Peanut Butter Not Included – Adapting CS50X for the High School Classroom

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the CS50 AP Bootcamp sponsored by Microsoft. I’m so excited to bring this incredible curriculum into my classroom. I couldn’t wait to introduce my students to all the fun, so I let an activity from CS50 inspire my first lesson.

After the obligatory syllabus and classroom procedures administrivia, I decided to kick off my intro level Coding course with an activity to demonstrate how a computer “thinks”. I wanted to do the peanut butter and jelly demo they use in CS50, but I was worried about time constraints, bringing food into the computer labs, and finding time to run to the grocery store during my last weekend of summer. With these concerns in mind, I decided to adapt the lesson so it better suited my classroom.

  1. We began with a discussion of the topic: Who is smarter – a human or a computer? After a brief conversation, we agreed that a computer may be better at certain tasks, but that it would only know how to do what someone tells it to do.
  2. Here’s where the pb&j demo would go. Instead I asked a student to hang a piece of paper on the back wall. The student found the supplies (a roll of tape and stack of paper I set out on a desk at the front of the room before class) and proceeded to follow-through with the request. Then I played the part of a computer and had the students instruct me to do the same thing. I was worried that this tamed-down version would lose some of the fun from the CS50 original, but honestly, it worked out great. I think the secret is in how you sell it. I tried to take every instruction as literally as possible. When they said, “Turn right,” I spun in circles on the spot. When they instructed me to walk forward, I plowed right into a desk that was in my path. They thought it was hilarious and, by the end, they had determined that a lot more thought went into a simple process than what they had originally assumed.
  3. After the demo, we had a chat about computers, computational thinking, and algorithms.
  4. To reinforce the activity, I paired up the students and asked them to turn their chairs so they were seated back-to-back. Each pair assigned one person to be the computer and the other person was the programmer. The programmer was given a random design and her task was to try to get the computer to replicate the design. The computer couldn’t see the design (of course) and couldn’t communicate to the programmer through questions or responses. It was fun watching them try to communicate with precision. (It was even more entertaining listening to the “computers” grumble while they tried to decipher their tasks. I wonder if my computer has ever felt that way while I’m working on a program!) When the programmer finished her instructions, the computers revealed the (usually laughable) output. I spent a few minutes with each pair discussing how they could have improved their program. (I.e. Why do you think the computer drew the circles in a row instead of each one inside the previous one? How could you fix that bug?)
  5. For homework, I asked each student to email me a program that would teach a robot how to move in a square. This was a great informal assessment tool to check in with each individual. It also allowed me the opportunity to challenge the students who already “got it” by asking them to find a way to simplify their programs.

These activities really set the tone that I was hoping for with the course. It was interactive, collaborative, and fun – a fantastic start to the semester! The ideas for this combination of activities came from the following sources:

Check them all out!

And for your enjoyment, here is a sample output from one of my students and the design she was trying to replicate.  Nailed it, right?  I’m posting this with her permission (she’s quite proud!).

And our "computer's" output.

Our “computer’s” output.

Here's the assigned design.

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Classroom Observations – Gasp!

Wednesday was the day of Freshman Induction.  As the freshman class moderator, I’m one of the leads in charge of organizing the students for the ceremony.  So my day on Wednesday was filled with assigning my assisting coworkers responsibilities for the practice and the ceremony, organizing last-minute details and assisting with the preparations in the gym.  The free block period on Wednesday was reserved for our rehearsal.  The freshman class was so great during the rehearsal and my coworkers were willing to pitch in so all went smoothly, which of course scared me for what was to come that night.  Turned out there was nothing to fear, and although it was a long day for me, everything went off without a hitch.  Including the induction ceremony and dinner that followed, I’m logging 11 hours for the day.

Thursday was my chance to breathe again now that Induction was behind me.  So of course my assistant principal showed up to observe one of my classes.  

It was my first observation of the year and my first one ever with the assistant principal.  She asked if she could observe (and can you really say no?) and I explained that she was welcome to do so, but that we were having a “bit of everything class” that day.  

And when I say “bit of everything,” that’s exactly what I mean.  It was one of my sophomore scriptures classes and not my most objective-driven lesson.  You know this classes when there’s just a lot of loose ends to tie up? I knew that the tasks we had scheduled were important and needed to get done, but I was definitely nervous about being observed on this particular day.  Still…we pushed forward.

The girls had designed prayer cards for their bibles earlier in the week.  I returned the graded cards and passed out clear contact paper so we could laminate the cards.  The girls and I spent about 10 minutes helping each other to cover the cards.  After the cards were preserved, I passed out a new assignment that the girls will be working on throughout the school year.  I explained the assignment and took questions.  Once we had the assignment marked in our planners, the girls played an online review game of books in the Old Testament.  We’ve been playing the game periodically for the past month and the girls try to improve their scores from week to week.  By the time we finished the game, there was about 5 minutes left in class.  It had absolutely nothing to do with Scriptures, but I had planned on showing this video to the girls if there was time.  I figured “why not?” and went ahead and showed it even though I was being observed.  I like the message (especially at an all girls’ school) and we spent the last few minutes of class laughing and conversing.  It felt like a risk to show something unrelated to the subject material, but it was true to me as a teacher so I was prepared to defend it if necessary.

My observation evaluation was waiting in my inbox immediately following class.  It was a glowing eval.  The assistant principal recognized the organization of the class that we were able to move seamlessly from one task to another.  She remarked that the atmosphere was relaxed yet productive and that, although the class was a “hodge-podge of activity,” there was clear indication of a cohesive and controlled learning environment.  She even liked the video.  

Whew! I was thoroughly worried about how this particular class would be received by and outside observer, but it was such a validation in the end.  It’s nice to hear feedback that you’re on the right track…even when you feel like you’re completely off the map!

I spent about an hour and half making hotel reservations and ordering decoder glasses for yearbook (yep, you read that correctly).  A total of 9.5 hours on Thursday.

Friday we had the day off school and, though I had big plans for the day, I didn’t do a darn thing for school! It was great!  I had a 9 hour shift with the other job today, so I guess the schoolwork will just have to wait until tomorrow!

The Sum of Three Days

Sorry for the long delay between posts.  Here’s a summary:

Friday was mid-quarter.  Yikes!  Where did the time go?  Usually mid-quarter finds me frantically updating grades online and feeling guilty when I receive the friendly reminder from my principal that this task is an expectation for the job.  This year I felt (surprisingly) guilt-free.  I’m going to credit all the hours I spent organizing the room back in August for this one.  My new grading system is efficient.  Students turn work in to their class tray.  I clear the tray at the end of the day. and move it to the grading file on my desk.  Once it’s graded it is stored in the “to be returned” hanging file holder.  I’ve also been using the participation logs to indicate when a student turns in a digital assignment (dropbox, email, shared folder, etc).  These practices have made me much more aware of students with missing grades which is a huge relief at mid-quarter.

I had a closing shift at my other job on Friday, so my total hours for the log were just the regular school day, 8.5.

Sunday I spent 1.5 hours prepping lessons for the upcoming week.

Monday evening marked the first meeting with my retreat team for the senior class retreat in January.  Several teachers meet with the two student teams for four months leading up to the actual retreats.  In total we will meet for Formation Meetings six times, have one workday and one run-through of the retreat.  It is a huge commitment from the students and for me as one of the adult leaders.  I love these meetings, but they are exhausting.  School day, an extra hour prepping and grading, and the meeting meant an 11 hour day for me on Monday.

Tuesday was my crazy block day.  Crazy. I teach all four block periods with only an hour free for lunch and “activity”.  Yesterday, the yearbook staff had their virtual artist session during this period.  The girls brought their lunches to my room and we had a conference call with a designer who showed us some ideas for our cover.  Pretty cool technology and the girls loved every minute of it, but it meant I was racing yesterday from one class to another from 7-3 without any real break.  Which left me totally burnt out and unwilling to bring any additional work home with me that night.  8 hours for that day, but it felt like 80.

So from Friday through Tuesday I’m logging 29 hours.

It’s going to be a long day today because I’m the freshman class moderator and we have their induction ceremony tonight.  More on that in another post!

Lessons Learned from My Retail Gig

The past two days have been a blur of prepping lessons, grading assignments, emailing parents, arranging details for an upcoming field trip and budgeting yearbook.  Oh yeah, I’ve done some teaching as well.

With so much going on, I consider my greatest accomplishment to be my ability to stay present with my classes.  Each time the bell rings, I force myself to put away my current task and switch gears to welcome a new class.  It can be frustrating at times because I’m rarely finished with a task before I’m forced to shift my focus to something else.  It feel like there are way too many loose ends.

This is one way that my part-time job as SuperSalesGal has actually helped me as a teacher.  Working 15-20 hours at another job forces me to get comfortable with the unfinished.  I’ve had to learn to ask myself, “Is there any point in bringing your lesson plan book home tonight?” Or, “Grading tonight. The prepping will need to wait until tomorrow.”  I’ve learned a lot about priorities now that my time is divided between two jobs.

I also feel like the retail job can help to keep me sane when teaching has me jumping from one unfinished task to another. My coworkers think I’m crazy, but I love finding little projects and tasks to be done around the store.  Tonight I spent the better part of a 4.5 hour shift organizing a makeup drawer.  I cleaned, labeled and sorted.  And I didn’t stop until I was finished.  There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a task that I don’t think teachers always get to experience.  As SuperSalesGal, I see visible results of my efforts – a clean drawer, an organized shelf, products with the correct pricetags.  With teaching, the outcomes are more gradual and not always obvious.

Between yesterday and today, I put in 18 hours.

 

Review Games Bring Fun and Relevance

I’ve mentioned before that we are on a modified block schedule. Today was our four period block day – my busiest schedule all week.

My sophomore classes were on Day 2 of a two period lecture.  Finishing up the topic today only took about 30 minutes.  And I had expected it to take 50.  Le sigh.

So I got them started on the second activity of the day – they are creating brochures that address the main objectives of the unit.  I allowed them the option of working with a partner for this assignment and many of them chose to do so. I knew that allowing too much time for partner work could have disastrous results, so while they worked I turned to my trust lesson plan book for something I could shift around to fill the last 20 minutes of class.

The problem was that we are getting to the end of the unit and none of the few remaining activities would be a smooth transition for today.  

So I jumped on the internet and did a quick search on one of my favorite sites, Sporcle.  If you are unfamiliar with the site, don’t check it out until you have some time to get distracted.  This website is filled with trivia games galore.  Two small disclaimers:

1. Some of the games may contain material that is not 100% “classroom friendly” – especially if you have elementary or middle school students.

2. You should play the game first before sharing it with the class to make sure that the information is accurate.  Some of the games have been denoted “Sporcle verified,” but many are not.

My sophomores take Scriptures.  Currently we are studying the Old Testament, so I found a game that asked the students to name (and correctly spell!) as many of the Old Testament books as possible in a specific timeframe.  I posted a link to the game on my website and each student played on her own laptop.  As they finished, I recorded each girl’s score on my weekly participation log.  We will play again over the course of our study and see if each student can improve their own personal best.

After each student was warmed up and had played once individually, we played once more as a class.  I called this Sporcle Sparkle.  You know the Sparkle game – the teacher gives a word and the students have to spell out the word one letter at a time. If a student misses their letter, they sit down and the play proceeds to the next player.  So for today’s version, we went around the class and each student had to name a book in the Old Testament.  If they could name one, they remained standing.  If not, they were out.  

This activity was easy and quick.  It took about 20 minutes to complete, which made it the perfect time-filler.  The girls really had fun quizzing themselves and comparing their scores with their friends.  And best of all, it was relevant to the lesson.

After school, I spent an hour working with a new web-based program I’m really excited about.  I’ll blog more about it once I’ve tried it out in class.  Then I changed into my SuperSalesGal uniform and headed off to job #2.  So in total, I spent 9 hours on school stuff.

August Wrap-up and Welcome September

The Friday after Back to School Night was a shortened day.  We had a late start to compensate for the extra hours from the night before. I had to work most of the weekend and even found a few moments for some downtime away from school “stuff”. So adding in seven hours from Friday brought the August total to…

178 hours

So after a long weekend away, September has come rushing in. I can’t believe it. We are truly in full-swing now. At my school, this means committees. Today I spent my planning period (and half of lunch) in a meeting with some members of our administration. Tomorrow I don’t have a planning period at all (due to the block day). Thursday, I’ll spend it meeting with the other adult leaders of the senior retreat. And Friday I’m supposed to meet with a rep from a yearbook publisher.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So…planning period…what’s that again?

Today’s total = 10 hours.

Lose the Remote. Actively Engage Your Students.

Confession: I lost the remote. Not the DVD remote – that would be too awful for words. The smartboard projector remote. The one with the magic button that allows me to freeze the screen. How I miss that remote.

On my most productive days, I would freeze the screen when I was projecting instructions for an assignment. Then while my students worked, I could catch up on emails, prep the next part of the lesson or even update grades.

But my remote has disappeared and taken my freedom along with it. (Perhaps, I'm exaggerating slightly here.) As a result, student work time was a new experience for me today.

My frosh were working on an assignment in their interactive student notebooks after we finished our lecture notes for the day. I had an example of the assignment projected on the smartboard. I knew I couldn't remove the example and, since I had no way of freezing the screen, I couldn't work on my laptop while they worked.

So instead, I walked around the room and checked in with my classes while they worked. This is something I do all the time of course, but usually it's just a quick spin around the room to make sure everyone is on task and not Twitter. Today was different for me. Today I took my time and really tried to engage my students instead of just rushing through. I complimented artistic talent. I received invitations to several upcoming sports games. I even traded book recommendations with a couple students. This may sound like we were off-topic but actually the time was quite productive. We only had about 15 minutes to spend on this assignment and at the end of that time, several volunteers shared their complete assignments with the class.

And it turned out I didn't really miss that remote as much as I thought. (I do need to find it though. Where could I have put it?)

When not teaching today, I spent most of my time creating a PowerPoint for my sophomore class. The material in the book is important, but so dry. I've been using really interactive powerpoints to try to add a little something to the material. So far, so good. Believe it or not, the PowerPoint took me about three hours to create, bringing my day's total to 11 hours.