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December 2008

Twittering

CBS Morning Show was knocking twittering.  However, I find it really useful and I know some other people do too.

Right now, I have my blogs, Twitter, and Facebook tied together.  Within thirty minutes of finishing this blog post, the title and the first sentence will be on Twitter.  I love that -- as I think one good use for Twitter is letting people know you have posted on your blog.

The biggest thing I use Twitter for is to ask questions -- for example, I might be stuck on figuring out how something works -- I'll ask a quick question on twitter and within a few minutes/hours, I get an answer.  It might be a technical question, a diabetes management issue, or even a dog issue.  That's the power of twitter -- the quickest feed back you can get.

Yes, I will research the problem on the internet in the meantime, sometimes finding that answer faster, but not always.

It's also good for short communication -- a lot of times I twitter someone rather than emailing them.  Heck, I don't have email addresses on a lot of my twitter friends. 

If the conversation gets longer, and is worth a blog post, I'll do that, and then point to the blog post.  That's worked really well in the past and I am sure I'll do that again.

So far, Twitter has been very valuable.  It's helped me solved problems in the lab and it even helped me give a Twitte friend transportation on a tough day.  So yep, it's useful if you use it right.

Okay, I'll admit blow by blow twitts on a football game are annoying.  Especially college football.


Windows Home Server

I've been wanting one every since I played with the Beta Test.  However, the cost gets in the way. 

The good news/bad news is that I went over to my local Office Depot and they had the demo unit for sale at a really good price.  They had the box in storage along with the drive bays and the box looks really good.

It had never been fired up, so that part was good too.

I really like it.  I backed up all my computers, including the Gateway notebook last night, though I don't trust backups.  Have never really had a lot of luck restoring.

I am putting my important stuff on the server.  I find it easier to reinstall the OS, and then retrieve my important stuff from the server. 

I'm looking for Addins and how use it to make my life simpler.


Coding Horror

Coding Horror happens to be one of my favorite technical blogs. He says some stuff I really agree with.

Now we all know I left programming as a career, and now teach it. I know what he means by WTF programmers, worked with some.

Quoted from http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/:

Coding Horror

In a recent Joel on Software forum post Thinking of Leaving the Industry, one programmer wonders if software development is the right career choice in the face of broad economic uncertainty

Now, I don't know if now is the time to leave programming as a profession and go into education. I will tell you that most of the time it is a very stable profession. In sixteen years I've only seen the possibility of two layoffs and because of the way I went about certification, I'm pretty safe.

In those sixteen years, I've only had 2 bad bosses out of 6, and honestly as long as the parents don't complain, you don't have to worry about management. They don't understand what you are teaching and could care less as long as you keep enrollment.

While the pay sucks, there is some really cool things about the programming gig.  There are lots of opporuntunites to make extra money and increase your head count at the same time -- summer camps for one. I don't do a lot of them, but I have a friend who does. You pick the right audience (middle school group that feeds to your high school for example), you have it made in the shade.

You can work on your own software projects. Most school years, I get about 3 20 minutes windows do to my own code, also there are summers and breaks.

If you work at for a while and are good at it, you can write curriculum.  I started out reviewing textbooks for pay, got my master's and now write curriculum for the district.

The things I like about the teaching gig:

The lack of being on call. I always got maintenance gigs because I'm really good at looking at code and finding errors. 10 years of being at management's beck and call was about 6 years too many.

Reduction in crisis mood.  Yeah, occasionally you get the parent who harasses you (Dean took care of that for me), but I was in financial systems are we worked in crisis mode all the time.  I don't get off on that at all.  Or the whole school standarized tests scores suck but most of the time you can ignore people who are getting off being in crisis.

Being the one in control at all times.  It IS cool to be the smart person in the room.  Yeah, I get kids that are smarter than me and have more initate talent but at least once in the year I get to dig them out of a whole.  Taking a day or two off makes them appreciate you.  Also, there isn't anyone else in the building that understands your subject -- well the new Dean has at least taken a programming class or two, as she is certified in math but doesn't "grok" it.  She can tell I know what I'm doing, but acknowledges that is as far as it gets.  However, there aren't a lot of math people in adminstration.

Hanging out with teenagers.  Secret to teenagers:  "The biggest reinforcer for a teenager is pissing off an adult" -- my favorite saying as it true.  No matter how mad their behavior gets don't react.  If you do have to react, walk them down to the office, fill out the paper work there and then walk back.  If you don't do this often, the office will keep them, and you have time to cool off so teenager #2 doesn't piss you off.  The best thing to do is get coverage, but I rarely have to do that (coverage means getting another adult to watch the class).  I usually too mad for that.   Also, if you find yourself doing that three times in a day -- ask for a sub to cover the class, as there will be more....  and it's YOUR fault not theirs.  I've only had one day like that (in sixteen years), and leaving was the right thing to do.  And if you have to do that more than once a year, you're not cut out to be a teacher.

Teenagers say and do some really cool things.  The most intelligent conversations I have had, have been initiated by my students.  Some of them have even been about computers or programming.

You get an opportunity to find some good programmers at a really young age.  You have an opportunity to influence society at large about programming.  I have about 120 students in my classes any given year.  Less than 5 are going to major in computer science.  But let me tell you, those kids excell.  They know exactly what they are getting into.

About another 20 end up acing a programming class in college even though they are majoring in something else.  It gives them more self confidence in their other classes as their peers think they are smart. 

The rest at least know that a) software priracy is not a good thing b) programming is hard and worthy of respect.  That's more than the rest of the kids in the school know about it -- well that's not true, word of mouth gets around and they influence others.

We need GOOD programmers to come teach and those people need to be willing to put a long term committement in it.  It takes about 3 years to become a good teacher (a few months less if you come hang out with me -- only kidding).  It takes another three years if you are lucky to build a good program.

Getting your foot in the door helps if you can do hardware and/or can train adults.  It also helps if you can teach a hard to place subject, either math or one of the sciences. Also, don't go through alternative certification, find a good teaching school and get an "real" certification.  I fought that tooth and nail, and I was luckly I had to do the certification the hard way.

AND if you think it might be right for you -- go volunteer at your local school  They can always use math help and there isn't a programmer than can't do at least Algebra I.

 


Gateway M275 Nightmare continued ...

The response I got from Gateway technical support:

Thank you for contacting Gateway. I see that you would like to obtain a copy of your system restore disk. Please be advised that while MPC has filed for Chapter 11 protection so that they may reorganize, they are still obligated to provide support for the products they sold and acquired as part of their purchase of the Gateway Professional Business. Your warranty and support is still from MPC. You will need to contact MPC for support. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this may cause.

Gee, I told them I contacted MPC... in the original question.

It's like the mortgage people who sell your mortgage only that time I got a nice note in the mail.  I had no idea this time though.  Lesson learned -- make a backup copy of the System Restore. 


Gateway M275 Nightmares

I got the bright idea of wiping the hard drive on my Gateway M275 Convertible Notebook.  Halfway into the install, it failed.  Seems my CD-Rom is idelibily scratched.  Went out to the Gateway site to order a new one, and they sent me to a MPCCorp website.  Who filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Come to find out, today is their last day of operation and they haven't been able to send out any new System Recovery Disks.

However, I have an MSDN Accademic Alliance subscription, and downloaded a version of the XP Tablet software.  However, it wants a CD I don't have and don't see on the MSDN site, which I think is essential to networking.

After another internet search today, I saw where someone else had loaded Vista on theirs and it worked, so I tried that.  Sure enough, not only does Vista work but it works well.

Right now, I'm playing music off the Zune marketplace which I couldn't do before the Vista install.

Oh, and the point?  I want a portable game development machine.  I've already used this computer to develop XBox360 games, but doing so with the Zune would make it even more portable.

I do have a lead on a getting the original System Restore disk, in case anyone is interested, but I think the Vista route is the best.

Thanks as always to the Microsoft Cruise ship gang, especially AlfredTwo and Crutkas (my Microsoft Twitter gods).

UPDATE: If you have a Gateway Notebook and need the recovery software, contact me.  I think I can help, and don't think it is a problem since neither company will take responsibility and it won't work without the code on the computer.

VISTA IS a good option.  Right now, my Zune is working well,and the Zune software won't load at all running Windows XP.


Bad Teacher Effects

The worst thing about a bad teacher is how it effects enrollment.  My program is still suffering.  Before bad teacher, I had enough PreAP students to teach them two class period, enough AP students to teach them one class period, and enough CS I to fill up and turn away the other three class periods. 

I finished his last year with only 3 class periods of CS, and they were not even full.  It's taking a lot of time and a lot of flexibility, but I still only have 3/4 of the students I had before he arrived.  The good news for the school is that it does free me up to be campus tech.

I will have to admit that total enrollment is down, but we did not lose the type of student who typically enrolls in my classes. 

The best news is that enrollment is slowly growing.


How dog obedience got me into teaching...

By the way, can you tell I'm avoiding some work (grading and Alice).

But on Twitter tonight, I mentioned to someone that I got into teaching high school because of dog obedience.  And yes, that's true.

I had been working in computer science (mostly financial system) for over 10 years when I realized that I had more unsatisfying job experiences than satisfying and the current was the living end.  I didn't care for my boss and it got worse the longer I worked for her.  Didn't care for my job assignment nor thought much of the company I was working for.  I was genuinally unhappy with my life and I knew something had to change.  I realized that I had been working since I was a young teenager and wanted some time off, so I walked out of my job when they decided to put me on call.  That was NOT part of the job description.

So I decided to hang out and see what I really wanted to do with my life, but I did need some money to show my dogs with, and some money to support them. I had appreciated with a dog obedience instructor before quitting computer science and was pretty well respected as a dog trainer.  One of my dog friends was giving up her dog obedience gig at a local community college and she suggested I replace her.

I did and ended up doing very well at it.  All my classes filled and the community college asked me to teach more classes.  It didn't pay enough to live off of, but it was enough to pay for the dog shows.  I also got some private training jobs.  Plus, the same friend that gave me the training get, hired me to bath dogs.

I soon found out I wasn't suited for either dog obedience or dog grooming as a full time position.  I'm a bit too smart for that.  However, as I was experimenting and figuring out what to do, I had some teachers taking my class.  I asked them about teaching high school computer science and they were VERY encouraging and pointed me to Texas Woman's University.

At the same time, I was thinking about nursing and occupational therapy -- nursing is something that I almost wanted to do all my life.  I did like the idea of the hours.  I was also exploring occupational therapy as I had been volunteering at Baylor Rehab as a pet therapy dog handler.  The occupational therapists there really involved us in the training.

But when push came to shove, it looked like teaching was the most cost effective of the three occupations.  In fact, a lot of people suggested that I go the emergency certification route and I even had a school that wanted me, but Dallas has done one of their stupid tricks and had hired too many teachers at the time they are processing me, so they couldn't justify the emergency certification to the state.

I'm glad that didn't work out, as the teaching certification was really the right route for me.  It has given me a much better teacher experience and having formal training has helped, especially when it comes to teaching math. 

And yes, teaching dog obedience helped my classroom management skills and prepared me for Dallas ISD, as having 20 students means that you have 20+ thing to watch.  Because you have your demo dogs, dog and handler pair, and often an extra family member.

And yes, I've had more than 40 students in a math classroom before, with no computers to entertain us.  That's a different story.


eduwonkette: Survivor: The TFA Edition, II

Teach for America drives me nuts.  The teaching profession is NOT the Peace Corps! We need people to stay longer than a 2 year commitment.  The below reading seems to share my opinion. (And don't get me started on the ex-military that was teaching for a time, want to talk about bad classroom management...)

And I'm the anthesis of the studies, as I started out teaching 4 preps, and have never taught less than that.  However, I was and am "highly quafilied" when it comes to the subjects I teach, since I am certified in both computer science and math.  Most of the years I have taught, I have taught both math and CS.  I'd also like to see the CS breakdown and how many stay.  They lumped CS with science.

All of these articles concerning TFA are interesting.

Quoted from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/eduwonkette/2008/12/survival_the_tfa_edition_ii.html:

eduwonkette: Survivor: The TFA Edition, II

One thing seems clear, however. If we want novice teachers to stay in their initial schools and to stay in teaching, they need adequate support as they learn their craft in the first years of teaching. Asking teachers to teach multiple grades, multiple subjects and/or subjects out of their college major fields is a peculiar way of supporting them.

My "Favorite" Bad Teacher

My favorite bad teacher actually tried to take my job...

He started out trying to teach math in middle school.  It takes real talent to deal with those kids, and a level of patience I don't have.  I know, I did part of my student teaching at a middle school -- oddly that was the segment I made an "A" on.  I didn't do as well in High School CS, but that's a long story.

They brought him over to our school and he didn't do much better.  They gave him my favorite group of kids, regular CS I, in an effort to relieve me of the number of preps.  His classroom management style was intimidation.  It was an interesting technique which didn't work very well.  He would pick on an a white kid with ADD (not hard to find in our school, somedays I think all the white kids have ADD) and ride them hard.  None of the other kids were bright enough to figure out that he couldn't pick on the minorities that way.  He also didn't treat girls very well which was extremely aggravated to me.

He also didn't have any adult social skills, so I'm not real surprised that his social skills with students were not very well developed either.

Speaking of which, that is what surprises me the most as when I was in school I was far from being the popular kid, though I am perceived by both parents and students as being one of the popular teachers.  Strange.

Anyway, he was applying to the district to work in the IT department and so finally left the district.  In the middle of the year, which tells you again that he wasn't the right kind of person to teach.  I think committment to stay for the full year is important.


No Teacher Better than a Bad Teacher?

Yes, I believe so.  I've seen lots of good teachers and lots of bad teachers come and go in my sixteen years of teaching.

All the research shows that fully qualified teachers do a better job that those who aren't, one of the reasons that NCLB requires that, and one of the reasons that Texas makes us jump through hoops.

Unfortunately too many people in industry think they can teach and don't think they need teacher training.  Yes, I was one of those, and still don't regret a moment I spent doing teacher certification courses.   I've met a few in the classroom who I honestly believe sitting through and listening to some classroom management classes would help, but unfortunately they know too much and won't listen.

Actually I think that's a problem with a lot of people, not just CS and not just teachers.

I've seen a lot of bad teachers, some of whom I don't think have any of the necessary skills:

a) The ability to manage a classroom.

b) The ability to write a readible, maintenable program.

c) The ability to get what is in their head into words that a high school student can understand.

I think that not having these skills is really detrimental to the student.

I've had students who didn't want to be in my class, and I've had to pull out every classroom management skill I have, and then some.  A few of them have gone on to be good programmers and major in it in college.  I think that they would not have succeeded with teacher who had lesser skills or did not care.

I will brag -- even my students who don't care for programming at the end of the year, recognize that I am passionate about the field, and I think they do benefit from the class, if nothing else they recognize CS BS when they see it.

I really believe that if we want to see successful CS programs we need to develop teachers.  I also think we don't need people who think of teaching as a stopgap or last resource of a poor economy.  I also don't think it should treated as a Peace Corps opportunity as it usually takes more than 3 years to turn a degreed, newly certified teacher into a competent teacher.  Myself included.  Unfortunately classroom management skills are learned.