Week 6, Day 4

Every Thursday afternoon, my TAs and I meet with the Chicago site lead for GWC. Her job is to check in and make sure everything is going OK, and to help with whatever she can. Our class is in good shape, so we usually just go over what we’ve done since last week and what we have planned for the coming week. A lot of our conversation this week is about the upcoming graduation ceremony for the girls, which is next Thursday for our class. We will have a few introductions, a secret keynote speaker (Accenture is not saying who, so I don’t even know, though I have a suspicion), the girls will  give pitches for their final projects, and finally receive their graduation certificates. After that, it’s sort of like a science fair for about an hour; the girls will have made posters, videos and be demonstrating their projects to friends, family members, and mentors and sponsors from Accenture. We are expecting between 100 and 150 people all together.

The girls have been working hard to prepare. For a couple of days in a row, there has been a cadre who have brought their lunches back to the classroom to continue their work. Today, the rest of us (about two-thirds) took our lunches out to Daley Plaza, and what a great day to go! I have been avoiding taking them out on Thursdays since that’s when the Farmers’ Market takes place, and there are not a lot of places to sit, a lot of people, usually a protest or two, and it is easy to lose track of the girls. Still, the girls NEEDED to get outside, especially with intense work they have been doing. So we grabbed our lunches and headed out.

Most of the girls sat by the fountain, Shanzeh and I shared a table with some people unknown to us, but will to let us sit with them (Courtney opted to stay in with the coders). We had just finished eating when I turned around and noticed someone in a blue costume doing a handstand – no wiggling, no shaking – this was clearly someone with some skill.

Come to find out, there were six performers from Cirque du Soleil there today to promote their show which started in town last night. Of course, I phrase it “Cirque du Soleil came to visit GWC at lunch,” which is almost truthful.

Shanzeh considers joining the Cirque du Soleil.

I’ve been wanting to get back to this market since Week 0, so I took advantage of today to buy some good cheese and fresh heirloom cherry, grape and pear tomatoes.

When we got back, we continued our brain break by holding a mini-lesson on resumes. They had seen a presentation about this at the career workshop last week, so I showed them the resume I used to get my position with GWC, walked them through the important features. No, not having a doctorate, the other stuff, like simple uniform layout, use of action verbs, reverse chronological order, most important information first. Fortunately, I used these techniques over and over in my resume.

Next, I read them my cover letter, and showed how it connected my resume to the job, and presented information that wasn’t suitable for my resume, such as my understanding of why there are few women entering computer science,  and my definition of feminism. I stressed how important it is to know your audience – to read the website of the organization you are applying to, and use it. When I was on the Board of Education, there were several otherwise well qualified candidates for high ranking positions that were eliminated because it was clear they hadn’t even looked at District 13’s website. We gave them about 45 minutes to start their own resumes. I strongly suggested that they write the content first, because formatting is a rabbit’s hole you could spend a lot of time in and not get anything done.

I started out talking about our site lead’s visit today. I told her a little about the side project I had been working on for the last couple of days, namely trying to write a program that I can use to generate a Google Document. I had no luck at all yesterday. Zero. Nada. Zilch. I went back in today, and did more research, and after a couple hours finally got it. The girls noticed, mainly because I whooped, clapped and did a happy dance around my chair, risking a 15 yard penalty for excessive celebration. My site lead pointed out that I had done a really good thing, one that I hadn’t thought of. I showed my students that I, even after thirty plus years of programming, still struggle, and don’t know it all. I also persisted, and ultimately triumphed over the problem. That, I think, is a more valuable lesson than any coding I can teach.

I also showed them something else. One of the students was trying to get her website to send an email with user comments in it, but it wouldn’t send. Finally, she brought it over to me. We worked for a while, not getting it to go. I suspected I knew what the problem was, because I think I tried doing the same thing a long time ago. I took a copy of her code, and started to play around with it. (Play is an important word here – it implies that failure to find the answer has little consequence, and it is easy to try something else. It is essential that students learn this play aspect of coding (and would be great if they generalize it to other areas in their lives – they will become unstoppable).

I played for a while, and verified my suspicions with some research. I searched mightily for a solution, and finally found one. I started down the path of testing my solution, and got far enough to see that it would eventually work, probably with about a half hour’s time. Then I stopped. I spoke to the student, explained that there was a solution, but that it probably wasn’t worth the time to put it into practice. I could have set up her machine in about an hour. On the other hand, they have less than two days left until code freeze (the deadline to stop programming because other things need to be done: posters, pitches, demos, rehearsals, etc.). If she was dead set on continuing the project after the end of the summer, I’d have done it, but the feature she was working on was a minor feature, and I didn’t want to take her and  her laptop out of production for so long. The lesson: sometimes it’s better to cut bait and move on. This is a hard thing to teach the really driven students. Theme for today:

Man, I hate programming.

Man, I hate programming.

Man, I hate programming.

Man, I hate programming.

*solves problem*

Man, I love programming.

And I didn’t think I had anything to write about today. Huh.


3 thoughts on “Week 6, Day 4

  1. Great post.

    I like the “happy dance” episode and esp. the lesson you derived from it. FWIW, my sense is that most politicians and administrators wouldn’t like the—for lack of a better term—vulnerability you showed in it. My experience showed me that teachers’ “bosses” really don’t want educators to struggle, and, for all their assertions about “lifelong learning,” they’d prefer that teachers know it all. (I’m blathering.)

    Anyway—speaking of lifelong learning—it’s SO unfortunate that CT has eliminated the CEU program. You would’ve been set for life!

    Have a great day.

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