Archive for the ‘Hotchkiss’ Category

Thu 1/26: Into the great wide open

January 27, 2012 1 comment

In an act likely motivated in equal parts by inspiration and desperation, I have agreed to take on the role of Educational Technology Facilitator at the school where I am working. In many ways, this is a fantastic move for me. It allows me to jettison some of my other non-technology responsibilities and crystallizes my job into something approaching a coherent whole. I will still be responsible for teaching all of the computer courses, which was something that I insisted on so that I could stay in the classroom. And I also get to keep my job as the school’s sports information director, which is something that I really love to do.

The majority of my job role, however, will consist of this new position. What exactly my responsibilities will be remain to be determined. In a nutshell, my job will be to start pushing the school’s use of technology a little further down the field again since the last person to hold this job left 18 months ago. In what areas will that manifest itself? That’s a good question. I hope that I can make meaningful changes both in and out of the classroom.

I am excited about this new opportunity and also somewhat terrified. The fact that the job remained unfilled for nearly two years makes me nervous that the position (or me) could be judged to be expendable when the initial two-year appointment expires. I’m worried that prevailing faculty attitudes about technology might be difficult to budge much during that short period of time. And I guess I’m just worried about my ability to get up to speed quickly enough to be effective in the job.

But it’s a great challenge and, if it works, should be a great career move. Being  a successful technology integrationist is actually something tangible that has some street cred, much more than the extremely valuable but largely unrelated hodgepodge of responsibilities that has been my job for the last five years.

Categories: ETF, Hotchkiss, teaching, worklife

Mon 8/29: What to do on Day One

August 30, 2011 2 comments

I was just reading an excellent post by Ben Wildeboer on his blog about what to do on Day One, and it made me reflect on the evolution of this curious pedagogical organism in my classes over the years. In the beginning, when I was teaching at NMH, I used to do a very traditional first-day lesson plan: pass out the course description, pass out the schedule, answer any questions, and have a nice day. (Yeah, I really used to suck as a teacher.) The only odd thing is that I used to have my students make little name tents for themselves out of manila folders that they would put on their desks for the first few days until I learned all their names. This probably wasn’t necessary, but it did provide a neat opportunity for nostalgia as I amassed an ever-growing stack of manila folder name tents.

Here at Hotchkiss, I don’t do handouts on the first day, and I don’t need the name tents. Part of the reason for both these facts is that CS enrollment here, as with many of our peer schools, is dreadfully low. (One of our neighboring schools won’t be teaching any computer science again this year because the math teacher who covered those classes left school.) Most of my classes usually begin with 2-4 students, and then I hold my breath to see how they will grow during the drop/add period. Usually I am the beneficiary of some schedule conflicts, which doesn’t bother me at all. Whatever puts warm bodies in my classroom is fine with me.

Anyway, a lot of the activities that are floating around the Web work really well with 15-20 students, but seem a bit comical with only two or three. (“Get in groups — oh, wait.”) So I made a decision a few years ago that I would reschedule Day One into Day Two. We do all that boring handout stuff on the second day of classes. Instead, on the first day, we just roll up our sleeves and get to work. After a very brief introduction, I throw my students into programming, or web design, or whatever the first unit is about. I figure, the best way to hook them is to show them what they have in store. And it certainly gets the momentum going as soon as possible.

Categories: compsci, Hotchkiss, teaching

Sun 7/3: Musings on blogging

July 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Now that I’ve recovered and decompressed a little bit from ISTE, it’s time to return to my main job this summer, which is to plan my new course on Digital Citizenship. As a reminder, this is basically a course on how to use various Web 2.0 technologies effectively.

The first one out of the gate is blogging. Based on my work for the last three years in my children’s blog, I think I am pretty comfortable personally with this technology, but I’ve never taught it before. In particular, I’m not sure yet about what sort of rubric to use to assess students’ blogs. Beyond simply making them post, what should I be looking for to determine quality?

My first thoughts are in the tables below. This is an adaptation of Grant Wiggins’ “Understanding by Design” methodology for course development. Of course, I would appreciate your feedback!

What will students understand
as a result of this unit?

What “essential” and “unit” questions will focus this unit?

Students will understand that blogs can be used for a variety of different purposes, but all of them are designed to allow for periodic publishing of new content.

What is the purpose of this blog?

Students will understand that in addition to creating a well-written message, students must include appropriate hyperlinks and tag the post correctly.

How should I create this new post?

Students will understand that they need to choose the appropriate widgets for their blog page, and lay out the page in a way that makes it easy for readers to navigate.

How should I structure my blog page?

Students will understand that blogs give the power of publishing to individuals, and connect common cohorts together.

How are blogs changing communication?

Categories: blog, CO335, Hotchkiss, iste, teaching

Wed 6/22: Outline for Digital Citizenship

June 22, 2011 4 comments

I’m redesigning my applications course this summer for a few reasons: (a) after eight years of teaching the same suite, things are feeling pretty stale; and (b) I never really enjoyed teaching it that much in the first place. Instead, I’ve decided to replace it with a new course named “Digital Citizenship”. Here’s the description that I posted in the course catalog:


CO335   Digital Citizenship
This course teaches students how to express themselves effectively and responsibly on the Internet using a variety of current computer-based technologies. Topics covered include blogs, audio and video podcasts, social networking, wikis, microblogging, cloud computing, and web design. In addition to creating content using these tools, students will also study how they are currently being used and their effects on our society.


Currently the course is scheduled for the first semester, which is 12 weeks. I’ve just started fleshing out the basic structure for the semester, but here is my plan thus far:

Dates   Application
  Week 1 Blogging
  Week 2 Microblogging
  Week 3 Social networks
  Week 4 Cloud computing
  Week 5 Wikis
  Week 6 Reassessment
  Week 7 Audio podcasts
  Week 8 Audio podcasts
  Week 9 Video podcasts
  Week 10 Video podcasts
  Week 11 Final project
  Week 12 Final project


Any comments?

Wed 6/1: Hello world!

June 1, 2011 5 comments

After reading so many other excellent teaching blogs with admiration over the past year or so, I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring to see if I can’t dumb down the level of conversation a little bit. So, here we have, “Abort, Retry, Succeed?”. Some brief info:

Who am I?

My name is Roger Wistar, and I teach computer science at The Hotchkiss School, a boarding high school in NW Connecticut. As of 2011 I’ve completed eight years at Hotchkiss. Before that I taught CS at the Northfield Mt. Hermon (Ma.) school for four years.

Besides teaching computer science (and occasionally a little math), I’m also in charge of our School Service Program, which puts students to work doing various jobs around the school. I also work as the school’s sports information director (see our athletics page for some of my stories) and I live in a dormitory.

Outside of work, most of my time is devoted to my family, including my wife Marcie and my two sons Benjamin and Andrew (read about them in their blog). When I have free time, which isn’t often, I like to play computer games (especially Rift), go bike riding, and occasionally play the piano.

Before going into teaching, I worked for a year at IBM as a consultant. I graduated from Duke University in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and then I earned a master’s degree in teaching from the University of Albany. Completing this retrograde trip down Memory Lane, I grew up in Baltimore, Md., and went to high school at the Friends School of Baltimore.

What is this blog?

I’m hoping to use this blog for two purposes. One, I’m designing a new course called “Digital Citizenship” that will focus on using various Internet-based tools for communication, including blogging. This blog is an effort to walk the walk with my students.

More importantly, though, I’d like to use this blog to meditate on some of the issues that face us as teachers today. Especially for computer science teachers, it can feel kind of lonely teaching in departments of one (or maybe two at most). Using the blogosphere and Twitter has been a great way to carry on a virtual conversation about teaching. Some issues most pressing for me include:

  • What’s the best way to teach programming?
  • How do you get more students to take CS courses?
  • How do you do standards-based grading effectively?