Sunday, March 9, 2008

Seven Random Facts

Okay, before I start grading, I just wanted to finish Jane's archives so I could delete them in good conscience. And I found a seven things meme, which sounded like fun, so...

Seven Random Facts about the Wicked Teacher:

1. I have never worked food service. I did decorate a cake once for pay - it was for the birthday party of the kid across the street, when I was a teenager. I had visions of entrepreneurship, but it turns out that I have bad time management and wasn't motivated enough. I've never worked as a waitress or cook or hostess or anything like that.

2. I have a huge sweet tooth, but I don't like candy. I'll eat just about anything baked, though fruit desserts are my favorites, like apple crisp, peach cobbler, baked pears, strawberry-rhubarb pie... I prefer those by far to chocolate desserts. I also love cupcakes. But then, who doesn't love cupcakes?

3. I have never owned a new car. I don't object to owning a new car, I'd like to have one some day, but so far every time the decision to buy a new car has come along, a great used one has presented itself.

4. I wear three rings on my left hand and usually none on my right. I also almost always wear a digital watch. I like having a watch that tells me what time it is and the day and date. My mother hates it that I will wear it even when it doesn't go with my outfit; she bought me a fancy dress-up watch that I try to remember to wear when it is appropriate. But I like the digital better.

5. My favorite word is fungible. My favorite computer science word is algorithm. My favorite amino acid is phenylalanine. I think it is weird that most people don't have a favorite word, though I don't really think it is weird that they don't have a favorite amino acid. (But they should!)

6. I am an elder of the Presbyterian church.

7. I love vegetables. I like meat pretty well, but I have always loved vegetables.

Transcending the Debate

I've had a very scattered day and one of the things I've been doing is going through and deleting old blog posts from my reader. But of course I get sucked into reading them along the way, so it takes forever. But fun! This is why I have trouble sorting books or looking up words in a dictionary.

While perusing the archives, I found Jane's post about transcending the debate.

There are so many places this rings true in my life. I got into a conversation with a coworker on Friday afternoon about whether our faculty should be encouraged to have websites, forced to have websites, or left well enough alone. I think that at least they should be encouraged, but feel un-ready for the fight. Various among them will demand extra help, handholding, rules, no rules, and that I do a bunch of un-related tasks. (Our "internal web page" is a huge mess, which is nominally my responsibility, but also not needed since every teacher has a direct URL to their web space.) The coworker pointed out that I need to just tell them to be quiet and make a web page already, not get caught up in debating my own weaknesses where those weaknesses are not relevant.

Engaging with the faculty and staff about things they must do, even when I myself am not perfect, is a good place to start. I hesitate to lead, because I fear that they will point out all my weaknesses. Which is likely, really, but I need to stop worrying about it and just get out there.

For me, transcending the debate can also be the debate about teaching - curriculum, content, pedagogy. Every teacher needs to do what works best for them and what is best for kids. I think there are important ideas which all citizens should know about computing. I'm not sure what they are, but getting mired in the debate about whether Java is the best language for the AP or whether Alice's interface is too clunky isn't helping us discuss the important ideas. Don't get me wrong, I love a good debate, but as a discipline, we need to really focus on what is important.

Maybe the most important thing is assuming both intelligence and goodwill in others. This isn't a debate point, precisely, but I think we engage in the debate (any debate) and start thinking I'm right, s/he's wrong. Which isn't helpful - it means we're closed to hearing good ideas.

Now I should get focused and do some grading.

Monday, March 3, 2008


On Tuesday, we played the "guess a number game" where the kids thought of a number and I tried to guess it. We played several times and demonstrated experimentally that a binary search is more efficient than random guessing. (Barely! Sometimes random is more efficient, if you get it on the first try!)

Then we built the binary search algorithm in a flowchart, then I showed them the program. All that was good - we covered important ground. The students were Very Glad that I wasn't making them write the guessing game program, though, since they thought it was boring.

In class, they told me they've already used a website that randomly generates Shakespearean insults. So while they thought the project idea was kind of neat, and definitely better than the guess a number game, they were not as excited as I'd hoped. I pointed out that this was a program they would write themselves, but a number of them are just as happy using someone else's work rather than do the work themselves.

Then, and here is where the organization part comes in, we didn't get as far as I'd hoped in class. They got more confused by conditionals than I'd expected. So I slowed down and gave them an interim assignment, to finish a small program with a conditional in it.

The little conditional program is very similar to the Shakespearean insult program they're about to be assigned. I'm comforting myself that it is scaffolding, and for the students who need it, that is true. But for the students who are really bright, they're going to be bored.

I need to focus on being more organized, providing solid stopping points, and having very clear assignments that are logical. I wish I'd stopped earlier on Tuesday and given them a small assignment. Then we could have gone through conditionals on Thursday and assigned the Shakespeare thing on Tuesday.

Oh well. Better luck this week!