Archive for the ‘teaching’ 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

Tue 8/16: The value of iteration

August 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Only one week between posts — that’s still not really what I’m aiming for, but a week is better than a month. It occurred to me the other day that even if I can’t write about what I’m working on, I could write some responses to some of the other blog posts I’ve read, which should give me enough material to write until the cows come home. I’m also adding a to-do item to spend 1 hour in professional development every other day, so that should encourage more output as well.

I was reading a great post by Frank Noschese about the value of iteration in learning and in teaching, and it really resonated with a lot of the work that I have done in teaching computer science. In particular, he talks about how many learners have difficulty trying more than one strategy, but ultimately the successful ones are willing to experiment and make mistakes.

For me as a teacher, it seems like getting students to be comfortable making mistakes is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome with new programmers. By the time that kids get to high school, they have been hard-wired to think that the worst thing to do is be wrong, and the most dangerous thing to do is to try. If I had a nickel for every time a student pointed at the computer screen and asked me, “Will this work?” — well, at least I’d have a lot of nickels.

Usually my response is simply, “Did you try it?” When I walk away without giving them the security blanket of a teacher blessing, sometimes they freak out. I try to tell them, calmly, “You don’t need me to tell you if your program works. Try running it to see what happens. You won’t blow up the computer.” Usually, they chuckle and give it a try. Still, I can see the miasma of resentment and, more importantly, fear behind their eyes sometimes. What do you mean, try it? Why won’t you help me? What if I made a mistake?

In some sense, you could really look at just this phenomenon and use it as a predictor of ultimate success in programming. People who are willing to experiment, to explore, and to really screw things up make good programmers. Those who are scared to color outside the lines don’t. It really doesn’t matter as much how well they can store the Java API in their head — they can compensate for shortcomings in knowledge way more easily than they can compensate for shortcomings in attitude.

As I usually tell my students early in the semester, programming is a contact sport — the more time you have in contact with the keyboard, the better you’ll get. But really, isn’t that true with just about every discipline?

Categories: compsci, programming, teaching

Mon 8/8: Blogging unit expanded

August 9, 2011 2 comments

I read somewhere that the only way to become a good writer is to write, and the only way to cure writer’s block is to write, so I think I just need to screw my courage to the sticking point and start churning out posts. Part of the problem, I think, is that I look out there at all the other well-established teaching blogs and it seems as if each one of their posts has something profound to say about education. That’s an illusion, I’m sure, but an intimidating one. In any case, the main purpose of this blog was to let me think out loud about my teaching, not to impress people, so it doesn’t matter if things are a little rough around the edges for now.

I’ve started to outline a rough schedule for my CO335 unit on blogging. Here it is:



Unit 1: Blogging



Creating blogs and posts

Homework: Complete intro survey; write blog post #1



Intro to CO335; Setting up a blog site

Homework: Lay out blog page; write blog post #2



Blog do’s & don’ts

Homework: Write blog critique #1 (blog post #3)



Extra blog features

Homework: Write blog critique #2 (blog post #4)



Social survey: blogging
Homework: Write RP #1 (blog post #5)

Sat 7/9: SBG 2.0

July 10, 2011 4 comments

This year, I am definitely going to continue using standards-based grading, but I am going to make a few changes to my grading rubric in an attempt to further distance myself from the traditional 0-100 ABCDF system. Instead of grading each standard from 0-10, I am going to try Marzano’s four-point scale. Here’s my qualitative description from my rubric:




Expert: the student can achieve at a superior level, demonstrating abilities comparable or superior to those of the teacher.


Proficient: the student can achieve at a satisfactory level for the standard.


Developing: the student can accomplish simpler versions of the Proficiency tasks.


Emerging: the student can partially accomplish some of the Proficiency and Satisfactory tasks, but may need extensive help from the teacher.


No evidence of understanding

I’m curious to hear from other teachers who use SBG about what scale they use, and how it affects their students’ performance. As always, any and all feedback about my posts here is appreciated!

Categories: roger, sbar, 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

Tue 6/28: ISTE report, Day 3

June 28, 2011 1 comment

Overall, I would have to say that today was less insightful and awe-inspiring than yesterday, but there were still some useful nuggets.

Early AM: Expo surfing
I decided to skip the keynote featuring Stephen Covey via pre-recorded video because it didn’t seem like it would be that useful and I figured I could watch the video at my leisure some other time. In the past, ISTE has had some really great speakers, like Malcolm Gladwell and James Surowiecki. This didn’t seem like it would be up to that level, and judging from the comments I heard afterwards, it wasn’t. Instead, I went back to the vendor expo to try to cover some more territory. With only an hour, I was only able to cover about another quarter of the hall. But I did talk to Texas Instruments long enough to determine that they still don’t have a curriculum in place about teaching programming on the nSpire, and talked to the guy at Digipen for long enough to make me wonder what my life would have been like if it had existed 20 years ago.

Session 1: SIGIS Meeting
I’ve attended every annual meeting of SIGIS (the SIG for independent schools) since it formed in 2008 in San Antonio (which, coincidentally, was my first ISTE conference). The group is still in its infancy, and the agenda reflected that. We spent the first half of the meeting just doing meet and greets, and then most of the rest of the meeting hearing a report about what the group had done in the past year since the last conference. I hope that as the group gains momentum, we will turn over more of the time at these meetings to discussion and business. I hope, I hope. No notes to speak of to post here.

My SIGIS meeting was so exciting that I decided to skip the SIGCT meeting and have an excellent lunch with two of my colleagues, @auntfun and @kricekrice. I daresay we spent at least as much time talking about computer teaching at lunch as they did at the meeting.

Session 2: Computational Thinking for Everyone
My original choice, a session on getting faculty to use new technology, got unexpectedly full and closed up on me, so I had to scramble. I decided to fall back on my second choice, a session about computational thinking. Last year I attended another session at ISTE about the same topic, and came away feeling about as befuddled as I was this time. I will probably reserve another whole blog post to talk just about computational thinking, but the short version of my opinion is: they’re not ready. In fairness, I think they realize that. But the CT people still have not really articulated what distinguishes it from the other habits of mind that are already well-established. If their path to mainstream acceptance continues to use the mantra “This is what you’re already doing”, then this movement is will wind up stillborn. Again, no really useful notes to post.

Session 3: Lessons Learned From the Front Lines of 1-1
I called an audible for the last session, since neither of the items I had originally placed in my schedule seemed as interesting as they had in April. I decided to go to another session about 1-1 computing. To be honest, now that I saw the people there, I wonder if I attended the same panel last year. In any case, the ideas seemed fresh to me. And I had a new perspective now after going through the first year of our 1-1 program. I also got the chance to meet the executive director of the Anywhere Anytime Learning Foundation, so that’s a good thing. Most of the panelists’ comments seemed pretty much like common sense, but they had some good answers to my question, which was about how you can increase faculty buy-in to a 1-1 program that is already being implemented. I had a thought that next year we should make 1-1 computing one of the major themes of our faculty technology expo. Here are my notes: Lessons learned from the frontlines of 1-1.pdf

Tomorrow, there will be another few (hopefully) exciting sessions, and then it’s back home to Connecticut!