1:1 – Observations on Computer Science Education and by a first-time volunteer/teacher

TL;DR, Summary, Breakdown

  • I found one on ones to be essential in leadership.
  • I reflect on how important they are in teaching computer science in high school in their ability to connect teacher and student and uncovering unseen

I have really loved my 1:1 time with students this year.[1] I’ve had the luxury of spending anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, engaging students in “Introduction to Python” through Carnegie Mellon’s CS Academy CS1 [2]. Selfishly, I love the 1:1 time because I almost always end up seeing sparks of insight in a young person’s eyes when connections are made and problems are solved. I feel… joy, glory, maybe even euphoria. I don’t know if this is oxytocin or dopamine or something else, but I know it’s good.

One of those magical sparks of insight came in helping student, R. R. was making a minesweeper app for an unstructured, creative task. As I engaged, R’s vision for the game required creating an 8×8 grid with mines and empty spaces and covering it all with grass. I could see a pattern in R’s code, repetition (iteration). R. couldn’t see it at first. As I walked R through a series of questions about what each line of code was doing, in English, we started to get to a story of how minesweeper was supposed to work. Eventually, we teased out the pattern and R. was able to rewrite the code. R boiled 30 lines down to three lines. There were two nested for loops wrapping creation of a rectangle — a distilled pattern. When R realized what they had done, a shocked look appeared on their face. R’s eyes went wide. R’s lips parted slightly. Amazement. For me: joy and amazement.

And then an hour later, a thought creeped in. Why hadn’t R. been able to see the pattern? Hadn’t we just spent two weeks on “nested for loops?” Hadn’t we spent two weeks on “for loops,” before that? R. always did a good number of practice exercises. One thing that has always struck me about working with R, they are creative and motivated. If R was having trouble, were there other students having trouble?

I brought up my concern with the teacher I support and the other tutors. We talked through watching student progress more carefully. We talked through other interventions, like slowing down and spending more 1:1 time. The problem is, there is only one teacher and 3 tutors in the class and the tutors aren’t able to show up every day. If we have 25 students and 2.5 adults in the class a day, over the course of an hour, that means we each get 6 minutes with each student, not counting switching time. Is it enough time to tell the student what to do? Sure. Is it enough time to teach the student to recognize the pattern — to see it for themselves?

Each day since sitting with R., I have sat with another student. Each one is the same lesson. Student’s V, M, E, I, and N were all able to perform the given exercises. They were all able to bring in their interests, like Minesweeper or video games like Among Us into their creative task. However, when I talked them through their creative tasks, a pattern emerged:

  • No mastery of loops.
  • No mastery of functions.
  • No mastery of debugging.
  • Cursory mastery of if statements.

These were our best students; the ones who did the exercises; the ones who showed enthusiasm.

As I reflect, I ask, are my standards high?

Unquestionably.

Are my standards too high?

No. They can’t be. —Based on 6 minutes per class, they might be, but getting 20-60 minutes with a student would be a gamechanger.

I take this as my failure and also as a challenge for the coming school year. I hope to have some of the same students again in AP-CSP. I will help them truly master these concepts, not simply because it’s cool or practical, but because I think it could give them a greater insight into themselves.

As I think about ways to solve this, student/peer interaction and flipped classrooms are moving to front of mind. Any thoughts?

-Jeremy

[1] As a software leader/manager, I have extensive time with 1 on 1s and have found them to be an essential way to build trust.

[2] Thanks to the fantastic people at Carnegie Mellon (my alma mater) who make CS Academy available for free!

Leadership Level-up: A black, female entrepreneur gives valuable coaching and business lessons

TL;DR, Summary, Breakdown, Synopsis

  • Joanie Baucum-Robinson taught a synthesis of valuable lessons to community leaders
  • A diverse group of students were able to connect and apply lessons weekly
  • Students supported each other, strengthening community
  • Joanie is a charismatic force

For the past 8 weeks, I’ve been taking Joanie Baucum-Robinson’s Leadership Level-up at the Community Forge in Wilkinsburg, PA. In the past I’ve read books by Stephen Covey, Dale Carnegie, and Michael Porter. I’m familiar with Jim Collins and Jim Doerr. What do I have to learn? —Honestly, everything—great leadership is practice and you can build habits, but you always need to be thinking and feeling about how to be a better leader.

I put in 12 hours of time with Joanie in her class to “Be Better On Purpose,” and took in Joanie’s unique perspective.

Joanie is a force in the classroom, a source of intense energy. She has a tattoo on her arm which reminds her to slow down, breathe, and take in the opinions of others. Joanie is influenced by John C. Maxwell and W.E. Deming. In her professional career, Joanie is a continuous improvement leader. It shows. She is constantly moving, constantly looking for ways to look at things in a different way, constantly figuring out where she can make a tweak to make a breakthrough.

One reason I found Joanie’s class was an active search to broaden my context and community. I was the only white man in the business class, making the class more diverse. Most of the other students were small business owners with real, thriving businesses around cleaning, remodeling, and bookkeeping. I was the only one with the the modern tech sensibility (or sickness) of GROW! SCALE! The lessons, bringing empathy, setting boundaries, knowing your own strengths, were all applicable, and need to be brought to the tech world of burnout and growth for sake of growth. I made some new friends, T, Dee, Angelica, deepened my connection with TJ and Glenn and broadened my network.

If you are looking for a coach, I think Joanie could just be the next big thing.

An Observation On Emotion from a Gifted Stoic

TLDR/Summary

  • Problem solving is an emotional super-power, which requires putting emotion aside
  • IMHO: professionals are in a crisis because we use this super power too much and go beyond our sustainable limits
  • A feelings diagram might help you get back in touch [1]
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I’m a fantastic stoic. I’m able to push away emotion and exist in thought. This makes me a fantastic, ice cold, problem solver.

I think this is a super-power of professionals. If you’re on LinkedIn, reading this, there’s a good chance this is one of your super powers.

If you know me, you know I’m a consistently optimistic, positive person. In 2015, I was working at M*Modal, which at the time was going through a bankruptcy. We were all intensely driven and connected to the work. Bankers and lawyers were driving many decisions. People were scared for their jobs. The stressful environment had become toxic.

I kept rowing. I couldn’t feel that my arms were numb. I couldn’t feel that I had depleted my reserves and was now eating away at my core.

Leadership is sacrifice, right?

Leadership is setting an example, right?

I ended up, clinically depressed and took 12 weeks off and it took years to get in touch with what happened.

Here’s the message: stoicism, not feeling, will keep you from knowing you are doing damage to yourself. Stoicism is for the short term. It’s for a sprint. It’s not for the marathon.

For the marathon, you need to be thought and feeling, integrated. You need to be able to recognize when you are beyond your sustainable limits.

I’m going to end with the idea that “they,” don’t teach us this s*it in school. Some schools are starting. Courtney Bragg shared with me that some schools teach feelings with the characters from the fantastic Pixar movie, Inside Out.

I called a friend out the other day, when I asked her, “How do you feel,” and she went on to tell me, “I feel like work is really busy and I’m doing a lot of things.” She went on to intellectualize… When I pointed out she hadn’t actually told me how she felt, she was able to revise: “I feel overwhelmed” and “I feel tired.”

I did the same thing, intellectualizing my feeling iI did the same thing, intellectualizing my feeling in another conversation. “I feel like I’m going to have a good week.” “I feel like I should be working harder.” “I feel like I should…” –I feel inspired. I feel pressure [to work harder].

Why does it matter? Because you are not feeling… You’re thinking. Emotions are hard and our ability to feel them can atrophy. Emotion, though, is a source of energy and motivation. To be without it leads to not wanting to get up in the morning.

Don’t take my word for it, go practice… If you want to warm up, start by going intellectual and read Wikipedia’s article on emotional classification.

Then,

  • Find (and even print) your favorite feelings wheel [2]
  • Instead of talking about why you feel a certain way… name your feeling.
  • Notice, it’s really difficult to start.
  • Keep doing it. Over time, with practice, you’ll start getting much better at it. Being able to name feelings with precision and quickness will lessen their distraction while adding essential input to your ability to make decisions and solve problems.
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Essay (Short) – Adapting to teaching and learning without all the tools we need: Headsets

Summary

  • Edit: Don’t forget the easy stuff
  • Good headsets and headphones are an essential tool in teaching in hybrid classroom/virtual environments.
  • Underfunded classrooms are more likely to lack good equipment.
  • How do we fix this?

The Story (that’s a stretch…)

This morning I was trying to teach a student 1:1, 1000 miles away. It works surprisingly well, but was really affected by a number of seemingly small issues. The student was in a classroom with 20 other students. The biggest problem was all the noise. I could hear the people talking next to the student I was helping as well as the student. It’s a great way to learn how young people actually think, but not a great way to communicate with an individual. At the same time, the student had a tough time hearing me.

When I work virtually, I have headsets running from a Logitech game headset to a Plantronics Savi 8200, ranging from $75-$300. Noise cancellation is a necessity. Audio isolation, whether from over-ear headphones or noise cancellation is also necessary. When I worked in healthcare, doctors regularly used $800-$1200 microphones. These improve ASR significantly and one part of the puzzle of how many radiologists (yes, they’re medical doctors) get to 99%+ word error rate, when Siri, Google, and Amazon may be south of 90% or worse.

A good headset is a secondary, essential piece of equipment that we take for granted in the corporate world, from the ivory tower.

Ten years ago, when Skype was blowing up pre-acquisition, they brought out some reasonable $15 headsets and made them available to improve Skype audio quality.

  • Is there a good baseline headset out there that optimizes for cost, build quality, and noise cancellation? (It should probably be a stereo adapter, maybe with the option for a USB-A or USB-C dongle. [1]
  • If not, could an organization like Khan Academy, Code.org, or Microsoft leverage their capabilities or connections to get one made?

EDIT

Edit: I had a similar, but much worse problem today. I assumed it was still the headset, however, the student couldn’t hear me at all. We fiddled with the audio input/output. Then, it turned out, the student had the wrong headset on! Wow. Relearning the lessons of tech support!

I still question the quality of the headsets… When I go look at https://learningheadphones.com/ you’re presented with an overwhelming number of headphones with almost no way to differentiate. Googling/DuckDuckGoing for educational headphones with various keywords from ‘elementary’ to ‘noise canceling’ microphone leads to a rabbit hole with all sorts of cheap junk. Who knows how schools choose their headsets?

[1] I’ll spare you the tirade about Apple dropping the mini-stereo/mic jack because they wanted to make billions off dongles and wireless in the name of “progress.” [2]

[2] Honestly, I would love to see Apple recognize their place at the top of the ivory tower, and create a headset for education and give them away. It would be a fantastic product!

The Net Promoter: Workday Jobs fails to make leap from enterprise to consumer product. Will HR depts. be left asking, “why isn’t anyone applying?”

Summary

  • Workday has convinced customers like electronic medical record companies, major universities, and major manufacturers that their HR system would work for applicant tracking and hiring.
  • Candidates need separate login credentials for each separate company they want to apply to. Candidates can’t use the same resume between companies. Candidates have to go through a UX that forces them to cut and paste the resume they probably spent weeks formatting into Workday.
  • This smells like a missed persona in the story writing process.
  • This smells like bad lift & shift to a cloud system without the benefits of a cloud system.
  • I include a discussion of how I’ve seen these things happen below and how they can be avoided…

I’m going to commit to documenting at least one wonderful product experience I have for every negative one. I just learn sooo much from the negative ones. They are also front and center, they grab you. This is exactly the opposite of a wonderful product experience where your day just flows without noticing.

Story

I have been applying for a number of jobs recently. Everyone seems to have a different system. Yesterday, I applied for one at a prestigious university. It was annoying, but it was such a cool opportunity, helping connect computer science to things kids like, that I didn’t think twice. Then, today, I found another opportunity, similarly awesome, teaching professional software development to an underserved group, who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity. My password manager said I already had a login. I tried logging in. “Invalid name or password.” When I looked deeper, I could see both companies used white-labeled WorkDay.

Workday. I used it at my last job to manage the hiring process. At the time, I thought the friction was indicative of the company I was working for. Now, I’m not so sure.

It’s really interesting to think about the consumer (B2C) and enterprise (B2B) spaces. I have worked in the enterprise space, in healthcare for 20’ish years. It’s not pretty. In particular, giving people access to systems through a single username and password is not universal. In the consumer space, things are better. If I want to use a popular website, I can almost universally login through a Google, Facebook, or Apple ID through OpenID and OAuth technologies, which you don’t need to know about.

Somehow though, when applying for jobs, I need a different user ID for *

  • cmu.wd5.myworkdayjobs.com/,
  • wustl.wd1.myworkdayjobs.com/,
  • athenahealth.wd1.myworkdayjobs.com.
  • 3m.wd1.myworkdayjobs.com/

To add to the smoothness, try out myworkday.com and you get a nice: ERR_CONNECTION_REFUSED

The experience continues as you would expect from there:

  • Workday parses the applicant’s resume into chunks it understands. The problem is, if your formatting isn’t exactly what it expects, it shreds the content. It’s up to the user to fix it.
  • Each company site is distinct, and user information, including resumes does not exist across sites. For each new myworkdayjobs site you login to, you need to reformat your resume.
  • Each site has an applicant portal. What’s the point, when I need to remember the correct company.wd500 prefix?

This is not a consumer grade experience. The more times I see myworkdayjobs.com, the more time I spend repeating a process that in 2021, should be done once, if at all.

I’m frustrated. I feel unvalued. I feel invisible. I feel like fodder for the machine.

I hope the enterprise side is better.

Analysis & Speculation

Enterprise and consumer software both start in the same place, understanding the customer. The details differ.

Who is paying? The enterprise is paying. I think this is a really important place to start when thinking about the decisions that were made in delivering myworkday.com. I’d lay even money that Workday is trying to shore up concerns with their paying customers that about missing features that new competitors in the HR space are filling. Keep in mind that Workday has existed for 15 years and has been public since 2011. I can hear the pitch, “Oh, we can add a portal that gives your job candidates the ability to apply directly in Workday. It will be seamless.”

The story that was lost, is the story that newer companies are starting to tell: the relationship with the job seeker is important, even essential. Thinking about LinkedIn and even more out there, OnDeck (beondeck.com), I see organizations that see the value in the job seeker and other opportunities that come with it, like education and engagement. They allow the candidate a platform, beyond the resume, where they can start to tell their story. OnDeck goes so far as to build the relationships between the employer and job seeker. On the other hand, I don’t ever see myself logging into one of the Workday applicant portals. Honestly, the whole experience was unpleasant.

I look at Workday as supporting the flow of undifferentiable candidates, where you can’t separate the diamond from the coal. In my experience in hiring, looking for ways to truly connect is the way you find the great candidates.

“Pot, I’ve worked for the kettle.” One of the reasons I left healthcare was the frustration of managing tradeoffs where getting paid in the short term overrode building high quality software. In a public company where the primary KPI is the stock price, when asked to pick two of fast, cheap, and good, it’s very very difficult to pick good. In fact, you have to build your culture around it, and be willing to take a stock hit to do it.

Balancing Customers in Conflict: AirBnb supports a renter by bending policy, screwing the guest, while failing to explain why…

Summary:

  • I booked a trip in Summer 2021, which I chose to cancel because of wildfires.
  • The AirBnb policy on extenuating circumstances appears to cover “declared emergencies.”
  • AirBnb had to arbitrate, ultimately coming down on the side of the renter
  • AirBnb customer service failed to explain why they did not honor the extenuating circumstance policy to me as a guest, when the governor of Montana declared a state emergency on July 14.
  • As a guest, I feel negative about this experience. I was a net promoter, but now I’m probably going to mention this story as a cautionary tale any time someone mentions the brand.
  • The renter probably feels supported.
  • AirBnb made a calculated decision between the two parties, but the third option was to support both customers and refund the money out of their own pocket.

The story:

I love AirBnb. I loved AirBnb.

At the beginning of July, I booked a trip to Montana on AirBnb, with 3 stays. By Mid-July things were looking bad. Two weeks before my trip, a statewide fire emergency was declared. Forecasts we for 90 degrees without rain, with wildfires and air quality changing daily. Over the the past year, I had seen front-line health workers under stress. This led me to thinking about the fire fighters and how a choice to travel under emergency could be putting them in harm’s way, if we were caught in a dangerous area.

My friends and I decided to cancel, and move the trip to New England.

Two of the cancellations went smoothly. One, didn’t fit the renter’s cancellation policy, but the renter graciously approved the cancellation. The third told me, “I was up there last week. Not much of a issue. No ground smoke smell at all.” We went to arbitration. I thought the AirBnb extenuating circumstance definition was clear and favored my case:

In arbitration, however, we went around and around. Round 3, I got the response:

I asked for confirmation on the extenuating circumstance policy.

Escalation didn’t take it anywhere. I never got a response. Twitter didn’t take it anywhere. I have about 17 followers. I was pissed, and everytime I think about it, I’m pissed, but it’s time to dial back the personal emotion and look at it from some different points of view.

By the Numbers

I am an AirBnb guest 15 nights a year. I’ll estimate, the renter is an AirBnb renter 150 nights/year. For simplicity, we’ll say that the nightly rate I pay averages about the same that the renter charges per night. The overall value of us as customers is 10:1 in the renter’s favor. All things being equal, arbitration should always favor the renter.

There’s a third option to consider, what happens if you make both parties whole? Then AirBnb would have to foot the whole cost of the rental, not just their service fee. Rounding, let’s say AirBnb makes a 20% service fee. It will take five trips of the same length/cost to get recoup one trip refunded. Is it worth it? What’s the guest’s customer lifetime value (CLV)? By the numbers, it’s probably a toss-up, but only because I’m probably going to continue being a customer. Also, money now is worth more than money later. Thinking about the decision maker, an operations or service manager, taking the money now instead of addressing the issue, may lead to higher KPI’s and they may not be around to sow the losses of choosing short term.

Beyond the Numbers: Customer Service, Trust in the Brand

It’s more complex than that. As I’ve said, I think there’s a clear, documented policy that says I should have been able to cancel. In my estimation AirBnb violated this policy. This goes to the heart of AirBnb’s brand. Is AirBnb trustworthy? Will AirBnb do what they say they do?

This could be headed off by a great customer service rep, who can show the customer the fine print and convince him or her that it was there all along. When escalated, a manager would be able to support where the rep wasn’t convincing, but also have some power to provide a sweetener.

In the case there are times when there’s just a cost of doing business. From my biased perspective, it appears AirBnb is finding in favor of a customer with a higher future value by ignoring their policy and then not explaining that policy. I’m still waiting for an explanation.

Cameras on? Hyper self-consciousness in the classroom and workplace … September 2021


I have been teaching computer science remotely through Microsoft Teams for the past month. At the beginning, all the students had their cameras on. Now, about 1/3 of their cameras on. When I was working through Covid, there was some debate about whether we should always have our cameras on in remote meetings. I bought into this. It would help us be present and engaged, and it did. However, in the past few days I’ve really been reflecting on whether I have the authority to ask the kids to turn their cameras on. I think I do, and I understood how this would allow me to verify discipline and engagement. However in my professional life, I am starting to change my thinking.

I’m catching myself, staring at my small thumbnail. This is instead of making eye contact with the person I’m talking to.

I’m finding myself critiquing my smile, or the way I hold my head. Does it emphasize my chin? Are my teeth white enough? Now you may ask yourself, “Is Jeremy just narcissistic?” No, I don’t think I am. At least I’m not more narcissistic than the next guy, gal, human. I’ve been on camera so much, and actually seeing that live image you do catch yourself in unflattering poses or habits:

  • Square your jaw.
  • Elongate your neck.

The child who was made fun of for being overweight, for being different, for being ugly is now able to see his unflattering side and be slightly more attractive in bearing. This is great in that it makes me more aware of how others see me. This is a disaster and that it makes me more aware of how others see me.

One thing I realize and engaging the kids, they live in an Instagram/tinder world. Everything is on display, 24/7. There’s no doubt, that appearance in the form of body language is a strong communicator. Appearance in the form of cleanliness is a strong communicator of hygiene. Appearance is a communicator of wealth, which may project future safety to a potential mate. But damn, if it doesn’t breed worry. Damn, if it doesn’t undermine self-confidence by making us self-conscious.

I’ve decided not to ask the kids to turn the cameras on. I’ve decided try to figure out whether kids are engaged based on their work as I can see it through CS Academy. I’m going to leave my camera on, but I’m going to put a window over the little thumbnail of myself. At least part of the time. I want to smile and project that. But the kids are in the classroom, with masks on. I want to give them a break from their lives of being on camera.

Being able to observe yourself is a wonderful gift. Observing yourself constantly is undeniably a curse.

The phrase, “unconditional-self acceptance,” was uttered by someone recently. Well not recently, a couple years ago. I just remember it, I it totally caught me. It sounded foreign, but also somehow necessary. Somehow essential. I realize now, it is at the root of confidence.

Net Promoter: The limbo of a consumer between corporate partnerships

Summary

  • Gamestop and DoorDash have a partnership to deliver same-day
  • In my experience, each handed off responsibility for a failed delivery and lost product to the other and no less than 6 conversations by chat and phone.
  • Analyzing the communication/customer service channels is enough to hypothesize a systemic issue
  • In my experience, partnerships in medical IT, to do integrations, were similarly fraught and very difficult to anticipate

The Story

This was urgent. I didn’t know what to get my 6 year old for his 7th birthday. I needed to find something before urgency would give way to desperation. I dug through the internet, leaving a trail of tracking cookies in my wake. I finally found a really cool Link action figure from The Legend of Zelda at Gamestop. That with a new video game would make a thoughtful, but not over the top gift.

Add to cart, click.

Get your order today from DoorDash for $5.99. –My foot is in a moonboot from a fresh achilles tendon reconstruction. This sounds fantastic! Click.

Submit order, click!

I went to coffee with a friend. My kids were t home with their grandfather. I got a text that the delivery was out and then a second that it was delivered.

I got home 45 minutes later. No package. My kids had been running around outside and didn’t see a delivery. DoorDash, which often sends a picture, didn’t bother to.

I tried to call GameStop and they didn’t answer. I tried DoorDash. DoorDash seemed to have all my order information and were really responsive. DoorDash told me they would work with GameStop to get a photo and a refund and it would take an hour. Wow. That’s nice.

That evening, about 8 hours later, I hadn’t received any feedback from DoorDash or GameStop, so I did an online chat with DoorDash. The chat attendant asked me for the history around my order. I asked if the attendant had a record of my call. They brushed off the question and I gave them the history. DoorDash then said I would need to call GameStop.

The “Dasher” wouldn’t respond by text, when I requested a picture. When I called GameStop’s local store the next morning, the manager said he would call around to other stores. When I called back, he said I would need to go through DoorDash.

Runaround.

It doesn’t matter how this story turns out. My kid had a fine a fine birthday. We are blessed that the money is not an existential issue, and only wrankles my sense of fairness and business quality.

Quick Analysis

In the realm of product/service management, I’ll deconstruct the primary issue:

Neither customer service organization was able to take responsibility for the failure. This puts the customer in the middle, trying to manage their way to someone in the organization who can make a decision.

In my experience, working in Health IT, we integrated with at least ten different vendors in material ways that had significant daily benefit. That meant when there was a failure, there was a significant daily degradation.

Shifting blame onto other organizations was something that always put the customer in the middle. There were rarely incentives to work together if you could get the other organization to do the work.

I had 6 conversations through chat and phone (I include the interactions where the phone was never answered). There was clearly no shared, “playbook,” for operations in this case.

Was the relationship rushed? Is there a process of continuous improvement here? Is this something we can focus on? If the value of the business isn’t great enough to pursue/focus on, does it make sense to keep the relationship at all?

Personal Reflection

As second in the market and as my team matured, we generally looked at problems with partners as opportunities to show we could lead.

In my time running a small, boostrapped business working to pivot from consulting to products, we had to stay customer focused: razor with a diamond edge.

In my time as an intrapraneur with buy-out milestones, at the mercy of a publicly traded company, and isolated from customers I lost my way for a time. I don’t take all the blame for this, but do take it as a lesson. Building something to last is always about making customers happy.

Bittersweet Day, Stay the Course


This afternoon, I received notice that the interview for what I thought would be the perfect job was canceled and would not be rescheduled.

But the day was still fantastic.

I’m still on course to looking for the “right” thing and to bring passion to bear against the world’s most important problems.

This morning, I spent an hour with a 17 year old student, I’ll call him Andre, which is actually not his name. He needed to working on some intro computer science exercises. He was presented as being “behind.” He had missed some class and I needed to help him catch up. When I joined him in a virtual breakout room, I could hear a children’s song being sung in the background.

Andre and I started working on the problems, but it was clear, he was distracted. There was loud yelling in the background. It sounded like a kindergarten class, but Andre was in High School. I asked about the noise. He said it was his cousin. Andre seemed to double-down and reengage.

I felt a sense of sadness. I felt some tears well up, but refocused myself. We had work to do.

We didn’t do any work against the past problems, but Andre was able to do the lessons of the day, which built on past lessons. I contributed with a few nudges. It was very helpful that we had some 1:1 time so I could observe which past lessons he struggled with. In the end though, he kicked ass!

Inspired.

I’m going to get a job leading teams to solve the big problems in education, healthcare, or sustainability. I’m not going to settle.

Teaching High School Computer Science, first impressions with Microsoft TEALS and CS Academy

CS Academy Screenshot

I started teaching computer science at William Raines High School in Jacksonville Florida last week.

I feel inspired.

There are four of us, Anamaria, Kevin, Sean, and myself supporting one teacher, Donna, teach intro to computer science for over thirty high school students. I think about my kids’ school, where there is a teacher and classroom assistant for 18 kids, a ratio of 9:1. By assisting, we are bringing the ratio in this class to from 30:1 to 6:1. I’ve already met 8 students. I know some of them play Madden and Call of Duty. I know some are creative and like to do side projects. I really hope to build a greater connection with the students as the year continues.

In these first weeks, we have been studying the basics of Python using Carnegie Mellon’s [1] CS Academy. To prepare for the semester, I had worked with my 11 year-old and some of his friends using CS Academy and found it to to be a gentle, yet powerful introduction to programming. My son had done some Scratch programming, a visual framework, which eliminates problems with syntax errors that challenge new programmers. Python was a challenge because suddenly commas and quotes really matter and interpreter errors are sometimes hard to follow.

Today, I got a chance to really engage one on one with some of the students. What I found was students were so fast to pick up concepts and the big picture. The ones who struggled were simply having trouble with commas and quotes. With a few leading questions, they were off to the races.

The pacing of the lesson is a a challenge. There is an interactive portion of each lesson, where students perform coding exercises with the instructor. Some students run into issues here, such as the aforementioned syntax errors. As a teaching team, we have been struggling with the ability to quickly intervene to help students. The in-person instructor is really the best person to identify these issues, but it’s very time consuming as she walks around the class of 30 students, checking for issues. As she walks around, the lesson is slowed and the students who have finished get bored and disengage. Also, with 4 virtual teaching assistants, most of us are unable to effectively identify and intervene. I believe much of this could be improved in the virtual meeting tools. See [2] Below.

Then there’s the pacing of the course. CS Academy has suggestions on this, which really help. However, each class is different and I’m certain the ability to understand students’ progress through CS Academy will be a huge benefit. At a glance we can see different students are progressing at different paces:

I think our goal here will be to intervene to:

  • give students who are out ahead additional, related projects that might be fun, without skipping ahead
  • give students who are behind a helping hand, without singling them out in front of their classmates

It’s fantastic to have such objective measures of student progress!

I am excited for next week.


Some ideas

  • Remind students to “run” their programs early and often. Running the program regularly reinforces that the computer can always give you feedback and lowers the time to finding bugs, making them easier to figure out.
  • Remind students to look for commas, quotes, and parenthesis first
  • Constantly encourage students to help each other
  • Get Donna a bluetooth headset, with a mute button, so she can walk around and still be in contact with the teaching team.
  • Should we try playing some music during the interactive checkpoints?
  • Brainstorm on ways to identify and intervene, without drawing attention to students

Footnotes

[1] My alma mater. Good to see them doing good things!

[2] Improving Microsoft Teams to support Microsoft TEALS, I’ll put my product management hat on. TEALS teaching teams need to quickly identify and remotely intervene with students to maintain the pace of the class. Beyond Breakout Rooms:

  • As an instructor/classroom assistant, I would like to be able to see the screens of all my students in a gallery, so I can quickly identify who is running into problems and who is finished.
  • As an instructor/classroom assistant, I would like to be able to initiate a 1:1 discussion with a student, so I can rapidly help them.
  • As a student, I would like to be able to initiate a 1:1 discussion with an instructor, so I can rapidly get help.

Points 2, 3 may be redundant, as it could be supported by full Teams accounts. As I write this, all the teaching assistants are stuck with guest Teams accounts. 😦 More to come.