I woke up this morning to an email from my principal "Stuy is #1." This followed a bunch of Facebook posts by friends and alums of a similar vein.
Of course, everyone whooping it up now was quick to say "all those rankings are meaningless" back when US News and World report ranked Stuy way down on their list.
We all know what makes a great school: great students. At least in terms of perception. Look at most of these lists and they'll be dominated by high schools that take in high performing students.
Truth be told, in many ways, Stuyvesant isn't a special place, but more on that down below.
In terms of the ratings and rankings they're meaningless but in a way dangerous. I see it at Stuy. Under the current administration AP is the word of the day. It's all Advanced Placement all the time. Why? That's one of the ways to rise up in the rankings. So are the school surveys which is why there's been more pressure to get those done.
My feelings? AP is all about making money for the College Board. I'm not a fan of "early college," I'm a fan of enrichment. I've said it many times - if a course is such that it can be mastered equally well by a 15 year old in 10th grade as by a 19 or 20 year old in college, well, it really isn't college level. High achieving, well prepared high school kids can do college level work in 11th and 12th grades but probably not in all subject areas. Sure they can memorize, ape, and mimic, but the depth of knowledge won't be there. Regardless, we should trust schools and teachers to do it right. Schools can roll out rigorous courses as good or better than AP. There's no real need for the College Board seal of approval. Look at Fieldston and other private schools as examples.
We've been teaching our own introductory CS class at Stuy for years. The entire team knows that it's far superior, at least for our students, than the new AP CS Principles course yet our principal keeps pushing the AP course.
I've spoken to a number of administrators from highly regarded schools over the past couple of years and all are pushing test scores, AP classes, and anything to get those rankings up.
So, there's a movement to make Stuy a generic school that happens to have high performing students which brings me back to are we number one or indeed are we special?
It certainly has a couple of things going for it. Great kids and a large size. The large size ensures lots of electives. Stuy is one of the few schools with a robust set of humanities classes, stem classes, multiple music groups, and more. That's important. When I sent my kids to Stuy a big part of the decision was due to the fact that they'd be surrounded by smart kids whose interests range all over the place. The kids come from all backgrounds. Also, my kids would be able to explore all of their current interests and maybe even pick up some new ones.
But then there's the other side. We have lots of electives and some are great but then, some are lousy. Just like any other school we have some amazing teachers and some garbage. For the most part, if you switched Stuy's faculty and administration with another school, you might lose a few special electives and gain a few different ones but by and large people wouldn't notice the difference.
Regardless, Stuy and all similar institution should be charged with something extra. We should be leaders in developing programs and sharing them with other schools. We should be developing experiences for our kids that are appropriate to their level of development, not being happy with high regents scores or the fact that we had a bunch of Intel semifinalists, many who probably would have accomplished similar feats regardless of the school they attended.
Kowtowing to the rankings kills that possibility. To reach the top of the charts you have to follow the book. If you want to lead, you have to write the book.
It would be silly of me to judge my success by how many kids pass the APCS exam. It's an easy test for them. I've worked hard not to create classes because I like them, but because they make sense for our kids. They sequence appropriately, and they give the kids opportunities and experiences that they wouldn't get had they not attended Stuy.
Unfortunately, since the late 90's I haven't had the luxury of a supportive administration that shared my vision. As the school and the system moves more towards the rankings you're going to see educational leaders more and more marginalized and finally eliminated.
So, is Stuy number one and is it special? As long as it's given the same type of kids it's had for the past 100 or so years, the kids will do fine. Is it really special? Well, unless it starts really think about what the kids need and deserve, maybe not so much.Read more - comments
The coding on their project is reminiscent in many ways of an Ed Sheerhan song. It left me in tears and very confused as to what the author was trying to accomplish.
– a student commenting on their most recent project.
We had some fun last week. Well, OK, I had some fun. The SoftDev classes had just finished a little project. Basically, a blogging platform. Something that would tie together all the tools we've been using. Flask, user management, an SQL database (SQLite), and a nice looking front end.
It was also the first real group project so the teams have started to learn how to work together.
After some project demos, it was time for part two: NOSQL. We explored MongoDB and then it was time for the project - clean up the previous project through the use of techniques like template inheritance and convert the database backend to MongoDB.
The catch? Each group would take another groups project and use that as their starter code. The rules? They could modify and refactor but they couldn't rewrite.
It threw the groups for a loop but I ultimately think they had fun with this.
Afterwards each group gave a write up to their starter group. What made their life easier, what made it harder. We then circled up for discussion as a class.
It was terrific.
First, it was great that we've gotten to a point where everyone feels comfortable giving each other constructive criticism. We've gotten to the point where the class is a team.
Beyond that, I'm hoping that everyone got a lot out of the exercise.
As each group talked, common themes arose:
We're now going to start a discussion of coding style, standards, and documentation.
I've got to say that I'm very happy how this little experiment worked out.
Last March, we (CSTUY) hosted our first hackathon - def hacks():
It was a tremendous success. Fifty students of all experience levels, a bunch of great mentors and judges - added all together and it was a terrific day.
I wrote about it here.
We're doing it again. We love last years hosts SumAll and are grateful that they continue to host our Saturday Hacking Sessions but we are also grateful to Facebook NY for allowing us to use their larger space for this edition of def hacks(). Larger space = more hackers.
So, if you're a high school student who wants to spend a fun day building something cool or if you know one, more information and registration can be found here:Read more - comments
No Edu-Rant today nor a clever lesson plan.
I just thought I'd share an email exchange that cracked me up.
We're out in Ann Arbor visiting our son Natan who is in his first year at Michigan.
Devorah sent an email asking where we should meet.
It turns out that Natan's last class of the day is Music Composition.
Here's what followed:
Composition is in the bell tower on Central. It's hard to miss. It's a bell tower. It's right by Hill Auditorium, and looks like a bell tower. It also sounds like a bell tower at certain points in the day, but I don't think I've heard it sound like a bell tower around the end of class, so you're probably better off looking for the thing that looks like a bell tower rather than listening for the thing that sounds like a bell tower. I would assume it also smells and tastes like a bell tower, but if you're in close enough proximity to smell or taste the bell tower, I think you've probably found the bell tower. It looks like a huggable building, but please, dad, do not hug the bell tower. I have class there.
We can meet you at the bell tower as long as we can figure out what it looks like. Can you please give us a detailed description? Maybe you should taste it just in case. Does the bell tower on Central smell like the bell tower on North?
Read more - comments
The bell tower is around the size and shape of a bell tower. It's ten stories high, with the first nine stories being a little less than one-tenth of a bell tower tall, and the tenth being rather more than one-tenth of a bell tower tall (the tenth story being where the bells are). The width is about equal to that of a bell tower. It has two doors, one on one side of the bell tower, and the other on the other side of the bell tower. It has clock faces on top, which should, at the point you see it, resemble a clock face indicating the time which it is. (The appearance of the clock faces should update in near-real time.) If you stick around long enough, it should start to sound like a bell tower, or perhaps like a monster descending the stairs singing Gilbert and Sullivan. I don't know what the bell tower on North smells like because the bell tower on North is currently blocked off. But it also resembles a bell tower, being approximately the same size and shape of a bell tower. It is much less likely to sound like a bell tower, though.
The StuyCS Family mailing list was host to an interesting discussion today. One of our younger members asked if the practice of giving technical problems during an interview was going to follow him throughout his career or if it goes away for more senior applicants.
An interesting discussion followed.
It reminded me of a time I was talking to a few senior engineers at a large tech company. A couple of younger engineers were with us along with a new hire. The youngsters started talking about the new hires technical interview questions. One older engineer light heartedly asked another "I don't recall any tricky technical questions, how about you?" "I don't recall any either…" and on around the table.
Of course these senior engineers had track records that stretched for miles.
I never liked those tech interview questions. If you just took algorithms, you've got an edge and it really seems to be more of a test of "have you seen this problem before" rather than a true test of ability.
I much prefer those few companies that give "take home assignments" or use other ways to determine fit.
The tech interview reminds me of the pop quiz or a poorly designed test. If you just ask the question that the kid doesn't get, the kid's in trouble. A kid could know how to handle 90% of the work but if the question is that last 10%, zero credit.
As teachers, we end up using many forms of assessment and try to develop an overall picture of a student.
Companies should try to do the same.
Why to companies still use these technical interview questions?
Quite simply because they can.
A company might miss out on a number of great candidates by using a bad technical question but they will probably get at least a reasonably strong hire that passes the test. For the company, mission accomplished.
As teachers, we can't do that. I'm not given a class of 32 kids and asked to pull out a couple of software engineers. As teachers, we're supposed to pull everyone along.Read more - comments
Today was a "professional development day." That means that instead of teaching, we were supposed to work on our craft.
Rather than the normal nonsense - forcing CS teachers to sit through common core math lectures or how to use the latest calculator, our host principal, Randy Asher, of Brooklyn Tech let us do our thing.
Basically, it was a bunch of CS teachers from two schools - Stuy and Brooklyn Tech, talking shop for most of the day.
Given the ridiculous "professional development" we're subject to weekly at Stuy, it was a welcome change.
We talked about a number of issues:
I mean, really - all we do is talk about how hard it is to teach CS.
Contrast that with every after school, summer, drop in, coding school and program. They seem to:
Seeing how much and how well all these non-educators can do with kids vs what we were talking about I can only conclude that us teacher folk are pretty lousy.
On the other hand, us real teachers have to pay attention to to little things like long term retention and success and can't just parade out a few nice stories and outlier results.
Give me a real teacher any day.
I remember a few years ago I was talking to someone about all the CS Ed hype we were seeing. We both noted that many of the people doing the best work are so busy doing that work that they can't spare the time to generate the hype.
I was with a bunch of those people today.
As a teacher, sometimes your gut tells you to do something and it turns out to be a really good idea.
That's what happened in October, 1994. I decided to dress up as Groo the Wanderer for Halloween. I never dressed in costume for school before and back then, no many did. A few students and very few teachers.
Afterwards, I noticed that my younger students - the ones that didn't know me that well yet, really loosened up and so a tradition was born.
Over each of the next 20 Halloweens, I did something different. Sometimes solo, sometimes as a pair and more recently as part of a team.
What started as a lark has now become something of an obligation but it's still fun.
So, with no further ado, let's go to the video tape:
And of course, the full playlist:
It's Halloween again. This time, "Inside Out."
No video yet, but stay tuned.
For the time being, enjoy some of our past madness:Read more - comments
The Hudson Valley's a beautiful place, particularly during the Fall. We don't get up there as much as we should - usually just for apple picking and then for the New York Sheep and Wool Festival.
It's a region with great food, hiking, natural beauty, history and more.
So, what exactly is growing?
The Hudson Valley Tech community.
I first heard about what Hudson Valley was doing around Tech back at the August New York Tech Meetup. I was there with my students showing off their work.
Kale, Aaron, and others hosted an amazing event last week. Something of a coming out party for tech in the Hudson Valley - CatskillsConf.
Catskills Conf was a tech conference but it's not your regular tech conference. Sure, it had tech speakers like John Resig and Dennis Crowley. I brought up some students to show off their work and I gave a short rant on CS education. Sounds techie enough.
But Catskillsconf was special. Hosted at the Ashokan Center, an educational retreat, we all stayed bunkhouses together, ate together, and pretty much felt like we were in summer camp - and I mean that in the best way.
Since we were all on site, nobody left in the evenings. We had live music, square dancing (what better way to get a group of A-social techies to mix), a live bird of prey show and Jonathan Mann, our very own songwriter recapping each day:
Then we had the workshops. Sure we had tech - wearables and drones, but personally, I had more fun at the blacksmithing and ukulele sessions.
I think the biggest thing of all was that it felt like a community was building. It wasn't like your usual conference where you might know a few people and then force yourself to meet a few more. I'm looking for a better word, but for lack of one, it was comfortable.
Hats off to Kale, Aaron, and the team for setting the stage and thanks to everyone there - organizers, participants, staff, and volunteers we all made it an unbelievable experience.
Can't wait until next year.
A good workman is known by his tools, or so the saying goes. My tools of choice are my terminal shell and Emacs.
I suppose if I was a full time developer working with a limited set of tools I might like an IDE like JetBrains or Eclipse but no matter how many alternatives I try, I always end back in Emacs.
I recommend that my students spend time not only in Emacs but also in tools like Vim or Sublime Text.
I do warn them, though, that as a commercial product, Sublime might not be around forever, I mean before Sublime was sublime, TextMate was sublime. If you go back to the 1980s, Brief was sublime.
Commercial tools come and go but I've been using Emacs since the mid eighties.
A few students have been asking me for some pointers on going past the basics of Emacs so here we go.
This post just has some getting started notes. There are mode powerful and advanced ways of doing most things.
I think I'll just talk about a few of the basics here and will write about code development with Emacs in a later post.
Once you're OK with the basics (by using the built in tutorial or on line resources) start to fore yourself to get to know:
when you find a new file (C-x C-f) it opens it into a new buffer. You can also open a new buffer using C-x b and rather than selecting a buffer typing in a new buffer name.
Each buffer can hold a file and you can switch quickly between them using C-x b and hitting <Enter>.
You can kill the current buffer with C-x k
Using buffers lets you edit multiple files in a project quickly and efficiently.
Your Emacs frame can be split into multiple windows. C-x 2 splits the window top and bottom, C-x3 left and right. You can switch between windows using C-x o for other window. Switching to one window is done with C-x 1.
Get to know the built in help. You can always use functions like M-x describe-function or M-x describe-key and of course you can use completion to help speed things up but the help functions are bound to:
You can usually type q to close the help.
Use search for navigation rather than arrow keys.
This can change the way you edit.
For example ,if I wanted to go up to the word Navigation, above, rather than using traditional motion keys, I'd do a reverse search (C-r) and search for Nav.
Incremental search forward (C-s) and back are your friends.
You can check out my emacs configuration here:
You can find basic installation instructions there or you can use the interactive package manager, invoking it with M-x list-packages.
Some of my favorite general purpose packages are:
We haven't even talked about code development or killer packages like org-mode but I think this will do for a start.