Weekly Roundup

For the Computer Science Principles classes last week I had them define Computer Science . The Wordle below is from their definitions after Unit 1. I am planning on having them do this each unit and see how our collective definition shifts as we layer on more material. I think this might make a good writing prompt later int he year.
Other things I've been looking at:

  • Been using this site with my Algebra I kids: http://learnscratch.org/ I am hoping to incorporate Scratch and Graphing
  • Curious to Try this: http://www.learnstreet.com/teacher_signup as the AP Computer Science Principles classes start on the Internet and HTML
  • Rereading As We May Think by Vannevar Bush - this document, from 1945,  first suggests hypertext. Beyond the reading level of most of my high school kids, but some good nuggets
  • As the computer club keeps working on their 3-D printer I am looking forward to trying Blockify 
  • Interesting Video recruiting for AP Studio Art: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwyeKseCShY
  • And, we just found out our CSTA chapter will get 100 Finches to play with next fall! Cannot wait.
  • And lastly made my hotel reservation for SIGCSE 2014. The one thing I learned coaching debate - make the hotel reservation early!

Binary Flippy Do – How To

Today in AP Computer Science Principles we made the Analog Binary Calculator. We have been working up towards binary. I do not start them with the big explanation of This Is Binary.

Instead I do a series of puzzles as warm ups and exit tickets for the week or so before the actual lesson. That way by the time we get to full scale binary they have had some positive experiences and built their own understanding of how binary works.

(Why do I even do Binary? Here you go)

So for example I show them a picture of two light switches and point out they can either be on or off. Working with a partner they have to figure out how many numbers they can store using the light switches. What if we add a third switch, how many then? Without listing all the combinations can you predict how many numbers you could represent with 4 switches? This makes a great warm up activity.

The great thing about the flippy do is it is super easy to translate numbers back and forth. My stronger math kids pick up the number theory behind it quickly, while my weaker math students are successful so they will stick with it rather than tuning out.

If you also cover the full two's comp representation it is also an incredibly easy way to teach the steps.

  • Index cards - 4x6 or larger
  • Markers
  • Scissors 
  • Rulers - helpful, but not necessary


First you fold up the bottom 1/4, draw 8 columns, and cut the bottom flippy things like this:

Can you tell this is my white board?

Second, you label the powers of two. Then put 1's on the back of the flaps and zeros underneath as shown:

Then I have them do a few puzzles:
  • How may ways can you represent 13? 3? 15?
  • Count from 0 to 13. Any pattern with even/odd numbers?
  • What is the largest number this can store?
  • What is 01111111? 00111111? 00011111? - what is the pattern here?
The point here is, if I just tell them that there is only one way to make any base ten number in binary it goes in one ear and out the other. Snore.

If instead they are doing a puzzle, and after a few realize THEMSELVES that there is only one combo per number, they internalize that at a different level. They don't forget it.

After all this we do the algorithm to change from binary to base ten and back. The best part is when the kid in the back, the one that hates math, tells their neighbor "Hey, I actually get this".

The Great Debate – Writing in CS Principles

I have been asked to share this - I usually do this during my second unit in APCS Principles - The Internet Unplugged.

Writing is a big part of doing well on the new Performance Task assessments for the course. I have found this activity to be a great way to get them writing. I do not grade for grammar or spelling at this point. I want them writing, we can work on mechanics later.

One activity that works really well to get students writing is an online debate using a discussion board. The point of this activity is to get them used to thinking and debating a topic and responding to other students. In the beginning students tend to take a very surface approach to topics. Debating lets them really delve in and explore the why behind the points they are making.

This activity works well in several areas of the APCS Principles curriculum. It is simple to grade and really gets the students engaged in writing.
To get them ready we play a game in class to get them used to pros and cons, then we debate a current event topic online. The in class debate topic does not necessarily need to relate to computer science. For the online topic I usually pull a current event that relates to something like privacy or online ethics.
The in Class Game:
Have the students line up into two equal lines. Make one like pro and one line con.
Then explain the rules:
  • the two lines take turns
  • after a student goes they move to the back of the line
  • if you are in the pro line you must be for the resolution, if you are in the con line you must be against it, no matter your own personal opinions
  • whoever is at the front of the line earns a point for every time they
    • add a new point or
    • rebut a point made by the other team
  • No points are awarded for repeated points or responses

Once they understand the rules reveal the topic reveal the topic. As they take turns keep score.
Topics that work well are things like:
  • Resolved: the minimum driving age should be raised to 18
  • Resolved: cell phones should not be allowed in schools
  • Resolved: social media sites should be limited to people over the age of 18

As you move to the online debate a similar format works. In addition students may earn points by by responding with a related fact as long as they provide a link to a reliable source.

I usually let the online debate go on for 3 - 5 days. In the end you can add up points and declare a winner. You can even post a daily point tally. I do usually try to keep the total points close to keep everyone interested.
For topics for the online debate try to pick something currently in the news. The first time I did this activity Congress was debating some Internet piracy legislation that was being heavily covered in the news.  Computer Science is constantly in the news there is almost something in the headlines related to the Learning Objectives.

The Last Generation

We just started back to school on Tuesday. We watched the code.org video and had a class discussion about changes brought by computer science.

The fascinating thing is this group of teens is the last to remember BEFORE the internet.

Seriously, find a teenager and ask if they remember the first time they went online. My own 5th and 7th graders can't, the Internet has just always been there. My students, just a few years older can remember a before and after.

I am really intrigued by this.  Such an odd moment. 

So I am curious, when did you first go online?

Using Music to Teach Programming

So, what does Paul Simon have to do with array processing?

Glad you asked.

As anyone that has tried to teach arrays can tell you they can be a bit dry. Sadly, the best way to really understand anything in programming is to practice. One of the best workarounds I have found is storing music in arrays. My AP kids never really got into the classic drunkards walk program, but make it a random set of notes on a kazoo and tuba and they were all over it. Music lets them play, which means more practice.

This is fairly simple to do. Each note is a number, or an object, depending on the language. I have done this in Scratch, Visual Basic and Java with the kids. Scratch music is built right in, in VB we use the Beep command, and in Java I use the JMusic tools.

And what, you might be asking, does this have anything to do with You can Call Me Al?

If you listen ahead to about 3:30, there is a bass solo. A Palindromic bass solo. The first part was recorded by Bakithi Kumalo, then played backwards for the second half

The lesson:

  • Play the video - ask them if they notice anything about the bass solo - you might need to play it a few times, and it helps if you have some band kids in the room.
  • Make sure everyone understands palindromes
  • Code a tune - store your notes in an array.
  • Create a new array that will store the original tune, then store it backwards.
  • So if your original tune was:  A B B D E the new array would store A B B D E E D B B A
  • Demo the songs to the class.

Another extension here is to watch the video of U-Bassists Abraham Laboriel and Bakithi Kumalo jamming in 2012. What happens if a musician makes a mistake on stage?

I am planning on using this as a journal prompt this year. One of the hardest things for new programmers happens around mistakes. Sadly this is a by product of much of the rest of their education. They are trained to find the right answer.  In computer science we care most about the correct solution, and that is usually going to take several tries. Sometimes the mistake points the way to a better solution. My goal is to get them to embrace their mistakes.

Curious if anyone is using music in any other languages - if so, please share. 

How *GIRLS* Hold Themselves Back from Pursuing Computer Science

Full disclosure - this is a rant. If you are not in the mood, keep browsing.

First, the facts here are a-OK.

"Changing the World Starts with Changing your Perception". Quote from the bottom. I couldn't agree more.

I can only hope the rest of this was created innocently and the blame the victim tome in unintentional. Because really, it is the girls fault that they experience these misconceptions?

So a little back story, I was one of these girls. I had programmed as a hobby for 5 years by the time our AP Computer Science teacher showed up to recruit in my precalc class. In fact I was probably one of the only kids in my school that had programmed at all - it was the early 90's and my coding was definitely odd.

So why didn't I sign up? Honestly it wasn't any of what is listed below. I was a smart kit, a nerd. I went on to major in math in college - a predominantly male field. I had professors that openly said that girls didn't understand math, and yet I stayed, because I am rather stubborn like that.

I remember sitting there thinking - there's a class about this? Cool. Then he said the magic words "if you are good at math then you'll be good at this".

And that did it, I was out. At 17 I didn't see myself as good at math, even though my 99% was one of the highest grades in the class. I studied hard, did my homework, therefore I had a high grade. It wasn't innate ability, I just worked hard.

And this perception wasn't my fault. Just like the stereotypes in this infographic are not the fault of the girls who internalize them.

And in full fairness it was in no way the fault of the CS teacher. I had him in AP Calculus the following year and he is a large part of my confidence in overcoming these stereotypes and becoming a math major in college. He was just doing what we did back then. I did it too when I started teaching cs, good at math = good at programming. We didn't know better.

The saddest part is that I am not the only girl I know with a story like this. I have sent girls off to college, recently even, to hear them have the same experiences in their computer science courses. To be the one girl sitting in an auditorium and have a professor turn around and say to the group "Don't worry, girls never get this" is inexcusable.

So, how can you really help? Lets start by not blaming the girls.

  How Girls Hold Themselves Back from Pursuing Computer Science [INFOGRAPHIC]
This infographic by Play-i. Play-i is creating a programmable robot that teaches computer science to kids ages 5+ in a fun, accessible way. To get updates, sign up here.

Makerbot Lecture – 3D Printing with David Wells

One of the nice things about all this crazy travel this summer is I have gotten to do and see some things that are just not available in Richmond, VA. Last night I got to go to the Makerbot store in NYC to hear a talk about 3-D Printing and Maker spaces.

3-D Printing Filament

The speaker was David Wells from the New York Hall of Science. He is the Manager of Creative Making & Learning - I know, best job title ever.

Last year my computer club's project was 3-D printing. They fund-raised and bought a PrintrBot tight at the end of the year. I am so excited to see where this takes us next year.

The presentation was a great overview of 3-D printing, some of the recent changes and how to incorporate it into maker spaces. One of the general themes was that engagement with museums tapers off as kids hit their teen years, and these maker spaces are a great way to bring them back in.

Several of the folks working at the Makerspace for the summer were there to show off what they were working on. They are part of Maker Corps Education program. They are officially called explainers, which I might borrow for when we do recruitment in the lab.

Oh, and if you are in the neighborhood NYSCI is the host of the Maker Faire NY this fall on Sept 21 - 22. If you haven't been to one you must go. Really - it's your homework. Find a Maker Faire near you and get to it. I got to do the one at the Henry Ford Museum last summer in Detroit and it was amazing.


And if you need a story to help inspire you to the power of 3-D printing: 3-D Printer Brings Dexterity To Children With No Fingers.

Home – Mid Summer Roundup

I am home for about 5 days before my next trek up to New York to work on the AP Computer Science MOOC.

In the past week I traveled from NYC to Boston for the CSTA annual conference, then on to Las Vegas for the APCS Principles Pilot II training and the AP National Conference.

Vector River Map From Flowing Data

In other words, my brain is full, but full of good things.

Unless you have been wilderness camping for the last 6 months you may have noticed a few things going on in computer science education.

I'll be posting more details about all of these projects soon, but some highlights:
  • Code.org - http://www.code.org/  - There's the video, which everyone should see. They are also building up some great advocacy resources, worth a look. Plus, I got to have dinner with Hadi and Pat. So exciting to have incredible people committed to computer science education. They are a huge part of the interest in computer science education right now. 
  • Computer Science Education Week -  http://www.csedweek.org/ - Do you have your plans yet? Dec 8 - 14th, better get on it.
  • Expanding Computing Education Pathways - http://expandingcomputing.cs.umass.edu/ - "Alliance seeks to increase the number and diversity of students in the pipeline to computing and computing-intensive degrees by supporting state-level computing education reforms." I got to attend a great workshop from ECEP at CSTA National lest week - really exciting momentum. I am especially glad to hear more about the role of community colleges in preparing our kids.
  • Exploring Computer Science -  http://www.exploringcs.org/ - They are coming to Washington DC, and I am really hoping to attend a training in the next year. I got to do a PD workshop with them at CSTA, and hands down the best PD I have attended. One of those where you walk away going "Well, the last 16 years of my career have been nice, but now I know how to make it better."
  • Hour of Code -  http://www.csedweek.org/ - they are asking folks to organize to give beginners 1 hour of code for every one of the country's 55 million school children...ideas? Let me know!
  • http://sitwithme.org/ - "Sometimes you have to sit to take a stand. Sit With Me invites you to validate and recognize the important role women play in creating future technology by taking a small but symbolic action: sit in a red chair and share your story." 
Whew! I know I am forgetting things. It has been a jam-packed summer. Please drop me a line to tell me what is going on in your neck of the woods for computer science education. 

Summer of Computer Science

The class of 2013 has graduated, which means summer vacation has finally started. I got hit with the flu this past week which has made the last week extra hectic.


Posts may be a bit sporadic this summer. I won't step foot in Virginia until mid July, and then only for three days:

Hope to see you at one of these - if you are there make sure to say hello. 

I  follow computer science stuff on Twitter - so drop me a line and let me know how your summer is going. We have so many things happening as a community right now, it is really exciting to see all the hard work so many people have put in through the years building a k-12 computer science presence really start to take off. Here's hoping big changes are coming - because every kid in the United States should have the opportunity to take a computer science class.

And the Pig Had My Clothes In Its Mouth

Things overheard in the lab today - all good stories should end this way.

1) You know you teach at a rural school when...I also get offered live chickens and produce, so it is pretty good overall.
2) I both do and don't want to know the rest of this story. And no, I didn't ask. I used my super power, the teacher glare, we were all left hanging.
3) For the love of all that is holy this year needs to end.

Yup, we are still in school. It seems like every other teacher I know is out for summer break now. Pictures on Facebook of fabulous travels. And of course all the best people are at the APCS Reading this week.

And here I am trying to make teenagers learn, which according to all the people I spend my day with - specifically those between 14 and 18 - is completely unreasonable. Their brains are full, and it is sunny, so really I am mean. And nasty.

The funny part in between all of the grumbling they are actually working pretty hard. Except maybe the pig kid.

My intro classes are doing Codeacademy for their final project - make a web page about anything you want. Except pigs.

The AP kids are finishing up their final projects - thus the inside out computer project. The APCS Principles kids are finishing up the programming portfolio, so all in all some good stuff is happening.

And this is why I teach. Most days are pretty good, if not downright hilarious, and sometimes despite ourselves some information gets planted in their heads.

Nine days left people. Not that I am counting.

Shopping List – Painting Electric Circuits

This has gotten to be a bit of an obsession over the past few days. Using paint to create electric circuits.

Seriously, it is all I can think about. I am making a lot of  "this sweater is OK, but it would be awesomer with some LED light bulbs" statements that make my children hover between interest and a deep tween embarrassment that only mothers can induce.

It started with a CNN article on Pens that can be used to draw circuits. I know, great idea.

Except they are from the UK, and kind of pricey (12 pounds which is about $18 today). And according to my sources on twitter the conductivity isn't great once it is dried over long distances. That said the site has some nice classroom kits that include thumbtack batteries. There has been a hollow empty void in my life that is filled now that I know thumbtack batteries exist - you know what I mean?

Also according to the website these pens are available in Radio Shack, so good for those of us stateside.

Think Geek Conductive Paint

For about $30 you can get a 50ml tub of paint from Think Geek. I have visions of renumbering the computers in my lab using this ...possibilities are endless.

This appears to be the same company, so it is probably the same stuff that is in the pens, but it is a better price point for just the paint.

I also found a video describing how to make copper based conductive paint. Sounds fun, but given my overall free time...I might just head to Radio Shack.

MIT also has some resources listed:

One of the main reasons I am interested is the application for wearable electronics. I am curious to see if the paint can be used to attach conductive thread to the power source. I'll let you all know if it works.

Need more inspiration? Here is a video of interactive wallpaper made with conductive paint. It plays music.

We do some very simple circuits and logic gates in the APCS Principles class suing play-doh. The play-doh works well because it can be changed and experimented with very easily, but the stuff dries out so nothing can be taken home. This paint would make a nice extension, especially if they can make something to take home. Prototype in play-doh then paint for permanent.

Make an Inside Out Computer

For the end of the year my AP students are working on projects. This year I left it very open ended, use anything in the lab and just make something awesome.

They can make with code or something physical. I have students doing everything from a scratch version of Doom to building a cell phone signal amplifier.

One of my favorites at this point is this - the Inside-Out Computer. The parts are all recycled from a couple of old 486s that were donated. Once we can find a non USB mouse the plan is for them to load Linux on it.
I'm pretty excited about having this in the lab next year when we need to teach hardware. 

I am particularly excited about this for next year when we go over computer hardware. Having a running computer while you point out all the various parts and pieces seems like it will be very helpful.

Basically they're attached all the parts to an old plastic crate using zip ties. The have booted it up several times and it works perfectly, except for the no mouse thing.

We have five weeks from the AP exam until the end of the school year, which is a lot of time to fill. In order to get grades on the books I give them a daily Ted Talk to watch and respond to on a discussion board. More on that later.

Update: Another student turned in their final project today. It is a bike with a chainsaw motor added to make a moped. Did all the welding themselves. I was kind of expecting a poster, then they rolled this in:


Are American High Schools working in the Internet Age?

(continuation of  Redefining Teachers in the Internet Age)

Before we can redefine teaching we must examine schools themselves.

One of the core issues the Internet in education raises: does this always mean we need to visit a teacher in person? Traditionally the most efficient way for an expert to share knowledge was to collect a large number of people in a room at the same time and talk. Now, the Internet has the potential of bringing this conversation to a much larger group that do not necessarily need to be housed in the same place at the same time.

For the traditional American high school this raises some large questions. A lot of modern educational theory centers around manipulating large numbers of mostly unwilling participants into absorbing information and skills that they do not inherently care about. We train teachers in both delivery and assessment, and spend an inordinate amount of time on behavior management. (* In case you'd like to see an example: http://teachlikeachampion.com/the-classroom/ . *)

So what if we took this off the table? Lets say we now face the same questions education faced at the beginning of the last century when moves towards compulsory education first began. At that point there were not large buildings meant to house 2000 or more teenagers in order to teach them. At the time it was a new model centered around the need to be physically present with a teacher.

So, does this model still work? There is a lot of discussion currently around what is wrong and why in education. Perhaps part of it is the buildings themselves. Our underlying assumption that we have to put thousands of 16 year-olds in a building in order to effectively educate them might not be true anymore.

If we were, right now, building a compulsory education system from scratch would that the solution look like? Think about it for a minute. If you had to build an educational system from scratch, right now, with no infrastructure, school districts, buildings...what would you design? Would every student have access to high quality classes? How?

There are advantages to both in person and online teaching. Neither alone holds the solution to the myriad issues of quality and access that plague our educational system.

But it is time to start investigating - Are we doing it this way because it works or because of the infrastructure we already have in place?

And ultimately, what is the best way to introduce our children to collected human knowledge?

Top 20 Ways to Learn Computer Science Online

I've been trying to keep up with all of the new ways to learn to code online - the first list is here. The new APCS Principles course has a lot of elements that move beyond teaching computer science as a coding class, including teaching about the Internet and using data. It is getting hard to keep up.

Modest Maps

A few top 20 lists:

And for a little numerical diversity:

Redefining Teachers in the Internet Age

Is teaching still relevant?

Throughout history, to become educated was to join the collective of human thought. To participate, we needed a pass key. Our very oldest tradition in handing over the key is teaching: One human sharing collected knowledge with another human.

As time moves on humans continue to acquire tools, many aiding this process of teaching -- of passing knowledge to the next generation. Songs, stories, written language, paper, books, an eventually the printing press brought ever wider groups of people into contact with this always-expanding collection of human knowledge.

And so we can read Pliny the Younger's first-hand account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii and can see the notebooks in which DaVinci captured his inventions. This collection of knowledge is the single most powerful human creation.

Aiding each generation passing along and preserving this living trove of our collective genius, there were teachers. Not always as we think of them now, tethered to school buildings. But individuals able to collect, communicate and pass their knowledge along.

Today the latest development in storing and retrieving human collective thought, the Internet, brings a major disruption to this tradition of human-to-human conference.

Anyone can access this collective -- nearly all of it -- with a handheld device that most of us carry in our pockets. Individuals have available much more information than ever before. Some of it factual and well reasoned, some of it incendiary and one sided. Quite a lot of it is trivial and frankly salacious.

So now, more than any other time in human history, the individual chooses how and what parts of this vast and ever expanding collection are compelling and meaningful to them.

This rise in access to information parallels in this country the decline in regard for teachers. This hardly seems coincidental. Since we no longer need to visit a building and interact with an expert to gain facts and information, what use have we for a teacher?

While the point of access has changed the need for filtering these facts with experience and wisdom has not.  In redefining this role we must analyze what is needed in this new era. Is the acquisition of facts and data enough?

This is the second role of the teacher. Not just a distributor of information, they also provide context. Knowledge is more than just a list of facts. It is also this context and analysis that can change facts into action and expression.

The Internet offers a vast and deep sea of information. In this era of omni-availability of data we must recognize the importance of offering guidance as students interact with information. Self selecting the latest celebrity gossip about Kim Kardashian is simply not the same as participating in a lively debate about the sociological implications of the suffrage movement.

Teachers are not just there to distribute information, but now serve as cartographers of this new ocean. They tell the stories that give our collected knowledge context. They expose us to new ways of combining our experiences and introduce us to subjects we might never have self selected.

As our education becomes ever more personal and individualized there comes an even more pressing need to have an expert guide us at certain points along the way.

Comment below to define the debate - is the Internet fundamentally redefining teaching?  What do you think?

Underwater Spaghetti – Internet Cables

So sometimes in teaching you add a little fun fact into a lesson and that one little grain of sand takes over.

Underwater Internet Cables

I know, it seems totally random. But for two years in the APCS Principles pilot the students have been totally transfixed by this. It was a tiny picture off to the side of the notes and their questions. It led to a great conversation about the physical structure of the Internet and equity of access.

So look at this map:

I asked the kids what they notice first - many of them talked about how many parts of the world have very limited connections. This makes for a great writing prompt for their journals.

Just found these interactive maps - they let you explore these cables ad see where the connections are.

As an interesting comparison, here is a map of the first underwater cables laid int he mid 1800'a that made up the telegraph system:

Data Visualization Videos

Funny how sometimes you come across several unrelated sources and find a theme. Today it is data visualizations.

AP Computer Science Doldrums

So - what are your AP kids doing for the rest of the year?

Here in Virginia school doesn't get out until June for most school districts. This makes for a lot of time to fill.

Ted Talks
My AP kids do end of the year projects. I leave these pretty unstructured. Pick something available in the lab and make something amazing. That's the rule.

So I have kids working on 3-D printing projects. Some are working in Python. Last year one person went totally old school and really delved into QBasic.

Overall this has been pretty successful, but as we all know at the end of the year we are competing with spring and senioritis. So to make sure they don't go completely off the rail this year I am trying to make them write - I know, they'll love it, right?

Please allow me my delusions, it has been a busy year.

Each block I am showing them a Ted Talk. They respond to the videos using Piazza. I collect these as a quiz grade just so I have something to nag them with. Sometimes keeping them focused is about bribery and threats. Whatever works.

Whenever I do discussion board topics in computer science classes I have a very structured set of rules for them to follow. I am trying to transition them to academic writing and beyond LOL.

So I am curious - how is everyone else handling this wasteland of time between the AP exam and the last day of school? What works for you?

Oh, and if you are interested, here are my discussion board rules:

We are going to be using the discussion board for the rest of the year. Your participation on the discussion board will count as a quiz grade each marking period. Some guidelines:
  • Use full sentences. No abbreviations or text-speak.
  • Be nice!
  • No bad words
  • No personal attacks
Ways of participating:
  • Be prepared – do the reading and share your information
  • Offer a new fact
  • Respond to other people’s ideas
  • Ask questions
  • Answer questions
  • To get full credit you must have at least 3 posts     

Computer Science Movies

I posted this on Twitter yesterday, and got a rather heated response.

Can you recommend any good movies for high school computer science classes?
War Games

Whew, I just expected a few Pixar movies and that was that. What I got instead was, well, frankly a bit grumpy. And also spot on.

I personally don't do movie days often. The time we have the kids in the lab and are able to really get them engaged is pretty limited and I want them creating, not watching, as much as possible. This means that whole class periods where we "watch" a movie is out- and we all know the kids are usually napping or on their cell phones anyway. Of course you can make them fill out a worksheet as they watch, but nothing kills joy like a worksheet.

I do use movies and videos. For example in my intro class we do a big movie project where the kids create a stop animation movies, including chroma-key-compositing, using Visual Basic. To get them excited we watch some short films, and selections from Avatar.

We do a lot of Ted Talks, especially in the APCS Principles class, as writing prompts.

But my focus most of the time is hands on activities where the kids are engaged and making things.

One interesting answer on the Twitter feed was to watch movies themed around ethical computer use - like War Games. I love the idea of using a movie to hit this sometimes hard to explore topic.

Now all that said, Most years I end up having my APCS and IBCS kids the afternoon after they take their exams. And we watch a movie. And eat popcorn.

So, what movies would you recommend?

Getting Things Done for Teachers

Teaching can be like a field trip back to 1982. Phone access is limited and the web is filtered (if it is working at all that day).

So trying to stay productive in a web 2.0 world can be a challenge.

1982 called - they want their technology back

One of the best tools I have developed over the past few years is adapting the principles of David Allen's GTD to the classroom.

The system is pretty inclusive, and you can read about it in lots of details in his books. For me there are two parts that have worked especially well in the classroom.

The first is changing how you tag your to do list. I used to keep it by noun- or topic. So it was sorted by APCS, Intro class, or Website. In other words I listed things by what part of my job they were related to.

Which had nothing to do with WHAT I actually had to do.

So now I keep the list by verb. By what I actually need to do. So I have a phone call category and a errand school category. And grade and email categories, you get the idea.

As you all know just getting to the phone or to the office to check your mailbox can be a real challenge. I want to make sure when I get to use the phone I have a full list of ALL the parents I need to call. If I am going to make the 5 minute trek to the front office (my lab is in the absolute back corner of the school) I want to make sure I have everything I need with me.

To support this I built a binder specifically for my planning period where I stick all the paperwork that fits these categories, so everything is in one place when I actually get planning time. That typically is about 30 - 45 minutes a day, so that time is pretty valuable.

I use Remember the Milk for my list. It makes filtering by activity super simple and I can add things on my phone. There is a free version of the app.

The second part I really use is the weekly review. The idea is you regularly go through all of your inboxes - email, mailbox, papers to grade, all of it, and you build and capture what is there and what needs doing. This year I am managing these reviews about every other week due to my limited planning time.

Again, there are tons of web resources out there describing different takes on this. I keep it pretty basic. The idea is everything you touch (or open in the case of email) gets planted somewhere. For me it is either a to do, something to store and reference later, or trash/recycle.

Included in this is a review of the calendar. I look over the past few weeks to see if there is anything unfinished still hanging out there, and look ahead and cross check my lesson plans so I am not tying to do a class discussion on the day of the senior picnic.

Anyhoo, I keep getting asked this year how I get everything done. Frankly I don't, but having this system in place lets me really concentrate when I need to without worrying that I am forgetting something. And sometimes the appearance of efficiency is almost the same thing.

Mind Mapping the AP Computer Science Exam

This year we tried something different for teh final APCS exam review. We've been doing multiple choice and free response problems for weeks now, and really we are at the point where they either know it or they don't.

So what I want is for them to remember all the connections - those picky details that can make a huge difference. Like when do you use == and when the .equals? Or when to use super vs this.

So I gave them a list of terms from the APCS curriculum (see below) and I had them cut them out to make a mind map. They had to draw and explain the connections. They worked in groups on this and there was a lot of great discussion today as they debated where the pieces fit together.

The list isn't complete - I keep remembering things I left off. The kids found most of those as they built their maps.

= =
array 1-D
array 2-D
base case
row major

Why you Need a Popcorn Maker

Ok - I know, this is not exactly a programmable device.

But, I am assuming you want to get kids into your lab. I spent $20 on this last year and it has by far been the best piece of equipment I have added to our lab.


  • Teenagers like food
  • I have never in 16 years had a kid allergic to pop-corn
  • It is cheap food, and I am a teacher...enough said
  • As a mom I like that popcorn is relatively healthy. We eat it plain - no junk added. They grumble, but they still eat it.
  • The aroma brings kids in from the hall. I have at least two kids in my classes this year that first came to the lab for the popcorn