EppsNet Archive: High School

Teaching Computer Science: Today Was Not the Best Day to Say What You Just Said

14 Jan 2015 /

Class website

I asked the class to pass in today’s homework and a student said, “I couldn’t figure out what homework was due today.”

I wasn’t feeling at my best to begin with. I was tired because I was up late making sure the class website was updated with all relevant materials, homework assignments were listed at the top of the page under the Homework header with due dates listed in bold font next to each assignment so that there’s no way anyone looking at the website, assuming they’re old enough to read, could fail to understand what is the homework and when is it due.

So when that kid said that he couldn’t figure out what the homework was, I felt the futility of life grabbing me by the throat and I was mad . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Collected Thoughts

10 Jan 2015 /

If you recognize the person on this next slide, please raise your hand. Don’t yell out the name, just raise your hand.

Derek Jeter

About two-thirds of you recognize Derek Jeter. I thought everyone would recognize him, but still a clear majority.

I’m not a Yankees fan or a Derek Jeter fan particularly but the Captain and I are on the same page on this topic. I have to admit I was pretty competitive as a student. I didn’t want anyone to do better than me and I especially didn’t want anyone to do better than me because they worked harder than me.

This Jeter quote reminded me of a quote from another notable sports figure . . .

Bob Knight

This is Bob Knight, college basketball coach, most notably at the University of Indiana. He won 902 games, three NCAA championships, and he coached the 1984 Olympic basketball team to a gold medal.

Notice that he says “everyone” and “no one.” He doesn’t say some people don’t want to come to practice. There’s a universal aspiration to accomplish great results without a corresponding level of effort. I recognize that in myself, definitely. As far as I can tell, this approach rarely if ever works, even for people we think of as prodigies.

Mozart used to say that anyone who thought composing music came easily to him was very much mistaken. While all the other kids were playing kickball, Mozart was in the house practicing his music lessons. In case you’re thinking that kickball wasn’t even a game at that time, you may be right. The point is that if there was kickball, Mozart wouldn’t have been playing it because he was practicing his music lessons.

One more on this topic . . .

Michelangelo's David

This is a quote from Michelangelo. Nothing great seems to happen without a lot of practice.

Once again, please raise your hand if you recognize the person on this next slide.

Anton Chekhov

He looks Russian.

Yes, he is Russian.

Dostoevsky? Tolstoy? Mendeleev? Pushkin? Boris Pasternak?

No . . . he’s known as an author of plays and short stories.

[A student sitting next to a smart but quiet young man from Russia points to the Russian boy and says, “He knows.”]

Who is it? Chekhov.

Right . . . this is Anton Chekhov. He wasn’t a programmer but his advice is relevant to many different endeavors.

Don’t overcomplicate things. A good heuristic – which is a fancy way of saying “rule of thumb” – is to do the simplest thing that could possibly work. Method A could work, Method B could work — which one should we try first? Try the simplest one first.

Note that the heuristic doesn’t say to do the simplest thing. If the simplest thing couldn’t possibly work, don’t do it. Do the simplest thing that might actually work.

One final slide. I don’t think anyone will know these people so I’m not asking for a show of hands.

2 days in a closet

I saw an article last week about a man and a woman who were “trapped” in a janitor’s closet at the Daytona State College Marine and Environmental Science Center for two days. They got themselves in the closet last Sunday and finally on Tuesday, the gentleman on the right got the idea to call 911. Why that idea took two days to incubate is unclear. Police showed up to let them out and found out the closet was not locked. They could have opened the door themselves.

Maybe the lock was meth’d up, like the woman. “Meth’d” up, get it?

Are they students at Daytona State College? The article doesn’t say. Do any of you have Daytona State College on your college wish list? If so, you may want to take it off. Or just keep it as a safety school in case Harvard and the Sorbonne don’t come through for you.

What can we learn from this story? I don’t want to say “don’t make assumptions” but don’t make unwarranted assumptions. Don’t make assumptions about things that you can easily verify. If you’re in a closet, don’t assume the door is locked. Try it and see. A lot of uncertainty can be dispelled by trying things out.

Assumptions can hurt you as a programmer. You might be stuck because you’re assuming some condition is true that isn’t true. Or you’re assuming that some condition can never be true when it really can be true. Don’t make unwarranted assumptions.

I couldn’t help noticing that a lot more people recognized Derek Jeter than recognized Anton Chekhov. If you want to achieve great renown, if you want to be part of the public consciousness, entertain people in a simple-minded way, like hitting a ball with a stick and running around in a park. People can be entertained by Derek Jeter without expending any effort.

Where Chekhov went wrong is that he failed to anticipate a world where nobody reads anymore. Furthermore, he believed that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them. His plays and stories don’t have a traditional structure where everything is tied up neatly at the end, so you not only have to put in the time to read them, you have to go into overtime to ponder the moral ambiguities. Who has time for that in their busy lives?


Teaching Computer Science: Those Who Don’t Like to Read

16 Dec 2014 /

Students with books

I recommended a couple of books that I’ve read recently and liked — Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman — to the class in case anyone was looking for a book to read over winter break or maybe as a holiday gift.

“What if you don’t like to read?” someone asked.

“Well, in that case you can spend your entire life inside your own head and never know or care what life looks like to other people.”

In hindsight, it occurred to me that I could have suggested audio books for people who don’t like to read, but . . . woulda coulda shoulda, you know what I’m saying?


Teaching Computer Science: No School Before Thanksgiving

26 Nov 2014 /

There was no school today because a lot of kids don’t like to show up the day before Thanksgiving, so the district decided not to have classes on the day before Thanksgiving. Once they get used to having Wednesday off, they won’t show up on Tuesday and we’ll have to give them Tuesday off. Then of course there’s no sense in having a one-day school week so we’ll give them the whole week off.

And since they’re already off on Veterans Day and the day after Halloween, let’s just give them the whole month of November off.

I’m concerned that American education is getting worse faster than we can lower our standards.


Teaching Computer Science: Exam Tips from the Pros

18 Nov 2014 /

When I cover something in a review session or study guide, it’s because I know it’s going to be on the test. There were questions during this morning’s test about the workings of several Java methods, all of which were covered in the review session and the study guide. I can’t answer questions like that during the test so if you have questions about review topics, ask them in advance of test day.

Some people seem to think that having an excuse for not knowing something is as good as actually knowing it. “But we hardly spent any time on Topic X in class.” “But we just learned Topic Y yesterday.”

Even if either one of those were true, what difference would it make? It’s on the study guide and it’s going to be on the test.

Given a choice between knowing something and having an excuse for not knowing it, always go with the first option: knowing it.


Teaching Computer Science: Mindset

17 Nov 2014 /
Studying

Photo Credit: dongga BS

I’m not comfortable giving people advice that they didn’t ask for, so I usually preface it by saying “Feel free to ignore this . . .”

That being said, I want to talk about the mindset I think you should have for this class, maybe for other classes, maybe even for things outside of school.

Feel free to ignore this . . .

Education has allowed me to make a living doing things that I like and things that I’m good at. A lot of people are not able to say that. Most people, I think, are not able to say that. Most people are like “I hate Mondays” and “Thank god it’s Friday” and that sort of thing.

I have had jobs where I spent the day doing things that I don’t like and I’m not good at and it’s painful. And the amount of money you get paid to do it doesn’t seem to make it any less painful.

I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins . . . some of them were serious about education and some of them weren’t. And the ones who weren’t, I don’t want to say they’re all losers, but they’re all . . . disappointments. As I expected they would be. My wife doesn’t like when I say this — she thinks it’s bad karma or something — but I like it when people screw around in school and go on to have disappointing lives because it reinforces everything that I believe to be true about life.

It’s satisfying when people make bad decisions and suffer the consequences, isn’t it? I think it is.

My own mindset, and this doesn’t apply just to school, is that no one is going to outwork me and no one is going to outlearn me. If you’re working on homework or a programming assignment, or you’re studying for a test or quiz, and you get stuck on something, and you try to get unstuck by reading the textbook, or going to the website and reviewing lecture slides or handouts or watching a video or posting a question to the Facebook group, you’re doing things the right way. You should do well in the class, you should do well on the AP exam and I’ll do everything I can to help you do well in the class and on the AP exam.

If you hear yourself saying things like, “I spent the weekend playing 47 straight hours of video games, and by the way, I have no idea what’s going on in this class,” you’re unlikely to do well.

If you’re asking questions about assignments on or after the due date, you’re unlikely to do well.

If you miss a class and don’t check the website to see what you missed, you’re unlikely to do well. Everything we cover in class is on the website, plus a lot of extra stuff as well.

“Nobody’s going to outwork me and nobody’s going to outlearn me.”

Again, if that doesn’t make sense to you, feel free to ignore it . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Diversity for Girls Only

27 Oct 2014 /

NCWIT photo

I called the class’s attention to the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing, which honors young women at the high-school level for their computing-related achievements and interests. Awardees are selected for their computing and IT aptitude, leadership ability, academic history, and plans for post-secondary education.

The website features a photo of a black girl, an Asian girl, a white girl, and in case you’re not in any of those groups, there’s an ethnically ambiguous girl on the left you can probably identify with. Diversity and inclusiveness for all. All are welcome.

You still have to be a girl of course, they’re not that inclusive . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Diversity Takes a Hit

24 Sep 2014 /

They told us during teacher training in the summer not to scare off the students. But programming is difficult. There’s a lot of complexity and detail to master. The first couple of programming classes I took, we started off with around 50 people on the first day, and had around 12 left for the final exam. Entry-level programming classes have very high dropout rates.

One of our students dropped the class this week, a girl. So much for promoting diversity in computer science . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Applause

23 Sep 2014 /

Applause

We did an interactive exercise to write a simple program that prints numbers and the squares of the numbers — a for loop, basically. We went around the room with each student providing one element of the loop and me writing them on the whiteboard: for, open paren, int, i, equals, 1, semicolon, etc.

I thought it went very well. The timing was good and it was obvious that most of the class understood what was going on. When we got to a girl who’s usually ahead of everyone and knows all the answers, what we needed from her was “curly bracket” but what she actually said was “semicolon” and there was a collective groan from the rest of the class.

When the last student said “close curly bracket,” there was spontaneous applause, immediately, before I even wrote it on the board. It wasn’t like a concert at the high school auditorium where a piece ends and there’s a gap — “Is it over? Do we clap now?” It was like a classical concert with a high-brow audience that knows exactly when the piece ends and when to clap.


Teaching Computer Science: Asking for Help

15 Sep 2014 /

I’m not sure students are asking for help enough despite my repeated admonitions to do so.

On the first day of class, I said, “Ask for help early and often. If you ask for help when you’re in trouble, you waited too long. Ask for help when things are going well. That’s a good heuristic in this class and in other areas of life as well.”

Later I said, “Learn to distinguish between persistence and floundering. Persistence is good. Floundering is bad. Don’t flounder.”

Yesterday I said, “You may think, ‘Well, if I was a better programmer, I wouldn’t have to ask for help.’ That’s incorrect. As you get to be a better programmer, you’re given harder problems to work on. I’ve been programming for 30 years — almost — and I ask for help every day.”

Honestly I feel like a mental case repeating the same thing over and over and yet out of 34 students in the class, 12 didn’t turn in the first assignment, most apparently because even though they finished it, they didn’t know how to turn it in (via an upload link on the class website) and didn’t ask for help or couldn’t figure out how to locate Java files in a project directory and didn’t ask for help . . .


Would Jesus Tow My Car?

8 Sep 2014 /
Jesus

The lot that I usually park in at the high school was full this morning so I parked across the street at what looked like a large church. I checked in at the school office to make sure that was okay . . .

“I couldn’t find a space in the lot out front so I parked across the street,” I said to the woman at the desk. “Is that okay?”

“Did you park on the street or at the church?” she asked.

“I parked at the church . . . I asked myself, ‘What would Jesus do? Would he tow my car just because it doesn’t belong there?’ No, because he’s all about forgiveness and love.”

“Jesus doesn’t love you when you park in that lot. You need to move your car.”


Teaching Computer Science: Remembering Names

3 Sep 2014 /

I’m teaching AP Computer Science . . . today was the first real day of instruction. Yesterday was just introductions and housekeeping.

The first kid I called on to answer a question was named Sean. The second kid? Also named Sean.

“Is everyone in the class named Sean?” I asked.

Unfortunately they weren’t. It would have made it a lot easier to remember everyone’s name.


Teaching Computer Science

1 Sep 2014 /
School

Tomorrow is my first day as an AP Computer Science teacher at Corona del Mar High School. It’s a volunteer gig through the TEALS organization.

Only about 10 percent of U.S. high schools offer computer science classes and at most of those schools, it counts as an elective, like Home Ec or Wood Shop, not as a class that can be applied toward graduation like math or science.

The most popular AP exam in 2013 was US History — 439,552 students took the AP US History exam. Only 31,117 students took the AP Computer Science exam. That’s about the same number as the AP Art History exam. I don’t want to denigrate the study of art history, but given the ubiquity of computers and software and programming in daily life, the study of computer science seems more likely to enable a person to be self-supporting and to contribute to the common good.

I’ve heard people say that computer science should be taught in every high school in America. That may be a good idea, but no one ever says where all the qualified computer science teachers are supposed to come from. The TEALS vision is to put high-tech professionals like myself in schools to teach computer science and to teach teachers to teach computer science.

I’m happy to have the opportunity but I’m also scared, I might as well put that out there. What am I scared of? Like everything else, that I won’t perform to expectations and that I’ll be exposed as a phony.


Why Do (Some) Smart Kids Fail?

29 Mar 2014 /
Bored of Education

A woman is telling me about her two sons . . . they’ve grown up to be fine young men, she says. It’s disappointing, of course, that neither of them managed to finish high school but it was really unavoidable because the older boy was much smarter than his peers and so he was always bored and academically unengaged and finally dropped out completely, and the younger boy just imitated whatever the older boy did.

I’ve heard this type of woulda-coulda-shoulda before and I have to admit I’ve never been totally receptive to it: this happened . . . then that happened . . . the kid did such-and-such . . .

It sounds very passive. Parents aren’t supposed to be passive observers. There are intervention points every day. If things aren’t going in the right direction, you do something to take them in a different direction.

Look in any classroom in America . . . you’ll see kids with a range of abilities. Are you telling me that all of the smartest kids are destined to fail because they’re smart? That because they’re smart, they have no option but to get bored and check out and fail?

Lots of smart kids do very well in school . . . they get good grades and test scores and they go to good colleges. What is the difference between those kids and the kids who get bored and check out and fail?

Think about it . . .


The Hardest Available Challenge

22 Feb 2014 /

One of my colleagues at work has a son in 6th grade. She’s trying to figure out which math class to put him in for 7th grade.

Yuna Kim

Working backward, we know that “normal” kids take Algebra I in 9th grade, the smarter kids take Algebra I in 8th grade, and the smartest kids take Algebra I in 7th grade. Placement depends on how a kid scores on the math placement test.

My co-worker’s concern is if her kid gets a top score on the placement test and he’s eligible to take Algebra I in 7th grade, does she want him to do that, or to wait till 8th grade?

If he takes Algebra I in 7th grade, that would mean he’d be taking the hardest math classes all through high school. Would it be better from a college admission standpoint to take easier classes and get all A’s, or take the hardest classes and maybe get a B+?

Our kid has already been through the Irvine schools. He’s in college now so I can answer questions like this with the benefit of experience.

“I like to see kids push themselves to take the hardest challenge available,” I said. “Colleges are not impressed with kids who get A’s in easy classes.”

“But what if he takes hard classes and gets a B+?” she asked.

“My advice is, don’t get a B+.”

If your kid takes hard classes in high school and gets B’s in them, he or she may not be able to attend a top university, but it wasn’t their destiny to attend a top university. Your kid is not that kind of a kid.

 

That reminds me . . . Olympic figure skating is on TV this week. Are you watching it? Neither am I, but I’ve heard that some of the skaters actually fall down during their program.

They’re supposed to be the best skaters in the world. Even I could go out there and skate around for a few minutes without falling down. Granted, I couldn’t do any spins or jumps or skate backwards or anything like that.

The point is that to be recognized as the best at something, you can’t just do easy things well. You have to risk doing things that are hard to do. In the skating scenario, it’s not enough to say “I didn’t fall on my ass.” No, you didn’t, but you didn’t even try to do anything hard.

In any endeavor, you won’t impress people of discernment simply by avoiding anything that might give you some difficulty. Step up to the challenge.


Dee-FENSE

12 Dec 2012 /

107-2 — Bloomington South girls basketball team beats ArlingtonESPN

They gave up two points?! Who’s coaching the defense, Mike D’Antoni?


Berkeley Voters Leave Something to be Desired as Parents

29 Nov 2012 /

According to a new survey, just over 10 percent of Berkeley High ninth and 11th graders reported carrying a weapon onto school property, while about 35 percent of 11th graders reported attending class drunk or high.

If I had a kid at Berkeley High, I’d be moving out of town yesterday, but I’m reading in the Daily Californian that this news has been “met with surprise and joy from administrators,” the reason being that a similar survey two years ago reported about 17 percent of ninth graders and 16 percent of 11th graders carrying weapons onto campus, and 48 percent of 11th graders attending class drunk or high.

Progress!

“We’re very pleased with the survey results all around,” said Director of Student Services Susan Craig, “and at the same time we’re not at all complacent.”

If by “pleased” she means “horrified,” I couldn’t agree more.

In other news, Barack Obama got more than 90 percent of the Berkeley vote in the recent presidential election, while Mitt Romney got 4.6 percent and Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, got 3.2 percent.

The liberal voter looks to government to solve problems that many people prefer to take on themselves, like raising their children.

Berkeley High School


See You in Hell

2 Mar 2012 /
Romeo and Juliet

[See You in Hell is a feature by our guest blogger, Satan — PE]

Modesto police are investigating if there’s a criminal case against a former high school teacher who resigned his job to move into an apartment with an 18-year-old girl he met while teaching.

James Hooker, 41, was placed on administrative leave Feb. 3 by Modesto City Schools and resigned less than three weeks later, according to a report at the Modesto Bee.

The newspaper reports that the man, who had taught business and computer classes, left his wife and children, to move in with Jordan Powers, an Enochs High School senior whom he met when she was a freshman at the school. One of Hooker’s children also attends the same high school.

“In making our choice, we’ve hurt a lot of people,” Hooker told the Bee. “We keep asking ourselves, ‘Do we make everyone else happy or do we follow our hearts?'”

Follow your heart, you magnificent selfish bastard!

Follow it right out the front door of the family home and into a Modesto apartment with a high school girl whose poor single mom, from the looks of the photo, couldn’t afford to buy her a set of braces.

DON’T LOOK BACK!

And make yourselves available for interviews and photo ops. YES! YES! YES!

(Let me add parenthetically that, despite what you may have heard, being raised by a single parent does not screw kids up in the head and more people should be doing it.)

One of your own kids goes to the same high school as your new live-in girlfriend?! Oh, the collateral damage is going to be prodigious!

Wait — I’m now being informed that the two of you appeared on Good Morning America this morning?!

Brilliant move, Romeo! A sane person would have said, “No, I think I’ve done enough damage already,” let things play out as just a local scandal in the backwater of Modesto, and missed out on the opportunity to traumatize everyone involved at a national level.

If this doesn’t result in at least one suicide, then my name is not Satan.

See you in Hell, professor.


Gary Carter, 1954-2012

17 Feb 2012 /
Gary Carter

Gary Carter (Photo credit: AxsDeny)

Gary Carter obituary: Baseball Hall of Fame catcher dies at 57

Gary Carter and I went to the same high school — Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, CA.

My freshman yearbook has a picture of a Carter as a senior. Or another way to look at it is that Gary Carter’s senior yearbook has a picture of me as a freshman.

That’s all I have on this.

RIP Gary Carter.


I’m Addressing the Shortage of Women in Technology

22 Jan 2012 /

I keep hearing that there aren’t enough women in technology, like this is a problem. The most obvious explanation is that women don’t want to work in technology. If they want to work in other fields, fine. If they want to raise their kids, even better.

I did some tutoring for a girl taking AP Computer Science. She’s a junior in high school and wants to be a veterinarian. Afterwards, she told her dad, “If I decide not to be a veterinarian, maybe I’ll be a programmer.”

Don’t let it be said that I’m not doing my part to address the shortage of women in technology, even though I think it’s baloney . . .

Thus spoke The Programmer.


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