulted in a pain in the rear.)  I do not use the laptops every day but when needed I expect them to have one available.
  2. I have a method of handing out and receiving digital homework. Right now it is either through a server that has no access outside the school network or email.  I will play with Google Classroom this fall to see if it will do the trick.  The main issue is having a one way folder for kids to turn assignments into.  There are solutions, I just have to find one that is easy.
  3. I have a projector that plugs into the network. Up to 4 kids can simultaneously connect to it wirelessly from their own laptops.  A kid in each quadrant if need be.  The projector (Dell S300wi) was $2000 3 years ago so I assume there are newer cheaper models out there now.
  4. I have a Smart board I rarely use. The projector reduced the need.  When I need to do Smart board type stuff I do it on my laptop anywhere in the room.
  5. I have a good old white board for the “sage on the stage” type stuff. I do not think teaching will ever be able to completely escape that presentation mode.  It works well.  There are some things that just work best on the big board.  Now if I can just learn to do legible handwriting.
  6. My furniture moves. I am not a kids in nice rows type.  There is an outfit that makes student desks on wheels.  My ideal desks.  But I can foresee bumper car issues and classroom management issues. Movable furniture allows physical collaboration.  Two kids side by side comparing projects is not always somebody just copying.  It sometimes means one kid is teaching another.  A teacher’s greatest teaching goal.

5 and 6 are not “tech” but they are necessary for my concept of a tech based classroom.

I have one last desire for classroom technology, a large touch screen tablet with an attachable keyboard.  A 17 inch would be dreamy.  I have 10 inch tablets but it is hard to hit the icons sometimes and I am also blinder than a bat.  I want the mobility the tablet offers yet the convenience of a full sized keyboard.  Removing the keyboard also makes the thing reasonably light.

My concept and goal for classroom technology minimizes the teacher held tech and maximizes the student held tech.  The teacher needs to get out of the way and let the kids learn.

Is real classroom technology economically feasible for all schools?  In my opinion student owned technology to be used in the classroom is not a thing of choice.  If the American education system is going to do any fundamental job market or “real world” preparation for our students it has to be to get them ready to actually use and manage their own technology, not watch the teacher teach with it.  “But our school cannot afford this” is what I hear a lot of.  I spend about $400 for a new Windows 7 laptop.  I can get refurbished Win 7 laptops with a lifetime parts warranty for $200.  The local public school system pays $800 a laptop to do the same job the $400 laptop is going to do.  A new Chromebook (which I am not a big fan of) is about $230.  They are correct, they cannot afford to purchase laptops for their students.  Most schools do not seem overly concerned.

Silly little programs

August 8, 2014

Yup, binary to decimal was easy.  Play with the algorithm, do a little pseudocode, poke at the code a little to figure out the Python syntax (reference manual!), debug a little and poof, it works.

  1. binary = input(“Enter a binary number.”)
  2. lenBinary = len(binary)
  3. dec = 0
  4. for i in range(lenBinary):                               #Go through the length of the binary number.
  5.     if binary[lenBinary-(i+1)] == “1”:           #Go from right to left checking if the value is a “1”.
  6.         dec = dec + 2**i                                         #If a “1” convert to base 10 and add it up.
  7. print(“The decimal equivalent of “, binary,” base 2 is “, dec, ” base 10.”)

Undoubtedly the Python whizzes out there can snipe the heck out of it with syntax short cuts but this is what the kids will build initially.  I do very few short cuts because they are often language specific. Of course now that I look at my code I think I can redo that range parameter to do some of what that if statement is doing…

There are some things in Python that really throw me off.  I guess the biggest is the range object in the for statement.  I keep forgetting the range is one less than the value.  Of course I take a few minutes to remember that little detail.  Like I said too many languages.

A comment to my last post by Bri Morrison suggested looking at Roman numeral conversions.  I hate it when people make project suggestions like that.  Especially good suggestions like that.  Now I am going to sit and stare at the ceiling and have to figure out how to do it.  As though I did not have enough things to stare at the ceiling about.  So now, Roman numerals have no place value and a smaller value to the left of a bigger value means subtract…hmmm.  What a strange way to have fun.  Thank God I like to mountain bike and snowboard because otherwise I would live in front of this stupid computer.

Always a new idea for a project

August 7, 2014

The Good Idea Fairy strikes again.  For my Java based advanced course this coming year I want to do a lot of non-coding topics.  One topic is understanding bases.  The binary and hex bases are kind of handy to understand in the field of computer science.  I introduced binary and hex last semester so in my infinite wisdom I thought I will have the kids write a program to do the conversions.  I like projects like this.  I could do the usual conversion worksheet but did that and they were bored with that.  For someone familiar with bases and base conversions it is a bit trivial.  The emphasis of this project is on algorithm development and not on typing code.  After a few minutes of doodling (that PLC training was a bit boring) I think it looks like the binary to decimal program is going to be simple to develop.  I think the kids can work that one up with very little coaxing.  Decimal to binary does not look so sweet.  It is going to take a bit more staring at the ceiling.  These are the projects I love to teach with; lots of thinking about the problem, understanding the algorithm, devolving the algorithm into some form of pseudo-code and then a little coding.  These projects play to my strength in CS, thinking and staring at the ceiling.  They also do not bring a lot of pressure on my CS weakness, coding.

I suck at coding.  For some reason I cannot remember syntax to save my life.  I think I have too many languages in my little brain.  If I do not have the language reference manual next to me while coding something I am doomed.  (One reason I love Small Basic.  Intellisense, I love you!)  This does not bother me too much.  When I worked for a software company many years ago the wiz bang programmer dude in the next cubical had a really thick VB reference book right by his hand.  He knew what he was doing and he still had to use it.  So thinking projects it is and a handy reference book.

When I teach a language the first thing I give the kids is the location of a readable language reference manual.  I expect them to use it.  I expect them to use it a lot.  I teach them how to read it.  I do not teach them a lot of syntax, at least not through lecture using my broad knowledge of syntax.  To facilitate this reading of manuals I have the kids hook up a second monitor to their laptops.  This is almost a necessity when using on-line references.  All my programming kids have a laptop, either their own or a school owned loaner so the second monitor is not a big issue.

For this bases conversion program I will initially have them do it in Python.  I foresee the program needing some string manipulating.  Reference book!  I know what I want is in there somewhere because I remember reading it but I cannot do it by memory if my life depended on it.  I even did the book exercises and I cannot remember what I used to do what I did.  I will then have them try it in Java.  Having done the project in Python they will have the algorithm figured out so all they will have to struggle with is the language.

I am not a great coder and I am not a great snowboarder but I have a blast doing both.  When I teach someone how to snowboard they can get down the mountain with a little style but they are definitely not ready for a freestyle contest.  The same with programming.  I am not training kids to be professional programmers, I am teaching kids to think and learn.  I think my plan is working.

I had better get to work on these conversion programs.  Sometime the Good Idea Fairy is not nice and bites me in the rear.



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