Back to Work

On going back to work today

Since school was still out due to Sandy, we ran a second online class yesterday. At the end of the session, which I'll summarize below, I told the class what I wanted them to accomplish today and over the weekend. One student queried "you mean no class on Friday :-(?" Alas no -- while students aren't reporting to school this morning, teachers are.

Of course the logic as to why is far from sound. Some schools are fine, some not, in our case, there's no subway service south of 34th street or coming in from Brooklyn and we're located near the tip of Manhattan.

What are we going to do? Who knows. We don't have lessons to plan and while Stuy has power, phones and internet are out. Professional development? Even when planned extensively, I've found it to be mostly useless (I always have to sit through math PD, for example, learning how to use a graphing calculator).

So, we're going to report in for no real purpose. Best I can figure, the city wants teachers in so they can call it a professional development day then they can try to change things so that students will report during Brooklyn Queens day next semester thus restoring one instructional day lost this week. Not a bad idea to recapture the day but to make teachers - coming from all over the area - trudge in for no purpose just to play politics is distasteful but unfortunately typical.

To add to the insult, not only are us teachers still in the dark as to what's going on, we weren't even told when to report until after midnight yesterday. I woke up at my usual 5:00am to exercise but first checked my email -- waiting was an email from Chancellor Dennis Walcot. I recieved it at 12:52 this morning. This was when I was first told that I was to report to school at 10:00am. I can't believe this decision couldn't have been made and emailed out a few hours earlier. In any event, I'm waiting until 10:00 to get in - I've often found the building locked when I've shown up before official opening hours.

So now for the part of my job that I actually enjoy:

How did yesterday's online class go?

Today's class was a wrapup of a mini project -- basically an add-a-line story site. You can see an unfinished version that two of the students put together here. You can see more of the stuff we are using on our class github page. The students are using Flask which is a python website generator along with MongoDB. We had to tie up some loose ends.

We again broadcast a Google+ hangout live through YouTube and we again used a google doc as a chat space. This time we used the right hand side bar for comments and only used the document for more permanent material (a web refernce for example). It worked much better. The vertical flow of comments on the sidebar were much easier to track and work with than a freeform document.

The session still had the time delay problem and the feedback loop is still a killer but the students again seemed to enjoy the experience. This is clearly not a replacement for in person teaching, but again, better than nothing on a day off.

And a note on the Stuy CS Culture

The seniors were game for this experiment and would be happy to go again today if we were able to. They also continually surprise me in little ways. When we started this mini project, we all had to learn how to use MongoDB (myself included). At first I had a hard time confirming that they had done the outside work to learn the MongoDB specifics. Only as they continually gave me better alternatives to my approaches did I know that they were on top of things.

On the other hand, my sophomores were much less receptive to an online class during the hurricane days. A handful wanted to give it a go, but the majority never responded to my email. Why was that?

I have a few thoughts.

  • A big reason is that I've only been with my sophomores for a short time. We haven't yet built the rapport and culture that exists in my senior classes. I always notice a difference in class attitude around Halloween but we really don't have the feeling of family until late November or some time in December.
  • The sophomores are in a required course, the seniors an elective. I think this is secondary to the culture / rapport but I'm sure it has an effect.
  • I believe the seniors have a better understanding that what we're doing in class is to their benefit and the sophomores are still

I'm going to have to pay more attention to the time line from when students come into my class and when they become part of "the family."

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