TITLE: Back to the Beginning
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: September 01, 2014 3:17 PM
August was quiet on my blog only because it was anything but
quiet elsewhere. The department office had its usual August
business plus a couple of new challenges thrown in. I spent
one day on jury duty, one day in retreat with fellow department
heads, and one day on a long bike ride. My older daughter was
home for a few days before heading back to college for her
senior year, and my younger daughter was preparing to leave
for college for the first time.
On top of that, I am teaching our intro course this fall. I
have not taught intro since
the fall of 2006,
when I introduced media computation into our Java track.
Before that we have to go back to the late 1990s to find me
in front of a classroom full of students embarking on their
first programming experience. I'm excited and a little
apprehensive. There is great opportunity in helping students
lay the foundation for the rest of their CS coursework. But
there is also great risk. For the most part, these students
have never worked with a floating-point number or a variable
or an assignment statement, at least in the context of a
programming language. How badly might I lead them astray?
We now teach Python in this track. I could have used media
comp as our organizing theme again, but the instructors who
have been teaching in this track for the last few years have
moved to a data manipulation them, using
by Bill Punch and Rich Enbody. I decided to do the same.
There is no sense in me disrupting the flow of the track,
especially with the likelihood that I won't teach the course
again in the spring. (In the interest of full disclosure, I
told my students that Bill was one of my mentors in grad
school at Michigan State.)
The first week of class went well. As expected, the students
reminded me how different teaching intro can be. There are so
many ways for novices to interpret so many things... Type a
simple expression or two into the Python shell, ask them what
they think,and find out for yourself!
Every teacher knows that the first day of class shatters any
illusion we might have of teaching the perfect course. Such
illusions are more common for me when I teach a course for
the first time, or the first time in a long while. The upside
of shattering the illusion is that I can move on to the daily
business of getting better.
At the end of our first lab session, I walked with one student
as he was leaving the room. He had asked a few questions
during the exercise. I asked how he felt, now that he had
completed successfully his first lab as a CS major. "I am
excited and scared," he said. "Scared has been keeping me
away from computer science, but I know I have to try. I'm
I know exactly he how feels. I'm apprehensive, not in fearing
failure or catastrophe, but in being aware that I must remain
vigilant. When we teach, we affect other peoples' lives.
Teaching a first course in the discipline, introducing
students to a new set of ideas and way of thinking, is a
multiplier on this effect. I owe it to these students to
help them overcome their fears and realize their excitement.