Archive for June, 2018

Garth goes back to College: Opps

June 14, 2018

I have been sitting in on an intro Python course at the local university.  This is a CSCI 135 course, the CS department’s first course for majors.  This course is three weeks long, three hours a day.  I can only sit in for a few days due to work at school and a week-long professional development I have scheduled.  I figured I would sit in for a few days just to see someone else teach programming.  I have not been in a programming classroom other than my own or a professional development for 20 years.  I need to be polite here but it is difficult.  The class is, ah, what words come to mind?  Confusing, boring, tedious, crappy, oh so traditional with the sage-on-the-stage, PowerPoint hell, trite, trivial, pure syntax and generally not good.  Is that polite enough?

The range of experience in the class is pretty broad.  There are students with nothing for a programming background and there are graduate students learning Python so they can use it for research.  One of my high school juniors is in the class with a month or two of Python.  So it is a difficult class to teach to but not impossible.  I can see the beginners are already lost and the experienced students are just suffering through the tedium.  The instructor is using an online textbook called zyBooks.  I understand why she would use it, it does the code grading automatically.  It is a huge time saver for the instructor.  But it is tedious and trite.

This course is a perfect example of the mindset that learning programming is nothing more than learning syntax.  Memorize the language syntax and you are learning programming.  No problem solving.  No teaching top down, bottom up or other problem solving strategies.  No debugging techniques.  Nothing that makes a programming course an actual, useful programming course.

Now my opinion could be influenced by the fact I can program in Python.  I have taken that in consideration and tried to step out of that knowledge personality.  I am trying to look at this course as a teacher with the goal of imparting a fundamental understanding of what programming is all about through the medium of a particular language.  From that view the course is a zero on a scale of zero to ten.

I am actually learning something by just sitting in.  Nothing about Python of course but a lot about ways of not teaching Python.  Not something I was planning on but it is worthwhile.  Watching this course is going to make me very conscious of how I teach my own courses.

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Summer is here and it will not be a break

June 1, 2018

Today is the last day of kids in school.  The kids are happy of course.  Me, not so much.  I like kids and teaching.  Oh well, there is next year.  I will still be at school through the summer.  As the IT guy I have an eleven month contract.  Time to fix all the problems I did not have time to deal with during the school year.  This would not be a big deal if the building was air-conditioned.  It is not, it gets hot, especially on the second and third floors.  As in 100+ degrees hot.  Windows closed, no fans blowing, oikes.  That is why I make the big bucks.

Summer is also when I revamp my courses.  Nothing original there, I imagine every teacher in the US does something like that in the summer.  I have got to do something with my Stats course.  It is putting me to sleep so you can imagine what it is doing to the kids.  I have got to get Excel or Google Sheets more involved and less TI-84.  Computer access is an issue but I will figure something out.  My game making course needs to be altered a bit.  I am doing too much software and not enough philosophy and psychology of games.  You know, what defines a good game.  Why Flappy Bird was such a hit, why Tetras is still popular and why the Fortnite craze.

I have quite a few kids signed up for my dual-credit Python course.  I have it pretty well lined out but I need to expand it a bit.  Most of the kids signed up have done Python already so that sort of kills the first month of the course.  Maybe it is time for me to learn how classes work in Python.  So you think “He does not know how classes work in Python?  What a moron!”.  Well when I started programming there were no classes.  And in the many years since that beginning I have had no classes on classes.  (Sorry, I had to do that, it was there.)  I can spell OOP and I know the idea, I just do not do OOP.  Reading books and watching videos on classes and OOP just does not do the trick.  I need a class on classes with a real teacher.  And I need the time to take said class.  The local university is offering a course on Python this summer.  I just have to figure a way of working and sitting in on the course.  This is one of the big problems with learning programming on-the-job and on-the-fly, there are just so many knowledge gaps.  Kind of like 90% of the CS/programming teachers in the US right now.

I am signed up for a weeklong Mobile APCSP course in Butte.  I am really not taking the course for the material, it is the interaction with other programming teachers that I look forward to.  The course uses App Inventor which I am not a big fan of but it should still prove interesting.  The fact the class is offered at Butte is a big plus.  Some of the best mountain bike trails in the US are right out of Butte.  The town also has three breweries.  Yup, I like Butte.

For summer recreation I am heading to Oregon August 5th until August something else to go mountain biking and maybe hit the coast.  I have to be back by the morning of the 13th.  I am giving a First Lego League programming minicamp.  This will be the first year we have done a FLL team.  “Interesting” is one word that come to mind.  I said I would NOT be the coach.  We found a parent who has done it before.  He is a CS teacher at the university and has a 7th grade son who will be on the team.  Everything worked out well.

As usual the summer will not be boring.  Lots to do and lots to try to figure out.  Oh, I almost forgot, I am signed up to do a 25 mile mountain bike race at the end of July.  Right now my conditioning is zilch.  Something else to work on.  Somewhere in here I am doing some overnight backpacking trips.  I want to fish some of the high lakes in the Bitterroots.  More training required.