Friday, May 29, 2009

Online economy and perceived value

Last week was my last week with my students. As you might imagine, I've worked very hard to grade as much work as possible before they go. I am also responsible for our school schedule and have been working VERY hard for the past two weeks trying to make next year's schedule work. (Although we're keeping substantially the same schedule, we have some staffing changes that necessitate some deft maneuvering.)

With all this stress, I've found myself needing to blow off steam. Fortunately, @mml suggested the game Plants vs. Zombies, so I downloaded it and ran through the trial hour in a couple of days. It costs $20 to buy. This presented a dilemma. $20 felt like a lot to spend on a game; I always think carefully before I do, though I've spent that much on downloaded games before.

Then I went to the grocery store and spent $25 on odds and ends without thinking twice about it. And wondered, why is it that $25 at the grocery or a restaurant is no big deal, when $20 on a computer game or movie at the theatre seems like a lot? Now, this is the place where the psychologists would start talking about perceived value, and of course they'd be right. But instead, I'm going to marvel at the synchronicity that Ian Bogost was thinking about the exact same thing.

His article is really good, so you should go read it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're out to get you

I have a student, S, who is, shall we say, "a handful". I really like her, but she is Difficult with a capital D.

Example: we've had a three-year power struggle over whether or not she is going to spend every class tipped back in her chair. This is a pet peeve of mine and the rule is "four on the floor." She will keep her feet and two chair legs on the floor and tell me "that IS four on the floor!" We finally resolved the power struggle when I began bribing her to sit up straight. I told her I'd give her a cookie if she behaved one day, and she did. I have inconsistently rewarded good behavior since then and what do you know? She CAN behave.

I was reminiscing today that she reminds me of another student, Lydia. Lydia and Evelyn were best friends and were incredibly disruptive. In seventh grade, they got on a barking kick. They would randomly and frequently bark like dogs. They could not be enticed to stop. (I was a new teacher; I didn't have a lot of tricks to try.) They mostly only did it in my class. Every period with them was a trial.

Finally, I had a talk with Lydia and the guidance counselor had a talk with Evelyn, where we told them how awful it was. They were flabbergasted. Truly shocked. I said, "Lydia, I yell at you guys to stop all the time!" She told me, "but we love joking around with you! You never get mad, you just laugh." I told her, "I hate it. I get so frustrated. Every day when I leave your class, I'm in a terrible mood. It isn't funny to me." They stopped after that.

Lydia is my touchstone to not take student behavior personally. Even when I think they couldn't possibly be unaware how irritating they are, chances are much better that they have no idea than that they do. (Disclaimer: this may not be true in other schools.) I can't think of one time when I've tracked down even truly shocking behavior and had the kid have any malicious intent.

It's one of the reasons I love kids - they're so self-absorbed and it's completely developmentally appropriate. If adults behaved this way, I would either be mad because it was intentional or I would be mad because they ought to predict the impact of their behavior. With kids, once I stop being mad, I just laugh. (Barking? Really?) I guess Lydia had a point.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Today I am giving the students a "final quiz". It is not comprehensive, as it covers only programming we've done this semester. Their final project was due on Tuesday; we've been working on it since February.

This semester there have been a chorus of complaints about how awful Python is. I have a number of students who are very far behind - like the one I made stay in at lunch on Tuesday and got her caught up to the end of March. They all miss Flash - which I think is funny, since they hated Flash while we were doing it.

At the end of the quiz, I asked them how the quiz was. The quiz this semester was on paper; last semester it was online. They thought the quiz was straightforward, which was my goal - no trick questions. They told me they thought it was easier because it was on paper instead of online, which I thought was interesting. They're much more practiced at taking quizzes and tests on paper than online, so navigating how to answer the computerized questions was a little challenge. Finally, by a two-to-one margin, they preferred programming in python to working with Flash. They found it much more straightforward.

I also asked them to do a final reflection on "Why study computer science?" They answered the same question at the beginning of the year, so it will be interesting to see how their answers change.