Friday, March 13, 2020

Teaching From Home–Day 0

Well it happened. Like so many schools and school districts, Bishop Guertin has decided to close the building because of COVID-19. I say closing the building because we are going to attempt to continue teaching online. Today only teachers reported to school where we worked on learning more about he tools we will be using to replace face to face teaching in real life.

Let me answer the big question first. What about students without computers or Internet at home? Well, to be honest we don’t have many in that category. We may not have any at all in fact. We’re a private Catholic school with a tuition that means that if you can afford to come here you probably have the money for a computer and Internet at home. If families do have an issue our administration will work with them to help out.

Likewise, none of our students are going to miss out on meals as far as I know.

SO what we are trying is clearly not going to work everywhere. I hear that New York City schools have something like 100,000 students who are homeless. Can you imagine? And in America? That needs fixed but that is a topic for a different post.

I will be largely dependent on two pieces of technology. We’re using Google Meet for meeting virtually with our students. Why? well, that is what IT came up with. It’s free and easy to use. Is it Zoom which a lot of schools use? No. But we’ll see how it goes.

The second big tool is a bunch of virtual machines we self-host that students can connect to using VMware Horizons. This will allow students with Macs, PCs, Chromebooks, and Linux boxes to use a setup that looks as if they are logging into a computer in our labs. That means they can using Visual Studio, access our network drives, and any other software we have at school. This should make my life a bit easier.

I’ve been recording presentations for my Programming Honors course for a couple of weeks now. Originally I was doing so so that students who missed school could view them and so that who ever teaches the course next year would have a reference. Now I think that it will be good for students to have access to them for review. I just have to get them into the learning management system and record a couple more. I’m screen recording some of my demos as well. Not quite live coding but at least it will be a resource.

My Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles course (APCS P) uses the code dot org curriculum so we’re largely online already.  I’ll have Google Meet to introduce topics, answer questions, and basically mentor students.

My freshmen explorations course needs some work. I only teach one of those sections and other teachers teach the other five. I’m letting them take the lead on that planning for now. We’ll be doing some programming in Visual Basic in a couple of weeks so the virtual machines will get some use then if we are still closed.

I looked at several options on my own but time was not on my side. I looked at Small Basic Online for my freshmen class but decided I really did not have time to rewrite my curriculum around it. I looked at a bunch of Microsoft Azure related options and honestly they looked really promising. But they are complicated and their student package is designed for university students and a minimum age of 18. Azure Labs looks great but it was also complicated  to set up. The credit card was scary as well. I don’t have experience on how much it would cost to use over an extended period of time. There is Visual Studio and VS Code Online but they also require Azure accounts. Complicated and I didn’t have time to work it all out.

Speaking of VS Code, it has a lot of potential since it runs on PCs, Macs, and Linux boxes. If I could have found a simple tutorial on creating a new C# project using it I might suggest that in the future. Maybe I am old or something but I could not figure it out in the time I wanted to spend.

Lots of Microsoft people on Facebook and Twitter sent me links and suggestions. I do appreciate that but I could have used a nicely packages set of how tos aimed at HS CS teachers. Most of us are not pro developers. Nor do we have a lot of time when we get 24-48 hours to move to something new.

I know that Microsoft is really committed to helping educators at this time of difficulty. The special needs of CS teachers who want to use Microsoft tools and languages are not a priority though. I miss the days when Microsoft had a person dedicated to helping HS CS teachers teach using Microsoft products. Oh well. That’s life.


Garth said...

I think my school is right behind you. We started our week-long spring break today so we do not have to make any decisions until the end of next week.

I am glad to see someone else considers VSCode Online a pain. I gave up on it. The credit card thing was a no-go. I am finding all MS online apps a pain.

We are going to go with Google Classroom and Meet and see how it will work. I found my stats textbook in PDF. Newer edition but it should work. My Game Programming class is YouTube based so no problem there. I do have kids with out computers but I have laptops I can loan out. I even have enough spare towers I can give away. The Math 2 Honors will be a bit tricky. I do not use any particular book but I can figure something out.

All this is a bit of a pain but it is surmountable.

Mike Zamansky said...

Since I have a zoom account as part of Hunters School of Education that's what I'll try. I've got a test class set up for tomorrow morning with about 10 of my students so we can try out the features before we go "live." That's happening on Thursday.

I'm going to see if Slack becomes a better resource now that everyone will be home most/all the time. It didn't work with students when they were on the move from class to class all day but it might be a good tool given the circumstances.