Archive for August, 2014

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.


Are we doomed to be a 3rd world country tech-wise?

August 6, 2014

Connected to those on-line courses I am taking is a conversational network as part of the course.  One of the assignments was to talk briefly about ourselves and our reason for signing up for the course.  There were several teachers that wrote something similar to this.

“Our grade school and middle school has little to no computing. We have had difficulty getting keyboarding taught below high school level. This is a great concern to me since our students will need to take tests on the computer or a tablet starting next year. The younger students need to have the ability to type on a keyboard so that they can show what they really know.

 Our Kindergarten through third graders usually use the computer to reinforce math and reading using programs and games. Our third through eighth graders are supposed to have some keyboarding instruction each year. However, I teach all freshmen a required course of one semester of Keyboarding and one semester of Computer Concepts. Most of these students come into my class with little or no instruction in keyboarding. Unfortunately, that means I need to break bad keyboarding habits. This is very difficult to do. The Computer Concepts class includes basics of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, and PhotoStory.  I am very glad to have the opportunity to teach all freshmen this required course. I know many schools do not have this as a required course.  It’s vitally important to give our students an opportunity to learn Microsoft programs that they will use throughout high school.

 I would like to offer computer programming as enrichment to my high school students. It is difficult to find the time to do this, though, with all the other requirements for each class. “

The scary part is I bet many public schools in the US are like this.  Do schools like this actually believe they are preparing their students for the future?  Why is it teachers like this have to fight uphill for change by building enrichment courses on their own time?  The administration should recognize their curriculum is 40 years out of date and be demanding teachers instigate computer education into the curriculum, K-12.

In this same direction one of the senior tech at one of the smaller local schools quit last week and found a new job immediately with a larger school.  He quit because the school board he worked for was convinced pencil and paper was as efficient as a computer.  Board members also would not bother to learn to use Drop Box for board business.  The board told the principal that he was “too enthusiastic about technology and no longer fit in with the goals of the school”.

Could these instances be exceptions?  From what I read and see around me I do not think it is.  It is stories like this that make me fear that the US is going to fall behind nations that have accepted technology and CS education.

Summer is winding down

August 4, 2014

The summer is drawing to a close.  In three weeks school starts up.  As usual I did not get all I needed done done.  I am used to it so no panic.  The IT stuff is done, the classrooms are ready for students and teachers, everything is working the way it should, laptops are ready to check-out to students if they need them and the network is up.  My new Java course is not doing so well.  My fault for prioritizing the IT stuff but more relies on that than the Java course.  I have a syllabus, a text and a plan, just not much practice with the IDE or the language.  I have a year to do a semester course so I am not bothered.  I want to do a lot more than programming in the course so I will have the time to get ahead of the kids.

I am back to teaching Stats this coming year.  The school did a little curriculum changing so the Stats course is now an honors course.  Previously it was designed for all seniors not interested in going the calculus direction.  We will now offer three courses for seniors, one standard track and two upper level courses that offer college credit.  The Stats course previously offered college credit but had such a mix of abilities that it had to be very tempered.  The new course will allow me to increase depth and breadth.

I signed up for three on-line courses this summer.  One presented by the U of Alabama was on the new APCS Principles course; the other two are a Java course and a hardware course by the U of West Virginia.  I took these for my own benefit and out of curiosity to see what a MOOC like.  I now know and will not do that again.  The APCSP course started interesting then did exactly what most CS courses turn into, a programming course.  Here is the language (Snap!) and basically how it works, now write a program in it.  Absolutely nothing on how to actually build a program (as opposed to typing code).  The course was supposed to be for all comers, teachers with little coding experience all the way to long time programming teachers.  I cannot see how a beginner would get the idea that designing the program is more important than typing code.  Sort of my pet peeve.   Snap! also had some issues.  Not a good thing for beginners.  The two by UWV were just confusing.  Not the material but the internet implementation.  This is not a good mode for education.  Better than nothing?  Yes, but barely.  I guess I am just an old time traditionalist.  I like to ask my instructors questions when the question comes to me.

Next week I am attending a two day Professional Learning Community at Work Institute.  The in-service starts at 6:30 in the morning.  Eek.  Done by 2 is the plus.  This PLC seems to be the latest catchy thing to add to a teacher’s load.  I have talked to a number of teachers that have been through the training, among them my wife, and they are not too impressed.  I have to keep a positive attitude or this could be a bad two days.  I do not do well at these “good idea” seminars as it is.  I have been doing a little internet research to find out what PLC is all about.  It looks like something the Chinese and Japanese have been doing for about 40 years or more.  Of course the Chinese and Japanese fund and support their education system a bit differently than we do in the US.

As usual I am looking forward to school starting.  It is the best job I have ever had.  I like kids, I like working with educated people, I like learning, and nobody is shooting at me or trying to blow me up.  All a plus.