This past Saturday, 50 high school students, 10 high school mentors, and 10 more post high school mentors headed down to SumAll to participate in def hacks(2015): CSTUY's first hackathon.
The fifty participants, came from all over the city, Long Island, and New Jersey. They ranged from having never programmed to three or four years experience.
Projects ranged from web sites to full stack applications.
After workshops run by CSTUY teachers and mentors and also by Codesters.com the hackers spread out all over SumAll's offices, working in small groups with the support of our amazing mentors.
At the end of the day, the hackers demoed and the judges judged
In the end everyone made something terrific and walked away having built new skills, met new people, and gotten a little swag.
The judges singled out two groups for special recognition. One was a team of four experienced programmers who put together a full stack app to help schedule parent/teacher meetings.
The other was a solo project from a young man who had never programmed prior to the event.
That one really blew me away. We were able to give these groups Raspberry Pis thanks to a last minute donation from Fullstack Academy.
None of this would have been possible without the help of:
Our organizers - Caitlin and Lise
Our Mentors - both the Stuy students and the older mentors
and our Sponsors:
Quick post on why I love the Unix command line.
The kids signed up on a Google doc but we all know the story – when people sign up for a free event, even one with free food and t-shirts, many don't show. I asked all of the applicants to confirm by filling out a second Google doc.
Then it got to reminder time - I wanted to send an email out to all those kids who signed up on the first form, but hadn't confirmed on the second.
Two Google spreadsheets with an email field. I needed all the people on sheet 1 that weren't on sheet 2. I'm sure there's some spreadsheet-fu that accomplishes this, but nothing I know. I also could have written a little python script which isn't so bad, but this was a perfect time to turn to the shell.
So, here's how a command line guy would do this.
To start, I put the emails in two files: e1 and e2. The first has all the original applicants, the second those that confirmed.
|---------+---------| | e1 | e2 | |---------+---------| | firstname.lastname@example.org | email@example.com | | firstname.lastname@example.org | F@f.com | | email@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org | | email@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org | | email@example.com | | | firstname.lastname@example.org | | | email@example.com | | | firstname.lastname@example.org | | |---------+---------|
If we put these lists together, any email that appears twice would indicate that it's the email of someone that confirmed entry. Here we use cat to catenate e1 and e2 and pipe them through sort.
cat e1 e2 | sort
First problem –the upper case F – let's use tr to make everything lower case:
cat e1 e2 | tr A-Z a-z | sort
Now we can see the duplicates next to each other. Next, uniq -c tells us how many times each line appears:
cat e1 e2 | tr A-Z a-z | sort | uniq -c | sort
I added the sort at the end, but we didn't need it.
Here's what we get:
To pull out the ones that haven't replied I used egrep with a regex that means "any line that starts with 1 or more spaces followed by the number 1":
cat e1 e2 | tr A-z a-z | sort | uniq -c | egrep "^ +1"
and finally to isolate the emails using sed which removes the spaces and number 1 from the beginning of the line:
cat e1 e2 | tr A-z a-z | sort | uniq -c | egrep "^ +1" | sed "s/\ \+1 //g"
Each of the little utilities aren't all too useful by themselves but if you learn them over time you start thinking about how you can combine them to solve problems.
If you think this way and know some basic tools, all of a sudden all manner of text manipulation problems become pretty easy.Read more - comments
Last post was a little heavy so just a short fun one for today.
"Just another day at StuyCS." That was the subject of the email Brian sent with the photo above. What's going on?
Now, as sometimes happens, Batya, while in her CS class up at college, decided to open up a Google chat with me. This happens now and then. We try to have some fun with it. We actually have a plan to mess with the kids later this term, but I'll keep that to myself.
Now, Batya, of course, was sitting in her CS class in college. I told her what we were doing and continued with the lesson. She responded that Zach, her boyfriend and my former student said not to forget to emphasize certain things. I also asked Batya if her professor was having a chat with his kid while he was teaching. Everyone was having a laugh.
Then things got sillier. Another chat popped up. It was Natan, my son, who happens to be in that class. So, the insanity continued on when I get a video call - it was from Aida sitting in row 1 - that's what you see on the screen.
Now it was getting a little ridiculous and it all started with Batya and Natan. So, what's a a teacher to do? I had to contact their parent, my wife, to tell her to discipline her children. That's the third chat.
So, just another day at StuyCS.Read more - comments
If we don't do anything then only schools like Stuy will have CS.
I heard that the other day. It was a comment relating to a number of efforts, both in and out of NY to get CS into the classroom.
These programs abound and up front let me say that they're all well meaning and have the best of intentions.
In NYC, programs receiving money, publicity, and support, include:
Terrific – we'll scale up CS ed in NY from nothing to everyone in no time. It's fast, it scales. But is it good.
I'd argue that maybe it's not. These programs all share a few things in common.
First, they're all expedient. You can implement them in an election cycle. Roll out a pre-fab curriculum with scripted lessons, give the teachers a summer and some weekend workshops and we're good to go. No CS knowledge needed.
Next, as far as I can tell, none were developed by experienced high school teachers with a deep knowledge of CS.
The SEP was originally developed by someone, who, according to his linked in profile never coded and never taught.
I could be wrong about BGP. It was developed by Dan Garcia - an educator whom I like and respect, but as far as I know, his experience is at the college level.
And Google's CS First? I've been very impressed by Google's engineers, in fact, many are my former students. It's high school education team? Not so much.
Finally, these efforts buy into the myth that anyone can teach and that anyone can teach computer science. Even worse, the Google CS First claims people running their program don't need to know a thing about computer science.
Anyone who knows teaching knows that you can't learn a subject well enough to reall teach it in such a short period of time. Of course, it does align itself with education "reform" where the true master teacher is no longer desirable and we should all be drones that teach lessons from scripts and all testing shall be standardized.
I rememer the first time I saw a progarm like this - it was the CISCO Networking Academy. Teachers trained for a few weeks in the summer and the course was basically run via computer based tutorials. I can't speak for it nationally but in my experience, what the students learned was superficial - very test oriented and there was no value added by the teacher - even after years of "teaching" the classes. There's a reason why the few networking lessons in our System Programming class are called "CISCO in an hour." The kids learn more in those couple of lessons than in a year of the CISCO curriculum.
Who was to blame? Cisco? They were trying to do something good. The teacher? Partially, after time they should have learned something of networking but they were very much out of their element having started the process from zero tech experience.
The fact is, that got a "Computer Networking" class into the schools. It might have been meant as a stop-gap until we could get real Computer Networking teachers hired or trained but it ended up being good enough. The end result – bad classes and students not learning what they could.
So here we are back again at the "let's take non CS teachers, give them some PD and we'll be good." Rather than take the time to solve the CS Education problem, we're going to throw down a curriculum, do some PD and say that it will buy us time. The truth is, however, that we're going to say "look, we have CS in the schools" and it will be good enough.
I'd argue, though that for CS, good enough is particularly dangerous. It's very easy to work through a scripted and coached program and end up with kids thinking they know some real CS and have a real product yet having not really learned the subject. This won't be exposed until later, when they're gone and in college. I predict that unless something changes, these efforts and similar ones will drive up the number of people who after this exposure will say they love CS but once they get hit over the head with "funcitonal programming in HASKELL" or whatever real CS they see in college, they'll drop like flies.
What's the answer? We've got to stop doing what's expedient and do what's good and what's right.
A couple of other blog itches I want to scratch are the many after school, summer, and drop in programs to go with the there I mentioned above. Hopefully I'll get to rant about them soon.
At its core, the post and the comments talk about belief in an idea and it got me thinking about some things as an educator.
and you have to believe in yourself and your idea or nobody else ever will
resonated with me, not just in terms of a startup idea, but with respect to one's passion.
As a CS teacher we get to shepherd kids through projects big and small. The best work invariably comes from when the kids take an idea they're passionate about and run with it. Sometimes I can guide the kids to an idea and it works out well but when the kids end up working on the stock project the results are less spectacular.
Once the kids buy into a great idea, the educator has to create a framework for success - give the kids the tools and set up the safety nets when things don't go as planned.
I've never liked all those student entrepreneurs programs – make a business for the sake of making a business - much better to help guide the kids towards something they're passionate about and help them run with it. That's when great things happen.
The neat thing is that it's not limited to classes. CSTUY is having its first hackathon in a few weeks; def hacks():. One of my juniors came to me with the idea - she got a couple more kids on board and we're off to the races. I've done some things behind the scenes to make sure we don't have any real problems but the awesome thing is that the event is all on the kids.
In a way, I'd imagine that Fred, as a VC, once he invests, his role is to help create the framework for success. I'd also imagine that the best way to do that is similar to what a great teacher does - bring out the best in the student, make them aware of pitfalls and be a supportive mentor.
On a deeper level, as teachers, we get to work with young people as they're developing their own passions. This was something else that I started thinking about after reading Fred's tweet storm, in particular tweet 9:
because I never want someone telling me they wasted five years of their life on something because I told them it was a good idea
Teachers are role models and the best teachers are passionate about their subject and their craft. One of the things I'm most proud of is the number of friends, former students, who have told me that I gave them a career, I introduced them to their passion. Sometimes, though, we miss. I've seen some kids come through my program and leave loving CS but it was, at least in part, an illusion. I work with a great team and sometimes loving classes can stand in for loving a subject.
I was talking to my daughter when she was a senior at Stuy and she commented that she was missing all the subjects she loved one day when she had to leave early. She included math. I said "since when do you love math?" She respond "I meant I love math class." That makes sense she had an amazing teacher.
So, at times, kids leave us for college and then they might discover that they don't love CS as much as they thought they did.
Now, I'm not overly concerned with our misses here since I think we do better than most in showing CS and Tech for what it is and we always leave the kids with a great set of mental and practical tools but every now and then I see a kid who is doing well in the tech industry and in my gut I feel that the world missed out on a great author, chemist, or doctor.
So, I've rambled on this long enough - just some food for thought from a teacher.Read more - comments
I'm a born and bred New Yorker and more and more I'm lamenting what the city's becoming.
New York used to be a collection of neighborhoods. Yes, we were the city that never slept, but there were scores of mom and pop stores, sole proprieterships. You could become a "regular." I'm reminded of Tom Shachman's book Around the Block which looks at the businesses around a single NYC block, mostly all gone now. If you can get your hands on the book. It's worth a read.
In any event, here's a story:
Yesterday. JonAlf and I were at the Apple store on Fifth avenue talking about CSTUY. We had four of our talented students presenting their work.
After the event, JonAlf had gone and one of our student presenters had left with his parents. I was left with our other three presenters.
I told them that I'd love to take them by this amazing chocolate shop a few blocks away and I had to explain why:
A number of years ago, after a morning in Central Park, Batya, Natan, and I were winding our way home. We ended up passing Myzel's Chocolates on the south side of 55th street between fifth and sixth avenue. That's when we met Kamila, the shop owner. We chatted for a while got some chocolate and went on our way. Kamila was amazingly warm and sincere and the chocolates really really good. I noted that we would have to return.
That didn't happen until months later but when it did, I was shocked that Kamila remembered us, what we were doing that day and we just picked up the conversation where we left off.
This pattern repeated over the years. We didn't get to that neighborhood and thus Myzel's often, but whenever we did, we had to stop by. Great candies from a truly special person.
Alas, my schedule has been such that I hadn't been back to Myzel's in years. I think three or four.
Now, I was with Nadia, Miranda, and Leslie - three of my incredibly talented students. They just did an awesome job presenting their work and I figured I could give them some thank you chocolate as well as visit one of my favorite places in the city.
I told them that Kamila probably wouldn't remember me but I recounted my story of Myzel's and how amazing Kamila and the store were. I got the feeling that they didn't believe me when I told them about Kamila and the store.
We got to Myzel's went in and started to place our order. When Kamila came out, her first word to me was "professor…" and we picked up where we left off. As usual, she was charming and sincere. We reminisced and chatted and then we were off.
In a city that's fast becoming cookie cutter we need more places like Myzel's and more people like Kamila.
Unfortunately rents are rapidly dispatching shops like Myzel's and people like Kamila are few and far between.
So, when you're around City Center or midtown in general, please treat yourself. You won't be disappointed.Read more - comments
When starting the spring semester, students are frequently a little rusty. They just had a high intensity month of study, tests, and projects. That was followed by a week of nothing.
I like to start with something lightweight that gets them coding again and ramps them up to speed.
In SoftDev I started with a brief overview of the HTML5 canvas and then gave them a small homework assignment to do something fun.
I also remind the kids to self assess where they are and how they've developed as a programmer.
I get a little tired of education "experts" espousing nonsense like you have to have each talk each day or that you need to assess each kid multiple times a period. That's nonsense. With 34 kids in a 40 minute class and 150 kids a day, that doesn't fly. Besides, so many concepts take time to develop, learn, and absorb.
Yes, you can get some instant and short term feedback but a lot more is revealed over time.
I'm attaching a small sampling of their homework assignments. It was basically a one day assignment to do something fun with the HTML5 canvas and indeed, it looks like they had fun.
I asked the kids to reflect on what they did now and what they could do a semester, two, and three semesters ago.
In the beginning they would have had no idea how to approach any of these. A year ago, they would be a major project. Now, they can knock these out as a homework assignment.
Once you take a step back to look at how much a student can grow in a year or so you have to marvel at the results.
At a place like Stuy, the kids frequently and unfairly judge themselves against super prodigies.
I'm hoping by looking back at what they could do then vs now they'll appreciate how awesome they are.
All sources at https://github.com/stuycs-softdev/submissions
Yesterday, I took part in a round table discussion on Ed Tech and Tech Ed, the latter being more, as they say, my wheelhouse. Afterwards a few of us were chatting and a friend observed that when she first started to talk to high school kids she was shocked that they really didn't know the local tech players - neither names nor companies.
A couple of years ago, another friend was helping me organize an event for high schoolers. He started to go down a list of well known tech names and was surprised when I told him that the kids wouldn't know them.
The first time I experienced this, it was just as big a surprised to me. I was setting up a big high school event at Foursquare (post here) and was shocked to learn that practically non of the attendees had heard of the company.
This would never have been the case in the 90s or even the early 2000s. What happened?
I have a theory.
I don't think it's just due to the fact that CS is a hot subject now. It was hot during the 90's bubble. I'm sure the fact that a wider range of kids are being exposed to CS is part of this phenomenon but I don't think it's the biggest reason.
I think CS kids back then knew more – more of the players, more of the tools, more about the systems because they had to. In some ways, and I know I'm vastly overstating things, it's "too easy" now.
Back in the day, if you wanted to put your thoughts on line you had to:
Now, you just go to blogger or tumblr.
Back then, if you wanted to communicate, you had to learn how to learn the dark art of irc, now you have Google chat.
Back then, you want to share photos, you had to learn how to make a gallery. Now, Facebook.
And of course the list goes on.
Even programming required that you know something about the filesystem and the basics of working in an operating system. Now between IDEs both local and cloud based, you can learn all about programming and never actually create a stand alone program that operates outside of the IDE sandbox.
Back in the day, if a kid was into CS they had to learn more than just the in class toolset and this in turn forced them to be in touch with the tech community both products and players.
I'm not saying the "good old days" were in fact that good and I love most of the progress we've made. Just noting the cultural difference.
It means we should pay more attention to educating our classes on tech culture, the good, the bad, and the ugly.Read more - comments
I just read Alfred Thompson's predictions for next year. I was going to leave a comment but since it would have gotten somewhat long winded, I thought I'd comment in a post of my own.
If you haven't read Alfred's post yet, check it out: http://blog.acthompson.net/2015/01/computer-science-education-predictions.html
Alfred's probably right but I'm leery. Sure, it could end up terrific but I could see a number of ways this could play out badly.
We could end up with non-cs classes to count as CS or we could see schools allowing real CS to count but there would be no incentive for a school to actually create any meaningful CS classes much less for kids to take them.
I guess the root of my concern probably relates two of my concerns about education in general:
Maybe I'm a pessimist or maybe I've just been burned one to many times or maybe it's that as a public school teacher I see the negative effect of politics and money on public education but at least in NYC I see where the decision making is coming from and I'm not encouraged.
On the other hand, even if I'm right and the powers that be really screw things up,there should always be at least a few people who see through they hype and that's where I can continue to do positive work.
It's been one of my go to languages for a while now. I've been using it in and out of classes since some time in the mid 90s.
I don't see it replacing Java in AP CS and it looks like Scratch has the inside track CS Principles but it's good for so many things and has such a low cost of entry, I again feel that Alfred's right.
The fact that it's easy for a non-cs teacher to pick up, at least to a limited degree, will certainly help the charge. I'm not sure if long term, this is a good thing, but it will help to push python's growth in education.
As a side note on Java – I'm not personally a fan, but there good things in there that would be lost with a total shift to languages like Python.
I do see a time where the course is forced on Stuy but I'm not worrying about it for the moment. I think we already teach a stronger course and by the time CS Principles becomes an issue at Stuy, I'll probably be gone.
I could see chromebooks working out for CS but only if schools don't lock them down. Out of the box, you can only use cloud based development environments. This is surely limiting but if you have the bandwidth, between codesters.com, koding.com, cloud9, Dr.Racket and assorted other tools you can certainly do some good CS.
The upside comes when you can drop into the Linux shell. I've been playing with a C720 Intel chromebook recently. It's small and lightweight and once I set it up, it was running Dr. Racket, NetLogo, Python, Java, Processing (all with a fairly hefty Emacs install).
Will it run everything? I don't know, but if I can get a new lab of computers and have the freedom to custom install the machines, I'm seriously considering chromebooks.
I'm also recommending them to my kids looking for a cheap portable development environment.
I've never been one for my own predictions - maybe because I'm more of a continuous journey rather than destination type of guy so I'll hold off on my own predictions for now, but I'll close with a direct shoutout – Hey Alfred - thanks for posting your predictions - good food for thought as is your blog in general.
Spent most of vacation relaxing. Finished off the remaining college recs, tried to catch up on sleep, and worked on a few project.
We've had an interesting December break dynamic in our household for the past few years. My son, Natan is very much into his music, both as a performer and a composer. A few years ago we discovered KlezKamp. It spoke to both Natan and Devorah. Batya, coming back from college wasn't so into it and I was somewhat indifferent.
The end result is that for most of the first half of the break, Batya and I were left on our own in the city while Natan and Devorah were up in the Catskills.
So, what did we do? In addition to playing tourist, we rebuilt the CSTUY web site (with a little help from her boyfriend Zach) - check it out: cstuy.org. I'm really happy with the result and now have a code base that I'm happy with and can maintain.
I can't describe how awesome it is to be able to collaborate on something real with ones daughter and I hope we can work on more projects in the future.
Of course, I had my Natan time when he and Devorah got home. We spent new years eve at the NYGASP production of HMS Pinafore. Natan loves opera and is something of a Savoyard and he's also a terrific singer. Something he must have inherited from my father, although he never met him.
So, we had our own project:
His is the good voice singing Dick Deadeye and I'm the not so good one doing Captain Corcoran. We recorded it A Capella and he added the midi after the fact. I think he had to change the key and I'm sure he had to mess with the tempo.
Some of you might have noticed that I worked on the tech project with Batya and the artsy one with Natan but don't worry - Natan's planning on majoring in Computer Science and Batya's the musical director and an alto in The Chai Notes up at Cornell.
So that was my break. Back to work in a couple of days.Read more - comments
|Tweets by @zamansky|
|Shell games - who confirmed attendence|
|Just another day at StuyCS|
|What's Expedient vs what's good - curriculum vs teachers|
|Believing in what you're doing|
|A chocolate treasure in a city losing its soul|
|Taking stock and tracking progress|
|Kids these days -- they don't know nuttin|