Déjà vu coding

Part of the problem of having so many programming environments is that you can’t remember them all.  Yes, there are big lists but the reality is that you typically get really comfortable with one or two and take it from there.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your eyes open.

This morning, I read a post from the ACSE discussion list where Ontario Educator Justin Yantho had waded into a discussion about the best way to teach OOP principles to students.  In his reply, he made reference to a Trinket resource that he had created to share with a group of elementary teachers interested in learning coding beyond blocks.

Of course, I had to check it out.

It’s very nicely done.

I thought that Justin had done a good job of providing code for the learners.  Even more impressive was the documentation provided at the bottom for the learners.  If you had difficulties working through and modifying his examples, you could read about what the code was doing.  That’s so important.

At the point of the screen capture above, my memory cells kicked in.

I’d worked in this environment before.  But where and when?

The power of blogging is that, if you’ve blogged about it, it’s there somewhere.  So, I did a search for Trinket and I had in fact blogged about their Hour of Code example almost two years ago.  It was called “Python with Ease“.

Somehow, I felt good about the fact that I had remembered.  Somehow, I felt bad that I had gone this far through Justin’s tutorial before I realized it.  Maybe I should do my morning reading later in the day when I’m fully awake.

Regardless, it is in interesting and well-created tutorial.  It’s definitely worth a look for understanding and evaluating to see if it fits into your introduction to coding plans.

OTR Links 07/27/2016

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

A cutie-pie string problem

I had a university professor who would have called this a “cutie-pie” mathematics problem.  I hope that, by the end of the post, I can convince you that it would be a “cutie-pie” computer science problem.

If you’ve been watching social media recently, you might have come across this.

Do You Have An IQ Over 150? Solve This Puzzle And Find Out!

The complete article is located here and there’s a wonderful YouTube explanation, a challenge, and then a channel to follow if you want more.  Who doesn’t want more of a good mathematics challenge.  There have been a lot of comments about it largely centred around “too easy” which is easy to say when there isn’t a test to really understand your comprehension.  But that’s OK.  Maybe the world just has an IQ of 150.

So, where does the computer science stuff come in?

Warning, the rest of this post might be considered “spoiler” so don’t read on if you intend to try to solve it yourself.  At its best, I hope that it’s good enough to give to students to generate a computer solution.

What got me going about this particular angle was a conversation that I had with an AP Computer Science teacher at the recent CSTA Conference.  In his opinion, he couldn’t give his students enough problems involving string manipulation.  I liked his philosophy and did enjoy giving these types of problems to students myself.  It’s one of the best reasons for teaching computer science; it makes students think and many of them do so out loud with their friends.  It’s a study in itself.

I would actually just start by giving the students to puzzle to solve by discussion or pencil/paper if needed.  It’s one of those lovely activities that force the students to develop a new algorithm on the fly.  Then, we’re off for a computer solution.

It would be simple enough ….

  1. Enter the mathematical expression on the left side
  2. Determine the answer and output the expression and the answer

Very quickly, they’ll know, or have already determined, that this needs some new thinking.  Mathematics doesn’t cut it here.  After all,

6 + 4 ≠ 210

And yet, when someone enters “6 + 4”, we are going to display

6 + 4 = 210

as indeed the answer.

By now, you’ll know what’s needed.  We need to rip apart the expression entered as text and convert to the two numbers needed for the calculation.  This is always a good discussion point.  How do we know which characters form the numbers? Do we need to validate the input?

Then, using our algorithm, we’ll apply it to the numbers and then concatenate the results to display the answer.  As always, we need to consider the input – do zeros or negative numbers need special attention?

Then, the students will need to generate some test data and results and thoroughly make sure that their program works.  Because you’re switching between numeric and alphanumeric, you need to be very precise in calculations and output format.  With many programs, “close” is often good enough.  Here, you’ve got to attend to the details, spacing, character position, etc.

I think it’s a cute little ditty that includes so much.  Of course, I did it here to make sure that it plays well. 

It’s just a lot of fun.  This cutie-pie.

OTR Links 07/26/2016

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Advice from kids

This is just for a great deal of fun. 

We often get advice on how to live our lives to its fullest from “experts” who conduct and analyse studies to come up with said advice.  It’s often great for a “Top 10” list.

But what about those who are living the life?  i.e. kids

100 things you should have done at school before the age of 11 – chosen by primary pupils

So, I wondered … what did I miss?

Up and down the list I went and I guess my childhood experience wasn’t totally complete by these standards.  Here’s what I missed.

  • 28 – Learn to feel confident in front of your class (I’ve never accomplished this; my nerves still get to me in front of audiences.)
  • 40 – Have a pyjama day (This was never a “thing” when I went to school)
  • 57 – Discover your favourite author (Do you ever really do this? I do have one current favourite and she knows who she is.  Just one more read…)
  • 66 – Call a male teacher “Miss” (Thankfully!)
  • 74 – Play conkers (I had to look up this term and, of course, we all played “chestnuts”.)
  • 81 – Learn to skip (A skill I have never mastered at any level.)

A little mathematics tells me that my childhood life was 95% complete, at least by this metric.

How was yours?  Check out the original list and then do a little personal life reflection.

OTR Links 07/25/2016

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Whatever happened to …

… handwritten report cards?

Thanks to Andy Forgrave for the idea for this.

I’ve talked to a lot of educators who have left the classroom for one reason or another about their regrets and their responses typically have been “I miss the kids”.  After all, they’re what keep us young while, at the same time, age us.

Oddly enough, I have never had anyone say that they missed doing report cards.

Could there be a sheet of paper or a card that means so much to students and parents?

I’ll admit to always enjoying most of my education and generally doing well in every thing I ever studied.  It was always the day of reckoning when the report came home and I had to show it to my father at supper.  I still remember comments like A?  Why didn’t you get A+?  99%?  What did you do wrong?  I took this learned parenting skill and applied it to my own kids.  I don’t know that they appreciated it any more than I did.  Deep down though, I knew that my dad was proud of me.

Those report cards were always handwritten and usually came with the great advice “Good work”.  I don’t ever recall a “Doug was a pleasure to have in class” though.  Later, I was to learn that that comment should never appear on a report card.  Somehow that made it easier to swallow because the omission seems to imply that “Doug was a PITA”, which I have no doubt was probably true.

Secondary school was a continuation.  My most memorable report card was, again, handwritten in Grade 13.  In preparation for university, I had taken the requisite 6 courses – 3 Mathematics, 3 Sciences, but then had thrown in English because someone had convinced me that you can never have enough Great Gatsby or learning to write.  Mathematics and Science marks were high – I don’t recall how high but I do remember my English mark – 60%.  Maybe that explains this blog.

University was interesting.  Report cards were never given to you; they were mailed.  They were matter of fact – you took this course, you got this.  It was a mixture of numeric marks or letter grades depending upon the Faculty offering the course.  There was no easy right of appeal; I guess the logic was that you were grown up and got what you deserved.  Unlike elementary and secondary school where my parents always went to Parent/Teacher nights, totally understanding the mark and my learning or lack of it was never a communication with the professor moment.  You got what you got.

The Faculty of Education was completely different.  There was the formal report card, of course, that contained the matter of fact important number or letter.  But, the reports generated by associate teachers where I taught their classes for a couple of weeks were completely handwritten and contained great anecdotes and pieces of advice.  They were the best I’d ever had and really did what they were supposed to do – make me reflect and grow as a teacher.

It was a puzzle to be solved when I landed a job.  Unlike other schools where report cards were circulated with students or via course for handwritten marks and comments, we were one of the first to have electronic report cards.  In our mailboxes, we received “Mark Entry Sheets” where we were expected to enter the final mark and then select one appropriate comment to go along with it.  I always had this nagging desire to use comment #7 which was “Bien Fait” but resisted it.  I did always send home my own personal invitation to all parents to join me for a parent/teacher discussion and I followed the school advice to make the telephone call home to parents where I was going to assign a failing grade to a report card.  Fortunately, I always had great students and I can only recall having to make that phone call just a couple of times when I taught Grade 9 Mathematics.  I often wondered – why didn’t we call the parents of the students who did really well?

Then, it was off to a wonderful job working with educators trying to embrace technology.  I thought I’d seen it all when it came to report cards.  I’d seen handwritten; I’d seen computer reporting.  What else could there be?

Generally, I was welcome in any of the schools that were in the district – EXCEPT – during the times leading into reporting periods.  It wasn’t normally a problem with secondary school but certainly I wasn’t welcome in elementary schools at those times.  As I found out, these report cards were all handwritten and it wasn’t just a mark and a comment.  It was a mark and then a short story.  And these professionals were really serious about this.  Then the discussion became an elementary/secondary one.  “We do real report cards and don’t just pick from a list.”  That really hurt.  I took pride in choosing the proper comment from the list.

Could it get any worse?

Well, yes, it could.

Let’s further pick on the elementary panel and make all their report cards electronic.  Make it so, Doug.

It was too late to go back to my own classroom but, seriously, how hard could it be?  The Ministry of Education had designed a new report format and dictated how they were to be completed.  And, they had commissioned a province wide initiative created with Filemaker Pro (this is where Andy comes in).  We didn’t have enough computers available for teachers to have it done at school so people were buying home computers like crazy and I was supporting this as well.   The first revision not only required that teachers enter a grade and check off appropriate boxes per subject area but were expected to type, for each student and each subject, Strengths, Weaknesses, and Next Steps.  Our implementation rolled out a few important things –

  • addressing the concepts and the philosophy of the record card and reporting
  • file sharing for rotary subjects (which in this case was by diskette) and file compatibility between the Macintosh and Windows
  • getting a copy of the report card into everyone’s hands in a timely fashion – this lead to me creating a Teachers’ Essentials CD-ROM with things like that on it and making copies for every teacher in the system
  • teaching about Filemaker Pro – for many the first serious application that they’d ever used and for others the concept that things could be saved without having to click a “Save” command was foreign
  • sharing comments among those teaching the same grade/subject – “How can I say this?”
  • recovering files accidentally deleted
  • instructing how to copy files from diskette to hard drive and back – later this became a task of sharing via our email system
  • making sure that everyone had the latest and greatest version of the report card

The whole process monopolized my life at reporting time to be sure.  It was also part of our new teacher induction program.  Even today, I still get questions at every report card time even though another solution has been put into place.

Interestingly, I guess a good job was done.

Nothing breeds success like success.

Early Years’ teachers were still using pen and paper for their own report cards.  My support person was a master with Filemaker Pro and, between the two of us, developed our own Early Years’ Report Card.  Secondary school teachers had a number of solutions in place and we harmonized that by licensing a product for the entire board and enjoyed the same success although it still required a great deal of effort to get everyone on the same page.

I never much enjoyed doing my own report cards and supporting others wasn’t a walk in the park either.  It never really was a highlight that I enjoyed especially, as any teacher will tell you, it’s a real drain on time.  I’d much rather communicate with parents by having them show up and have their child lead them through a portfolio of what they’d completed in class.  The more that you deal with report cards, and especially electronic ones, the more you realize that it’s a business process that stands on its own, external to working with people, which I suspect is a concept foreign to most teachers.  Add to that the verbiage required for the constructions of the comments.  It’s stressful.

But it’s a necessary evil in our school system where grades, subjects, and the length of a school term/semester/year still rule.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Do you have any good report card stories?
  • Have you ever “lost” your work?  Share your story there.
  • In society, the resume, education, and work experience rule.  Could we still survive if we didn’t have report cards to provide some of this information?
  • Have you ever bought a computer or upgraded because you “needed” it for report cards?
  • As a parent, is the process tainted for your own child’s comments since you know how they’re done?

This whole Sunday series of “Whatever happened to …” is available here.  How about taking a walk along memory lane with me?  Got an idea, share it on this padlet.