Monday, May 25, 2020

ACM Digital Library is Open for Free

Like most K-12 teachers, a membership in a professional society like ACM or IEEE is not funded by my school. So I pay out of pocket for an ACM membership and have for years. The extra money for access to the ACM Digital Library is a bridge to far. Normally, during a conference members can download papers from that conference and I take advantage of that. Right now, the ACM Digital Library is open to everyone for free. I am downloading papers like crazy. OK, maybe not like crazy, but I have been downloading a lot of papers that I find interesting.

I start by browsing conference proceedings and moving from there. Today I have been looking for papers at the Koli Calling conference.  I’m not sure where to go next but with just over a month to go of free access I hope to download papers referenced by the ones I have already.

Teachers of computer science now is the time to download your summer reading!

From the ACM Digital Library website:

We believe that ACM can help support research, discovery and learning during this time of crisis by opening the ACM Digital Library to all. For the next three months, there will be no fees assessed for accessing or downloading work published by ACM. We hope this will help researchers, practitioners and students maintain access to our publications as well as increasing visibility and awareness of ACM’s journals, proceedings and magazines. Please be sure to inform your colleagues that the ACM DL is now open, and will continue that way through June 30, 2020

Sunday, May 24, 2020

What About the Students Who Thrive Learning Online

In my end of course evaluations I asked my students if they learned better online or in the classroom. Not surprisingly, most of them said they learned better in the classroom. Maybe the experience will help motivate them to come to class. But I have been thinking about the students who said they learned better online. My son who is an elementary school principal has been seeing similar things. Students who struggle in the physical classroom are thriving online. What can we learn from this to help us reach these students better?.

The last few months have been anything but a careful study so it is hard if not impossible to come to firm conclusions. Antidotally, it looks like some students are more comfortable asking questions privately. Hardly a surprise but we don’t generally make allowances for that. Maye we should.

Other students are doing well because they are more In Control of their schedule. I don’t just mean the time of day, though I suspect that is a factor for some. I mean they can work on a subject in smaller or larger chunks of time. If they are really progressing and feeling food they can keep going. I have had students stay after class in the physical and well as the online classroom but teaching online the last class of the day has resulted in a lot more students staying late and getting extra help

Often we know that there are times when frustration means one should walk away from a problem and come back with fresh eyes later. The asynchronous learning that many schools have been using really opens the door for more of that. Its not like homework which in theory would allow for that because the whole day has been unstructured or at least less structured.

Home school parents have been talking about these things for years.If educators can look beyond our own biases perhaps we can learn from them.

Over the summer, hopefully, we can catch our breath and take a close look at what we learned, what worked, and what didn’t work. We’ll know more about how to teach online for sure. It wouldn’t hurt to look at this experience for things that may help the students who don’t learn as well in the physical classroom.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Am I Retired Now?

My last class of the school year just ended. My grades and report card comments are in the system. I am not going back to school in the fall. Am I retired now? I guess so. It feels weird as if there is no real closure. It doesn’t feel real. I actually updated a PowerPoint today that I have no immediate plans to use. Just seemed like the right thing to do.

People are asking me what’s next and to be honest that is unclear. I will be presenting at CSTA 2020 this summer. That will be online which is also weird. I will really miss the the hallway thread. I am on the conference committee for CSTA 2021 so CSTA and I are clearly not done with each other.  I hope to actually make more CSTA New Hampshire meetings. If I can swing it I hope to make some other conferences as well. There is one in Canada I have always wanted to attend and SIGCSE may be doable as well. I will not have to miss school for it at least.

Anyone want to pay my way somewhere, anywhere once the world is open again and have me  speak?

A lot of people have suggested teaching online and I  am considering it. I have mixed feelings about it and it would have to be the right situation.

Once the lockdown is over I plan to spend more time with my grandson. I am really looking forward to that.

I have a book idea or two that I want to work on. So that may keep me busy a bit.

As for this blog, I intend to keep going with it. I keep running into ideas to share and doing so seems like a good thing to do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Teaching is About Relationships

Today I was online with my students for about 90 minutes of a planned 55 minute class. One of my students joined the Google Meet session early and we chatted for a while. We talked mostly about how things were different learning online. I also had students stay after the scheduled end of class for extra help and we also talked about online learning for a while.

For me, as for I suspect most teachers, the best part of the job is building relationships with students. That is harder when teaching online. There are few chats between classes, before and after school, or during lunch room supervision. Many teachers I have heard from talk about how they are glad they got to establish relationships with the students they teach before we went to emergency remote teaching.

One of my students this morning said that she was worried about incoming freshmen if school starts online. They will not have the relationships that help adjust to a new school. They will also not have the technology experience that current students had even before we moved online.

Students tell me these out of class chats are important to them. From my observations, students who establish a good relationship with even one teacher are happier and more successful in school. I wonder how we can develop those relationships if school stays online.

My students tell me that they would rather be in the physical building. They miss their friends but they also recognize that they learn better in a physical classroom than online. Sure it is nice to be able to eat in class, have a restroom close at hand, and be able to do things at home without the travel to and from school but that’s not enough.

One student told me today that she misses the atmosphere of school. There is a feeling in the building that helps her feel comfortable and ready to learn. That is the sort of intangible that often gets overlooked during discussions of moving education online. Yes, it is less expensive. No doubt about it. But we lose so much. Students know this. They may not all have known this before but they are seeing things through a different lens today. So are teachers. I hope parents see it as well.

I’ve had almost prefect attendance in my online classes. The reasons for that are many, varied, and complicated but I believe that relationships have had a huge influence. Relationships between students and teachers and relationships with the culture of the school have all played a part. Plus I have really amazing people for students. I’m a lucky guy.

Friday, May 15, 2020

What is your School IT Department’s Mission?

My school ran a pair of online awards events yesterday. We had almost 850 people on the day time Zoom meeting and around 500 on the evening one. These are both on a par with our events in the building in previous years. But that is not what I really want o focus on. I want to focus on how this is possible

As part of the day, the highest award the school presents to a member of the faculty or staff was awarded to our director of technology. It is largely because of his leadership that we were able as a school to move online as quickly and as effectively as we did.

Largely because of his work, our students were used to going online for assignments, to taking quizzes and tests online, and to turning in assignments online. Teachers are used to taking attendance online, giving assignments online, and many other things essential for the running of the classroom. In preparation for moving online faculty were given their first training and preparation weeks before we actually had to move to teaching from home. We got more training once the decision was made.

This happened because our IT department, from the top down and with the support of the school’s administration, has the same mission as the school. The IT people see their role as helping everyone use technology to teach and learn. Our It director has taught several classes the last two years and learned first hand how technology can be used and has used that experience to help prepare teachers to use it.

My school is fortunate to have an experienced and dedicated Director of IT who fully embraces the mission of the school. I suspect that him being a graduate of the school as are his three children doesn’t hurt.

Over the years I have visited many schools were IT departments and teachers, especially computer science teachers, have had an almost adversarial relationship. Teachers may want to teach things that the IT department is afraid of students learning. Or IT departments have made decisions about policy, hardware, and software without considering the needs of teachers.

Among the many lessons we are learning during these unusual time is that teachers and IT have to be partners working together for a common goal and with a common mission.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

More Fun With Live Coding

Live coding or as I like to call it coding without a net is a wonderful way to teach.There was a time when I thought that having prewritten code that was pasted in during a demo was a good thing. You see it a lot in demos at events for coding professionals. It turns out that in a marketing presentation that is fine and dandy but for teaching it just doesn’t work.For one thing, it moves to fast. Students can’t follow it all. And secondly, it avoids making mistakes.

It turns out that making mistakes is useful. When teachers make mistakes students feel less bad about making their own mistakes. Programmers make lots of mistake. Getting very upset or feeling inadequate when one makes a mistake is a sure fire way to get burned out very quickly. So seeing a teacher make a mistake can be comforting.

Of course, what is really important is how the teacher reacts to making a mistake. The obvious advantage to making a mistake is that the teacher gets to model how to fix the mistake. A teacher will, I hope, read the error message and then explain it to their students. For some  reason students have to be taught that reading the error message is helpful. That is strangely not intuitive.

I find that I make several kinds of errors regularly. The most common error is the typo. It’s amazing how poorly my keyboard it as typing what I mean. A great opportunity to point out that they computer is not as good at handling ambiguous spelling as people are. Typos are often a good reminder to slow down as well. Sometimes taking your time is the fast way of doing things.

I also get bit by the logic error. Now you would think that would not happen for a long time professional writing simple code for beginners. What tends to happen in real life is that the good idea fairy strikes in the middle of a demo and I decide to make the demo more interesting by adding something I have never added before.This turns into a great example of why planning BEFORE writing code is such a good idea. It is yet again a wonderful opportunity to model problem solving and debugging. Always take advantage of opportunities to model how to solve problems.

I teach several courses using several different programming languages so the other sort of problem I run into is using code for the wrong language. Visual Basic and C# (and JavaScript) declare variables differently and that seems to be a problem for me some days. As does remembering which languages use semi colons and which ones don’t. I haven;t figured out how to really take advantage of those errors. Any ideas? At least they don’t happen to often.

For me, I have decided to embrace the chances for mistakes. I’m not going to be afraid to make a mistake in front of my students. Life is to short and there is a legitimate upside to it. Now I have to make sure I can explain the error I made at the end of last class.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Can Online Teaching Really Work?

There is already a lot of discussion about schools and the fall semester. Will we be in physical spaces again? Will we be online again? Will there be some mix?

[Dallas Texas] District preparing for three possible scenarios to start the 2020-2021 school year

It’s far to soon to know but there are a lot of questions to be answered before decisions are made. I link to some articles below that may be of interest. But for now, I want to ask the question “Can online teaching really work?”

People talk a lot about equity and the digital divide. The current situation sure has highlighted that with access to computers and the Internet being a huge factor in many areas of the country. One would like to think that if we fix  that, give kids computers and an Internet connection that will be enough. As if!

I think there is more to it than the digital divide. I think there is a cultural question of the value of education. In some schools, students who could participate are not. Why? I don't think we know all of the reasons.

I teach to a populations for whom education is critically important. Parents are paying real money for education and kids know that how adults spend money shows what they value. I think that is huge. Talking to my students over the years, they know their parents are making sacrifices for their education. They want to make sure their parents are getting value for that money.

Sure there are the spoiled self-entitled students out there but in a school like  mine the culture values learning. Peer pressure helps motivate students to do school work.

That is not a universal culture. There are schools where the culture says "get out of school as soon as you can" and "you don't really need school but you do need to work." There are schools where students feel they have to go to work to help support their families. There are kids who parents will actually make them leave home at 18 and go on their own. (This is not a myth. I have seen it.)

School culture is very important. Peer pressure can work to help students value school or not value it. So my concern about online teaching is two fold. How will students who are not living in a culture, at home or at school, where it is cool to be smart, where it is important to go to school. or where they don’t feel like they belong motivate themselves to attend online classes?

And how will schools with a supportive culture be able to maintain and grow that culture online? It’s not going to be easy.

And that is just secondary school. I don’t even want to think about grades k-8. No, really, I don’t.  I can’t imagine online school working well at those age levels.

BTW are plans for the fall thinking about teachers? Especially older and otherwise vulnerable teachers?