Archive for October, 2018

Confusion reigns

October 31, 2018

Sometimes you just have one of those days.  I had my Python class compute some Taylor Series where the input was number of iterations and the x value.  One of the students was working on sin x and was getting really weird results.  We sat there together trying to figure out what was wrong with her algorithm.  We tore it apart and put it back together half a dozen times.  No luck.  Everything was correct except the solution.  The partial sums were not even close.  It was driving me batty.  It was not that hard an algorithm.  OK, maybe Python was computing powers weird so I switched from (-1)^n to pow(-1,n).  It worked.  Thirty seconds later I figured out the carrot (^) does not work in Python.  I knew that.  Yes I did.  But it is correct for the TI-84 calculator.  Too many platforms and I am getting them all mixed up.  I put something on the board the other day, stepped back and thought, “No, wait.  That is Small Basic”.  I am getting my colon and semi-colons mixed up.  Python is colons, C# (Unity) is semi-colons.  Small Basic does not use “Print” to print, “print” is lowercase in Python.  I have three different “For” syntaxs to remember.  I am so glad I am not teaching a Java class.  Must be the early onset of Alzheimer’s.  Well, maybe not so early.

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Game Making 101: Keeping it simple

October 23, 2018

I am teaching a game making class this fall.  Nothing fancy, just letting the kids explore Unity and Blender.  Since I have never worked for a game making outfit I cannot really dive into the actual non-coding process that game making entails.  So we have some fun making some simple games following YouTube and printed resources I have. The course really is not about making a game, it is more on how to learn to use a game engine.  In that idea I usually have the kids look at GameMaker to see a different approach to making games. Being less than impressed with GameMaker I am always looking for a better second game engine to include in the course.  I have looked at Unreal Engine (a bit more than I want to bite off right now), Amazon Lumberyard (short on support material and poor ratings) and Cryengine (mediocre ratings). Yesterday I was just looking to see if there was anything else out there of interest when I found Godot Engine.  Good support material on the website, some good YouTube tutorials (this is critical), easy to install, good ratings as a beginner engine and similar enough interface to Unity that some of that knowledge with transfer over. It apparently will publish directly to an Android device which makes it more fun for the kids.  They get to play their game. I am going to give it a try.

This game making class is one of my hardest to grade.  I have students who really enjoy it and spend hours at home getting things to work and I have students that only work in class and even then they tend to wander.  The kids that are really into it obviously produce a better product but the kids that are just surviving do produce. I do not feel right giving the overachievers a better grade, after all, this is their hobby.  So I have to grade on effort which can be a bit tricky. How hard a kid is “trying” is really hard to measure. Part of that “trying” involves how long they can sit in front of a monitor without going buggy. I am good for about 15 minutes (unless I am really getting into it) before before I have to go wander around.  I have a couple of students that can sit there for an hour and a half and be happy as a clam. I have some that are only good for ten minutes before they have to wander mentally and physically. I simply cannot bring myself to grade a kid on how long they can listen to a YouTube tutorial or my lecture before they need to do something to clear their head.  Right now my grading is based on one of my favorite criteria, that ever useful, but a bit undefined, “warm and fuzzy”. Try and you get a decent grade. Do not try and the grade is not so hot. If there is a deadline then how close did you come and how hard did you try to make it? Luckily I have very small classes. I do not think this would work with more than ten students.  Right now my class sizes are five, eight, one and one. Warm and fuzzy works.

State Digital Guideline: Are they worth the electrons they are stored on?

October 17, 2018

This is one of those deals where reading a blog led to reading a document on CS adoption in the US which lead to another document on the Code.org Nine Policies and from there reading another document, the “Montana K-12 Digital Literacy and Computer Science Guidelines”.  It was a journey. One of the maps in the CS adoption article had Montana in the 2-3 Code.org policies adopted range.  Looking at the nine policies from Code.org I knew Montana had a state plan, although the last time I looked it was an antique.  What else we had is a mystery to me. I looked at our state plan and to my surprise it was dated 2018! Wow! Who knew? No CS teachers I know knew.  So how useful is a state plan that nobody that would use it knows about? Well, OK, maybe the few I talked to were just out of the loop. Possible but considering how few CS teachers there are in Montana you would think the Office of Public Instruction would get the word out.  Whatever. So I look at the advisory committee. Twenty-one people on the list. I know several people on the committee but they are not people I would expect to be on a K-12 guideline. They are university CS people, not high school CS people, not even CS Ed people. There is one high school CS teacher on the list and she is from one of the largest schools in the state.   Not really representative of CS in Montana but still a high school person.

Ok, maybe I am getting a bit nit-picky here.  I start looking through the document. It is the usual “Grades 6-8 should know” type thing.  I look through the Grades 9-12. You have got to be kidding me. I do not know half the stuff all high school students should know by graduation.  I would not even have a lot of this stuff on a “perfect world” list.

So how useful is this “Montana K-12 Digital Literacy and Computer Science Guidelines”?  If a school has a dedicated CS teacher with an extensive background in teaching CS and an excellent CS education themselves, if the school offers a multi-year program, if the school invests a lot of time and resources to aligning the curriculum to fit the guidelines then this document is pretty slick.  The trouble is none of those “ifs” fit more than a couple of schools in Montana.

I can imagine this document cost the state a pretty penny.  It checks a box; the state does have a plan. The fact no one that the plan affects really cares about it, that the plan is idealistic and undoable for almost all schools in the state and the people that wrote the plan may be experts in their field but their field is not K-12 CS ed kind of puts a kink in things.  So is “Montana K-12 Digital Literacy and Computer Science Guidelines”, as it is presently written, worth the electrons it is stored on?

Too bad they did not write something a school could actually use as a guide to design a realistic affordable curriculum.  Montana has a lot of schools that are just starting to introduce CS into their curriculum. There are just so many ways a plan like this could be written to make it a useful tool for schools.  Assets needed, professional development requirements, practical ideas or examples for each topic, things a beginning school or teacher can actually look at and go “Ah ha!”. As it is it is space junk.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. OK, just bears.

October 8, 2018

A friend and I went hiking Sunday.  I usually do a good sized hike on the weekend.  This was a 10 mike out and back to Illinois Peak in the northern Bitterroots.  We were in maybe two inches of snow near the top.  Weather was great, mid 30’s, maybe low 40’s, not too hot. not too cold.  Did not see any wildlife but lots of tracks.  The usual; grouse, mice, deer, coyote and this.  Probably a really big black bear.  Now I have seen a lot of bear prints where I hike and have had several face-to-face encounters with black bears and one with a grizzly.  No big deal, everybody just goes on their peaceful way.  This one kind of freaked me out.  When we came on the tracks they were fresh, like maybe minutes fresh, snow was still falling into the print fresh.  But no bear.  Ever get that feeling you are being watched?  It added a whole new dimension to that stretch of the trail.  My friend had bear spray, I did not.  I will ensure that does not happen again.