Month: July 2013

An Email to a New ICT Teacher aka My “Letter to a Young Poet”

Recently a first year ICT teacher contacted me about the class he is about to teach, looking to learn as much as he can before starting that course.   Like many CTE teachers, he has a wealth of experience in industry, but not in being a teacher.  Here is an excerpt of the email I sent him with my advice, which I hope is both valuable to him, and valuable to other first year teachers (and maybe even veteran teachers).  I hope to further expand upon the concept of “Agile Education” in the future, as it seems to be an idea whose time has come:

The following advice I’m going to give you is only my personal advice, and is not the advice you would normally receive from most people in education, and is contrary to what you will likely be told be others, so beware following it. 🙂

The first year of teaching will have so many unknowns to it, that I think you should design your curriculum to be as flexible as possible.  For instance, keep your syllabus being basically your course description, and don’t try to detail every day of it.   Don’t try and write lesson plans for the whole course.  At least not yet.   The reason I say this, is that it is inevitable that some of the assumptions you are going to make right now about how the students will learn, will be completely wrong, and if you detail everything up-front, you will either need to stick with the detailed plan that will fail, or change it on the kids, which while changing things is quite valid, it is often confusing for the kids and their parents, and unfortunately while it should logically increase the validity of your as teaching, changing things from what we originally said may make you look less reputable.   But this doesn’t mean I’m advocating doing no planning or prepping.   But think of your course more as agile development than “waterfall”, and develop it in weekly chunks.

With this development process in mind, the first week should be about getting to know your students.  Some of the critical things to learn about them is:

  • What background do they have academically? (how are they in math, logic, communication, etc.?)
  • What are their current interests?
  • What do they see as their future after high school?

Use both “quantitative” and “qualitative” data to make this judgement.  For instance, if you can get a hold of their transcripts, to see their past classes, that is a good starting point to know their background, but don’t rely on it alone, a good or bad grade in a previous class often has as much to do with the teacher than the student. So talk with your students, have them type up their answers in a word processing program, and pay as much attention to how they use that program (typing speed, style, software knowledge, and willingness to try things) as to what they say.

Also, be careful to not have this process of evaluation become one where you judge their chances of success. Your job is to help each one to become a success, and while it will be easier and more difficult in different cases, and while realistically you won’t always reach the level of success of teaching you may want with each student, your goal is still for success.  So in other words, gathering this data should not be for “filtration” purposes.

Also, remember the answers to these initial questions for each student won’t necessarily be the same after they are done with your course.  Very often students will only have a vague idea of what their future after high school will be, and it is that one teacher in their life that inspired them to go on to do great things.

But, the answers you find from this first week will be invaluable to your curriculum, as it can give you ideas for projects you will do with the whole class, or for projects that the students will do individually or in groups.  It will also help you structure your curriculum.  And it will help you later with how you create groups for group projects, as I recommend you try to balance groups.   Your skills in management will be extremely valuable to you with all of this.

Then after your first week, decide what to do your second week.  And when you do it the first day of the second week, and you find “bugs” in your methods of teaching, then fix them, even if that means basically repeating a day, but don’t repeat it the same way, as obviously if one method didn’t work, you will need to try another.

And be honest with your students about this process.  You may even want to explain how your teaching style is like troubleshooting technology problems or debugging.  By using this analogy with them, it will form a congruence that will help them educationally and help them to accept your mistakes, and hopefully accept their own mistakes, because we know in the ICT world, that often we go down several wrong paths before we get to the right one, and the world is really iterative not linear.

I hope this helps, although if you follow my advice, be prepared to defend the logic of it, as again it is not the usual methodology told to new teachers.

My Next Response to a Job Application Question, this time about Diagnosing System Performance Issues

As I recently posted, I’m applying for a job with CSIS to potentially be in the role of a Programmer/Analyst.  And I think several of the answers I’m giving to questions that they have may be valuable to others in understanding real life work in computer science.

Here is my response to the question:

Often when an application appears slow, a database programmer/analyst is tasked to analyze the underlying problem and make a determination if it is being caused by the database code or something else. Describe the tools, techniques and experience you have used from your own work history to diagnose a similar problem in the past.

Read More →

My Response to a Job Application Question about Developing Reports from Databases

While my major focus right now is on getting up and running the Highlands Community Charter and Technical Schools, as that is the most likely place that I will be able to obtain employment, I am also applying to a few other jobs that are within the scope of my “usual” employment.   One of these is for the position of a programmer/analyst with CSIS.  (Yes, the same CSIS that I’ve been talking about in my past posts.)  I generally try to answer these types of questions in an educational manner, such that it not only talks about the experience that I have, but also clearly demonstrates my knowledge.   Because of this, I thought that some of these answers are worthwhile sharing here, as they can help others to understand some of the skills and processes used in real-world computer science.  So I will be writing a series of blog articles that contain my answers.

The first question I will address is:

Describe your experience in the creation and maintenance of online or batch report development. Be specific as to the technologies used, the role(s) that you performed, and your deliverables.

Read More →

A Response from ScraperWiki

I was very happy to have received a response today from ScraperWiki, about the critique I posted yesterday about their new site.  I always appreciate having feedback that I take time to make to be considered, and here is what Zarino Zappia had to say:

Hi Jacob,

All valid and very understandable points. Your blog post has caused much debate at ScraperWiki HQ 🙂
I’m not sure I can fit a proper explanation of our reasoning into a single email, so all I’ll say is, thank you (really, thank you) for giving us your honest feedback, and keep an eye on for an upcoming series of posts which’ll hopefully shed more light on pretty much all of the points you’ve raised.
Zarino Zappia
VP of Product, ScraperWiki


The Email for FCMAT and CSIS is still down

Last week I posted about how when I tried to reply to an email from  of FCMAT / CSIS that I got an error back that “The email address you entered couldn’t be found. “  Well, I’m still having this error, and of course, I can’t seem to email them about it! 🙂

It is important to recognize that this is the organization that is supposed to help school districts and others to have improved practices, and also manages the database of all the student information in California.  If they can’t get their email to work after over a week, it gives me some potential concern over the private data of nearly every child in our state.

I am going to try and call them today, and see if they can graciously acknowledge their issues, and fix them.  As that is the true sign of whether we should be concerned or not.  An organization that only tries to cover up and blame away their problems is one that obviously won’t fix the issues, and this is quite dangerous for the public when they are the keeper of your private information.  At this point I’m not making that accusation, but from my dealings with public agencies (and quasi-public agencies), my experience suggests that this could be an accusation that would need to be made, depending upon future evidence.

My Thoughts on ScraperWiki or Don’t You Just Hate when New “improved” Software is Worse!

A little over a month ago, I started to use ScraperWiki.  Which was a coding site dedicated to helping to get data from the web, and share it, and share the code.   It was almost a SourceForge for data, and had many of the things that I had wanted in the Data of Thought project that I’ve been slowly working on.

BUT, as with many websites, they changed, and unfortunately not in a good way.  First, they are now charging higher fees, and giving far less with their free account.   And of all the things about the changes, I understand this the most.  You can’t hire good staff, especially data scientists,  if you don’t have a business model that makes money.   But charging over a $100 a year for their basic account, which only gives 640 MB of space is ridiculous.  A 10 cent CD-RW has that much space. (Granted, you would never do any of this on a CD-RW, but it is important to see how their pricing is whack)   There are lots of web hosts that charge far less and give far more for a coder.

But, maybe the pricing would be worthwhile for having a good interface to do the scraping and a community to support the scraping.   BUT, again these are now worse.  While they say they have the same “Code in your Browser” feature, they changed this so that it no longer shows the panel for the console, data, and sources.  This was one of the best parts of their interface, as it really made debugging a scraper easier.   While I like their new way they show code in the browser, it is not worth having an interface that doesn’t specifically help code a scraper.  If I wanted a good standard IDE (Integrated Development Environment) I could just load one on my computer, instead of using them.

And  what about the community?  It seems to be gone.  I don’t see how I can share my scrapers with others, or look at their code, etc.    This negates any sense of them being a “wiki” as their name implies. I know they now have more integration with GITs, and this might be able to do the community thing, but they don’t make it very clear about this, nor have a seamless interface that clearly shows how this is the new community feature.

While I know they are going more after the market of journalists, and trying to make data analysis easier with their new “tools”, they didn’t have to make changes (other than possibly pricing) that takes away from what they have had before.  I am now needing to weigh my options, and see if the new features for the new pricing is worthwhile compared to how much stuff has been taken away.  I suspect that I won’t stay with ScraperWiki, but I want to at least give them a chance to address these issues, and then make my decision.