Sort of a post

One of the topics that I always found a challenge to teach was that of sorting.  I struggled with learning the concept myself as a student and I always found it difficult to make it tangible and visible for students.  

I did all the chalk and talk things that I could think of.  But the best way that I could demo it off-computer was with a deck of cards numbered 1-10.

I put 10 chairs in a row, side by each, and then one off to the side.  I had 10 students sit in the chairs in random order with their numbered cards and had them demonstrate sorting based upon the number they were holding. 

The goal was to develop an algorithm where the 10 people holding the cards were to move and put themselves in order from 1-10 or 10-1.

The rules were:

  • only one person could stand at a time
  • there were two things that could be discussed 
  • am I bigger (smaller) than you?
  • go sit in the chair over there
  • come back and sit here
  • are we in order?

Our starting point was always the Bubble Sort.  Technically, that was all that I needed to address the expectations from the curriculum.

A3.4 create a sort algorithm (e.g., bubble, insertion, selection) to sort data in an array;

From the Ontario Curriculum Grades 10 to 12 – Computer Studies.

But, you can’t stop with just one.  I also used to talk about a Selection Sort and we would talk about the difference in algorithms and ended up comparing each for efficiency.  A final kick at the sorting cat was the Quick Sort.  There is an increasing level of sophistication in the coding involved.

That led to a good discussion about why you might want to choose one over the other.  It also was a good rationale for building a personal library of algorithms.  Sorting is used so frequently, why should you start from scratch every time you need a sort?  Bringing in something that you know works and modifying it for the purpose of the program makes so much sense.

Recently, Alfred Thompson shared his thoughts in a post “How Fast Can You Sort a Deck of Cards?”  Working with a deck of cards is certainly more aggressive than my cards 1-10.  You have to deal with the concept of Jokers, are Aces high or low?, do you also sort by colour?, do you also sort by suit?  It’s a scenario that can lead to a great deal of discussion.  I like it.

Embedded in Alfred’s post is a link to a resource demonstrating various Sorting Algorithms.

This is fabulous.  If you want to see how a Bubble Sort works, just select a cell and watch it do its thing.  I think the best demonstration is the Reversed data set.  There, every piece of data is out of order so you get the full effect.

But that’s just the academics of it.

In the top left corner, there’s a button to “Play All”.  This is addictive as you watch all of the sorts with the various data set permutations do their thing.  This truly is the beauty of computer science.  Beyond this, it answers the question of why there are different sorting algorithms.  You’ll notice on first run that they don’t all finish at the same time.  Some algorithms are definitely better than others.  Code demonstrating each sort is available under the chart.

Learning how to write code to sort can be a challenge.  But, it’s something that you have to do at some point if you’re going to be a programmer.  

I just found this resource a wonderful way to demonstrate different algorithms and a visual rationale for each.

It’s a definite keeper.  Thanks, Alfred for turning me to this resource.

OTR Links 11/30/2016

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

Similarities and Differences

Wouldn’t the world be boring if we were all the same?

It would be very antagonistic if we were all different and at each other’s throats all the time.

For the most part, I think that we’re just a bit of this and a bit of that and it’s the similarities and differences that help us make the original connections and then to help push each other to greater things.

All of this falls out from a post last week “Starting or reflecting on a blog“.

Whenever I get feedback on things like this, I really enjoy it.  After all, a personal blog is, well, a pretty personal thing.  It’s not like I have an army of proofreaders or people to brainstorm thoughts with.  As I type this, I’m sitting in my chair all alone making it up and listening to music.  “Life’s Been Good” by Joe Walsh is playing on the television and I keep looking out the window for inspiration and the sun to rise.

The first bit of feedback that I got on the post was actual by way of reply from Brandon Grasley.  His insight was something I hadn’t thought of.  He noted that throughout the “assumption” was that success was related to numbers – of readers.  I missed that completely.  I don’t sell anything on the blog so I’ve never thought of numbers as a reason to blog but, the more I think about it, I guess it is important.  While I don’t do it regularly, I do check the analytics every now and again to see if anyone actually drops by and reads the post.  So, unconsciously, I guess numbers do matter.  Great observation.

The second observation came from a blog post that spun off my original post from Aviva Dunsiger.  “My Blog Reflections … What About Yours?“.  I felt a blogging partnership when she indicated how the scope of her blog has changed over the years.

When I started blogging back in 2009, my blog was largely about technology use in the classroom. Then I slowly started to change to classroom practices. After that, my blogging evolved to reflections on big ideas in education. Now my blog is more of a personal/professional reflection tool.

Recently, she seems to be on a roll with her thoughts about self-regulation which I find interesting.  I’d never delved consciously into that area; my comments were more likely to be “Get a Grip”.  I’m totally supportive of her niche – parking – maybe if more people paid attention, it would be easier for the rest of us to find a parking spot.

Thirdly, Jennifer Aston chimed in.  “Thoughts on “Starting or reflecting on a blog” by Doug Peterson

A lot of what he said resonated with me.  And some of it, I don’t disagree with, but I think is just different for me.

Say what?  How can anyone not totally agree with me?  Is that the teacher in me talking?

That inspired me to really dig in and find out where we disagree because she’s probably right.  I’m always on the road to self-improvement.  There’s something powerful when that happens.

But the best part was that she took the 10 points in my original post and added three of her own.

11.  Complaining can be boring.

12.  Be mindful that students or people you work with might read what you write.

13.  Have a sense of humour, be personable and human.

All of these continue the conversation nicely.

Diana Maliszewski got into the action with a reflection of her own blog and blogging habits.  “Effective Facilitating and Blogging“.  There’s so much good to read there.

What really spiked my interest was part of her comment for point #6.

I post every Monday (ergo the title of the blog, Monday Molly Musings), even when I think the stuff that I’ve written isn’t so stellar.

I think I go through this with just about every post.  And yet, if I waited until everything is absolutely perfect, I don’t know how many posts would actually make it to public view.  (Witness the spelling mistakes!)  At the same time, I don’t think that I ever mentally say to myself “that’s good enough”.  The reality lies somewhere in between.

I take consolation in reading some stories that have a “publish” date and then a “last updated” date.  Maybe that’s the new level of perfection?

Finally, a real honour.

Ann Michaelsen used the original as a link in a workshop that she will be giving.  “SETT2016 aims to be the “Meeting place for modern and innovative learning!”  The link is between Twitter and Revolvermaps.  Not a bad place to be.

One of the things that they teach you in blogging school (wherever that is) is that you should conclude with a call to action for your readers.  I don’t always do that but probably should.

I’m so happy that these folks and those who shared it again on their social networks chose to do so.

Thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts and pushing me even further.  Yet again, I’m humbled with the brilliance of those who I’ve been so fortunate to have connected with.

OTR Links 11/29/2016

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


Something very interesting happened over the weekend.

It started with my Friday post of “This Week in Ontario Edublogs“.  One of the blogs that I had read recently was Peter Cameron’s post “My Transformed Classroom“.  He had taken a 360 degree video that highlighted the various things that contribute to the learning environment for his students and himself.  It was an interesting glimpse inside what appears to be a very active learning space.

Stepping back, one of the activities that my Computer Science university class did after their practice teaching assignments was an around the room discussion about what teaching teenagers was like and inevitably the discussion would be about the environment of the classroom they visited.  The discussion was interesting on two fronts.  First, none of them would believe me when I talked about the learning habits and interests of the average teenager.  The first time I taught the course, I really struggled with this.  Nobody would believe me and I still remember the first debriefing – “We get it now, sir”.  I came to understand their context; they’re just spent four or more years at university and were familiar with the lecture, the lecture hall, the computers nailed to the desktops, the wide open internet access, the ability to install whatever software they needed, etc.  This led nicely to the second discussion where they would talk about what a secondary school computer science classroom actually looked like.  Some resembled the university but the majority were considerably more student-centred in design and arrangement.  Some students returned with pictures of what the environment was and all of this led to an invigorating discussion about classroom design and just what it might look like when they finally got their own classroom.  All they needed was to get hired and then get themselves some funding.

OK, so back on point.

I had mentioned in my post that Peter’s classroom was an example of what might be and that it would be interesting for more educators to share what it looks like in their digs.

I had every intention of creating my own blog post about the idea I floated that

“Someone should start a challenge to have teachers reflect on classroom design by showing what they’re doing.  You just need something to record video and then upload it to YouTube.  You could even call it a Classroom Design Challenge.”

but Peter beat me to it.  With a Twitter message, he challenged anyone who cared to read and participate.

Fortunately, he had tagged me in the post.  I was away from the computer at the time and so just retweeted it but it was later that I got involved and tagged the mandatory five others.

I tried to tag some people from different teaching realities and also those who might be liable to actually participate.

Peter wrote a blog post of his own outlining his thoughts and the rules of the game.  It’s a good read – #ourlearningspace.  I hope that you click through and read his thoughts and enjoy his video again.

I think that it’s important to note that there’s no right answer to this.  If enough people buy into the concept and contribute, then readers might be able to cherry pick ideas for their own classroom design pursuits.  And, hopefully, instructors at a Faculty of Education could use it when they talk about classroom environment design and what is actually doable.  

As I write this post on Sunday morning, there are already folks who have bought in and are using the hashtag.

Click here to see the discussion and please take a moment to participate.