I meant to write down some thoughts and reflections on the beginning of school at least a week or two ago, but I forgot about what a whirlwind the start of the year is. Between teaching a new subject, creating an honors course, all of the tiny logistics pieces that pop up, and trying to finish CS50 myself, I feel like I haven’t been able to come up for air yet. That being said, I really want to record some of my observations and ideas based on the experience I’ve had using CS50’s curriculum so far.
Areas of Growth:
- Direct Instruction: Throughout the second week, I could feel that I was talking too much. My goal this year is to place more of the mathematical authority on the students and to make class time entirely interactive. Inevitably, some items will require that I speak to the class as a whole; however, I think I can work to make most of the class a combination of collaborative problem solving and student-led discussion.
- Supporting All Skill Levels: Some of my students had me last year when we did a bioinformatics project and have some programming background. Other students have very little experience with computers outside of Google Drive. Our preliminary work with Scratch has laid bare this gap in my students’ ability. Experienced students quickly get frustrated with the drag-and-drop programming while not-yet-experienced students feel lost in the logic. As we get further into programming, I need to strategically partner/group students to support and challenge all skill levels.
- Culture Building: We spent the first week on culture building. This process involved determining how we can create the best classroom environment together and the purpose of math and computer science education. Student feedback revealed that most of my students are feeling both nervous and excited to tackle this CS curriculum. Consequently, I don’t think student buy-in will be an issue as there is a palpable energy each time these students attempt a new problem.
- Collaborative Problem Solving: Since I regretted having spent so much time on direct instruction, I forced myself to do something more interactive for my binary/ASCII lesson. I started it off by explaining how the decimal system works and then left it up to the students to figure out and describe how the binary system works. Both of my classes were really frustrated at first. “Why don’t you just tell us?” several of them asked. Ultimately though, as groups shouted in excitement after discovering how binary works, their frustration morphed into triumph. We also started on the first problem set using Scratch this week. I am not the biggest fan of Scratch but definitely see its utility for new programmers. What I’ve noticed works for me and my students though is collaborating to solve a problem — whatever that problem may be. Therefore, I want to focus my class around the CS problem sets, and I can’t wait to work on them with my students.
- Student Constructed Algorithms: After doing a “how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich” algorithm as a class, I had students group together to write algorithms for an activity of their choice. Another teacher happened to pop by and film one of the algorithms (applying makeup). Be sure to watch all the way to the end for a student explanation of what’s happening.
Thus far, I haven’t always felt confident in what I’m doing. Some days are fantastic, others kick my confidence down a notch or two (or three…). Some days, in fact, are a weird combination of both, and I can never figure out why. The frustration and confusion that comes from a lesson going really well with one group and horribly with another evades me. Ultimately, the resources and support provided by both Harvard and Microsoft have been extremely helpful. Between Harvard, Microsoft, and the amazing team of math teachers at my school, I don’t feel like I’m in this alone. That may not seem like a big statement but it’s the first time in my teaching career that it feels really true. I get great inspiration and problem sets from CS50 and can run any pedagogical questions I have by my math colleagues. By working with all of these incredible resources and teams, I’m confident that my students and I have set a solid foundation with which to tackle the rest of the course.