Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thoughts of a Teaching Fellow

"Is anybody there?
Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?"
from the 1776 musical

That's often how I feel about the class I am TAing. Now, I absolutely adore teaching. I was a teacher's aide my senior year of high school, and a student tutor after school, and I'm a teaching fellow now for an introductory level computer science course. And I really do enjoy it. I want to share the passion that I have and make sure that other people continue to pursue this absolutely amazing field. But, every once in a while, I hit this dull point where I wonder - do any of my students actually care? All of them have the 'just get it done' attitude. And I confess, I've had that attitude many times, in many classes. But as part of the teaching team, it's very, very hard to see that attitude. Some of my students have a sense of defeat about the projects. I hate seeing that.  I love when they come to me and I explain it and the light bulb appears and the realize they are in fact capable of understanding. But not every student comes to me.

As part of this job I've been asked to write assignments. It's actually really hard. I want to make them easy to understand but challenging so that you learn. I have to remember what things I know that my students may not already know. And I spend a lot of time working on the assignments. In fact I spent part of my hurricane day working on a lab for my class.

As such, it's very hard to not despair and think - none of them notice I want them to succeed, that I work hard to make their learning experience better, I should just give up. But this class has the potential to change the future of the curriculum (it's a pilot class testing some new things) and I can't just give up on it. But I'm losing some motivation, that's all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How Literature and Language are falling apart

Today, on Academic Row, there was a girl yelling "Support Breast Cancer! Only one dollar!"
I had to shake my head a little bit. I know that she really meant, "Support Breast Cancer research", or "Support the fight against Breast Cancer", but that is not what she was saying.

If you've ever read any classics - I'm thinking any Charles Dickens novels, The Federalist Papers - the language is "hard to understand". However, Charles Dickens and the authors of the Federalist Papers were both writing in the newspaper - they were for the common, everyday man to read.

Go back even further - in my Great Books course, we just read The Orestia (which, by the way, was really interesting, I'd never read it). The Orestia is a really long way to tell a short story, because the Chorus goes on and on and it's actually hard to follow. Now, in my class we learned that the Orestia was performed for the Athenian plebians. For some of them, it was the only education they received. Which means they were able to understand long speeches that some of my classmates (who are college educated Americans) could not follow.

Personally, I think it's little mistakes like the one about breast cancer above that led to this degeneration of language and understanding. If you cease to care about proper grammar because everyone knows what you mean, eventually, proper grammar will cease to exist.

And I'm sure, before anyone tears me apart, that this blog post is not as well composed as it should have been. I'm not on a soap box, I'm right there with everyone else who causes the degeneration of language.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

GHC Women in Computing Conference

So, this past weekend I had the excellent opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing. It was absolutely fabulous. Thousands of women all passionate about computing. Tons of booths with potential employers, fascinating workshops about open source software and mentoring for diversity in academia and teaching students with robotics and so on. It was really cool. I don't have the time to go into a lot of detail now (I have to catch up on homework that I put off while attending the conference), but the posters from the last twelve conferences were on display. (see photos). I also got to see my beloved high school CS teacher, which was a pleasant surprise. Thanks to my school for funding my attendance!