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C'est la Z

Year in Review - the classes

Now that the semester's over I've had a chance to reflect a bit on my teaching over the past year.

This year I taught two classes each semester so the load was a little higher. First semester was one class of our CS0 and one of the lab/enrichment component that goes with CS1. Nothing big to report there as I've done them both before.

The biggest difference was that I had to deal with two separate classes even though they're one cohort. I can't say I did a particularly good job with that - something to keep working on next year.

In the second semester the CS0 became the CS1 lab/enrichment and that went pretty well overall. I was unhappy with some of the scheduling. The students work on labs in class for a number of sessions and due to circumstances beyond my control I had to finish out the class with a number of consecutive lab classes whereas I would have much rather spread those out with the enrichment lessons. Not happy about it but there wasn't much I could do.

The other class was data structures. This was the first time I was teaching it at Hunter, first time in C++ in well over a decade and first time in around five years. I think the class went alright but there was a lot of room for improvement. For one thing, C++ is not Java. In Java things are pretty restricted - there's pretty much one way to deal with linked list and dynamic structures. C++ is a little more complex. Do you do structs or classes? When do you introduce smart pointers (if at all)? Separate compilation and if so when? What about templates/generics - they're much more cumbersome and complex in C++. Also, don't get me started on exceptions. Lots of decisions to be made and once you make them it's hard to change directions.

I decided to go with all classes, separate compilation, did templates/generics early but then constrained our data structures to a fixed type. Did regular pointers and then smart pointers a ways in.

Because of all of the changes, I also missed the chance to use a number of my class motivations and tricks that I've used in the past. I should be able to mix those in next time around. Things like building a linked list or studetns in class prior to studying them or playing out a mergesort with a deck of cards.

Another thing I had to deal with that was new was the range of student backgrounds. I have a number of students in my program from NYCS's specialized schools and Stuy in particular. No surprise but the Stuy students have much more experience than the rest both in terms of time they've spent programming and in terms of what they've studied. All of the Stuy students had done most if not all of the data structures in Java and most had taken 3 years of CS and have completed many major projects. There were other students who did APCS-A plus another year but not the data structures and finally those who had just done APCS-A. They're all great kids and more experience doesn't equate to more ability but there's a big difference in terms of what you can do and how quickly you can do it after a year of APCS-A and a course or three beyond it.

That was a tricky juggling and balancing act adn I think I'll handle it better next year.

I didn't get to cover quite as much as I wanted in the Data Structures class and I certainly didn't cover it as well as I would have liked but I don't think I did a bad job. I've been in this racket long enough to know the ebbs and flows.

Overall I was happy with the year teaching wise but see a lot of places where I want to do better and do more.

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