End of school year

This is the last week of school for us.  Kids are done this Thursday.  Then I have to get to work.  Being the school techie I am on an eleven month contract so during the summer I fix all the stuff I had been ignoring during the school year.  This summer my list includes upgrading the Exchange server to Exchange 2010, trying to get WSUS to work and building a new Moodle server.  The old Moodle server died as in dumpster dead.  Better yet I am going to try and virtualize some of these apps because I really cannot afford to buy more servers.  Which means I have to know more about virtualization other than the correct spelling.  Which also means I probably ought to upgrade from Server 2003 to Server 2008. 

I also spend a good part of the summer writing course material and deciding what I want to teach the programming kids.  Since the school has no defined curriculum for programming and what there is I wrote, I pretty much get to do whatever I want.  The drawback is I do not have a nice text book we can just brainlessly stagger through; I actually have to plan things out a bit.

Next year there is a kid shortage, I have no sophomores or juniors coming in to programming.  Freshmen have no programming elective, their schedule is already full.  A bit strange but it happens at a small school.  I am a bit bummed.  The present batch of juniors will be with me next year as seniors.  I started with them as seventh graders with Alice.  I need to get back into the grade school more often to keep the flow of CS kids more constant.  Easier said than done.  Trying to get programming into the grade school is very difficult.  Their schedule is already crammed, none of the classroom teachers understand the need for programming and the computer time the kids do get is spent learning applications.  Learning applications is critical at that stage; it is amazing how many kids cannot use the common applications.   I was able to do Alice with those kids years ago because they were already familiar with the material they were going to miss in the regular apps class, and they were also sort of the pick of the litter.  I want those kids but I also want the “average” kids to see what programming is all about.  Getting the kids into programming young seems to get them hooked.

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3 Responses to “End of school year”

  1. Brian Skinner Says:

    Hi Garth,

    I came across your blog while exploring how various schools are teaching programming. I look forward to reading everything you have here!

    Applications are extremely important to know, but how much of that has to be taught? Kids today are much more technically adventurous than those that did not grow up around it. That means that they are willing to explore menus, try things out, and learn through trial and error. But of course this actually requires that they have something they are trying to do in the application and spend time doing it. What types of things are taught? Do you think it is valuable even though the set of applications to know changes every few years?

    -Brian

  2. Garth Says:

    It truly amazes me how much the kids do not know about common apps. The average kid does not seem willing to cruise the menus. If someone cannot show them they usually quit looking. There are always a few kids that are good at apps that help the rest but this number is amazingly small. It is not only apps that seem confusing to them. One of the English teachers gave a recording assignment where the students were to record a speech using Audacity. They were to turn in a .wav file. She got all sorts of formats turned in. Many were confused as to which hole to plug the microphone into. If Audacity was not on the desktop they did not know how to get it off the internet. Lots of foolishly simple things were causing problems. I have found that the average student is not good with computers. They can operate a very narrow selection of apps, usually poorly, and are really not interested in knowing more. There are of course the “geeks” that seemingly know more than a human should know about a computer. These kids are scarce. The “don’t knows” rely way too much on the “knows”.
    I think this trend will change as curriculum drags apps classes lower and lower in the elementary grades but there are still a lot of elementary schools out there that do not teach apps. A local K – 7 private school has one computer, the principal’s. Montana is very rural with lots of small schools. I encounter lots of kids with absolutely no computer experience coming from these small schools. The schools can buy computers but there are no teachers with the needed experience. From my readings this is not unusual.

  3. Brian Skinner Says:

    I suppose how willing a kid is to try the unknown on computers depends upon how comfortable they feel on them. If the student has grown up around computers their whole life, they will not hesitate to click through the menus and try things out. However, if they don’t ever use computers at home they will be about as hesitant as my Grandma. In the affluent and tech-focused Bay Area we see much more of the former than the latter. The teachers here are also much more likely to be computer savvy than you see in Montana. That just makes what you are providing even more valuable!

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